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Contender preview: Taking a look at the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds

South Carolina, Stanford and NC State have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and are considered the strongest No. 1 seeds. But No. 2 seed UConn is right there with them now that Paige Bueckers is back.

South Carolina v Stanford
South Carolina and Stanford are the top two overall seeds in that order. But DraftKings gives No. 2 seed UConn the second-best odds after South Carolina.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Thirty-seven of the 39 NCAA Tournament champions in women’s basketball have been No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. Here we take a look at this year’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, including their odds to cut down the nets in Minneapolis, as well as a few other teams that could break the trend.

No. 1 seeds

South Carolina Gamecocks (+160 on DraftKings)

South Carolina entered the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, edging a No. 2 UConn team that returned the national Player of the Year and brought in the No. 1 Hoop Gurlz recruit. So that was saying something. The Gamecocks brought back their Final Four core of Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson and welcomed ACC Rookie of the Year Kamilla Cardoso and the No. 2, 3, 4 and 14 recruits. They would be an even more dangerous team right now if the No. 2 recruit, Raven Johnson, hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury. But even without Johnson, they are the best team on paper in the country and boast an 8-1 record against currently ranked teams.

Stanford Cardinal (+500)

Stanford lost its top scorer from 2020-21 in Kiana Williams to the WNBA Draft, which is why it was not favored to repeat as the champion at the start of the season. However, with all their other key players back, the Cardinal dominated a Power 5 conference better than any team in the nation this season, even thought they lost to South Carolina in nonconference play and also lost the No. 2 seed in their region, Texas. However, they comfortably defeated the No. 4 seed in their region, Maryland, and a No. 3 seed they could face in the Final Four, Indiana. One thing Stanford has going for it is that South Carolina, NC State, Louisville and UConn are more likely to play nervous than it is. We know the Carinal have the intangibles. But it seems now that they also has the offensive firepower to go all the way.

NC State Wolfpack (+1000)

The Wolfpack are simply loaded on paper, perhaps trailing only South Carolina in that department. Their effective inside-out game had me picking them to the national championship game a year ago. They disappointed, partly because they were without Kayla Jones in the Sweet Sixteen, losing to Indiana. I think NC State has some mental hurdles to get past, but the star talent is there. Keep an eye on guard Diamond Johnson — she’s the newcomer to the squad who could be the difference maker.

Louisville Cardinals (+1500)

Louisville is considered by most to be the weakest No. 1 seed, but its 25-4 record is nothing to sneeze at.

I was astounded when I looked back at head coach Jeff Walz’s resume after he got his 400th win earlier this season:

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Jeff Walz, who has exclusively been a head coach at Louisville and has been there for 15 years, saw his No. 3 Cardinals battle back from down 10 after one and earn him his 400th career win, 63-53 over the Boston College Eagles on Sunday at Conte Forum.

Walz had 385 wins entering this season and the Cards have now won 15 games in 2021-22 compared to one loss, which came in their opener against No. 7 Arizona.

385 divided by 14 is 27.5 in case you’re wondering, which is astonishing.

In the players’ minds, this could be Louisville’s season. Any time you’re a No. 1 seed you should believe you can go all the way. And Walz could really use a national championship after coming so close so many times.

Emily Engstler is a good constant for this team — we know she’s going play great defense and get her rebounds. An X-factor will be if Hailey Van Lith can use her 3-point shot to open up drives for herself.

No. 2 seeds

Baylor Bears (+1500)

Baylor had a slow start to the season. Its first loss came very early (on Nov. 21 at Maryland) and then it had a stretch where it lost three of four from Dec. 19 to Jan. 12. Somehow, the Bears never fell out of the Top 15 and even got back into the No. 1 seed conversation, a sign that there has been no letdown with Nicki Collen taking over for Kim Mulkey.

NaLyssa Smith gives this team a high ceiling and the illy moves of Jordan Lewis combined with the 3-point shooting of Sarah Andrews and the post play of Queen Egbo could take Baylor over the top.

UConn Huskies (+350)

As Geno Auriemma has openly admitted, the Huskies’ national championship hopes are dependent on Paige Bueckers being nearly 100 percent. Since returning from her knee injury on Feb. 25, Bueckers has only had one game in which she had a big impact and that was when she scored 16 points in 18 minutes on Georgetown. But it seems like she will be at full strength in the Big Dance. It’s not only about Bueckers though. Azzi Fudd has shown flashes of superstar potential and she’ll need to show more of them if UConn is to win its 12th national title.

Texas Longhorns (+3000)

Nobody expected Texas to make the Elite Eight last year when it entered the tournament as a No. 6 seed. It was a great accomplishment by Vic Schaefer to get the Longhorns there in his first season in Austin. But he won’t be satisfied moving forward without a national championship. Like Walz, he has come so close in the past.

Texas boasts a win over the No. 1 seed in its region, Stanford, and if the backcourt duo of Aliyah Matharu and Rori Harmon is on its game, the Longhorns could again challenge the Cardinal. Texas’ third-leading scorer, Joanne Allen-Taylor, came up big in the Sweet Sixteen upset of Maryland last year.

Iowa Hawkeyes (+4000)

Some people around the country may be pulling for an epic tournament from Caitlin Clark in which she leads the Hawkeyes to the title. Sometimes something about superstars makes us root for them over true teams, not that Iowa isn’t one. Clark led then fifth-seeded Iowa to a dominant first half against fourth-seeded Kentucky in the second round last year, but was unable to carry the team past UConn in the Sweet Sixteen. Clark’s play may look flashy and spectacular, but we have yet to see her go up against South Carolina, Stanford or NC State. Wins over Michigan and Indiana are certainly impressive, but can Iowa really hang with those top three?

Three others (a trio from the Big Ten)

I think with the upward trajectory of the Michigan (+5000) and Indiana (+6000) programs in recent years, it would be unwise to count out those No. 3 seeds. I also think No. 4 seed Maryland (+4000) hasn’t proven itself to be national championship material this season but that that could change in the tournament with all the talent it has.


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