April 17, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Women's March Madness bracket winners and losers, next steps

Women's March Madness bracket winners and losers, next steps

There won't be a rematch of the national championship game in women's college basketball in 2024, but LSU vs. Iowa could be a great matchup in an Elite Eight matchup. If they both get this far, then that is it.

Who are the winners and losers of the NCAA Women's Tournament? We start on the losers' side, and it starts with the bottom two teams remaining in 2023. Neither of which will make it to Cleveland. In fact, no one could be there.

The Albany 2 Regional features three teams that many may have picked to reach the Final Four before the bracket was revealed: defending national champion LSU, national runner-up Iowa and UCLA.

Who thought this was a good idea? It was clearly the NCAA selection committee that decided to put this trio together, along with No. 4 seed Kansas State.

As ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo said, South Carolina, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed and No. 1 seed in the Albany 1 Regional, took — and won — what appears to be the so-called “easier” regional bracket. Iowa State — seeded No. 1 for the first time since 1992 — was supposed to get the second-easiest corner in the bracket, but instead got the toughest.

The Big Ten tournament champion Hawkeyes, SEC tournament runner-up LSU and Pac-12 semifinalist UCLA were all in the top four in the preseason Associated Press poll and are in the top eight now. Of course, poll rankings are one thing and NCAA Tournament status is another. However, it is surprising to see them all together.

“At first, I just thought, ‘Oh, this is a really tough area,’” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said of her first reaction to the arc.

Let's break down the winners and losers in the women's bracket, and what the road looks like for undefeated South Carolina, Kaitlyn Clark and Iowa.


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Carolyn Beck: South Carolina is excited to get into the tournament

Carolyn Beck, Andrea Carter, Rebecca Lobo and Ellie Duncan power through South Carolina in the women's NCAA tournament.

South Carolina Gamecocks

Two-time national champion South Carolina is in the Albany 1 Regional along with No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Oregon State and No. 4 Indiana. The Irish are ACC Tournament champions and are playing well, but the Gamecocks have the advantage against them already this season. That was November in Paris — a 29-point Gamecock win — and since then both teams have improved a lot.

The Gamecocks have been so good that they will likely be “winners” regardless of the matchups in their bracket. But coach Dawn Staley has to be happy with the path ahead for her team.

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Center Camila Cardoso will miss South Carolina State's opener against winner Sacred Heart Presbyterian after being ejected for fighting in the SEC Tournament final. That would have little consequence in that game. But the Gamecocks will be happy to get it back against the winner of the North Carolina-Michigan State game, in an 8-9 game.

Provided the Gamecocks reach the Sweet 16 — where they last fell in the second round in 2013 — they could face a No. 4-seeded Indiana team that hopes to be healthier since its quarterfinal loss in the Big Ten Tournament.

If there was an Elite Eight matchup between South Carolina and Notre Dame, we would see two of the best freshmen in the country, the Gamecocks' MiLaysia Fulwiley and Ireland's Hannah Hidalgo. But South Carolina's interior presence and depth should carry the Gamecocks to Cleveland.

Ivy league

The conference got two teams in the field: Ivy Madness champion Princeton and runner-up Columbia. It's only the second time two Ivy teams have made the field (Penn and Princeton led in 2016).

Both the Tigers and Lions finished 13-1 in league play, with Columbia handing Princeton its only league loss, 67-65 on Feb. 25 in New York.

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Andrea Carter: Zone 3 is the “Approved Aquarius” zone.

Andrea Carter explains how the Region 3 tournament in the women's NCAA Tournament is full of “Certified Bucket” winners.

USC Trojans

Since 1986, Trojans legend Cheryl Miller's final year, the program has not had a No. 1 finish until Sunday. USC, the No. 1 seed in the Portland Region 3 Regional, has had a breakout season, thanks in large part to JuJu Watkins, the No. 1 freshman in the standout junior class. But as the Trojans proved in winning the Pac-12 Tournament final when Stanford focused on shutting down Watkins, USC is about more than just its young star.

The Trojans have waited a long time — since 1994 — to host the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament again, so this is exciting for USC as well.

USC appears to have a good path to the Elite Eight, where an epic showdown with Paige Bueckers and No. 3 seed UConn — the most decorated team in this corner of the bracket — could await.

Texas Longhorns

The Big 12 Tournament champion earned its first seed since 2004. The Longhorns, like fellow No. 1 seed Iowa, did not win the conference regular-season title but did win the league championship.

