Time has flown by since the women's college basketball season tipped off on Nov. 9. Teams are wrapping up non-conference schedules, which means I'm due for my second bracket prediction before we head into the new year.
I created my field of 68 that includes my automatic qualifiers for each conference and then filled in the rest with my at-large bids. I took into consideration what we've seen so far, records, rankings, schedule difficulty, upsets and more.
Here's my bracket in table format:
|16||Ark-Pine Bluff/SC Upstate||Wagner||Quinnipiac/Coppin State||Coastal Carolina|
|9||West Virginia||Virginia Tech||UCF||Arkansas|
|5||Notre Dame||Georgia Tech||BYU||North Carolina|
|12||Montana||UMass||Colorado State||Washington State|
|13||Kent State||Middle Tennessee||Towson||Murray State|
|11||Oregon/Wake Forest||Cleveland State||Missouri/Liberty||South Dakota|
|7||FGCU||Texas A&M||Ole Miss||South Florida|
|15||Princeton||Mercer||Northwestern State||Long Beach St.|
South Carolina secures No. 1 seed
We might be looking at the same, untouchable South Carolina team we saw during the 2019-20 season when the Gamecocks notched a 32-1 record on an impressive 26-game winning streak. Unfortunately, the Gamecocks did not get to see how their postseason fate would play out in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Carolina looks poised to run it back and have proved they belong on the No. 1 overall throne after getting Final Four revenge against defending champion Stanford on Dec. 21, blazing on with a 13-0 record. What's remarkable about this flawless record is the fact that half of its wins comes from top 25 foes. No other team can say that this 2021-22 season. Check out the Gamecocks' resume against ranked opponents below:
I said this before, and I'll say it again... I don't see South Carolina losing the rest of the way as they head into SEC play. When it's all said and done, I have South Carolina earning its second NCAA title under head coach Dawn Staley. Many would agree with me the way we've seen South Carolina turn it up a level this season with its elite defense, incredible rebounding ability and transition game.
Stanford, Arizona & Louisville earn No. 1 seeds
Arizona and Louisville are two new teams featured on my No. 1 line since I put out my preseason bracket prediction. The Wildcats, who made a championship run last year, proved they know what it takes to make another deep run. Defense. That's what the Wildcats fuel themselves off of as one of the top-10 scoring defensive teams in the nation. Arizona's lone ranked win comes over Louisville. I would've liked to see what Arizona brought against ranked Texas, but unfortunately that game was canceled due to COVID-19 tracing within the Wildcats' program. When Arizona resumes action, they should be a force against Pac-12 foes.
Speaking of defense, Louisville makes its No. 1 seed debut in my 2022 bracket prediction with its top-3 nationally ranked pressure defense. The Cardinals opened their season with a tough loss (and only loss, so far) against Arizona. Not making excuses for them, but I would credit that to the Cardinals trying to find an identity without WNBA champion Dana Evans. The Cardinals were used to Evans taking over with her clutch performances, but now multiple scorers have stepped up to make up for her offensive scoring load, and adding transfer Emily Engstler has been a game-changer on both ends. Since suffering an upset against Arizona, Louisville has recorded notable ranked wins over Michigan, Kentucky and UConn.
Stanford has had a few slips this season, like South Carolina in a top-2 matchup. The intensity was high in the Final Four rematch as the Cardinal stuck close with the No. 1 team in the nation, but unfortunately were plagued by foul trouble and turnovers. Despite the recent loss, Stanford has stacked its win column with huge wins over ranked opponents — Indiana, Maryland and Tennessee. This squad is deep and equipped with any player to be the dominant scorer on any given night.
As you see, Stanford and Arizona are two Pac-12 teams featured in my No. 1 line, but I have the Cardinal as my automatic qualifier winning the Pac-12 title.
Injuries and early adversity
I know what you're thinking: "How is Maryland at No. 2 and UConn at No. 3?" Both teams have been hit with early adversity and a limited bench due to injuries. Maryland was missing its key players Katie Benzan and Faith Masonius for a period of time due to an illness. Plus, Diamond Miller has only played three games this season due to injury. On Dec. 21, Miller played a season-high of 21 minutes against Coppin State and added double-digit scoring for the Terps. Moving forward, that's what Maryland needs. All of its lethal scorers from last year's No. 1 nationally ranked offense to be healthy and active the rest of the way to remain dominant and make a deep run in March.
As for UConn, the Huskies were hit a plethora of injuries in a short period. National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers is not expected to return until February after suffering a non-contact knee injury against Notre Dame. This is UConn's engine. The depleted backcourt continues with the No. 1 overall recruit Azzi Fudd and Nika Muhl both sitting out with foot injuries. Keep in mind Aubrey Griffin — another key scorer for the Huskies — has not suit up in the front court this season due to an injury as well. Yet, we've seen the Big 3 seniors come together to lead the charge and even freshman Caroline Ducharme has stepped up with breakout games.
Last four in
- Wake Forest
First four out
In case you missed it, here is a link to my preseason bracket of this season.
The automatic qualifiers
Here are my 32 AQs, based off of who I think will lock in spots by everlasting foes in each respective conference tournament.
|America East||Stony Brook|
|Big South||South Carolina Upstate|
|Big West||Long Beach State|
|Colonial Athletic Association||Towson|
|Conference USA||Middle Tennessee|
|Missouri Valley||Missouri State|
|Mountain West||Colorado State|
|Ohio Valley||Murray State|
|Summit League||South Dakota|
|Sun Belt||Coastal Carolina|
|Western Athletic Conference||SFA|