The women’s NCAA tournament is bound to have a handful of surprising upsets every year.
In 2018, No. 11 Buffalo beat South Florida and Florida State en route to a Sweet 16 appearance. Fifth-seeded Missouri was upset by No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast. And Central Michigan beat LSU and Ohio State on its way to the Sweet 16.
It's likely there will be be one, or two, or even a few shockers in this year’s women’s basketball tournament. Brackets will surely be busted by some unsuspected team.
Here are five likely culprits that could pull off upsets in March.
The Dragons are on a roll, having won 12 straight games. They’re second in the CAA standings, just behind James Madison. The Dukes were the last team to defeat the Dragons, winning 51-35 on Jan. 6, but the teams are due for a rematch on March 7, and could meet for a third time in the CAA tournament.
If Drexel emerges as the last team standing from the CAA tournament dust, they could be a tough out for a team in the Big Dance. The reason being that Drexel is one of the best defensive teams in the country.
NATIONAL STATS: Individual and team leaders in the 2018-19 season
As of Feb. 26, Drexel was No. 1 in three-point defense, allowing opponents to connect on just 23.1 percent of their shots from behind the arc. The Dragons are also 17th in the country in turnover margin (+5.32), and first in scoring defense, allowing just 47.6 points per game. The Dragons have held opponents to 45 points or fewer 13 times so far this season.
On offense, Drexel is led by junior Bailey Greenberg, who averages 18.1 points, 7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per-game.
Like Drexel, Troy has some work to do in Sun Belt conference play before they can begin to think about dancing in March. But if the Trojans can punch a ticket and get into the NCAA tournament, opposing teams should be worried about Troy's expertise in rebounding.
The Trojans aren’t a particularly big team, with just four players standing at 6-foot-1 or taller, but they’ve made cleaning the glass the thing that they are exceptionally good at. The Trojans lead the country in grabbing boards, securing 51 per game, nearly five more than second-place Baylor. In total rebounds, the Trojans are in first with 1,275, which is 12 more than second-place Notre Dame — and the Irish have played four more games than the Trojans.
The other thing about the Trojans that makes them formidable is that they are a deep team. The Troy bench averages 40.3 points per game and has scored at least 34 points in every Sun Belt matchup so far this season. Overall, Troy is averaging 82.3 points per game as a team, good for sixth in the nation.
The Cardinals are the favorite to win the Southland Conference, having won 16 of their last 17 games. Being opportunistic and taking advantage of other team’s turnovers has been the recipe for success for Lamar, as they lead the NCAA in turnover margin (+10.38), turnovers forced per game (25.19) and steals per game (15.7). If a team is careless with the ball, Lamar has made it clear that it will take advantage.
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While the Cardinals have a solid defense, they also have an all-around weapon in Chastadie Barrs. The senior is a triple-double machine, having posted five of them this season, trailing only Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu. Barrs is averaging 14.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, six assists and 6.2 steals per-game. She leads the country in steals by a wide margin, having swiped away 40 more possessions than second-place Shakyla Hill of Grambling State.
Lamar has already proven once this season that it can beat teams from major conferences. On Nov. 29, Lamar took down Texas A&M 74-68 in College Station.
The Vandals lead the Big Sky with a 13-3 record in conference play. They notched a signature win over Texas Tech earlier this year, and they’re also No. 1 in the country in three-pointers made per game with a mark of 11.7. Senior guard Taylor Pierce leads the country in shots made from behind the arc with 114.
The Blazers are 22-5 and 10-4 in CUSA play. They’ve notched wins over Memphis, Oklahoma, Florida Gulf Coast and took then-No.11 Tennessee to overtime on Nov. 24. The Blazers are fifth in the nation in assist-turnover ratio (+1.47), fifth-fewest in turnovers (306), and fifth in three-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot 25.1 percent from outside. Rachael Childress leads the way for them with 14 points per game.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.