In the NCAA women’s tournament it is less likely to see a team lower than a No. 7 seed make the Final Four than it is in the men’s tournament. It is a long shot for even a No. 6 or No. 7 seed, but today we take a look at those lines and those eight teams’ chances of making the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight or Final Four as a Cinderella.
Georgia Lady Bulldogs
Georgia has wins over No. 1 seed NC State, No. 5 seed Notre Dame, No. 7 seed Ole Miss and No. 10 seeds Arkansas and Florida. It also has a terrible loss to Auburn and another bad loss to a non-tournament team in Alabama. After the Lady Bulldogs beat NC State on Dec. 16, here's what I had to say:
The Georgia Lady Bulldogs are back in business.
The program that defeated then-No. 2 Texas A&M in last year’s SEC Tournament en route to a No. 10 ranking and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament was merely receiving votes entering this season despite the decisions of stars Jenna Staiti and Que Morrison to return as graduate students.
Last year the Lady Dawgs were a feel-good story and received a lot of attention because they were a part of an SEC championship game that featured two Black female head coaches in their Joni Taylor and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley. This year, they defeated No. 21 Notre Dame on Nov. 26, which vaulted them into the rankings, but overall, there was still less excitement surrounding the team entering Thursday night’s matchup against the No. 2 NC State Wolfpack.
All that has changed now because Georgia defeated the Pack 82-80 behind a game-winning layup from Morrison with 1:13 left in overtime at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C.
Georgia was not even receiving votes entering the 2020-21 season, but finished the season ranked No. 10 and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, as mentioned above. It then disappointed in the tournament, falling to No. 6 seed Oregon in the second round. This year there have been moments of optimism, like after the Lady Bulldogs beat NC State, that the team could again be a contender come tournament time, but instead they are a No. 6 seed and will need a Cinderella run.
Georgia’s bad losses are reason for concern, but with Staiti and Morrison they are always going to be dangerous. In the second round they could be facing No. 3 seed Iowa State, another team that lost in the second round last year and needs to get over that mental hurdle to make the Sweet Sixteen. Can the Lady Dawgs be a No. 6 seed that upsets a 3 to flip the script on what happened last year?
If they advance, Georgia faces potential matchups with No. 2 seed Iowa and No. 1 seed South Carolina. Facing Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston would be a difficult road to the Final Four.
Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes have wins over No. 2 seed Iowa, No. 4 seed Maryland and No. 8 seed Nebraska. Their only bad loss has been to Syracuse early in the season.
The Ohio State offense runs through splash sisters Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell, the latter of whom has bounced around women’s college basketball from Maryland to Oregon before settling in with her home state Buckeyes as a senior. Emphasis on the splash with Mikesell; she has 105 made threes this year at a 46.7 percent clip. Sheldon has made 37 at 36.6 percent. Sheldon averages 19.5 points per game, while Mikesell adds 18.8. Banned from the postseason last year, Ohio State has the looks of a team that can compete against anyone. The way it gutted out a win in Iowa City was particularly impressive.
Under head coach Kevin McGuff, they Buckeyes have been a successful Big Ten program. Both years that mighty Maryland has failed to win the Big Ten regular-season title, including this year, Ohio State has claimed at least a share of it. However, the Buckeyes failed to translate that 2018 success into a deep NCAA Tournament run, falling in the second round as a No. 3 seed. They did make the Sweet Sixteen in both 2016 and 2017, but haven't made the Elite Eight since before McGuff (1993, when they were the runner-up).
In last year’s first round, BYU squeaked past a Rutgers team I had beating Arizona in the second round. The Cougars then nearly defeated the Wildcats, who went on to make the national championship game. If they could nearly make a Cinderella run as a No. 11 seed, we should definitely watch out for them this year as a No. 6 seed.
BYU is led by WCC Player of the Year Shaylee Gonzales (17.8 points per game). Watch out for the 3-point shooting of Tegan Graham and Paisley Harding as well because their timeliness from beyond the arc helped the Cougars defeat Rutgers in the tourney last year.
BYU has wins over No. 7 seed Utah, No. 8 seed Washington State, No. 11 seed Florida State and two wins over No. 9 seed Gonzaga. So it doesn’t have a win over anybody seeded higher than it, which is concerning for its Cinderella chances. However, it did take No. 4 seed Oklahoma to overtime. The Cougars’ one loss to a non-tournament team came against Portland. They are obviously disappointed that they couldn’t finish off the WCC Tournament with a win, instead falling to Gonzaga 71-59. But they should be able to bounce back and play better.
Kentucky is perhaps the most intriguing No. 6 seed. Last year they went from No. 11 to start the season to No. 18 entering an NCAA Tournament in which were embarrassed in the first half of a second-round game against Caitlin Clark and Iowa. The underachieved again for much of this season, even falling off the bubble for a period. Such struggles raised questions about Rhyne Howard as a winner versus just a great individual player and dropped her to the projected second pick in the WNBA Draft instead of No. 1.
