Women's tourney power rankings
After editing Charlie Creme, Graham Hays, Michelle Smith and Mechelle Voepel this season (and covering the women's NCAA tournament the past 15 years), it's easy to pick up tidbits about the top teams around the country. So here's one editor's take on the women's field of 64:
1. Connecticut: Geno Auriemma won't just break his tie with Pat Summitt for most NCAA titles. He'll win his ninth NCAA championship in style -- with a fifth undefeated season.
2. Notre Dame: Yep, the "zero" is very noteworthy. Thirty-two straight wins, no losses ... and zero headband-wearing guards. Who saw that coming? The Irish boast the nation's No. 2 scoring offense at 86.6 ppg.
3. Tennessee: Meighan Simmons' many emotions often get captured by the camera -- the grimaces, the glances skyward, the pumping of the fist, the high-stepping -- and the Lady Vols' chances of reaching Nashville and their first Final Four since 2008 might depend on Simmons' consistency. But Isabelle Harrison is the real face of this team.
4. Louisville: Shoni, Shoni, Shoni! OK, we'll stop channeling Jan Brady and get serious: Seeing the way the Native American community has gotten behind Shoni Schimmel and younger sister Jude -- members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon -- is inspiring. The crowd of 22,163 at Louisville's March 3 game against UConn as the Cardinals celebrated Native American Night and Senior Night was one of the biggest feel-good moments of the season. Now can Louisville prove it deserved better than a No. 3 seed?
5. Stanford: Not convinced yet that this edition of the Cardinal can get back to the Final Four, but they should surely be motivated after seeing the bracket. And those Ogwumikes sure do make great videos. Being a N-E-R-D never looked so fun since the Lambda Lambda Lambdas and Omega Mus. Chiney Ogwumike probably won't be the last player standing in Nashville, but she might be the first to hear her name called in next month's WNBA draft.
6. South Carolina: Can SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell follow in Dawn Staley's footprints and lead her team to the Final Four as just a sophomore? South Carolina's gritty defense ranks seventh in the nation at 55.0 ppg allowed. But perhaps a more telling stat is the top-seeded Gamecocks' 10-2 record on the road this season. They open the tourney three times zones away from home in Seattle and then would advance to the Stanford Regional.
7. West Virginia: If there's one team among the top 10 that still appears to be under the radar, it's the Mountaineers. Everyone talks about how the Louisville Regional is the toughest, and West Virginia works into that. Five seniors and an offense coming together at just the right time have the Mountaineers one win short of breaking the program record for most wins in a season.
8. Baylor: All eyes are on high-scoring Odyssey Sims, who has scorched many a foe this season and has a shot at catching Jackie Stiles' NCAA Division I single-season scoring record (and also at being the No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick). But Nina Davis, one of the nation's top freshmen, has a say in how far the Lady Bears advance, too. That and Notre Dame, which is in the top half of Baylor's region.
9. Nebraska: You know all those fans who were excited to see UConn in the Lincoln Regional instead of the Louisville region? Yeah, these Huskers weren't among them. The one-two punch of Jordan Hooper and Rachel Theriot is a must-watch.
10 Maryland: Two words: Alyssa. Thomas.
11. Duke: If the Blue Devils play like they did in the ACC tournament, where they reached the championship game despite all the injuries to their backcourt this season, Duke remains a team to watch. If they play like they did in several of their other big games this season, fuggedaboutit.
12. Kentucky: Which version will show up in the Big Dance? The team that committed just five turnovers and shot 42 percent in an SEC tournament semifinal win over South Carolina? Or the one that got swept by Florida, one of the final bubble teams this season, and lost at home to Alabama?
13. North Carolina: Debbie Antonelli said it best -- Diamond DeShields, Stephanie Mavunga, Allisha Gray and Xylina McDaniel can put on a show ... but they benefit from under-the-radar Latifah Coleman (108 assists) putting the ball in their hands.
14. Texas A&M: The third-seeded Aggies likely have a heck of a second-round game on their hands, either against No. 6 seed Gonzaga or 11th-seeded James Madison.
15. NC State: No matter how long the Wolfpack hang around this season -- in their first trip to the NCAA tournament in four years -- hats off to coach Wes Moore. Here's to hoping Markeisha Gatling (bruised knee) is at 100 percent when the games begin.
