NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament
Published: March 15, 2016
NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, Monday saw the reveal of the 2016 NCAA women’s college basketball tournament, which begins in earnest on March 18 and culminates April 5. While there are 64 teams in the competition, one in particular will dominate the conversation as long as it is in the tournament.
All eyes will be on No. 1 overall seed Connecticut this year—stop me if you’ve heard this before—as head coach Geno Auriemma and his preposterously talented Huskies look to become the first team in NCAA women’s basketball history to win four national titles in a row. Connecticut is a perfect 32-0 this season, so yes, things are looking pretty good for the Huskies heading into the tourney.
In his 31st year as UConn’s head coach, a win for Auriemma and his squad at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on April 5 would serve as his finest achievement—and one of the more remarkable in all of sports.
Texas women’s basketball tweeted out the full bracket, which saw South Carolina, Notre Dame and Baylor earn No. 1 seeds alongside Connecticut:
Full 2016 #NCAA women’s basketball tournament bracket. pic.twitter.com/dVV32aU8Xw
— Texas WBB (@TexasWBB) March 15, 2016
A printable version of the bracket can be found at NCAA.com.
(L-R) Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Katie Lou Samuelson
Predicting any team other than UConn to emerge from its side of the bracket might give off the impression of being a contrarian for contrarian’s sake, so that’s not what’s going to happen in this article. UConn can and should navigate its way to to the title game in Indianapolis.
For starters, the Huskies have the luxury of playing in the Bridgeport, Connecticut, region, which essentially means home games until the Final Four, as they will start off the competition in Storrs, Connecticut.
The star of the squad is senior sensation Breanna Stewart. The 6’4″ forward is averaging 19.2 points on 58.2 percent shooting while pulling down 8.3 rebounds per game. ESPNW.com named her its NCAA women’s player of the year and noted her eventual domination was evident even as a freshman:
When Breanna Stewart started her college career at UConn in 2012, there didn’t seem to be any doubt that she would become one of the best players in NCAA history. About the only question was, how fast would it happen?
Stewart had just a few games her freshman season that suggested a little uncertainty, although it’s actually kind of hard to remember that. As we announce Stewart our espnW player of the year following the least-suspenseful voting imaginable, we simply acknowledge this: She was the easiest of choices.
As if having the best player in the country wasn’t enough, UConn also trots out senior guard Moriah Jefferson (12.6 PPG, 5.4 APG) and redshirt junior forward Morgan Tuck (12.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG). These women are the leaders of the team, and they know nothing other than ultimate success.
Morgan Tuck (3)
Depth isn’t an issue for Auriemma’s juggernaut. Six players average at least nine points per game, and seven players earn at least 17 minutes per game.
FiveThirtyEight has crunched the numbers and given UConn an overwhelming 70 percent chance of winning the tournament. Notre Dame has the second-best odds at 9 percent. For comparison’s sake, the team with the best chance to win the men’s NCAA tournament, per FiveThirtyEight, is Kansas, with 19 percent.
With UConn set to roll to the title game, the only question is which team emerges from the opposite side of the bracket. Notre Dame is a strong option. The Fighting Irish lost to UConn in the title game 79-58 in 2014, and they did it again in 2015, albeit they made this one a bit closer at 63-53.
Notre Dame—31-1 this season, with the one blemish a 91-81 loss to (who else?) Connecticut—does have significant obstacles to overcome if it is going to make a third straight title game.
Maryland is the No. 2 seed in Notre Dame’s region, and in many years, it would be a No. 1 seed. The Terrapins are on a nine-game win streak, with seven of those coming by double-digit margins. No. 3 Kentucky is also lurking and gets to play in the Lexington, Kentucky, bracket, which means the Wildcats certainly could be waiting to upset Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.
Notre Dame’s potential Sweet 16 opponent is no cakewalk, either, as espnW.com’s Graham Hays wrote:
But assuming Notre Dame plays to its seed in the first two rounds, at home against No. 16 North Carolina A&T and the winner of No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 9 Indiana, the regional in Lexington could earn the Irish tickets back to South Bend just as easily as a pass to Indianapolis. Start with a Sweet 16 game against Stanford. An inglorious Pac-12 tournament exit notwithstanding, the Cardinal looked like a better team down the stretch than the one Notre Dame dispatched with ease in the Sweet 16 a season ago. The team was far better defensively and more cohesive offensively.
South Carolina has a better chance to reach the Final Four and defeat whichever team emerges from the gauntlet that is the Lexington Region. Like Notre Dame, the Gamecocks went 31-1 this season, with the lone loss coming to—and you’re never going to believe this—Connecticut on February 8.
The Gamecocks boast one of the best head coaches in the nation in the energetic and effusive Dawn Staley, a six-time WNBA All-Star who has a knack for connecting with those around her.
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