Greenville 2 is the region of runners-up.
None of the first four seeds in the top-right corner of the bracket won their conference tournament. The Indiana Hoosiers earned their first No. 1 seed in program history after falling to Ohio State in the Big Ten semifinals. Utah, the No. 2 seed, got knocked out of its tournament by Pac-12 Cinderella Washington State. A Tennessee buzzer-beater sent LSU, the No. 3 seed, home in the SEC semis. No. 4-seeded Villanova fell to UConn in the Big East title game.
Indiana (27-3, Big Ten regular season champion)
This year, the Hoosiers earned their first Big Ten regular season championship in 40 years. They lost only three games with the ninth-toughest schedule in the country. It seems plausible to consider Indiana strong enough to make it out of Greenville 2 and into the Final Four.
Storylines to watch
The Utes claimed a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title with a 84-78 win over Stanford at the end of February — their first conference championship in program history. Other Utah wins against ranked teams include UCLA, Oklahoma and Arizona.
This body of work made the Pac-12 tournament loss to Washington State — which was a No. 7 seed and had a 5-9 conference record — all the more stunning.
Still, the committee thought Utah’s résumé was strong enough to grant it a No. 2 seed, which is the highest NCAA tournament seed the Utes have ever received. This is their chance to leave any conference tournament woes behind and avenge their historic season.
Tigers to the test
Much has been made of LSU’s non-conference schedule this season, but it seems to have had little effect on the Tigers’ NCAA tournament seeding.
While LSU boasts an impressive 28-2 record (with losses to No. 1 overall seed South Carolina and No. 4 seed Tennessee), the Tigers’ non-conference slate ranks 315th in the NCAA in difficulty. The loss to Tennessee in the SEC semifinals provided the Lady Vols with their first ranked win of the season.
In terms of strengths, the Tigers have the second-largest scoring margin in the country, averaging 26.4 more points than their opponents. They’re led by sophomore forward Angel Reese, whose 23.4 points per game make her the fifth-leading scorer in Division I. She recorded 23 straight double-doubles to start the season, which broke Sylvia Fowles’ LSU record. The streak ended in the Tigers’ 88-64 loss to South Carolina in February.
The NCAA tournament will prove as a litmus test for LSU.
Villanova senior Maddy Siegrist is one of the best players in college basketball.
She’s the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer in men’s and women’s basketball. This season, she leads the NCAA in points per game, averaging 28.9. She hasn’t scored less than 21 points in a game this season, including a 41-point performance against Temple and 50-point game against Seton Hall.
All this on 52% shooting from the field and 37% from 3.
Siegrist’s accuracy and the rest of the Wildcats could pose a problem for Indiana, should they meet in the Sweet 16. The Hoosiers’ opponents average a field-goal percentage of 38.9%, which ranks 109th in the NCAA. Indiana’s defense gives up 62.3 points per game, which ranks 122nd in Division I.
Utah and Washington State could meet again in the NCAA tournament should both teams advance to the Elite Eight.
The Cougars eliminated Utah in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament. The Utes, who shoot 48.5% from the field, made only 38% of their shots against the Cougs. Washington State held Utah to 58 points compared to its average of 83.5 per game (which makes it the fourth-most productive scoring offense in the country).
One team is riding high on opportunity and momentum. The other seeks retribution. It’s the stuff of March.
Washington State (23-10)
The Cougars have nothing to lose. They’ve already accomplished so much.
First conference championship title in program history. First Pac-12 championship in women’s sports in school history. Lowest seed to win the Pac-12 tournament. Highest NCAA tournament seed in WSU history.
They went viral capturing the admiration of college basketball fans, music fans and Grammy-winning artist Shania Twain during championship week. Pullman, Washington, is abuzz with excitement. The Cougars are reveling in the moment.
While WSU’s opponent, Florida Gulf Coast, will play with extra motivation after getting upset in its conference tournament, the Cougars have vanquished tougher opponents. Their experience in the Pac-12 has prepared them for the poise the NCAA tournament requires. Don’t overlook their chances at making a deep run.