March Madness: 3 toughest decisions facing the NCAA women's selection committee

The NCAA women’s basketball selection committee has a long few days ahead of them. The final conference tournaments are wrapping up this week to finalize the 32 automatic bids in the NCAA tournament field. The rest of the 68-team field falls on the committee to select, as well as where to place them in the bracket.

Here are the three toughest decisions facing the selection committee ahead of Selection Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Who takes the final No. 1 seed?

The No. 1 overall seed easily belongs to undefeated South Carolina, but the other three aren’t as clear. The committee showed in its first two reveals that recent results do matter, and teams that won conference tournament championships could benefit.

Iowa secured a top seed with its Big Ten tournament title, combined with Ohio State’s collapse. The Hawkeyes defeated Ohio State in the last game of the regular season and didn’t have to face them a week later since the Buckeyes lost in the quarterfinals of the tournament.

USC’s run to the Pac-12 title over regular season victor Stanford also likely pushed them up into the top seed line. The Trojans are 13-1 since losing three of four games in January. They have eight wins against teams ranked top 25 in NET, tied with UCLA and more than other major No. 1 seed contenders. Their four losses are one fewer than the Bruins and USC’s double-overtime win in the Pac-12 semifinals gave it the 2-1 season series advantage, hence why they would jump over them.

The fourth No. 1 seed isn’t as clear. Ohio State was in the committee’s first two reveals, but those late losses (particularly one to Maryland) should push them out of contention. Colorado, the final No. 1 seed in the first reveal, combusted over the last month (2-6 over their final eight games) and might not even host the first weekend as a top-16 seed. Virginia Tech, the No. 5 overall seed in the last reveal, charged toward that final spot until Elizabeth Kitley’s injury in the final regular season game. The ACC regular season champions didn’t make it to the title game, and the committee has to consider the potential that Kitley is out.

Stanford's Cameron Brink attempts to secure a rebound while defended by USC's JuJu Watkins (12) and McKenzie Forbes (25) during the Pac-12 title game. (AP Photo/Ian Maule)
Stanford's Cameron Brink attempts to secure a rebound while defended by USC's JuJu Watkins (12) and McKenzie Forbes (25) during the Pac-12 title game. (AP Photo/Ian Maule)

Stanford (28-5) and UCLA (25-6) each held No. 1 spots in the reveal on Feb. 28 and it could come down to them now, plus a push from Texas. Stanford held spots in the first two reveals, first as the No. 2 overall seed and next dropping to No. 3 in favor of Ohio State. The Cardinal are fourth in NET with a 7-4 record (.636) against teams in the NET top 25 and 13-5 (.722) against teams in NET top 50.

UCLA is sixth in NET, No. 1 in NET strength of schedule and 8-5 (.615) against teams in NET top 25 and 13-6 (.684) against top 50. Both of those percentages are below Stanford, and the Cardinal won the sole face-to-face meeting, 80-60. UCLA center Lauren Betts was not available in that matchup.

Texas (30-4) is third in NET, ranks 41st in NET strength of schedule (and 157 in NET non-conference SOS), and went 5-2 (.714) against top-25 teams and 11-4 (.733) against top 50. The Longhorns won the Big 12 tournament title in impressive fashion on Tuesday with one of their strongest all-around performances in the first half. But the defensively fueled team’s only signature win better than Stanford’s is one over UConn in December.

Teams in the final hosting position

In the women’s tournament, the top 16 overall seeds host games in the first and second rounds. Four of those schools will also host a First Four game. It’s a huge advantage for teams to play in front of their home crowd, especially programs like Iowa, South Carolina and LSU that consistently pack the house.

Simply put, the difference in moving from a 5 to a 6 line doesn’t mean all that much. But the difference between a 4 and 5 seed line is massive.

The first reveal placed Kansas State, LSU, Indiana and Louisville as No. 4 seeds. The second went to Colorado (falling between reveals), Indiana (steady), Gonzaga (rising) and Oklahoma (rising). The actual bracket could have four completely new teams at this point.

Gonzaga entered the West Coast Conference tournament title game on Tuesday as a near-lock for hosting honors. The Zags were on the line in the last reveal and had done nothing except back it up in the weeks since. Then they lost to Portland, a team they defeated by 50 less than two weeks ago, in the final 90 seconds of the title game. It might have cost the mid-major hosting honors.

Colorado has surely plummeted out of that consideration with their late-season collapse. Oklahoma (22-9, 15-3), the Big 12 regular season champions, lost to Kansas in their regular season finale and Iowa State in the Big 12 semifinals. The Sooners might be out. And Indiana, whose win over Iowa kept them in the spot, lost to Michigan in a Big Ten quarterfinal upset that puts them in unclear territory.

They’re joined on the hosting bubble by a few contenders.

Virginia Tech, the ACC regular champion, fell down the seed lines with back-to-back regular season losses and an upset in the ACC tournament. Injury status can be taken into account for placing teams in the bracket, but Virginia Tech is playing mum on three-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley’s knee injury.

Kansas State, Syracuse, Utah and maybe even Baylor are hovering in that area. The Wildcats' win over West Virginia and near-upset of Texas in the Big 12 semifinals is stronger than any conference performance the committee might consider.

Will the Ivy be a two-bid league?

Princeton and Columbia each have worthy tournament résumés. Only one can win the Ivy League’s automatic bid when the four-team tournament begins on Friday, leaving the committee to consider if both should be in the field.

No. 1 Princeton (23-4, 13-1) plays No. 4 Penn (15-12, 7-7) and No. 2 Columbia (22-5, 13-1) plays No. 3 Harvard (16-11, 9-5) in the semifinals. Barring any major upsets, Princeton and Columbia will meet on Saturday (5 p.m. ET, ESPN News). Their only conference losses are to each other.

The Tigers (NET 34) would appear to be a lock either way. They have significant wins against Middle Tennessee (38), Oklahoma (28) and Villanova (51). Their two losses to top 25 teams UCLA and Indiana were both competitive. Princeton was ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for a total of five weeks, including four straight that ended two weeks ago.

If Princeton wins the Ivy title, Columbia is on the bubble. The Lions' (NET 53) signature wins are Princeton and Villanova, each by a possession. They lost by four to Duke in November and have two more bad losses than Princeton, to Florida by two points and to Georgia. They played an easier schedule than Princeton, but overall have the same winning margin around 14 points per game.

The only time the Ivy received an at-large bid from the committee was in 2016 when Penn won got in after it won the regular season title. It was the last season the Ivy did not hold a tournament to decide its automatic bid.