The 2023 NCAA Women’s Tournament is upon us, the schedule is in place, and a champion will be crowned at the Final Four in Dallas in just a few weeks.
Undefeated and reigning national champions, the South Carolina Gamecocks are on a 38-game winning streak in March Madness. ESPN analysis gives the Gamecocks a 46.4% chance of winning the title.
The UConn Huskies — who lost to the Gamecocks in the NCAA title game a year ago and are No. 2 on the other side of the table this season — have the next best odds at 11.2%. The top-ranked Stanford Cardinals and Indiana Hoosiers both have 7.1%, and the second-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies follow with 5.3%.
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We’ve already broken down the field of 68 teams by region. We have named the best players in brackets. Now ESPN’s Charlie Creme, Alexa Philippou and MA Voepel evaluate the true championship contenders, see if anyone has a shot at dethroning South Carolina, and join a handful of ESPN analysts in making Final Four and championship predictions.
If South Carolina doesn’t top the table for the second straight season, which team will lift the championship trophy?
Voice: South Carolina took the Tennessee Lady Volunteers spot as the best program in what is still a very challenging SEC, even in a conference-wide declining year. For everyone outside of the UConn fan base, the Huskies are the Michael Myers of women’s hoops: you can’t get rid of them as they appear in an endless series of sequels. Stanford is a corporate sports law firm.
I don’t think anyone will stop the Gamecocks from repeating themselves; They have too many good players, they play well together and coach Dawn Staley has done an excellent job of keeping them focused on the task at hand.
But if anyone is going to blow them away, it could be Stanford in the national semifinals or UConn in the national championship game. This is based solely on the fact that those two teams played the Gamecocks as closely as they did in the regular season: the Cardinal lost by five in overtime in November and the Huskies by four in February. We can’t be sure that either Stanford or UConn will make the Final Four; this is especially true of the cardinal. But if they do, the Cardinal and the Huskies will know, at least from experience, what it takes to beat the Gamecocks when they face off again.
Philip: After South Carolina, I think it’s between Indiana and UConn. Despite losing two of their last three games, the Hoosiers have been the most consistent team not based in Columbia, are strong at both ends of the parquet and manage to have both star power in Mackenzie Holmes and incredible balance with Grace Berger and Sydney Parrish to produce , Yarden Garzon, Sara Scalia and Chloe Moore-McNeil. While some point to Indiana’s lack of depth as a flaw, I can’t see it being a major deciding factor given what else the Hoosiers have for them. (And I’ll talk about huskies a little further down.)
Cream: It’s not particularly inventive to pick the No. 2 overall for the best chance of beating the No. 1, but I firmly believe Indiana has the best chance of beating South Carolina. It’ll take the right night and the Gamecocks aren’t playing at their best, but when that happens Indiana will have enough in its arsenal to last the distance. The Hoosiers move and shoot well, and have the balance and experience to at least take on South Carolina offensively when the two clash in the championship game.
Virginia Tech NCAA Tournament Preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his prediction for Virginia Tech’s NCAA tournament prospects
Which #1 seed will lose first?
Cream: While I like the pre-Stanford matchups in the first three rounds of the Seattle 4 Regional, I have some concerns about the Cardinal. They’ve had enough moments, or even full games, of poor offense — see: 47 points against USC or five points in the first quarter against Colorado — to wonder if Stanford can pull together four good performances to make the Final Four. If the Cardinal hits an elite eight, can he beat the second-place Iowa Hawkeyes?
Women’s Tournament Challenge
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Philip: The Cardinals are obviously experienced in March and could turn things around in the coming weeks, but the way they have completed the regular season and their recent offensive problems are a cause for concern. And while I don’t think it’s likely, the fact that Virginia Tech hasn’t played in the later rounds of the NCAA tournament in nearly 25 years makes me wonder if there’s a moment when the Hokies have a night off have and the pressure is catching up to them. They don’t have the easiest path either, with potential matchups against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits or USC Trojans and likely either Tennessee or the Iowa State Cyclones.
Voice: As Alexa mentioned, Virginia Tech is by far the least experienced program on the No. 1 seed when it comes to long NCAA tournament runs: South Carolina and Stanford won the last two titles, and Indiana went to the Elite Eight two years ago. Based on this, the Hokies appear to be the most vulnerable. But they’ve also won 11 games in a row and are playing very confidently.
Name a team that is significantly underestimated.
