Women’s Selection Sunday: What to Watch in Bracket Reveal

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In the first ever women’s Selection Sunday — the start of the first official women’s March Madness, given that the N.C.A.A. women’s tournament hasn’t been allowed to use that iconic phrase until this year — there should be plenty of surprises, even if most of them are happening outside of the top seeds.

South Carolina, the reigning champion Stanford and North Carolina State seem to have a firm hold on three of the top four spots as the selection show begins at 8 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. Louisville also has a shot at a No. 1 seed, but it lost to an unranked Miami team in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Here are a few things to watch for as the women’s bracket is revealed:

After the fracas around unequal conditions at last year’s women’s tournament — you may remember a viral video with a pretty sorry-looking weight room — the N.C.A.A. was finally compelled to take steps toward making the men’s and women’s tournaments more similar.

Those steps include moving the women’s selection show to Sunday (it was previously held on Mondays), and, crucially, adding the four play-in games that the men’s tournament has had since 2011, increasing the size of the tournament field to 68.

The last four at-large bids, for teams that would then compete in the first four play-in games, are completely up for grabs. Two of the best players in the country, DePaul freshman Aneesah Morrow and Northwestern senior Veronica Burton, appear to be right on the line — as is Florida State, which hasn’t missed an N.C.A.A. tournament since 2012. Villanova, which beat a Paige Bueckers-less Connecticut earlier this season, and Missouri, which handed presumed top overall seed South Carolina its only regular season loss, will also be waiting anxiously to find out if they’ll be in the first women’s First Four.

The Huskies have missed out on a top seed only once since 2007, but this year uncharacteristic struggles and injuries in the regular season meant they were occasionally projected to be as low as a No. 3 seed. Now, the women’s college basketball juggernaut poses a challenge to the selection committee. UConn’s résumé is a little more tarnished than usual, but Paige Bueckers and the rest of the players appear to be operating at full strength at exactly the right time, as evidenced by their relentless throttling of opponents en route to the Big East tournament championship.

How do you weigh UConn’s comparatively ugly record, with its losses to three unranked teams, with the fact that the Huskies currently look unstoppable? Along with Baylor, the Huskies appear to be vying for the top No. 2 seed, but it wouldn’t be unthinkable for them to pop up among the No. 1s.

Certainly, no top-seeded team wants to face Bueckers en route to the Final Four, nor might they have a particular interest in facing Baylor and NaLyssa Smith. Either there will be loud shouts of Connecticut bias, or a team will be left with an extra daunting path to the title — made even more so if the Huskies are seeded to play through the Bridgeport regional.

Both Kentucky and Iowa soared in The A.P. Top 25 poll this week, with Iowa rising four spots to No. 8 and Kentucky re-entering the poll at No. 16, after both teams claimed upset title victories in their respective conferences. The question now is how the selection committee will weigh their surprise success.

Kentucky had some grim stretches in the regular season, including one period where it went 1-8 in Southeastern Conference play. Rhyne Howard, the team’s unequivocal star, looked sluggish even as she continued to put up impressive stats. In its run in the S.E.C. conference tournament, though, the team showed the cohesion it lacked all season. Could peaking at the right time put the Wildcats in a better position?

Iowa and its national star Caitlin Clark have made news at a rate disproportionate to the Hawkeyes’ winning percentage — namely because of her back-to-back triple-doubles, among other impressive box score feats. With the Big Ten title in hand, there’s an outside chance they could earn a No. 3 seed.

The Southeastern Conference has long been considered the toughest conference in women’s college basketball, but with a cluster of Power Five schools on the bracket’s bubble, there’s a chance the seedings might look a little more even than they have in the past.

Missouri, Alabama and Arkansas are all sitting toward the bottom of the field — a surprising reveal could find all of them on the outside looking in, or just one making one of the play-in games.

In the Atlantic Coast Conference, Florida State, Boston College — which has played in only one previous N.C.A.A. tournament — and Duke are all vying for one of the bracket’s final spots.

U.C.L.A. and Washington State are the Pac-12 teams bouncing around toward the bottom, trying to live up to the precedent of last year’s all Pac-12 championship game.



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