Eight games remain on the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament slate before the competition progresses to a potentially epic Sweet 16 featuring a bevy of superstars and national title contenders.
First, the story of the second round must be written, and there's no shortage of interesting plot lines. Will we see either (or both) of No. 12 Belmont and No. 11 BYU advance after first-round upsets? How will Texas A&M respond after barely surviving a monumental upset bid from No. 15 Troy? And what can future WNBA stars Charli Collier and Aari McDonald do for encores after fantastic first-round efforts?
We'll find out those answers and more on Wednesday. For now, though, here's a look at the round-of-32 schedule for the day alongside some odds, picks and explanations.
Picks Against the Spread
- No. 2 Maryland (-14.5) over No. 7 Alabama, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN2
- No. 6 Oregon (-8.5) over No. 3 Georgia, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2
- No. 5 Missouri State (-10.5) over No. 13 Wright State, 3 p.m. ET, ESPNU
- No. 12 Belmont (+14.5) over No. 4 Indiana, 5 p.m. ET, ESPNU
- No. 2 Louisville (-5.5) over No. 7 Northwestern, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN2
- No. 3 Arizona (-9.5) over No. 11 BYU, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
- No. 2 Texas A&M (-2.5) over No. 7 Iowa State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
- No. 6 Texas (+7.5) over No. 3 UCLA, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Bold represents the writer's pick against the spread. Betting lines are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook as of midnight ET on Wednesday.
Games of the Day
No. 2 Texas A&M (-2.5) over No. 7 Iowa State
It's easy to be pessimistic about Texas A&M right now. The Aggies survived and advanced despite a fantastic first-round effort from No. 15 Troy, which outscored its national championship-contending opponents 45-35 in the second half.
The Trojans also were on the wrong end of the officiating whistle all night (25 personal fouls to the Aggies' 13) and should have had possession with seconds remaining after officials missed a backcourt violation. A Troy foul was called instead, and the Aggies escaped with the four-point win.
But let's keep this in mind: Texas A&M is 24-2 on the year and has a win against No. 1 seed South Carolina. The Aggies also have five players who score 10 or more points per game, and that doesn't even include Destiny Pitts (7.4 PPG, 47.1 percent three-point rate).
The Aggies will have a tough task against Cyclones superstar Ashley Jones (23.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG), but they have a potential answer in N'dea Jones (12.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG), the school's all-time leading rebounder.
Texas A&M will right the ship and pull through here.
No. 2 Louisville (-5.5) over No. 7 Northwestern
Louisville may be a 5.5-point favorite, but Northwestern is a dangerous team thanks to its phenomenal backcourt of Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam.
It was the Pulliam Show on Monday against UCF as she dropped 25 points in a relatively low-scoring affair (62-51). When she gets hot from the field, Northwestern can beat nearly anyone in this tournament. The same goes for Burton, the team's leader in points and assists.
The problem is Louisville is just a bear to defend, starting with Dana Evans (19.8 PPG, 4.1 APG) and continuing with three other players who score 10 or more points per game.
Evans, Hailey Van Lith and Kianna Smith have combined to make 156 three-pointers, and that trio is complemented by a productive frontcourt featuring Olivia Cochran (team-leading 6.6 RPG) and Elizabeth Dixon (second in boards and blocks). There's also defensive wizard/guard Elizabeth Balogun, who contributes team-high 39 blocks.
Perhaps the Burton-Gilliam backcourt gets Northwestern rolling, but Louisville's depth will simply be too much en route to a Sweet 16 appearance.
No. 6 Oregon (-8.5) over No. 3 Georgia
It's not every day you see a lower-seeded team favored by 8.5 points, but Oregon just crushed No. 11 South Dakota 67-47 after holding the Coyotes to one single point in the second quarter.
Georgia will present a far stiffer challenge, though, in part because of star center Jenna Staiti (14.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.1 BPG). She's had six or more blocks in a game five times this year.
Still, it's hard to ignore this line, because it means the sportsbooks think far more highly of Oregon than the seeding implies. To put it in context, No. 3 Arizona is only favored by one more point over a No. 11 seed in BYU.
