The 2023 NCAA Tournament is here! To view the full bracket click here. To check out our full analysis, read on.
The national championship race is wide open in my opinion. I’ve seen too many of the top teams suffer too many bad losses and/or close calls. Even undefeated No. 1 overall seed South Carolina was tested by No. 11 seed Mississippi State, No. 10 seed Alabama and No. 10 seed Georgia, and went to overtime against No. 8 seed Ole Miss. Let’s start our breakdown with a look at South Carolina’s region.
Greenville 1 Region
South Carolina’s No. 2 seed is Maryland, a team that turned heads with a 36-point win over No. 3 seed Ohio State and a 28-point win over No. 2 seed Iowa but also has losses to non-tournament teams in Nebraska and DePaul. Maryland was arguably the hottest team in the country down the stretch of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons and looked to be one of the hottest teams late this regular season before losing to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and missing out on a No. 1 seed. Those early-season losses to Nebraska and DePaul are definitely concerning though as is the fact that in 2020-21, also as a No. 2 seed, the Terps suffered a disappointing loss to No. 6 seed Texas that prevented them from making the Sweet Sixteen and ruined their late-season hot streak.
This year’s Maryland team looks very different from the 2020-21 team, but a program’s inability to step up in the big moments can haunt even a new set of players; just ask the Boston Red Sox. The addition of Abby Meyers might make a difference though. The Princeton transfer who was a freshman in 2017-18 provides the leadership and composure the Terps need to get over the hump and into at least the Elite Eight. She’s not the tallest player in the world though (6’0”), and Maryland is seriously lacking a player who can take over a game with their size inside. It spelled doom in their 25-point loss to South Carolina on Nov. 11.
The Terps were outrebounded 55-32 in that one, a game in which they were without 6-foot-3 Diamond Miller, whose length can certainly impact games, but not in a dominant way in the post, which is problematic against Gamecocks Aliyah Boston (6’5”) and Kamilla Cardoso (6’7”). All the other players in Maryland’s rotation are shorter than 6-foot-3. South Carolina is a really bad matchup for the Terps, but the Terps have improved since the Nov. 11 meeting. With Miller in the lineup, they may be able to keep it close and with Meyers they may have the composure to win a close game.
To face South Carolina, Maryland may have to get past No. 3 seed Notre Dame, which is desperately hoping for a healthy Olivia Miles, who suffered a knee injury on Feb. 26. If Miles is healthy, I think the Irish can contend for a national championship, though they would still be weakened by the absence of Dara Mabrey due to a season-ending ACL injury. A Maryland win that made the Terps look legit early on came on a Miller buzzer-beater in South Bend. It could be a thrilling rematch, but the Irish were last seen being blown out 64-38 by No. 5 seed Louisville without Miles.
The No. 4 seed in this region, UCLA, challenged South Carolina on Nov. 29, but went on to lose to non-tournament team Oregon State and only beat non-tournament team Washington by eight. I have very little faith in the Pac-12 seeing as all the top teams were challenged by the weaker teams in the conference. No. 5 seed Oklahoma sports a 124-78 to Utah, albeit a team that went on earn a No. 2 seed. It will be interesting to see if the Madi Williams- and Taylor Robertson-led Sooners will finally be able to make a Sweet Sixteen.
No. 6 seed Creighton has faced struggles at times this season after starting the season ranked 21st. But why should they be worried when they made the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed last year? No. 7 seed Arizona suffered a shock to its system early when it lost 77-50 to non-tournament team Kansas on Dec. 8, but it looked very impressive 10 days later in a 75-54 victory over fellow No. 7 seed Baylor. They had ups and downs the rest of the season, like much of the Pac-12.
No. 8 seed South Florida is making its third straight tournament appearance and sports a win over No. 4 seed Texas and an overtime loss to No. 3 seed Ohio State. No. 9 seed Marquette looked to be off to a good start when it made the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game, which it lost to UCLA.
