Keep these teams in mind as you fill out your NCAA women’s tournament bracket

One of the most turbulent seasons in women’s basketball history draws to a close with the NCAA tournament beginning with a quartet of play-in games on Wednesday and Thursday and the actual tournament on Friday. Prepare your brackets, prepare those notes, and dive into a dramatic buildup for the Final Four in Dallas.

With the necessary caveat that my wife — who picks solely on mascots and vibes — usually tops my bracket picks each year, here are ways March Madness should play out, though of course it wasn’t a month that produced sensational surprises.


The best matchups to watch

Both Friday and Saturday offer plenty of goodies in the area of ​​highly competitive games. Friday’s must-see game, if you only choose one thing — and if you do, examine your life choices — is in the Greenville area 2, where NC State finished seventh against the No. 10 Princeton Tigers , start. For those of you who haven’t been immersed in the Ivy League all season, the Tigers are essentially the same team that defeated Kentucky and lost by a point to Indiana in last year’s NCAA tournament, minus Abby Meyers (now in Maryland ), but with the spectacular newcomer Madison St. Rose. NC State was expected to be in contention for an ACC title, but a combination of underperforming and injuries (especially to Diamond Johnson) left them at 20-11 this season. Had I seeded, I would have turned these two over.

NC State-Princeton is the game to watch

Best encounters in the 2023 NCAA Women’s Round of 64, according to the harmonic mean of FiveThirtyEight team ratings

Region Seed Team Rtg Seed Team Rtg Harmonic Mean
Greenville 2 7 NC State 89.4 10 Princeton 83.7 86.4
Seattle 4 8 Mississippi 87.3 9 Gonzaga 84.6 85.9
Seattle 4 7 Florida St. 86.2 10 Georgia 85.4 85.8
Seattle 4 5 Louisville 91.5 12 Drake 79.7 85.2
Seattle 3 8 USC 84.5 9 SD State 85.7 85.1
Seattle 3 5 Iowa State 91.0 12 Toledo 80.0 85.1
Seattle 4 6 Colorado 87.2 11 MTSU 82.9 85.0
Seattle 3 6 North Carolina 89.7 11 Play-in 80.4 84.8
Greenville 1 6 Creighton 88.6 11 Play-in 81.2 84.8
Seattle 3 7 Baylor 86.6 10 Alabama 82.9 84.7

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Also on Friday, don’t miss Ta’Niya Latson (best freshman in the country) and Florida State’s seventh-place finish against Georgia’s struggling Katie Abrahamson-Hendersons. Coach Abe’s teams — in Albany, Central Florida and now Athens — are extensions of themselves, endlessly battling for possession and rebounds. Meanwhile, FSU, under Brooke Wyckoff, is playing at the seventh fastest pace in the country without sacrificing defense. This will be a battle of philosophies as much as baskets. And the winner here is all of us: either a Latson vs. Caitlin Clark second-round match with Iowa, or a chance to see Coach Abe take on Clark, assuming the second-seeded Hawkeyes defeat 15-seeded Southeastern Louisiana . (No guarantees — SE LA almost beat LSU earlier this season.)


Most likely surprises in the first round

On Saturday we begin to watch the tightest games and converge the greatest chances for double-digit starting places. And once we get past the 8-on-9 and 7-on-10 games, we see No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast University, led by Karl Smesko, with a chance to return heartbreak for a higher one in March to cause seed. All the Eagles did after last season’s 30-3 campaign (which included an upset over fifth-seeded Virginia Tech in the NCAA Tournament) was improve to 32-3 this season with a more efficient offense and defense, all despite Kierstan Bell’s loss to the WNBA. The FiveThirtyEight model has FGCU as the seventh most likely lower-ranked team to win Round 1, well above all other teams seeded 11th or lower.

SD State tops the list of potential first-round surprises

Highest likelihood of a first-round upset for teams ranked ninth or worse in the 2023 NCAA Women’s Tournament, according to the FiveThirtyEight model

Region Seed Team Seed Team Upset%
Seattle 3 9 S. Dakota State 8 USC 59.9%
Greenville 2 9 Miami (FL) 8 Oklahoma State 48.5
Seattle 4 10 Georgia 7 Florida State 48.2
Seattle 4 9 Gonzaga 8 Mississippi 45.3
Greenville 1 9 Marquette 8 South Florida 42.7
Greenville 1 10 West Virginia 7 Arizona 42.7
Greenville 2 12 Florida Gulf Coast 5 Washington State 41.6
Seattle 4 11 Middle Tennessee 6 Colorado 40.6
Seattle 3 10 Alabama 7 Baylor 39.0
Greenville 2 10 Princeton 7 NC State 29.4

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Upsets are defined as a lower-seeded team defeating a higher-seeded team.

