The South Carolina Gamecocks earned the top overall seed for the second consecutive year after an undefeated season. Their defensive prowess and offensive dominance suggest a smooth terrain to the regional final.
Still, uncertainty clouds the upper-left corner of the bracket, as No. 3 seed Notre Dame awaits an update on star guard Olivia Miles’ health.
Before the NCAA tournament begins, here’s what you should know about Greenville 1:
South Carolina (32-0, SEC regular season and tournament champions)
The Gamecocks spent all 19 weeks of the season atop the Associated Press poll and remained undefeated in their quest for a second consecutive national championship. Their defensive prowess and offensive dominance leave little room for doubt that they’ll become the fourth team to repeat as NCAA champions.
Storylines to watch
Uncertainty in South Bend
ACC regular-season champion Notre Dame (25-5) earned the No. 3 seed in Greenville 1. But the Fighting Irish find themselves in a precarious situation after Miles’ injury.
Miles hasn’t played since the regular-season finale against Louisville, where she suffered an injury to her right knee. She leads the team with 14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Two weeks ago, Notre Dame said she would be out indefinitely.
During the selection show on ESPN, analyst Carolyn Peck asked NCAA committee chair Lisa Peterson about the decision to grant the Fighting Irish a 3-seed. Peterson said Notre Dame’s 64-38 loss to Louisville in the ACC tournament factored into seeding, as did uncertainty around Miles’ status. The committee members operated under the assumption that Miles would play during the tournament, as they “weren't told any different,” Peterson said.
What’s possible for Portland?
The Portland Pilots (23-8) earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after upsetting Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference championship game. This is their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1997 and fifth ever.
They also won the WCC in 2020, but the tournament was canceled that year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Four players from that squad remain: forward Alex Fowler, who’s Portland’s leading scorer and WCC tournament MVP; guard Haylee Andrews; forward Keeley Frawley; and forward Liana Kaitu'u.
Here’s where things get interesting:
The Pilots earned the No. 12 seed in Greenville 1, so they’ll battle No. 5 Oklahoma in the first round. Over the course of NCAA tournament history, No. 12 seeds have won about a quarter of their tournament games, which works out to about one win per year. Last year, Belmont and Florida Gulf Coast made it to the second round as No. 12 seeds.
Could Portland join them?
South Carolina played No. 2 seed Maryland (25-6) and No. 4 seed UCLA (25-9) during the regular season and could meet both teams again late in the tournament. The Gamecocks could see the Bruins in the Sweet 16 and the Terrapins in the Elite Eight.
In November, South Carolina beat Maryland handily, 81-56. But UCLA kept it close, losing to the Gamecocks by just nine points (73-64).
South Carolina’s résumé does not suggest its opponents fare better when they face off a second time.
No. 6 Creighton (22-8)
The Bluejays were last year’s Cinderella. As the No. 10 seed, they defeated Colorado, stunned Iowa and beat Iowa State. Creighton made it all the way to the Elite Eight, where it lost to eventual champion South Carolina.
This year, the Bluejays earned the highest seed in program history. Of their eight losses, two were to No. 2 seed UConn, two to No. 4 seed Villanova and one was to No. 1 seed Stanford. Creighton has also won 10 of its past 12 games, dropping one each to UConn and Villanova.
“I love our team and what we’re about right now,” head coach Jim Flanery said after the Bluejays learned their seeding. “I think that this team can be as special as what we did last year.”
No. 5 Oklahoma (25-6, Big 12 regular-season champion)
The Sooners have the second-best scoring offense in the country, averaging 85.2 points per game. Four players average double figures: forward Madi Williams (15.5), guard Ana Llanusa (11.7), guard Taylor Robertson (11.5) and forward Skylar Vann (11.5). They could meet South Carolina in the Sweet 16 and provide a challenge for the Gamecocks unlike they’ve seen this season.