Another eventful Sunday in women’s college basketball confirmed two things: All things Bracketology are fluid and ever-changing, and the 2021 women’s NCAA tournament will be the most wide open in recent memory.
Late Sunday afternoon, the NCAA tournament selection committee revealed its top 16 seeds for the second time this month. The list reflected the committee’s assessment through Saturday’s games, but by the time the top 16 were unveiled at 5 p.m. ET, three teams on the list had lost Sunday. A few hours later, a fourth had lost. It’s like getting that portrait just the way you want it just before someone splashes paint all over the canvas. All the hard work altered in an instant.
With two weeks to go until Selection Monday, the debate about the No. 1 seeds still rages. And it’s not just one team seemingly being shortchanged or a five-teams-for-four-spots scenario. Eight teams have a credible argument for a top seed. All eight — UConn, Stanford, Texas A&M, South Carolina, NC State, Maryland, Baylor and Louisville, plus perhaps two or three more — could reach the Final Four. When was the last time the list of contenders was so long this late in the season? The NCAA tournament, with all its uniqueness of playing in one city, should be the most unpredictable in years.
But before we get to San Antonio, we need a tournament field — and Sunday only made that process more compelling. Let’s look at the games that turned the committee’s top 16 upside down, and the impact the results had on Bracketology.
The game of the day, it decided the SEC regular-season championship and impacted the No. 1 seeds both in the short- and long-term. The Aggies controlled most of the game and won 65-57, solidifying their spot on the top line. Both were No. 1 seeds entering the day and both remain on the top line, but the Gamecocks’ margin is ultra-thin. A good case can be made for NC State to take South Carolina’s spot. The Wolfpack beat the Gamecocks in early December.
But South Carolina stays a No. 1 for now. In its two top 16 reveals, the committee seemed to emphasize that quantity of quality wins is meaningful, and playing more quality opponents matters. If the head-to-head had mattered that much to the committee, NC State likely would have already been a No. 1 seed in the reveal. Yet South Carolina was fourth overall and NC State was fifth. South Carolina’s 12 top-50 NET wins (most in the country) and fifth-rated strength of schedule clearly carried significant weight, and nothing changed about those numbers on Sunday.
But Sunday’s loss now makes winning the SEC tournament a near necessity for the Gamecocks to remain a No. 1 seed. For Texas A&M, Sunday brought a little cushion. The Aggies, with their 6-0 record against the NET top-25, might now be able to hold onto a top seed just by reaching the SEC tournament final.
Kentucky was the first of the committee’s top-16 teams to lose Sunday. The Wildcats went 3-3 in February and are lacking any semblance of consistency heading into the most important part of the season. Falling at home to Ole Miss put a stamp on that.
In the last three weeks, Kentucky beat Georgia and Tennessee but also lost to Ole Miss twice and wasn’t competitive against South Carolina. The committee put the Wildcats at No. 14 overall, but they can’t stay there after allowing the Rebels to score 48 second-half points. Kentucky is a No. 5 seed in Monday’s Bracketology.
Much like the Wildcats from the SEC, Arizona seems to be missing something as the postseason arrives. In fact, Arizona hasn’t played that well the last two weeks. After struggling against last-place California, the Wildcats scored 48 points in a loss at Stanford and then allowed Arizona State, the second-worst shooting team in the Pac-12, to make 10 3-pointers.
Despite the trend the committee made Arizona a No. 2 seed, ahead of Baylor and Louisville on the overall list. That was a dubious call that looks even worse now after the Sun Devils’ overtime win. There’s no chance the Wildcats can remain a No. 2 seed now and it’s unlikely they will be able to get back there without some help. Arizona is a 3-seed in Monday’s projection.
The Ducks’ inclusion in the top 16 was the most confusing decision of the reveal. For every other team on the list, there seemed a strong emphasis on quality wins. Oregon is 0-6 against the NET top 25. Its best win was against the same Oregon State team the Ducks lost to on Sunday. Oregon’s No. 8 NET rating — and not much else — seems to be impressing the committee.
Since mid-January, the Ducks have also struggled to remain competitive in their losses to good teams. In a pair of losses to Arizona and in one to UCLA, Oregon lost by an average of 21 points. A close loss to Stanford during the stretch notwithstanding, the Ducks — who entered the weekend having lost three of their last four games — didn’t seem to have the credentials to be considered one of the country’s best 16 teams. Sunday’s 11-point loss to the Beavers seems to have confirmed that. Anything short of a decisive run to the Pac-12 tournament final should leave the Ducks outside of the top four seeds on Selection Monday.
The good news for the Pac-12 is that Oregon State‘s win — the Beavers’ second in a row against a NET top-10 opponent on the road – puts it safely in the field. In two weeks, the Beavers have moved from the Next Four Out to a No. 10 seed in this week’s projection. Oregon State has had 11 games postponed or canceled, more than any other team in the conference. Now getting to play consistently, the Beavers are trending in the right direction — the exact opposite of their in-state rival. Oregon is a No. 5 seed in Monday’s bracket.