NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament 2021: Full Bracket and Championship Preview
The 2021 NCAA women's basketball tournament field was announced on Monday night, and the action is set to get underway Sunday. And with several strong championship contenders at the top of the bracket, there may not be any huge upsets early in the tourney.
While there are 64 teams in the tournament (all of which will be taking place in the San Antonio area this year due to the coronavirus pandemic), the event has traditionally been won by dominant top seeds. In fact, a No. 1 seed has won each of the past eight NCAA women's tournaments. The last time a non-No. 1 seed won the national title was in 2011, when No. 2-seeded Texas A&M won it.
This year, the four No. 1 seeds are Stanford, UConn, South Carolina and N.C. State, so those teams are the favorites to make a run to the national championship. The full bracket is available at NCAA.com.
Here's a closer look at the top contenders in this year's field.
Can Stanford End Championship Drought?
While Stanford has had plenty of recent NCAA tournament success, reaching at least the Final Four seven times since 2008, the Cardinal haven't won a national championship since 1992. This year, Stanford is the No. 1 overall seed in the tourney, marking the first time it's been a No. 1 seed since 2013.
The Cardinal have had only one rough patch this season, when they lost back-to-back games to Colorado and UCLA in late January. Since then, they've won 14 games in a row, which included taking down USC, Oregon State and UCLA to win the Pac-12 tournament, their 13th title since the conference tourney began in 2002.
Stanford has been powered by the senior leadership of guard Kiana Williams, who is averaging a team-high 14.0 points per game. She's one of three Cardinal players averaging double-digit points, along with sophomore guard Haley Jones (13.6) and junior guard Lexie Hull (11.0).
One thing that could work in Stanford's favor is that it's already used to playing away from home for a long stretch of time. Early in the season, the Cardinal had to play several home games in Las Vegas due to COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County.
How Will UConn Fare Without Auriemma to Start?
Nobody will be surprised that UConn is one of the top teams in the country and is once again a No. 1 seed. The Huskies are 11-time national champions (all since 1995) and have reached the Final Four in 12 straight NCAA tournaments. They may be on their way there again after losing only one game to this point.
However, UConn will open the tournament without coach Geno Auriemma, who has led the program since the 1985-86 season. Auriemma has tested positive for COVID-19 and must quarantine for at least 10 days, meaning he'll miss at least the Huskies' first two games of the tournament and can return, at the earliest, on March 24. Associate head coach Chris Dailey is taking over to begin the tourney.
"I'm an innocent bystander right now. I'm going to sit back and watch them do their thing," Auriemma said, per Doug Feinberg of the Associated Press. "[Dailey] is undefeated in tournament play. I don't think you can get a coach who has a better record in the tournament than she does."
UConn's lone loss came Jan. 28 at Arkansas, and it's since won 14 straight games, beating St. John's, Villanova and Marquette on its run to the Big East tournament championship. So while Auriemma may miss the beginning of the NCAA tourney, the Huskies should be fine and may be heading toward another Final Four appearance, and potentially more.
Which Other Teams Are Legitimate Title Contenders?
With No. 1 seeds faring so well in the NCAA tournament in recent years, there likely won't be any surprise teams making a run to the national championship. But that doesn't mean it's a guarantee that Stanford or UConn will win the title, either.
South Carolina and N.C. State are the other pair of No. 1 seeds, and both are strong teams capable of knocking off the two favorites and making a run to the national championship.
The Gamecocks ended the regular season with three losses in seven games, but they bounced back to beat Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia on their run to the SEC tournament championship. They're 22-4 this season, and coach Dawn Staley has led the program to recent success, including winning the national title in 2017.
The Wolfpack are a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history after going 17-2 during the regular season and then beating Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Louisville to win the ACC tournament. They also own a win at South Carolina.
Perhaps one of the No. 2 seeds (Louisville, Baylor, Maryland and Texas A&M) could make a run to the Final Four and emerge as a championship contender. But beyond that, there aren't many other teams that appear capable of making a run to the national title.