Jared Breaks Down the NCAA Tournament
It's good to be back! Not that I was gone long, but when you work in insurance and a massive storm comes through like the one on March 3, things get hectic.
The insurance company I work for only insures in the state of Kentucky, so the recent wind storm has hit us hard while we handle it with an "all hands on deck" approach. No, seriously, everyone from every department has turned their attention towards assisting claims as we want to try and help everyone out as quickly as possible. This has led to a massive amount of overtime and my schedule being "sleep when I can."
I was fortunate enough to catch the NCAA Women's Selection Show on Sunday and I have plenty of opinions on seeding and match-ups so I made sure I could make today's write happen.
First, Louisville is a 5-seed and will face 12-seed Drake. We now know that tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. 4-seed Texas and 13-seed ECU will tip-off shortly after, approximately around 10:00 p.m. Both games will be played at the Moody Center in Austin, Texas.
Besides those two games, we have 30 other games to look at in the opening round. We'll look at both seeding and match-ups while I provide some insight on some potential upsets I could see happening.
Note: This is NOT my final Cardinal Couple Pick Em predictions. This is just my initial thoughts on each game. I'll do my research this week.
Greenville 1 (This two regional thing is stupid)
1-seed South Carolina (32-0, SEC) vs 16-seed Norfolk State (26-6, MEAC)
The Gamecocks have been the team to beat all year. I don't see that changing.
Winner: South Carolina
8-seed South Florida (26-6, AAC) vs 9-seed Marquette (21-10, Big East)
The Bulls and Golden Eagles both have solid defenses and this one should be one of the better first round match-ups.
Winner: South Florida
5-seed Oklahoma (25-6, Big 12) vs 12-seed Portland (23-8, WCC)
Hey, it's Payton Verhulst's team! No, she won't be playing with the Sooners this tournament, but the Sooners held their own in one of the toughest conferences this year.
4-seed UCLA (25-9, Pac-12) vs 13-seed Sacramento State (25-7, Big Sky)
Take away the loss to Washington State and UCLA has been red hot as of late.
6-seed Creighton (22-8, Big East) vs 11-seed Illinois (22-9 Big Ten) or 11-seed Mississippi State (20-10 SEC)
Creighton was one of the big surprises last year when they made the Sweet Sixteen and they hold better position this year. I'm happy to see Sam Purcell get the Bulldogs into the tournament in his first season!
3-seed Notre Dame (25-5, ACC) vs 14-seed Southern Utah (23-9, WAC)
The Irish remain without Dara Mabrey and the status of Olivia Miles remains unclear. Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld have both stepped it up recently.
Winner: Notre Dame
7-seed Arizona (21-9, Pac-12) vs 10-seed West Virginia (19-11, Big 12)
The Wildcats have been slumping as of late while West Virginia has been just average since conference play began. This is a match-up of two teams trying to find a spark.
2-seed Maryland (25-6, Big Ten) vs 15-seed Holy Cross (24-8, Patriot)
The Terrapins have one of the most high-powered offenses in the country. The defensive struggles will keep them from winning a championship but offense will carry them through the first round.
Dark Horse: Creighton is a team I wouldn't be surprised to make the Sweet Sixteen and even make the Elite Eight.
Regional Winner: South Carolina. Enough said.
1-seed Indiana (27-3, Big Ten) vs 16-seed Tennessee Tech (22-9, OVC) or 16-seed Monmouth (18-15, CAA)
The Hoosiers are just really good despite losing two of their last three. They're also undefeated against teams not from the Big Ten this year.
8-seed Oklahoma State (21-11, Big 12) vs 9-seed Miami (19-12, ACC)
Both teams are so-so that finished the season in a slump. The Hurricanes and Cowgirls are veteran heavy squads with a combined 13 seniors.
5-seed Washington Sate (23-10, Pac-12) vs 12-seed FGCU (32-3, ASUN)
The Cougars are fresh off a Pac-12 Championship where they played giant killer while the Eagles are one of four teams to break 30 wins this year. FGCU is one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country.
