The 2022 women’s NCAA basketball tournament bracket is here, and March Madness is officially upon us. On Sunday, the NCAA unveiled which teams made the cut, which 16 squads get to host first- and second-round games and which title hopefuls will be placed in each regional.
For the first time, the women’s tournament field has expanded to 68 teams, with four First Four games taking place Wednesday and Thursday. The first round tips Friday and will be followed by second-round games later that weekend, before the tournament shifts to regionals in Greensboro, North Carolina; Spokane, Washington; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Wichita, Kansas, on March 25-28.
Then all eyes will turn to the women’s Final Four in Minneapolis, where the 2022 national champion will be crowned.
Here’s what you need to know about all 68 teams in the field — from top-ranked South Carolina to surging Utah to the Big South champ Longwood Lancers, who will be participating in the Big Dance for the first time — in preparation for every basketball fan’s favorite stretch of the year. For a list of the 32 automatic bids that have reached the tournament, visit ESPN’s tickets punched page.
No. 1 seeds
After falling just short of advancing to the national title game last season, the Gamecocks are well-positioned, and largely still favored, to cut down the nets in Minneapolis. They have been battle-tested in both conference and nonconference play, securing an 11-0 record against ranked teams during the regular season. Junior Aliyah Boston‘s consistent dominance on both ends has catapulted her into the favorite for national player of the year. Surrounding her is a group of returners from last year’s Final Four squad, most crucially guards Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson, as well as promising newcomers that have South Carolina knocking on the door of its second national championship in six years.
But the Gamecocks enter the NCAA tournament without the aura of invincibility they sported most of the season, thanks to a stunning 64-62 loss to Kentucky in which the SEC’s seventh-seeded Wildcats overcame a 15-point third-quarter deficit to win the conference tournament title. It was the second straight game in which the Gamecocks relinquished a big third-quarter lead; in the SEC tournament semifinals, they allowed Ole Miss to cut a 25-point edge to eight late in the fourth.
After the Kentucky loss, coach Dawn Staley bemoaned the team’s defensive inconsistency and failure to execute — issues that aren’t exactly new for the Gamecocks but had rarely backfired. And as good as Boston has been this season, she could have used more help from her backcourt teammates.
The last team to hold the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll for the entire regular season? UConn in 2017-18, but the Huskies were sent packing thanks to Arike Ogunbowale’s famous overtime buzzer-beater in the national semifinal. Can South Carolina, which has held a firm grip on the top spot all season long, rebound from its SEC tournament letdown and finally get over the hump to cap an otherwise stellar year with a championship?
The defending national champions brought back all but one player from last year’s run, a scary proposition for other title hopefuls. But Kiana Williams’ departure to the WNBA created a void at the point guard spot that was especially felt early on in the season, as Stanford lost three of its first 11 nonconference games, including to No. 1 South Carolina on Dec. 21. Turnovers and poor shooting were the main culprits in those contests.
Since, the Cardinal own a 20-game win streak, which features an undefeated run through the Pac-12 regular season and tournament. Despite some close calls toward the end of February, they had a strong finish in the conference tournament in which a dominant Haley Jones earned the Most Outstanding Player crown. Cameron Brink, a Naismith Trophy semifinalist alongside Jones, has also emerged as one of the Cardinal’s pillars.
Stanford’s identity centers around its strong defense and offensive balance — six players have led the team in scoring in a game this season. But there’s little doubt that for Stanford to become the first team to repeat as national champions since UConn’s four-peat last from 2013-16, the Cardinal need Jones and Brink to play their best basketball of the season down the stretch of March.
The Wolfpack’s stellar 2020-21 campaign ended on a disappointing note when, as a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time, they were upset by 4-seed Indiana in the Sweet 16. But behind the return of their starting five, including top player Elissa Cunane and a handful of teammates who used their extra season of eligibility from COVID-19 — as well as the addition of Rutgers transfer Diamond Johnson — the Wolfpack have had a record year this season under Wes Moore. Their 29 wins tie the program’s single-season record, and they won both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles for the first time since 1985.
After earlier losses to South Carolina (Nov. 9), Georgia (Dec. 12) and Notre Dame (Feb. 1), and some tight games in conference play, the Wolfpack seemed to hit their stride in the conference tournament. Their biggest win of the season to date (Jan. 20) showcased the two versions of NC State: the one that trailed Louisville by 16 late in the third quarter, and the one capable of outscoring the Cardinals 31-8 in the fourth to ultimately win by nine.