Digging a little deeper into the list of upset opportunities, it’s not going to be an easy task for Villanova either, the No. 4 (in her first-ever hosting of an NCAA pod) in a clash against 13-seeded Cleveland State, former employer of Rollie Massimino. The Vikings finished 30-4 and played an impressive style of defense (13th in the country in points per 100 possessions allowed), and guard Destiny Leo, Horizon League Player of the Year, has a runaway (four games over 30 points ). Season). But as always with Villanova, who can protect Maddy Siegrist is the question… and the answer has been so far in her college career: nobody.


Most vulnerable top seed

This year’s top seeds look pretty safe until they meet a stronger juggernaut en route to the Final Four. That’s the case for Maryland and Notre Dame, Nos. 2 and 3 seeds respectively in the Greenville 1 region – both are on a collision course not only with each other but also with South Carolina if they make the Elite Eight. The #3 Seattle 4 Region Seed Duke faces a similar fate as Clark and Iowa threaten, and UConn likely stands in the way of Seattle 3 Region #3 Seed Ohio State. But OSU has a real risk of being caught before it even goes that far; We give the Buckeyes a 32 percent chance of not making the Sweet Sixteen, the highest among all top 3 seeds.

Notre Dame, Maryland and Duke have tough paths

Lowest chance of making the Final Four among the top 3 seeds in the 2023 NCAA Women’s Tournament, according to the FiveThirtyEight model

Region Seed Team Final Four %
Greenville 1 3 Notre Dame 3.9%
Greenville 1 2 Maryland 4.1
Seattle 4 3 Duke 4.3
Seattle 3 3 Ohio State 7.8
Greenville 2 2 Utah 9.0
Greenville 2 3 Louisiana State 25.2
Seattle 3 1 Virginia Tech 25.7
Seattle 4 2 Iowa 28.0
Seattle 3 2 Connecticut 44.0
Seattle 4 1 Stanford 51.5

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It’s hard to argue that the No. 1 is in grave danger at least until the Regionals, but subjectively Stanford is the team with the most obvious path to an early elimination. The Cardinals are 28-5 this season, but their Pac-12 tournament hopes were dashed early by UCLA. They’ve lost two of their last three. They don’t shoot the three-ball well at all (with the big exception of Hannah Jump) and they’re just fine, not typical Tara VanDerveer-esque on the defensive end, 45th in the country in points allowed per possession. Mississippi, the No. 8, can defend with anyone and could upset Maples. Otherwise, it’s easy to imagine fourth-place Texas winning a Vic Schaefer-type 62-60 game in the sweet 16, with Rori Harmon knocking down the game winner.


Friskiest double digit seed

As mentioned above, Florida Gulf Coast has a strong chance of winning in the Round of 64 as a 12 seed, and that can propel the Eagles to even greater heights as well. According to the FiveThirtyEight model, they have a nearly 10 percent chance of making the Sweet Sixteen, the front-runner among all teams seeded 10th or lower.

FGCU could have a Cinderella run

Highest odds of making the Sweet 16 among teams ranked 10th or lower in the 2023 NCAA Women’s Tournament, according to the FiveThirtyEight model

Region Seed Team Sweet 16 %
Greenville 2 12 Florida Gulf Coast 9.8%
Seattle 4 11 Middle Tennessee 7.9
Greenville 1 10 West Virginia 5.3
Seattle 4 10 Georgia 4.5
Greenville 2 10 Princeton 3.7
Greenville 2 13 Cleveland State 3.4
Greenville 2 11 Nevada-Las Vegas 3.3
Seattle 3 11 Purdue 3.3
Greenville 1 12 Portland 2.6
Seattle 3 10 Alabama 2.0

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I’m bringing this back to Princeton too. The Tigers could also topple Utah in Round 2, with human rebound Ellie Mitchell available to guard the Utes’ Alissa Pili. Princeton plays slow and efficient basketball; the Tigers are deep, with Ivy Player of the Year Kaitlyn Chen a good scorer; they recover exceptionally well; they take care of the basketball; they have NCAA experience; They’re comfortable coming from behind – they can do anything.

Beating Utah just isn’t an easy feat, not with the way Lynne Roberts’ crew scores the basketball. But if the Tigers win in Salt Lake City? They could make it all the way to an Elite Eight rematch with Indiana, the team that beat them by a single point last season, in a pick ’em game with a chance to go down the line to Dallas.

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