It's my favourite time of the year! NCAA March Madness always causes mayhem in my household and all over the globe. As an avid college basketball fan, I look forward to the tournament every single year. Regardless of whether my alma mater, the University of Missouri, is selected for the "Big Dance".
This year's women's tournament boasts a great amount of Australian athletes with the chance for the championship with 22. I'm sure you're wondering how to choose which team to root for. Believe me, I know it's tough to choose a school to win a tournament when wherever you're from is well represented. Hopefully, this article will help you decide which school to root for!
No. 1 Stanford University Agnes Emma-Nnopu (VIC)
If you're a fan of immediate contenders, look no further than defending national champion Stanford. Emma-Nnopu was a part of the championship team that went 31-2 and 19-2 in PAC 12 play. This season, the Cardinal are currently 28-3 and finished with a perfect 16-0 record in conference play, earning the 2021 PAC 12 regular season and conference tournament title. They face No. 16 Montana State in the first round on March 19 at 1 pm AEST.
She's made 22 appearances this season mainly in the last minutes of games. She's averaging a career-high of 0.9 points per game and career highs in total blocks and steals with four and five, respectively. She might not see much if any, playing time in the tournament but her team is definitely one to watch.
No. 2 University of Texas Kobe King-Hawea (VIC)
In her first season in Division 1, King-Hawea and the Texas Longhorns upset Baylor University for the first time since 2017 for their first Big 12 title since 2003. UT's big win this season was in non-conference play where they defeated aforementioned Stanford 61-56 in Palo Alto, California. Texas' non-conference play could be deemed as rocky for people who really follow the Big 12 but going 13-5 in one of the best college basketball conferences in the United States is nothing short of a huge feat. The Longhorns are 26-6 so far on the season. They face No. 15 Fairfield on March 19 at 11 am AEST.
The Gilette College transfer's season hasn't amounted to what people thought it'd be. The number one junior college transfer was bound for a great season but unfortunately, injury-riddled her debut. She appeared in five games all during non-conference play, averaging four points per game.
No. 3 University of Maryland Chloe Bibby (VIC)
Maryland is one of the strongest teams in the nation in one of the best conferences in the Big 10. The Big 10 boasts five top-25 teams making it one of the toughest to play in. Maryland faired well in conference play with a record of 13-4. Currently, the Terps are 21-8 on the season. They came up with a few extremely notable wins against ranked teams. In non-conference play, they defeated Baylor 79-76 in College Park. Their next ranked wins came in conference play where they defeated Iowa away and both Ohio State and Indiana at home down the stretch. Unfortunately, they lost to Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big 10 tournament a week after defeating the Hoosiers to end the season. They face off against No. 13 Delaware on March 19 at 8 am AEST.
Chloe Bibby is an absolute stud and a crucial piece to this Maryland squad. Ever since she transferred from Mississippi State to Maryland prior to the 2020-2021 season, she's dominated the floor in so many aspects. The 1.88 m. forward can do a bit of everything. She's a scoring threat averaging 12.3 points per game. Bibby isn't afraid to launch it from deep when the circumstance allows. She is a rebounding threat with 5.6 per game. She secured a double-double once this season and got close multiple times. Wherever Bibby is on the court, she'll make an immediate impact.
No. 4 Tennessee Jessie Rennie (VIC)
The Tennessee Lady Volunteers started the season on fire going 9-0 before suffering their first loss to Stanford. Tennessee's most notable win in non-conference play was a 74-70 win over Texas in Knoxville, Tennessee. Overall, conference play went pretty well for the Lady Vols. They started off SEC play 7-0 until they suffered a 71-61 upset loss at the hands of the Auburn Tigers in Auburn, Alabama. After that loss, it was pretty much an up-and-down conference play. They went 4-4 to end regular-season conference play, not including their loss to Uconn in the middle of their conference schedule. Tennessee would eventually lose to eventual SEC tournament champion Kentucky in the semi-finals, 83-74. They are currently 23-8 overall and finished 11-5 in conference play. They face off against No. 13 Buffalo on March 20 at 6 am AEST.
