Louisiana Tech was the first national champion of the NCAA-tournament era in Division I women’s college basketball in 1982. When South Carolina won the national title in 2017, the Gamecocks became the 15th different program to win the championship.
Since the turn of the century, there have been only four first-time national champions in women’s basketball. So who could be the next?
We’ve identified nine teams — presented in order of highest to lowest seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament — that have the best chance to become the next first-time national champion. This list is based on recent success and returning talent.
Jeff Walz has completely transformed Louisville into one of the consistently elite programs in the country. Louisville went to its first Women’s Final Four and national championship game with Angel McCoughtry, a five-time WNBA All-Star and two-time scoring champion, in 2009. Now with Asia Durr in her senior season, it would beithee a shock if the Cardinals didn’t return to the Final Four after making it as a No. 1 seed last season.
Durr is currently having her best season, averaging more than 21 points per game following seasons with 19.2 points per game in 2016-17, then 18.7 points per game in 2017-18. It’s difficult to predict how the Cardinals will do without Durr next season for her scoring ability is not easy to replace. The last time Louisville missed the NCAA tournament was the year after Angel McCoughtry in 2010, but it returned to the championship game just three seasons after that. Regardless, 2019 could be Louisville’s best shot for a few years.
The 2017 NCAA championship was a refreshing take on what had been a decade of dominance by UConn. The team that won was going to be a first-time champion. Then at the 2018 Final Four, Mississippi State became one shot closer to being a tortured fan base.
A team can’t get much closer than back-to-back national runner-up finishes. Fortunately, the Bulldogs have another shot at it this year. They should be a No. 1 seed for a second straight season if they win the SEC and no one seems to be able to stop Teaira McCowan still, so that bodes well for championship hopes. Along with McCowan, graduate transfer Anriel Howard and senior Jordan Danberry make this Mississippi State squad arguably the program’s best-ever.
Oregon surprised everyone when it made its first-ever regional semifinal and regional final in the 2017 NCAA tournament. When the Ducks followed that with another run to within a game of the Final Four last year as a No. 2 seed, they became a hot pick to finally reach the hilltop in 2019.
Sabrina Ionescu doesn’t always get the attention she deserves because she plays on the West Coast, but there’s no question she is a player of the year candidate. She just had her 16th career triple-double. If the Ducks don’t win a championship this season, its top four scorers will return next season, including Ionescu. Satou Sabally, the 2018 Pac-12 freshman of the year, and Ruthy Hebard, a junior, each average about 17 points per game.
The Seminoles have become a model of consistency despite being left out of the national conversation most seasons. Florida State has won a tournament game in six straight NCAA tournaments, has been to two regional finals in the past four seasons and its three straight regional semifinal appearances was snapped last season as a No. 3 seed. But how do the Seminoles look now?
Well, they’re 16-3 and should have a top-four finish in a competitive ACC with not one senior on the team. Maryland transfer Kiah Gillespie has given the Seminoles everything they’ve hoped for so far, averaging 18 points and shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor. Florida State should contend for its first Final Four this season and will likely be a hot championship pick in 2020.
There’s no way NC State can be ignored at this point after being a No. 4 seed last year. The 2017 and 2018 NCAA tournament bids marked the first back-to-back bids for the program since it went to four straight from 2010-14. The Wolfpack have the distinction of being the final unbeaten team this year and could contend for a top-two seed with a couple marquee ACC wins.
Maryland transfer Kiara Leslie has been spectacular in her final year with NC State. She and DD Rogers and the only starters that will need replacing in 2019-20. Freshman Elissa Cunane has shown the potential to be a future All-American. The Wolfpack hasn’t been to the regional final or Final Four since 1998 and has never made the championship game. Maybe 2019 will be the year.
The Beavers had zero NCAA tournament bids from 1996-2013, no regional semifinal appearances since 1983 and had never made a regional final. Now, Oregon State is nearing a sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance in a stretch that includes three regional appearances, two regional finals and one Final Four. The Beavers were a No. 6 seed in 2018.
After sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, Destiny Slocum — the 2017 national freshman of the year at Maryland — has asserted herself as a potential All-American. Mikayla Pivec also averages 15 points per game and has another year of eligibility left. Third-leading scorer Kat Tudor is out for the rest of the year with a knee injury, but assuming she returns next season, Oregon State will have five of its top six scorers back.
The Sun Devils have to be one of the deepest teams in the country. There are 10 players averaging double-digit minutes and not one player averaging more than 27 minutes. They won’t light up the scoreboard (69.2 ppg) but they play defense and rebound well enough to play with the best. The Sun Devils are coming off a road win against Oregon State and played with Oregon up to the buzzer.
Arizona State — a No. 7 seed last tournament — should make its sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance this year and have the experience to make its first regional final since 2009. Beyond this year, Arizona State will have to find a way to replace four players that contribute significant minutes, including leading scorer Kianna Ibis.
Syracuse had multiple program-firsts on its way to a surprising national national game run in 2016. That season remains the Orange’s only NCAA tournament past the first weekend, but a seventh straight tournament bid is still impressive and there’s good reason to believe Syracuse can make a run this year and the next. After a No. 8 seed last year, it's possible the Orange earn a top-four seed in a region this year.
