Does this NCAA ladies’ basketball tournament have extra legitimate contenders for the name that has been the case for decades? It feels adore it, and that feeling has been constructing for months.
The idea this will be an especially fascinating season was effectively obvious even earlier than mid-January. By then, we might have plenty of headline-worthy effects. Defending countrywide champion Notre Dame had misplaced to UConn. Stanford had lost to Gonzaga but then beat Baylor. Then Baylor had defeated UConn, the Huskies’ first everyday-season loss when you consider that 2014. The Irish defeated rival Louisville, however then later in January could be dissatisfied at North Carolina.
No stretch of video games better summed up the parity than throughout Feb. 14-18, whilst unranked groups beat ranked groups eight times. One of those become Missouri winning at Mississippi State. There additionally were upsets between ranked teams then, along with Miami over Louisville, Iowa over Maryland and Oregon State over Oregon.
After the Beavers had defeated the Ducks in front of a complete house in Corvallis, Oregon — simply three days after having misplaced to Oregon in Eugene — Oregon State train Scott Rueck pointed out how different this season felt.
“There are such a lot of terrific groups, nicely-coached groups,” Rueck said. “Connecticut getting beat (at the Final Four) an ultimate couple of years, it truly is given a whole lot of human beings hope. Not most effective does that impact the players, it impacts the coaches, too. There is a wish. Everybody seems like they have a hazard.”
Well, maybe not each person, but numerous teams can input the Road to Tampa with confidence they can make it to the cease. Certainly, all four No. 1 seeds: Baylor, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Mississippi State. And 3 of the No. 2 seeds — UConn, Stanford, and Oregon — are risky. All seven seem to have the talent to win the countrywide championship.
The fourth No. 2, Iowa, may not have as many that believe the Hawkeyes are a real contender to win all of it, however, underestimate middle Megan Gustafson at your personal peril.
And if you’re looking for upsets in the earlier rounds, there will be lots of those, too. That might be a carryover from the final season, whilst there have been nine upsets in the first spherical, four inside the second and within the Sweet 16. All 4 No. 1 seeds — UConn, Louisville, Mississippi State, and Notre Dame — made the Final Four ultimate season, but it becomes the team maximum plagued through injuries — the Irish — that gained.
Notre Dame is again this season more healthy and deeper, yet no longer an overwhelming favorite as some would possibly have expected the Irish to be. That would not say whatever horrific about Notre Dame, though, however instead of a number of appropriate about the overall depth on the top of the bracket.
We input this event feeling it might be as extensive open as any considering the fact that 2006, which is also the last time UConn changed into now not a No. 1 seed. The Huskies were a No. 2 then, with the No. 1s being North Carolina, Duke, Ohio State, and LSU. None of them received the identify, even though. It went to No. 2 seed Maryland, which beat the Blue Devils seventy eight-75 in overtime, one of the maximum exciting girls’ championship video games.
From 2007 to 2018, going into the match, you likely could not honestly persuade your self there were as many serious contenders to win it all as there are this 12 months. In 2007 and ’08, Candace Parker-led Tennessee won the championship. The Lady Vols were not a prohibitive favorite either year — there have been nonetheless a mix of teams in contention — but they were high at the listing with the first-class player in the state.
In 2009 and ’10, it became UConn’s tournament to lose, and it didn’t; the Huskies had two perfect seasons behind Maya Moore and Tina Charles. With Charles long gone the next season and UConn subsequently losing a recreation — Stanford ended the Huskies’ 90-recreation winning streak in December 2010 — the 2011 match seemed less like a predictable UConn coronation.
Still, the Huskies were the favorites but have been knocked off by way of Notre Dame within the semifinals. The winner became Texas A&M, an amazing team but nevertheless the biggest surprise winner in view that Maryland.
In 2012, Brittney Griner-led Baylor came into the event as the favorite and completed that way, 40-zero. In 2013, the Lady Bears have been once more most people’s top pick, even though they then have been disappointed within the Sweet 16 by using Louisville.
UConn picked up the mantle once more, prevailing in 2013 and taking the favorite’s role going into every event given that then. The Huskies went 116-1 from the autumn of 2013 thru the spring of 2016, winning all three NCAA titles.
And even after dropping seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, UConn became undefeated coming into the 2017 match. Mississippi State’s Morgan William ended that with an extra time buzzer-beater in the countrywide semifinals. Last year, the Huskies were again unbeaten going into the Big Dance, however, they lost their simplest sport in an eerily comparable manner — in the semifinals to Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale within the ultimate seconds of additional time.
The truth that the Huskies are a No. 2 seed this yr, even though their simplest losses have been on the road to No. 1 seeds Baylor and Louisville, might absolutely work in UConn’s favor. It’s been nearly not possible for quite a while for educating Geno Auriemma to hearth up his group to exit and show human beings wrong due to the fact all and sundry notion they have been continually going to win.
Now, although, he can encourage them with a No. 2 seed. And there’s also the truth that seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson really need to assert a championship for themselves after being novices at the Stewie ship that sailed to the name in 2016.
No. 1 universal seed Baylor, though, is also hungry after missing the Final Four every season considering the fact that 2012. The Lady Bears have in not unusual with UConn a dominance in their convention; they have gained nine of the past 11 Big 12 event titles. But for various reasons, inclusive of damage to senior factor defend Kristy Wallace remaining year, the Lady Bears have ended the beyond several seasons quick in their aim.
Notre Dame has 3 losses, however, the Irish learned something from them all, and they appeared very sharp in prevailing the ACC event. Same might be stated for Mississippi State, 30-2, in taking the SEC match name. Falling to Missouri on Feb. 14 become rather of a gift to teach Vic Schaefer because it gave the Bulldogs — consisting of SEC Player of the Year Teaira McCowan — a terrific reminder of the way hard they need to play.
As for Louisville, 29-three, the Cardinals had harm troubles to Sam Fuehring and Arica Carter within the ACC very last, however, each is anticipated back for the NCAA match. And they’ve ACC Player of the Year Asia Durr, of the route.
The pinnacle contenders from the Pac-12, No. 2 seeds Oregon (29-4) and Stanford (28-4), split the league’s hardware this yr. The Ducks were the regular-season champions, but the Cardinal defeated them within the tournament final. That end result reversed a forty-point blowout loss to Oregon at Stanford in February. That low factor becomes fuel for the Cardinal, who have been to the Final Four thirteen times however have not gained a name due to the fact that they did so in 1990 and ’92, a completely exceptional generation in girls’ basketball.
Ultimately, we may want to get a repeat of last season, with the Irish winning. Or UConn may want to get revenge for 2 semifinal heartbreaks and claim its 12th title. Maybe Baylor receives its 0.33 name, or Stanford ends its lengthy drought, or a group like Mississippi State, Louisville, Oregon — or someone else? — wins a championship for the primary time.
Nothing appears certain, and that is the fun of it.