After a great freshman season that saw her contributing a ton off the bench, Jessie Rennie's playing time during her sophomore and junior season continued to diminish. The majority of her minutes came in the final ones of the game with the exception of the matchups against Georgia State, Eastern Tennessee State and Chattanooga where she appeared for 17, 23, and 17 minutes, respectively. All three of those games were extreme blowouts for Tennessee.
No. 5 University of Oregon Ahlise Hurst (VIC) and Shannon Dufficy (VIC)
For a good amount of the Ducks' season, it seemed like they weren't going to make the tournament. Early on in the season, Oregon was hit with two losses against South Carolina and the University of South Florida. The worst loss they suffered was a 64-57 defeat at the hands of the University of California-Davis in Eugene, Oregon. It took a few weeks but the Ducks "woke up" and upset Arizona 68-66 at home in overtime. The next game was by far their best win of the season. They welcomed UConn and defeated the Huskies 72-59. Conference play didn't really go the way they wanted. They ended Pac 12 play 11-6 but suffered gruelling losses to Arizona and Colorado in the middle and end of regular season play. They lost to Utah 80-73 in the semi-finals of the Pac 12 tournament. So far, Oregon is 20-11 on the season. They face off against No. 12 Belmont on March 20 at 8:30 am AEST.
At the beginning of the season, Ahlise Hurst found herself in the starting lineup. For the rest of the season, she was a key bench asset with a mix of starter and primary bench minutes with the exception of a few games down the stretch. The 1.75 m guard is an offensive threat even if her numbers in the second half of the season don't show it. She's averaging 6.3 points per game and scored in double digits eight times this season.
Shannon Dufficy transferred from Mizzou for her Covid season. She found herself playing a completely different role than her sole season as a Tiger. She appeared in 21 of Oregon's 31 games and only hit double-digit minutes in non-conference play. Her season-high 12 points came against McNeese and was the only time she hit double-digit scoring. She's a versatile 1.88 m forward who can shoot the three and rebound very well. Duck fans rarely saw it this year but Tiger fans saw it last year. If Coach Graves gives Dufficy the opportunity to hit the floor at all during the tournament, she'll give the Ducks a nice presence on the floor.
No. 6 Virginia Tech University-Georgia Amoore (VIC)
Whenever I got the chance to watch the Hokies, I knew I was going to witness a great game. Virginia Tech is one of those teams that fly under the radar even when they were ranked in the top-25 or received votes. In a conference filled with powerhouses in the ACC like Notre Dame, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Louisville, it is hard to get the attention the team deserves. The Hokies are currently 23-9 and finished 13-5 in the conference for the fifth seed. If that fifth seed in the conference tournament doesn't show you how stacked the ACC is, I don't know what will.
Virginia Tech didn't have any flashy wins in non-conference play but they had a bulk of them when ACC play came along. They defeated Duke twice at the beginning of conference playback when the Blue Devils were ranked. For context, Duke is not in the tournament but getting those wins are still quite notable. In the middle of conference play, the Hokies defeated a ranked team in Georgia Tech and North Carolina back-to-back. They upset UNC again in the ACC tournament but eventually lost to eventual champion NC State in the semi-finals. They face off against No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast on March 19 at 5:30 am.
When Georgia Amoore stepped onto the hardwoods in Blacksburg last season, she made an immediate impact. As a freshman, she averaged 11.8 points, 4.6 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game. The 1.75 m guard is putting up quite similar numbers to her freshman season. She's averaging 11.1 points, 4.4 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game. Due to being a "smaller" guard, the majority of Amoore's points comes from beyond the arc. She's shooting 39.8% from three compared to 40.1% from the field. She can do a little bit of everything on the court including defence. She leads the team in steals with 31 and in assists with 140. Amoore is a true point guard with abilities you can only see to believe.
