SheWired’s NCAA Women’s March Madness Preview
March is here, which means that it’s that time of year. Print out your brackets, make sure to dust off your college wear, and follow the madness.
The 2012 NCAA Women’s tourney kicks off on Monday, March 19th, with the first and second rounds taking place March 19-20th, the Sweet Sixteen March 24-25th, the Elite Eight March 26-27th, the Final Four on April 1st, and the championship game on April 3rd.
Regional play is scheduled for Des Moines, Fresno, Raleigh, and Kingston, RI, with the Final Four and championship games in host city, Denver.
The top #1 seeds are also the top four teams in the AP women’s basketball poll, undefeated Baylor, followed by mainstays, Stanford (31-1), Connecticut (29-4), and Notre Dame (30-3).
Here’s a list of the top teams and early predictions on what could transpire in women’s college basketball over the days ahead.
1) Baylor - The Lady Bears enter the tournament as the favorite. They boast an undefeated record (34-0) and put the best player in college basketball on the floor. Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-8 junior center, averages 61 percent from the field, 23 points per game, 9 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. She is a nightmare both offensively and defensively, and there is already some whispers that, depending on her performance over the next few weeks, she could cement her legacy as the best women’s basketball player ever. Baylor starts the tourney in Des Moines on March 20th against UC Santa Barbara.
2) Stanford – The cardinals (31-1) only loss of the season came at the hands of Connecticut (UConn), their cross country rival. They enter as Pac-10 champs, boast a 28 game win streak, and feature Nneka Ogwumike. She’s a 6’2’’ senior power forward, who holds the title of highest scorer in the Pac-10 conference tournament history. They landed the #1 seed in the Fresno bracket, making travel and preparation easier for the veteran squad. Stanford begins play on March 19th against 16th seed Hampton.
3) Connecticut – The UConn Huskies are always a contender. Over the years, the team has assembled quite a resume. They hold seven national championships, have made 12 Final Four appearances, and they’ve won over 30 Big East conference championships. UConn was named 2012 Big East champions last week when they defeated fellow #1 seed, Notre Dame. However, this season the Huskies have shown some weakness, and now they head into the big dance with an injured Tiffany Hayes, their highest scorer and lone senior on the squad (avg. 15 points a game). The one thing the team has going for them, the fact that they are #1 in the Kingston bracket. This means, for all intents and purposes, they are the hometown team throughout regionals. UConn makes their first appearance on Match 19th against Prairie View.
4) Notre Dame – The Irish (30-3) had a pretty successful regular season (two losses came at the hands of Baylor and UConn) and reached the Big East championship game during their run. They hope to recreate their magical run from last season when they upset the top-seed Tennessee Lady Vols, and then the following week defeated another top seed in UConn. The last time the Irish were a #1 seed was 2001, and that year they went on to take the title. Players to watch are junior guard Skylar Diggins, the Big East player of the year, and senior forward Devereaux Peters, the Big East Defensive Player of the year. The Irish start play on March 20th against Liberty.
The top seeded teams definitely have their work cut out for them; the second seeded teams are good, solid programs, looking to pull off an upset. The second ranked teams include Pat Summit’s Tennessee Lady Vols (24-8), Duke (24-5), Maryland (28-4), and Kentucky (25-6).
Out of this group, Kentucky looks the most promising with junior guard A’Dia Mathies (SEC conference player of the year) averaging 15 points a game, and rookie Bria Goss (SEC Newcomer of the Year) averaging 11 points a game.
But, you can never count out Tennessee, they are the 2012 SEC champions, and this year marks their record 31st NCAA tournament. They are the only school to be invited to every NCAA tournament since 1982. The Vols dynamic duo, senior forward Glory Johnson (averages 11 points/8 rebounds per game) and senior forward/guard Shekinna Stricklen (averages 13 points/6 rebounds), made all the difference in the world during the conference matchups and both need to step up Des Moines in order for Tennessee to make it through to the Final Four.
Maryland also boasts the ACC player of the year in Sophomore Alyssa Thomas (17 points/8 rebounds per game) and Duke might have the most promising newcomer to the dance in Elizabeth Williams (averages 14 points/8 rebounds/8 blocks per game). The 6’3” freshman center was named ESPN’s National Freshman of the Year and the ACC Defensive player of the year.
Other honorable mentions include #3 seeds Texas A&M (23-10), Delaware (30-1), Miami, FL (25-5), St. John’s, NY (22-9) and #9 Princeton (24-4). Texas A&M completed the improbable last year when they defeated Notre Dame to take the 2011 National Championship. They will face #14 Albany in the first round in Raleigh. Delaware’s only loss of the season came at the hands of Maryland, and their 30-1 record kept them ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll all season long. Two of Miami’s five losses came against #2 ranked teams Duke and Tennessee. They finished the year ranked 8th in the AP polls and will open the tournament against #14 ranked Idaho St. in the Kingston bracket.
Last but not least is Princeton. They are quite a story this season, they earned their first national ranking in school history (AP 24th) and they finished the season as the only Ivy League women’s team ever to be ranked nationally. They open play against Kansas St. on March 19th in Kingston.
A big thank you to ESPN 2 for covering all of the action, fans of women’s basketball have a lot to be excited about this year.