Women's College Basketball
NCAA Tournament: 10 key questions for women's bracket
Women's College Basketball

NCAA Tournament: 10 key questions for women's bracket

Updated Mar. 14, 2022 3:00 p.m. ET

By Laken Litman
FOX Sports College Football Writer

The 2022 NCAA Women's Tournament field is set. And for the first time in its history, the tourney will feature 68 teams and use the "March Madness" branding. 

The "March Madness" trademark has historically been used only for the men’s tournament, but it was instituted in the women's event following recommendations from an external review of gender-equity issues stemming from the 2021 tournament.

Atop the field of 68 are No. 1 overall seeds South Carolina (Greensboro Region), ACC champion North Carolina State (Bridgeport), Pac-12 champion Stanford (Spokane) and Louisville (Wichita).


Will the top seeds all make it to the Final Four? With parity growing in the women’s game, there’s a high probability for more upsets this year.

The tournament tips off with its inaugural First Four games Wednesday and Thursday, and the Final Four will be held April 1-3 in Minneapolis. 

Here are 10 key questions before tip-off:

1. Which is the toughest region?

NC State is a No. 1 seed for the second year in a row. That’s a huge accomplishment for the Wolfpack and well-deserved after they won the ACC regular-season and tournament titles. 

The problem now? They are in the Bridgeport Region. Who else is in the Bridgeport Region? UConn. The Huskies clinched the No. 2 seed and will have what some might see as an unfair home-court advantage should they advance to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. 

UConn is now at full strength with Paige Bueckers healthy and, since her return Feb. 25, has won all of its games by 20 or more points. That includes the program’s 20th Big East tourney title. 

Should UConn match up with and then beat a sneaky good No. 6 seed Kentucky — which beat South Carolina for the SEC title — the Huskies would likely face NC State in the Elite Eight. If UConn takes care of business with its rowdy fan base behind it, the Huskies will reach their 22nd Final Four.

2. Which No. 1 seed has the easiest path to the Final Four? 

On paper, reigning national champion Stanford has the smoothest road to Minneapolis. That’s because each of the other top seeds has some troublesome obstacles. 

For example, No. 1 overall seed South Carolina will likely have to play No. 2 Iowa and National Player of the Year candidate Caitlin Clark. Louisville could see No. 2 Baylor, which the committee thought was the strongest 2-seed, and NC State might end up playing UConn in Connecticut. 

The Cardinal could end up playing No. 2 Texas or No. 3 LSU — and could very well lose to those teams — but the matchups initially appear less daunting for an experienced Stanford group with so many weapons.

3. What is the most anticipated Round 1 game? 

The No. 5 seed vs. No. 12 seed matchup between Virginia Tech and Florida Gulf Coast is definitely a game to watch. 

The Eagles went 29-2 this season and beat LSU on the road by double digits. Kierstan Bell is a future first-round WNBA pick who missed a month of the season due to injury and still won conference player of the year (23.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game). FGCU has been averaging 78.4 PPG and made 367 3-pointers in 37 games this season. 

For Virginia Tech to avoid the upset here, it has to hope that two of its best players — ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley and fellow starter Cayla King — are healthy after injuries sustained during the ACC Tournament.

4. What is the most anticipated potential Sweet 16 game?

In-state rivals Iowa and Iowa State could face each other in the Sweet 16. The Cyclones have their best chance in years to make a run in a tournament, thanks to senior star Ashley Joens, a future first-round WNBA draft pick. Joens is averaging a team-high 20.2 points and 9.5 rebounds, and it would be a treat to watch her play against Iowa’s Clark. 

In their regular-season meeting, the Cyclones won 77-70, and Joens and Clark scored 26 points apiece. A rematch on this stage would certainly be a juicy one.

5. Which teams are potential sleepers?

Oklahoma could make a run here. Led by Madi Williams and Taylor Robertson, the Sooners beat Baylor twice, swept Oklahoma State and also beat Texas at home. Should OU get past Notre Dame in the Round of 32, which would mean advancing to the second weekend of the tournament for the first time in nearly 10 years, it could face No. 1 seed NC State in the Sweet 16. 

That would be a favorable matchup for Oklahoma, which also has a high-scoring, fast-paced offense. The Sooners average 83.3 points per game, most of any No. 4 seed in the tournament.

6. Which player is most likely to take over March?

The most entertaining player in college basketball this season is Iowa’s Clark, and it’s safe to assume she will dominate March. 

Caitlin Clark shows off her range

Caitlin Clark hits multiple 3-pointers from the logo, putting up 46 points for Iowa at Michigan.

Most recently, Clark led Iowa to Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles with her deft ball handling, brilliant passing and sharp shooting — sometimes from midcourt. If you’re just tuning in, the sophomore guard was named Big Ten Player of the Year and is a front-runner for National Player of the Year.

She’s leading the country in scoring and assists, with 27.4 points and 8.1 assists per game as a sophomore, and she has scored more than 30 points in a game eight times this season, with five triple-doubles. As a freshman, she led the Hawkeyes to the Sweet 16. She has received shout-outs on LeBron James’ Instagram story and Kevin Durant’s podcast. 

Expect Clark to dazzle and dance her way through March and maybe even into April.

7. Which potential matchup are we most excited to see?

This has to be South Carolina vs. Iowa in a potential Elite Eight showdown. Here you would have two of the best players in the country in the Gamecocks’ Aliyah Boston and Clark.

Everybody would be glued to their TVs watching Clark go full-on Steph Curry on the country’s best team. The Hawkeyes haven’t made a Final Four since 1993 — what better way to crash the party than by beating the nation’s top team?

Boston, meanwhile, is another top candidate for National Player of the Year. She’s averaging a double-double this season, scoring 16.8 points and grabbing 12.0 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-5 junior is on a tear right now, with 24 straight double-doubles. 

8. Which Cinderella team could make a long run? 

No. 9 seeded Kansas State has a chance to be this year’s Cinderella. After missing the previous two NCAA Tournaments, the Wildcats are back with 6-foot-6 center Ayoka Lee, who scored an NCAA-record 61 points in a game against Oklahoma earlier this season. 

Lee, who is projected to be a future WNBA lottery pick, could help lead her team to a potential upset of No. 1 seed NC State in the Round of 32; K-State beat Baylor earlier in the year, after all. And if the Wildcats get hot — perhaps another record scoring effort from Lee? — they could make things interesting for opponents down the road.

9. Who reaches the Final Four? 

South Carolina has been destined to cut down the nets since the season started. 

UConn is hitting its stride just in time for the tournament, with its team back at full strength with Bueckers and Azzi Fudd. 

No. 2 Texas beat reigning national champion Stanford earlier this season and is on fire following its first Big 12 tournament championship since 2003. Look for the Longhorns to dethrone the reigning champs.

No. 2 Baylor will use losing to the Longhorns in the Big 12 title game as momentum for a Final Four run.

10. Who wins the national championship?

After falling short of playing for a national title last season and losing the SEC Championship to Kentucky on a buzzer-beater, South Carolina is battle-tested and poised to win it all. 

Boston is dominating and surrounded by a talented cast that includes guards Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke. Not to mention, the Gamecocks are led by legendary coach Dawn Staley. 

This team is fast, gets out in transition and can score in the paint. South Carolina has held the No. 1 ranking all season, and we should expect this team to win its second title in six years.

Laken Litman covers college football and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously covered college football, college basketball, the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team and the Olympics at Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. Her first book, written in partnership with Rizzoli and Sports Illustrated and titled "Strong Like a Woman," will be published this spring marking the 50th anniversary of Title IX.


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