UConn is back in a familiar place — the No. 1 overall seed in the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament.
Joining the Huskies as top seeds are Notre Dame, Louisville and Mississippi State.
The Huskies enter as the lone unbeaten team and will be vying for their 12th national championship. It’s the ninth time that UConn has entered the NCAAs undefeated, including last year when the Huskies went in as the overwhelming favorite before their 111-game winning streak ended with a loss to Mississippi State in the Final Four.
This year’s Final Four is in Columbus, Ohio, and will take place on March 30. The national championship game is on Sunday, April 1.
Defending national champion South Carolina and A’ja Wilson await as a possible Elite Eight matchup for UConn in the Albany Regional. The Gamecocks are the two-seed.
“What can you do? You have to beat some pretty good teams. Is it an impossible feat? Obviously not,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “We saw that last year. If we’re in the position where we have to play them, we’re going to play them. We’re going to give it our best shot and let the chips fall where they may.”
The Gamecocks lost by 25 at home against UConn on Feb. 1.
Florida State and Georgia are the other top seeds in the Huskies’ part of the bracket.
“Brackets are brackets. There are good teams in every bracket,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “There are great matchups in every bracket and it doesn’t really matter at this stage where you’re placed, what region, you’re going to have to beat some really good teams. The schedule we play, I knew we’d get somebody two or three that we already played. We know that.”
UConn, which has been a No. 1 seed every year since 2007, opens up against 16-seed Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) on Saturday morning. All of the top four teams in each region host the opening two rounds at home.
Like the Huskies, the Irish are a No. 1 seed again. Notre Dame has been a top seed the last seven years. This might be one of coach Muffet McGraw’s finest accomplishments as Notre Dame lost four pivotal players to injury, but only three games on the season. Two of those losses came to Louisville.
“A great reward for this team for what they’ve been through … playing the toughest schedule and getting a No. 1 seed,” McGraw said. “I’m so proud of this group and what they have accomplished. (Being a No. 1) is quite an accomplishment for what we’ve been through all year long.”
The Irish are in the Spokane Regional and open up against Cal State Northridge on Friday. If Notre Dame advances, the Irish would head out west to potentially face No. 2 seed Oregon.
“We’ve never been in the West bracket. I love playing Friday at 5. That’s awesome,” McGraw said.
The Ducks could stay out west and play in Spokane, where coach Kelly Graves spent many years as Gonzaga’s coach. Ohio State and Texas A&M are the three and four seeds in that region.
Louisville won the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time this season. The Cardinals open up against Boise State and are one of eight ACC teams in the field. The Southeastern Conference has seven teams in the tournament, while the Pac-12 and the Big Ten have six.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “We’re excited to host the first two at home against two very good basketball teams. If we’re fortunate enough to advance, we get the opportunity to play in Lexington, which would be great for our fans.”
The Lexington Regional is stacked with former NCAA Tournament winners with Baylor the two-seed, Tennessee the three and Stanford the four. While the Lady Vols have been in the NCAA Tournament every year since it began in 1982, Nicholls State, Northern Colorado, Mercer and Seattle will be making their first appearances.
Stanford potentially is headed to Lexington for the third straight year if it can advance.
Mississippi State is a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history. The Bulldogs won their first 32 games this season before losing to South Carolina in the SEC title game. With most of their players back from last season’s runner-up finish — including Morgan William, who hit the game-winner in overtime to knock off UConn — the Bulldogs hope to make another deep NCAA run.
The NCAA revealed Sunday night the final eight teams under consideration for the last four spots in the tournament. Buffalo, Creighton, Minnesota and Oklahoma got in. Purdue, Rutgers, Southern Cal and West Virginia were the first four teams out.
Oklahoma got in with a 16-14 record — the fewest wins for an at-large team since 2005 — a day after the Oklahoma men got an at-large berth with an 18-13 record and losses in 11 of their final 15 games.
“We spent almost seven hours on that decision of who those last four teams in and first four out were,” NCAA women’s basketball committee chair Rhonda Bennett said. “We went through those resumes and their body of work. We took as long as it took to get those teams into the bracket.”
Bennett said Oklahoma’s strength of schedule, which was second best in the country, was a key to its selection.
