Every year in women’s college basketball at least one team ranked in the lower half of the bracket stands out and has a magical unexpected run. The fun part about looking at Cinderella teams is that there are a number of candidates that are qualified to make it past the first weekend, but an unfortunate bounce of the ball can make all the difference. Last year it was No. 10 seed Creighton, who made it all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual champions, South Carolina. Who will rise above this year and surprise everyone en route to surprise success? Let’s take a look using metrics and Charlie Creme’s Bracketology projections.
Columbia, projected 11 seed
Now in their sixth season of the Meg Griffith era, the Lions are armed and ready to make their NCAA tournament debut. They had a strong season last year, falling in the WNIT final four and are returning all of their key pieces. Abbey Hsu has been a top-10 mid-major player, averaging 18 points while shooting better than 40% from deep. Kaitlyn Davis and Duke transfer Jaida Patrick both add a lot on the defensive end and can help the scoring. The glue of the team and real difference maker has been Kitty Henderson, the sophomore who has jumped up to four assists per game and nine points. They’re a well-structured team that knows how to win big games. They also have favorable metrics with a KPI ranking at No. 32. They’re not a team any six or seven seed wants to see come tourney time.
Middle Tennessee State, projected 11 seed
The Lady Raiders are another metrics darling, sitting at No. 33 in KPI. They don’t have the strongest set of wins, with their best coming at Memphis and adding a home victory against then ranked Louisville. Both of those were part of a monstrous 16 game win streak that saw them slowly climb the bubble. Savannah Wheeler has been fantastic for MTSU, leading them with 16 points and three assists a contest, really serving as a difference maker. She’s also demonstrated an ability to take over games, pouring in 37 against Western Kentucky on just four attempts from deep and 16 from the field. Her ability to turn it on and get upsets will be massive and the key for their success.
UMass, projected 13 seed
The Minutemen have made mincemeat of the majority of the Atlantic 10, winning 12 straight games before their recent loss against Saint Louis. They’ve played just well enough to be on the bubble if they don’t come out of the A-10 tournament as champions, but nothing’s certain. UMass has an impressive, single-digit loss at projected No. 5 seed Tennessee, but they’re lacking in great wins. They haven’t beaten a team projected to be in the field, but they have what it takes to steal a few games. That effort is going to start with Sam Breen, who is averaging an 18 point double-double. The Minutemen go as she does and their ability to get big wins starts with the forwardfrom Pennsylvania.
Marquette, projected 11 seed
The Golden Eagles have been roughly the team as expected this year, with Jordan King as the dominant guard in the effort. They’re notably one of five teams to beat No. 6 UConn and they held the Huskies to a mere 52 points. Marquette has now won eight of their past 10 games and are showing no signs of slowing down. Their defense has been strong even in games they don’t win, a critical piece of their success. In March, defense travels even when the offense isn’t clicking as it usually does. The Golden Eagles have also been tried and tested in a rough Big East that’s as strong as it’s been in decades. If they can continue to keep their pieces together, there’s no reason they can’t make a bid for a second weekend spot.