The NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament tips off at 8 a.m. PT (11 a.m. ET) Saturday morning with the Arizona State Sun Devils, the No. 9 seed in the Notre Dame Region, facing No. 8 Vanderbilt in Toledo, Ohio. Barring the biggest upset in the sport’s history, on March 24 the winner will play the undefeated Fighting Irish (32-0), who open with No. 16 Robert Morris (21-11) at 10:30 a.m. PT Saturday.
The Sun Devils (22-9) return to the Big Dance for the first time in three seasons, when as a No. 7 seed, they lost to Temple in Salt Lake City. That bracket also included Notre Dame, who defeated the Owls in the second round and paraded all the way to a title game loss to Texas A&M.
The Commodores (18-12) and Sun Devils have one thing in common and that is late-season skids. Vanderbilt has lost nine of its last 11, but has defeated Tennessee, Dayton and Texas A&M en route to its 15th-straight NCAA Tournament. ASU has dropped six of its most recent eight after being ranked as high as No. 11 in the nation.
The other three No. 1 seeds in the 64-team draw announced Monday were Connecticut (34-0), Tennessee (27-5) and South Carolina (27-4). Stanford (29-3), Duke (27-6), West Virginia (29-4), and Baylor (29-4) were the No. 2 seeds.
The ACC and SEC led all leagues with eight teams a piece, the Big 12 had six, and the Pacific-12 and Big Ten both placed five.
The Atlantic 10 received three bids (champion Fordham, Dayton and St. Joseph’s), and BYU was an at-large out of the West Coast Conference, where Gonzaga found itself as a No.6 seed. The Big East boasted two teams (champion DePaul and St. John’s), while the new American Conference only had two- but they are a quality two – in UConn and Louisville. The committee was slightly more rewarding to bids outside of the BCS conferences, as last year only Dayton and Creighton (Missouri Valley at the time) were selected.
Rounding out the Pac-12, Stanford plays South Dakota in the first round and will host the regional finals should it advance. A year after making it to the Final Four, California is the No. 7 seed in the Notre Dame Region and opens with Fordham, and ASU, league tournament champion USC and Oregon State are all nine seeds. In their first tourney since 1996, the Beavers (23-10) face Conference USA winner MiddleTennessee in their first game, while the Trojans match up with St. John’s.
Other opponents the Sun Devils played this season, North Carolina is fourth in the Stanford Region and Syracuse is sixth in the Notre Dame Region.
As a No. 8 seed in 2013, Vanderbilt defeated St. Joseph’s 60-54, before falling to eventual champion UConn 77-44. It was 7-9 in the SEC this year, and 5-foot-9 senior guard Christina Foggie led the Commodores with 19.1 points per game.