Women’s March Madness bracket questions for Selection Sunday


After one of the most exciting and unpredictable women’s college basketball seasons in recent memory, Selection Sunday has arrived.

It’s been a fantastic ride, from Caitlin Clark‘s record-breaking season to another unbeaten run by South Carolina, and from the ultracompetitive race in the final season of the Pac-12 to all of the dynamic freshmen lighting up courts across the country.

Evaluating schedules, quality wins, questionable losses, NET rankings and all the observations from games has filled the land of Bracketology for the past six weeks. Now it’s time for the women’s NCAA tournament selection committee to take center stage and provide the final 68-team field.

As the committee continues to meet in Indianapolis ahead of Sunday’s Selection Special (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), some decisions and team placements are straightforward. Nobody will spend much time on the No. 1 overall seed. The Gamecocks had that wrapped up weeks ago. Many other aspects of the bracket will not be so easy to determine.

So what are the biggest questions facing the selection committee? Here is a look at the most pressing discussions those 12 committee members are facing.

What is the impact of Elizabeth Kitley’s injury?

Having seen how Virginia Tech played down the stretch in its regular-season finale (upset by Virginia) and the ACC tournament (blowout loss to Notre Dame in the semifinals), it’s clear the Hokies are significantly diminished without their star center. The three-time ACC Player of the Year suffered a knee injury against the Cavaliers and hasn’t played since, sitting out the ACC tournament. Virginia Tech hasn’t disclosed Kitley’s status, including to — to our knowledge — the selection committee. She is still being described as day-to-day.

The committee has no choice but to take that at face value.

The philosophy on injuries is that only a team’s full résumé will affect its inclusion in the NCAA tournament, but player availability, or lack of it, can impact a seed. The Hokies have been in position to be a top-16 team and thus host first- and second-round games. If the committee knew for sure that Kitley was not going to play, Virginia Tech’s position as a host could be at risk.

When it comes to seeding, there’s not much precedent for late-season injuries to stars. In 1998, Stanford lost Vanessa Nygaard to an ACL tear in the final game of the regular season and then Kristin Folkl four days later to the same injury. In that much different era, the Cardinal still received a No. 1 seed. Ultimately, they became the first and only top seed to lose to a No. 16, falling to Harvard.

Last year is the closest and most recent comparison to the Kitley situation. Notre Dame lost star point guard Olivia Miles in the regular-season finale to a knee injury. The Irish were in a similar spot as the Hokies, hoping to host NCAA tournament games. But Notre Dame’s status as a top-16 seed was even more tenuous than Virginia Tech’s this year. Miles remained listed as day-to-day right up until the start of the NCAA tournament; the Irish received a No. 3 seed and won two games in South Bend, Indiana, to reach the Sweet 16.

A week before the end of this regular season, Virginia Tech was contending for a No. 1 seed if the Hokies had a strong finish. That pursuit ended with a decisive loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 29. The Hokies’ spot continued to fall based on how they played, dropping from a No. 2 seed to No. 4. Without any further knowledge of Kitley’s playing status, that should be where they stay.

Stanford, USC or Texas for the final No. 1 spot?

The Cardinal have a regular-season championship in the country’s highest-rated conference. USC won the Pac-12 tournament title. Texas came up short of first place in the regular-season race but won the tournament in the Big 12, the nation’s second-highest rated league. The Longhorns have the top NET ranking of the three. The Trojans have the most top-25 NET wins. Stanford has the most in the top 50.

It’s that close among these three teams, but there are only two remaining No. 1 seed slots after South Carolina and Iowa. Someone must be a No. 2 seed.

The reason Texas likely is the odd team out comes down to nonconference schedule strength. The high value placed on how a team schedules is the one consistent marker for the NCAA tournament selection committee over the past few seasons, even as members change from year to year. The Longhorns rank 159th in nonconference schedule. USC ranks 93rd, Stanford 46th. While Texas played — and convincingly beat — UConn and Arizona, every other nonconference game was against teams outside the NET top 100.

Will Gonzaga hold on to a spot in the top 16?

The Bulldogs were a lock to host NCAA tournament games before the WCC tournament. They won all their conference games by an average of 30.7 points during the regular season. And Gonzaga had beaten its finals opponent, Portland, by 50 just two weeks earlier.

But the Pilots stunned the Zags in the WCC title game for the second straight year, and now Gonzaga is resigned to an anxious Sunday. Bracketology kept the Bulldogs in the top 16 following the loss. Because Oklahoma and Kansas State lost in the Big 12 tournament semifinals, and Syracuse and the Utah Utes went out early in their tournaments, there wasn’t a team to come up and take Gonzaga’s spot.

Still, the committee could give the top-16 edge to the Sooners, who won the Big 12 regular-season title, or the Wildcats, who have wins over Texas and Iowa.

It should be noted that Oklahoma can’t host even if the Sooners land in the top 16. The Big 12 gymnastics championships are the same weekend as the first and second round of the NCAA tournament and are being held at the Lloyd Noble Center, the Sooners’ basketball home arena. That means the next-highest seed in Oklahoma’s half of the bracket would have the option to host.

In this case, the No. 5 seed (with Oklahoma as the No. 4) in that region would host games.

Will 17-15 Arizona make the field?

The Wildcats have been the “last team in” ESPN’s field of 68 for more than a week. It’s not unprecedented for a team this close to the .500 mark to make the field. But it isn’t common, either. Oklahoma made it at 16-14 in 2018. Auburn was 17-14 when the Tigers received a No. 11 seed in 2017.

The Wildcats have plenty going for them, including strength of conference (the Pac-12 is No. 1 in the NET) and how they finished heading into Selection Sunday (a late-season win over Stanford and two competitive losses to USC). They rank No. 2 in strength of schedule and 35th in the NET.

The overall record works against them, as does a 2-10 mark against the NET top 25 and a 7-15 record against the top 100. However, those two top-25 wins are more than other bubble teams like Mississippi State and Penn State have, both of which also finished the season poorly. Arizona had a 19-point win in its most recent game against Washington State, another bubble team.

When it comes to the Wildcats, there is plenty of contrasting data the committee members will likely discuss right to the end.



Source link