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Re-ranking the NCAAW Tournament Sweet Sixteen

We’ve got two No. 1 seeds, four No. 2 seeds, three No. 3 seeds, three No. 4 seeds, one No. 5 seed, one No. 6 seed, one No. 8 seed and one No. 9 seed in the NCAAW Sweet Sixteen. But how much will seeding really matter moving forward?

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 20 Div I Women’s Championship - North Carolina vs Ohio State
The Ohio State Buckeyes were once No. 2 in the country. Then they lost five of seven and everybody forget about them. Where do they rank now that they’re in the Sweet Sixteen?
Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Matchup difficulty will vary for each team in each remaining round, but, ultimately, they all have to win four more games to accomplish their goal. So ignoring difficulty of path, I ranked the 16 remaining NCAAW Tournament teams based on who has the best chance of beating any of the other 15 right now. Here’s my list:

No. 16 Miami Hurricanes (9-seed)

Miami really got going when it beat North Carolina and Virginia Tech in back-to-back games on Jan. 5 and Jan. 8. But when you look at the rest of the Hurricanes’ wins, losses and close calls, it’s not a very impressive resume, which is why they are a No. 9 seed. Haley Cavinder leads the way with 12.6 points per game on 41 percent shooting from downtown, while second-round hero Destiny Harden adds 12.1 points per game. Miami is an ACC team and has proven a lot by beating Indiana, but it’s hard to see the Hurricanes going all the way. At least they face a Big East team in Villanova in the Sweet Sixteen, and a non-Power 5 school is always vulnerable.

No. 15 Ole Miss Rebels (8-seed)

No single star has stood out for Ole Miss in the tournament, and throughout the season there hasn’t really been one either. It’s been the duo of Angel Baker and Madison Scott leading the way. They are a very good star tandem with a lot of talent, and remember, this team comes from the SEC and took South Carolina to overtime. But the Rebels also lost to Auburn (5-11 SEC) in OT.

I picked Ole Miss to the Sweet Sixteen, but I don’t see them getting past Louisville. The Cards are too good come tournament time, have more talent and will be determined to not let the opportunity of avoiding Stanford slip away.

No. 14 Colorado Buffaloes (6-seed)

I’m concerned about the Pac-12. It seems that every team in that conference faced at least one battle against one of the weaker teams in the conference. Colorado had games where it only beat Washington (7-11 Pac-12) by eight, Cal (4-14 Pac-12) by seven, Arizona State (1-17 Pac-12) by eight and Oregon State (4-14 Pac-12) by eight.

The Buffaloes did however prove a lot of people wrong with their first-round blowout of Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders were a popular upset pick. Colorado then upset No. 3 seed Duke on the Blue Devils’ home floor.

Quay Miller, Jaylyn Sherrod, Aaronette Vonleh and Frida Formann will all have to step up if the Buffaloes are to get past Iowa.

No. 13 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-seed)

I don’t think Notre Dame is a national championship contender without Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey. I did pick the Irish to the Sweet Sixteen though and think they can give Maryland a good game. Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld are both stars and Lauren Ebo stepped up in a big way with 18 rebounds in the team’s second-round win over Mississippi State. This is still a very good team.

Notre Dame took Maryland to the buzzer before losing when it had Miles and Mabrey and was at home in South Bend. Its Sweet Sixteen matchup with the Terps will be at a neutral site. Expect the Irish to play their hearts out as they go for the upset.

No. 12 Villanova Wildcats (4-seed)

Let’s talk about Lucy Olsen for a second. She has improved so much as a sophomore and is now the Robin to Maddy Siegrist’s Batman. She got the job done in the second round with a near-triple-double of 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, helping the Wildcats avoid an upset loss to popular Cinderella pick FGCU. I think that if Olsen is at her best, then this team is a legit No. 4 seed, even though it came out of the Big East. It will be interesting to see how far it can go and what a great story it would be for the Big East if it made the Final Four.

Xavier v Villanova Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

No. 11 UCLA Bruins (4-seed)

UCLA only beat Washington (7-11 Pac-12) by four and eight and only beat Oregon State (4-14 Pac-12) by eight on Feb. 10. It also lost to Oregon State by five, but that was without Charisma Osborne.

The Bruins also nearly blew their lead against Oklahoma in the second round. They’re also 203rd in the country with a 3-point shooting percentage of 30.4. Osborne and Kiki Rice are great players, but I just don’t trust them shooting the three. I do think UCLA has the slight edge over Villanova though, because it comes from a Power 5 conference.

No. 10 Utah Utes (2-seed)

I like Utah’s offense (fourth in the nation in rating) with Alissa Pili (21 points per game) leading the way. You’ve also got Gianna Kneepkens shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc with 68 makes. Pretty impressive.