If the Wolfpack can play closer to that latter version in March — explosive on offense and stingy enough on defense — then they should be in good shape to earn their first Elite Eight appearance since Kay Yow guided the program there in 1998 — if not even more.
The Cardinals lost All-American Dana Evans in the offseason, but behind greater depth and stifling defense, Jeff Walz re-tinkered his team so that it has barely missed a beat in 2021-22. Hailey Van Lith has bounced back from her slow start earlier this year, while Syracuse transfer Emily Engstler has been a difference-maker on both ends of the floor, but especially defensively. The Cardinals largely took care of business outside of conference play, falling to Arizona in the first game of the season but earning résumé-boosting wins over Michigan and UConn.
Last week, though, Miami erased a 15-point deficit in the final five minutes of the ACC tournament quarterfinal and took down the Cardinals at the buzzer, sending home a team with title aspirations before its run even got started. What’s most concerning for Louisville is these late collapses have become a bit of a pattern. The same thing happened when the Cardinals played NC State in January, and going back even further, last season against Stanford in the Elite Eight. Walz’s squad will have to solve its fourth-quarter issues and demonstrate greater resilience if it wants to reach its first Final Four since 2018.
No. 2 seeds
Expectations for Baylor following Kim Mulkey’s departure were a bit all over the map, including midseason when the Bears dropped three contests in a four-game stretch. With new personnel (Nicki Collen is now at the helm) and a new system in place (Baylor shoots 3s now!), it took some time for everyone to find their footing, especially amid an incredibly competitive year in the Big 12.
Prior to falling to Texas on Sunday in the Big 12 title game, Baylor had lost just once since mid-January, with wins over Iowa State, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma part of its résumé. NaLyssa Smith, the reigning Wade Trophy winner, will no doubt soon be crowned an All-American for the second straight season and is putting up 30-point double-doubles like it’s nothing. Remarkably, even with a new look and new coach, the Bears still did Baylor Things: win the Big 12 regular-season title, compete for the conference tournament crown and head into the NCAA tournament looking like a national title contender.
A season that started with sky-high expectations has evolved into one unlike any coach Geno Auriemma has experienced. Seven of UConn’s nine rotation players — including reigning national player of the year Paige Bueckers (sidelined 19 games with a knee injury) and class of 2021 No. 1 overall recruit Azzi Fudd (out 11 contests with a foot issue) — have missed at least two games due to injury or illness. The Huskies enter March Madness with their highest pre-NCAA tournament loss total (five) since 2004-05, yet aside from their early season defeat at the hands of South Carolina, they were missing three major contributors in each loss.
UConn is not just fully healthy now, but they’re a better, more multidimensional team than they were pre-Bueckers injury, which was evident as they cruised through the Big East tournament behind balanced offense and relentless defense. Still, there is more unknown about this iteration of UConn compared to other teams that didn’t experience so much flux in personnel. How will the Huskies, who only recently were able to solidify their chemistry and identity, fare against top teams, when adversity hits and in a win-or-go-home situation? And how large of a role will Bueckers ultimately need to play — or given the slow goings of her return, can she realistically play — for the Huskies if they want to bring home title No. 12, their first since 2016?
After Caitlin Clark burst onto the national scene last year, the expectation was that Iowa would be a force to be reckoned with this season. Instead, the Hawkeyes struggled to find their groove early on — in part a product of a COVID-19 shutdown and some injuries to starters. They stumbled against ranked opponents, failing to record a win over an AP Top 25 team in their first four tries, and even fell out of the poll themselves.
Fast-forward to mid-March and few teams are as hot entering the NCAA tournament as Iowa, winners of seven straight games and Big Ten tournament champs. They took down Michigan as well as Indiana three times during that stretch on their way to sweeping the regular-season and tournament crowns for the first time in program history. Caitlin Clark is continuing to do Caitlin Clark things, and remains on track to become the first NCAA Division I women’s basketball player to lead the nation in both scoring and assists. But at its best, Iowa is bolstered by its other role players, including Monika Czinano, doing their part, plus just enough steadiness on the defensive end, which altogether make the Hawkeyes that much tougher to beat.
Coming off their upset win over Maryland in last season’s Sweet 16, the Longhorns had enough offseason personnel losses (to graduation and the transfer portal) that it wouldn’t have been shocking if they had a bit of a layoff this year. Instead, Texas hasn’t had a letdown; rather, it’s even better positioned going into this season’s tournament than in Vic Schaefer’s first campaign in Austin.
