March Madness is the most exciting time of the year, full stop. While almost all of us make brackets for the men’s bracket, I suggest making one for the women’s too. Why? Well, it truly has been one of the best seasons of women’s college basketball in recent memory.
South Carolina is going for a perfect season. The big names in women’s basketball are back, but there are also new faces ready to make a deep run.
Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark and Maddy Siegrist are incredible to watch. Plus, the spacing is wider than in men’s basketball, leading to more team-oriented play. It is quite enjoyable.
The bracket is always a crapshoot, but TRACR can help provide some insight when it comes to making picks and predictions for the second weekend, Final Four, and national champion. TRACR, our Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster, is a net efficiency metric that calculates a team’s points per possession on both sides of the ball and bases it on how good its opponent is. A conference adjustment and recency bias are also applied to the model, which we also have for college football and men’s college basketball.
We simulated the women’s tournament thousands of times to come up with the most accurate predictions in the sport.
You might notice that women’s TRACR has more variance than the men’s ratings. This is because the top and bottom teams on the women’s side have a much, much larger difference than the men’s teams.
Upsets can still happen, but the best squads have a much easier time handling lesser opponents.
South Carolina vs. the Field
South Carolina has a TRACR of 62.8 – the highest in Division I. That sounds large… and it is.
It means that the Gamecocks have outscored opponents by an average of .628 points per 100 possessions. Given that they average about 68 possessions, the Gamecocks would outscore an average team by about 42.7 points.
Wow! Can that be accurate? That feels too high. But if you’ve watched this South Carolina team, you know it’s not.
At 32-0, the Gamecocks hope to wrap up a perfect season with a national championship. And of their 32 wins, 11 have been by 40 points or more. In fact, they defeated LSU, TRACR’s No. 2 team, by 24.
South Carolina also has wins over Stanford (No. 6) and UConn (No. 5). The Gamecocks are a heavy, heavy favorite to win the national title.
For reference, the top men’s team, Houston, has a TRACR of 34.5. As I mentioned, in women’s hoops there is less variance and the top teams will go far.
So who has a higher probability of winning the national title, South Carolina or the entire rest of the field?
TRACR says… South Carolina. The Gamecocks have a 67.1% chance to make it to the championship game and a 54.4% chance to win it all.
Time for a Chalk Talk
Now that we have South Carolina settled, what do we do with the rest of the bracket? Well, for the most part, it can be chalk in the first round.
The other top seeds – Stanford, Indiana (No. 3) and Virginia Tech (No. 4) – all have more than a 65% chance to reach the Sweet 16. The Hoosiers have an easier route, with an 82.5% chance to make it to the second weekend and a 63.0% chance to reach the Elite Eight.
The two seeds – UConn (No. 5), Iowa (No. 7), Utah (No. 8) and Maryland (12th) – all have a TRACR higher than 35, meaning they have better ratings than any team on the men’s side.
In last year’s tournament, only four teams seeded 11th or higher made it to the second round. None of the four made it to the Sweet 16. It is reasonable to have some upsets here and there, but do not expect the chaos that is expected in the men’s bracket.
With all that being said…
Teams Better Than Its Seed
Last season, I made my picks almost entirely based on TRACR. I added a little bit of bias here and there (never doubt Geno Auriemma!), but for the most part, it was our predictions. I finished in the 99th percentile in ESPN’s brackets.
According to TRACR, these teams have a chance to put together a semi-deep run in the tournament.
Florida Gulf Coast: Dunk City? Remember the school’s Sweet 16 run back in 2013? FGCU’s women’s team is the real deal and it has been a favorite upset pick the last few seasons. No dunks here, though. These ladies rely on the 3-ball, averaging 31.4 attempts. That leads all of Division I, men’s and women’s.
The Eagles (32-3) have won each of their 14 straight wins by double digits and outscored their opponents by an average of 22.3 points on the season. They rank 23rd in TRACR but were seeded 12th by the committee. TRACR gives them a 59.9% probability of beating fifth-seed Washington State (33rd).
Want chaos? Have them beat Villanova (18th), too. FGCU has a 32.0% chance of making it to the Sweet 16.
Middle Tennessee: Middle Tennessee, another mid-major that ranks high in TRACR (28th) but was given a low seed (11th), enters the tournament on a roll. The Blue Raiders are 28-4, but all four of their losses were by five or fewer points. They even beat fifth-seeded Louisville (14th) by 18 points in December.
Over its last seven games, Middle Tennessee has held opponents to 35.8% shooting and just 19.8% from beyond the arc. The Blue Raiders like to draw fouls, and they shoot 78.4% from the line. This is a team that will frustrate opponents and could make a deep run.
TRACR gives Middle Tennessee a 51.6% chance of upsetting Colorado (30th). A Middle Tennessee-Duke matchup would be quite the defensive showdown.
South Dakota State: Of the four players that have started every game for South Dakota State, three have played at least four years. Two of those players – Myah Selland and Paiton Burckhard – are in their fifth year in Division I due to the extra year of eligibility from the COVID-19 pandemic. Dru Gylten, a transfer from Utah, is also in her fifth year.
South Dakota State went 18-0 in the Summit League and dominated its conference tournament, outscoring its three opponents by an average of 32.3 points. The Jackrabbits have won 21 straight games, with their last loss coming by *only* 18 points to South Carolina.
SDSU, ranked 22nd in TRACR, has a 51.6% chance to get past a tough USC squad (35th). Because of their experience, the Jackrabbits may be able to challenge top-seeded Virginia Tech in the second round and make it to the Sweet 16. This is a team that is better than a No. 9 seed, though it does have a tough road.
Princeton: Finally, an Ivy League team that can make a run! Princeton (40th) is an underdog, but do not rule it out. After a modest nonconference schedule, the Tigers started 0-2 in league play before winning 12 in a row and then rolling to the Ivy League tournament title.
Princeton ranks 17th in the nation in defensive TRACR and fifth in points allowed per game (52.5). The Tigers are also facing a struggling NC State team (16th) that is just 4-6 since the start of February.
TRACR gives Princeton a 36.9% chance at moving on to the next round, but it could easily extend its hot streak and bust some brackets.
My final four is South Carolina, Iowa, Indiana and UConn, with the Gamecocks repeating as champions over the Hoosiers. The first round of the women’s tournament begins on Friday, one day after the men’s first full day.