NCAA Women’s Bracket: Top matchups, Final Four picks, extra

After a wild 12 months and an thrilling begin to March, the NCAA Women’s Tournament is lastly right here. And we’ve some questions:

Can South Carolina defend its title? Will Caitlin Clark get her March Madness second and lead Iowa to the Final Four? Can UConn rally now that Azzi Fudd is again within the lineup? Who can be this 12 months’s Cinderella staff? 

The motion begins Wednesday with two First Four video games. Then, the complete insanity begins with 16 video games on Friday and 16 extra the next day.

Here is what it is advisable to know:

[2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket revealed

Top storylines

Will South Carolina defend its title?

South Carolina’s pursuit for an ideal season and turning into simply the fourth staff in historical past to repeat as nationwide champions may be very a lot inside grasp.

The Gamecocks (32-0) are the No. 1 general seed and the most effective staff within the nation. They additionally, most significantly, have the most effective participant within the nation in Aliyah Boston, who is predicted to be the primary choose within the WNBA Draft. They haven’t misplaced a recreation since being upset by Kentucky in final 12 months’s SEC Tournament championship recreation, they usually’re probably the most imposing defensive staff within the nation. Led by Boston – the reigning National Player of the Year – the Gamecocks are holding opponents to 51.1 factors per recreation on 31.4% taking pictures, whereas averaging greater than 9 blocks per recreation. 

Dawn Staley’s staff is lengthy, deep and one way or the other even higher than they had been final 12 months on each ends of the ground, which is horrifying for any staff they’ll face over the following few weeks.

“The biggest difference [between this year’s team and last year’s team] is they’re embracing [having a target on their back] in a different and more poised and calm way,” Staley mentioned on ESPN’s Selection Show. 

It’s useful to have so many returning stars from the 2022 championship staff, too. In addition to Boston, the Gamecocks have Brea Beal, Zia Cooke and Victaria Saxton, in addition to Raven Johnson. Off the bench they’ve Kamilla Cardoso, Bree Hall and Laeticia Amihere.

“We know what it takes to win a national championship and be in close games,” Boston mentioned on the Selection Show. “We’ve done a great job bringing up the underclassmen, and they’re ready to rock and roll.”

How far can Caitlin Clark take Iowa?

Last 12 months, Iowa was upset by NCAA Tournament Cinderella Creighton, prohibiting Caitlin Clark from making a Final Four run.

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As a junior, the National Player of the Year semifinalist has placed on a present almost each recreation. From her jaw-dropping emblem 3-pointers to her off-balance buzzer-beaters to being so assured that she typically is aware of her shot is “money” as soon as it leaves her arms, basketball followers deserve to observe her play deep into the event this time.

So, how far can Clark, who’s averaging 27 factors per recreation and leads the nation with 8.3 assists per recreation, take the Hawkeyes? Iowa received the Big Ten Tournament title, however hasn’t made it to a Final Four since 1993.

Caitlin Clark hits a deep 3-pointer

Caitlin Clark hits a deep 3-pointer

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark hits a deep 3-point shot in a win over Ohio State.

The Hawkeyes earned a No. 2 seed within the Seattle 4 area, which is arguably one of many hardest elements of the bracket. Iowa faces Southeastern Louisiana in its first recreation, and if the Hawkeyes hold successful, they might face Duke within the Sweet 16 and both Texas or Stanford within the Elite Eight.

There was quite a lot of dialogue as as to if Stanford or Iowa would get the No. 1 seed – the choice committee awarded it to the Cardinal. Will being a No. 2 seed make Clark mad and provides her much more of an edge? That’s one thing just a few groups are about to seek out out.

Coach with most strain

If there was an EGOT award in sports activities, Dawn Staley would win it. She was a two-time National Player of the Year at Virginia and a six-time WNBA All-Star. She can also be a four-time Olympic gold medalist (three as a participant, one as Team USA’s head coach), and at South Carolina, she’s received two nationwide championships (2017, 2022) and is getting ready to successful her third (and second in a row).

During the Selection Show, Staley joked about her grey hairs whereas speaking concerning the stress of the second and attempting to information her staff to a different title. Sitting subsequent to her was Boston, who laughed and confidently informed her coach, “speak it into existence.”

Staley coaches a tight-knit staff filled with veterans who know precisely what this event is all about. It’s theirs to lose.

Three gamers to observe (not named Aliyah Boston or Caitlin Clark)

Maddy Siegrist, Villanova

While a wild guess may assume that Clark is the nation’s main scorer, she’s not. That title goes to Siegrist, a senior ahead at Villanova. Siegrist has averaged 28.9 factors per recreation this season and as soon as exploded for 50 on 20-of-26 taking pictures from the sphere in a 99-65 win over Seton Hall in February. She can also be the Big East’s all-time main scorer with 1,550 profession factors.

