If you like basketball to be predictable, with all the power teams dominating, the 2015 Women's NCAA Tournament has been for you. Connecticut, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland, all four No. 1 seeds, are playing in the Final Four.
Even though some drama is good, it actually benefits this year's tournament to have all four basketball powers converge on Tampa, Florida, to determine the national champion. Let's face it: If UConn is going to lose, it would happen to a team like Maryland, Notre Dame or South Carolina.
No other schools are in the same arena as the Lady Huskies, so it's best to put the best that college basketball has to offer against the overwhelming favorites. With nothing but time until the games start on April 5, here's a look at the bracket and predictions for what will happen.
Bracket (via NCAA Women's Basketball)
Connecticut will beat Maryland by 20 points, at minimum
Sports fans are a fickle lot. They love to see dominance, but when a team gets too big for its britches, they want to see it fall. Connecticut has been the standard by which women's college basketball is measured, winning the last two national titles and making its eighth consecutive appearance in the Final Four.
That dominance has been prevalent in the NCAA tournament, as Tim Sullivan of The Courier-Journal noted on Twitter:
Keep in mind that doesn't include UConn's 21-point victory over Dayton in the Elite Eight. Going back to the regular season, the Huskies haven't won a game by less than 21 points since an 84-70 victory over South Florida on March 9.
Even more impressively, Connecticut has amped up its performance in the biggest games. Its two wins over Notre Dame and South Carolina in the regular season came by a combined 43 points.
Maryland has been making its own impressive run through the tournament, winning all four games by at least 10 points, but the Terps have been flirting with disaster for weeks. They aren't dominating in the tournament and nearly lost to Ohio State.
That's not a shot at the Terps or Buckeyes, just a statement of fact about how incredible Connecticut has been playing all year, with the exception of an early-season loss to Stanford.
It would be nice to see Maryland keep the game close, even if it's unable to win, but the writing is on the wall for another UConn blowout victory.
South Carolina's Dream Season Ends vs. Notre Dame
One of the great success stories in college basketball this season has been that of South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been slowly ascending to be one of the top programs in the country under Dawn Staley, going from 10 wins in 2008-09 to this season's 34-2 mark and second appearance in the Final Four.
This is a program that's easy to root for, especially when you hear the players talk about how they have grown together.
For example, here's what Tiffany Mitchell told Viv Bernstein of the New York Times about one of the galvanizing moments this season: "The Connecticut game did help us, because there's another level of basketball out there and we are starting to realize that, and I think we are playing pretty good basketball right now."
That's what you want to hear a great team say. It's easy to be comfortable and confident after the victories, but response to defeat is more critical to being successful. Yet there was another stumble along the way, against Kentucky on March 1, that opens the door for Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish had a bad loss of their own on January 8 against Miami, yet it's hard to overlook where this program has been recently without thinking that its experience will play out for it. The Irish have been in the Final Four five straight years and in the title game three times since 2011.
It also helps that Notre Dame has arguably the nation's best player in Lindsay Allen playing at the highest level of her career, as noted by Graham Hays of ESPNW.com:
When Notre Dame needed someone to step up, Allen responded with 23 points, seven assists, five rebounds and no turnovers in 40 minutes. The result was that top-seeded Notre Dame beat second-seeded Baylor 77-68 and advanced to the Final Four for the fifth season in a row, a feat only three other programs ever accomplished.
Having a point guard who doesn't turn the ball over, creates for her teammates and has a shooting touch like Allen is dangerous. The Fighting Irish have looked like the second-best team in the country for most of the final two months and will prove it with a victory over a terrific South Carolina team on Sunday.
The Inevitable Outcome
With a predicted championship game featuring Connecticut and Notre Dame, there's no reason to bet against the Huskies at this point. The only rationale to pick Notre Dame would be to go against the grain.
When UConn and Notre Dame met on December 6 in South Bend, the game was a bigger blowout than the 76-58 final score indicates. The Huskies held the Irish to 31 percent shooting and grabbed 18 more rebounds (52-34).
This had been a one-sided rivalry in Notre Dame's favor prior to the meeting earlier this season, via The Associated Press (h/t ESPN):
This was the 17th meeting between the schools since Jan. 16, 2010. UConn has won 10 of them, but the Irish won seven of eight in the series from 2011-2013. The two former Big East rivals didn't meet during the regular season last year after Notre Dame left for the ACC.
While that is certainly a valid stat to use, it does lose some punch when examined against what Connecticut did in the current season.
Even in games where it looks like Connecticut will be tested, as it seemed would happen against Dayton when the Huskies trailed by one at halftime, the depth of Geno Auriemma's roster can come through to the tune of a 21-point victory.
Auriemma even went so far as to say that his team needed a game like the one against Dayton, for similar reasons South Carolina needed to examine itself after the UConn loss, according to Harvey Araton of The New York Times.
"We needed a game where we were challenged, and we needed a game where we would have to respond," Auriemma said.
That's the wake-up call Connecticut needed after it was able to fall out of bed in the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament. The Huskies are going to be more prepared than ever for the challenges that await in the Final Four, starting with Maryland, and will ride that wave to another championship.
It's not flashy or out of the box, but sometimes the best team wins. Connecticut is the best team and will prove it with an NCAA title.