NCAA Women’s Tournament Reset: The Sweet 16

NCAA Women's Tournament Sweet 16 reset

The NCAA Women’s Tournament has a Thanos vs. The Avengers feel heading into its second weekend.

On the one side is defending champion and juggernaut South Carolina, riding a 40-game winning streak dating to the start of last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks have outscored opponents by an average of 30.4 points this season and maintained that status quo with victories over Norfolk State and South Florida by a combined 63 points in the first two rounds of the tourney.

On the other side are 15 teams, only four of which will get a chance to find any small crack in the South Carolina armor to record what would be one of the biggest upsets in women’s NCAA Tournament history. Connecticut has six of the nine unbeaten seasons in women’s history, including the most recent one in 2015-16, while Texas (1985-86), Tennessee (1997-98), and Baylor (2011-12) each accomplished the feat once.

UConn has been without its best player, Paige Bueckers, the entire season, while Tennessee, led by alumna and three-time NCAA Women’s Tournament champion Kellie Harper, has only recently gotten back to the decades-long standard set by Harper’s coach Pat Summit. The other remaining top seed, Virginia Tech, is making its second regional semifinal appearance in school history and first in 24 years.

Dawn Staley’s team has been such a remorseless machine that FanDuel is currently the lone major sportsbook to post odds for the Greenville 1 Region. Not only is South Carolina the prohibitive favorite to repeat as champion with its shortest odds currently -200 at FanDuel, two books — FanDuel (-200/+150) and Caesars Sportsbook (-250/+200) — are currently offering the Gamecocks versus the rest of the field. Looking beyond South Carolina for sports wagering options, there is value to be had and maybe someone who can challenge Wade Trophy finalist Aliyah Boston and company.

Game lines and totals are based on oddsmaker consensus.

Greenville 1 Region

The 🐐 gets a 👑@dawnstaley is the @USBWA Coach of the Year!

— South Carolina Women’s Basketball (@GamecockWBB) March 22, 2023

Who’s left: No. 1 South Carolina (-550 to make the Final Four at FanDuel), No. 2 Maryland (+500 at FanDuel), No. 3 Notre Dame (+2300 at FanDuel), No. 4 UCLA (+3500 at FanDuel)

Matchups: No. 1 South Carolina (-17.5/127.5) vs. No. 4 UCLA, No. 2 Maryland (-5.5/137.5) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame

The Skinny: Yes, South Carolina is an overwhelming favorite, but none of these teams is simply going to roll over. UCLA had a 10-point lead late in the first half in Columbia last November before the Gamecocks rallied for a 73-64 win behind 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks from Boston. In that game, South Carolina held UCLA to three fourth-quarter baskets and the Gamecocks finished with 15 blocks.

Charisma Osborne is coming off a career-high 36-point effort for the Bruins in their second-round win over Oklahoma and will have scoring help with freshman Kiki Rice. But this game will be won and lost on the boards — South Carolina leads the nation in rebounding margin at plus-20.6 per contest, but UCLA was one of four teams with a minus-6 rebound margin or better.

The other regional semifinal is also a rematch, with Maryland squeaking out a 74-72 win at Notre Dame on Diamond Miller’s Dec. 1 buzzer-beater in a game that featured 15 lead changes. This game will be notably different, as due to injuries the Irish are missing guard Olivia Mills, who averages 14.3 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds, and Dara Mabrey (9.3 ppg). Miller, considered the second-best women’s college player behind Boston, is averaging 19.7 points and scored 24 in the Terps’ second-round win over Arizona.

The Sweet 16 game picks: South Carolina vs. UCLA OVER 127.5 points (-110 at Caesars, BetMGM, DraftKings, Betfred, and FanDuel), Maryland -5 vs. Notre Dame (-105 at DraftKings)

The regional winner: South Carolina over Maryland

Seattle 4 Region

Caitlin Clark has the green light from the logo 🚦

📺: ABC

— ESPN (@espn) March 19, 2023

Who’s left: No. 2 Iowa (-130 at Caesars), No. 5 Louisville (+400 at DraftKings), No. 6 Colorado (+700 at DraftKings), No. 8 Ole Miss (+600 at DraftKings)

Matchups: No. 2 Iowa (-5.5/145.5) vs. No. 6 Colorado, No. 5 Louisville (-2.5/126.5) vs. No. 8 Ole Miss

The Skinny: Caitlin Clark erased last season’s heartbreak by helping Iowa avoid a second consecutive second-round exit on its home floor. The nation’s top offensive player now looks to help the Hawkeyes reach the Final Four for the first time in 30 years.

Clark, also a Wade Trophy finalist and the only Division I player — men’s or women’s — with at least 475 points, 200 rebounds, 175 assists, and 50 steals this season, will face a Colorado defense that ranked third in the Pac-12 with 58.5 points allowed per game and gave up more than 69 points just five times. Quay Miller and Frida Forman are a potent inside-outside combination on offense for the Buffaloes, who have not been to the regional final since 2002.

