March Madness: Re-ranking the women's Sweet 16 from South Carolina to teams with toughest road to title

South Carolina remains on the runaway path to a second consecutive championship. Below the Gamecocks, there are some new teams in the rankings after upsets and jostling of chances given matchups and top seeds out of the running.

Tournament power rankings reflect teams’ chances of winning the championship based on their play through the first two rounds and the matchups standing in their way.

(Region | seed | record | NET rank)

No. 1 South Carolina (Greenville 1 | 1 | 34-0 | NET 1)

Nothing has knocked South Carolina off the No. 1 spot. If anything, the Gamecocks look like a stronger contender. Norfolk State’s third-ranked defense couldn’t do much against them. They were in a tight one early with South Florida, only to click on every cylinder in the second half for a 76-45 win that felt far larger.

Once again, South Carolina's offense is hitting shots at one of its lower clips of the season. But its depth allows it to weather bad shooting days, foul trouble and difficult matchups. Little can, and has in the past, stop this phenomenal senior class of Gamecocks.

No. 2 UConn (Seattle 3 | 2 | 31-5 | NET 2)

Yes, we hear the groans from the anti-Huskies contingent. UConn came into the tournament with the ultimate advantage of adding a top-10 player back into the rotation and it shows. The Huskies blew out Vermont by 43 and sped away from Baylor with a 19-point win. They drained six and eight 3s, respectively, and Azzi Fudd had four of them. She scored 22 in the Baylor win.

No. 3 Iowa (Seattle 4 | 2 | 28-6 | NET 6)

Iowa remains high for showing it can still win despite a short bench, quiet shooting day from Caitlin Clark and solid defensive opponent. The Hawkeyes also benefit from the chaos in their Seattle 4 region, clearing an easier path to Dallas, though they’ll have to face No. 6 Colorado, a team ranking top-20 in steal rate, and a solid defense in either Ole Miss or Louisville.

No. 4 Utah (Greenville 2 | 2 | 27-4 | NET 7)

The matchup between Utah’s Alissa Pili and LSU’s Angel Reese is going to be fun to watch in the Sweet 16. Pili has averaged 30.5 points, 9 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 67 FG% over the tournament’s two games. And Jenna Johnson eclipsed her 12.1 ppg average in each contest, scoring 20 points (10-of-14) and 15 (5-of-7), respectively.

If the Utes get through, a matchup with Maddy Siegrist at Villanova will also be intriguing. Utah is on the rise and has a clearer path to the Final Four with Indiana and Mackenzie Holmes dropping out early.

Utah forward Alissa Pili looks on in during the second round of the women's NCAA tournament on March 19, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah forward Alissa Pili looks on in during the second round of the women's NCAA tournament on March 19, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

No. 5 Villanova (Greenville 2 | 4 | 30-6 | NET 12)

The fourth and final Final Four spot feels like a toss-up between Utah and Villanova out of that Greenville 2 region. Siegrist passed Kelsey Plum for the most consecutive 20-plus point games (36) when she scored 35 against Cleveland State and 31 against Florida Gulf Coast. It was her 16th 30-point outing this season, and in those two games she added 11 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 blocks and 1 assist. Most impressively, she rarely turns the ball over.

No. 6 Louisville (Seattle 4 | 5 | 25-11 | NET 20)

The Louisville-Drake matchup looked salivating on paper heading into the first round and lived up to the hype. I was high on taking Drake as an upset, but as soon as I saw Hailey Van Lith scoff at an All-American honorable mention, I pushed the Cardinals through to the Elite Eight.

The 5-foot-7 point guard continues to be electric in March with 47 combined points, plus 3 assists and 2 steals in each contest. She’s hitting 64% of 2-pointers, though only 2-of-10 from 3-point range during a low season for her production there.

Louisville's offense limited turnovers (10) against Texas, which forces 20.2 per game, and its defense was all over the Longhorns. The Cardinals won the boards, 42-34. They’re up so high in these rankings because the Cardinals are most likely to hit enough shots to win against a lacking Ole Miss offense and could bring enough defense to thwart Iowa.

No. 7 Virginia Tech (Seattle 3 | 1 | 29-4 | NET 9)

Virginia Tech star Elizabeth Kitley was named one of four finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year award on Tuesday. The Hokies hit 12 3s against South Dakota State, second-most of their season, in a 12-point second-round victory. Unfortunately for the Hokies, the No. 2 seed in their region of chalk looks even more formidable than one might have thought. It’s the second season in a row a No. 1-seeded ACC squad has had the misfortune of lining up in the same region as UConn, and the Huskies have plenty of offensive and defensive power to tank the conference’s chances at putting that top seed into the Final Four.