Greenville 2 Region
What a statement it is for Indiana to be the No. 1 seed in this bracket (the No. 2 overall seed). The program has never been to a Final Four, but is scripting a new chapter as a national power. The Hoosiers have the big six of Mackenzie Holmes, Grace Berger, Sydney Parrish, Yarden Garzon, Sara Scalia and Chloe Moore-McNeil. Holmes has taken her stardom to a whole new level this year, while the 3-point shooting of Parrish, Garzon and Scalia will be something to look out for.
If Indiana is the new kid on the block, No. 2 seed Utah is the brand new kid on the block among the national powers. The Utes were a No. 7 seed last year and hadn’t made the tournament since 2011 before that. Alissa Pili will need to come up huge if Utah is to make a deep run. The Utes are a Pac-12 team that avoided any bad losses, with their four defeats coming to No. 6 seed Colorado, No. 1 seed Stanford, Arizona and No. 5 seed Washington State.
LSU failed to get a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but will certainly be a dangerous No. 3 seed. Angel Reese can pile on the points and rack up the rebounds as well as anyone in the country, and Alexis Morris can carry the team on her shoulders if Reese happens to have an off game. I can see No. 4 seed Villanova giving Indiana problems in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup. Maddy Siegrist’s singular greatness is always something to watch out for and Lucy Olsen has become an apt Robin.
No. 5 seed Washington State improved its seeding with its Pac-12 Tournament championship run as a No. 7 seed. I’ve been waiting for the Cougars to have this kind of success ever since Charlisse Leger-Walker’s freshman season of 2020-21, but they settled for an 8/9 appearance in both of the last two tournaments, losing both games. They’ve had some suspect moments this year as well and were of course underdogs entering the Pac-12 Tournament, but might be a team to look out for.
No. 6 seed Michigan has the chance to show just how strong the Big Ten is by making a deep run. I think Leigha Brown, Emily Kiser, Laila Phelia and company are up for the task and LSU is vulnerable to a second-round upset seeing as it’s had close calls against non-tournament teams in Arkansas and Texas A&M. No. 7 seed NC State was No. 10 in the preseason and should be a tough out.
No. 8 seed Oklahoma State has wins over Texas and No. 5 seed Iowa State, plus some other quality wins. Naomie Alnatas and Taylen Collins were impressive in the Cowgirls’ Big 12 quarterfinal win over No. 10 seed West Virginia. No. 9 seed Miami should make the 8/9 game in this region close though. Haley Cavinder and Destiny Hardin make the Hurricanes a dangerous team.
Seattle 3 Region
I really felt at the beginning of the season that Virginia Tech had the talent on paper to compete for a national championship. And what a feel-good story the Hokies have been in living up to those expectations. Star Maryland transfer Ashley Owusu has been a non-factor due to head coach Kenny Brooks not wanting to mess with the team’s chemistry after Owusu returned from a broken pinkie. But the other big-name transfer, Taylor Soule, has made a big impact and is finally headed to her first Big Dance after four years of admirable service at Boston College. The Eagles would have made the 2019-20 tournament according to our hypothetical bracket and were one of the first teams out last year.
It’s kind of inexplicable how No. 2 seed UConn endured close calls to very weak teams later in the season when the players the Huskies had filling in for Azzi Fudd demonstrated how talented they were earlier in the season. Now, with Fudd back, the Huskies are hitting their stride and I think they are extremely dangerous with Aaliyah Edwards, Lou Lopez Sénéchal Dorka Juhász, Aubrey Griffin and Nika Mühl backing her up. I like everything about Lopez Sénéchal’s offensive game and Mühl is one of the best distributors UConn has ever seen, and that is of course saying something.
No. 3 seed Ohio State could derail UConn’s championship aspirations though and represent this region in the Final Four. The Buckeyes are loaded; even if Jacy Sheldon isn’t a major factor, they could make a deep run. Cotie McMahon is as tough as they come and Taylor Mikesell, Taylor Thierry and Rebeka Mikulášiková are going to make impacts as well. No. 4 seed Tennessee was No. 5 in the preseason and has one of the best star duos in the nation in Rickea Jackson and Jordan Horston.
