A wild opening weekend of March Madness has set the stage for a thrilling Sweet 16 in the women’s tournament. Here’s what you need to know.
The women’s Sweet 16 is here, and we’ve got one of the most intriguing Sweet 16s ever, largely because only two of the No. 1 seeds
1. Stanford’s not there
Stanford lost in the second round to Ole Miss, with the Rebels holding Stanford to its second-lowest scoring total of the season. With the loss, the Cardinal are now the first No. 1 seed since 2009 to not make it to the Sweet 16. It also ends a run of 14 consecutive Sweet 16 appearances for the Cardinal. There were some worrying signs down the stretch for Stanford, with losses in two of the team’s final three games before the NCAA Tournament, but it’s still shocking to see a No. 1 seed eliminated this early.
2. Indiana, also not there
I wrote the above section on Monday morning, and I was operating under the assumption that Stanford getting eliminated was going to be the biggest shock of the second round. But nope! Indiana — No. 3 in the last AP poll — lost Monday night to Miami, a No. 9 seed. The Hoosiers become the second No. 1 seed since 2009 to miss the Sweet 16.
3. No Olivia Miles, no problem for Notre Dame … yet
The No. 3 seed Irish were a popular pick to be upset on the first weekend of the tournament because they were without their best player, Olivia Miles. But while the offense struggled against Mississippi State with Miles out of the lineup, the defense stepped up, holding the Bulldogs to 48 points as Notre Dame eked out a 53-48 victory. Things get a lot tougher with Maryland up next, but just making the Sweet 16 without Miles feels like a win for Niele Ivey’s squad.
4. Iowa’s path to the Final Four has opened up
Things couldn’t have gone better for the Hawkeyes. The No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 seeds in their region are all gone, creating an easier path to the Final Four for Lisa Bluder’s team. Sure, you can argue that No. 6 seed Colorado was underseeded, but Iowa’s now clearly the best team in its region, and the possibility of an eventual South Carolina/Iowa game that pits Aliyah Boston against Caitlin Clark is now a little more likely.
5. South Carolina and UCLA: Part II
Back in November, South Carolina hosted UCLA, and the Gamecocks won by nine. That was one of just five games this season that was decided by single digits for SC. Could the Bruins get the upset this time? They shot just 32.3 percemt from the floor in that game, so there’s definitely some room for improvement there for UCLA. This will be one worth watching.
6. Can LSU slow down the Utah offense?
One of the big question marks about LSU this year was how good the Tigers really were after playing a non-conference schedule that ranked 320th in strength of schedule. They also only faced South Carolina once — the Gamecocks won by 24 — and Tennessee twice, with the two teams splitting those games. But some questions about how LSU will fare against top teams were answered in the second round, as it held Michigan to just 42 points; the Wolverines averaged 73.5 points per game this season.
7. Can Miami make a run?
Miami is the only team to advance to the Sweet 16 from a seed lower than No. 8. Can the Hurricanes continue the magic against Villanova? The team won their first two games by a combined three points, so it might be tough, but the ‘Canes have won four of five now and the duo of Haley Cavinder and Destiny Harden make them a dangerous team.
8. Villanova has looked strong so far
The Wildcats, led by the nation’s top scorer Maddy Siegrist, have looked pretty unbeatable so far, with a 76-59 win over Cleveland State in the opening round, followed by a 76-57 win over FGCU. And with Miami on deck next, the Wildcats won’t have to face a team with a top-eight seed until the Elite Eight, when they’d play the winner of Utah/LSU. Sure, it was an easy first weekend, but you can only play who you play, and the Wildcats easily took care of business.
9. There are no mid-majors left in March Madness
FGCU, Princeton, South Dakota State, South Florida and Toledo all won in the first round, but all five lost in the second round, so if you’re looking for a Cinderella to root for this weekend, you’re out of luck.
10. No Big 12 teams either
For the first time since the Big 12 was founded, no Big 12 team is in the women’s Sweet 16. Despite getting six teams in the tournament, the conference was unable to get anyone through the first weekend. It’s a much different-looking Sweet 16 this year.
11. Ole Miss’s defense looks dangerous
The Rebels played two good offenses in the tournament, and they stifled both of them. Gonzaga averaged 71.6 points per game this season and Ole Miss held the Bulldogs to 48. Stanford averaged 76.1 points per game and Ole Miss held the Cardinal to 49. Up next is Louisville — the Cardinals averaged 73.1 points per game this year. How many will they manage this weekend?
12. How do you beat UConn with Azzi Fudd back?
UConn looked beatable when Azzi Fudd was injured, dropping multiple conference games and having some stretches where they didn’t look like the Huskies. Then Fudd returned. And after easing her back in during the Big East tournament and the first-round game against Vermont, she was unleashed against Baylor, dropping 22 points. When healthy, Fudd has one of the highest scoring ceilings in the nation. And Ohio State’s struggled defensively, ranking 266th in Division I in scoring defense.
13. Tennessee enters this weekend on a roll
The Lady Vols haven’t lost to a non-South Carolina team since Feb. 6, going 8-2 since then. They opened the tournament with a 45-point win over Saint Louis, then followed that up with a 47-point win over Toledo. Tennessee’s offense scored 90-plus points in back-to-back games for the second time this season.
14. Hailey Van Lith is having her moment
The Louisville guard scored 47 during the first weekend of the tournament, plus made headlines after a post-game interaction with Texas’ Sonya Morris. Van Lith — ranked the No. 7 recruit in her class by ESPN — has been really good during her three seasons at Louisville, but the past week has felt like a real star turn for Van Lith, who projects to be one of the faces of women’s college basketball as a senior next year.
15. Virginia Tech looks to push deeper in the tournament than it ever has
The Hokies are a No. 1 seed, but they aren’t a traditional power in women’s college basketball. In fact, Virginia Tech has never made it past the Sweet 16, and they’ve only made it this far once, losing to Tennessee in 1999. Last year, the Hokies suffered a first-round upset loss to Florida Gulf Coast. Now, they’re a win away from their deepest run.
16. The stars are still here
The finalists for the Naismith were announced on Tuesday, and all four players — Aliyah Boston (South Carolina), Caitlin Clark (Iowa), Elizabeth Kitley (Virginia Tech) and Maddy Siegrist (Villanova) — remain in the title hunt. If you want to watch the stars of college basketball, then this is the Sweet 16 field for you.