16. Purdue: When will KK Houser's absence finally catch up to the Boilers? We're thinking in the Sweet 16.
17. Gonzaga: They're called suitcases, and Gonzaga hasn't had to pack them for a first-round NCAA tournament road game outside of Washington for the past five years (Spokane 2011-13, Seattle 2009-10) -- until now. That's not the Bulldogs' fault, of course, but their first-round foe, James Madison, could pack a punch. Several writers on espnW's staff picked 11th-seeded JMU as either a possible Cinderella or a team "better than its seed." Gonzaga's No. 6 seed is the highest in program history.
18. Penn State: File the 3-seed Lady Lions under "team worse than its seed."
19. Iowa: The Hawkeyes are 13-3 at home this season and host Marist in the first round. Louisville likely awaits the winner. Junior guard Samantha Logic has 256 assists this season; that's only 54 fewer than the entire Prairie View team.
20. Michigan State: The Spartans are a fifth seed for the third time in five seasons. That's almost as consistent as friend and proud Michigan State grad Kim B., whose giant, inflatable Sparty makes an appearance on her front lawn here in a suburb east of Seattle every year around now. And just like her Sparty is working overtime after its fall football appearances, Suzy Merchant's Spartans could be headed for a trip to the second weekend if they get past potential second-round opponent North Carolina.
21. DePaul: With all due respect to Doug Bruno and the Blue Demons, winning the Big East this season was a little easier than in years past. Still, hats off to DePaul, which is making its 12th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
22. Oklahoma State: The Cowgirls are the Mystery Machine of the major conferences. One week they're forcing Baylor to overtime, the next they're barely beating Big 12 cellar dwellers Texas Tech (0-18 in league play this season) and Kansas State (5-13). Oklahoma State hasn't won two games in a row since mid-January and has lost four of its past seven games.
23. Texas: Well, that was fast. In just her second season at Texas, coach Karen Aston has led the Longhorns back into the NCAA tournament. Yes, they ended up in a loaded Louisville Regional, but the No. 5 seed is Texas' highest since 2005. Now, can the Longhorns snap their tourney skid? They've lost five consecutive games in the NCAA tournament, the last win coming in 2008's opening round.
24. Middle Tennessee: The more things change (MTSU just completed its first season in the C-USA) the more they stay the same (the Blue Raiders are back in the NCAA tournament for the 10th time in 11 years). Enjoy your annual chance to see Ebony Rowe.
25. Syracuse: There was no shame in finishing in fifth place in the ACC this season. The Orange have four wins over RPI top-25 teams Texas A&M, North Carolina, Saint Joseph's and Texas. But they're 5-9 this season against other teams in the NCAA tournament field.
26. Southern California: The Women of Troy, who won the Pac-12's automatic bid, are a perfect example of why we need conference tournaments. Unless you're Bowling Green.
27. California: We miss you, Layshia Clarendon. Your Mohawk, big smile and even bigger personality were a breath of fresh air last season.
28. Dayton: Thanks to Dayton and Saint Joseph's, the Atlantic 10 is the rare mid-major conference to send multiple teams to the tourney (Fordham, No. 43 on this list, upset the Flyers in the A-10 final.) Dayton, making its fifth consecutive appearance in the Big Dance, won't be the favorite should it meet host Penn State in the second round. But that might be an upset worth considering when you fill out your Women's Tournament Challenge bracket.
29. Iowa State: The Cyclones started the season 14-0 ... and then settled back into reality, going 9-9 in the Big 12 to bring a 20-10 mark into the dance. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer was more puzzled on Selection Monday over the Cardinal being sent to Ames, Iowa, rather than Stanford's No. 2 seed, and for good reason: Iowa State is 10-3 all time at Hilton Coliseum in the NCAA tournament.
30. Georgia: The season so far has had its highs (11-0 start that helped the Lady Dogs climb to 15th in the polls) and lows (starting 0-4 in SEC play for the first time). And it'll likely end Tuesday in the second round against UConn.
31. St. John's: The Red Storm reached the second round in 2010, 2011 and 2012. St. John's and Southern Cal will meet for the first time Saturday.
