Final Four sleepers for the NCAA women’s tournament


Over the past 20 seasons, only 12 teams seeded outside of the first two lines have made the NCAA Women’s Final Four. In four of these tournaments, several teams made it into the final weekend in 3rd place or below. Given the increased parity in women’s football this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if that were to happen again in 2023.

Among the #3 and #4 seeds are some obvious tips that should make a deep run in March. Based on 20,000 tournament simulations using the Her Hoop Stats prediction model, No. 3 LSU and No. 4 Tennessee each have over a 14 percent chance of making the Final Four. In fact, the Tigers and Vols both check in ahead of No. 1 seed Virginia Tech for their chances in the Dallas trip.

Besides the top eight overall, who else could make it to this year’s Final Four? Keep an eye on how these teams fare in March.

The feared and loved Caitlin Clark from Iowa is taking women’s basketball by storm

Any team in the Gamecocks region that is not named South Carolina counts as a non-obvious Final Four selection this season. However, the No. 4 Bruins could have their best shot at picking out the top seed in Greenville 1.

Rewind to November 29th. UCLA traveled to Columbia, SC to face off against the defending champion. The Bruins played the Gamecocks closer than any other team this season at Colonial Life Arena, eventually falling nine points. UCLA led South Carolina by three points just under eight minutes from time before the Gamecocks kept the Bruins scoreless for more than three minutes to control the game.

Cori Close masterfully planned the game in the first meeting to exploit South Carolina’s only real weakness: perimeter shooting. The focus of UCLA’s defensive efforts on the color combined with the Bruins’ skill on the offensive glass allowed them to keep the game tight. They tied with the best offensive rebounding team in the country in this matchup and were just two (15-13) points behind the Gamecocks for second chances. As a relatively young team, UCLA couldn’t contain the excitement. After three more months of college experience and a win over Stanford, No. 1 in the Pac-12 tournament, the country’s top-ranked recruiting class could quit the job in March.

Villanova could have fallen to U-Conn. in the championship game of the Big East tournament, but the Wildcats earned the praise of Huskies coach Geno Auriemma.

“When you have the best player on the floor, you’re a hard team to beat,” Auriemma said of the Wildcats.

Villanova will have the best player on the court in most if not all of the remaining games this season with the nation’s top scorer Maddy Siegrist. The two-time Big East player of the year has scored 20 points in every game this season, a feat unmatched by none other than Kelsey Plum in her 2017 Washington National Player of the Year campaign since at least 2010. She has 50 points in a game this season, and as a 6-foot-2 goalscorer on three levels, Siegrist is possibly the toughest singles defensive matchup in this year’s tournament.

The Wildcats dropped games against Baylor, Creighton and Iowa State in seven games earlier this season. Since then, Lucy Olsen has proved to be a consistent second goalscorer as a sophomore and Christina Dalce has improved her defensive performance. As a result, Villanova plays his best basketball and hasn’t lost a team other than Connecticut since December 18. The Wildcats’ three games against the Huskies were decided by an average of just over eight points.

Every national champion since 2010 has made the top 10 in Her Hoop Stats offense and defense ratings. All but four Final Four teams in the same span made the top 20 in both metrics. 5th seeded Iowa State meets these criteria and is a top 10 team in Her Hoop Stats overall rankings.

While defense holds its own, the Cyclones are powered by their offense and especially their three-point shooting. Iowa State is getting over 35 percent of its points from three points, the fourth-highest of any top-50 team by Her Hoop Stats rating in the state. Ashley Joens, a fifth-year senior, is leading the effort at the perimeter with 2.8 triples scored per game, nearly 40 percent of her 21.5 points per game this season.

The Cyclones are 8-1 when shooting 40 percent or more from deep this season and have had a hot shooting stretch in the Big 12 tournament. Through the gantlet of Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas in the conference tournament, Iowa State knocked down 28 three-pointers on its way to double-digit wins in each competition. Jones had 13 of those marks, including seven against Baylor. If the Cyclones can sustain their success from the perimeter, they could potentially shoot their way to a Final Four.

The perfect fixture for NCAA women’s basketball tournaments

The 2020-21 Arizona Wildcats, one of the dozen teams outside the top two seeding lines to advance to a Final Four in the past 20 years, laid the blueprint for how Texas could emerge No. 4 from the Seattle 4 region. Arizona’s Her Hoop Stats offensive rating in 2021 (46th) is by far the worst of any team to make a Final Four since at least 2010, but the Wildcats’ top-five defense carried them to the national championship game.

The Longhorns’ defense is also elite this season, and their offense is even comparatively better at 28th in Her Hoop Stats’ offensive rating. Arizona had Aari McDonald to help advance its 2021 NCAA tournament run. Texas has Rori Harmon, one of four players averaging at least 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals per game this season. The sophomore point guard ranks fourth nationally with 7.3 assists per game.

Texas falls into a region where No. 1 Stanford has looked vulnerable, lost two of its last three games and struggled on offense. It’s also fair to ask how far Iowa’s elite offense, No. 2, can take it without the defense to back it up. That could set off the perfect storm for the Longhorns to get a chance to compete for a title in their home state. Final Four sleepers for the NCAA women’s tournament

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