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Who Won Big In The First Weekend Of The Women’s NCAA Tournament?

This article is part of our March Madness series.

If you had envisioned a 2023 women’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 without Grace Berger of Indiana, Haley Jones of Stanford and Celeste Taylor of Duke, well, congratulations: You predicted the future better than almost anyone.

But for the rest of us, it’s been a crazy tournament already, with massive swings in the odds and futures of the many stars who remain. So let’s look at the big winners as we head to the regionals — including some blue bloods of the sport with a dramatically improved chance of reaching the Final Four in Dallas as we head into the second weekend.

LSU, Iowa and Louisville won big when the 1 seeds lost

Largest change in Final Four probability (according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast model) since before the 2023 women’s NCAA Tournament began

Region Seed Team Pre-Tourney Current Change
Greenville 2 3 Louisiana State 25.3% 58.2% +32.9%
Seattle 4 2 Iowa 28.2 52.9 24.6
Seattle 4 5 Louisville 2.0 22.0 20.0
Seattle 3 4 Tennessee 13.9 29.1 15.2
Greenville 2 4 Villanova 5.1 20.1 15.0
Seattle 4 8 Mississippi 0.3 13.0 12.6
Seattle 4 6 Colorado 0.8 12.2 11.3
Greenville 2 9 Miami (FL) 0.3 6.7 6.4
Greenville 2 2 Utah 9.0 15.0 6.1
Seattle 3 2 Connecticut 43.9 46.7 2.8
Greenville 1 2 Maryland 4.1 5.5 1.5
Greenville 1 4 UCLA 0.5 0.8 0.2
Greenville 1 3 Notre Dame 3.9 3.7 -0.2
Greenville 1 1 South Carolina 90.7 90.0 -0.6
Seattle 3 3 Ohio State 7.8 6.8 -1.0
Seattle 3 1 Virginia Tech 25.4 17.3 -8.1

Pre-tournament odds were as of March 12.

We begin with the fallout from top-seeded Indiana losing 70-68 to No. 9 seed Miami, a shocking result that has opened the door for everything to come up Mulkey. A Hoosiers team that averaged 111.5 points per 100 possessions, good for fifth in the nation, managed just 101.5 in the loss to the Hurricanes, even though Miami was merely 123rd in the nation in defensive efficiency this season.

The absence of the Hoosiers in the Greenville 2 region turns LSU, who entered the tournament with just a 25 percent chance of reaching the Final Four, into the biggest favorite to do so (among the non-South Carolina contingent). Angel Reese and the Tigers are now at 58 percent following convincing wins over Hawaii and Michigan. Notably, the model picks LSU overwhelmingly despite some other impressive teams left in their bracket. The No. 2 seed, Utah, jumped just a bit, from 9 to 15 percent. And Villanova, powered by the transcendent Maddy Siegrist  — whose coach, Denise Dillon, compared her shot to Larry Bird’s this weekend —  is up to 20 percent. (The Wildcats actually jumped Utah in the likelihood, having started at 5 percent.) 

Miami is going to have trouble stopping both Siegrist and the emerging shooters around her, and I personally think the model is criminally underrating Utah in its battle against LSU. Either Villanova’s Dillon or Utah’s Lynne Roberts would be a new coaching face at the Final Four, providing an added bonus. But no matter what happens, there’s little doubt that Indiana’s defeat just blew this region wide open.

The other major behemoth to fall was top-seeded Stanford, who lost to Mississippi 54-49. The aftershocks of that outcome in the Seattle 4 region turned Iowa into an odds-on favorite to reach Dallas, with the model indicating a 53 percent likelihood of a national television audience getting to revel in the magic of Caitlin Clark and the efficient certainty of Monika Czinano. But it also made Louisville into a big-time sleeper: Hailey Van Lith’s Cardinals now have a 22 percent chance to cut down the nets at the Seattle 4 regional, up dramatically from their 2 percent mark entering the tournament.

While neither Mississippi nor Colorado should be counted out, a collision between Iowa’s offense (third in the country in points per possession) and the dangerous one-two punch backcourt of Van Lith and Chrislyn Carr is almost too delicious to contemplate. 

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is a No. 1 seed who lost despite winning, according to our model. The Hokies began the tournament with a 25 percent likelihood of reaching Dallas, but sit at just 17 percent after winning convincingly over 16th-seeded Chattanooga, then doing the same to No. 9 seed South Dakota State. So what gives?

Some familiar faces advanced in the Seattle 3 region. Second-seeded Connecticut looks like the machine we all expected back in November, now that a healthy Azzi Fudd has supercharged the Huskies, and the model now puts UConn at a 46 percent likelihood of doing what they’ve done annually since 2007: reaching the Final Four. (The Huskies have already reached the Sweet 16 for another season — they haven’t missed the tourney’s second weekend since 1993.)

Tennessee has also figured some things out, and Kellie Harper’s group is up to a 29 percent chance of reaching the Final Four after beating Saint Louis and Toledo by 45 and 47 points, respectively. If UConn can get past Ohio State and the clutch stylings of Jacy Sheldon, the Lady Vols would offer an enormous task for the Huskies — as well as a tantalizing new entry in the famous rivalry between two programs with a combined 19 national titles.

As for the Greenville 1 region? There haven’t been too many shake-ups so far. Take UCLA, for example. The Bruins’ two wins over 13th-seeded Sacramento State and No. 5 seed Oklahoma didn’t move the Final Four odds needle much at all, from just 0.5 percent to 0.8 percent. The reason is a simple one: South Carolina looms, and the model continues to see the Gamecocks as inevitable, 91 percent to reach Dallas entering the tournament, still at 90 percent now. Cori Close’s team can truly shock the world, and you can bet she’s playing that up to Charisma Osborne and company in that locker room. Such a result would also dramatically change the odds for No. 3 seed Notre Dame and No. 2 seed Maryland — though the latter could possibly provide a true test for South Carolina anyway, should those two match up in the regional final in Greenville.

Check out our latest March Madness predictions.

Howard Megdal is editor-in-chief of The Next, a women’s basketball site, and founder of the women’s sports newsletter The IX.


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