4-seed Villanova (28-6, Big East) vs 13-seed Cleveland State (30-4, Horizon)
Cleveland State is another team in the field with 30+ wins has lost just once in their last 14 games but goes up against the best non-Power Five player in the country in Maddy Siegrist. She leads the country in scoring.
6-seed Michigan (22-9, Big Ten) vs 11-seed UNLV (31-2, Mountain West)
The Wolverines is no stranger to getting past the opening weekend in the NCAA Tournament and returns experience. The Lady Rebels find ways to win and haven't lost since mid-December.
3-seed LSU (28-2, SEC) vs 14-seed Hawai'i (18-14, Big West)
While the non-conference schedule for the Tigers was weak, they have one of the best players in the country in Angel Reese. The Rainbow Wahine have a tall task ahead of them, even if on a five-game win streak.
7-seed NC State (20-11, ACC) vs 10-seed Princeton (23-5, Ivy League)
This is an intriguing match-up. The Wolfpack lost a ton of firepower after last season, but is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers were a missed basket away from a Sweet Sixteen last year and would play an upset role again.
2-seed Utah (25-4, Pac-12) vs 15-seed Gardner-Webb (29-4, Big South)
The Utes saw half of their losses come in the last month, but they shoot lights out on offense. The Runnin' Bulldogs haven't lost since before Christmas, but their few games against Power Five opponents ended rather poorly and were well over before the fourth quarter.
Dark Horse: FGCU is a team I wouldn't want to face in the tournament, whether at home or on the road. The can spark a Cinderella story run.
Winner: Indiana. I think they might have a battle against LSU, but the Hoosiers seem to have what it takes to potentially win a title.
1-seed Virginia Tech (27-4, ACC) vs 16-seed Chattanooga (20-12, Southern)
The Hokies have the possibly most diverse starting five in the country highlighted by one of the best players in the country in Elizabeth Kitley. The Mocs will have to be able to find a way to shut down the paint while guarding the deep three threat in Georgia Amoore.
Winner: Virginia Tech
8-seed USC (21-9, Pac-12) vs 9-seed South Dakota State (28-5, Summit)
While Beth Burns' presence as the associate head coach with the Trojans has made an immediate impact, the Jackrabbits know how to run and hop their way right through the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
Winner: South Dakota State
5-seed Iowa State (22-9, Big 12) vs 12-seed Toledo (28-4, MAC)
While their season was slightly down from last season, the Cyclones are heating up at the right time. The Rockets have had a lot of close calls recently, but have found ways to keep winning.
Winner: Iowa State
4-seed Tennessee (23-11, SEC) vs 13-seed Saint Louis (17-17, A10)
The Lady Vols surprised a lot of folks including myself when they snuck in as one of the last host teams, but they were the only team besides South Carolina to beat LSU. The Billikens needed a bit of magic in their final two games of the A10 Tournament to earn the automatic qualifying bid.
6-seed North Carolina (21-10, ACC) vs 11-seed Purdue (19-10, Big Ten) or 11-seed St John's (22-8, Big East)
The Red Storm shocked the nation when they took down UConn on the road. The Boilermakers almost threw away their tournament chances down the stretch. The Tar Heels like a slow-paced game as they rely on their defense.
Winner: North Carolina
3-seed Ohio State (25-7, Big Ten) vs 14-seed James Madison (26-7, Sun Belt)
The Buckeyes hit a speed bump with some injuries midway through the season, but they're slowly bringing those players back into the lineup. The Dukes played a weak non-conference schedule, but used the Sun Belt Tournament to power their way into the field.
Winner: Ohio State
7-seed Baylor (19-12, Big 12) vs 10-seed Alabama (20-10, SEC)
Neither team has won in March. The Lady Bears have won three of their nine games. The Crimson Tide holds four wins over that same stretch.
2-seed UConn (29-5, Big East) vs 15-seed Vermont (25-6, American East)
Injuries have plagued the Huskies and they've been able to get away with just five losses. The Catamounts last lost on New Years Day, but have to go to Storrs. Postseason in Storrs is a different game.
