March Madness: 5 high seeds destined for an early NCAAW Tournament exit

Mar 4, 2023; Greenville, SC, USA; LSU Lady Tigers forward Angel Reese (10) brings the ball inbounds in the first half against the Tennessee Lady Vols at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2023; Greenville, SC, USA; LSU Lady Tigers forward Angel Reese (10) brings the ball inbounds in the first half against the Tennessee Lady Vols at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports /

Not all high seeds are created equal. These five teams all have big weaknesses and tough March Madness paths ahead of them in the women’s tournament.

The bracket for the NCAA Tournament is set, with South Carolina, Indiana, Virginia Tech and Stanford all earning No. 1 seeds. There wasn’t much controversy around the first three, but there was some debate about Stanford vs. Iowa for the fourth No. 1 seed.

But those five aforementioned teams have pretty smooth rides through the field, at least until the Elite Eight. But there are some higher seeds that don’t have quite the easy path. Today, I’ll look at five high seeds who are destined for an early exit.

Now, because the women’s tournament doesn’t tend to have as many upsets as the men’s tournament, let’s talk about how I define “early exit” here. For me, it’s all based on seeding. An early exit for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed means not making it to the Elite Eight. An early exit for a No. 3 or No. 4 seed means not making the Sweet 16. For a five or seed, it means a first-round exit.

These high seeds could be in for a rough ride in March Madness

LSU — No. 3 seed

So, two-loss LSU is a No. 3 seed. I was expecting a two, but the committee must have looked at a non-conference schedule that ranked 320th in strength of schedule and said “yeah, okay, give them a tougher path.”

That path begins against a feisty Hawaii team. The Rainbow Wahine went 18-14, but ended the season with seven wins in their final eight games, if we include the conference tournament. But that’s not really the game I’m looking at for LSU to lose: it’s the second-round matchup between the winner of Michigan/UNLV. I’m actually going to talk about why UNLV beats Michigan next, so I’ll save the analysis of those teams for then and instead will take another glance at LSU’s resume.

The Tigers were one of the country’s best teams on paper. They were second in the SEC in net rating at plus-36.3. They played the schedule they played and they won, ending up with the second-best average margin in Division I. But they also only played eight games against Quad 1 teams, going 6-2 in those games. This was a down year for the SEC, so a 15-1 conference record doesn’t mean as much as it might in other years, especially when the one regular season loss was by 24 to South Carolina.

Michigan — No. 6 seed

I’ve got UNLV upsetting Michigan in the first round. Here’s why.

First, UNLV is a really good team. The Rebels rank ninth in offensive rating and 82nd in defensive rating; that’s higher than Michigan in both stats. Of course, Michigan’s played a tougher schedule, so that factors in.

But it’s not like UNLV just played a bunch of nobodies. They beat a really good Illinois State team in non-conference, plus took down tournament team Hawaii by double-digits. And then they went undefeated in the Mountain West — not the best conference, but there’s enough talent there that an undefeated season is notable.

As for Michigan, the Wolverines have had some letdown games. After a 9-0 start, they lost to Toledo, and then they also ended the season on a low note, losing four of their final six if we include the Big Ten Tournament. They look vulnerable at the worst time for that.

Notre Dame — No. 3 seed

This is really all about Olivia Miles. The star guard for the Fighting Irish hasn’t played since Feb. 26 against Louisville, when she suffered a knee injury. Her status for the tournament is a question mark right now, and even if she suits up, she might not be at 100 percent.

That makes the Irish vulnerable. It’s a small sample, but the Irish only have a plus05.2 net rating this season when Miles isn’t on the floor, vs a plus-28.6 net rating when she is. To put it simply: Notre Dame with Miles is an elite team; Notre Dame without Miles is just kind of average.

You really saw that against Louisville in the conference tournament, as the Cardinals just stomped all over Notre Dame, taking the Irish down 63-38. The offense was just completely gone without Miles available.

Creighton — No. 6 seed

Creighton has to play the winner of Illinois/Mississippi State in the first round, and if that’s Illinois, then watch out.

The Bluejays’ weakness is defense, as they rank just 162nd in defensive rating. Illinois’ strength is offense, as they rank 10th in offensive rating. Sure, the same thing is true on the other side too — Creighton is good offensively, Illinois struggles defensively — but Illinois has been the better offense, and I think efficiency can matter a lot here — Illinois is 17th in field goal percentage, Creighton is 33rd. Both teams play relatively slow basketball, so every possession is going to matter, and Illinois has played better on a per-possession basis.

Tennessee — No. 4 seed

Tennessee’s first-round opponent, Saint Louis, isn’t a team to scoff at — the Billikens only went 17-17, but they play fast (46th in pace) and can cause some trouble for teams, and they were really hot to end the season. Still, the biggest threat to Tennessee is what can happen in the second round.

That’s because they’ll face the winner of Iowa State/Toledo in that second round, and both of those teams can cause major problems for the Lady Vols. Tennessee lost 11 games this season, all to Quad 1 teams. Iowa State went 22-9 and is tough to beat because of how good its offense is, finishing 29th in points per game behind the strong play of star Ashley Joens.

And if they don’t play Iowa State, then they’d play Toledo. And the Rockets are good too! Toledo beat Michigan back in December and is on a 16-game win streak right now despite playing in a really competitive MAC. The Rockets are 20th in the country in offensive rating and are led by their own high-scoring star in Quinesha Lockett.

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