Cream: While I’m picking UConn to get out of Seattle 3, the Ohio State Buckeyes could be the team that spoils the party. The No. 3 started the 19-0 season largely without Jacy Sheldon. Now she’s back and her younger players, particularly newcomer Cotie McMahon, have proven they’re up to the challenge in the Big Ten. Ohio State’s style of pressing can cause problems for any team, especially if you haven’t seen it. The Louisville Cardinals struggled with it earlier this season, and the LSU Tigers fell in the second round last year under pressure from Ohio State.
UNC NCAA Tournament Preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his prediction for North Carolina’s NCAA tournament prospects.
Philip: Ohio State is a dangerous three-pointer for all the reasons Charlie listed, but I can’t believe the Buckeyes could face the six-seed North Carolina Tar Heels in the second round. That shouldn’t happen this early in the tournament!
Voice: I won’t say that the No. 5 seed in the state of Iowa was drastically understaffed. For women, however, the difference between a set of 4 and 5 is huge, as the top four from each region host. The selection committee clearly made its top 16 decisions before Sunday’s title game of the Big 12 tournament even played. The committee didn’t seem to take into account that the Cyclones beat the Texas Longhorns — as well as other NCAA tournament teams, the Baylor Bears in the quarterfinals and the Oklahoma Sooners in the semifinals — by double digits.
If there’s one consistent inconsistency about the committee over the years, it’s that they often disagree about the importance of conference tournaments. They even do so in the same section of the bracket, pointing to one team’s conference tournament success as important while essentially dismissing another team’s success.
UConn NCAA Tournament Preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his prediction for UConn’s NCAA tournament prospects
Aside from number 1, what other team has the best chance of winning it all?
Philip: UConn. The Huskies have had a difficult season, but they’ve come together more than ever to achieve their common goal of winning a championship. They’ve turned things around after their disappointing February and are making the most of Dorka Juhasz and Aaliyah Edwards, and strong postplay hasn’t exactly been a strength in recent tournaments. Given Azzi Fudd’s experience in high-pressure situations and potential superiority, I’m picking UConn as the non-no. 1 seed that has the best chance of winning it all – and actually the second favorite to take down the nets.
Voice: A program that has 11 NCAA titles and has made the Final Four every year since 2008 will continue to be a threat to winning it all unless something drastically changes. But since Charlie and Alexa have UConn covered, let’s look at Iowa.
The Hawkeyes can be an offensive powerhouse like few teams we’ll ever see in the tournament. And while they’re a better defensive team this season when it comes to getting stops when they really need them, it’s still about scoring goals for them. Can her offense take her to a title? That’s going to be hard; UConn still seems to be the most likely of the #2 seeds to prevail. But if the Hawkeyes do it, it’s going to be with a really exciting brand of basketball.
Iowa’s NCAA Tournament Preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his prediction for Iowa’s NCAA tournament prospects.
Are we shortening the other #2 seeds? The Maryland Terrapins are a former national champion, but that’s 17 years in the rearview mirror. Interestingly, in the year that the Terps won it all – 2006 – the Terps beat that year’s other No. 2, the Utah Utes, in the Elite Eight. Maryland and Utah could both be Elite Eight teams this year, but they don’t seem likely to be in Dallas.
Cream: We still don’t know exactly what UConn will look like with Fudd’s full return. She retired back into the lineup at the Big East tournament but didn’t produce much. Given the timing, that might not have been the best indicator. If it’s anything like the version of the Huskies who defeated Texas, the NC State Wolfpack, the Duke Blue Devils and Iowa back-to-back in November, UConn is a Final Four team. Without Fudd, the Huskies remained competitive with South Carolina in February, so they’re another team that could potentially turn the heavy favorites on their head.
The last four picks
LSU NCAA Tournament Preview
Charlie Creme breaks down his prediction for LSU’s NCAA tournament prospects.
Andrea Adelson: South Carolina (Champions), LSU, UConn, Iowa
Charlie Cream: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Drive Ellison: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, Virginia Tech, Iowa
Kelly Grumpy: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, Virginia Tech, Iowa
Doug Kezirian: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, Virginia Tech, Iowa
Kevin Pelton: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Alexa Philipou: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Roy Phillipt: South Carolina (Champions), Utah, Virginia Tech, Iowa
Steffi Sorensen: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Christy Thomaskutty: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, UConn, Stanford
MA Voepel: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, UConn, Iowa
Stephanie White: South Carolina (Champions), Indiana, Virginia Tech, Iowa