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Autumn Johnson | March 15, 2021

2021 NCAA women's basketball bracket: Final predictions hours before selections

Conference tournaments have wrapped up, and now anticipation is rising to see how the stage will be set for the NCAA women's basketball tournament in San Antonio starting March 21. 

Here are my final predictions before the 2021 NCAA women's basketball bracket is revealed during the tournament selection show at 7 ET tonight, on ESPN.

I've based my bracket prediction on games through March 14, the conference tournaments, top players, conference strength and intangibles. The tournament will work a little differently this year because of the pandemic. You can read the latest from the NCAA here.

Here are my predictions (tap or click here to open the bracket in another tab)

Autumn's Final 2021 WBB Bracket

And here's my bracket in table format:

Autumn Johnson's final 2021 NCAA women's basketball tournament bracket
SEED Region 1 region 2 region 3  region 4 
1 UConn NC State Texas A&M  Stanford
16 Utah Valley  Mount St. Mary's Jackson St.  NC A&T 
8 Virginia Tech  Oregon State Iowa State Alabama
9 South Florida Marquette Syracuse North Carolina
5 Michigan Iowa Rutgers Texas
12 SFA Bradley Belmont Idaho State
4 West Virginia Arizona Kentucky Arkansas
13 Wright State Middle Tennessee High Point Stony Brook
6 Oklahoma State Gonzaga Georgia Tech FGCU
11 Wake Forest South Dakota UCF UC Davis
3 Tennessee Indiana UCLA Georgia
14 Central Michigan Lehigh Wyoming Drexel
7 Oregon Missouri State Northwestern South Dakota St.
10 Ole Miss Florida State Washington State Michigan State
2 Louisville South Carolina Baylor Maryland
15 VCU  Marist Troy Mercer

UConn, NC State, Texas A&M and Stanford are my No. 1 seeds

UConn remained a top-three team in the AP top 25 all season, but it was the top-two matchup against South Carolina that solidified the Huskies as the No. 1 team overall. The Big East champs also breezed past their conference foes to finish 18-0 in the league, but they were a threat outside of the conference with wins over ranked SEC opponents Tennessee and South Carolina. UConn only fell short to Arkansas on Jan. 28 by three points. UConn leads the country in assists and averages 82 points per game. Freshman sensation Paige Bueckers, the Big East Player and Freshman of the Year, leads the Huskies in scoring, assists and steals. 

NC State is the only team this season¬†that has bragging rights of¬†knocking¬†off two No. 1 teams¬†‚ÄĒ¬†South Carolina and Louisville. In fact, the Wolfpack¬†took care of business against its¬†ACC foes twice to become back-to-back ACC champs defeating¬†Louisville by two points in the tournament final. NC State's¬†only losses this season were upsets to¬†Virginia Tech (without lead Elissa Cunane due to COVID-19 protocols) on Jan. 28¬†and simply getting outworked by North Carolina on Feb. 7. The Wolfpack avenged its loss against the Tar Heels in the same month.¬†

When I think of balanced attacks, the first team that comes to my mind is this dangerous veteran squad in Texas A&M. Aaliyah Wilson and N'Dea Jones switch back-and-forth as the lead scorer, but any Aggie can lead on any given night, including help off the bench in Destiny Pitts. The 23-2 Aggies won their first SEC regular-season title in program history against South Carolina on Feb. 28, but fell short in the SEC tournament semifinals against Georgia. The Aggies' other blemish came against LSU in overtime. A&M was flawless against top-25 opponents in its regular season, holding a 9-0 record. 

Stanford was the No. 1 team in the country for a month until back-to-back upsets against Colorado and UCLA midseason. But you can't count the Cardinal out too soon. Stanford climbed its way back to the top remaining flawless against Pac-12 opponents the rest of the way to cut down the nets as Pac-12 champs. This is another team that has endless depth. Having Haley Jones, Cameron Brink and Fran Belibi's dominance in the paint ranks Stanford No. 3 in rebounds and No. 5 in blocked shots in the country. They also have multiple scoring weapons with four Cardinal averaging double-digit figures ranking them No. 14 in the country in scoring offense (78.4). 

A QUICK GUIDE: 2021 NCAA women's basketball tournament dates, schedule

My No. 2 seeds are South Carolina, Baylor, Maryland and Louisville. South Carolina has a quick-pace offense in transition with the help of Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke, but this is a scary team in the paint that features Aaliyah Boston. South Carolina is No. 1 in blocks and No. 2 in rebounds in the country with the help of Boston. Speaking of teams who work well in transition, the Bears' ability to run the floor with its post and lead scorer NaLyssa Smith has made the them a nearly unstoppable team. Baylor also limits its Big 12 foes to only 51.6 points per game leading the conference in scoring defense. The out-of-conference matchup against UConn could've been a resume-booster for the defending national champs to be considered a No. 1 seed, but the game was canceled due to Covid-19 protocols. 

Maryland has the No. 1 scoring offense in the country with six Terps scoring in double-figures. Ashley Owusu leads this squad with her relentless ability to score, averaging 18.3 points per game. 24-2 Maryland is blazing on a 13-game winning streak, only suffering two marks on its record from Missouri State and Ohio State. Louisville is another team with a balanced attack that's led by ACC Player of the Year Dana Evans. The Cardinals might have fallen short in the ACC Championship, including regular-season losses against Florida State and NC State, but this team will be a force in March.

Last four in 

  1. Michigan State
  2. Ole Miss
  3. UCF
  4. Wake Forest

First four out 

Let's go a little beyond the field of 64 to make some predictions on the bubble for the tournament. 

  1. Notre Dame
  2. LSU
  3. Oklahoma
  4. BYU

The automatic qualifiers

Conference Automatic qualifier
America East Stony Brook
American Athletic South Florida
Atlantic 10 VCU
ACC NC State
Big 12 Baylor
Big East UConn
Big Sky Idaho State
Big South High Point
Big Ten Maryland
Big West UC Davis
Colonial Athletic Association Drexel
Conference USA Middle Tennessee
Horizon  Wright State
MAAC Marist
MAC Central Michigan
MEAC North Carolina A&T
Missouri Valley Bradley
Mountain West Wyoming
Northeast Bradley
Ohio Valley Belmont
Pac-12 Stanford
Patriot Lehigh
SEC South Carolina
Southern Mercer
Southland SFA
SWAC Jackson State
Summit League South Dakota
Sun Belt  Troy
West Coast  Gonzaga
Western Athletic Conference Utah Valley*

*Cal Baptist won the tournament title but are in a four-year DI transition period and will be eligible starting with the 2022-23 season.

*The Ivy League announced it would not play winter sports earlier this season. There is an extra at-large bid to make up the field of 64.

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