Best games, players to watch

Best games, players to watch

The bracket has been released, and 68 teams will put on their March Madness dancing shoes for the 2023 NCAA Div. I women’s basketball tournament.

While the selections may have produced some surprises, there was one item that was never in doubt. Undefeated South Carolina (32-0), which has topped the USA TODAY Sports women’s basketball coaches poll every week this season, is the No. 1 overall seed. The Gamecocks share top billing with Indiana, Virginia Tech and Stanford, which also earned No. 1 seeds.

Instead of each of those four teams leading four different regional sites, for the first time in the women’s tournament, there will be only two sites for Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games, with Seattle and Greenville, South Carolina, hosting so-called super regionals. So, instead of four cities hosting two Sweet 16 games and one Elite Eight game each, the two sites will host four regional semifinals (on March 24-25) and two regional finals (on March 26-27), apiece. The bracket, however, retains the same set-up, with four No. 1 seeds, four No. 2 seeds, four No. 3 seeds, etc.

Guard Zia Cooke leads the South Carolina Gamecocks, who went undefeated in the 2022-23 regular season.

Guard Zia Cooke leads the South Carolina Gamecocks, who went undefeated in the 2022-23 regular season.

2023 TOURNAMENT: View the full women’s and men’s brackets

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The tournament kicks off with First Four games on Wednesday and Thursday, with the winners advancing to First Round games on Friday and Saturday. The Final Four will take place on Friday, March 31 with games at 7 and 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, while the championship game will be held Sunday, April 2 at 3 p.m. ET on ABC.

Here is everything you need to know about this year’s tournament, including a look at each region, best first-round games, players to watch and tournament snubs:

Greenville 1 Region

  • No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 16 Norfolk State

  • No. 8 South Florida vs. No. 9 Marquette

  • No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Portland

  • No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Sacramento State

  • No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Illinois or Mississippi State (play-in winner)

  • No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 Southern Utah

  • No. 7 Arizona vs. No. 10 West Virginia

  • No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 15 Holy Cross

Defending champion South Carolina seeks to become the first team to win back-to-back championships since Connecticut won four in a row from 2013-16. The Gamecocks, who also won the title in 2017, can dominate on both ends of the floor and might not be challenged until the Elite Eight, but a potential rematch with UCLA could be enticing as the Bruins played the No. 1 team tough in November.

Notre Dame, with an injured and likely not playing Olivia Miles, could be ripe for an upset, but Maryland should be battle-tested after a strong run in the ultra-competitive Big Ten.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: South Carolina F Aliyah Boston (13.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2 blocks), the consensus player of the year in 2022; Arizona G Shaina Pellington (13.3 points, 3.7 assists, 1.9 steals), a tremendous two-way player; Maryland G Diamond Miller (19.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals), an explosive scorer who can take over a game; UCLA G Charisma Osborne (15.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists) is the engine that makes the Bruins go.

BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME: No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Portland

Greenville 2 Region

  • No. 1 Indiana vs. 16 Tennessee Tech or Monmouth (play-in winner)

  • No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Miami (Fla.)

  • No. 5 Washington State vs. No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast

  • No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 Cleveland State

  • No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 UNLV

  • No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Hawaii

  • No. 7 N.C. State vs. No. 10 Princeton

  • No. 2 Utah vs. No. 15 Gardner Webb

Despite being played in the South, this is a very West Coast-heavy region with both the Pac-12 tournament champion (Washington State) and the Pac-12 co-regular-season champion (Utah) capable of making a run to the Final Four.

Top seed Indiana slumped out of the Big Ten tournament early after a dominant regular season; can the Hoosiers prove they do belong among the elite by booking a ticket to Dallas, or will Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist be the 2023 edition of 2001 Jackie Stiles, an absolute scoring sensation that can will her team to the Final Four?

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Villanova F Maddy Siegrist (28.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg), the nation’s top scorer; LSU F Angel Reese (23.4 ppg, 15.5 rpg), AKA the Bayou Barbie and a double-double machine; Utah F Alissa Pili (20.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg. 2.1 apg), the Pac-12 Player of the Year; Miami G Haley Cavinder (12.6, 4.7 rpg. 2.5 apg), impact player on and off the court.

BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME: Don’t make us pick between No. 7 N.C. State vs. No. 10 Princeton and No. 5 Washington State vs. No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast.

