I think there are a handful of upset specials in the Raleigh regional first round, but I’ll get to those in a bit. No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Maryland, and No. 3 Texas A&M all seem to be safe. The Fighting Irish are coming off a strong season in the Big East with only three losses. Their offense is sparked by the well-balanced attack of speedy point guard Skylar Diggins. What makes Diggins so dangerous is she can do it all. The junior is closing in on 100 boards, and she leads the team with 189 helpers and 17 points per game. The Irish’s losses come to Baylor and UConn, and one less-excusable to West Virginia. But that last one may have been a fluke because Notre Dame crushed the Mountaineers in the Big East Tournament. Maryland owns Delaware’s sole loss this season, but the Terps’ schedule wasn’t mind-bogglingly difficult. Their only other significant win came against Duke, and they split the season-series with the Blue Devils. After an easy matchup with Navy in the first round, it gets much harder for the Terps. The NCAA Tournament is where they will prove how long they can balance on the edge of a cliff. Texas A&M is the defending champ, but at 22-10, the Aggies aren’t the team they were last year. They are poised to stumble at any point after the first round. However, they may show a hunger to defend their title that leads them into the late rounds of the tournament.
In the Big Ten
No. 9 Iowa finished off the regular season on fire, but did not impress in the Big Ten Tournament. I think the Hawkeyes have gone cold, and I don’t expect them to beat No. 8 Cal in the first round. No. 10 Michigan State, on the other hand, I believe is favorably seeded. The Spartans have four wins in nine attempts against the AP top-25. Taylor Alton and her ability to make 3’s is the key for this Spartans team down the stretch. When Alton is on fire beyond the arc, she has the ability to at least keep Michigan State in a game, and oftentimes win it (as Penn State knows all too well).
No. 6 Arkansas has a very favorable draw in a bracket not characterized by many super-strong 2- or 3- seeds. The Razorbacks are looking at potential matchups with Texas A&M and Maryland, both of which are completely beatable. Also keep an eye out for No. 5 St. Bonaventure at the top of this of regional. Beating Notre Dame would be an upset of epic proportions, but as we’ve seen in the men’s tournament, it’s about which team shows up to play. With some questionable high seeded major conference teams in this bracket, watch out for the strong mid-majors this year.
Who will win?
Notre Dame, but I don’t think it will be easy. There are some good middle-seeded teams in this region of the bracket, and some of them may have the element of surprise. Still, Notre Dame is the one and only powerhouse of this regional, and at least in this season of NCAA women’s basketball, there is a large gap between the powerhouses and everyone else.