No. 7 University of Utah Isabel Palmer (NSW) and Kelsey Rees (SA)
The Utes weren't the absolute best team in the Pac 12 this year but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be feared in the tournament. Their first three games of conference play were all postponed due to Covid-19 protocols so they were already at a slight deficit in terms of games played compared to the rest of the conference. They had zero ranked wins this season but secured the at-large bid due to getting to the finals in the tournament eventually losing to Stanford. Even though they lost to ranked teams, the majority of those games were by single digits most notably against Oregon and Arizona. They're currently 20-11 and finished 8-7 in conference play. Their ability to roll through all three rounds of the conference tournament to the finals is more than likely the reason they're dancing. They'll face off against No. 10 Arkansas on March 19 at 8:30 am.
Kelsey Reeves was not starting at all until January 28 against Colorado. From there on, she secured a spot in the starting lineup probably due to her height and ability to crash the boards with ease. The 1.95 m forward set career highs in every single statistical category. She's averaging 4.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and is shooting 48.4% from the field. She hit double-digits in rebounding three times this season all in conference play.
Isabel Palmer has provided the Utes with a formidable spark off the bench. She may not have the flashiest scoring numbers in all of the land but when she gets the opportunity to shoot, she will. In a non-conference game against California State-Fullerton, she hit a career-high 16 points and shot 67% from the floor and 75% from three. Not every team needs every player to score. Some need ones who can come off the bench and provide a spark when the team is down. That player is Palmer for the Utes.
No. 8 University of Nebraska Jaz Shelley (VIC), Ruby Porter (SA), and Isabelle Bourne (ACT)
After a rough few seasons for the Cornhuskers, Nebraska was destined to make their way back to the tournament sooner rather than later. The Huskers entered conference play a perfect 12-0 but lost their first conference game away at Michigan State 72-69. They went 11-7 in Big 10 play which, as I mentioned a few teams up, is a huge feat in this stacked conference. They came back from that loss and defeated then-No. 8 Michigan 79-58. They'd pretty much cruise through the rest of conference play against unranked teams aside from a late-season loss to Penn State. Before the conference tournament, the last ranked team they defeated was then No. 5 Indiana with a score of 72-55. Nebraska soured their way through the conference tournament, upsetting Michigan 76-63. They eventually lost to Iowa 83-66. Currently, they're sitting at 24-8 on the season. They'll face off against No. 9 Gonzaga on March 19 at 5:30 am AEST.
Jaz Shelley is the missing piece of Nebraska's puzzle to get back into tournament contention. After starting her career in Oregon, she transferred to Nebraska and instantly became a leader on the court. She started and appeared in 31 out of the 32 games and saw her role blossom throughout the season. The 17.5 m guard plays taller than what she is listed at. Aside from being an absolute lethal scorer, averaging 13.1 points per game on the season, she is the Huskers second-leading rebounder with 6.5 boards per game. She leads the team in steals with 56, blocks with 30, and has dished out a bit over 5 assists per game. Whenever Shelley is on the court, you can expect to see absolute greatness being displayed.
Ruby Porter is a bench player who doesn't really see that much time on the court. Her minutes and starts are down from the previous season where she averaged 20.1 minutes per game compared to this season at 9.8 per game. During non-conference play, she got significant minutes on the floor and even earned a start against North Carolina Central. In conference play, her minutes fluctuated between double digits and single digits depending on the game. She did start against Iowa on January 16 and had five points in 21 minutes. She's currently averaging two-point per game this season.
Isabelle Bourne is another player like Shelley who's a key contributor to this Huskers squad. As a freshman last season, she started in all but one game and averaged 13.6 points per game. She assumed a pretty similar role, starting every game except two. Whether starting or on the bench, it didn't matter because her production would be the same. The 1.88 m forward prefers to score inside and does she excel at that. She's averaging 51.5% from the field but when she does decide to launch a few from three, she sinks them at a 36.8% clip. She's strong on the boards averaging 4.5 per game and nearly hit double-digit rebounds a few times this season. Her efficiency from the paint has helped give Nebraska an interior edge over defences regardless of end result.
