Of course, the potential to meet either Baylor or Tennessee in the Elite Eight jumps out as the most intriguing potential matchups, but Kentucky, Iowa, Syracuse, and South Dakota State all present interesting possible matchups prior to the regional finals.
Barring an unprecedented upset in the first round, the Huskies will face the winner of Syracuse and South Dakota State on Tuesday. Syracuse, who finished the season 13-8, played fellow ACC opponents N.C. State (No. 1 seed) and Louisville (No. 2 seed) closely this season. The Orange lost by just seven points in their lone meeting with the Wolfpack and by 13 in both of their meetings with the Cardinals. Their second loss to Louisville came without Tiana Mangakahia, who was named a Nancy Lieberman Award finalist. Mangakahia’s injury status was day-to-day during the ACC tournament and Syracuse expects her back for their NCAA tournament run.
On the flip side, South Dakota State is one of the best mid-major teams in the country. Their resume boasts some impressive wins, including over No. 5 seeds Missouri State and Gonzaga. However, the Jackrabbits have also been plagued by the injury bug and Myah Selland, a Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award finalist, is out for the remainder of the season.
Looking ahead to the regionals, either No. 4 Kentucky or No. 5 Iowa will be a tough test for UConn — especially for the defense. Rhyne Howard of Kentucky and Caitlin Clark of Iowa are both prolific scorers, averaging over 20 points per game on the season. They may be the toughest individual tests that UConn has faced since their loss to Arkansas in the regular season, where Chelsea Dungee dropped 37 points on the Huskies. While UConn’s defense has improved dramatically since the loss, either opponent will be a test to see if Christyn Williams’ lockdown defense in the Big East tournament can continue against a tougher opponent.
If Iowa advances to play UConn, team defense will also be particularly important as they rank second in the country for points per game. The Hawkeyes defense, however, leaves something to be desired and UConn likely won’t have much trouble getting buckets of their own in that matchup. Kentucky currently sits as 17-8 on the season in a very tough SEC conference. South Carolina (No. 1 seed) and Texas A&M (No. 2 seed) were able to beat them handily, but the Wildcats split their matchups with Georgia and Tennessee (No. 3 seeds).
While this year’s tournament feels poised for a bit of chaos, most likely UConn would face either Tennessee or Baylor should they advance to the regional finals. The Huskies barely knocked off the Volunteers in their earlier season matchup and never played the originally scheduled regular season contest with the Bears. Either way, size will likely play a big role in this one and UConn will look for Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards to make their presence known inside.
Assuming the S-curve was followed, Baylor comes in as the second-worst two seed by the committee’s standards. However, the Bears have been winning in a dominant fashion down the stretch including beating West Virginia (No. 4 seed) by a combined 49 points in two meetings over the last week. Baylor is also the third-ranked team in Her Hoop Stats’ ratings behind only UConn and Stanford and looks more dangerous than their seed implies.
While there are many intriguing matchups on the horizon, the Huskies will start their quest for a 12th trophy on Sunday evening. UConn will face High Point at 8 p.m. on ESPN.