It was a wild ride getting here, but aside from No. 10 Creighton, the Elite Eight is populated with the teams you’d expect. Still, among those Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds are a mixture of first-timers and mainstays.
Stanford, South Carolina, UConn and Louisville are all names we associate with deep tournament runs, while this is Creighton’s first Elite Eight. Michigan joins the Bluejays in making its Elite Eight debut, and Texas is back for the second year in a row after going just two other times in the last 20 years. Rounding out the list is NC State, making its second Elite Eight in history and first since 1998.
On Sunday and Monday, the field will cut in half once more, setting the ever-elusive Final Four bracket.
Here’s how I see the Elite Eight matchups playing out.
Creighton has cemented itself as a tournament darling, but I don’t see its historic run going any further. The Bluejays’ motion offense can be successful against anyone, but against South Carolina, the game will come down to defending the Gamecocks.
Creighton was successful against Iowa and Iowa State because they were able to key in on one or two players, but South Carolina has offensive talent at almost every position. Between Aliyah Boston, Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke, the Gamecocks have too much firepower on the attack. Brea Beal, Victoria Saxton, and Kamilla Cardoso bring a size and strength off the bench that Creighton has yet to run into.
Texas burst onto the scene this year with an upset of Stanford on Nov. 14. The Longhorns still play the same intense, up-and-down style of basketball as they did in November, but Stanford is no longer plagued with the same issues. Back then, the Cardinal were struggling to replace point guard Kiana Williams, and without her, they couldn’t take care of the ball. Since then, Lacie Hull and Anna Wilson have settled into the role, splitting time running Stanford’s offense.
In the first three games of the tournament, Stanford’s offense has been balanced and in sync. Against Montana State and Kansas, 12 different players recorded at least a point in each game, and against Maryland, the Cardinal had eight scorers. Texas has been playing great basketball, but it’s hard to imagine anyone beating Stanford right now.
In its 75-58 win over a talented Indiana squad, UConn officially proved that the hurdles of the regular season are over. The Huskies played as a cohesive unit, and everyone contributed to the result.
Williams to Edwards connection for 2️⃣🔥 #MarchMadness x @UConnWBB pic.twitter.com/6lWcVu8by1— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) March 26, 2022
Williams to Edwards connection for 2️⃣🔥 #MarchMadness x @UConnWBB pic.twitter.com/6lWcVu8by1
Paige Bueckers and Christyn Williams each had 15 points, while Azzi Fudd showed off her 3-point shooting, adding 13 points of her own. Inside, Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa were tough, combining for 19 points and 24 rebounds. Early in the season, those two didn’t have the goods to contend with an elite post player like Elissa Cunane, but they do now. Both teams have talented guards, but UConn has the edge in terms of overall skill. This game could be close, but I expect to see the Huskies make their 22nd Final Four.
Louisville is a team that forces a lot of turnovers. The Cardinals caused Tennessee to commit 18 miscues, which turned into 21 points on the other end. And Michigan is a team that commits a lot of turnovers. Per Her Hoop Stats, the Wolverines rank 245th in the country (out of 356) in turnovers per game, coughing the ball up 15.7 times per game. Put those together, and you have an advantage for Louisville.
Michigan’s greatest strength comes in the form of post player Naz Hillmon, and while I don’t expect Louisville to shut her down entirely, they do have the skills to limit her. Between Emily Engstler (6-foot-1), Olivia Cochran (6-3) and Liz Dixon (6-5), the Cardinals have a solid rotation of players to throw at Hillmon.
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.