No. 9 Washington State University Emma Nankervis (VIC) and Ula Motuga (QLD)
If you only looked at the Cougar's overall record and not anything else, you'd probably be extremely befuddled. How did a 19-10 team get to the tournament, especially as a no. 8 seed. Let me introduce you to their 11-6 conference record. I'm going to be blunt here. All except one of their regular-season conference wins came against unranked teams. Their sole ranked win all season was towards the end of the regular season where they defeated Arizona 72-67. The following game, they nearly defeated Stanford but lost 61-54 in Palo Alto. They had a ton of embarrassing losses and that's not an understatement. I won't get into it but there were a lot. Needless to say, it was a rocky road to get into the tournament. They were upset by Utah 70-59 in the semi-finals of the Pac 12 tournament. If it wasn't for their Pac 12 record, they probably would not be in the tournament. They face off against No. 9 Kansas State on March 20 at 2:30 am AEST.
Emma Nankervis' season hasn't been going to plan. She hasn't appeared on the court since February so her status for the first round of the tournament is currently unknown. In the 22 games she's played in this season, she eclipsed double-digit minutes three times. She's currently averaging 1.2 points and 1 rebound per game.
Like Nankervis, Ula Motuga hasn't played a game since February. Before that, she started 21 of 24 games and made an immediate impact whenever she touched the hardwood. The 1.85 m forward is averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. She's first on the cougars in three-point percentage converting 48.2%, minimum of 50 attempts. Despite her efficient three-point shooting, she plays well in the paint with the majority of her shot attempts coming from down low. If you need a bucket anywhere, you can rely on her to help spread the floor and drain one. Her status for the tournament is also unknown.
No. 10 Gonzaga-Eliza Hollingworth (VIC)
Gonzaga spent their non-conference play on the outside looking in. As we saw with Washington State, teams can regroup and get on a roll in conference play. That's exactly what the Zags did. The West Coast Conference is not the strongest conference of the pack with only one team in the top-25 in no. 15 BYU. During non-con play, they played tough games against Stanford and dropped both of them. Back in December, they were in a grudge match with Washington State and only lost by two points. Negating the second game against Stanford that was in the middle of conference play, the Bulldogs started 7-0 in WCC play. They did have a few games postponed in the beginning due to Covid protocols but showed that couldn't slow them down. Their 15-2 conference record proved to be enough to earn them the no. 2 seed in the WCC tournament. They upset BYU in the championship game to earn the conference's automatic bid. So far, the Zags are 26-6 on the season. They'll face off against No. 8 Nebraska on March 19 at 5:30 am AEST.
Eliza Hollingsworth isn't really a scoring threat but she provided valuable minutes off the bench all season long. The 1.9 m forward showed flashes of scoring potential when she boasted a career-high 12 points against both Stanford and Pepperdine. Her impact on the glass was the most crucial aspect of her game and the team's eventual success. She grabbed a career-high seven rebounds against Utah back in November. Her rebounding wouldn't be deemed as the most "consistent" by fans who just looked at the box score. But if you compare it to her redshirt-freshman season, it's clear her growth on the boards with more playing time helped allow for success, especially in conference play.
No. 11 Kansas State Rebekah Dallinger (NSW)
Kansas State is proof that a team can rebound after a dismal season. In the Covid shortened 2020-2021 season, they ended 9-18 overall and 3-15 in the conference. This year, they're so far 19-12 and finished Big 12 play at an even 9-9. The Wildcats are pretty similar to their upcoming opponent in Washington State. The difference here is they are in a tough conference in Big 12 play as I alluded to earlier when I talked about Texas. They were blown out by two of their ranked non-conference opponents in NC State and South Carolina. They defeated Oregon 69-56 in Manhattan, Kansas which would be their most notable non-con win. In my opinion, they only snuck into the Big Dance because they defeated Baylor and Iowa State twice. They were defeated by Texas in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 conference tournament, 72-65. They face off against No. 8 Washington State on March 20 at 2:30 am AEST.
Rebekah Dallinger is another player that went the JUCO root when she arrived in the States. After an excellent two year career at Miles Community College in Montana that saw her earn a plethora of national accolades, she came to K-State and became a crucial piece off the bench. In her debut against Central Arkansas, she scored a career-high 11 points in 20 minutes off the bench. She earned two starts against South Dakota State and Iowa State notching 29 minutes in both games. Pretty much towards the end of conference play, she saw her minutes dwindle to single digits with the exception of 22 minutes off the bench against Texas Christian University in the last game of the regular season. Overall, she's having a solid start to her Division 1 career averaging 3.6 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.
