This Women’s NCAA Tournament Has Given Us A Perfect Mix Of Chalk And Madness
This article is part of our March Madness series.
The 2023 Women’s Final Four is finally set, and it offers a little bit of everything — whether you like powerhouses or are rooting for the upsets in this year’s NCAA Tournament to continue.
Regarding the former, one question has loomed over the entire tournament: Can anyone beat South Carolina? There was never much chance of the No. 1 seed falling in the Greenville 1 regional. The Gamecocks pushed their record to 36-0 with double-digit wins over Norfolk State, USF, UCLA and Maryland to advance to their third straight Final Four. In the Elite Eight, Maryland led by six points after one quarter, but South Carolina used a 23-9 second quarter and a nearly 2-to-1 rebounding advantage to win 86-75.
South Carolina had a whopping 91 percent chance to reach the Final Four before the tournament began, and as chalk largely held within the region, the Gamecocks’ odds held steady throughout most of the tournament before they punched their ticket to Dallas.
“I think South Carolina is head and shoulders above everyone right now,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper told reporters on March 25. “That doesn’t mean that they can’t lose. But I think they have proven [it] time and time again, against so many different teams, different matchups, different lineups.”
Fans hoping for parity rather than dominance can point to the other teams remaining: a first-time Final Four participant in No. 1 seed Virginia Tech, plus a No. 2 (Iowa) and a No. 3 (LSU). They can even point to one conspicuous absence as well. For the first time since 2007, the UConn Huskies won’t compete on the sport’s final weekend, snapping a streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances.
In contrast, the Hokies had never even made the Elite Eight prior to 2023, but that didn’t stop them from dispatching Tennessee — the winningest program in NCAA history — in the Sweet 16. Then they beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, who had sprung the upset over UConn a round earlier. In the 84-74 victory over Ohio State, the Hokies got a combined 49 points from star guard Georgia Amoore and two-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley.
Virginia Tech’s odds of reaching the Final Four had actually dropped during the tournament, from 25 percent at the outset to 17 percent after two rounds. But after Ohio State knocked out UConn, the Hokies took the mantle as the favorite in the Seattle 3 regional (63 percent chance to advance) and became one of only two No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four.
In the Greenville 2 regional, the last team standing was LSU, coincidentally the program that had last denied UConn a Final Four berth in the 2007 Elite Eight.1 The third-seeded Tigers had a 1-in-4 chance of reaching the Final Four before the tournament started, but after top-seeded Indiana lost in the second round, LSU’s odds jumped to 58 percent.
The Tigers made good on those odds by beating ninth-seeded Miami in the Elite Eight in a gritty defensive battle. Though LSU shot just 30.2 percent from the field and made only one 3-pointer, Miami was no better, shooting 31.6 percent from the field and 0-for-15 from 3-point range. The result was a 54-42 scoreline and a Texas homecoming of sorts for Tigers head coach Kim Mulkey, who won three national championships as the head coach at Baylor before accepting the LSU job two years ago.
Hours later, second-seeded Iowa clinched its Final Four berth out of the Seattle 4 regional in essentially the opposite way as LSU, beating fifth-seeded Louisville in a 97-83 shootout. Iowa guard Caitlin Clark scored just one point fewer against the Cardinals than the entire Miami team did against LSU, recording the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA Tournament history with 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. The Hawkeyes were another team that benefited from a No. 1 seed falling: Their odds of reaching the Final Four climbed from 28 percent before the tournament to 53 percent after Stanford lost in the second round.
Now that the confetti has fallen in Greenville and Seattle, we have a quartet of teams that each forged different paths to the Final Four — and have very different odds of lifting the trophy in Dallas.
Unsurprisingly, our model gives South Carolina the best odds of advancing to the championship game (80 percent) and winning it all (65 percent). LSU, on the opposite side of the bracket, has the next-best odds at 60 percent and 15 percent, respectively. If the two SEC schools meet in the title game, it will be a rematch of South Carolina’s 24-point win in February and a meeting between two of just five active head coaches who know what it feels like to win a national championship.
Virginia Tech finds itself in a unique position: looking to play spoiler despite being the higher seed. It has only a 40 percent chance of beating LSU and just an 8 percent chance of winning it all, the lowest odds in the field.
Iowa, meanwhile, has long odds to take down South Carolina (20 percent). But if it does, a title could be within reach for Clark and Co. (12 percent odds). And in a tournament that has had so much unpredictability already, from top seeds crumbling to No. 9 seeds surging and historical powers falling short, don’t be surprised if the Final Four has more surprises ahead.
Check out our latest March Madness predictions!