After losing star running back Rory Harmon for the season in late December due to a knee injury, Texas had to navigate the Big 12 without her. They lost to Baylor, Kansas State and two-time regular season champion Oklahoma. In the Big 12 Championship, the Longhorns beat Kansas, K-State and Iowa State, with freshman Madison Booker winning Most Valuable Player honors.

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Texas has made the Elite Eight twice since Vic Schaefer took over as coach in 2020-21. He said after the Big 12 final that he thought the Longhorns had proven they deserved the No. 1 seed. The committee agreed.

“When you win a league championship, you play with the schedule that these kids played, I don't know what else we could do,” Schaefer said. “I feel real confident in this team. They have done nothing but show me that they can do it.

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Why is Texas a team to fear in the women's tournament?

Charlie Crim, Rebecca Lobo, Carolyn Beck and Andrea Carter crush Region 4 in the women's NCAA Tournament.

UConn Huskies and Tennessee Lady Vols

Both teams can make waves in the bracket. UConn has run the table in the Big East this season. The Huskies could be motivated by a potential rematch with Ohio State in the Sweet 16, as the Buckeyes knocked UConn out of the tournament in that round last year.

Tennessee, the No. 6 seed in the Portland Regional 4, enters the NCAA Tournament after a last-second loss to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament semifinals. But the Lady Vols know from the way they played the Gamecocks that they can compete with anyone.

Tennessee's potential path to the Sweet 16, which would likely include a win over No. 3 seed NC State in the second round, is not an easy one. But Mrs. Falls has a chance.


Iowa Hawkeyes

Last season, Stanford — No. 1 seed in the state of Iowa — was eliminated in the second round by Ole Miss. The Rebels were later defeated by Louisville, which then fell to Iowa in the Elite Eight.

It hasn't been an easy road for the Hawkeyes to reach the Final Four in 2023, but it looks easier when looking at what they could face this season in Albany 2.

The potential difficulty begins in the second round. The Hawkeyes, who should have no trouble in their opener against the Holy Cross-UT Martin winner, will face the 8-9 West Virginia-Princeton winner next.

Last year, Georgia's ability to defend Iowa State led to a nerve-wracking second-round pick for the Hawkeyes. It could be similar if they face West Virginia, which leads the Big 12 in steals. Against Princeton, Iowa will face a program that upset Kentucky two years ago.

If the seed holds, Iowa will have a third meeting this season against Kansas State; The teams played twice in November, with the Wildcats winning the first and the Hawkeyes winning the second. Center Ayuka Lee provides interior muscle for a K-State team that pushed Texas in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals.

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If Iowa State makes the Elite Eight against No. 2 UCLA or No. 3 LSU, one of the biggest issues will be how the Hawkeyes combat the interior size of both teams.

UCLA Bruins

Placement-wise, the Bruins wouldn't mind trading spots with Pac-12 rivals Stanford in Portland 4 or USC in Portland 3. But it didn't work out that way after UCLA fell to the Trojans in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals. . The Pac-12, in its final season as we know it, has three teams in the top two for the first time in conference history. UCLA seems to have the toughest path of the three.

The Bruins won the AIAW championship in 1978. But it's fair to say that UCLA is the best program to never reach the women's Final Four in the NCAA era, which began in 1982. For parts of that season, the Bruins looked like If anything they have a solid chance of making that breakthrough in 2024. We're not counting them out, especially with a fifth-year senior leader in Charisma Osborne and a stellar freshman class that includes 6-foot-7 Lauren Bates.

But being in this area makes it more difficult for the Bruins. If the seeds hold, they'll have to get past LSU and Iowa back-to-back, which are two completely different types of teams. Can UCLA do it? Yes, but it is a real challenge.

LSU Tigers

The defending champions, No. 3 seed Albany 2, also fit in with the losers in our pool. However, their path doesn't seem quite as difficult as Iowa's or UCLA's. For three reasons: One, they've already faced the best team in the country, South Carolina, twice. The Tigers lost their regular season and tournament games with the Gamecocks in the SEC, but stuck with them both times. Second, LSU won the NCAA title last season, beating Iowa State in the final, so the Tigers should face this district with confidence. Third, Mulkey has already captured four national championships as a coach. This is her time of year.

Miami hurricanes

Last year, the Hurricanes were one of the biggest stories of March on the women's side. Seeded No. 9, they beat No. 8 Oklahoma State, No. 1 Indiana and No. 4 Villanova to reach the Elite Eight, where they lost to eventual national champion LSU.

But last year's magic doesn't carry over to Miami until 2024. The Hurricanes are 19-12 overall but 8-10 in the ACC. Wins over NCAA Tournament teams NC State, Duke and North Carolina were not enough to make up for some of Miami's losses.