No. 12 University of Florida Kristiana Moore (NSW)
I'm not sure anyone expected Florida to be as successful as they've been this season. Florida fired their head coach Cameron Newbauer due to allegations of abuse and their best player Lavender Briggs transferred 14 games into the season. I wouldn't say it was luck but then Interim head coach, who recently got the interim tag removed and is now the official head coach, Kelly Rae Finley brought the Gators to life. She's led the Gators to a 21-10 overall record so far and a 10-6 conference record. Florida found themselves in the top-25 for the first time in years and proved to be a dark horse team in the powerhouse known as the SEC. They did suffer some losses at the beginning of conference play against Mississippi State and Ole Miss but rose from that. They defeated Texas A&M back when the Aggies were ranked which started a 5-0 streak. They defeated SEC champions Kentucky in a blowout and defeated LSU by one point the game after. After losing their next game to South Carolina, they went on another 5-0 streak blowing out Tennessee and narrowly defeating Georgia. Unfortunately for the Gators, they ended regular-season conference play on a three-game losing skid being upset by both Vanderbilt and Mizzou to end the season. They lost to Ole Miss 70-60 in the quarterfinal of the SEC tournament. They'll face off against in-state rival, no. 7 University of Central Florida on March 20 at 7:30 am AEST.
Kristiana Moore saw her role on the team vastly change. In her first three seasons as a Gator, she was a full-time starter with the exception of two games last season. Coach Finley decided to utilise her off the bench which really didn't change her production. In fact, she's averaging 3.8 points per game which is higher than last season's average of 3.2 per game. She's shooting better from the field and from three than last season, up from 38.5% to 43.5% from the field and 29.7% to 41.4% from three. She scored a career-high 15 points against Auburn. Even though her role changed, Coach Finley figured out a way to improve her production without being in the starting lineup.
No. 13 University of Buffalo- Casey Valenti-Paea (VIC) and Georgia Woolley (QLD)
The Buffalo Bulls might not be in the strongest conference in the world but that doesn't negate how well they played this season. The Bulls faced some great teams in non-conference play including South Carolina and Oklahoma who they lost to during the Battle 4 Atlantis. They lost a gruelling overtime match to Princeton, who is a tournament team, but showed they could contend with tough teams. In conference play, they went 16-4. They started MAC play going 5-0 but immediately went on a three-game losing skid after. The Bulls ended the regular season on a 5 game winning streak. They continued their end of regular season momentum to the tournament where they defeated Ball State 79-75 to win the MAC conference championship. Currently, Buffalo is 25-8 on the season. They face off against No. 4 Tennessee on March 20 at 6 am AEST.
Casey Valenti-Paea never really saw game action this season. The sophomore only appeared in six games at the end of the season. She totalled 21 minutes and never scored a bucket.
On the other hand, Georgia Woolley made an immediate impact on the Bulls. After a bit over a month into the season, she earned her role as an everyday starter and excelled immensely. When she appeared off the bench, she went from playing just a few minutes to double-digit minutes, and then to starter minutes before she got promoted. On December 1, she 23 points in just 13 minutes off the bench on 70% shooting against Niagara. She'd continue her hot shooting for the following six games, earning her spot as a starter four games after Niagara. So far, Woolley is averaging 14.6 points per game on 42.4% shooting from the field. With her dominant freshman year showing, she was awarded the MAC freshman of the year award.
No. 14 American University Emily Fisher (VIC)
American University is another mid-major team that you must look out for. They didn't really play against any ranked teams but did play a few power five schools. They defeated the University of Virginia 69-56 which is a great win but UVA had an extremely poor season. Getting power 5 wins are always fun though and the Eagles getting the experience to play against UVA and the University of Minnesota, who they lost to, is always great momentum heading into the Big Dance. During Patriot League play, American went 13-5 and earned the no. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Holy Cross was the ultimate favourite and Americans split the series with them. Unfortunately, there would be no rematch of the top two seeds as the Navy upset Holy Cross. American defeated Bucknell 65-54 for the Patriot League championship. They're currently 23-8 and are riding a seven-game winning streak. They play no. 3 Michigan on March 20 at 6:30 am AEST.
