The #1 seeded Irish won the Midwest Regional to advance to their fifth straight Final Four. They'll face some tough teams in Tampa standing between them and a national championship. First up is SEC Champion and fellow #1 seed South Carolina. Should ND knock of USC, they'll most likely face a familiar foe in the final. On the opposite of the bracket, both #1 seeds advanced as well. Top seeded Maryland won a low scoring game over #2 Tennessee 58-48 on Monday night, while #1 UConn erased a one point halftime deficit against #7 Dayton to win 91-70. Who are the players to watch for these opponents, and how do they play? Find out in OFD NCAA Women's Final Four preview.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Resume: 34-2 Record, 15-1 SEC, SEC Regular Season and Conference Champion
Key Wins: Tennessee, Kentucky, @Duke, Florida State (in NCAA Tournament)
Losses: @Kentucky, @UConn
Player to Watch: Tiffany Mitchell - Guard - Junior
The Gamecocks are the Irish opponent in the National Semifinal on Sunday at 6:30 ET. USC was at or near the top of the polls all season long and were neck-and-neck with the Irish for the tournament's second overall seed. South Carolina is led by guard Tiffany Mitchell who leads the team in scoring with 15.5 ppg and assists at just under three per game.Irish guards Jewell Loyd and Lindsay Allen will have their hands full with Mitchell, but the Irish backcourt should be able to handle her. The frontcourt of South Carolina could spell trouble for ND, however. A'ja Wilson and Alaina Coates are both over 6'4" and average more than 10 points and six boards per game. SC also will play another 6'4" front court player in Elem Ibiam. The Irish don't have a huge weakness inside, but it's no secret that the strength of the team their guards. ND should be favored over South Carolina, but expect a tight game Sunday evening in an interesting clash of styles.
Resume: 34-2 Record, 18-0 Big Ten, Big Ten Regular Season and Tournament Championships
Key Wins: @Nebraska, Duke (NCAA Tournament), Tennessee (NCAA Tournament)
Losses: Washinton State, @Notre Dame
Player to Watch: Brionna Jones - Center - Sophomore
The Terps will be heavy underdogs on Sunday at 8:30 ET to UConn, but stranger things have happened in single elimination tournaments. Center Brionna Jones averages less than half a rebound under a double double, but she's hardly the key to stopping them. Maryland is incredibly balanced as Jones, Laurin Mincey, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, and Lexie Brown all average between 12 and 14 ppg. Their top four is a mix of front and backcourt players, so UConn will have to defend the paint as well as the arc to slow down the Terps. Also working in Maryland's favor is the fact that they haven't lost a game since December 3rd (@ND). They haven't tasted defeated in four months, and will have the confidence to shock the world. The Big Ten isn't as strong as the other power conferences, but they still played more tough games in conference play than the Huskies. All of that said, UConn is the better team, and unless everything goes right for Maryland, the Terps will probably only play one game in Tampa.
Resume: 36-1 Record, 18-0 AAC, AAC Regular Season and Tournament Champions
Key Wins: @Notre Dame, Duke, South Carolina
Player to Watch: Breanna Stewart - Forward - Junior
UConn coach Geno Auriemma was in the news for comments about the men's game yesterday. While many Irish fans that watched Brey's squad play all season would disagree with his assessment, it's safe to say he knows the ins and outs of women's college hoops. His team lost just one game all season, at Stanford by just two points in overtime. All five starters average double figure points per game, and the team hasn't lost since their second game of the season. Breanna Stewart received All-American honors, and she leads the team in both points (17.6) and rebounds (7.6). If you haven't been paying attention, know that UConn is the heavy favorite to win the tournament. 538.com's algorithim gave the Huskies a 78% chance to win the tournament before games even started. The favorite in the men's tournament, the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats, was given a 41% chance by comparison. While the Huskies have the most talent in the sport, they obviously not unbeatable.
Being stuck Playing in the American Conference means that UConn has faced less top competition throughout the season than the rest of the Final Four teams. While they did play a strong non-conference schedule, their last game against a top-20 opponent was in early February. Since then they've rarely played games that were remotely competitive after halftime. While they will be more talented than every team left in the tournament, their lack of experience playing close games against top competition could be ND's, Maryland's, and USC's best hope for knocking off the Huskies.
Final Four Predictions:
Game 1: Notre Dame 79, South Carolina 71
Game 2: UConn 74, Maryland 59
It just wouldn't be right if Geno and Muffet didn't fight it out for the title come Tuesday night.