No. 8 Tennessee (Seattle 3 | 4 | 25-11 | NET 15)

The Lady Vols are peaking at the right time. Tennessee’s 47-point win over Toledo in the second round and 45-point win over Saint Louis are its two highest winning margins of the season and rank top five in points scored this season. They join the UConn teams of 2001, 2010 and 2016 as the only schools to win each of their first two games by at least 45 points each.

The Lady Vols haven’t played the tournament résumé of other teams, but Jordan Horston and Rickea Jackson have this offense rolling nicely. A big thing to like about this team is it has seen a lot of the teams remaining in the field: South Carolina, Ohio State, Ole Miss, LSU and Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech ranks 35th in 3-point percentage (35.1%) on a top-third rate from behind the arc, whereas Tennessee hasn’t been strong defending there (31%, 158th). Va. Tech made nine against the Vols in December in a 3-point win. The biggest reason Tennessee is so low is because of how UConn has played. It’ll be tough to get through to the Final Four.

No. 9 LSU (Greenville 2 | 3 | 30-2 | NET 3)

LSU crushed Michigan on the boards (+20) to advance with relative ease, and defeated Hawai’i there as well (+7). LSU and Utah are two of the top defensive rebounding teams and this Sweet 16 matchup could be tight. The Tigers climbed up the rankings because No. 1 seed Indiana dropped out early, opening up their road a little more.

LSU forward Angel Reese dribbles during a first round game in the women's NCAA tournament in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on March 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
LSU forward Angel Reese had 25 points, 24 rebounds and 6 blocks in a victory against Michigan in the Round of 32. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

No. 10 Maryland (Greenville 1 | 2 | 27-6 | NET 14)

The Terrapins are in the unfortunate situation of being in South Carolina’s region, and that’s always going to drop a team in the rankings of most likely to reach the title game. Maryland hit at least 50% from the field in each of its first two tournament games, and fifth consecutive, and against Holy Cross, 9-of-19 from beyond the arc. Hitting 3s early is key to the Terrapins’ chances against South Carolina, but even then, the Gamecocks have so much depth any opponent is in trouble from the start.

No. 11 Colorado (Seattle 4 | 6 | 23-8 | NET 23)

Colorado is well-balanced offensively (four players average between 11.3 and 13.1 points) as well as defensively (five players average at least one steal per game). But unlike Duke, the Iowa offense has a lot of power the Buffaloes need to stop. It’s a challenge unlike almost any they’ve faced, and it’s fair to be down on the Pac-12 after seeing Stanford’s demise.

No. 12 UCLA (Greenville 1 | 4 | 27-9 | NET 22)

The Bruins have a legitimate chance at upending the national title favorites in South Carolina. They were one of the few teams to go up on the Gamecocks this season when they met in Columbia in November. Even given their chances, UCLA is so low because of its Sweet 16 opponent. The bright spot is the Bruins’ offense was clicking against Oklahoma with 82 points, fourth-best of the season, and Charisma Osborne scored a career-high 36.

No. 13 Miami (Greenville 2 | 9 | 19-12 | NET 50)

Miami was hot from outside the arc early to get up on Indiana. It'll need to do the same against Villanova to overcome Siegrist, who is having an incredible tournament run. The beauty of the Sweet 16 is the Cinderellas have time to game plan for their opponent. But, the higher, more experienced team has the same amount of time and are far less likely to be surprised by even a tough matchup.

No. 14 Ole Miss (Seattle 4 | 8 | 25-8 | NET 25)

Even if one thought Ole Miss could defeat Stanford — and the Cardinal have been questionable for a while now — that the Rebels did it is quite the feat. The defense was phenomenal, and credit to it for forcing a lot of missed Stanford layups. But a lot of that falls on issues with Stanford as well, and it doesn’t bode well for Ole Miss going forward. The tilt with Louisville is bound to be close, but the Cardinals have more offensive power and Van Lith is zoned in.

No. 15 Ohio State (Seattle 3 | 3 | 27-7 | NET 16)

Watching Ohio State is an experience. Case in point: the double-digit deficit against James Madison in the first round. Jacy Sheldon is a huge asset to have back (look no further than the game-winner against North Carolina), but the Buckeyes can’t fall behind against UConn and won’t be able to rely on outscoring the Huskies’ defense that’s ranked No. 2 by Her Hoop Stats. The Big Ten’s offensive reliance could end up being the conference’s downfall.

No. 16 Notre Dame (Greenville 1 | 3 | 27-5 | NET 8)

Major props to the head coach Niele Ivey and the Fighting Irish for making it to the Sweet 16 after suddenly losing Olivia Miles so late in the season. If this were more of a vibe check, and not the best chance to win it all, Notre Dame would be far higher. But it becomes only more difficult from here and toppling Maryland without such a key playmaker seems improbable. Notre Dame has a top-notch defense, but Sonia Citron played a full 40 minutes and Maddy Westbeld was close. A bright spot off the bench is Cassandre Prosper, who enrolled early in December.