Advertisement

March Madness: What the NCAA women's tournament selection committee got right and wrong

The NCAA women’s tournament bracket is finally here.

So naturally, it’s time to tear it apart.

The selection committee did a great job with some of the obvious choices in this year’s bracket — like giving South Carolina the No. 1 overall seed again — and in giving fans one incredibly entertaining region to watch this spring. But it also made a few confusing choices, like giving Caitlin Clark perhaps the toughest possible road to the Final Four.

Here’s a look at what the committee got right, and what it got wrong:

What the committee got wrong: Giving Iowa the toughest road to the Final Four

Caitlin Clark and Iowa earned their No. 1 seed this season. But their road to the Final Four is by far the hardest of the top seeds.

The Albany 2 region is loaded. After the Hawkeyes’ opening-round game, they’ll have to go up against either West Virginia or Princeton to reach the Sweet 16. The Tigers, led by star Kaitlyn Chen, rolled through the Ivy League and lost just four times all season. Then they would meet either Colorado, which has Drake in its opening-round game, or Kansas State, which has Portland, in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats have already played Iowa twice this season, and the teams split what were two great battles.

On the other side of the bracket, UCLA earned the No. 2 seed. The Bruins, who finished in second in the Pac-12 despite losing to USC twice, are easily talented enough to make the Final Four. Kim Mulkey and LSU, which won the national championship last season, is in the bottom half of the bracket with Louisville and Creighton, too. If the Tigers can survive, fans could see a rematch of last year’s title game before the Final Four even starts.

Iowa completely dominated the women’s college basketball landscape this season as Clark broke numerous records while leading the Hawkeyes to a third straight Big Ten tournament title. That gave it the second No. 1 seed in the tournament. While that shouldn’t give the Hawkeyes an easy path to Cleveland, the committee didn’t need to give them the toughest path.

But hey, if Clark and the Hawkeyes can get out of Albany unscathed, there will be no doubt that they’ve earned their place in a second consecutive Final Four.

Caitlin Clark and Iowa have a very tough path to the Final Four this season.
Caitlin Clark and Iowa have a very tough path to the Final Four this season. (Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What the committee got right: The incredible Albany 2 region

Now that we’ve got the Iowa part out of the way, the Albany 2 region is absolutely incredible. It should easily provide the most entertaining matchups of the entire tournament.

First, the committee sent Louisville into Baton Rouge for a potential second-round game against LSU. That would pit LSU transfer Hailey Van Lith against her former team. Van Lith led the Cardinals to the Elite Eight last season after making a Final Four run the year before, but she opted to transfer to join Angel Reese and Kim Mulkey for her final college season.

Whomever makes it out of that game will likely then have to take on UCLA. The Bruins ended the season winning six straight games before falling to rival USC in double overtime in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. Lauren Betts and Charisma Osborne have been a dominant force all season, but things have gone wrong quickly at the worst times for the Bruins. If they can keep it together, and can get past both Cal Baptist and Creighton first, they’re undoubtedly capable of making it to Cleveland.

Then, of course, Iowa has its tough battle in the top half of the bracket — which is sure to be very entertaining.

Clark and the Hawkeyes drew incredible crowds and viewership all season. That was going to continue into the tournament regardless. Now, though, the committee made sure to give the Hawkeyes a wild region to get through. That will provide fans with a ton of great basketball to watch this spring, which is never a bad thing.

Committee got wrong: Allowing Gonzaga to host after bad WCC title game loss

We shouldn’t generally penalize teams for just one loss, but Gonzaga got very lucky here.

The selection committee gave the Bulldogs a No. 4 seed in the Portland 4 region on Sunday, which means they’ll get to host their first two games of the tournament. They’ll host UC Irvine first, and then the winner of Utah and South Dakota State will be waiting for them in the second round.

But after what was a brutal finish to the season, the Bulldogs avoided having to travel for their first two games.

Gonzaga went 30-3 this season, which is a tremendous feat. While it stunned then-No. 3 Stanford in December, the Bulldogs fell to the only two other ranked opponents they faced all season. Then, after going on a 24-game win streak and going a perfect 16-0 in West Coast Conference play, Gonzaga fell 67-66 to Portland in the conference title game.

That loss, after looking at the Bulldogs’ very weak schedule and struggles against two of the three ranked opponents they faced all year, should have dropped them to a No. 5 seed on Sunday. Instead, Utah was jilted in the Portland 4 region. While the Utes had their own issues this season, and lost three of their last six games while being knocked out of the conference tournament in the quarterfinals, they did so in the Pac-12 — which was by far the best league in the country.

Utah should have jumped Gonzaga here and received home-court advantage.

Texas beat Iowa State to win the Big 12 tournament earlier this month.
Texas beat Iowa State to win the Big 12 tournament earlier this month. (Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What the committee got right: Giving Texas the last No. 1 seed

The last No. 1 seed was coming down to either Texas or Stanford, and the committee made the right choice in the Portland 4 region.

The Longhorns won 12 of their last 13 games of the season, and their only loss in that stretch was a one-point defeat to rival Oklahoma on the road. They flew through the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, too, and beat Iowa State by 17 points in the championship game while freshman star Madison Booker averaged more than 21 points per game in the tournament. Texas also beat UConn, Arizona and Arizona State by double digits before conference play kicked off.

While they lost star Rori Harmon to a season-ending injury in December, Texas hasn’t missed much of a step at all. Its defense has been very solid, too, and has allowed more than 70 points just three times in 2024.

Now for Stanford. While the Cardinal claimed the Pac-12 regular season title, which is a statement of its own considering how great the league is in its final year of existence, they’ve had some very bad losses. JuJu Watkins put up a record 51 points to almost single-handedly lead USC past the Cardinal on the road in February in what was an awful outing for Stanford. Its offense has been very bad in its four Pac-12 losses, too, and it was knocked out of the Pac-12 tournament in another loss to the Trojans.

Sure, Cameron Brink and Stanford are very capable of running the table in this region. But when things go wrong for Stanford, they go wrong quickly. So while it was close, Texas’ dominant run in Kansas City gave it the edge here — and rightfully so. And if all goes right, the Longhorns will have a chance to prove themselves yet again with a battle against Stanford in the Elite Eight.