March Madness, a.k.a the most wonderful time of the year, is officially upon us. The 68-team field for the NCAA Women’s Tournament was set during the selection show on Sunday night, which means it’s time to fill out your brackets before the first-round games begin Friday.
Make sure to register for the JWS x DICK’s Sporting Goods Bracket Challenge for a chance to win $150,000. To get you started, here are my full bracket picks and games you definitely want to keep an eye on.
South Florida vs. Marquette (March 17)
This game is basically a pick ‘em, which means it’s 50/50 on who could win. Both of these teams play slowly, ranking in the bottom half of the league in possessions per game. Neither team forces a lot of turnovers, and they both have three players who do the bulk of their scoring, with a significant drop-off after that.
I like Marquette because of their experience playing top-tier opponents in the Big East, but who you pick in this one doesn’t hold a ton of weight because they face No. 1 overall seed South Carolina in the next round.
Oklahoma vs. Portland (March 18)
This game is interesting because Portland has a lot of similarities to Utah, a team that blew out Oklahoma 124-78 back in November. The Pilots shoot a ton of 3-pointers and have a solid post player and rim protector in 6-foot-6 Lucy Cochrane. Portland could keep it close, but the Pilots don’t have the overall talent that Oklahoma does. I expect the Sooners to pull off the win in the end.
Gonzaga vs. Ole Miss (March 17)
Gonzaga is coming off a loss to Portland during which they looked uncharacteristically rattled. Ole Miss, while talented, over-performed when they took South Carolina to overtime on to overtime on Feb. 19. The Zags should be able to handle Ole Miss’ pressure thanks to an experienced backcourt led by senior guard Kaylynne Truong.
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Drake vs. Louisville (March 18)
Drake got on people’s radars earlier in the season when they nearly defeated Iowa. Then they went through an up-and-down season before winning five in a row to clinch an automatic bid. Louisville, meanwhile, had a terrible start to the season before peaking at the right time.
Drake has six talented scorers at both the guard and post position, while the Cardinals see a drop-off after Hailey Van Lith and Chrislyn Carr. If Louisville forward Olivia Cochran has a big game — something she is more than capable of — then the Cardinals are primed to win. But if they rely too much on Van Lith, Drake’s bevy of scorers can force the upset.
Colorado vs. Middle Tennessee (March 18)
Middle Tennessee put together an impressive resume that includes an 18-2 conference record and a win over Louisville earlier in the season. They had the potential to be a Cinderella heading into the tournament but got a tough draw with Colorado in the first round. The Buffs play a suffocating defense that rattled the likes of Stanford, Utah and UCLA this season. Plus, they have one of the toughest guards in the country in Jaylyn Sherrod and a great inside-outside game led by Quay Miller and Aaronette Vonleh that’s hard to stop.
Michigan vs. UNLV (March 17)
UNLV is one of the most athletic teams in the country. As a 12-seed, they would be a bad matchup for whichever team drew them, and Michigan is the unlucky recipient. Junior center Desi-Rae Young is a matchup nightmare, averaging 18.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game this season, and every player around her can create their own shot. Michigan played in the better conference in the Big Ten, but UNLV is the more talented team and has the potential to be a sleeper pick in this tournament.
Toledo vs. Iowa State (March 18)
Before she tore her ACL in January, top WNBA draft prospect Stephanie Soares had Iowa State as a potential Final Four team. Without her, that doesn’t seem possible, but the Cyclones are still a solid team. They battled through the Big 12 tournament to defeat Texas for the title on Sunday, and I expect them to do the same against Toledo. But this one could be close. The Rockets have an excellent backcourt that could pick apart the Iowa State defense without a rim protector. If you’re feeling risky, then go with Toledo.
Notre Dame vs. Creighton
A healthy Notre Dame team would be poised for a deep run, but without Oliva Miles and Dara Mabrey, they limped to the end of the regular season and were blown out by Louisivlle in the ACC tournament. The players in their lineup are talented enough to get them out of the first round, but after that, this team is too depleted to get past a tough, experienced Creighton squad.
