Second-half charge powers No. 3 UConn past Iowa
Iowa led by as much as 11.
The most wonderful time of the year is here.
The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket is in, and that means it’s time to make your picks. Be sure to enter the Just Women’s Sports x DICK’S Sporting Goods Bracket Challenge for the chance to win $150,000, the largest prize in women’s college basketball history.
And if you need a little help with your selections, we have you covered. Here are my picks for the NCAA Tournament, plus first-round matchups that make you stop and think.
The first matchup that gives me pause is Miami vs. South Florida in the first round. These teams compare well to each other statistically, and they are both relatively hot right now. Miami is coming off an ACC championship game appearance after upsetting Louisville, and South Florida fell to UCF by eight points in its conference title game. Overall, South Florida has more weapons (five double-digit scorers), so I’m going with the Bulls in this one.
This game has upset potential to me. The Rebels (26-6) have put together a great season in the Mountain West and have talent at all five spots in the form of Power Five-worthy athletes. Arizona, the 2021 NCAA Tournament runner-up, has the edge because of the game’s location (Tucson) and the team’s experience. Still, I wouldn’t be shocked if UNLV pulled it off, and if they don’t, keep an eye on this team next season.
Colorado is more mature and experienced than this sophomore-studded Creighton squad — the Blue Jays’ top-three scorers are all second-year players. But if the Buffs want to advance, they’ll need to limit Creighton’s shooting. The Blue Jays score a lot of points (74.8 per game) on an onslaught of 3-pointers (10.3 per contest).
Both of these teams have balanced scoring coming from multiple positions. Nebraska is coming off a win over Michigan in the Big Ten tournament, and Gonzaga topped BYU to win the West Coast Conference. This game is a toss-up, but my gut is saying Nebraska.
The Ducks were gifted a 5-seed, but I’m not here to argue the bracket; I’m here to make picks. Belmont won 11-straight games to end the season and challenged itself in a tough non-conference slate, playing teams like Georgia Tech and Louisville. Meanwhile, the 20-11 Ducks have been inconsistent all season. This game is being played in Knoxville, Tenn., which is three hours from Belmont’s campus. The Bruins have the potential for a home-like crowd, but Oregon has a significant height advantage with Sedona Prince (6-foot-7) and Nara Sabally (6-5). If they play through their posts, the Ducks take this game.
Beating UConn on Feb. 9 is enough to get people excited — and rightfully so — about this Villanova team, but don’t sleep on three-loss BYU. This matchup features two great scorers, Maddy Siegrist of Villanova and Shaylee Gonzales of BYU. The Cougars have the edge in consistency, currently 11th in the country with an average of 77.8 points per game.
Virginia Tech has one of the best posts in the country in Elizabeth Kitley, and FGCU has one of the best guards in Kierstan Bell. The Hokies have a huge height advantage, as FGCU doesn’t have a player over 6-1, but Virginia Tech also doesn’t have a player to shut down a versatile scorer like Bell. She’s going to be the best player on the floor, so I’m giving FGCU the upset win.
Arkansas and Utah are each coming off runs to their conference title games, and they play a similar style of basketball. This should be an up-tempo, high-scoring contest in which both squads show a willingness to pull up from distance. Utah makes 9.4 3-pointers per game, and Arkansas makes 8.2. This game will come down to which team executes better. Arkansas is a bit older and, in my opinion, a bit better at scoring the basketball, but it’ll be a close one.
What a tough draw for Princeton. I’ve liked this team all season, and I had my eye on the Tigers as a potential Cinderella candidate, but I can’t pick against Kentucky right now. The Wildcats are on a 10-game win streak that ended with a thrilling win over South Carolina in the SEC tournament championship game. Plus, they have the best player on the floor in Rhyne Howard. As talented as Princeton is, those factors are too much to overcome.
Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.
Iowa led by as much as 11.
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