We asked NCAA.com women’s basketball expert Michelle Smith to fill out an early March Madness bracket based on what she saw last season, top returning players and the early chatter from around the sport.
We’ll break down some of her prediction, but let’s first look at the bracket itself (click or tap here to open the bracket in a new window or tab):
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And here's that same bracket in table form.
|Greenville, S.C.||Dallas||Portland, OR||Fort Wayne|
|16||Robert Morris||Abilene Christian||N.C. A&T||Southern|
|2||Louisville||Oregon State||UConn||Texas A&M|
|3||South Carolina||Mississippi State||UCLA||Florida State|
|13||Belmont||James Madison||Arkansas Little Rock||Florida Gulf Coast|
|12||New Mexico State||Houston||Quinnipiac||Green Bay|
|6||West Virginia||Arizona State||Indiana||Duke|
|11||Utah||Missouri State||South Dakota||Princeton|
|10||Drake||Boise State||Auburn||Middle Tennessee State|
Top Four Seeds
Terps, Lady Bears, Ducks, Cardinal are No. 1 seeds
It's shaping up to be a competitive year in the Pac-12 based on Smith's predictions with Oregon and Stanford both grabbing No. 1 seeds. Oregon of course returns Sabrina Ionescu and a host of other talented role players from a team that made the Final Four last season, while Stanford brings back a veteran squad that made the Elite Eight last year and added the nation's top recruit in Haley Jones. Oregon and Stanford will meet in the regular season on Jan. 16, Feb. 24 and likely in the Pac-12 tournament.
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Some might argue that Maryland underachieved last season as Brenda Frese's talented squad fell in the Big Ten title game to Iowa, then were upset on their home-court in the second round of the NCAA tournament by UCLA. The Terps bring back dynamic guard Kaila Charles, leading rebounder Shakira Austin and 90 percent of their scoring from last season.
Coming off a national championship, Baylor is looking to get back to the Final Four again. They'll miss Kalani Brown and Chloe Jackson, but the Lady Bears bring back two All-Big 12 defenders in Lauren Cox and DiDi Richards, as well as versatile guard Juicy Landrum. Joining Baylor this season are also a pair of transfers in South Carolina's Te'a Cooper and Texas Tech's Erin DeGrate. Sophomore NaLyssa Smith will also likely have a bigger role this season.
If Smith's predictions hold true, the Portland region could be an interesting one to watch as it features three of last year's Final Four teams with Oregon, UConn and Notre Dame. This could set up a Notre Dame vs. Oregon match-up in the Sweet 16 and then the winner of that game taking on UConn in the Elite Eight.
Maryland's potential path in the Greenville regional wouldn't be easy either with Louisville and South Carolina in the Terps' way.
- America East - Maine
- American Athletic Conference - UConn
- Atlantic 10 - Fordham
- ACC - Louisville
- ASUN - Florida Gulf Coast
- Big 12 - Baylor
- Big East - DePaul
- Big Sky - Idaho
- Big South - Radford
- Big Ten - Maryland
- Big West - UC Davis
- Colonial Athletic Association - James Madison
- Conference USA - Rice
- Horizon - Green Bay
- Ivy - Princeton
- MAAC - Quinnipiac
- Mid-American - Ohio
- MEAC - North Carolina A&T
- Missouri Valley - Drake
- Mountain West - Boise State
- Northeast - Robert Morris
- Ohio Valley - Belmont
- Pac 12 - Oregon
- Patriot - Lehigh
- SEC - South Carolina
- SoCon - Furman
- Southland - Abilene Christian
- SWAC - Southern
- Summitt League - South Dakota
- Sun Belt - Little Rock
- West Coast - Gonzaga
- Western Athletic Conference - New Mexico State