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2016 women’s basketball NCAA tournament: Beat writers hand out superlatives

first_img Published on March 16, 2016 at 12:18 pm With the NCAA tournament about to kick off, our beat writers have put together their favorite first-round games, high seeds that might lose, sleepers and more. Check it all out below.Connor Grossman’s superlativesFavorite first-round game: Syracuse (4) vs. Army (13)It’s a homer pick, but it’ll be a culminating moment for the Syracuse program when head coach Quentin Hillsman sends his starters onto the Carrier Dome floor for tipoff against Army on Friday afternoon. The first-ever home game for SU in the NCAA tournament validates a program on the rise for the last half-decade, and a fast-paced, unorthodox style of play blueprinted by Hillsman and his coaching staff. An Orange team that garnered the second-lowest home attendance in the Atlantic Coast Conference should get it’s best showing of the season for the most important home game in program history.High seed most likely to lose first weekend: Florida State (5)AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIn arguably the most top-heavy college sport, monumental women’s basketball upsets are few and far between. That’s why the Seminoles are the likeliest “high seed” to go down in round one, having lost three of their last five games. FSU struggled to hang with national powerhouse Notre Dame four days after losing to Syracuse, and lost in the opening round of the ACC tournament. Meanwhile their opponent, Middle Tennessee, is riding a six-game win streak and a Conference USA championship run. The Blue Raiders are primed for an upset of slow-rolling Florida State.Sleeper team: Ohio State (3)Equipped with electric scorer Kelsey Mitchell, averaging the fourth-most points per game with 25.7, Ohio State has an avenue to make a run with it’s third-best offense in the nation. The advantage of being a No. 3 seed means the Buckeyes won’t have to face one of the vaunted top-seeded squads (South Carolina in this case) until the Elite Eight. Assuming OSU wins its first two games, it’s toughest test could come against No. 2-seeded Arizona State, a team that allowed only 54 points per game this season. It’d be a classic matchup of a premier offense and defense, and one that could put Ohio State into one of the tournament’s final games.Final Four: South Carolina (1, Sioux Falls region), Connecticut (1, Bridgeport region), Notre Dame (1, Lexington region), Baylor (1, Dallas region)In a tournament that doesn’t lend itself to upsets, it’s going to be the nation’s top teams duking it out for this year’s crown. Each team boasts plenty of two-way players who could flip the dynamics of these games from shootouts to standoffs, or vice-versa. The stage is set, however, for the nation’s best all-around team to square off against a familiar opponent in the season’s final game.National Champion: Connecticut over Notre DameIt’s awfully hard to pick against three-time defending champions. In one of the most dominant runs of any team in college sports, the Huskies statistically boast the game’s most prolific offense and toughest defense. It’s about a lethal of a recipe as possible to spell out a fourth consecutive national championship. The Fighting Irish jockeyed hard in one of women’s basketball’s toughest conference to come out as the top seed, but for a second straight year can’t match the level of competition brought forth by UConn.Tournament MVP: Breanna StewartStewart’s the most valuable piece to Connecticut’s offense, and frankly one of the best players in women’s basketball history. In each of the past three years she’s been honored as the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, and UConn has won it all each time. The 6-foot-4 forward is pacing the Huskies with a hair over 19 points per game and rightfully takes the most shots in the game’s best offense. It’s no stretch to think she’ll be the key ingredient to a national championship sweep of her career.MORE COVERAGE:Brittney Sykes on Syracuse hosting NCAA tournament games: ‘I’m at a loss for words right now’Syracuse will host NCAA tournament games for 1st time ever after earning No. 4 seed Courtesy of Adam Pennavaria | Kentucky KernelFinal Four: South Carolina (1, Sioux Falls), Connecticut (1, Bridgeport), Notre Dame (1, Lexington), Oregon State (2, Dallas)National Champion: Connecticut over South CarolinaThis is Connecticut’s tournament to lose and it’s unlikely the Huskies will. Each of the last three years, UConn came, it saw and it conquered. This year is no different. Brenna Stewart is still leading the way in her final year and the Huskies have already toppled its most worthy opponents this season. It’s amazing to think that Connecticut could end this season perfect for the sixth time and have its senior class go 4-for-4 with national championships. The scariest part is that it’s almost crazier to think the Huskies won’t do that.Tournament MVP: Breanna StewartStewart is the centerpiece of a very potent Connecticut team. With her, the Huskies have proven to be nearly unstoppable. If UConn wins the national championship — it probably will — Breanna Stewart will be the reason why. She’ll earn her fourth tournament MVP title in four years. Not too shabby.Paul Schwedelson’s