CloseCharlie Creme projects the women’s NCAA tournament bracket for ESPN.com.
Championship Week is upon us. For many teams, this is the final push toward an NCAA tournament bid or a better seed.
The NCAA women’s basketball committee’s second and final reveal of its top 16 seeds on Monday arrived as many of the nation’s best teams prepare for the postseason to open.
Fifteen of the 16 teams on the committee’s list have concluded their regular seasons. The margin for error to get into or fall out of the top 16 and get to host first- and second-round NCAA tournament games is small. Last year all 16 teams in the second reveal were also in the top 16 on Selection Monday.
The NCAA’s top 16 on Monday closely reflected our Bracketology through Sunday’s games. Fifteen of the 16 teams were the same and seven of the top eight were as well. The differences are worth noting and will create a different look for Bracketology come Tuesday.
But first, this is how the NCAA’s top 16 looked:
1. South Carolina
10. NC State
11. Mississippi State
15. Oregon State
UCLA over Northwestern for the final No. 2 seed
Northwestern has been my eighth overall team on the S-curve and the final No. 2 seed in Bracketology for the past two weeks. The committee instead handed that distinction to the Bruins. I disagree with the choice, but so often the difference between the Nos. 8 and 9 overall teams is infinitesimal. That’s the case between Northwestern and UCLA, but putting the Bruins ahead of the Wildcats greatly impacts the layout of the rest of the bracket.
How do the profiles of Northwestern and UCLA compare? The Wildcats have a better RPI rating than the Bruins (7 vs. 13), a better overall record (26-3 vs. 25-4) and played a more difficult schedule (30 vs. 46).
But while Northwestern is 9-3 against the RPI top 50 and 4-3 against the top 25, UCLA is 7-2 and 3-1, respectively.
The real difference can be found in their respective losses. All three of Northwestern’s came against top-25 RPI opponents and teams in Monday’s top 16: Maryland, Iowa and DePaul. UCLA lost twice to teams outside the RPI top-50.
Following the NCAA’s first reveal on Feb. 3, committee chair Diane Turnham cited quality of loss a few times as key criterion. Northwestern’s quality of loss factor far exceeds that of the Bruins. Understanding that the committee does not simply compare one team to another, but rather exercises a series of votes usually on eight and four teams at a time, the inconsistency here is understandable. But this decision had big ramifications. Here’s why.
UConn in the Portland Regional
With UCLA as a No. 2 seed, the Huskies heading west became a necessity, based on bracketing rules.
When the committee gets to placing the No. 2 seeds, Louisville goes first, and is played in Fort Wayne because the Cardinals are within driving distance of the regional. Next up would be the Huskies. However, since Oregon is already the No. 1 seed in Portland and the other No. 2 seeds are also both from the Pac-12, Stanford and then UCLA need to be placed in the other two remaining regions — Dallas and Greenville. That only leaves Portland for UConn – and with no Albany or Bridgeport nearby, the Huskies were going to be traveling anyway.
It is interesting to note: UConn will go from playing in either Albany, Bridgeport or Kingston — all of which were bus rides rather than flights on a plane — for seven of the last eight years to possibly playing as far away as Portland, which is over 3,000 miles from Storrs, Connecticut.
If Northwestern had been the final No. 2 seed, the Wildcats would likely have been in that spot and UConn might have been placed in Greenville. Since the Wildcats are in Portland as the No. 3 seed, they gain no travel advantage by the lower seed.
Obviously, this is not a done deal and could look very different on Selection Monday. The Pac-12 and Big Ten tournaments still have plenty to say about where UCLA and Northwestern end up. But this is a good example of the ripple effect in Bracketology, that many decisions impact many more — and that almost nothing the committee does happens independently.
DePaul over Indiana for the final spot
A number of teams were likely considered for the final couple spots in the top 16, but this comparison is particularly interesting. This is similar to the Northwestern vs. UCLA argument.
Indiana is 15th in the RPI, with the ninth strongest schedule in the country. The Hoosiers are 5-7 against the RPI top 50 and are the only team all season to beat No. 1 South Carolina.
DePaul is 19th in the RPI with a schedule strength rating of 60. The Blue Demons are 4-4 against the RPI top 50, and their only top-25 win was by two points over Northwestern. Indiana lost to Northwestern by two.
Common opponents is a criterion the committee looks at, but that hardly seems more meaningful than a win over the best team in the country and advantages in so many other key categories. DePaul is also coming off a pair of losses to Villanova and Marquette. Indiana has won three in a row and five of its last six games.
The Big Ten probably deserved a fourth team in the top 16.
Five teams from the Pac-12
Some things were not surprising, and this was one of them. The Pac-12 had five teams during the initial top-16 reveal and have the same five today.
At No. 15, Oregon State is the last team in from the Pac-12 in Monday’s reveal. The Beavers were likely on the outside looking in until consecutive losses by Texas A&M possibly opened up a spot. The Beavers were ninth overall at the time of the last reveal, but since then have lost four games as well as starting freshman post player Kennedy Brown.
At this point Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Arizona appear to be locks to remain in the top 16. Oregon State has the most to lose at the Pac-12 tournament. Getting to the semifinals likely could be enough to secure the spot and host first- and second-round games in Corvallis.
Gonzaga is solidly in the top 16
Gonzaga’s spot (No. 12) remained unchanged from the first reveal, despite losing one of its best players in sharpshooter Katie Campbell, losing to a Saint Mary’s team rated No. 197 in the RPI, and not playing a team in the top 100 of the RPI since. That said, Gonzaga is No. 10 in the RPI, played a good nonconference schedule and is 28-2 heading to the West Coast Conference tournament, where the Zags are the heavy favorite.