After handing defending national champion Stanford its first loss and narrowly losing to Tennessee, Texas earned its best AP ranking since 2017-18. Fast-forward through a strong stretch of regular-season conference play in which they couldn’t take down Baylor but did sweep Iowa State, the third-seeded Longhorns finally knocked off the Bears in a statement win Sunday to win their first Big 12 tournament title since 2003. Now the winner of 11 straight, Texas will harass opponents and force turnovers upon turnovers with its tough defense, while Big 12 Freshman of the Year Rori Harmon can impact the game in a multitude of ways. Her stardom was on full display in the Big 12 tournament, which served as her coming-out party, as she took home most outstanding player honors.
No. 3 seeds
The Hoosiers were the only Big Ten team to reach the Elite Eight last year — their first appearance in program history — after upsetting top-seeded NC State in the Sweet 16. Most of the major contributors from that run have returned to Bloomington to offer Indiana great chemistry and balance, evidenced by five Hoosiers making either the Big Ten first, second or honorable mention teams.
The going got tough when Mackenzie Holmes missed over a month with a knee injury that required surgery, and even since returning into the fold in mid-February, she hasn’t entirely looked like herself. But behind its trademark defense and other players stepping up, Indiana put together an impressive Big Ten tournament run, indicating the Hoosiers could be close to peaking at the right time. If Holmes is able to return to her usual form, it will open up things for the rest of the team around her.
It has been a historic season for Bill Fennelly, as his Cyclones have surged to help make the Big 12 the most competitive it has been in some time. Iowa State enters the NCAA tournament one win shy of tying the single-season school record of 27 wins, after previously securing a school-best 14 wins in conference play on its way to snagging the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament. There, Iowa State ultimately fell in the semifinals to Texas in a hard-fought overtime battle.
The Cyclones appear to have their best shot in years of returning to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010. Ashley Joens, a presumptive first-round WNBA pick, has etched her name in the Iowa State lore, while Lexi Donarski and Emily Ryan joined her as the Cyclones’ league-high three selections on the All-Big 12 first team. Known for its high-scoring offense and 3-point shooting, Iowa State went a combined 0-5 against the Big 12’s other two top teams this season in Baylor and Texas, and the Cyclones are winless when teams hold them to 63 or fewer points in regulation.
Kim Mulkey gave the basketball world whiplash last year when she departed Baylor after two decades for a school on her home turf, LSU. In her first year at the helm, Mulkey has elevated the program to heights not seen since Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus walked the campus in Baton Rouge. The Tigers completed the regular season with 25 wins, including six over ranked opponents, despite finishing 9-13 a year ago. Prior to falling to eventual champion Kentucky in their SEC tournament opener, they were a true SEC contender for the first time in over a decade.
With standout guard Khayla Pointer leading the way, LSU looks poised to reach its first Sweet 16, at a minimum, since 2014. Alexis Morris has been out since spraining her MCL on Feb. 24, and while the program has indicated she’ll be fine to play in the NCAA tournament, how quickly she’ll be able to return to top form will influence how long the Tigers could be playing in March.
The Wolverines have had a historic year, tying the program record for most regular-season wins in coach Kim Barnes Arico’s 10th season. They were 20-2 going into mid-February, including 7-1 against ranked teams, positioning themselves to take home their first Big Ten crown before their recent skid in which they’ve lost four of their last six games. Senior starter Leigha Brown missed nearly all of February with a lower leg injury, but she and the rest of Michigan still looked out of sync in the two games she has been back, losses to Iowa in the regular-season finale and Nebraska in their first Big Ten tournament game.
Last season, Michigan advanced to its first Sweet 16, where the Wolverines ultimately fell to Baylor in an overtime thriller. If they want to make history once more by advancing to the program’s first Elite Eight, they’ll need projected first-round WNBA draft pick Naz Hillmon to be at her best, for Brown to return to pre-injury form and to play better defense.
No. 4 seeds
No one quite knew what Arizona, last year’s NCAA tournament “Cinderella” as a 3-seed that finished just a basket away from winning the national championship, would look like with star Aari McDonald leaving for the WNBA. Initially, the Wildcats surpassed expectations, storming through their first 11 games, including an overtime matchup against Louisville, undefeated.
They’ve stumbled some in Pac-12 play, including more recently when needing to operate without Cate Reese, their top scorer and rebounder who has been sidelined since suffering a dislocated shoulder on Feb. 20. The Wildcats have lost three of their last four games, including their first matchup of the Pac-12 tournament versus Colorado, but with Reese expected to return for the NCAA tournament, not all hope is lost — especially if she can help Arizona rediscover a groove offensively and lean into its strength of excelling on the defensive end.
