The top of this week’s bracket looks exactly like last week’s edition. UConn, Notre Dame, Louisville and Baylor remain No. 1 seeds, and Mississippi State, NC State, Oregon and Stanford hold tight as No. 2 seeds.
The top 11 teams have kept winning.
But after that things get messy, due largely to a Sunday that saw a string of stunning results. Of teams 12 through 27 on last week’s S-curve, 10 of them lost this week.
Kentucky’s win at Tennessee on Thursday was surprising, but at that point both teams were legitimate contenders for a top-16 seed. The jaw-droppers mostly came Sunday.
Those same Wildcats lost at home to an Ole Miss team that hadn’t won an SEC game in a year. Missouri blew 10-point lead in less than three minutes to lose to Florida, which has a sub-200 RPI. Florida State couldn’t get to 50 points in losing to Clemson for the first time in 19 meetings. The Lady Vols were up 17 in the first half to a Georgia team that has struggled offensively all season, then lost for the second time in three days.
The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds stayed the same, the Sun Devils and Longhorns replaced Tennessee and Iowa in the top 16 and Minnesota fell out of the field.
It started as another typically frustrating game against Louisville. But instead of shrinking from it, Notre Dame and Arike Ogunbowale leaned in.
Regis Jesuit senior Fran Belibi took her dunking prowess to new heights on Saturday.
Needless to say, these games muddied the waters even further for the teams vying for the last few spots in the top 16 — and left plenty of questions about some teams going forward.
It’s worth noting Kentucky was without top scorer Maci Morris, who was out with an illness, and there’s some question how healthy point guard Taylor Murray was after bruising a knee against Tennessee. So the Wildcats might get a pass, despite blowing a fourth-quarter lead to an Ole Miss team that hadn’t beaten a ranked team on the road since 2011.
But for some of the other upset victims on Sunday, and others with conflicting resumes, determining tournament worthiness or proper placement in the field is more complicated.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols once again are a difficult team to slot in the S-curve. Trying to properly assess Tennessee has become an annual headache. After the Lady Vols lost their third straight game for the first time since 1986, it’s even harder. Yet the best Tennessee wins — Texas, Auburn and Clemson — look even better today than they did when they happened. The loss to Stanford was close and that even looks more impressive with each passing day. It’s that inconsistency, both in the results and from play to play, that make the Lady Vols so maddening. Tennessee is a No. 6 seed this week, down from No. 4 in the Jan. 8 bracket.
Georgia: Tennessee’s most recent conqueror is also a tough team to evaluate. The Lady Dogs entered the season with high expectations, but then struggled in the nonconference, losing to every decent team they played and failing to score 70 points against any of them. The nonconference strength of schedule ranking was an embarrassing 259, leaving Georgia with an RPI unbecoming of an NCAA tournament team (87). However, after beating the Lady Vols with a brilliant second half and nearly upsetting Mississippi State on Thursday, the Lady Dogs currently look to be worthy of an at-large selection. So although the numbers historically would leave Georgia out, the Lady Dogs are in. This week they’re a No. 10 seed.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers are out of the field this week. That might surprise people as Minnesota was still ranking in the Top 25 heading into the week. The Gophers were supposed to compete for a Big Ten championship. Despite a 12-3 record, Minnesota has done very little. The only significant win is a home victory over Syracuse. The nonconference schedule was shockingly poor (276 strength of schedule ranking), with Boston College as the only other top 100 opponent. The RPI of 83 ranks better than Georgia, but the Lady Dogs are trending in the right direction. Minnesota is 1-3 in the Big Ten, with two of those losses by double digits.
Texas A&M: Texas A&M is a mixed bag and perhaps the toughest team to evaluate of them all. They have a decent win over USC and a very good one over Oregon State. They have a loss to Lamar without star point guard Chennedy Carter. They have had to deal with a season-ending injury to second-leading scorer Aaliyah Wilson. Their two SEC wins are against two of the worst teams in the league (Alabama and Vanderbilt), and their two losses were winnable games that got away (South Carolina and LSU). The Aggies look like an NCAA tournament team — although they are no lock — and are a No. 8 this week. The next two weeks, with games against Georgia, Auburn and Kentucky, could clear up the A&M picture.