Louisville’s backcourt duo of Hailey Van Lith and Chrislyn Carr will try to unlock an Ole Miss defense that flustered top-seeded Stanford into 21 turnovers and 32.7% shooting while becoming the first team to hold the Cardinal under 50 points in an NCAA Tournament game since 2012. Van Lith does a little of everything, averaging 19.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists, while Carr led the ACC in 3-point shooting at a 42.6% clip.

The Sweet 16 game picks: Iowa -5.5 vs. Colorado (-110 at Caesars and Betfred), Louisville ML vs. Ole Miss (-140 at DraftKings)

The regional winner: Iowa over Louisville

Greenville 2 Region

ANGEL REESE DOES IT AGAIN!!! @angelreese10 displayed complete DOMINANCE in No. 3 seeded LSU’s matchup against No. 6 seeded Michigan, becoming the first player with 25 pts, 24 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a women’s NCAA tournament game in 23 years 😱❗️

— Naismith Awards (@NaismithTrophy) March 21, 2023

Who’s left: No. 2 Utah (+430 at FanDuel), No. 3 LSU (-120 at DraftKings and Caesars), No. 4 Villanova (+330 at FanDuel), No. 9 Miami (+1500 at DraftKings)

Matchups: No. 3 LSU (-5/150.5) vs. No. 2 Utah, No. 4 Villanova (-4.5/130.5) vs. No. 9 Miami

The Skinny: The first two rounds served as a reminder of what Kim Mulkey can do when she has a superstar. In her second season at LSU, Mulkey is chasing her fourth NCAA Women’s Tournament title with Angel Reese as her go-to player. The junior forward is fifth in the nation in scoring at 23.8 points per game and second in rebounds at 15.7 per contest. Reese totaled 59 and 39 in the Lady Tigers’ two wins in Baton Rouge and gets the chance to add to those numbers in what should be a track meet versus Utah.

The Utes are dynamic offensively, ranking third in Division I with 83.5 points per game, two spots better than LSU (83.2). Utah also has a star forward of its own in Alissa Pili, who averages 21.0 points and 5.6 rebounds and can step out to hit an occasional 3-pointer. The Utes’ lone regional final appearance in school history came in 2006.

There is more offensive star power in the other semifinal as Maddy Siegrist, the top Division I women’s scorer at 29.2 points per game, leads Villanova into its first regional appearance since 2003 and second overall. Siegrist totaled 66 points in victories over Cleveland State and Florida Gulf Coast, and the Wildcats were not challenged much in either contest. Miami may be the biggest longshot left in the tournament after upending No. 1 seed Indiana in the second round, and it will need Lola Pendade to continue stepping up. The 6′ 4″ forward had 29 points and 13 rebounds in helping the Hurricanes reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.

The Sweet 16 game pick: Villanova -4 vs. Miami (-110 at Caesars)

The regional winner: LSU over Villanova

Seattle 3 Region

Great pass Taylor Geiman ( @tcgeiman ) to Elizabeth Kitley ( @elizabethkitley )#MarchMadness / @HokiesWBB

— Antonio Garcia (@Iruk_WomenSport) March 19, 2023

Who’s left: No. 1 Virginia Tech (+420 at FanDuel), No. 2 UConn (-140 at DraftKings), No. 3 Ohio State (+1200 at DraftKings), No. 4 Tennessee (+430 at FanDuel)

Matchups: No. 1 Virginia Tech (-1.5/138.5) vs. No. 4 Tennessee, No. 2 UConn (-10/145) vs. No. 3 Ohio State

The Skinny: Even with an ACC regular-season and tournament title and No. 1 seed, oddsmakers remain skeptical about Virginia Tech running a regional gauntlet that includes two potential matchups with the old guard of women’s college basketball. The Hokies already have a win over the Lady Vols in their pocket, however, having recorded a 59-56 win in Knoxville despite getting only 16 points combined from top two scorers Georgia Amoore and Elizabeth Kitley.

Amoore, who averages 15.7 points and ranks fifth in Division I with 106 3-pointers, has averaged 21.6 points in her last five contests while connecting at a 46.4% clip (26-for-56) from beyond the arc. Kitley leads the Hokies in scoring at 18.2 points per game and is the school’s all-time leading scorer. If Virginia Tech establishes the tempo to its liking similar to earlier this season, it may be difficult for Rickea Jackson (19.3 ppg) and Jordan Horston (15.5) to get it going for the Lady Vols like they did in Knoxville, where the team averaged 94.5 points in wins over Saint Louis and Toledo.

Even without Bueckers, oddsmakers still see UConn as the best hope for denying South Carolina a second consecutive title. The return of starting guard Azzi Fudd has brought some much-needed depth to the Huskies — Geno Auremmia had been essentially using a six-woman rotation against higher-caliber opponents, and Fudd looked like her early season self with a 22-point effort in the second round versus Baylor. Ohio State scraped through its tournament wins behind Jacy Sheldon and likely will need even more from Taylor Mikesell, who ranks third nationally with 108 3-pointers and averages 17.2 points, to post two more victories.

The Sweet 16 game pick: Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee UNDER 138.5 points (-110 at Caesars, FanDuel, BetMGM, and Betfred).

The regional winner: UConn over Tennessee

Photo: Getty Images

Author: Ryan Gonzales