The NCAA women’s basketball tournament tips-off on March 22. Four of the eight Lincoln Regional game will be played on day one of the tournament, including No.2 Duke, No. 7 DePaul, No. 4 Nebraska and No. 5 North Carolina State.
Easiest picks: No. 1 Connecticut, No.2 Duke and No 3 Texas A&M
Tournament top-seed Connecticut (34-0) , led by Breanna Stewart and Bria Hartley along with Stefanie Dolson, should easily dispatch No. 16 Prairie View A&M (14-17)in Storrs, Conn. The Panthers are the lone team with a losing record in the tournament.
Despte being without injured starting guards Alexis Jones and Chelsea Gray, No. 2 Duke (27-6) could get a little scare from No. 15 Winthrop (24-8).The Blue Devils, led by Tricia Liston and Elizabeth Williams, are 7-6 since February 1 while the Eagles have won four straight contests.
Liston is a top-notch shooter, averaging 17.3 points a game while shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 48.3 percent from beyond the arc. Williams, a monster on the offensive boards, is averaging 14.0 points a game and hauling in 7.5 rebounds a game while shooting 53.3 percent from the floor. Haley Peters also is scoring in double figures with 11.2 points a game and hauls in 7.7 rebounds a contest.
Duke is 12-3 at home and averages 80.2 points a game while surrendering 63.9. The Blue Devils shoot 49.9 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Winthrop has some scorers – Daquesha McClanahan (17.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 6.6 apg), Shacquilla Nunn (11.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and Erica Williams (15.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg)- but turns the ball over too much and doesn’t rebound well enough to scare the Blue Devils. The Eagles also struggles hooting from the perimeter (28.7 percent).
No. 3 Texas A&M (24-8) hosts No. 14 North Dakota (22-9) on March 23. The Aggies, led by Courtney Walker and Jordan Jones, have won seven of nine and are 13-2 at home. Texas A&M average 70 points a game and permit 59 points a contest.
North Dakota is 6-1 in their last seven contests but just 8-9 in road games. Forwards Madi Buck (15.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Mia Loyd (9.1 rpg) lead North Dakota, which averages 69.7 points per game and surrender s 63.6 points a contest.
Get a scare, but survive: No. 4 Nebraska and No. 7 DePaul
Big 10 conference champion and fourth seed Nebraska will play No. 13 Fresno State in Los Angeles. This game should be a defensive battle and could be decided by which team gets hot from the perimeter.
Nebraska has won 12-of-its-past-13 games and holds opponents to 63.1 points a game. The Cornhuskers are a top-30 three-point shooting team.
Jordan Hooper, the Big 10 Player of the Year, leads Nebraska (25-6) with 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds a game. Teammate Rachel Theriot, who was named the Big 10 Tournament MVP, is averaging 14.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and shooting 45.5% on 3-pointers.
No. 13 Fresno State (22-10) enters the NCAA Tournament on an 8-game winning streak. The Bulldogs are led by Bree Farley and Taylor Thompson.Thompson, the Mountain West Co-Defensive Player of the Year, averages 14.3 points and shoot 43.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from beyond the arc. Farley, a second team All-Mountain West selection, averages 13.3 points a game and shoots 46.5 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from beyond the three-point line.
Fresno State allowed 63.4 points a game and made 245 three-pointers – the 33rd most in the nation.
The Bulldogs are 0-6 in the NCAA tournament.
Seventh-seed DePaul (27-6), champions of the Big East, will play 10th-seed Oklahoma (18-14) in Durham, N.C. The Blue Demons, led by Jasmine Penny (15.3 ppg), have won 16-of-17 including seven straight games. Megan Rogowski (15.3 ppg, 101 three-pointers), Brittany Hryanko (12.5 ppg) and Chanise Jenkins (10.2 ppg) also score in double-figures.
DePaul has topped the 90-point plateau 11 times and averages 83.7 points a game while giving up 70.5 points. The Blue Demons shoot the ball at a 45.0 percent clip and 35.4 percent from the three-point line. They take care of the ball decently well but struggle rebounding. DePaul is 6-0 on neutral courts and 14-4 n road/neutral games.
Oklahoma has not won back-to-back games all season and is 4-11 against teams that made the tournament. The Sooners also are 4-9 in road/neutral site games. However, with Aaryn Ellenberg (18.8 pppg, 2.93 3pters a game) on the court the Sooners always have a chance.
Upset alert: No.5 North Carolina State, No. 6 Gonzaga
No. 5 North Carolina State (25-7) will have their hands full against No. 12 BYU (26-6) in Los Angeles on March 22. The main reason that this game is prime for an upset is that the teams are very similar and both have a huge inside presence.
The matchup to watch will be BYU 6-7 center Jennifer Hamson against N.C. State 6-5 center Markeisha Gatling. Hamson, the WCC Defensive Player of the Year, leads the Cougars with 18.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.0 blocks a game. She ranks second in the nation in blocked shots, 14th in double-doubles and 15th in both rebounds per game and in field goal percentage.
Gatling, in the meantime, tops the Wolfpack in scoring (17.1 ppg), rebounding (7.1 rpg) and blocks (1.0). She also shoots 67.6 percent from the field. 6-2 forward Kody Burke who can score inside and out, complements Gatling well. She averages 15.0 points and 6.3 rebounds whle shooting 35.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Myisha Goodwin-Coleman contributes 10.7 points for N.C. State and has connected on 79 triples. The Wolfpack has made 235 three-pointers and shoots 34.3 percent from beyond the arc. N.C. State averages 75.7 points and surrenders 66.1 points per game.
Guards Lexi Eaton (16.9 ppg) and Kim Beeston (11.6 ppg) along with forward Morgan Bailey (10.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg) also score in double figures for BYU. BYU is averaging 72.4 points per game, while holding opponents to 63.9 points. The Cougars rank seventh in the country in blocked shots per game and have made 198 three-pointers this year.
No. 6 Gonzaga received their highest seed in school history and their reward is a tough matchup with No. 11 James Madison (25-8) in College Staton, Texas. The two teams have eerily similar numbers in most statistical categories.
Kirby Burkholder, the CAA Player of the Year, leads James Madison with 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Precious Hall (13.6), Toia Giggetts (13.2) and Jazmon Gwathmey (10.1) also score in double figures for the Dukes, who average 75.2 points a game and shoot 43 percent from the floor.
James Madison gives up 54.8 points a game and boasts the CAA Defensive Player of the Year in Nikki Newman. The Dukes are also a very good rebounding team and have a plus 10.1 rebound margin.
Gonzaga is making their sixth consecutive tournament appearance. The Bulldogs, who are extremely tough defensively, are led by guards Haiden Palmer (15.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Lindsay Sherbert (10.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 54 3pters). Forward Sunny Greinacher (11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and guard Keani Albanez (9.1 ppg, 58 3pters).
The Bulldogs average 75.5 points and surrenders 56.0 points a game. They create a ton of turnovers a game and shoot 43.3 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from beyond the arc.