CloseCharlie Creme projects the women’s NCAA tournament bracket for ESPN.com.
With the ACC, Pac-12 and SEC tournaments in the books, the No. 1 seeds for the 2021 women’s NCAA tournament look to be settled. Stanford is No. 1 overall in the latest Bracketology projection through Sunday’s games, followed by UConn, Texas A&M and South Carolina.
South Carolina winning the SEC tournament and Stanford’s dominance in the Pac-12 tourney quashed any big opportunities for movement on the top line. Had Georgia beaten the Gamecocks on Sunday, and had Louisville held on against NC State in the ACC championship game, a few things related to the No. 1 seeds would still be up for grabs.
Now the discussion is over, with the possible exception of whether South Carolina or NC State should be the final No. 1 seed. Regardless of whether you sit on the SEC or ACC side of that fence, winning their respective conference tournaments means the Gamecocks and Wolfpack have clinched the Nos. 4 and 5 overall spots. And any path Maryland or Baylor might have had to elevate to the top line with runs through the Big Ten or Big 12 conference tournaments is now blocked.
That attention shifts to the bubble or teams jockeying for seeding.
Just four of a possible 12 teams in the current Last Four In/First Four Out/Next Four Out have games remaining to be played: UCF (currently in the Last Four In), BYU, Houston (First Four Out) and Oklahoma (Next Four Out). Obviously, those are teams to watch this week.
Yet a number of other teams have a chance to gain or lose based on what happens in other conference tournaments around the country. Here’s a look at what to watch in this final week before the bracket is announced on Selection Monday on March 15 (ESPN/ESPN App, 7 p.m. ET).
Notre Dame: The Irish’s chances of making the field appear slim, but there is a scenario in which it still might happen. If UCF and BYU each go out early in the AAC and WCC tournaments, respectively, and the favorites win in those two leagues — as well as in the Atlantic Sun, Missouri Valley and Summit — Notre Dame could slide back in as the last team in the field. But the program’s streak of consecutive NCAA tournaments (24) is definitely at risk.
DePaul, Mississippi State and Wake Forest: The Blue Demons and Bulldogs suffered the biggest drops in the last three weeks of any teams under consideration for the NCAA tournament. DePaul’s losses to Butler and Creighton might have been enough to ruin its chances completely in any other season. With no Ivy League participant and Ohio State sitting out the postseason with a self-imposed ban, essentially two more at-large bids are available — and the Blue Demons are holding onto a spot. Mississippi State’s run at the end of the regular season and SEC tournament wasn’t quite as bad as DePaul, which lost four of its last five games, but it was close. Wake Forest has six top-50 NET wins, but also finished just 12-12 and also lost four out of five to finish.
All three of these teams need chalk to happen across in the country. In particular, they need Florida Gulf Coast, the overwhelming favorite in the A-Sun, to win the tournament title, too. The Eagles are going to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large if they don’t prevail this week. That would give the A-Sun a second team in the field and leave one less at-large spot for the bubble teams. The same can be said for Gonzaga in the WCC, Missouri State in the MVC and South Florida in the AAC.
Summit League: The first potential blow to bubble teams came on Saturday when injury-stricken South Dakota State, the Summit League regular-season champion, lost in the quarterfinals. South Dakota is the new favorite in the Summit tournament. The Coyotes were already included in the 64-team field, and if they win the Summit tournament, no bubble teams are impacted. If one of the other remaining teams wins, another spot could be gobbled up and the bubble shrinks again.
The Jackrabbits lost conference player of the year Myah Selland and fourth-leading scorer Tori Nelson to injuries with three games left in the regular season, but an NCAA tournament bid is still coming. It’s important to remember that a team’s entire body of work is what the committee uses to select the 64-team field. Injuries and players no longer able to take the court impact seeding, but not selection. South Dakota State once looked like a No. 6 seed, but now project as a No. 9.
Michigan State: The Spartans are not officially a bubble team, but they are the first team above the Last Four In, and a quick exit from the Big Ten tournament would be detrimental to their NCAA tournament hopes. All the scenarios described above would then put Michigan State equally at risk. To lock-up an at-large bid, the Spartans — who have a respectable NET of 41 but a lack of high-profile wins — need is a quarterfinal upset of Indiana.