Selection Monday doesn't quite have the alliterative rolling off the tongue as Selection Sunday, but that matters not for the 64 teams selected for the 2014 NCAA women's basketball tournament.
In a televised special broadcast on ESPN, the selection committee and panelists revealed the women's side of the bracket on Monday. As expected, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Tennessee skated to No. 1 seeds, while South Carolina was selected over Stanford in the only source of even relative controversy for top rankings.
The Huskies, by virtue of their undefeated record, are considered the top overall seed and will head to the Lincoln Region. Meanwhile, the Irish get the benefit of hosting an entire region in South Bend.
Because an overwhelming majority of teams are more than a week removed from their last game, the intrigue arguably felt less palpable than the men's side. Most of the prominent bracketologists had ample time to lock in their selections, and the variation was minimal by the time Monday came to pass. The only real major questions came on the bubble, where teams like Bowling Green, Minnesota and South Florida went home disappointed while Florida State and Oklahoma had reason to celebrate.
While women's college basketball remains top heavy—there are decidedly fewer upsets than on the men's side—that makes filling out a bracket in many ways more difficult. Rather than worrying about the big-picture selections, it's necessary for fans to understand what few potential upsets lie ahead. With that in mind, here's a complete breakdown of how all four regions played out.
(Visit NCAA.com for a view of the full bracket.)
Lincoln Region: Can Anyone Come Close to Stopping Connecticut?
Because it sure hasn't looked that way during the regular season. The Huskies rampaged through their pre-tournament slate 34-0, giving coach Geno Auriemma his fifth undefeated regular season as the wire-to-wire No. 1 team.
What's so impressive about Connecticut has never been just the wins, though. It's the way this team demoralizes anyone who comes within their path. Each of the Huskies' victories came by double digits, and all but one were by 17 or more points. Keep in mind that there's no committee bias against the AAC on the women's side.
Connecticut played Louisville, Baylor, Duke, Stanford, Maryland and Penn State during the regular season. Five of its eight victories against those teams (the Huskies defeated Louisville three times) came on the road. Breanna Stewart, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Bria Hartley play with such a cohesion and rhythm that it's nearly impossible to find flaws within this roster.
Typically reserved in his praise—at least before cutting down the final net—Auriemma highlighted his team's strength of schedule when speaking to reporters Monday:
Given the schedule we played and things that happened to us, I'm pretty proud of what our team has accomplished. Our players have managed to play at a high level all season and as you watch more and more games being played out you see how hard it is to stay at that level. I think it's well deserved.
The only real question coming into Selection Monday was which region would wind up with the Huskies. Unlike Notre Dame and Stanford, there is no perfect natural match from a geographical standpoint. The committee had a choice of either throwing the Huskies in Lincoln, or placing them in a potential matchup with Louisville as a No. 3 seed in its hosting bracket.
In the end, the selection committee chose to send the Huskies to the Lincoln Region—much to the dismay of Duke, Texas A&M and Nebraska. Although UConn won't have the relative home-court advantage of some other teams, nothing this team has shown this year indicates even a modicum of a chance it can be upset. The Huskies are a juggernaut.
South Bend Region: Is Notre Dame a Final Four Lock Too?
It's awfully difficult to go through an entire season undefeated and underappreciated, but Notre Dame has managed to do just that. While Connecticut's dominant run through the regular season received beaucoup press—as is typical any time the Huskies are great—its former Big East rival kind of just won in anonymity.
The Irish won all but two of their games by double digits, including triumphs over Tennessee, Duke, Penn State, North Carolina and North Carolina State. But despite their impressive resume, not one of the 36 Associated Press voters thought Notre Dame deserved a first-place vote. Preseason biases inherently play a factor here, of course. Connecticut was No. 1 to begin with, and the Huskies didn't do anything to move an inch from that spot.
Still, one cannot help but be impressed with what Muffet McGraw has built. The Irish were the first ACC team to go undefeated through the regular season and conference tournament in more than a decade, doing so in their first year within the conference. It's all the more impressive when you consider last season's star Skylar Diggins is in the WNBA, and Notre Dame had never gone undefeated prior.
The problem here is something has to give. Seven of the 12 previous teams to enter the women's NCAA tournament undefeated went on to win the national championship, a percentage that will lower in 2014 with both Notre Dame and Connecticut without a loss. Given the success and recent history between the two schools, it's only natural to compare them—something McGraw scoffed at a bit after winning the conference title.