Maryland entered the season with every coach’s dream: returning all of its key contributors from a very good squad the year prior, one that boasted the country’s best offense. But between injuries (including to last year’s top two scorers in Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller), COVID-19 issues and the death of coach Brenda Frese’s father midseason, 2021-22 has been far from easy for the Terrapins.
While Maryland gained momentum at the end of the regular season with nine wins in 10 games, and Angel Reese has clearly taken a huge step forward, the Terps’ loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal was the first time they exited the event without a win. The game was a microcosm of Maryland’s troubles this season: In all but one of its losses, the Terps have scored 68 points or fewer. All eight of those defeats were to teams currently ranked in the top 14. Frese’s squad will have to rediscover its offensive might and rely on its veterans to reverse course and make a deep run in March.
Sooners fans couldn’t ask for much of a better first year from Jennie Baranczyk, who took the reins from legendary coach Sherri Coale this past offseason. This season’s Oklahoma team reached the 20-win mark faster than all but two teams in school history, something it managed to achieve in the regular season by sweeping Baylor and in-state rival Oklahoma State and also scoring home wins over Texas and BYU. Madi Williams and Taylor Robertson, both unanimous selections to the All-Big 12 first team, combine for 35 points per game to fuel the Sooners’ high-scoring, fast-paced offense. Baylor got the best of Oklahoma in their third meeting of the 2021-22 campaign, sending the Sooners packing in the semifinals of the conference tournament. But the Sooners will regroup in preparation of trying to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013.
The Lady Vols started off with their best season in years, and early on they appeared to be in the conversation as national title contenders. They won 18 of their first 19 games, their sole loss a tight contest against Stanford, which was all the more impressive considering Rae Burrell missed the majority of that stretch with an injury.
My, have things taken a turn for the worse the last two months. The wheels started to fall off when veteran Keyen Green went down with a season-ending ACL tear. Ever since, Tennessee has lost seven of their last 12, exacerbated by the injury of Jordan Horston (dislocated elbow), who leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. Coach Kellie Harper left open the possibility that Horston will return later this season, but she didn’t sound very optimistic it’d happen. While there have been signs of life for the Lady Vols, Tennessee’s ability to make a meaningful run is likely in peril should Horston remain sidelined.
No. 5 seeds
The Tar Heels were one of the hottest teams at the beginning of the season, starting 13-0 and reentering the AP poll for the first time since 2015. Coach Courtney Banghart’s fairly young squad, headlined by star Deja Kelly, couldn’t always consistently break through against some of the top ACC teams, but the Tar Heels were winners of seven of their last eight — including a massive win over Louisville in mid-February — before falling to Virginia Tech in overtime of the ACC tournament quarterfinals. North Carolina seeks to make it past the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.
After a two-year absence from the NCAA tournament, second-year head coach Niele Ivey has the Irish back on track. Following Notre Dame’s big win over NC State on Feb. 1, the NCAA women’s selection committee even slotted the Irish in the top 16 during one of three in-season reveals. Then came a pair of bad losses to Louisville last month. Regardless of how March shakes out, freshmen Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron have the future in South Bend looking quite bright.
Oregon faced a stroke of bad luck when Nyara Sabally, Te-Hina Paopao and Endyia Rogers all suffered early season injuries, causing the Ducks to stumble and quickly plummet out of the top 10 in the rankings. Though it has a pair of quality wins against Arizona and UConn from January, consistency still evades Oregon with a now-healthy roster. The Ducks have lost three of their past five games, including their Pac-12 tournament semifinal matchup against Utah, heading into the Big Dance.
The Hokies are headed to their second straight NCAA tournament following a 14-year absence. Their depth was on display in the ACC tournament; despite playing without ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley and fellow starter Cayla King for most of their run, they still managed to advance to the tournament semifinal, where they kept things fairly close with NC State before falling by 15. Coach Kenny Brooks seemed optimistic both players would be healthy for the NCAA tournament, and Virginia Tech needs them back to make a deep run.
No. 6 seeds
With a stellar run through conference play and multiple wins against Power 5 teams in tow, the Cougars were within reach of potentially hosting NCAA tournament games before they were upset by Gonzaga in the WCC tournament final. Still, this season could go down as the best in program history, especially if top scorer Shaylee Gonzales & Co. is able to not only propel the Cougars to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2014, but make a historic run to the Elite Eight.
The Bulldogs started the season with promise, returning two pillars from last season’s squad that made it all the way to the SEC tournament championship game in Que Morrison and Jenna Staiti. One of a handful of teams to take down NC State this year, Georgia also picked up a win over Notre Dame, but the Lady Dogs enter the NCAA tournament having lost five of their past eight games. Georgia could use more offensive consistency and firepower to make it past the second round of the tournament for the first time under coach Joni Taylor.
