[title_box title=”Women’s Tournament Sweet 16 Preview”]
No. 1 Connecticut (34-0) vs No. 5 Mississippi State (28-7) — What else can be said about UConn that hasn’t already been said? Sure, they boast statistically the best offense and defense in the country. Sure, they have size, experience, speed, and arguably the best coaching in women’s basketball. But what makes the Huskies special is their mastery of team basketball. Mississippi State is a strong defensive team, but offensively rely heavily on Victoria Vivians. Being one-dimensional on offense spells disaster against UConn, and the Bulldogs will more than likely struggle to keep pace with the Huskies.
No. 2 Texas (30-4) vs No. UCLA (26-8) — They say everything is bigger in Texas, and with the Longhorns, that statement holds water. Anchored in the paint by the 6-foot-7 Imani Boyette, Texas is one of the best interior teams in the country. While the Bruins have the more dynamic guard play, the Longhorns depth at guard, including the scrappy 5-foot-4 Brooke McCarty, could neutralize that match-up. Both teams play well on defense, but the distinct advantage lies in Texas’ size, which will look to prevent the Bruin guards from penetrating the line and creating open shots along the perimeter.
No. 1 Baylor (35-1) vs No. 5 Florida State (25-7) — Aside from its head-scratching loss to Oklahoma State, Baylor has been nearly as impressive as UConn all season long. The Bears are the No. 1 rebounding and shot-blocking team in the country, and have two players that can adequately play the point. Even more impressive is their depth, with eight players averaging at least six points per game. Florida State has similar strengths, but turnovers have been its achilles heel. Against a seasoned Baylor squad, any mistake will be costly.
No. 2 Oregon State (30-4) vs No. 6 DePaul (27-8) — A battle of polar opposite teams. Oregon State allowed teams to shoot only 32 percent from the field, the best in the nation. Meanwhile, the Blue Demons score and protect the basketball, averaging over 81 points and 12 turnovers per contest. The Pac-12 champs’ Jamie Weisner is a legitimate scoring threat, but the Beavers should avoid a track meet with DePaul at all costs. The lethal and experienced guard trio of Chanise Jenkins, Megan Podkowa, and Jessica January combine to average 42 points, 14 assists, and only six turnovers for the Blue Demons. Whoever dictates the tempo in this game will advance.
No. 1 Notre Dame (33-1) vs No. 4 Stanford (26-7) — Does Notre Dame have a weakness? They shoot the ball well from all over the floor. They possess ample size at every position and they can take away an offense’s strength by clamping down on defense. Stanford is arguably the third-best defensive team in the country behind UConn and Oregon State, but they don’t force a lot of turnovers and struggled to defeat No. 12 seed South Dakota State in the round of 32. In nearly every phase of the game, the Fighting Irish have the advantage.
No. 3 Kentucky (25-7) vs No. 7 Washington (24-10) — Thanks to the heroics of Kelsey Plum, the Huskies pulled the shocker of the tournament when they upset Maryland in the round of 32. But Washington’s razor-thin depth and dependency on three players could lead to their downfall. Along with playing at home, Kentucky’s depth could methodically wear out the Huskies. Unless Washington gets surprising contributions from its bench, the Wildcats will advance.
Sioux Falls Region
No. 1 South Carolina (33-1) vs No. 4 Syracuse (27-7) — When you play the Gamecocks, you are facing a team with an imposing inside presence and dominant defense. Outside shooting has been a struggle, but Syracuse is such a poor shooting team (37 percent) that shooting light-out isn’t key. What is key is how South Carolina handles the Orange’s press that forces 24 turnovers per game. If guards Tiffany Mitchell and Khadijah Sessions can get the ball past half-court, then the Gamecocks front-court of Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson will give South Carolina the edge.
No. 3 Ohio State (26-7) vs No. 7 Tennessee (21-13) — Only one team remaining put up more points per game than Ohio State, and that’s UConn. Not only do the Buckeyes love to push the tempo, they also shoot the ball efficiently, finishing sixth in field-goal percentage this season. Kelsey Mitchell is the obvious star coming off her 45-point performance against West Virginia, but with a nagging right-wrist injury to second-leading scorer Ameryst Alston and season-ending injury to Cait Craft, Ohio State’s depth is a true question mark. Tennessee isn’t a highly-efficient offensive team, but match-up athletically with an advantage in size that is sure to give the Buckeyes fits. Similar to the Oregon State-DePaul game, whoever controls the tempo will win this game.
Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics
Edited by Cody McClure