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Even in UConn's region, Baylor among non-No. 1 seeds most likely to make women's Final Four

Cassandra Negley
·Writer
·7-min read

It's time to fill out the brackets and everyone is thinking about upsets. The field of title contenders in the 2021 NCAA women's basketball tournament is deep this year and with every game in one region there's no home court advantage from which to benefit.

There are two No. 2 seeded teams that have a nice path to reach the Final Four. Baylor is in 11-time champion Connecticut's region, but that might be a good thing. And Texas A&M pulled the region with arguably the weakest No. 1 even if North Carolina State did take down two different Associated Press No. 1 teams this season.

And if you're really feeling daring, say hello to the Georgia Bulldogs.

No. 2 Baylor: Tough region, but good chance vs. UConn

The River Walk Region is widely considered the toughest one with No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Baylor anchoring the group. But the Bears still have one of the best chances at reaching the Final Four as a non-No. 1.

Getting out of the first two rounds shouldn't be a problem. Then comes likely either No. 6 Michigan or No. 3 Tennessee in the Sweet 16. Michigan relies primarily on top scorer Naz Hillmon so will need help from the rest of the roster against Baylor's defense. Tennessee has had success creating offense with shot blocker Tamari Key and sharp shooting, but has a turnover problem to avoid.

A win there will only strengthen the Bears case and confidence. They came into Selection Monday as the team with one of the best resumes to take down UConn and potentially end the Huskies 12-time NCAA Final Four streak. Putting Baylor in the same region is tantalizing.

The powerhouse programs have developed something of a rivalry over the past decade and have split their eight contests. They've traded between winning two in a row; Baylor has the last two wins in 2019 and 2020. Their 2021 contest was canceled after Baylor coach Kim Mulkey tested positive for COVID-19.

In both of the last meetings Baylor's suffocating defense kept the Huskies to 29 percent shooting overall and its offense dominated in the paint. Baylor outscored UConn, 52-10, there in 2019.

Those matchups were two and three years ago, so the personnel are largely different. UConn has more height in the paint than it had then. But the Baylor stars who competed in those games are now starters and key role players: Didi Richards, NaLyssa Smith, Queen Egbo and Moon Ursin. Smith is a finalist on national player of the year lists and Richards is a finalist for defensive player of the year after winning it in 2020.

Experience matters in the tournament. Baylor has it, and Connecticut doesn't. The Huskies are a young team with seven freshmen, zero seniors, and only three juniors, one of whom is a transfer. That lack of big-game collegiate experience might meet its match in the Elite Eight.

If Baylor's defensive pressure can keep Paige Bueckers largely off the board in both points and assists, it's the Bears' Final Four spot to lose.

[Download a printable bracket from Just Women's Sports]

No. 2 Texas A&M: Write the Aggies in

N.C. State has quality wins over South Carolina and Louisville on the road when both were ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, but the ACC isn't as strong and tough of a conference as the SEC.

Which is why No. 2 seed Texas A&M (13-2) is a good pick to reach the Final Four over the Wolfpack in the Mercado Region. The Aggies were a pristine 9-0 against top-25 ranked opponents this season. Their only loss to a ranked opponent was to Georgia in the SEC semifinal. (We'll get to Georgia in a bit.)

If it's NET you care about, Texas A&M is 6-1 versus the NET top-25 and 11-1 versus the top-50.

Potential problems in the bottom half of the bracket for the Aggies are third-seeded Arizona (16-5), with senior WNBA prospect Aari McDonald and a similarly tough defense, and sixth-seeded Rutgers behind Arella Guirantes.

Indiana (18-5) has its highest seed in program history at No. 4 in the top of that region. It has a nice path to the Sweet 16 where forward Mackenzie Holmes and 3-point threat Grace Berger could give the Wolfpack problems.

[10 players to watch not named Paige Bueckers]

No. 3 Georgia: If you really want to get daring

Georgia defense.
Bulldogs center Maori Davenport (15) and guard Mikayla Coombs (4) shut down Tennessee in a January game. (Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The postseason is about getting hot at the right time. And third-seeded Georgia (20-6) is piping hot at the moment.

To really appreciate this Bulldogs run, we have to step back to the final day of the SEC regular season. South Carolina was the favorite to win the SEC regular season title, but it came down to the finale against Texas A&M. The Aggies won it for the first time, shifting the conference power.

Georgia faced three top-20 AP ranked teams on three consecutive days in the SEC tournament and nearly took them all down for the title. First it was Kentucky, then an upset of No. 2 Texas A&M and finally the Bulldogs were one good quarter away from defeating the Gamecocks. They still only lost by five points.

Confidence, as with experience, also goes a long way in the tournament and Georgia has it right now.

“If we can stay healthy, we’re going to be able to make a really big run,” Joni Taylor, named the SEC coach of the year, said after the bracket reveal, via the Athens Banner-Herald. “What the SEC tournament proved to us is we are one of the best teams in the country and that we have an opportunity to go compete for another championship.”

This is a daring pick because Georgia is in the Alamo region with No. 1 overall seed Stanford (25-2), so putting them all the way into the Final Four is a bit of a stretch. But playing the Cardinal in the Elite Eight to get there isn't so much of one.

The Bulldogs biggest competition is Louisville, a second seed still feeling the sting of a last-second loss in the ACC tournament final. Senior Dana Evans wants this and knows how to win in the clutch, so pick the Bulldogs at your own discretion.

Upset picks in your bracket

In the River Walk think about No. 9 South Dakota State (21-3) over No. 8 Syracuse (14-8). It's not exactly a major upset, but we've seen this before and the Orange weren't healthy in the ACC tournament. Be careful of No. 5 Iowa (18-9) with freshman Caitlin Clark, who could lead them over No. 4 Kentucky (17-8) in the second round.

Again, not a major upset alert in the Mercado region but No. 9 Washington State (12-11) is in its first tournament in 30 years. They've made some upset noise before.

In the Hemisfair, No. 6 Texas (18-9) and projected No. 1 draft pick Charli Collier will match up well against No. 3 UCLA (16-5). But the Bruins have a short roster and might not be fully healthy by the time the tournament begins.

And in the Alamo consider 11th-seeded South Dakota (19-5), the Summit League champions, over sixth-seeded Oregon (13-8). The Ducks have had a bumpy road and only notched one win against the Pac-12's top teams. That was back in mid-December against Oregon State, which beat them in back-to-back games this month. The Ducks lost five of their last six heading to San Antonio.

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