The Wildcats appeared destined to miss the NCAA tournament when they started 2-8 in conference play, but they’re now winners of 10 straight after impressively taking down the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds (South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee) to win the SEC tournament — as a 7-seed. When she’s on, Rhyne Howard looks every bit the No. 1 WNBA draft pick so many have projected her to be. But she can’t do it alone, evidenced by Dre’una Edwards scoring a team-high 27 points and hitting the championship-winner versus South Carolina. It’s that in-sync, collective effort by the Wildcats that has turned them into a team few will want to have on their side of the bracket.
The Buckeyes, who missed the NCAA tournament last season due to a self-imposed postseason ban, are back playing in March after last appearing in the national tourney in 2018. They sport the second-highest scoring offense in the Big Ten, trailing only Iowa, thanks to Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell combining for roughly 38 points per game. While they earned the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes fell to Indiana in the semifinals, one of two league teams (alongside Michigan) Ohio State failed to beat this season.
No. 7 seeds
The Knights won the AAC regular-season and conference tournament titles for the first time by taking down in-state rival South Florida in the championship game. Accordingly, Diamond Battles swept AAC player of the year, defensive player of the year and the tournament’s most outstanding player honors. UCF boasts the top scoring defense in the country at 47.5 points allowed per game.
After being the sole remaining undefeated team in the nation going into mid-January, the Buffaloes faltered some in Pac-12 play but made a respectable run in the conference tournament, where they upset Arizona before falling to eventual champion Stanford. Making its first NCAA tournament since 2013, Colorado fields a stingy defense and a versatile threat in Mya Hollingshed.
Under fourth-year coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin, the Rebels have surged back into SEC and national relevance. They are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 after finishing as WNIT runners-up last season. Though it struggled against some of the top SEC teams this season, Ole Miss showed grit by cutting a 25-point deficit to eight late in the SEC tournament semifinal against South Carolina. Behind stingy defense and a strong tournament from expected first-round WNBA draft pick Shakira Austin, the Rebels could make some noise in March.
The Utes are in their first NCAA tournament since 2011 after advancing to their first Pac-12 tournament championship game in program history with an upset over Oregon in the semifinals. Utah ultimately lost to Stanford in the title game. The Utes’ high-powered offense — tops in scoring in the Pac-12 — is paced by Gianna Kneepkens, the Pac-12 freshman of the year.
No. 8 seeds
One of the biggest surprises of the Big 12 this season, Kansas finished fifth in the league after being picked to come in last in the preseason poll, prompting coach Brandon Schneider to earn Big 12 coach of the year honors. With Holly Kersgieter leading the way, the Jayhawks are having their best season in over two decades and are in their first NCAA tournament since 2013. Though they’ve mostly struggled against ranked opponents this season, they did pick up signature wins over Oklahoma and Texas on the road.
Miami’s historic run to the finals was the surprise of the ACC tournament. The seventh-seeded Hurricanes overcame a late, 15-point deficit to stun Louisville in the quarterfinals before taking down Notre Dame and coming out with a gutsy effort in their ultimate loss to NC State. Belief is high in Coral Gables that behind their stingy defense — and with Kelsey Marshall guiding the effort — the Hurricanes, winners of eight of their past 10, can continue to make some noise in March.
Behind their best season under coach Amy Williams, the Cornhuskers are making their second NCAA tournament appearance since 2016. They’re a high-powered offensive team behind the one-two punch of Oregon transfer Jaz Shelley and Big Ten freshman of the year Alexis Markowski. Nebraska made some noise as a 6-seed in the Big Ten tournament by knocking off Michigan in the quarterfinals — the Huskers were the only conference team to take down the Wolverines twice this season — before ultimately falling in the next round to eventual champion Iowa.
The Cougars are dancing for the second straight season — before last year’s return, they had last made the NCAA tournament in 1991 — thanks to a strong season in which their 19 victories set a program record for most wins in the NCAA era. Spearheaded in large part by Charlisse Leger-Walker‘s dominance, Washington State’s 11-6 run in the Pac-12 was also a program best and allowed the team to finish in a tie with Oregon for second in the conference standings. The Cougars were upset in the conference tournament quarterfinals by eventual runner-up Utah.
