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NCAAW Tournament Preview: Mississippi State and Oregon lead Portland region, but several tough mid-majors could complicate things

With the road to the Final Four going through some of the nation’s top mid-majors, this region could be the most difficult in the tournament for the teams that are in the conversation to win it all.

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NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Championship - Arkansas vs Mississippi State
Fresh off their first-ever SEC Tournament championship, Teaira McCowan (#15) and Mississippi State look to return to the NCAA title game for the third year in a row — and this time, win it all.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

In the Portland region, there are the top seeds and then there are the mid-majors, with the latter bound to take center stage as the teams continue to prove themselves.

Mississippi State winning its first two games means having the distinct honor of traveling to Portland, where a meeting with Oregon could take place. The Ducks’ campus is under two hours from Portland, while Mississippi State would be making the longest trip of any one-seed to its regional location.

But that can all be sorted out later.

With one of the most exciting first-time mid-major matchups in South Dakota State versus Quinnipiac, the winner of this clash of titans could very well make a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Then, there’s Florida Gulf Coast, which seems primed to take advantage of Miami’s NCAA Tournament woes of late and grab what could be the biggest upset of the region. And South Dakota stands a solid chance of beating an ACC team in the first round to advance.

While this region doesn’t have the sparkle of No. 1 overall seed Baylor or the name recognition of UConn, some excellent competition awaits nonetheless.

Portland region

No. 1 Mississippi State vs. No. 16 Southern

Southern has had been on a successful run of late, taking down quadruple-double queen Shakyla Hill and Grambling State en route to beating Jackson State for the SWAC Tournament title. But the Jaguars don’t have Teaira McCowan, and they’re not riding high off their first-ever SEC Tournament title, as Mississippi State is. It’ll be a tall order from start to finish for this Southern squad to take down the Bulldogs.

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 15 Portland State

The first of three in-state matchups in this region, this one will be a good test for Portland State to see if its postseason magic has run dry. As the four-seed in the Big Sky Tournament, the Vikings knocked off top seed Idaho to advance to the title game, where they beat fellow Cinderella Eastern Washington. But this season’s Oregon team — despite a rather rocky final month to its season — simply doesn’t seem the type to lose in the first round.

No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 14 Fordham

The Orange excelled in the tough ACC this season, reaching the semifinals of the conference tournament and earning its highest-ever NCAA seed as a result. Fordham, while battle-tested in its own right — zipping through the Atlantic 10 Tournament — is playing in its first NCAA Tournament since 2013. With experience on its side, including a 2016 national championship game appearance, Syracuse should take this game on its home floor.

No. 4 Miami vs. No. 13 Florida Gulf Coast

This is where the in-state matchups get interesting. In the past three seasons, Miami has played in four NCAA Tournament games: two losses to Quinnipiac, a loss to South Dakota State and a 62-60, 4-versus-13 nail-biter win over Florida Gulf Coast in 2017. Miami really needs a win, having lost its last two games, while FGCU is riding a 19-game winning streak that stretches across an undefeated run in A-10 play.

The Eagles stand an excellent chance of pulling off the upset. But if the Hurricanes play the way they did in their win over Notre Dame, it could be the runaway victory they need to start a new streak.

No. 5 Arizona State vs. No. 12 UCF

Arizona State’s schedule is highlighted by close losses to excellent teams, as well as a season sweep of Oregon State that is surely something to be proud of. UCF, meanwhile, was this season’s baseline for UConn’s strength in the American, coming in second while losing its three meetings with the Huskies by 31.3 points apiece. This doesn’t mean that UCF isn’t good in its own right, just that the team likely lacks the experience to keep up with the Sun Devils in this one.

No. 6 South Dakota State vs. No. 11 Quinnipiac

This is, frankly, a dream mid-major matchup: two teams with proven success year after year meeting for the very first time on the biggest stage. It’s a shame that one of them has to go home, because both teams could very well make deep runs.

South Dakota State has the more impressive résumé, beating the likes of Drake and Green Bay while only losing by single digits to Oregon and Baylor. But Quinnipiac went undefeated in the MAAC, has some close losses on its record (to Texas and Missouri) and has been something of an upset machine over the past few NCAA Tournaments.

If there’s one must-watch game in the first round of the Portland region, it’s this one — the mid-major clash that should have happened much sooner.

No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Indiana

Indiana obviously won’t be defending its WNIT title which, while exciting, offers a more difficult path for postseason success. Especially since the Hoosiers are facing the somewhat under-seeded Texas Longhorns, whose late-season stumbles cost them a chance to host any tournament games.

Indiana’s Big Ten season featured a stretch where it lost eight of 10 games, but that stretch ended with a win over then-No. 10 Iowa. Thus, this Hoosiers team stands a chance against the Longhorns. But if they don’t show up, Texas should take the game.

No. 8 South Dakota vs. No. 9 Clemson

Despite losing the Summit League championship game, South Dakota still managed to grab the conference’s first-ever at-large bid on the strength of its 28-5 record. The Coyotes’ first two months of the season included wins over then-No. 23 Iowa State, Missouri State and then-No. 22 Missouri — all teams playing in this season’s tournament. Clemson, while having the benefit of playing in a stronger conference, has had trouble all season with teams nowhere nearly as good as the Yotes. If they are able to get in the right mindset, South Dakota can win this game.

Game information

The 2019 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament tips off Friday! The dates and viewing information for the first two rounds are provided below. Return to Swish Appeal for previews and recaps of each day of tournament action. The previews will include individual game times.

First round

When: Friday, March 22; Saturday, March 23

Where: Campus sites (teams seeded 1-4 host)

How to watch: ESPN2, WatchESPN

Second round

When: Sunday, March 24; Monday, March 25

Where: Campus sites (teams seeded 1-4 host)

How to watch: ESPN, ESPN2, WatchESPN