  • N.C. State is tough and tournament tested but has lost a lot this year, while Princeton knows how to pull off an NCAA upset after taking down No. 6 seed Kentucky last year. Washington State is smoking hot after running through the Pac-12 conference tournament as a No 7 seed, but FGCU plays a style that’s upset-ready and could absolutely make a run.

Seattle 3 Region

  • No. 1 Virginia Tech vs. No. 16 Chattanooga

  • No. 8 Southern California vs. No. 9 South Dakota State

  • No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Toledo

  • No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Saint Louis

  • No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Purdue or St. John’s (play-in winner)

  • No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 14 James Madison

  • No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 10 Alabama

  • No. 2 Connecticut vs. No. 15 Vermont

Virginia Tech — quietly excellent all season — earned the 1-seed, but UConn — still the most dominant program in the modern era — seems to be rounding into form just in time. Azzi Fudd is back and probably sick of the talk about UConn’s dynasty being over, so don’t be surprised if she shines the next couple weeks. That being said, UConn’s MVP this season has been Lou Lopez-Senechal, a graduate transfer from Fairfield who was the 2022 MAAC Player of the Year.

Tennessee was everyone’s favorite preseason pick to get back to the Final Four, but injuries and a brutally tough schedule brought it back to earth. Are the Lady Vols ready to make a run?

PLAYERS TO WATCH: USC F Rayah Marshall (12.6 ppg, 11.4 rpg), elite athlete and the nation’s leading shot blocker at 3.37 per game; Virginia Tech C Elizabeth Kitley (18.6 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 2.27 bpg), long and lanky, she was the back-to-back ACC player of the year; Iowa State F Ashley Joens (21.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg), one of the best all-around players in the country who can score inside and out; Ohio State F Cotie McMahon (14.7 ppg, 5.3 rebounds, 2.6 apg) a strong candidate for national freshman of the year.

BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME: No. 8 Southern California vs. No. 9 South Dakota State

  • USC, which hasn’t been in the tournament since 2014, had a strong case for a No. 7 seed but now it will have to prove it against No. 9 South Dakota State, a tournament regular that’s as steady as they come.

Seattle 4 region

  • No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 16 Southern/Sacred Heart

  • No. 8 Mississippi vs. No. 9 Gonzaga

  • No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 12 Drake

  • No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 East Carolina

  • No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee

  • No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Iona

  • No. 7 Florida State vs. No. 10 Georgia

  • No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 SE Louisiana

Some would argue Stanford was a controversial No. 1 seed — the Cardinal lost two of its last three games — while Iowa dominated the Big Ten tournament behind national player of the year candidate Caitlin Clark. Clark still hasn’t been to a Final Four; does that change this year? She’d certainly like it too.

Meanwhile, fifth-seeded Louisville is finally peaking at the right time and could go on a run. But the Texas Longhorns’ Rori Harmon, the best guard in the Big 12, is finally healthy and is a matchup nightmare for pretty much everyone. Duke wears teams down with its defense but has had trouble scoring, which could spell trouble.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Iowa G Caitlin Clark (27 ppg, 8.3 apg, 4 triple-doubles this season), she’s not just the most exciting scorer in college basketball, men or women, but the best passer; Texas G Rori Harmon (11.4 ppg, 6 apg, 4.8 rpg), her quickness creates problems at both ends and she’s just plain fun to watch; Stanford F Cameron Brink (14.9 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.36 bpg), a shot-blocking sensation, she can score every time she gets the ball in the paint; Gonzaga F Yvonne Ejim (16.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg), she does everything for the Bulldogs, including making big plays in big moments

BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME: No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee


The NET is supposed to matter the most — or at least, matter a lot — and if that’s actually true, Oregon would be in. The Ducks had a NET ranking of 19 (19!) and didn’t get an at-large bid. That’s absurd. Yes, Oregon had a rough stretch in the middle of the season — when one of its best players was hurt, mind you — but the Ducks don’t have a bad loss.

Columbia went 13-2 on the road, including wins at 9th-seeded Miami and 10-seeded Princeton, but was also left out. That’s a big miss by the committee.

Even more glaring, 34 of 36 at-large bids went to the Power Six conferences (regular Power Five plus the Big East). As the women’s game continues to grow in parity and mid-majors pull upsets in March, the committee has to understand when they’re seeding teams that the gap is closing every day — and they need to reward more mid-majors, especially when some of the Power Six conferences have down years.

REWIND: Take a look back at the 2022 NCAA women’s basketball tournament 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Women’s NCAA Tournament: Bracket, snubs, best games, players to watch