Emily Fisher saw herself in a vastly different role her senior season. The 1.7 m guard found herself as a full-time member of the starting lineup and proved herself worthy of that role. She scored a career-high 25 points against Boston University in the semi-finals of the conference tournament. She's America's third-leading scorer averaging 8.8 points per game. The most crucial and impactful aspect of her game is her court awareness and passing IQ. She's averaging a team-leading 4.2 assists per game with a 1.81 assist to turnover ratio. She dished out a career tying eight assists in three games this season. Her passing and ability to see the floor on offence will be huge against Michigan.
No. 15 University of Hawai'i Amy Atwell (WA)
For the first time since the 2015-2016 season, the Hawai'i Rainbow Wahine are back in the Big Dance. After a few rough seasons, the Bows showed the Big West why they are one of the most feared teams in the conference. Their non-conference schedule doesn't really allude to that. They went 4-6 in non-conference play which didn't look promising. Some thought it was probably going to be a repeat of the previous season in which they went 9-8 but something switched when conference play came. The Bows finished 13-3 in the conference to secure the Big West regular-season championship. They played a tough conference tournament slate, almost being upset in the quarterfinals by no. 9 CSU-Bakersfield but defeated them 49-48. Eventually, they defeated UC Irvine 59-48 to secure the Big West tournament championship and the automatic bid to the Big Dance. They face off against no. 2 Baylor University on March 19 at 7 am AEST.
Amy Atwell burst onto the scene during her redshirt junior season during the 2019-2020 season in which she was awarded the Big West 6th player of the year award. The following season, she became the Bows leading scorer with 12.6 points per game. She decided to use her Covid season to stay in Hawai'i and that turned out to be extremely fruitful for her and the team. She was awarded Big West player of the year and became an absolute handful for opposing defences. She leads the team in steals with 46 and is the leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 17.4 points and 6.7 rebounders per game. The 1.82 m forward can stretch the floor in many ways and is versatile. She has ball-handling skills like a guard and can create her own shot off the dribble including some highlight reel step-back threes. Overall, she's one of the best players to ever hit the deck for Hawai'i.
No. 16 University of Incarnate Word-Chloe Stoerer (VIC)
The Incarnate Word Cardinals were definitely not supposed to be in this tournament. They're currently 13-16 and ended conference play at 5-9. But we all know anything can happen and the Cardinals proved people wrong. They were slated as the no. 5 seed in the Southland Conference tournament, which was held about 35 minutes away from me, and went on to upset no. 1 Houston Baptist (a school literally 10 minutes away from me depending on the day) in the semis and then no. 3 Southeastern Louisiana State in a gruelling 56-52 overtime match. UIW received Southland's automatic bid but have to do a bit more before they can get to the first round of the tournament. They'll be up against fellow 16th seed Howard University on March 17 at 10 AEST in the play in matchup. If they defeat Howard, they'll go on to play no. 1 South Carolina in the first round on March 19 at 5 am AEST.
Chloe Storer returned to the Cardinals for her sophomore season in an extremely different role from her sophomore season. The majority of the players I wrote about above whose roles were changed are not as drastic as Storers. After only appearing in one game last season, she appeared in 21 games and started 10. Those 10 games occurred at the beginning of the season. After losing her starting role, she still played good minutes off the bench but that fluctuated throughout those games. It wasn't until the last four games, ie; the conference tournament games, that she saw starter minutes off the bench. In the quarterfinals game against McNeese, she scored a career-high 12 points in 23 minutes off the bench. Assuming she gets those types of minutes against Howard, I wouldn't be surprised if she gets a few buckets here and there.
I hope this guide helps you out in choosing which teams to root for. Here's to NCAA 2022 March Madness!