But Utah only beat Arizona State (1-17 Pac-12) by five, albeit without Pili. With Pili, they only beat Oregon State (4-14 Pac-12) by two and only beat Washington (7-11 Pac-12) by eight. The Utes also barely beat No. 10 seed Princeton in the second round. I think they are the weakest No. 2 seed.

No. 9 Louisville Cardinals (5-seed)

I think Louisville is the type of team that won’t fold under pressure, though they did have a disappointing regular season that saw them fall from preseason No. 7 to a No. 5 seed. Jeff Walz is incredible in March, having led the Cards to the last four Elite Eights. Why should this year be any different just because the team had some shortcomings in the regular season?

You know Hailey Van Lith is determined to prove the world wrong, as she did last year by leading the Cards to the Final Four as a disrespected No. 1 seed.

I like Louisville getting past Ole Miss and into the Elite Eight, but don’t think it is as good a team as Iowa, the team it will potentially face with a trip to Dallas on the line.

No. 8 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (4-seed)

Tennessee was No. 5 in the preseason. Granted, that was with Tamari Key, but the Lady Vols still have the two-headed monster of Rickea Jackson and Jordan Horston.

Tennessee gets bumped up on this list because of the way it has dominated so far with 45- and 47-point wins. It had trouble dealing with pressure early in the season, but is hitting its stride in the NCAA Tournament and has the talent to upset VA Tech in the Sweet Sixteen.

Winning a blowout or blowouts doesn’t always translate to the next round though. Just ask Texas, which won by 39 in the first round, then lost by 22 in the second round to a team that had won by just two in the first round. Or ask the 2020-21 Maryland Terrapins, who won by 53 and 36 in the first two rounds before losing by three in the Sweet Sixteen to a team seeded four lines lower.

No. 7 Virginia Tech Hokies (1-seed)

This is one of a few controversial placements on this list. I’m a big Hokies fan, in part because I got to cover Taylor Soule at Boston College last year and know how hard she works, but I’m cautious about taking them all the way.

On paper, this team is loaded, though they themselves prove that it isn’t all about what’s on paper by favoring chemistry over playing Ashley Owusu. Without Owusu, you still have Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore playing like one of the best star tandems in the country. So the talent is there, and, as I’ve mentioned before on Swish Appeal, I consider VA Tech a feel-good story because of the way their talent has overcome lack of experience as the top dog.

Yet, here I am saying that in the tournament you have to re-prove yourself. VA Tech is the new kid on the block, and sometimes that team can win it all. The 2008 Boston Celtics are a good example: a group of players that weren’t used to winning it all came together and won it all on their first try. But I’m just going to be cautious here.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Basketball Tipoff
Kenny Brooks (left), Georgia Amoore (center) and Elizabeth Kitley won’t be satisfied with anything but a national championship.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (3-seed)

I would put the Buckeyes higher, but their early-game scare against No. 14 seed James Madison and late-game scare against No. 6 seed North Carolina have to be taken into account.

With Jacy Sheldon back to being the best player on the team, there is reason to believe Ohio State can get back to being the team that was No. 2 in the nation for a large chunk of the season. That’s right, No. 2. As in, behind only South Carolina. The Buckeyes certainly don’t forget being No. 2 and are certainly not going to be satisfied with a Sweet Sixteen exit.

With the differing skillsets of Sheldon, Cotie McMahon and Taylor Thierry, plus Taylor Mikesell’s scoring ability, I’m very high on Ohio State. I think it can give UConn problems in the Sweet Sixteen.

No. 5 Maryland Terrapins (2-seed)

So far so good for the Terps. They won their first-round game by more than the final margin of 32 indicates. Iowa may have the biggest blowout of the tournament thus far (52 points over SE Louisiana), but Maryland got off the best start out of any team in the tournament with what it did to Holy Cross in the first quarter.

In the second round, Maryland again won by more than the final margin (this time 13) indicates. It’s a little concerning that the Terps let Arizona creep back and nearly make garbage time no longer garbage time, but in the end, it proved to be garbage time. We have to applaud Maryland for that phenomenal third quarter and not get too concerned.

Arizona is a dangerous team that went to the national championship game as a No. 3 seed in 2021. Adia Barnes has the March coaching gene and it’s not surprising that her team challenged Maryland. The Terps should be proud of beating the Wildcats and the rest of the field should watch out for Maryland because of what it accomplished in the first two rounds.

