Everyone got an early look at the women’s NCAA Tournament bracket, revealing that UConn isn’t a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2006.
The accidental early release of the 64-team bracket by ESPN just provided a couple of extra hours for the 11-time national champion Huskies to get fired up about their unusual position.
“If you are going to do that, we’re going to do everything we can to prove everyone wrong,” UConn senior Napheesa Collier said.
The Huskies (31-2) are still playing in the same Albany Regional they would have as a No. 1, and have the same expected potential regional final matchup against Louisville (29-3), the top seed instead.
There was no surprise with perennial Big 12 champion Baylor (31-1) being the No. 1 overall seed. The Lady Bears, who are playing in the Greensboro Regional, have the nation’s longest winning streak at 23 games and were the unanimous No. 1 team in the last Associated Press women’s basketball poll of the season that was released Monday.
The other NCAA No. 1 seeds are defending national champion Notre Dame (30-3) in the Chicago Regional and SEC champion Mississippi State (30-2), the national runner-up each of the past two seasons, in the Portland Regional.
“I feel like for the first time in a long time that every region got as close as it can to the S-curve, and that does my heart good for women’s basketball,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said.
“Not just our region, but if you look at the top 6-8 teams that could win this whole thing, below them they tried as best they could to cover geography but also cover the S-curve,” Mulkey said. “Usually when you look at a bracket, you go, ‘Who got the toughest region?’ I don’t know that anybody got one any tougher than any others.”
Here are some things to know about the women’s NCAA Tournament that starts Friday:
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TWO LOSSES FOR A NO. 2
The last time UConn had multiple regular-season losses was 2012-13, when the Huskies won the first of four consecutive national titles. After that, they lost only one regular-season game the next five seasons before their two losses this year — both on the road, at NCAA No. 1 seeds Baylor and Louisville.
“We did lose two games, so I’m surprised we’re a number two. I thought we would be a four or five,” coach Geno Auriemma joked. “I mean, we’re not in one of those conferences that perennially wins women’s basketball national basketball championships, so we can’t be expected to lose two games and not be dropped. I’m just happy they kept us at two.”
While Baylor will have to go to North Carolina for the Sweet 16, readily assuming that the Lady Bears win two games at home, there could be some real local flavor in Greensboro with third-seeded North Carolina State and fourth-seeded South Carolina also in that bracket.
Baylor has won 37 consecutive home games.
Notre Dame would go to Chicago, with that regional’s semifinal and final games only about 90 miles from the South Bend campus. Second-seeded Oregon could draw some huge crowds to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in Portland if the Ducks advance.
The selection committee on Sunday announced eight teams being considered for the final at-large berths. Five of those teams got in the field.
Princeton later won the Ivy League tournament championship and an automatic berth.
Tennessee still has perfect attendance in the women’s NCAA Tournament that started in 1982. The Lady Vols got in as a No. 11 seed and joined fellow SEC team Auburn, Indiana and Central Florida as the last four in.
Among the last teams left out were Arkansas, Ohio and TCU. The NCAA said that James Madison was the final team left out.
FIRST TIME MIGHT BE FAST
NCAA Tournament first-timers Abilene Christian, Bethune-Cookman and Towson will make their debuts playing past national champions on their home courts.
Southland Conference tournament champion Abilene Christian (23-9) stays in Texas to play Baylor. Towson (20-12) of the Colonial Athletic Association is a No. 15 seed at UConn. MEAC tournament winner Bethune-Cookman (21-10) is a No. 16 seed headed to play at Notre Dame.
The Summit League was known by a different name the last time the league had an at-large women’s team.
South Dakota State (26-6) got in the NCAA for the ninth time in 11 years with the Summit’s automatic berth after winning the conference tournament.
South Dakota (28-5) is the only the second team from the league to get an at-large bid. The last was Northern Illinois in 1994, when it was the Mid-Continent Conference.
Buffalo and Central Michigan both made it to the Sweet 16 last season as No. 11 seeds out of the Mid-American Conference.
The Bulls and Chippewas are back in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think that us getting in was a fluke in their eyes, and then when we went out and went to the Sweet 16, they said, ‘We’ve got to take these people seriously’,” Buffalo coach Felicia Leggett-Jack said, referring to last year’s MAC run.
MAC tournament champ Buffalo (23-9) is the No. 10 seed in the Albany Regional. Central Michigan (25-7) is the No. 8 in the Chicago Regional.
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