The Top 3
Penn State actually is one of the best three teams in this region, despite being a No. 4 seed. The Lady Lions, along with No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Kentucky, are all major threats. What even needs to be said about Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut squad? Year in and year out, the Huskies are a major national championship threat, and things are no different this time along. The Huskies have four losses, but all four have come to either Notre Dame, Baylor or St. John’s (two No. 1 seeds and No. 3 seed). They have the best defense in basketball (allowing 45.7 points per game), and the best scoring margin by far, at plus-30.6 (Notre Dame is second at plus-27.5). Consider that they posted that number playing in the Big East, basketball’s best conference, and you should be impressed. Kentucky, meanwhile, has a nice resume too. They finished the regular season 25-6, with all but one of those losses coming to an NCAA Tournament team. Finally, perhaps it’s because I’ve seen much more of them than No. 3 seed Miami, but I put the Lady Lions as the third-best team in this region simply because of their explosive offense (eighth in the NCAA; 75.5 points per game). They’ve also lost a few games mainly because of injuries. Now fully healthy, I expect them to win at least two games.
In the Big Ten
There are seven Big Ten teams in the tournament, but Penn State is the only one in this region.
I’ll go with No. 6 Rutgers here. They have the 13th-highest RPI in basketball, better than No. 4 and 5 seeds PSU and LSU. They were a bit forgotten about in the college world after a brutal four game losing streak in the beginning of February, but they managed to finish the regular season 22-9 and 10-6 in the Big East. They haven’t defeated any of basketball’s elite teams, but they had the toughest schedule of any No. 6 seed and are battle-tested.
Connecticut, of course, who loses to Baylor in my Championship. Their resume and experience is simply too much to ignore.