The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament busted many a bracket thanks to upsets by Miami and Ole Miss over No. 1 seeds Stanford and Indiana. Now the Sweet 16 is set, with familiar faces like South Carolina and UConn, and unexpected attendees like Colorado and Ohio State.
Expect more chaos and more upsets in the Sweet 16, as well as wins from the season’s most dominant squads. Here are my predictions for the first round of regional contests.
Maddy Siegrist, a Naismith Trophy finalist, will be the best player on the court, and I don’t expect Miami to contain her. But after seeing the way the Hurricanes defeated No. 1 Indiana, I don’t see that being an issue. While Mackenzie Holmes had 22 points and Grace Berger had 17 against Miami, the Hurricanes were able to keep the rest of Indiana’s scorers in check. Against Villanova, I anticipate a similar attack: Siegrist will get hers, but the Hurricanes won’t let the rest of the team beat them.
Miami attacked the paint against Holmes and had success with Lola Pendande (19 points) and Destiney Harden (18 points). They can do the same against the Wildcats, who don’t have the post defenders to contain Miami’s inside presence.
This game has the potential to be the best matchup of the Sweet 16, with two high-powered offenses squaring off. Utah ranks third in the country with 83.5 points per game, while LSU is just behind them with 83.2 points per game.
Utah has a well-balanced attack, with 29.8 percent of their points coming from 3-point range and 50.4 percent coming from inside the arc. The problem for the Utes is going to be LSU star Angel Reese on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Reese will get hers as she has all season, but Utah has the tools to neutralize her defensively. Alissa Pili can stretch the floor — shooting 42 percent from 3 — and allow Utah to pull Reese out of the paint, opening up driving lanes for the guards. If the Tigers choose to keep Reese as a shot-blocker and put another defender on Pili, she will be able to use her size and strength to score, once again creating a mismatch.
After defeating Duke 61-53 in Cameron on Monday, Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod said she likes going on the road, being the villain and feeding off opposing fans. Iowa won’t be the home team in this game, but they will certainly have their share of fans thanks to Caitlin Clark, meaning Colorado will be the villain once more.
The Buffs are a defensive-minded team that has the ability to rattle opponents. They made things difficult for ranked teams like Stanford, Utah and UCLA this season, and they can do it again against Iowa. No one can defend Clark, but the Buffs have the personnel to slow down the rest of the Hawkeyes, including Monika Czinano on the inside with the strength and size of Aaronette Vonleh and Quay Miller.
On offense, Miller will be the most difficult matchup for Iowa. At 6-foot-3, she’s listed as a center, but she also has guard skills. Miller can shoot from long range (averaging 33.3 percent from 3 this season) and attack inside, forcing her defender to consistently play out of position.
After getting tested in the first round by a worthy opponent in Drake, Louisville got the win behind 25 points from junior guard Hailey Van Lith. Van Lith is already a talented guard, but she takes things up a notch in March, and that energy rubs off on her teammates.
Ole Miss surprised Stanford with its defensive pressure, holding the Cardinal to 32.7 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range while also forcing 21 turnovers. After seeing that game, Louisville won’t be caught off guard, but they will still have to handle Ole Miss’ defensive intensity. Van Lith, Chrislyn Carr and Mykasa Robinson should be disciplined and experienced enough to overcome it, but this one will be close.
The last time these teams played in the regular season, Diamond Miller’s last-second heroics propelled the Terrapins to victory. This time around, Maryland likely won’t need a buzzer-beater to win. Dara Mabrey and Olivia Miles are both sidelined with injuries, and without two of their best players, the Fighting Irish are going to run into a wall eventually. Maryland has too many weapons: Miller, Abby Meyers and Shyanne Sellers are leading the way, and Faith Masonius is having an excellent tournament so far.
Notre Dame will need huge performances from Sonia Citron, Maddy Westbeld and Lauren Ebo inside to pull off a victory. Ultimately, I think Maryland’s talent will win out, sending them on to the Elite Eight.
UCLA stuck with South Carolina the last time these teams played, before Bruins mistakes and timely Gamecocks plays allowed South Carolina to secure a 73-64 win. UCLA had an excellent game plan, packing the paint to pressure Aliyah Boston and forcing the rest of South Carolina’s players to shoot from the outside. It was successful in November, but Dawn Staley is too smart of a coach to let it happen again.
The Gamecocks will adjust and use their depth to overpower UCLA. Kamilla Cardoso was a big factor in the first matchup, scoring 16 points and grabbing nine rebounds, and will likely play a key role again. Senior guard Brea Beal, who didn’t score in the first matchup, is also poised to step up this time around.
Pick: South Carolina
Despite having very different histories, these programs have had similar seasons. Both started with high expectations, suffered a rash of injuries, and now are enjoying success when it counts. Jacy Sheldon, back for Ohio State, made her mark in the second-round win over North Carolina with a game-winning shot, 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. For UConn, Azzi Fudd was absent for most of the season before making her return in the Big East tournament. Fudd also came up big for her team in the second round, scoring 22 points to lead UConn past Baylor.
With Fudd back and playing well, UConn will be difficult to beat. In her absence, players like Aaliyah Edwards and Lou Lopez Sénéchal stepped up and have continued to play at a high level with her back in the lineup. Add in Dorka Juhász, Aubrey Griffin, Nika Mühl and Caroline Ducharme, who is capable of having a breakout scoring game, and the Huskies have too many weapons for Ohio State to handle.
An added point of interest in this game is Juhász, who started her career with Ohio State before transferring to UConn in 2021.
When it comes to teams peaking at the right time, Tennessee and Virginia Tech are at the top of the list. The Hokies have won 13 games in a row, dating back to Jan. 29, while the Vols started their season 7-6 before going 18-5 the rest of the way.
One of Tennessee’s early losses came at the hands of the Hokies, 59-56 on Dec. 4. But Rickea Jackson didn’t play in that game, and the Vols had to rely on Jordan Horston for nearly all of their scoring. Now, Jackson is back and going to be a problem for the Hokies. The 6-2 forward is averaging 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game and can score all over the court. On the other side, Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley had trouble against the size of Tamari Key in the teams’ first meeting, finishing with just six points. Now, with Key sidelined due to blood clots, the Hokies will have an advantage inside.
This game could go either way, but Tennessee is playing with such cohesiveness right now and Jackson has the ability to be the best player on the floor. My gut tells me the Vols pull off the upset.
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.