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Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist drains a 3-point jumper

Villanova's Maddy Siegrist drains a 3-point jumper

Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist drains a 3-point jumper within the second quarter of the Big East championship.

Angel Reese, LSU

The star sophomore ahead made historical past this season when she handed legend Sylvia Fowles’ report with 20 consecutive double-doubles. Her streak didn’t finish there although, as she finally recorded 23 in a row and 27 in 28 video games. That tied one other Fowles report for many double-doubles in a season by an LSU participant. With the NCAA Tournament set to get underway, count on Reese to interrupt that report because the Tigers make their manner via their area as a No. 3 seed.

Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech is likely one of the hottest groups heading into the NCAA Tournament, and some of the harmful, incomes a No. 1 seed within the Seattle 3 area. The Hokies are led by Elizabeth Kitley, a two-time ACC Player of the Year who can also be a National Player of the Year semifinalist. Kitley has averaged 18.6 factors, 10.5 rebounds and a pair of.3 blocks per recreation whereas taking pictures 56% from the ground. She has scored 20 or extra factors in 17 video games and recorded 19 double-doubles this season.

Easiest draw

Greenville 1 is the simplest draw … for South Carolina to make a run and repeat as nationwide champs, that’s. It’s not really easy for anybody else standing in its manner.

This area options potential rematches for the Gamecocks, as they performed (and beat) No. 2 seed Maryland and No. 4 seed UCLA in the course of the common season. The proven fact that Staley can recreation plan for groups she’s already seen and beat handily is just not excellent news for these opponents. 

“I like it,” Staley mentioned of South Carolina’s bracket. “There’s a familiarity. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but sometimes when you’re in a tournament setting like this, it’s a good thing to have played a couple of teams we’ve played this year. [But we] won’t shortchange the scout, that’s for sure.”

It appears to be like just like the Gamecocks are in fairly fine condition with a good path to the Final Four.

Toughest draw

Any area with UConn in it’s robotically deemed the hardest. In this case, that’s Seattle 3 the place the Huskies are the No. 2 seed. 

Geno Auriemma’s staff has gone via a really unusual 12 months. After dropping to South Carolina in final 12 months’s nationwide championship recreation, the Huskies had Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd returning, so after all they might be the staff to beat. Then each gamers acquired harm – Bueckers tore her ACL and was declared out for the season, whereas Fudd injured her knee and missed 14 video games. UConn’s depth was additional depleted with extra accidents and operated a bit of the 12 months with an eight-player rotation.

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Add on the truth that Auriemma additionally missed video games as he mourned the dying of his mom and felt “under the weather and run down.”

After a troublesome stretch, UConn ended up successful the Big East common season and event titles. The Huskies additionally almost beat South Carolina in early February with seven wholesome gamers. 

Players like Lou Lopez Senechal, Aaliyah Edwards, Aubrey Griffin and Nika Muhl have stepped up, and now Fudd is again, which immediately offers UConn a shot at advancing to its fifteenth consecutive Final Four.

Lou Lopez Senechal extends the Huskies’ lead

Lou Lopez Senechal extends the Huskies' lead

UConn’s Lou Lopez Senechal extends the Huskies’ lead with the assistance of teammate Nika Muhl.

Cinderellas to observe

Last 12 months, No. 10 seed Creighton shocked everybody when it knocked off Iowa within the second spherical and proceeded to beat Iowa State within the Sweet 16. The Bluejays’ run ended within the Elite Eight, however by that time, they’d already made their mark on the event.

Who could possibly be a possible Cinderella staff this 12 months? 

No. 9 seed South Dakota State completed its season 28-5 and received the Summit League. The Jackrabbits beat NCAA tourney-bound groups Mississippi State and Louisville and had single-digit losses to Creighton and UCLA. They’re additionally no stranger to thriving as a Cinderella, making it to the Sweet 16 in 2019. Then, Myah Selland was a sophomore and scored 12.5 factors per recreation. Now, in her sixth season, she’s averaging 15.7 factors and 6.2 rebounds per recreation, together with a 25-point effort in a win over Louisville (who’s a No. 5 seed).

SDSU faces No. 8 seed USC within the first spherical. The Trojans are 21-9 and went 11-7 within the Pac-12 this season. Win that, and a date with Virginia Tech looms within the second spherical.

She beforehand wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the creator of “Strong Like a Woman,” printed in spring 2022 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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