Connecticut women’s Final Four streak is in jeopardy


The NCAA Division I women’s basketball committee delivered its second and final preview of the top 16 seeds for the NCAA tournament on Thursday. The projected seeding included games played Wednesday.

With recent losses by each of the teams seeded No. 4 through No. 8 in the previous reveal, there was much debate over who would claim the fourth one-seed Thursday night. Utah landed in that spot, giving the Pac-12 two teams on the top seed line. It’s surprising to see the committee reward a team without a top 20 NET win with a spot on the one-line, but it shows respect for Utah’s 24-3 record and the Pac-12, a league with six teams in the top 25 of the NET. The Utes also have 10 wins over top 40 teams in the NET.

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The previous holder of the No. 4 overall seed, U-Conn., fell to No. 7 overall in Thursday’s reveal following a loss to St. John’s, the Huskies’ second Big East loss of the season. The last time the Huskies were seeded below the No. 5 overall spot in an NCAA tournament was before 2007. While the loss certainly factors into U-Conn.’s current placement, the Huskies’ inability to pass the eye test over the past two weeks may be the bigger contributing factor. U-Conn. has particularly struggled on offense, failing to reach 70 points in any of its last five games. The Huskies are now on a collision course with Big Ten regular season champion Indiana, which ranks second in the nation in points per play (per The Huskies’ streak of 14 straight Final Fours could be in jeopardy if they can’t solve their offensive woes.

Hoosiers on the brink of program history?

Indiana might be the hottest team in the country right now. Since the last reveal, the Hoosiers have picked up three wins over teams currently in the committee’s top 16 (Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan) by an average margin of 16.3 points. Now the winners of 14 straight and the No. 2 overall seed, the Hoosiers have one loss on the season, a five-point road loss to Michigan State without star guard Grace Berger.

While Berger’s return has helped Indiana sustain its success this season, the play of senior forward Mackenzie Holmes has fueled it. Holmes is averaging 22.6 points per game and ranks second in the nation in field goal percentage, shooting an impressive 69.2 percent. The Hoosiers’ offense combines Holmes’s efficiency inside with three-level scorer Berger and freshman Yarden Garzon’s proficiency on the perimeter. Garzon is shooting 46.9 percent on three-pointers this season, which ranks third in the nation among players attempting at least four per game.

That trio could have what it takes to carry Indiana to its best finish in program history. The Hoosiers have never advanced past the Elite Eight, but they are poised for a Final Four run and look like the most likely candidate to challenge South Carolina for the national title.

Maryland and Virginia Tech peaking at the right time

The committee rewarded Maryland and Virginia Tech for their recent success. Two weeks ago, the Terrapins and Hokies came in as a No. 3 seed and a No. 4 seed, respectively. Both squads have moved up to the two-seed line.

The Terps made their climb on the heels of a 28-point victory over Iowa on Tuesday. As expected, Diamond Miller stood out with 16 points in the matchup. However, the depth of Maryland really shined in the win, with the bench contributing 43 of the Terps’ 96 points. The defensive effort to hold Iowa stars Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano to just 7-for-18 shooting was among Maryland’s most impressive performances this season.

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The Hokies have hit their stride late in ACC play, capturing wins over Florida State, Duke, North Carolina State and North Carolina in the past two weeks. While still in third place in the conference standings, Virginia Tech looks like the best team in the ACC right now. The driving force behind the Hokies’ recent success has been Elizabeth Kitley. The reigning ACC Player of the Year has posted double-doubles in five of her past six games.

Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season at a time when the grind of conference play is catching up with many of the nation’s other top teams. If they can carry that momentum into March, it would not be surprising to see Maryland or Virginia Tech among the four teams in Dallas on the final weekend of the season.

Just before the last top 16 seed reveal, it was Marquette making a statement in the Big East with a win over U-Conn. This week, St. John’s pulled off the 69-64 upset over the Huskies on the road. The win boosts St. John’s tournament résumé, placing it on the right side of the tournament bubble for now. The job is not done, but if the Red Storm can complete the sweep of its matchups with Georgetown and Providence to end the regular season, it should be dancing.

The outlook is less positive for Oregon, which could miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since Sabrina Ionescu arrived in Eugene in 2016. The Ducks are sitting just two games above .500 with 13 losses and had dropped seven straight games to torpedo their résumé. Oregon stopped the slide with a win over Arizona on Thursday, but unless Kelly Graves can lead his team to a deep Pac-12 tournament run, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the Ducks in the field on Selection Sunday.

Outside of the six major conferences, the odds for a two-bid Ivy League continue to increase. Columbia had already built a solid résumé for an at-large bid this season, but Princeton has now won 11-straight games to boost its NCAA tournament chances as well. If the Lions and Tigers both finish out the regular season as expected and meet in an Ivy League tournament final, both should make the field.

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