March Madness preview: Who to watch out for as the Women’s tournament tips off

Minneapolis, Minnesota - The 2022 Women’s Basketball National Championship tournament will get underway this weekend as a defending champ looks to repeat and other perennially top-ranked programs angle to take the crown for themselves

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley.
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley.  © imago/Icon SMI

This is the first time on the women’s side that the tournament begins with 68 teams, featuring the "First Four", a play-in series of games that will complete the proper bracket by today.

Several teams who battled hard in last year’s tournament, only to come up short, are back to complete some unfinished business by getting to final taking place on April 3 in Minneapolis.

They are competing to dethrone the number-one ranked Stanford Cardinal (Spokane Region), the defending national champions, who have all but one of their players from last year’s team returning for another title run. Among them is junior guard Haley Jones (21), who was last year’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player. With that much experience back for another go, Stanford is perhaps the best-suited squad for tournament dominance.

Best place to do the job against Stanford are overall tournament number-one ranked South Carolina Gamecocks (Greensboro Region). They have been top-ranked the entire year, despite losing the SEC title game to Kentucky last week, only their second loss of the season. There's also the added chip on their shoulders coming from last year’s Final Four loss to Stanford, the eventual national champs.

Not to be overlooked, the Louisville Cardinals (Wichita Region) are another top-ranked team that should find themselves in at least the semifinals. Head coach Jeff Walz and his team are looking to bounce back from an ACC tournament quarterfinal upset to Miami, a loss that has seemed to expose faulty fourth-quarter play that could hurt them in the tournament.

The top-ranked NC State Wolfpack (Bridgeport Region) has the biggest push for redemption after their shocking Sweet 16 upset last year to Indiana. But their entire starting five is back and healthy for this year’s campaign that had the program tying the school’s single-season record with 29 wins.

The Wolfpack also cruised this year to the ACC regular-season and tournament crowns for the first time since the mid-eighties.

Some recent tourney winners lead the charge towards another title despite missing out on one-seeds

UConn Huskies guard Paige Bueckers.
UConn Huskies guard Paige Bueckers.  © imago/Icon SMI

The number-two ranked UConn Huskies are just as good as any of the top seeds, but regular-season setbacks have earned them a slightly tougher mountain to climb this year. Despite a mid-season injury to reigning National Player of the Year, Paige Bueckers, she’s entering the tournament healthy and ready to lead the Huskies back to another championship.

The Baylor Bears are another number-two seed with some recent tournament success going back to their third national title victory in 2019. The Bears did come up short in the Big 12 title game last week to Texas, but they did clinch the Big 12 regular-season title.

And speaking of the Texas Longhorns, their Big 12 crown rightfully earned them a number-two seed and some momentum to hopefully go farther than last year’s Elite Eight blowout at the hands of South Carolina.

Last week’s Big Ten tournament champs, the Iowa Hawkeyes, are running into the tournament on the heels of their first-ever regular-season and conference tournament titles. Maybe this recent string of success can help them improve upon the Sweet 16 appearance they had in last year’s bracket.

After surprising the field last year in the three-seed, the Arizona Wildcats are a fourth-seed but can still easily get as far as the tournament final as they did in 2021.

The LSU Tigers, led by three-time national championship head coach Kim Mulkey, are looking to perhaps be this year’s "Cinderella", on the way to at least a Final Four appearance. In 21 seasons at Baylor, Mulkey coached the Bears to all three of their respective national titles with the hopes of her prowess leading the Tigers to the promised land.

And the Kentucky Wildcats have a sixth-seed spot after knocking off the top-three SEC tournament seeds (including the national number-one Gamecocks) to win their second conference title in the program’s history. After a run like that, surely the rest of the tournament field is on-notice.

The first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament begins on Friday, March 18.

Cover photo: IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

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