SuperlativesFavorite first-round game: Tennessee (7) vs. Green Bay (10)This is Tennessee’s lowest seed in program history. Let that sink in a little bit. And the Vols are merely a 7 seed and will still be favored in the Round of 64. After dropping out of the Top 25 for the first time in 31 years earlier this season, the nation came to realize this is not your parents’ Tennessee team. Meanwhile, Green Bay is 28-4 and has only lost two games since the start of December. Say what you want about the Horizon League, but the Phoenix beat Vanderbilt in November and has the experience of playing in eight of the past nine NCAA tournaments. In a sport marred by haves and have nots, this matchup should transcend that.High seed most likely to lose first weekend: Arizona State (2)Jessica Sheldon | Staff Photographer Facebook Twitter Google+ Arizona State will have a tough matchup in the Round of 32 regardless of who wins the Tennessee-Green Bay game. The Sun Devils’ 2 seed was earned in the early portion of the season, knocking off ranked opponents like Syracuse, Florida State, California and Stanford all before Jan. 5. But ASU has lost its last two games and three of its last four against ranked teams and has yet to develop dynamic scorers as Sophie Brunner averages 10.7 points and no one else averages more than 10. Tennessee, a team that’s been up and down this season, could smell blood in the water if the Vols and ASU play in the Round of 32.Sleeper team: Louisville (3)Of the four No. 1 seeds, Baylor is the least proven as Notre Dame and South Carolina’s only losses have come against Connecticut. So the attention immediately turns to the Dallas region when looking for a potential sleeper. Louisville’s squad includes ACC Player of the Year Myisha Hines-Allen, a forward with ball-handling skills of a guard, fellow first-team All-ACC member Mariya Moore and All-ACC Freshman team member Asia Durr. The Cardinals lost just two games since Dec. 11 and even in a loss to Syracuse, the Cardinals scored 75 points against one of the most ferocious defenses in the country. Final Four: South Carolina (1, Sioux Falls), Connecticut (1, Bridgeport), Notre Dame (1, Lexington), Louisville (3, Dallas)National Champion: Connecticut over South CarolinaConnecticut is the best team in the country and it’s not even close. And until a team proves everyone wrong, there’s no reason to think the Huskies will lose. Not only is UConn undefeated, but it’s also already knocked off its two biggest threats in Notre Dame and South Carolina. The three-time defending champs make it a four-peat as Geno Auriemma wins his 11th national title and finishes off his sixth perfect season.Tournament MVP: Breanna StewartAfter the North Syracuse native spurned hometown SU for Connecticut, Stewart set the goal of winning four national titles. She’s got three so far and is six wins away from the fourth. Already the only player in history to be named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player three times, what’s a fourth? It’s Breanna’s world and we’re all just living in it. Comments Jon Mettus’ superlativesFavorite first-round game: Florida (5) vs. Albany (12)Albany has a habit of getting oh-so-close to pulling off the upset in the NCAA tournament. Last season, the Great Danes came within two points of 4th-seeded Duke in the opening round. Two years before that, they were just five points behind No. 3 seed North Carolina in the first game. Upsets are fun. And with the nation’s sixth-leading scorer in Shereesha Richards, who averages 23.7 points per game, Albany just might be able to get over that hump and pull off the upset in the Carrier Dome.High seed most likely to lose first weekend: Syracuse (4)The Orange is hosting its first-ever NCAA tournament games, but despite being just a 13 seed Army has a decent shot at spoiling the weekend. The Black Knights boast Kelsey Minato, a senior guard was the first active cadet to have her jersey retired. She’s seventh leading scorer and second in 3-point percentage. Syracuse has struggled against teams that shoot the 3 well — Notre Dame, Maryland, even Drexel in parts of that game — and Army is the best in the country with a 41.6 percent success rate from beyond the arc. The Black Knights only played one Top 25 team all season, but its defense was still fourth-best in points allowed and fifth in 3-point defense. If Army can stop SU from making some shots and keep the Orange out of its press, that’ll be the key to victory.Sleeper team: Kentucky (3)Kentucky could make a deep run into the postseason because it literally doesn’t have to go anywhere. The Wildcats will host the first two games (if they win). But they’re also in the Lexington region. While some teams have to travel to South Dakota, or to Lexington, Kentucky can stay at home until the final four. The Wildcats will go about as far as Makayla Epps goes. She’s an all-around player that’s been the focal point of UK’s offense . In December, she shot over 90 percent and scored 24 points in a dominating win over Louisville. The Wildcats will most likely have to get through No. 1 seed Notre Dame. But if the Wildcats meet No. 1 seed South Carolina in the final four, you can bet they’ll want to avenge their three losses to the Gamecocks already this year — Kentucky’s only losses to a ranked opponent.last_img read more