The top seeds fell into place as predicted. Stanford, the reigning champions; South Carolina, North Carolina State and Louisville garnered the top four seeds in the 2022 women’s Division I tournament — but that doesn’t make it any easier to follow the chalk when filling out your own bracket.
If anything, these four teams’ static standing atop projections has betrayed some of their weaknesses. Analysts have already picked apart their worthiness, while late-surging teams like Iowa and Kentucky are coming into the tournament seeded lower, but with all the momentum.
Here are some ideas on how to make your women’s bracket sing.
Pick more upsets in the Bridgeport region.
No region looks more fraught for high seeds than Bridgeport. North Carolina State drew the top seed, but the Wolfpack will quickly face impressive competition if they advance out of the first round as expected. The junior Kansas State center Ayoka Lee, who set the N.C.A.A. Division I women’s single-game scoring record earlier this year with 61 points, could make even a ninth seed pose an early threat if Kansas State can manage to win its first game against No. 8 seed Washington State. Teams with high ceilings are scattered up and down the Bridgeport region, from fifth-seeded Notre Dame and fourth-seeded Oklahoma to a Kentucky team that just upset the No. 1 overall seed, South Carolina, to win the Southeastern Conference tournament — and the Wildcats are a No. 6 seed.
Even more formidable is No. 3 seed Indiana, which came tantalizingly close to winning the Big Ten title a week ago — and, of course, UConn, a No. 2 seed, which will have a decided home-court advantage. Picking this section of your bracket correctly will be nearly impossible — there is a case to be made for any of the top four seeds to make it to Minneapolis for the Final Four.
For your 5-12 upset, you have two good options.
The clearest choice for a 5-12 upset is Florida Gulf Coast, a No. 12 seed, over Virginia Tech, a No. 5. Both teams love to shoot from behind the arc, but the Eagles do so at an unmatched clip, making an average of 11.4 3-point shots per game. Florida Gulf Coast’s scoring potential makes it a formidable opponent for any team, and though the Hokies have a solid defense, they haven’t been particularly effective at defending 3-point shooters.
There is another option, for bolder bracketeers: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over North Carolina. This isn’t a choice justified by any of the numbers. North Carolina was undefeated entering conference play, and it continued to perform well thanks to the leadership of the sophomore guard Deja Kelly. But in last year’s tournament, Stephen F. Austin, which was also then a No. 12 seed, took North Carolina’s Atlantic Coast Conference colleagues, fifth-seeded Georgia Tech, to the brink in the first round, coming up just a couple points short of an overtime victory.
Choose one or two double-digit seeds, at least.
Forget whatever you may have heard about the women’s tournament lacking upsets and excitement. Last season’s tournament had three double-digit seeds triumph in the first round — as clear an indication as any of the game’s growing parity. Missouri State, Florida State, DePaul and Dayton will all be playing in the First Four for No. 11 seeds, but whichever of the four makes it into the top 64 will deserve consideration as an upset pick.
Another one to watch: No. 13 Buffalo. Those who have been watching the tournament for at least a few years will remember a Buffalo team that gave UConn’s juggernaut a major push in the second round in 2019. The Bulls are back this year behind the junior guard Dyaisha Fair, who is averaging 23.4 points per game. Her talent, as well as the consistency of coach Felisha Lagette-Jack and Buffalo’s tournament experience, make it a promising potential pick.
Only let a maximum of three top seeds into your Final Four.
Although South Carolina has dominated Division I since the tip-off of the 2021-22 season, not even the Gamecocks are infallible going into the tournament. Every top seed has at least one notable loss, as well as flaws that make them look less daunting to their lower-seeded peers. Statistically speaking, however, most of the top four teams will probably still be playing in April.
Stanford is in the same region as an ascendant No. 2 Texas team that beat it earlier this season. N.C. State has a veritable gantlet to get through in Bridgeport, though fans will argue that the fact that Louisville is also a top seed shows how Atlantic Coast Conference play has already been a trial — one in which the Wolfpack proved their endurance by becoming conference champions. Louisville might face No. 2 Baylor and its dominant star NaLyssa Smith, whose size and experience present a challenging matchup. South Carolina might have to get past the explosive Caitlin Clark and her Iowa squad. Taking a risk on a second or third (or fourth!) seed in one or more of their places could be the key to a successful bracket.