32. Oregon State: Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was espnW's Coach of the Year, but Scott Rueck's name was in the conversation, too (among others), after one of the biggest Division I turnarounds. The Beavers were 10-21 a year ago, but now they're back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996. The Beavers, whose .349 field goal percentage defense ranks seventh in the country, won 11 consecutive games before falling to USC in the Pac-12 final. Even more impressive? The 11-player roster includes nine underclassmen. But Rueck, in his fourth season in Corvallis, Ore., has a long history of success. He won the Division III national title in 2009 after George Fox went 32-0.
33. LSU: The Lady Tigers limp into the NCAA tournament, having lost eight of their past 10 games, including six straight and 6 of 7 in the month of February. But they have home-court advantage on their side as a host, and Sunday's game against Georgia Tech could be one of the top matchups in the first round.
34. Georgia Tech: How talented is 5-foot-9 senior guard Tyaunna Marshall? She's one of three players named to the All-ACC first team for the second year in a row, joining Maryland's Thomas and Duke's Elizabeth Williams. That's excellent company and a big reason the Yellow Jackets are back in the NCAA tournament after missing the Dance last year. She was part of Georgia Tech's first Sweet 16 team two seasons ago.
35. James Madison: A good editor knows when to get out of the way. Charlie Creme and Graham Hays both say the 11th-seeded Dukes are better than their seed. And Hays also tagged James Madison as a possible Cinderella. Senior guard Kirby Burkholder (18.3 ppg) needs just six 3-pointers to tie the CAA record for career treys.
36. BYU: In case you haven't heard, Graham Hays thinks Jennifer Hamson -- a 6-7 senior center who averages 18.3 points, 11.2 points and 4.0 blocks per game -- is one of the country's most underrated players. I tend to agree.
37. Saint Joseph's: A No. 9 seed for the second straight season, the Hawks have three players averaging double figures and seven players averaging at least 6.2 points per game. Natasha Cloud is a triple-threat: She averages 11.5 points, a team-high 6.7 rebounds and has tallied 233 assists (7.8 per game) this season.
38. Oklahoma: How big of a bubble team were the Sooners? When Oklahoma saw its No. 10 seed, "I think a few of us even started crying," Morgan Hook said on Oklahoma's website. "I think we were so relieved we still have another chance, another shot at life." Sounds like someone can't wait to make the most out of the Sooners' 15th straight NCAA bid.
39. Vanderbilt: Like fellow SEC team LSU, Vanderbilt has struggled recently and enters the tourney on a four-game skid, dropping seven of its past eight games. Like fellow SEC team Georgia, the Commodores opened the season with an incredible start (16-3). Even if the Dores can right the ship, Notre Dame likely awaits in the second round.
40. Arizona State: The Sun Devils are back in the tournament after a one-year hiatus, but they have lost six of their past eight games
41. Florida State: What goes around comes around. When Sue Semrau guided the Seminoles to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 2001, they opened in Ames, Iowa. Florida State is headed back to Hilton Coliseum for Saturday's game against Iowa State. Will history continue to repeat itself? The Cyclones won that 2001 matchup 85-70. It's the only time the two teams have met. Check out seniors Cheetah Delgado (her 207 assists are a single-season FSU record) and Natasha Howard (21.2 ppg on 60 percent shooting from the field) while you can.
42. Florida: Dayton is up next, and though the Flyers will be a big favorite, Gators coach Amanda Butler had a bird's-eye view of Jim Jabir's team while she was a coach at Charlotte. "He does an amazing job," she said on Florida's website. "It's going to be a tough matchup."
43. Fordham: Ram tough? You bet. Fordham hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1994 and came this close to a berth in 2013 after losing in the A-10 title game by one point. Seniors Erin Rooney and Abigail Corning each tallied double-doubles as Fordham upset top-seeded Dayton in this season's A-10 championship game. Not bad considering that in 2007-08, the Rams didn't win a single game (0-29).
44. Marist: The Red Foxes ride a nine-game winning streak into the tournament and boast one of the best Big Dance records among mid-majors. A first-round date with Iowa also marks the second straight year Marist will meet a Big Ten team in the first round. The Red Foxes lost to Michigan State in 2013 and beat Ohio State in 2007.
45. Chattanooga: Consider yourselves warned: After the Lady Mocs clinched their bid, first-year Chattanooga coach Jim Foster told the Associated Press, "It's about time we start showing folks just how good [we are]."
46. Penn: After 11 losses in a row to Princeton, the Quakers turned the tables and ended the Tigers' four-year reign on the Ivy League. Penn is appearing in its first Big Dance since 2004.