No. 9 seeds
Nell Fortner’s squad faced some early season adversity with the injury to Kierra Fletcher and the midseason transfer of Loyal McQueen, both starters last year. Behind their tough defense, rebounding prowess and the multifaceted impact of Lorela Cubaj, the Yellow Jackets were able to get big wins over Georgia, UConn and North Carolina. But they will need to reverse course if they want to clinch a second straight Sweet 16 berth, as they’ve lost six of their past nine games, including most recently falling to Notre Dame in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
By upsetting BYU in the WCC tournament finals, its first ranked win since December 2019, Gonzaga guaranteed its sixth NCAA tournament appearance since coach Lisa Fortier took over ahead of the 2014-15 season. The Bulldogs pride themselves on their balanced attack, not to mention their stingy defense. Melody Kempton was tabbed the conference tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Kansas State has experienced a 10-win improvement from last season to this campaign, putting the Wildcats back in the NCAA tournament after missing the past two. Ayoka Lee — whose NCAA Division I-record 61-point game against Oklahoma ensured that anyone who didn’t know of her now does — has cemented herself as one of the most dominant players in the country. She was projected by some to be a WNBA lottery pick this April, before confirming she’ll be returning to Kansas State for another season.
South Florida achieved a top-15 ranking earlier in the season after narrow losses to Tennessee and UConn and wins over Oregon and Stanford, but the Bulls went 0-3 against UCF across the regular season and the conference tournament, precluding them from earning the AAC’s auto bid. Nonetheless, Elena Tsineke & Co. seek to propel the Bulls to back-to-back second-round appearances in the NCAA tournament.
No. 10 seeds
The Razorbacks finished with a losing record in SEC play (7-9), but their strong NET and strength of schedule helped punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament, where they’ll look to do better than last season’s first-round upset to 13-seed Wright State. Amber Ramirez paces the team in scoring, while Samara Spencer took home SEC freshman of the year honors.
One of the toughest offensive teams to play in the Big East — and one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the country — the Bluejays finished third in the league behind UConn and Villanova. But their top-35 NET ranking helped ensure the Bluejays a spot in the NCAA field. They churn out a fairly balanced offensive effort, spearheaded by top scorer Emma Ronsiek.
In one of the biggest surprises of the season, coach Kelly Rae Finley — serving in an interim capacity until she was promoted last month — has the Gators set to make their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2016. In a span of a year, Florida went from SEC afterthought to finishing fifth in the league, a run that included wins over Kim Mulkey’s LSU and traditional power Tennessee. But the Gators’ path ahead will be difficult after losing Kiki Smith, their top scorer, rebounder and distributor, to a season-ending injury in the SEC tournament.
Behind a decisive performance against South Dakota State in the Summit League tournament final, South Dakota secured its spot in the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive season. The Coyotes, who are guided by Summit League Player of the Year Chloe Lamb, enter the Big Dance having won 25 of their past 26 games, including a notable early-season victory over fellow tournament team Creighton. The Coyotes are seeking their first NCAA tournament victory since their program got upgraded to Division I.
No. 11 seeds
The Atlantic 10 regular-season champ had just one conference loss to its name entering the league tournament. But after falling in the A-10 championship game to UMass, Dayton eked into the NCAA tournament field as an at-large. More often than not, the Flyers have appeared in the Big Dance over the last decade, including most notably in 2015 when they upset Louisville to advance to the Elite Eight. Guard Makira Cook is their top scorer and earned a spot on the A-10 all-tournament team.
Despite finishing fourth in the Big East standings, DePaul played a strong nonconference schedule that featured wins over Northwestern and Kentucky and narrow losses to Arizona and Notre Dame to sneak into the NCAA tournament as an at-large team. Double-double machine Aneesah Morrow, recently tabbed Big East Freshman of the Year, carries the Blue Demons’ fast-paced offense, one of the top scoring units in the country.
A strong stretch in February and early March in which it won seven of its last 10 games pushed Florida State into the NCAA tournament. In that span, a now-healthy FSU squad, headlined by top scorer Morgan Jones, beat fellow bubble team Boston College twice, including in the second round of the ACC tournament, and also took down Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
Missouri State overcame the loss of its top scorer and rebounder, center Jasmine Franklin, in December to a season-ending ACL tear to still finish second in the Missouri Valley Conference standings before falling in the tournament semifinals to 3-seed Northern Iowa. That, along with some solid work in nonconference play prior to Franklin’s injury, prompted the Bears to get a nod for an at-large bid. In the last two NCAA tournaments, Missouri State advanced to the Sweet 16, where it fell to Stanford both times.