No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes (2-seed)

I was a little worried that Iowa would struggle to get past the demon of losing in the second round as a No. 2 seed last year and the Hawkeyes did indeed struggle to put away No. 10 seed Georgia in this year’s second round. However, now that they are back in the Sweet Sixteen, I think some of the pressure is off.

Iowa can win the national championship because of Caitlin Clark’s singular greatness. She’s like Diana Taurasi with the way she is unapologetic about shooting from anywhere, and more likely than not, she’s going to make you pay by doing that and not cause Iowa to suffer. Sometimes when I watch Iowa, I wonder how they could ever lose. When Clark’s passing to Monika Czinano is on point, it’s so easy for the Hawkeyes to score. Czinano creates the perfect positioning, receives an amazing pass from Clark that’s like a baseball fastball and doesn’t even have to dribble before putting it in.

Plus, Gabbie Marshall has been out of her mind from beyond the arc lately, going 5-of-8 against Georgia most recently. She’ll hope to continue breaking teams’ backs after they expend all their energy stopping Clark and Czinano.

I’ll leave Iowa behind UConn and LSU, but only because those two teams have won both their games comfortably, while the Hawkeyes endured a scare against a No. 10 seed. With the superstar power of the best player in the tournament, Iowa should really be No. 2.

No. 3 UConn Huskies (2-seed)

I think the winner of the UConn/Ohio State Sweet Sixteen game could very well win the national championship. The Huskies have the pressure of being UConn and keeping their 14-tournament Final Four streak going, but if they can overcome that pressure, they can go all the way.

Azzi Fudd looked like Azzi Fudd again with 22 points in the second round, and the Huskies have proven to be loaded with talent like UConn teams of old; they’re not just about one superstar, which was sort of the case in Paige Bueckers’ freshman and sophomore seasons (2020-21 and 2021-22, respectively).

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s nothing not to like about Lou Lopez Sénéchal’s offensive game, and then there’s Aaliyah Edwards, who has been leading the way with Fudd out/working to get back in a groove; Edwards was the highest-ranked UConn player in ESPN’s Sweet Sixteen player rankings (No. 5 overall). Dorka Juhász’s numbers are up from last year and now more similar to the star numbers she put up at Ohio State. Nika Mühl is an incredible distributor, and Aubrey Griffin and Caroline Ducharme are very good players who round out UConn’s rotation.

A February full of close calls to some pretty weak Big East teams is in the rearview mirror for UConn. So far in March, the Huskies have dominated the Big East Tournament, won in the first round of the Big Dance by 43 and defeated a good Baylor team by 19 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

No. 2 LSU Tigers (3-seed)

This is a controversial pick for No. 2 because of the Tigers’ weak regular-season schedule. Can they really make it through four more games against essentially the new Top 16 teams in the country?

Me putting LSU here partly speaks to how highly I think of Michigan. The Wolverines were within single digits of Indiana, Iowa, Maryland and Ohio State twice. They were the fifth wheel in a competitive Big Ten, but had the talent on paper to beat any of those other four teams and most teams in the country on a good day with Leigha Brown, Emily Kiser and Laila Phelia leading the way. Well, LSU beat Michigan by 24 in the second round.

But even before they beat Michigan, I picked the Tigers to the Final Four in one of my brackets. Angel Reese never turned into the “big guard” or wing she was purported to be coming out of high school, but she has become an insanely good inside scorer, especially for someone who isn’t always the tallest post player on the floor at 6-foot-3. She’s able to gobble up points and rebounds like Pac-Man.

Plus, LSU has multiple players who can take over a game and put the team on their back, with Alexis Morris being the other. We saw Morris do it on Jan. 30 against Tennessee. SEC Freshman of the Year Flau’jae Johnson is a great third-best player and the rest of LSU’s roster is solid as well.

Like Stanford, LSU has some concerning close calls on its resume and it blew a big lead against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. But I think the Tigers are hitting their stride in the NCAA Tournament, and when Reese and Morris are at their best, there may not be a better team in the country.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Rounds-Michigan vs LSU
Angel Reese
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (1-seed)

I’m a big believer that South Carolina will not be able to repeat. The pressure is just too much. We’ve already seen the other two teams with the most pressure to succeed fall and I think a team will come along that’s able to outshoot the Gamecocks from three. (Indiana was the No. 2 overall seed and I put Stanford ahead of Virginia Tech in terms of pressure because it is a storied program and VA Tech was not expected to be a No. 1 seed).

With that being said, we have to give the Gamecocks the benefit of the doubt. They are the undefeated defending national champions and won by 30-plus in both the first and second rounds. South Florida gave them a first-half scare, but they had players step up and do the little things to turn that game into a blowout.

Here’s how ESPN re-seeded the Sweet Sixteen teams.