Junior college transfer Tiana Mangakahia is one of the most skilled scorers and passers for a point guard in the country. St. Bonaventure transfer Miranda Drummond is the Orange’s second leading scorer and the lone senior that plays significant minutes. With the young talent currently on the roster, Syracuse should finish near the top of the ACC and contend for multiple final fours in the coming years.
Don’t let the absence of a 2018 NCAA tournament appearance define the Kentucky Wildcats. In its eight straight appearances from 2010-17, Kentucky had three No. 2 seeds, two No. 3 seeds and three No. 4 seeds — which included three regional finals.
Matt Mitchell has his team back at the top of the SEC and should be a threat in the tournament again. Maci Morris is one of the conference’s best 3-point shooters. Rhyne Howard should be a candidate for freshman of the year, scoring nearly 17 points per game. Morris and third-leading scorer Taylor Murray will be graduating, but the Wildcats have some stability with four significant contributors being freshmen or sophomores.
|2018||Notre Dame (34-3)||Muffet McGraw||61-58||Mississippi State||Columbus, Ohio|
|2017||South Carolina (33-4)||Dawn Staley||67-55||Mississippi State||Dallas, Texas|
|2016||Connecticut (38-0)||Geno Auriemma||82-51||Syracuse||Indianapolis, Ind.|
|2015||Connecticut (38-1)||Geno Auriemma||63-53||Notre Dame||Tampa, Fla.|
|2014||Connecticut (40-0)||Geno Auriemma||79-58||Notre Dame||Nashville, Tenn.|
|2013||Connecticut (35-4)||Geno Auriemma||93-60||Louisville||New Orleans, La.|
|2012||Baylor (40-0)||Kim Mulkey||80-61||Notre Dame||Denver, Colo.|
|2011||Texas A&M (33-5)||Gary Blair||76-70||Notre Dame||Indianapolis, Ind.|
|2010||Connecticut (39-0)||Geno Auriemma||53-47||Stanford||San Antonio, Texas|
|2009||Connecticut (39-0)||Geno Auriemma||76-54||Louisville||St. Louis, Mo.|
|2008||Tennessee (36-2)||Pat Summitt||64-48||Stanford||Tampa, Fla.|
|2007||Tennessee (34-3)||Pat Summitt||59-46||Rutgers||Cleveland, Ohio|
|2006||Maryland (34-4)||Brenda Frese||78-75 (OT)||Duke||Boston, Mass.|
|2005||Baylor (33-3)||Kim Mulkey||84-62||Michigan State||Indianapolis, Ind.|
|2004||Connecticut (31-4)||Geno Auriemma||70-61||Tennessee||New Orleans, La.|
|2003||Connecticut (37-1)||Geno Auriemma||73-68||Tennessee||Atlanta, Ga.|
|2002||Connecticut (39-0)||Geno Auriemma||82-70||Oklahoma||San Antonio, Texas|
|2001||Notre Dame (34-2)||Muffet McGraw||68-66||Purdue||St. Louis, Mo.|
|2000||Connecticut (36-1)||Geno Auriemma||71-52||Tennessee||Philadelphia, Pa.|
|1999||Purdue (34-1)||Carolyn Peck||62-45||Duke||San Jose, Calif.|
|1998||Tennessee (39-0)||Pat Summitt||93-75||Louisiana Tech||Kansas City, Mo.|
|1997||Tennessee (29-10)||Pat Summitt||68-59||Old Dominion||Cincinnati, Ohio|
|1996||Tennessee (32-4)||Pat Summitt||83-65||Georgia||Charlotte, N.C.|
|1995||Connecticut (35-0)||Geno Auriemma||70-64||Tennessee||Minneapolis, Minn.|
|1994||North Carolina (33-2)||Sylvia Hatchell||60-59||Louisiana Tech||Richmond, Va.|
|1993||Texas Tech (31-3)||Marsha Sharp||84-82||Ohio State||Atlanta, Ga.|
|1992||Stanford (30-3)||Tara VanDerveer||78-62||Western Kentucky||Los Angeles, Calif.|
|1991||Tennessee (30-5)||Pat Summitt||70-67 (OT)||Virginia||New Orleans, La.|
|1990||Stanford (32-1)||Tara VanDerveer||88-81||Auburn||Knoxville, Tenn.|
|1989||Tennessee (35-2)||Pat Summitt||76-60||Auburn||Tacoma, Wash.|
|1988||Louisiana Tech (32-2)||Leon Barmore||56-54||Auburn||Tacoma, Wash.|
|1987||Tennessee (28-6)||Pat Summitt||67-44||Louisiana Tech||Austin, Texas|
|1986||Texas (34-0)||Jody Conradt||97-81||Southern California||Lexington, Ky.|
|1985||Old Dominion (31-3)||Marianne Stanley||70-65||Georgia||Austin, Texas|
|1984||Southern California (29-4)||Linda Sharp||72-61||Tennessee||Los Angeles, Calif.|
|1983||Southern California (31-2)||Linda Sharp||69-67||Louisiana Tech||Norfolk, Va.|
|1982||Louisiana Tech (35-1)||Sonja Hogg||76-62||Cheyney||Norfolk, Va.|