Back on the hardwood after the Ivy League did not hold competition amid the pandemic in 2020-21, Princeton breezed through conference play this year, which it capped with a victory over Columbia in the Ivy League tournament final Saturday. The Tigers, who are led by unanimous conference player of the year Abby Meyers, enter the NCAA tournament on a 17-game win streak in which just one game was decided by fewer than 12 points. Princeton seeks its second NCAA tournament win in program history.
The Wildcats went 3-3 early in the season when top player Maddy Siegrist missed time with an injury; but with her back in the lineup, they were 20-3 the rest of the way. In February, they became the first team since 2013 to hand UConn a conference loss, although Villanova ultimately fell to the Huskies in the Big East tournament final. Siegrist is one of the top scorers in the nation, at 25.9 points per game, while also averaging 9.5 rebounds per contest.
No. 12 seeds
After upsetting No. 5 seed Gonzaga as a 12-seed in the first round last year, the Bruins will be back in the fold in 2022 after claiming their sixth Ohio Valley tournament championship in seven seasons. Top guard Destinee Wells leads Belmont, which is making its seventh NCAA tournament appearance. The Bruins went 1-4 against Power 5 competition this season, with their sole win coming against Ole Miss.
If there’s a mid-major that could turn some heads this March, don’t be surprised if it ends up being FGCU. The Eagles have taken down multiple Power 5 teams (Michigan State and LSU), and their only losses of the season are to Princeton and Stetson (the latter while their best player, Kierstan Bell, was sidelined by injury). Bell, who is expected to be a first-round WNBA draft pick this year, missed a month of play because of a partially torn meniscus and yet was still awarded conference player of the year. Since returning, she has scored at least 19 points in each game, including 26 to officially punch her team’s ticket to the NCAA tournament in the ASUN tournament championship game.
The Minutewomen, the Atlantic 10’s No. 3 seed, earned a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 following their upset of top-seeded Dayton to clinch the program’s first A-10 tournament title. An added element to UMass’ historic season, forward Sam Breen became the first player in program history to win A-10 Player of the Year. Notably, the Minutewomen only lost by five when they played Iowa State early in the season.
Their first year in the Western Athletic Conference didn’t seem to be too much of a struggle for the Ladyjacks, who rolled through league play on their way to clinching both the regular-season and tournament titles. Tournament MVP guard Zya Nugent propelled Stephen F. Austin over second-seeded Grand Canyon in the final. Stephen F. Austin nearly upset Georgia Tech in the first round last year, squandering a 17-point halftime lead.
No. 13 seeds
The MAC’s second-seeded Bulls held off 5-seed Ball State to win the conference tournament title for the third time in six years, but first since 2019, punching their ticket to the Big Dance. They’re led by one of the top scorers in the country in guard Dyaisha Fair, who became the program’s all-time leading scorer the same day she was named the MAC tournament most valuable player. Under Felisha Legette-Jack, Buffalo previously advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2018.
The Blue Hens return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since a back-to-back run in 2012-13 by surpassing reigning conference champion and top-seeded Drexel as a 2-seed in this year’s CAA tournament title game. Delaware is home to one of the top scorers in the nation in Jasmine Dickey, the CAA Player of the Year whose 27-point, 18-rebound outing against Drexel helped secure the Blue Hens’ fifth NCAA tournament berth.
IUPUI finally is going dancing. When the Jaguars won the Horizon League tournament championship in 2020, it marked the first time in school history they’d made the NCAA tournament. Then came the pandemic. This time around, post Macee Williams, a four-time Horizon League Player of the Year, ensured one-seed IUPUI wouldn’t throw away its shot by putting up 19 points and 18 boards in the Jaguars’ win over 4-seed Cleveland State in the title game. In nonconference play, they narrowly fell to Michigan in overtime but beat Iowa.
It didn’t take long for coach Lindy La Rocque, a former player and assistant at Stanford, to make history at UNLV. In her second season at the helm, she guided the Mountain West’s top-seeded Rebels to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002 and first conference tournament crown since 1994 upon defeating Colorado State in the championship. Center Desi-Rae Young took home Mountain West Player of the Year honors.
No. 14 seeds
After losing to Bucknell in the 2019 conference tournament final, the second-seeded Eagles exacted revenge Sunday, beating the fourth-seeded Bison to earn their third Patriot League tournament title (and NCAA tournament berth) since 2015. Guard Jade Edwards paces American, now the winner of seven straight games, in scoring and rebounding.
As the C-USA tournament champions, the 49ers confirmed their spot in the NCAA tournament with a win over Louisiana Tech (both teams were 1-seeds in their respective divisions). Guard Octavia Jett-Wilson, the conference Player of Year, also took home tournament MVP after fueling the 49ers’ second-half comeback with 31 points. Charlotte returns to the tournament for the first time since 2009, its third appearance overall and first under coach Cara Consuegra.
