More March Madness chaos in the women’s NCAA Tournament could be looming on the horizon if the past few months of upsets are any indication.
Upsets haven’t been a hallmark of the women’s tournament. Since 2007, only 11 women’s teams seeded 10th or lower have reached the Sweet 16. That’s less than half the number of lower-seeded men’s teams that have made that run.
But signs are this year’s tournament is ripe for more surprises.
“The talent is spread out a little bit more now,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “I think this might be one of the more exciting tournaments in recent years.”
This season has been full of eye-popping upsets, including 19 losses by top 10 teams to unranked schools. That was the seventh most in a season since 2000, according to Stats Perform. That continued a trend from the 2021-22 season when there were 24 — the second most over that span.
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For the Huskies, it’s already been a historic year — not one they would want to bookmark. Connecticut, beset by injuries for most of the season, lost consecutive games for the first time in 30 years, ending one of the most impressive streaks in sports history. One of those defeats came to unranked Marquette a few days after losing to No. 1 South Carolina — the only unbeaten team heading into the NCAA Tournament.
The Gamecocks were the only team immune to the upset bug this season. Dawn Staley’s squad did face challenges, trailing at the half in three contests and by double-digits in a few others.
“Well, until somebody beats South Carolina, they are still undefeated,” Auriemma said of the defending champions. “They’re still the favorite as they should be.”
The Gamecocks are most likely in the best position to get to the Final Four in Dallas when the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed on Sunday night. South Carolina will play its opening two games at home and are a lock to be playing the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games 90 minutes away in Greenville, South Carolina.
The NCAA did its second reveal of the top 16 seeds for the tournament on Feb. 23 and since then only four teams — South Carolina, UConn, Virginia Tech and Iowa — didn’t lose games. It took a last-second shot by Caitlin Clark against Indiana for the Hawkeyes to stay in that group.
It wasn’t just the top-ranked teams that were being beaten. Ten regular season conference champions lost in their postseason tournaments, including several that didn’t even make it to the final. With so many favorites falling, the NCAA Tournament selection committee faces some difficult decisions.
“As challenging as it makes it for us, it’s good for the game,” selection committee chair Lisa Peterson said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “The only thing we can agree on right away is the number one overall seed. The upsets have inspired a lot more in-depth conversations. There’s so many things that have happened in the last few weeks that are exciting for the game.”
Last season the Creighton women’s team made a run to the regional final as a 10-seed. That was only the fifth time a double-digit seed had made it that far. Auriemma thinks that could happen more often with the right draw.
“Where you’re seeded may be important, but who’s bracket you’re in and if you catch the wrong team at the wrong time could change it,” he said. “Years ago that didn’t matter as much as the favorites just rolled through.”
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