"I don't think they'll put us against each other in the first round," McGraw told reporters, "so I think we'll be pretty focused on our opponent—whoever that turns out to be."
The "who" turned out to be Robert Morris, which faces an almost impossible task. Notre Dame shouldn't be threatened until a potential Sweet 16 matchup against Purdue, in which the proximity bias won't play a huge factor. By virtue of landing in the South Bend region, the Irish are playing their most important games in their own backyard.
With opposing teams already facing the uphill battle of taking down an undefeated team, this merely makes it all the more difficult. Baylor is a difficult potential Elite Eight opponent as well, but there are few scenarios in which Notre Dame doesn't make it to the Final Four.
Louisville Region: Cardinals a Looming Giant as a No. 3 Seed
A day after the men's selection committee inexplicably gave Louisville a No. 4 seed, the Cardinals women's program has to be surprised at landing a No. 3. Widely considered a contender for the fourth and final No. 1 seed, Louisville has to be a little frustrated by its seeding—even if it lands in its home region.
Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch reacted to the team's seeding:
Seeding committees do not love Louisville this year. The women just got a too low No. 3 seed. They'll make the regional final.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) March 17, 2014
The Cardinals had just four losses during the regular season, three of which came to Connecticut. The other was a five-point road loss to Kentucky. While the remainder of Louisville's schedule left a bit to be desired—especially in the nonconference slate—dropping a full seed line was one of the bigger surprises of the bracket reveal.
What's more, landing in the Louisville Region proved a double-edged sword. While the Cardinals may host a potential regional final against top-seeded Tennessee, Cardinals Sports Zone pointed out they may have a second-round road game against sixth-seeded Iowa:
Wow! Louisville gets the 3 seed in the Louisville region, but could play 6th seeded Iowa in the 2nd round IN IOWA!— CardinalSportsZone (@CardSportsZone) March 17, 2014
Either way, seeing Louisville hanging in the bottom of this bracket is an expected but unfortunate twist for West Virginia and Tennessee. The Mountaineers had about six seconds to celebrate their best seeding in program history before realizing they'll likely be playing on the road in the Sweet 16. With West Virginia also not having the most robust nonconference strength of schedule, either, one has to wonder whether Louisville would be favored even on a neutral court.
From a committee standpoint, the big winner here is Tennessee. According to the committee rankings, the Volunteers got the better of the two potential host teams. With Connecticut heading to Lincoln and Notre Dame hanging in South Bend, the committee could have sent Holly Warlick's squad across the nation to Stanford or kept it relatively close in Louisville.
It chose the latter, and the Vols should have a strong contingent making the trip for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight should they make it.
Stanford Region: Difficult Matchups Across the Bracket for No. 1 Seed South Carolina
In a relative surprise, South Carolina made it two No. 1 teams for the SEC. That was about the end of the good news for the Gamecocks. Not only will they have to travel from one coast to the other to defend their side of the bracket, but they also arguably have the deepest field staring them in the face.
That starts, of course, with host Stanford. The Cardinal were in consideration for the final top seed, and some would argue they probably deserved it. It's likely their loss to USC in the Pac-12 tournament played a far bigger factor than it should have in pushing Stanford back a seed level.
Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle didn't mince words once the bracket was revealed:
Stanford is dissed. South Carolina is the No. 1 seed in the Stanford bracket.— Ann Killion (@annkillion) March 17, 2014
The result is that the Cardinal get a potentially difficult Sweet 16 matchup against Penn State. The Big Ten regular-season champion is led by guard Maggie Lucas, who can match Chiney Ogwumike point for point if her shot is on from deep. Stanford's only regular-season matchup against a Big Ten school was a 17-point win over Purdue.
No matter whether it's Penn State or Stanford meeting South Carolina in a potential regional final, the Gamecocks are going to have fits. Both the Lions and Cardinal have enough individual scoring talent to overcome South Carolina's team defense.
Plus, it's hard to ignore the cracks that began showing down the stretch. The Gamecocks closed their season with two losses in their last three games, both of which came by double digits. They are a curious selection to lead the Stanford Region by resume alone, and the committee did them no favors by loading their path with potential roadblocks.
Don't sleep on North Carolina as a possible upset pick as soon as the Sweet 16.
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