All Jackson State knows in conference play recently is dominance. Case in point: a 21-point rout over third-seeded Alabama State in the SWAC tournament championship, catapulting the Lady Tigers into the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Jackson State sports a nation-best 21-game winning streak, narrowly edging defending national champion Stanford (20). What’s more, the Lady Tigers’ average margin of defeat this season against Power 5 teams was merely nine points. Center Ameshya Williams-Holliday is their star and recently swept SWAC player of the year and defensive player of the year honors.
In its final season in the Sun Belt Conference, UT Arlington went out with a bang, upsetting top-seeded Troy in the tournament championship game to punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. It was the first time the Mavericks had advanced to the tournament final since joining the conference, and Sun Belt Player of the Year forward Starr Jacobs shone, taking home the conference tournament MVP trophy as well.
No. 15 seeds
Another squad back in the Big Dance after a lengthy absence, top-seeded Fairfield took the MAAC tournament crown over 3-seed Manhattan, stringing together its 15th consecutive win. Tournament MVP forward Lou Lopez-Senechal ‘s 24 points were just her latest heroics in shouldering the offensive load. The Stags last made the tournament in 2001, marking a special end to the career of head coach Joe Frager, who announced his upcoming retirement before the season due to health concerns.
The Rainbow Wahine storm into the Big Dance after sweeping both the Big West regular-season and tournament championships for the first time in school history. Their win over 2-seed UC Irvine captured their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2016. Earlier this month, forward Amy Atwell became the first Hawai’i player to win Big West Player of the Year.
To cap an unpredictable Missouri Valley Conference tournament in which neither of the top two seeds made the title game, the fourth-seeded Redbirds earned their spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 after defeating 3-seed Northern Iowa for the championship. Illinois State took down top-seeded Southern Illinois to advance to the final. Guard JuJu Redmond, who led the league in scoring during the regular season, claimed tournament MVP.
Mercer solidified its grasp on the Southern Conference, as its takedown of third-seed Furman assured the Bears their second straight tournament crown and NCAA tournament autobid, and their fourth in five seasons. Guard Amoria Neal-Tysor‘s 26-point outburst in the final helped her come away with the tournament’s award for most outstanding player.
No. 16 seeds
After being picked to finish fifth in the conference preseason poll, the second-seeded Great Danes were crowned America East tournament champions after dethroning top-seeded Maine, which had won 14 consecutive games. Guard Kayla Cooper picked up most outstanding player accolades for the tournament as Albany earned its seventh tournament title and its first since 2017.
Behind tournament most outstanding player guard Destiny Howell‘s career-high 25 points, top-seeded Howard punched its ticket to March Madness with a win over 2-seed Norfolk State in the final of the MEAC tournament. It’s the first time since 2001 that the Bison have claimed the conference tournament crown and earned a spot in the NCAA field.
In one of the biggest upsets across Championship Week this postseason, fifth-seeded Incarnate Word punched its ticket to the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time in program history after knocking off top seed Houston Baptist in the semifinals and then SE Louisiana in overtime for the Southland Conference championship. The Cardinals had lost their final three regular-season games and entered the conference tournament with a 9-16 record (5-9 in SLC play) prior to their run. Tiana Gardner came off the bench to drop a game-high 22 points in the win.
It has been quite the run for Longwood, whose men’s and women’s basketball teams punched their tickets to the NCAA tournament for the first time by sweeping the Big South tournament titles. It marked a stunning turnaround for the women’s team, which three seasons ago recorded just three wins. To do it, the Lancers routed top-seeded Campbell, which had beaten Longwood in their first two meetings this season, behind standout play from tournament MVP Tra’Dayja Smith.
Fresh on the mind of the Bobcats this week was their lost opportunity to compete for a championship in 2020, as their appearance in the Big Sky tournament title game was canceled amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a 2-seed this time around, they finally made up for it, beating 4-seed Northern Arizona to win the conference tournament crown for the first time since 2017. Guard Darian White did a little bit of everything for the Bobcats on her way to earning tournament most outstanding player honors.
Third-seeded Mount St. Mary’s claimed back-to-back NEC tournament crowns with its win Sunday over upset-minded Bryant, a 7-seed that had taken down the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds to reach the finals. After losing their first seven nonconference games, the Mountaineers enter the NCAA tournament having won a season-best six straight against league opponents. Kendall Bresee has her hand in much of the Mount’s success, leading the team in scoring, assists and rebounding.