I gotta give it to my man Jon Rothstein: College basketball really is where the unexpected becomes the ordinary.
When UConn women’s basketball lost their first Final Four since 2012 to Mississippi State in 2017, it sent shockwaves through the women’s basketball world. UConn hadn’t lost a single game in four seasons. They weren’t supposed to lose.
And when it happened again to Notre Dame the next year, it was a shock, but with a little less zap. Everyone just assumed the Huskies would dominate forever—it’s hard to imagine a time when they wouldn’t.
But women’s basketball is shifting. There’re more parity than ever: Marquette is ranked No. 8, their highest-ever ranking. South Dakota is ranked No. 25, the first time they’ve ever been ranked at all. Oregon beat Stanford by 40 points on the road—their first win there since 1987. Last week, UConn was ranked No. 5—their lowest ranking in over a decade.
There are no undefeated teams, either—UConn lost twice to ranked opponents, but Notre Dame has lost three times—once to the Huskies, once to No. 20 Miami and once to unranked UNC. And this isn’t like men’s basketball either—the 20th-ranked team beating the sixth-ranked team is pretty significant. No. 15 South Carolina gave No. 4 UConn a pretty good run for their money in the first half before ultimately falling 97-79.
All of this is to say that March is really going to be popping in the college basketball world.
UConn’s most recent win over South Carolina was as fast-paced and entertaining as it could get in the first half. Much like the Notre Dame game, in which UConn pulled away in the second, the two teams were neck-and-neck through the first two quarters. The Gamecocks were untouchable from the floor, and it was great basketball to watch.
During halftime of the UConn-South Carolina game, the women’s selection committee revealed what their top 16 seeds would be if the season ended that day. If it was true, it would be the first time that UConn was not a No. 1 seed since 2007 and Oregon was a No. 1 seed. It would be the second time that Louisville and Mississippi State would be No. 1 seeds.
Bracketologist Charlie Creme had some strong words to say about the unevenness of the regions, but the point still stands: Women’s college basketball is becoming more competitive.
It’s no longer a guarantee that UConn and Notre Dame are these unbeatable, untouchable programs. The beauty of men’s March Madness has finally found its way over to the women’s side: you don’t know who’s going to be in the Final Four. Sure, we could choose the usual suspects in UConn, Notre Dame, even Mississippi State. But the way things have gone this season, there’s no guarantee for that. If the season ended today and UConn had to play Mississippi State, there’s a fairly equal chance that either team walks away with a win.
Sure, it was great watching UConn dominate, and there will never be a single greater player than Breanna Stewart. But it’s even more fun going into March and having the same aura of excitement around women’s basketball as there is on the men’s side.
Of course there is still a wide gap between the top of the bunch and the rest of the country. Of course this can’t be fixed overnight. But this year’s tournament is going to be a must-watch because, for the first time in a long time, anything can happen.
And that truly means anything.