Dark Horse: 12-seed Toledo has had a quietly good year and may get overlooked by opponents.
Winner: Virginia Tech brings a ton of experience and leadership in a starting five of one junior and four seniors and have had a strong season. UConn has been an automatic lock for the Final Four for over a decade. This has potential to be one of the better regional finals where I think Virginia Tech finds a way to pull out the win.
1-seed Stanford (28-5, Pac-12) vs 16-seed Southern (18-14, SWAC) or 16-seed Sacred Heart (18-13, NEC)
While I felt like Stanford should have been a 2-seed behind Iowa, the Cardinal does have the dynamic duo of Hailey Jones and Cameron Brink, who can power their team into the title game.
8-seed Ole Miss 23-8, SEC) vs 9-seed Gonzaga (28-4, WCC)
While the Rebels got closest to giving South Carolina a loss this year, they've spent much of conference play having to grind out wins. The Bulldogs are looking for their second straight second round appearance after having one of the better mid-major showings this year.
5-seed Louisville (23-11, ACC) vs 12-seed Drake (22-9, MVC)
The last time the Cardinals were lower than a 4-seed they upset Baylor and made the championship game before falling to UConn. The Bulldogs did upset Nebraska this season and took down some decent mid-majors in Belmont and Missouri State, but they've struggled defensively.
4-seed Texas (25-9, Big Ten) vs 13-seed ECU (23-9, American)
Both teams pride themselves on defense, but the Longhorns can also do damage on offense.
6-seed Colorado (23-8, Pac-12) vs 11-seed Middle Tennessee (28-4, Conference USA)
This is a match-up I think could be one of the better opening round games. Both teams tend to be more defensive-minded, but the Blue Raiders can also go on scoring runs. The Buffaloes have lost three of their last five games.
3-seed Duke (25-6, ACC) vs 14-seed Iona (26-6, MAAC)
The Blue Devils love to play defense and will slow the pace down. Coincidentally, so will the Gaels. This sounds like we'll be watching the ACC Quarterfinal between Duke and North Carolina where the first to 45 wins.
7-seed Florida State (23-9, ACC) vs 10-seed Georgia (21-11, SEC)
The Seminoles have one of the best freshmen in the country in Ta'Niya Latson, if she's healthy enough to play. The Bulldogs were great at beating teams that didn't make the NCAA Tournament, but had difficulty against teams that did.
Winner: Florida State
2-seed Iowa (26-6, Big Ten) vs 15-seed SE Louisiana (21-9, Southland)
Caitlin Clark is unstoppable and Iowa is looking for something better than a second round exit like last year. The Lady Lions have been great at defense, but been poor against Power Five teams.
Dark Horse: I think MTSU got a great draw for their first two rounds. They could be in the Sweet Sixteen and I wouldn't bat an eye.
Winner: This is another 1 vs 2 battle where Stanford and Iowa will look for bragging rights on who deserved to be the 1-seed. Iowa drops off a lot if Clark is shut down while Stanford has a few threats on their team. I see the Cardinal coming out on top.
Remember the days of the rest of the field playing for second behind UConn? That's what this tournament feels like for South Carolina. The Gamecocks have a good chance for a perfect season and they have a pretty easy path to the Final Four.
This is just my initial thoughts on the bracket so don't base your entire bracket on my thoughts, especially with food gift cards on the line.
Don't forget to participate in the Cardinal Couple Pick Em! We are not including the play-in games in the Pick Em so you have until Friday to get your picks in. Tip-off of the first game is 11:30 a.m. on Friday, so ideally we'd like to have your bracket by 10:30 a.m. at the latest. The tiebreaker is once again the combined score of the championship game.
I can hear the dull roar of the Cardinal Couple Chimps in the war room down the hall here in the clandestine, heavily-guarded Cardinal Couple headquarters, deep below the UofL Belknap campus. The current debate concerns who let both Iowa and Iona in the tournament and why is the Cardinal Couple golf cart missing two wheels and painted blue? Madness, yes, sweet madness reigns....
Happy Tuesday and Go Cards!