Stanford earned its third consecutive No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, sitting atop the bottom right corner of the bracket. Caitlin Clark and Iowa secured the No. 2 nod after a great season characterized by electrifying, clutch performances, while Duke and Texas round out the top four.
Here’s what you should know about Seattle 4 ahead of the NCAA tournament:
Stanford (28-5, Pac-12 regular season champion)
The Cardinal, led by stars Haley Jones and Cameron Brink, have been here before. Stanford led the nation with 10 ranked wins this season and, despite an early exit in the Pac-12 tournament, is poised to make its third Final Four in a row.
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Duke’s Kara Lawson has to continue to ‘handle hard better’
“It will never get easier,” she said, “but you will handle hard better.”
Duke (25-6) has done just that this season, rebounding in Lawson’s third season at the helm from a 10th-place finish in the ACC last year to coming in just under champion Notre Dame. The Blue Devils were dubbed one of the top 12 teams in the field after missing the last three tournaments.
Their stellar defense has limited opponents to just 50.8 points per game, the second lowest in Division I. Senior guard Celeste Taylor was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. Offense is a pressure point for Duke, though, as it has scored fewer than 50 points in four of its last six games.
The Blue Devils are in the same portion of the bracket as Iowa. A game between them and the Hawkeyes could be an interesting battle between a defensive powerhouse and an offensive juggernaut, but Duke will have to score at another level if it wants to hang with Iowa come the Sweet 16.
Could this be Texas’ time?
A rocky 3-4 start to the season tempered expectations after Texas’ exciting March Madness run last year, where it advanced the Elite Eight before falling to Stanford. But the Longhorns have since rallied their way to the first Big 12 regular season championship since 2004. The committee rewarded them with one of the top 16 seeds.
Led by offensive playmakers Rori Harmon and Shaylee Gonzales, Texas (25-9) will face stiff competition in its portion of the bracket. A rematch with Louisville in the Sweet 16 seems imminent and another meeting with Stanford in the Elite Eight is entirely possible. This would be the Longhorns’ third straight Elite Eight appearance, but could it be their first win under head coach Vic Schaefer?
Louisville played both Texas and Gonzaga during the regular season. The Cardinals could meet both teams again in the NCAA tournament.
It’s very likely that No. 5-seeded Louisville and Texas will play in the second round. The Cardinals upset the Longhorns, 71-63, at the Battle 4 Atlantis in November. But the Longhorns played without Harmon, who averages 11.4 points and a whopping 7.3 assists per game.
Should Louisville make it past Texas, the Cardinals could face No. 9-seeded Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 (though Gonzaga would have to defeat Ole Miss in the opening round and miraculously topple Stanford in the second). They lost, 79-67, to the Bulldogs in overtime at the Battle 4 Atlantis, which placed Louisville in the consolation game against Texas the following day.
The last time the Cardinals were a No. 5 seed, they made it to the national championship game.
In 2013, Louisville beat No. 1 Baylor in the Sweet 16, No. 2 Tennessee in the Elite Eight and No. 2 Cal in the Final Four. That team had eight losses heading into the tournament.
This year, they have 11. But Louisville faced stiff ACC competition and shined through, including a 64-38 routing of No. 3 seed Notre Dame in the conference tournament. They’re led by Hailey Van Lith, who’s averaging 19.2 points per game.
And the Cardinals can lean on their extensive March resume. Their 2022 tournament run ended against South Carolina in the Final Four. Could they get past the likes of Texas and Stanford to make it there again?
Middle Tennessee State (28-4, Conference USA champion)
MTSU is on a 10-game win streak heading into the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Raiders are experts at getting to the free-throw line, averaging about 16 per game, which ranks eighth in Division I. They make 78.4% of their free throws, which equates to about 12.5 points per game from the line. Their ball control is another marvel, ranking eighth in the country in turnovers per game (12.1) and 25th in turnover margin (4.88).
MTSU could ride this momentum to a 2022 Creighton-esque run in this year’s tournament.