No. 5 seed Iowa State is coming off a Big 12 Tournament championship and Ashley Joens is on a mission. She has yet to make it to the Elite Eight despite high expectations surrounding the Cyclone program in recent years. Iowa State is familiar with March heartbreak and has dealt with disappointment this year, falling from No. 8 in the preseason to a No. 5 seed. But it beat Texas in the Big 12 championship game and has momentum.
No. 6 seed North Carolina bounced back from an 0-3 start to its ACC season by winning eight in a row. The Tar Heels have taken the Hokies down to the wire twice; what an interesting NCAA Tournament rematch that would be. No. 7 seed Baylor is looking to erase the memory of last year’s second-round loss as a No. 2 seed. Can the Bears upset a No. 2 seed this year and advance to the Sweet Sixteen? With Sarah Andrews, Darianna Littlepage-Buggs and Caitlin Bickle leading the way, maybe they can.
No. 8 seed USC has a win over No. 1 seed Stanford, but also losses to non-tournament teams in Oregon, California and Oregon State. No. 9 seed South Dakota State entered the season ranked 23rd.
Seattle 4 Region
Here is where things got controversial as Stanford earned the No. 1 seed and Iowa settled for the No. 2 seed. Stanford lost in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals and was ranked fifth by The Associated Press. The Hawkeyes won the best conference in the country’s tournament and were ranked second by The AP.
The Cardinal have a lot of talent on paper with Haley Jones, Cameron Brink and company, but have losses to USC and Washington and close calls against Cal, Oregon State, Oregon and Washington. Will these losses/close calls turn into a loss to a No. 8 or No. 9 seed in the tournament? Perhaps not. Tara VanDerveer’s crew has the experience of winning a national championship two years ago and is going to be tough to beat in any tournament game. But Stanford might not blow teams away like a typical No. 1 seed would.
The No. 8 seed in this region, Ole Miss, took South Carolina to overtime. The No. 9 seed, Gonzaga, was ranked pretty high at times this season (and No. 16 last week), but failed to win a mid-major conference tournament and lost to non-tournament team Santa Clara in the regular season. The Bulldogs also lost to Stanford, 84-63 on Dec. 4.
The Hawkeyes are showing that they are much more than just Caitlin Clark. Clark herself is the best player in the country and is backed up by Monika Czinano, McKenna Warnock and Kate Martin. Plus, Gabbie Marshall is red-hot from beyond the arc as of late. Iowa split with Indiana and Maryland, the two other Top 2 seeds from the Big Ten, in the regular season. The Hawkeyes then avenged their 28-point loss in College Park with an 89-84 victory over the Terps in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals before crushing Ohio State 105-73 in the championship game. Beating those two teams, plus Indiana on a buzzer-beater three from Clark in their regular-season finale, is no joke. Count Iowa in as a team that can compete for a national championship.
No. 3 seed Duke is known for its defense; its offense isn’t an issue as long its winning games, but it can be pretty embarrassing when the Blue Devils lose and only put up 45 (Feb. 16), 41 (Feb. 26) or 37 (March 4) points. Granted, two of those losses came to Virginia Tech and the other came to UNC — both good teams, but the Blue Devils need to find more reliable offense. No. 4 seed Texas could use some more reliable offense as well. The Longhorns didn’t impress in the Big 12 Tournament, struggling early against non-tournament team Kansas State, beating Oklahoma State by just seven and losing to Iowa State.
Texas was No. 3 in the preseason before falling far and then rising again. It will host the first and second rounds, which is a positive all things considered. Preseason-No. 7 Louisville, the No. 5 seed in this region, may await in the second round, which means one of these teams with such high expectations is going home before the Sweet Sixteen, if not both. The Cardinals have the experience of stepping up in the big moments, as they made the Final Four last year. So they will be dangerous.
No. 6 seed Colorado is led by Quay Miller’s 13.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and Jaylyn Sherrod’s 11.2 points, five assists and 2.5 steals. The Buffaloes have a loss to non-tournament team Texas Tech, but took Stanford to double overtime. Just like VA Tech/UNC in Seattle 3, Stanford/Colorado would be an intriguing 1/6 rematch.
No. 7 seed Florida State is led by one of the best scorers in the nation in freshman Ta’Niya Latson. The Seminoles are yet another dangerous team in this year’s field.