Monday night, we got a glimpse as to what the field for the Division I NCAA women’s basketball tournament might look like in March.
At halftime of the highly-anticipated Oregon vs. UConn game, the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee revealed its first look at its top 16 teams. When the bracket is finally revealed in March, the top 16 teams will host first and second round games. Additionally, the committee doled out regional assignments for the top 16.
Let’s break down what the first top-16 rankings reveal means.
Pac-12 is everywhere
The committee seems to think the Pac-12 is the best conference in women’s college basketball this season, so far. And who could argue with them? The conference has six teams ranked in the latest AP Top 25 Poll and one or two more could potentially crack the tournament field too.
In its first top 16 release, the committee featured five teams from the Pac-12. Oregon is ranked fourth, getting the top seed of the Portland regional, Stanford is sixth, Oregon State is ninth, UCLA is 11th and Arizona is 13th.
There’s at least one Pac-12 team in each regional, while Dallas features Stanford and Arizona. If this ranking sticks by the time the final bracket is released, the committee will have created a path for an all-Pac-12 Final Four.
Unfortunately for the mighty Pac-12, there’s only one regional based on the west coast in Portland, Oregon. Whichever Pac-12 teams don’t get placed there, they’ll have a good bit of travel ahead of them. Should this top 16 hold up, the Oregon Ducks would have a massive advantage over the other three teams in the regional in Maryland, Mississippi State and DePaul, all of which come from central or eastern time zones.
SABRINA'S IMPACT: 5 things that make Sabrina Ionescu a singular talent
South Carolina, NC State with an advantage in Greenville
Speaking of traveling, N.C. State and South Carolina won’t have to travel far if this top 16 holds up. The Gamecocks were ranked first by the committee and the Wolfpack seventh, making them the No. 1 and 2 seeds in Greenville, South Carolina.
For the Gamecocks, that’s only an hour-and-a-half down the road. For the Wolfpack, it's a little bit further, with drive time clocking in around four hours. Still, it's a venue that fans of both teams can get to easily. The same can’t be said for UCLA and Iowa, who are ranked third and fourth in that regional.
Should this top 16 hold, the Greenville Regional will feature three of the four teams who played in last year’s regional in Greensboro, North Carolina. N.C. State and South Carolina both bowed out in the Sweet 16 last year, while Iowa — powered by Megan Gustafson — lost to eventual champion Baylor in the Elite Eight.
Fort Wayne looks tough
Right now, the toughest looking regional seems to be the one based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which features three teams ranked in the top 10 of the latest AP poll. In this scenario, Fort Wayne would feature No. 4 UConn, No. 5 Louisville, No. 9 Oregon State and No. 21 Northwestern. By the committee, those teams were ranked fifth, third, ninth and 16th, respectively.
Fort Wayne also wouldn't present an overwhelming homecourt advantage for any of those teams either. Fans of Northwestern and Louisville could make the trip though, as it's about four hours from both schools.
Should this regional fall into place the way the committee currently projects it to, it could be the second straight year we see UConn vs. Louisville in the Elite Eight. The Huskies beat the Cardinals last year by seven points in Albany, New York.
Outside of conference tournaments, there are a few matchups left on the schedule that could really shake up the committee’s rankings.
On Feb. 10, UConn travels south to take on the Gamecocks in Columbia. A win for Geno Auriemma’s side could push the Huskies into the committee’s top four. Three days later, N.C. State will host Louisville at Reynolds Coliseum in a game that could not only shake up polls, but seeding for the ACC tournament too, should the Wolfpack win at home.
In the Pac-12, Stanford still has to face UCLA, Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State. A strong regular season finish could bode well for how the Cardinal get seeded in March.
The committee will release its second and final top-16 rankings on March 2 on ESPN2, during halftime of the USF-UConn game.
SABRINA IONESCU TRACKER: Where we left off with Oregon's triple-double record-breaker