The NCAA revealed its women's bracket, one day after the men's slate drew relatively muted criticism (well, unless you are Jim Boeheim, and judging by your lack of whining and deep hatred of Greensboro, North Carolina, you probably aren't). The same cannot be said for the women's draw. Many teams have legitimate gripes within the NCAA's own rules. Others were left to wonder exactly why they played the regular season at all. No one likes this bracket very much.
So: who got the worst of it?
First on this list has to be Maryland. At 30-2, the Terps were Big Ten regular season champs and Big Ten conference tournament champs; they are also somehow a No. 3 seed. More infuriating, for Maryland, has to be that the committee telegraphed this slight throughout the season. Maryland never received a No. 1 seed in any of the preliminaries, despite consistently polling in the top five among both AP and coaches all season. It was pretty insane: the Terps won every game all season except an 87-81 loss to Connecticut—you remember them, the team with 107 wins in a row—in which the Huskies played their A game and nearly lost anyway, and a 98-87 loss to Ohio State in which the Buckeyes shot 63 percent from the floor.
"In Maryland's case, defending the entire body of work was really, really difficult. It was tough, because we felt Maryland didn't test themselves in the same manner as a team we were considering at the time," selection committee chair Terry Galwick said during a conference call Monday night. "They had 117 strength of schedule and that stood out to the committee in comparison with the top 16. And they had only three games with teams in the RPI top 25 and 13 games against teams with an RPI of 150 or higher. So those were the factors in looking at Maryland."
Another way of looking at it: they defeated No. 4 seed Louisville, crushed No. 8 seed Arizona State 83-42 and beat a Washington State team that was tournament bound before getting crushed by injuries.
Not only were the Terps rewarded with a bad seeding, but a less-than-coveted spot in the Connecticut bracket. That means that, after hosting the first two rounds and assuming it survives, Maryland will face Duke, a legitimate two seed with the sixth-best defensive points per possession in the country. Assuming a win there, Maryland gets to face UConn in Bridgeport, CT. A win there, which would send shockwaves around the country, would put the Terrapins...two wins shy of a national title.
Maryland has played UConn tough the past two years, not only nearly beating them this year, but also playing what was by far the most competitive game against the Huskies last season. This means Maryland's bizarre seeding also creates the most difficult possible path for Connecticut. A sunny-sided look at this means that this year has every chance to feature the best Elite Eight game in the history of the sport. But the seeding is probably best summed up by former Maryland great and current Seattle Storm Crystal Langhorne:
There is no shortage of other teams with reason to ask that question. DePaul was the Big East regular season champion and played much of the season without their best player, preseason conference Player of the Year Jessica January; they earned a No. 7 seed. Meanwhile Marquette, who finished well behind DePaul (though, it must be said, beat them twice), is a No. 5 seed. DePaul, should they advance, have to face an elite Mississippi State team in the second round. Marquette's second round matchup is Miami, a quality team, but also a team capable of losing earlier this season to Syracuse (a No. 8 seed), 81-48.
And then there's the question of Cal and Oregon. The Golden Bears are the No. 9 seed in Texas; Oregon is the No. 10 all the way across the country in Durham, NC. This despite the fact that Oregon had a better RPI, strength of schedule, overall record, conference record, and the same number of top-50 wins; Oregon's came against Washington, a No. 3 seed, while Cal's was against Oklahoma, a No. 6 seed.
Asked about the discrepancy, Galwick said it was a "procedural move based on bracketing principles," citing the need to keep conference foes from meeting early. Of course, Cal and Oregon are...in the same conference, and so they could have just swapped seedings and locations. "I don't have all that information right here at my fingertips right this second," Galwick said in response. "But when we vet those discussions, it just happens to work out if somebody's there on the line—remember, you can go in, let's say, for instance, you could go in on the eight line and you're in above, and we could move you up or we could move you down to make it work. But I'd have to go back and look at our notes and see in particular what we were, how they were moved there."
Then again, it was quite a night for Cal coach Lindsey Gottlieb, who received word of the No. 9 seed just after getting this news.
Play begins Friday. Here's your full bracket.