47. Hampton: The MEAC champions are playing in their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament. In the past four years, they've lost in the first round to Duke (twice), Stanford and Kentucky (in overtime in 2011).
48. Florida Gulf Coast: Remember last season when the FGCU men fit the slipper and soared into the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed? Don't expect this group of Eagles to do that. But kudos to a second Big Dance appearance in three years, especially since the program only became eligible for the NCAA tournament in 2012.
49. Army: Dave Magarity was an assistant to Maggie Dixon when she led Army to its first NCAA tourney in 2006. When Dixon died a month later of arrhythmia, Magarity took over the program. Now, Magarity has guided the Black Knights back to the Big Dance, becoming the second coach to lead a team into both the men's and women's NCAA tournament (his Marist men went to the 1988 NCAA tourney).
50. UT Martin: After his team lost to the Skyhawks in the OVC title game, first-year Belmont coach Cameron Newbauer, a former Louisville assistant, told UT Martin's leading scorers that they could "go win an NCAA tournament game now," according to the game's Associated Press recap. That's quite the compliment. And one first-round foe North Carolina might have something to say about.
51: Akron: Some say life begins at 40. That might be true for the Zips. In the program's 40th season, they've earned their first trip to the tournament and tied the school record for wins in a season (23). Thirty isn't bad, either. That's how many points Rachel Tecca scored in the MAC championship game.
52. Wright State: In one of the bigger upsets of Championship Week, the Raiders rallied and then routed perennial Horizon League power Green Bay to earn their first NCAA berth. It's not football season, but I swear I hear Chris Berman saluting "Da Raaaduuzzz!"
53. Idaho: Making back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, the Vandals have raised the Barr -- junior guard Stacey Barr, the Western Athletic tournament MVP, averages 7.8 rebounds and a team-best 18.7 points per game.
54. North Dakota: Picked to finish as low as ninth in a preseason league poll, Big Sky Player of the Year Madi Buck and North Dakota (22-9) have doubled their win total from a year ago.
55. Fresno State: Talk about a glass that's half full: "A No. 13 seed is well deserved," coach Raegan Pebley said. "I think that is a great credit to our conference and the parity that is in our conference." More good vibes: The Bulldogs, in their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament, play their first game in Los Angeles.
56. Wichita State: Thirty-four and ... oh! Oops. Three cheers for 26-6?
57. Western Kentucky: By now, Lady Toppers, you're well versed in how Baylor, your first-round foe this weekend, exited last year's tourney. So you can guess how much the Lady Bears will want to put the loss that occurred 356 days ago behind them. Not that anyone's counting.
58. Albany: The Great Danes are back for the third consecutive season. America East Player of the Year Shereesha Richards -- the first player in conference history to lead the league in scoring, rebounds and shooting percentage in the same season -- continues to lead the way.
59. Winthrop: Longtime women's basketball fans are used to seeing Liberty advance out of the Big South. Not so fast. Dequesha McClanahan and the Eagles ousted the perennial power Lady Flames in the Big South semifinals and then upset regular-season champ High Point in the title game to earn their first dance.
60. South Dakota: It's not a typo. South Dakota State had become an NCAA tournament regular, but South Dakota is representing the Summit League this year after upsetting the Jackrabbits in the Summit semifinals. But be warned, Coyotes: Stanford has plenty to prove and is on the hunt.
61. Cal State Northridge: As Graham Hays detailed last week, senior guard Ashlee Guay had barely heard of the Matadors program as a high schooler. But short on scholarship offers, Guay headed to CSUN, scoring a team-high 25 points in the Big West championship game to help get the Matadors back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999.
62. Robert Morris: Against top-seeded Notre Dame in the first round, don't expect Artemis Spanou to have anything near the 30-point, 20-rebound, six-assist game she had in the NEC championship. But she might have the coolest first name of anyone in the field. Artemis is, after all, the goddess of the hunt (among other things).
63. Northwestern State: We were going to make a joke about your short stay in the Big Dance, but frankly, your logo (see right) is too intimidating to mess with. If Dave Navarro and Satan had a baby ...
64. Prairie View: The SWAC tournament champion, which faces UConn and the nation's No. 1 defense in the first round, is the only team in the NCAA tournament with a losing overall record (14-17).
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