March Madness is officially here, with this weekend’s conference tournament action setting up an intriguing Selection Sunday where the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship bracket will officially be revealed.
The No. 1-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks – the only women’s or men’s basketball team in the NCAA go undefeated this season – look to defend their 2022 championship title, which would make them the first repeat champions since the Connecticut Huskies in 2015-16. Indiana, Stanford, Virginia Tech and Iowa are competing to round out the four top seeds.
As in 2022, 68 teams will compete in the single-elimination tournament, which features 32 automatic qualifiers and 36 at-large bids, and tips off with the “First Four” games on March 15-16. The tournament concludes at American Airlines Center in Dallas with the Final Four on March 31 and the national championship game on April 2.
To help you navigate all “the madness,” On Her Turf has compiled everything you need to know ahead of tournament tip-off.
What to know ahead of Selection Sunday
By the time the “NCAA Women’s Selection Special” airs Sunday evening on ESPN (8 p.m. ET), 32 teams in the 2023 NCAA championship field will be set following the conclusion of the conference tournaments (more on the automatic qualifiers below). But its those tournaments that are setting the stage for what should be an eventful Selection Sunday, where the 12-person women’s selection committee will fill out the 68-team bracket with the final 36 at-large bids.
Making the bracket reveal so intriguing were the results last weekend of several Power Six tournaments, where potential No. 1 seeds all failed to reach their respective championship games. Indiana, Stanford and Utah all lost early, and so did projected No. 2 seeds Maryland and LSU. Those losses open the door for ACC champion Virginia Tech to secure a No. 1 seed along with Iowa, whose run to the Big Ten title was highlighted by career performances by Hawkeyes’ star guard Caitlin Clark.
All about the 32 automatic qualifers
The single-elimination conference tournaments are always a big deal, but winning your conference means an automatic bid into the tournament. Thirty-two national tournament spots — one for each DI conference — are “automatic qualifiers.” For many teams, this is their only real chance to reach the NCAA tournament, making the stakes even higher during conference championships. Of the 32 automatic qualifiers, five teams will be making their tournament debut: Saint Louis (Atlantic 10), Sacramento State (Big Sky), Southeastern Louisiana (Southland) and Southern Utah (WAC).
Spotlight on South Carolina … and the rest of the Power Six
Fun fact: All but three of the 40 women’s national titles ever awarded have been won by schools from a Power Six conference: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. And chances are, this year’s champion will likely come from one of these powerhouse conferences. We take a closer look at teams to watch and star players to follow as the tournament opens.
SEC: No. 1 South Carolina captured its seventh SEC tournament title in the last nine years last week, beating No. 23 Tennessee 74-58. But the Vols were a surprise contender in the final, after beating No. 9 LSU in the semifinals. That likely doesn’t mean much against this once-in-a-lifetime Gamecocks squad, which is led by Hall of Fame coach Dawn Staley and features five players — Laeticia Amihere, Brea Beal, Aliyah Boston,Zia Cooke and Olivia Thompson — who were part of the 2019 recruiting class and four of whom are starters. Boston won all five national player of the year awards in 2022.
ACC: The ACC featured some of the fiercest competition this season, led by No. 11 Notre Dame – who won the regular season title (15-3) — and its history-making head coach Niele Ivey. But the Irish struggled without star guard Olivia Miles (knee injury) in their conference semifinal and fell to Louisville. No. 4 Virginia Tech downed the Cardinals 75-67 last Sunday to win the program’s first ACC Tournament title, led by coach Kenny Brooks, tournament MVP Georgia Amoore and two-time league player of the year Elizabeth Kitley (18.6 points per game).
BIG 12: The No. 14 Oklahoma Sooners and No. 15 Texas Longhorns finished the regular season 14-4 to share the Big 12 regular season title. The Sooners are led by forward Madi Williams (15.7 points) while the Longhorns’ top scorer is Shaylee Gonzales (12.8 points).
BIG EAST: It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the No. 7 UConn Huskies, who won the regular-season title (18-2) despite not having stars Paige Bueckers (knee injury) and Azzi Fudd (knee injury) for most of the season. But guard Nika Mühl picked up the slack, recently breaking Sue Bird’s UConn season assists record, while Aaliyah Edwards leads the scoring with 16.6 points.. Azzi returned for the Huskies’ quarterfinal win over Georgetown, and UConn breezed to the conference title with a win over No. 10 Villanova.
BIG TEN: The No. 3 Indiana Hoosiers clinched the regular season title (16-2), which means a lot considering this cutthroat conference also includes No. 2 Iowa and No. 12 Ohio State. Iowa took the conference title with a 105-72 victory over the Buckeyes, led by the frenzy-inducing Caitlin Clark and her 10th career triple-double. Ohio State, who lost six of their last 10 regular-season games, knocked out Indiana in the semifinals — overcoming a 24-point deficit to win 79-75.
PAC-12: No. 8 Utah beat No. 5 Stanford in its last game of the season to share the regular season title, but both were edged out of the conference tournament early. The Utes lost their first matchup to Washington State, while Stanford fell to No. 17 UCLA in the semis. The Cougars capped off the tournament with a win over the Bruins to secure the school’s first conference title.
What’s new about the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship
Last year, the women’s tournament expanded to 68 teams, and this year’s championship also sees a significant change: Beginning in 2023, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will be held at two sites per year, with eight teams competing at each regional site.
Regional play will be staged at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, and at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, with each site hosting four regional semifinal games and two regional championship games. Like last year, the First Four opening-round games will be played at the campuses of teams seeded in the top 16, and sites will be selected based on “bracketing principles and procedures.” Last August, the NCAA announced the First Four, first and second rounds, and Selection Sunday will be conducted in this format through 2027, with the committee conducting a preliminary-round format review after the 2025 championship.