The Selection Show is over. The bracket is complete. Now, we wait for the opening round games and to let the Madness begin.
Stanford is the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament this year, while UConn, NC State and South Carolina round out the rest of the No. 1 seeds. Maryland, Texas A&M, Baylor and Louisville all received No. 2 seeds.
There are some terrific first round matchups in store with Michigan taking on Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon playing South Dakota, and Gonzaga taking on Belmont, just to name a few. UNC, led by second-year coach Courtney Banghart, is back in the tournament for the 28th time, and have a fun first round matchup against No. 7 seed Alabama.
As we get set for the start of tournament play this weekend, with first round games being played Sunday and Monday, here are five takeaways from Monday’s bracket reveal.
The official 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket can be found here.
The tournament committee got it right at the top line
There were six teams that had a legitimate argument for a No. 1 seed in the tournament with Stanford, UConn, NC State, South Carolina, Maryland and Texas A&M all completing fantastic regular seasons. Baylor and Louisville were right behind that group, but there was some separation that made it clear that the Bears and the Cardinals would be No. 2 seeds.
The Stanford-UConn debate is a good one, and it certainly could have gone either way, but I think the committee got this one right. Stanford suffered back-to-back losses to Colorado and UCLA in the middle of the season, but outside of that, Stanford was terrific and beat a number of tournament teams, including Arizona, UCLA, Washington State, Oregon State and Oregon. UConn put together some great wins over the likes of South Carolina and Tennessee, but the overall body of work of the Cardinal, participating in the Pac-12 and winning it, made their case for the top overall seed just a bit better.
I was unsure if the committee would reward NC State with a No. 1 seed, especially after losing to both UNC and Virginia Tech, but it did, and I think that was the right call. The Wolfpack put together a fantastic resume, beating two teams in South Carolina and Louisville, who were No. 1 in the AP Poll at the time NC State defeated them. Also, in both of those games, Wes Moore’s team won on the road.
South Carolina, who played arguably the toughest schedule in the country, while participating in the toughest league, was also deserving of a No. 1 seed. The Gamecocks marched through their conference tournament, and while they lost a few games during the season, Dawn Staley’s team is easily a top-four team heading into the tournament.
UConn and Baylor are on a collision course
The UConn Huskies are the No. 1 seed in the Riverwalk Region and in search of their 12th national championship. Associate head coach Chris Dailey will lead the Huskies through at least the first weekend of the tournament, as coach Geno Auriemma works through COVID-19 protocols.
If the Huskies get by No. 16 seed High Point, and then either No. 8 Syracuse or No. 9 South Dakota State, they will be one win away from entering a regional final, which could possibly put them up against the reigning national champion Baylor Bears. Kim Mulkey has led her team back to the NCAA Tournament and is in search of her fourth national championship.
These two teams were originally scheduled to play on Jan. 7, but the game was canceled. We may get a redo here on a neutral court in San Antonio with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Two of the most efficient offenses and defenses in the country would be on full display, in a game that would see freshman Paige Bueckers take on NaLyssa Smith, Didi Richards and the reigning national champions.
A potential UConn-Iowa matchup in the Sweet 16 would be a ton of fun, but I don’t see Iowa or Kentucky knocking the Huskies off. Tennessee is the No. 3 seed in the region and will likely take on Baylor in the Sweet 16. This is a really intriguing matchup, especially the way Tennessee has been playing over the past month, but the Bears should walk away with the win. If so, we will have a Final Four-type battle in the Elite Eight, which I certainly see happening.
These are the five must-watch first round matchups
There are a number of great matchups set for the first round of the tournament, which should be a ton of fun to watch. Here are the top five that I am looking at as we head into the opening round.
- No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 9 South Dakota St.
- No. 5 Gonzaga vs. No. 12 Belmont
- No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 11 South Dakota
- No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast
- No. 7 Alabama vs. No. 10 North Carolina
The depth of the SEC should have been rewarded
The SEC got seven teams into the tournament, but there is certainly an argument to be made that they deserved more. The SEC was undoubtedly the toughest league in the country this season, and without as many opportunities to schedule in the non-conference, we saw two teams–Ole Miss and Mississippi State –finish the season at or just above .500 and below .500 in conference play.
When looking at the number of teams that were on the bubble, and the teams that made the tournament, anyone can find something to argue and knit pick, but at the end of the day, the teams that were selected certainly earned their tournament bid. For Ole Miss and Mississippi State, not earning a bid to the tournament is one thing. Not even being one of the first four out is another.
I am going to focus on Ole Miss here, because while there is a case to be made for Mississippi State, it just isn’t as strong as the case for Ole Miss. Mississippi St. was 1-5 against the top 25 in the NET, and 2-8 against the top-50.
In looking at Ole Miss, it had four wins over tournament teams including two over Kentucky, to go along with wins over Alabama and Arkansas. They are also ranked 41st in the NET rankings, which is a higher ranking than a number of teams that either got into the tournament or are one of the first four teams out. While NET rankings are not the end-all, be-all, my question beyond that is how do the wins match up against the wins Ole Miss put together?
I understand that their 4-10 record in league play left a lot to be desired, but this was the best league in the country this year and they proved they can beat really, really good teams.
The Final Four will not be ‘chalk’
This has been an unpredictable season in so many different ways and the next month is bound to be more unpredictable than ever. While I’m not set on making my final four prediction just yet, I am confident in saying that the final four will not consist of all No. 1 seeds.
The first reason is that the No. 2 seeds are just too good. With Baylor, Maryland, Texas A&M and Louisville holding down the No. 2 seeds, you are looking at two conference tournament champions in Baylor in the Big-12 and Maryland in the Big Ten, as well as two teams in the Aggies and the Cardinals, that held down the No. 1 ranking in our CBS Sports poll and were also ranked either first or second in the AP Poll at some point during the season. Each of these teams have terrific offenses, led by the Terrapins, who are first in the country in scoring offense, while Baylor also boasts a top-15 scoring defense in the country.
Beyond the No. 2 seeds, you have No. 3-seeds and 4-seeds that are capable of making a deep run in the tournament. I don’t see any team seeded lower than No. 4 getting to the Final Four, but teams like UCLA, Arizona and Georgia–all No. 3 seeds–are certainly capable of getting there. Indiana may have the best draw of any of the No. 4 seeds as well, and while the other No. 4 seeds West Virginia, Kentucky, and Arkansas certainly have more difficult roads, they have shown they can compete with any team in the country.
I will have my regional and Final Four predictions out later this week, but one thing is for certain, the Final Four will not consist of all No. 1 seeds.