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March Madness: Which non-No. 1 seeds can reach the Women's Final Four?

The four No. 1 seeds in the 2024 NCAA women's basketball tournament should be set up with the easiest roads to reach the Final Four in Cleveland next month. But it's no guarantee and plenty of teams below them on the seed lines have similarly strong chances.

The group is led by UCLA, one of the most well-rounded squads. The Bruins are joined by UConn, an injured squad that could still be dangerous in March, and LSU, the reigning champions with experience who are getting hot at the right time.

UCLA (Albany 2 | No. 2 seed)

25-6 (13-5) | NET: 6 | vs. NET top 25: 8-5 | NET SOS: 1

The Bruins have the most wins against teams ranked in the NET top 25 of any of the top programs this year, but they also have the most losses. Head coach Cori Close packed UCLA's non-conference schedule, and the Pac-12 was the toughest conference in the nation this season. That's valuable experienced in March.

UCLA stumbled when sophomore 6-foot-7 center Lauren Betts missed time in the conference schedule. The Bruins offense runs through her and they receive balanced scoring from their starters and key reserves. They've cleaned up the glass all season (59.5% rebound rate ranks first) and limit turnovers.

They're in the toughest regional with No. 1 Iowa, No. 3 LSU and No. 4 Kansas State. UCLA could end up the last standing in that group because of its style of play.

UConn (Portland 3 | No. 3 seed)

28-5 (18-0 Big East) | NET: 2 | vs. NET top 25: 3-5 | NET SOS: 31

There are two ways to look at UConn’s season.

The glass-half-empty version is that UConn struggled against the nation’s best teams, going 3-5 against teams ranked top 25 in NET and 4-6 against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. The Huskies' undefeated Big East title doesn’t hold the same weight as one would in other conferences, and it barely challenged them.

The glass-half-full version is UConn dominated otherwise. It won 25 of its games by at least 20 points, and only one by single digits. The five games the Huskies lost were to title contenders UCLA, NC State, Texas, Notre Dame and South Carolina.

The 14-year Final Four streak snapped last year, lifting a weight off the backs of players who have dealt with injury heartache for much of the past four years. Paige Bueckers returned from an ACL injury to contend for Player of the Year honors, and alongside forward Aaliyah Edwards, she carried UConn. It’s tough to count the Huskies out in March. It was only three years ago Bueckers put them on her back en route to the national title game in Minneapolis.

How far can Paige Bueckers carry UConn in the NCAA tournament? (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
How far can Paige Bueckers carry UConn in the NCAA tournament? (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

LSU (Albany 2 | No. 3 seed)

28-5 (13-3 SEC) | 8 | 1-3 | 52

The reigning national champions played tight with South Carolina twice this year, giving reason enough to choose them as a team that could make noise in the bracket. The Tigers are playing some of their best basketball over the past month.

They rank second offensively (86.7 ppg) and improved defensively since back-to-back losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State in late January. It’s the side of the ball head coach Kim Mulkey harped on down the stretch.

They remain one of the best rebounding teams in the country (58.4% ranks third) with Angel Reese, the 2023 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and Aneesah Morrow, a transfer from DePaul. Each were named first-team All-SEC.

The downside is depth and health. The Tigers already had a short bench without Sa’Myah Smith (ACL) and Kateri Poole (dismissed). Reese wore a walking boot ahead of the SEC championship game against South Carolina while dealing with an ankle injury. She’s reached four fouls in nine games, including twice against the Gamecocks. She fouled out late in their first meeting.

Freshman standout Mikaylah Williams (ankle) was questionable for the SEC tournament, but played minutes in the final because of the melee at the end of the game. Last-Tear Poa’s status is uncertain after she was hospitalized after a head injury in the semifinal game.

Stanford (Portland 4 | No. 2 seed)

28-5 (15-3 Pac-12) | 4 | 7-4 | 15

When Stanford is at its best, it's an easy Final Four contender. But it hasn't always shown itself at its best. The Cardinal were on the verge of a No. 1 seed and slipped with a loss in the Pac-12 title game combined with a Big 12 championship title by Texas.

Cameron Brink (17.8 ppg) and Kiki Iriafen (18.6 ppg) are a dangerous one-two punch in the paint and can easily best teams with less size. Brink continues to be a blocking machine, averaging 3.5 per game, best in Division I. And they're second in rebound rate behind UCLA.