Virginia spent an entire season exceeding all expectations and making a dominant run through the Atlantic Coast Conference. Now the Cavaliers face a new challenge: trying to earn a spot in their first Final Four in more than three decades as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers headline the South Region bracket, earning a No. 1 seed for the sixth time in program history. It’s the third 1-seed in the past five seasons under coach Tony Bennett, who guided his team to a regional final two years ago but has yet to take the next step: the Final Four.
The pressure will be higher than ever for the Cavaliers (31-2) to do it now.
“I wouldn’t say pressure is the word,” leading scorer Kyle Guy said after Saturday night’s win against North Carolina in the ACC Tournament title game. “But you know, that’s definitely in the back of our minds. . We’re just trying to do this for each other.”
Virginia opens play Friday against No. 16 seed UMBC (24-10) in Charlotte in a bracket that features Cincinnati, Tennessee, Arizona and Kentucky — with both sets of Wildcats in the Cavaliers’ top half of the draw.
“I told our players that everyone can play if they’re in there,” Bennett said in a teleconference Sunday after the pairings were released.
If Virginia can make it through the bracket to reach San Antonio, that would add to what has already been a milestone-filled season. The Cavaliers have a program-record win total and are a unanimous No. 1 in the AP Top 25 ; before this year, the last time they were No. 1 was December 1982 (the poll had just 20 teams then) during Ralph Sampson’s senior season.
Virginia went to a Final Four in 1981 with the 7-foot-4 Sampson, then made an unexpected trip there in 1984 as a 7-seed.
The Cavaliers have their traditional suffocating defense that ranks No. 1 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency (84.4 points allowed per 100 possessions), while the methodical-tempo attack ranks 21st in offensive efficiency (116.5 points per 100 possessions). They were picked to finish sixth in the ACC, but they went on to become the first team since 2000 to win the ACC regular-season race outright by four games, then followed with the program’s third ACC Tournament title to complete a 20-1 slate against league opponents.
The top challenger is Cincinnati (30-4), which got less than an hour to celebrate Sunday’s win against Houston in the American Athletic Conference Tournament championship in Orlando before learning its NCAA path. The second-seeded Bearcats open with 15-seed Georgia State (24-10) on Friday in Nashville, Tennessee.
Here are things to know about the South Region:
Third-seeded Tennessee (25-8) fell to Kentucky in the Sunday’s Southeastern Conference Tournament final, but the Volunteers still earned their first NCAA bid since 2014 and open against 14th-seeded Wright State (25-9) in Dallas on Thursday. That’s quite a climb for a team that started the year picked to finish 13th in the SEC.
ARIZONA’S WILD RIDE
Things haven’t gone smoothly for the Wildcats.
The FBI corruption investigation into the sport led to an assistant coach being criminally charged and ultimately fired, and raised questions about coach Sean Miller’s job security . And on the court, Arizona went from No. 2 in the AP Top 25 to unranked in November after an ugly 0-3 showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
Yet the fourth-seeded Wildcats (27-7) went on to win the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles, and open NCAA play against 13-seed Buffalo (26-8) on Thursday in Boise, Idaho.
Coach John Calipari’s latest crop of Kentucky freshmen just needed a little longer to figure things out. Now the Wildcats (24-10) enter with a No. 5 seed after winning seven of eight to claim the SEC Tournament title.
The Wildcats — who lost to eventual champion North Carolina on a last-second shot in last year’s Elite Eight — face 12-seed Davidson (21-11) in Boise on Thursday.
Friday’s matchup between No. 8 seed Creighton (21-11) and No. 9 seed Kansas State (22-11) in Charlotte will offer a reunion for Bluejays senior Marcus Foster with his former school . The 6-foot-3 senior guard played his first two seasons at Kansas State but is averaging 20.3 points for Creighton.
THE REST OF THE BRACKET
Sixth-seeded Miami (22-9) meets 11-seed Loyola-Chicago (28-5) in Dallas on Thursday, while No. 7 seed Nevada (27-7) meets No. 10 seed Texas (19-14) on Friday in Nashville.
PATH TO SAN ANTONIO
The bracket goes through Atlanta’s Philips Arena for the regional rounds on March 22 and March 24.