UNLV vs. LSU
I’m riding with UNLV because of all the reasons I mentioned above. This team has Power 5-level athletes and a coach who knows how to game-plan against top teams. LSU will be a tough test, and the Angel Reese vs. Desi-Rae Young matchup should be exciting. This result could go either way, but I’m counting on UNLV’s poise to propel them to a win.
South Carolina vs. UCLA
This is one of those rematches that likely won’t live up to the hype. UCLA played South Carolina close the first time around, thanks to a game plan that involved packing the paint, double- and triple-teaming Aliyah Boston and making the Gamecocks shoot from long range. South Carolina weathered that storm and will do the same once again. Expect them to be better prepared for the Bruins this time around.
UNLV vs. Utah
The Rebels and the Utes are two teams that like to run and have a variety of scoring weapons. I see this being a close game, but Utah has the tools to end UNLV’s run. The Utes are one of a few teams that are a bad matchup for UNLV. Wooden Award finalist Alissa Pili is a different type of big who will stretch the floor, creating lanes for Utah’s slashers.
Stanford vs. Iowa
This season’s Iowa squad has the goods to avoid an early upset, thanks to role players stepping up to assist Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano. Like most teams, I don’t think the Cardinal have a defender who can slow down Clark, but unlike most teams, I don’t think they have to. Clark can score her points, but the post play will be a problem. Cameron Brink will present a mismatch, with her ability to extend defenses and attack off the bounce, and the Cardinal have too many talented bigs to rotate in, such as Lauren Betts and Fran Belibi. I expect them to overwhelm Iowa inside and get the win.
UConn vs. Virginia Tech
The Hokies are playing their best basketball right now. They ended their season with 11-straight wins in arguably the country’s top conference and an ACC Championship. Georgia Amoore and Elizabeth Kitley are one of the best guard-post duos in the NCAA, and Taylor Soule and Kayana Traylor are contributing at a high level. The Huskies finally have a healthy Azzi Fudd, and with her, they have a shot at another Final Four. But Virginia Tech is a touch better and should come out on top.
Indiana vs. Utah
Indiana and Utah each have talent at every position. They have elite posts in Mackenzie Holmes (IU) and Pili (Utah), and elite guards in Grace Berger and Sydney Parrish (IU) and Gianna Kneepkens and Izzy Palmer (Utah). I give the edge to Indiana because they have better secondary scorers. Players like Yarden Garzon and Sara Scalia can put up big numbers when needed.
This is one of those tournaments that has the potential for early-round upsets but will likely end up chalk in the Final Four. In this case, I think the committee got the 1-seeds right as the top four teams in the tournament.
South Carolina vs. Stanford
These teams met earlier in the season, with South Carolina picking up a win in overtime, and both teams are now better than they were in that matchup. Stanford’s development of Lauren Betts could change the dynamic of this game. The Cardinal didn’t have a second option once Cameron Brink got into foul trouble in that November matchup; now they do.
But South Carolina figured out some things, too — like how well Raven Johnson and Kamilla Cardoso play together off the bench and how to best use its deep rotation. This game could come down to the final possession, that’s how close these teams are. But in the end, South Carolina is undefeated for a reason, and I expect them to stay that way.
Indiana vs. Virginia Tech
This matchup will likely come down to depth. Amoore and Kitley are elite scorers, but after that, Indiana is stronger player to player. The Hoosiers have six players who can erupt at any point, and that should be enough to top the Hokies.
South Carolina vs. Indiana
The Gamecocks are coming off a 2022 national championship, while the Hoosiers have never made it past the Elite Eight. The Hoosiers’ starting five matches up relatively well with the Gamecocks, but once these teams go to the bench, it’s all South Carolina.
Ultimately, the Gamecocks have too many weapons that all play well together. When the final buzzer sounds, South Carolina will be the champion once more, joining UConn, Tennessee and USC as the only programs to win consecutive titles.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.