Oregon is talented enough to be a top-three or top-four seed but dealt with (a) a midseason activity pause due to COVID-19 and (b) the loss of point guard Te-Hina Paopao, who has missed her last three games with a right foot injury and won't play Wednesday.
But Erin Boley and Nyara Sabally combined for 39 points and the Ducks' defense shined in an easy win Monday. They sure made some doubting writers look foolish, but the same mistake won't be made twice. Oregon is the pick to win and cover.
No. 6 Texas (+7.5) over No. 3 UCLA
Anything is possible for Texas behind Collier, who averages 20.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. The likely future No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick is a walking bucket, with her 44 points against North Texas serving as Exhibit A.
UCLA may be in for a fight here, simply because the 6'5" Collier has a four-inch advantage over any of the starters. That opens the door for a classic Collier performance, one where she patrols the paint and propels Texas into the Sweet 16.
Texas is going to have its hands full on defense, though. For starters, Bruin stars Michaela Onyenwere and Charisma Osborne combine for 35.9 points and 13.2 rebounds per game. Onyenwere leads the team in points and boards, and Osborne paces the Bruins with 52 three-pointers.
And then there's Natalie Chou, who is averaging 10.2 points per game. She struggled in her final five games before the tournament, scoring just 5.8 PPG on 10-of-32 shooting. But that slump appears long gone after Chou had 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting in the first round against Wyoming.
Still, Collier will be the best player on the floor, with the X-factors being teammates Joanne Allen-Taylor (36-of-101 from three-point range) and Kyra Lambert (35-of-93). If Collier dominates and that duo gets going from beyond the arc, watch for Texas to cover and win outright.
Rest of the Slate
No. 2 Maryland (-14.5) over No. 7 Alabama
Maryland has gone 14-0 ever since losing to Ohio State on Jan. 25. The Terrapins' margins of victory have been as follows: 40, 36, 22, 45, 32, 18, 29, 12, 25, 27, 10, 33, 20, 53.
Alabama did have an impressive 80-71 win over North Carolina, with Jordan Lewis' 32 points leading the way. However, the Crimson Tide are running into a buzzsaw. There's no other way to put it, and there isn't much more to say aside from pointing to the Terps' sheer dominance of late. Look for Maryland to win and cover.
No. 5 Missouri State (-10.5) over No. 13 Wright State
Wright State is the lowest-seeded team remaining in the field following a shocking upset over No. 4 Arkansas. Credit the Raiders for advancing, but they get a really tough draw against a 22-2 Missouri State team with Final Four potential.
Missouri State has won 18 straight games and beat Maryland earlier this year. They feature a deep and well-rounded rotation led by Brice Calip (13.7 PPG, 4.0 APG, 2.25 SPG) and Jasmine Franklin (12.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.3 SPG). They'll be good enough to win and cover.
No. 12 Belmont (+14.5) over No. 4 Indiana
Belmont marked one of the tournament's most notable upsets so far after defeating No. 5 Gonzaga 64-59 behind 25 points and seven assists from Destinee Wells, who has been nothing short of spectacular (17.9 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.5 SPG).
Belmont will need another heroic effort from Wells to defeat an Indiana team that nearly doubled VCU's point total in the first round (63-32). The Hoosiers have won 10 of 11 games and should prevail again here, but Wells will do enough to keep this in the single-digits.
No. 3 Arizona (-9.5) over No. 11 BYU
All Arizona star (and future high WNBA draft pick) Aari McDonald did in her 2021 NCAA tourney debut was score 20 points in just 24 minutes during a 79-44 rout of Stony Brook on Monday.
It isn't wise to doubt one of the game's best players in McDonald, who paces the Wildcats with 19.4 points and 4.5 assists per game.
A challenge against a tough BYU team that just upset Rutgers 69-66 won't be easy, but McDonald is the best player on the court and will end up clearing north of 20 points in a comfortable win.
For all the latest betting information and reaction, check out B/R Betting.
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