However, all is well in Lexington at the moment, as the Wildcats have just pulled off a big-time upset of the national championship favorite South Carolina Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament title game. Defeating the No. 1 team in the land in March means something. It was not the same as Missouri’s win over South Carolina earlier in the season when the Gamecocks were still jelling. The tears you saw from Kyra Elzy and Dre’una Edwards after that SEC championship game represented something truly great that has already been accomplished, regardless of how far the team goes in the Big Dance.
Kentucky had wins over No. 6 seed Georgia and No. 10 seed Arkansas in the regular season, which isn’t much of a resume, but it added wins over No. 3 seed LSU, No. 4 seed Tennessee and No. 1 seed South Carolina in the SEC Tournament. Its concerning losses have come to Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.
The Wildcats are in the region I chose as the “region of death,” which is Bridgeport. They may have to face No. 3 seed Indiana in the second round; the Hoosiers defeated them 88-67 on Nov. 14. Things could get even harder in the Sweet Sixteen against No. 2 seed UConn and the Elite Eight against No. 1 seed NC State.
The Buffaloes were one of only two teams to beat national champion Stanford last year, yet they missed out on the NCAA Tournament. This year they are indeed dancing.
Colorado gave Stanford a good game on Jan. 14, losing by just eight points. However, its two meetings with the Cardinal since have resulted in blowout losses. It has quality wins over No. 4 seed Arizona, No. 5 seed Oregon and No. 7 seed Utah. Its losses to non-tournament teams have been against Oregon State and Arizona State.
Mya Hollingshed leads the team in both scoring (14.1 points per game) and rebounding (7.5 boards per game) and is a WNBA prospect.
Colorado could face the daunting task of trying to take down No. 2 seed Iowa in the second round. After that it could be No. 3 seed Iowa State and No. 1 seed South Carolina.
What a moment for the Buffs! pic.twitter.com/XyyiSxmszz— Colorado Women's Basketball (@CUBuffsWBB) March 14, 2022
Utah is another intriguing Pac-12 team with a similar resume to Colorado. It has wins over No. 5 seed Oregon, No. 7 seed Colorado, No. 15 seed Hawaii and two wins over No. 8 seed Washington State. Its only loss to a non-tournament team was to USC.
The win over Oregon came in the Pac-12 semifinals. The Utes went on to lose to Stanford 73-48 in the championship game. Even though it was against the second-best team in the country, a blowout like that needs some mental toughness to bounce back from.
Utah’s top two scorers are both freshmen (guard Gianna Kneepkens and forward Jenna Johnson). We’ll see if those two are ready for the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament.
The Utes face a potential second-round matchup against No. 2 seed Texas and may then have to face No. 3 seed LSU. If they make it all the way to the Elite Eight, Stanford may again stand in their way of cutting down a net.
A GREAT DAY TO BE A UTE! pic.twitter.com/F0jhkBY24e— Utah Women’s Basketball (@UTAHWBB) March 14, 2022
Ole Miss Rebels
Don’t be surprised if Shakira Austin goes on to be the best pro out of her, NaLyssa Smith and Rhyne Howard. As a freshman at Maryland I thought she struggled with her inside touch, but it has gotten so much better and she can also knock down any mid-range shot within 17 feet of the basket. In addition, her ability to handle the ball and drive makes her complete offensive player. She’s probably even better on the defensive end.
With Austin leading the way, I think Ole Miss has the best chance to be a Cinderella out of the No. 7 seeds. However, the Rebels’ only win over a team seeded higher than them came against No. 6 seed Kentucky. They also have wins over No. 9 seed South Florida, No. 10 seed Arkansas and two wins over No. 10 seed Florida. After being blown out in their first meeting with South Carolina, they lost by 14 the second time and by just 10 in the SEC Tournament. Ole Miss’ one loss to a non-tournament team was to Mississippi State.
Potentially standing in the Rebels’ way of a Sweet Sixteen bid is NaLyssa Smith and No. 2 seed Baylor. After that they could face a third-seeded Michigan team I’m really high on and then Louisville is the No. 1 seed in their region. The Cardinals are the weakest No. 1 seed.
UCF has wins over No. 10 seed Arkansas and No. 12 seed Belmont and three wins over No. 9 seed South Florida. Their one loss to a non-tournament team came against Cincinnati.
South Florida entered the season as the No. 21 team in the country and UCF wasn’t even receiving votes, but clearly the Knights got the better of that rivalry in the end. They are led by Diamond Battle’s 13.8 points per game.
After participating in a battle of central Florida teams in the first round (they face the Florida Gators of Gainesville), the Knights could face No. 2 seed UConn in the second round, No. 3 seed Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen and No. 1 seed NC State in the Elite Eight.