It’s never too early to talk about March.
Now at the end of January, bubble watching is starting to ramp up and the top teams are separating themselves. But unlike previous years, that separation isn’t as drastic, which could make the 2019 NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament one to remember. It also opens up the possibility for streaks to be broken or to continue even longer.
To the Connecticuts, Notre Dames and Stanfords of the world, these are hardly even recognized. But for the teams that haven’t danced in a while, some of these streaks are bulletin-board material year after year.
Based on what has transpired so far this 2018-19 season, these are the 15 NCAA tournament streaks that could continue or end this March.
1. Connecticut: It’s only right to start with the most decorated DI women’s college basketball program. The UConn Huskies are attempting to reach their 26th straight regional semifinal, and 2019 would also be Geno Auriemma’s 12th straight Women’s Final Four. Keep in mind, UConn has never lost in the national championship game. But this year has tremendous parity.
2. Notre Dame: Now onto the reigning national champions. Notre Dame’s bid in the 2019 NCAA tournament would be its eighth straight tournament as a No. 1 seed, if it earns such a seed. For comparison, this year will likely be UConn’s 13th straight No. 1 seed.
3. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are no doubt a national championship contender again. However, Mississippi State’s streak of two straight national championship games probably won’t extend to a third. Why? It’s really, really difficult. Elite programs like Notre Dame and Stanford have never made three straight. UConn has had a three- and four-year stretch. Tennessee had one three-year stint.
4. Stanford: Tara VanDerveer will likely get NCAA tournament win No. 80 this year. She currently sits at 79 NCAA tournament wins in her coaching career, which is third among women’s college basketball coaches and fourth on a list of men’s and women’s coaches. Stanford has won at least one tournament game 19 years running.
5. Oregon State: The Beavers are good enough to make it back to the regional semifinals for the fourth straight season. In 2014, Oregon State made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 seasons, then made it past the first weekend in 2016 for the first time since 1983. The remarkable turnaround for the program continues.
6. Oregon: Sabrina Ionescu should get consideration for national player of the year. And this is the year she and the Ducks can make their first-ever Final Four. Two years ago, Oregon made the regional final as a No. 10 seed. In 2018, the Ducks made it back to that stage as a No. 2 seed. As of Jan. 21, the Ducks are 17-1 with a win against Mississippi State this season. They’re ready.
7. No. 14 and No. 15 seeds have yet to break through in the NCAA women’s tournament, and this could be another year in which that holds true. But going back to the whole parity debate, maybe this is the perfect year for it to happen. Casual fans of women’s college basketball probably aren’t aware that a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed well before UMBC beat Virginia in the men’s NCAA tournament last season — Harvard beat Stanford in 1998.
8. Butler: The Butler Bulldogs are in position to make their first NCAA tournament in 23 years. The 1996 NCAA tournament is the only time Butler has danced in March. The Bulldogs are currently 16-2, 6-1 in the Big East with two matchups against Marquette remaining.
9. South Dakota: The Coyotes have played well enough to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2014, their second since switching to Division I in 2008-09. They have also displayed the ability to win their first-ever tournament game at the DI level with wins against Iowa State and Missouri this year. South Dakota stands at 17-3 and could be an at-large bid if it doesn’t win its conference tournament.
10. UCLA: Since missing the NCAA tournament in 2014 and 2015, the Bruins have been to three straight regional semifinals. At 9-9, UCLA seems destined to break that streak and miss the tournament, barring a dramatic turnaround.
11. UCF: The Knights had played 517 games in program history heading into this season but have never won an NCAA tournament game. At 16-2 to start 2018-19, this UCF team certainly could be the one to break that streak.
12. Clemson: The Tigers haven’t seen their name pop up since the 2002 NCAA tournament. At 14-5 and 5-1 to ACC play, Clemson could not only break a 17-year tournament drought, but also win its first tournament game since 2001. To put this in perspective, The Tigers haven’t had a winning season since the 2003-04 season. They also haven’t had this many ACC wins in a season since 2012-13 and had a combined five conference wins the previous four seasons.
13. UAB: The Blazers might have to win Conference USA to do it, but this is the best shot UAB has had in a while to snap a 19-year NCAA tournament drought. Last year’s C-USA regular-season champions lost in the conference title game and retained the majority of its scoring. In the nonconference, the Blazers (17-2) took Tennessee to overtime.
14. Ohio: The Bobcats probably won’t have to wait much longer for its next NCAA tournament appearance and could even win its first-ever tournament game this year. Ohio received its first NCAA tournament bid in 2015 since 1995. Last season broke a three-year streak of 20-plus wins, but the Bobcats might not even need a MAC title to make the NCAA tournament, already standing at 15-1 with a win against Purdue.
15. Central Michigan: Onto another MAC team, Central Michigan maybe won’t make a second straight run to the regional semifinals, but the Chippewas are still talented enough to win an NCAA tournament game. Depending on the matchups, CMU could pull off another upset or two, like it did to LSU and Ohio State last year.