South Carolina Favored In NCAA Women’s Tournament, But UConn Lurks

Huskies remain a dangerous NCAA Women's Tournament option with Paige Bueckers now healthy
2022 Women's NCAA Preview

With Selection Sunday also coming up for the NCAA Women’s Tournament in less than two weeks, South Carolina has emerged as a consensus favorite for sportsbooks offering futures on the newly expanded 68-team field.

Women’s college basketball is slightly different than the men’s in the sense there are more high-profile, non-conference games among the nation’s elite teams during the regular season. For example, the Gamecocks have a 27-1 record that includes non-league victories over six teams that were ranked 15th or higher at the time of the matchup.

Reigning champion Stanford went 5-1 in ranked non-conference showdowns, losing only to South Carolina. Perennial powerhouse Connecticut, which had to navigate most of the season without star Paige Bueckers, went 3-2 in such contests.

Those matchups have helped stratify sports betting odds assessing teams likely to cut down the nets in Minneapolis, as sportsbooks have placed five teams on a championship tier in terms of offerings, with another six to eight teams on a second rung. The Cardinal were among the former group in winning last year’s title, but their opponent in the championship game — Pac-12 rival Arizona — came from that second group.

South Carolina paced by superstar Boston

The Gamecocks, who were a one-point overtime loss at Missouri shy of running the table this season in the loaded Southeastern Conference, are the team to beat. Expected to be the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament, sportsbooks are offering the 2017 champs anywhere from +150 (DraftKings and Betway) to +200 (PointsBet and Caesars).

South Carolina returned all five starters from a team that made the Final Four last year. Aliyah Boston took SEC Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors, averaging 16.8 points and 11.9 rebounds while shooting 54.4%. The 6-foot-5 junior amassed 22 double-doubles and had 17.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game in helping South Carolina go 11-0 against ranked teams.

Dawn Staley’s team also leads the country in defensive field goal percentage, holding opponents to 32.7% shooting, and ranks fourth in scoring defense at 51.2 points allowed per game.

Stanford is being offered at +600 at multiple places, including WynnBET, as it seeks a fourth title under legendary coach Tara VanDerveer — the all-time winningest coach in women’s college basketball with 1,150 victories. The Cardinal rolled through Pac-12 play undefeated with a balanced scoring attack that featured four players in double figures.

Cameron Brink averaged team highs of 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds, and junior guard Haley Jones is a stat-stuffer with 12.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. Stanford’s three losses this season were all to ranked teams — including South Carolina — by a combined 12 points.

Rare bonus value in UConn?

Bueckers’ prolonged absence left UConn vulnerable during its non-conference slate. She did play in an early-season defeat to the Gamecocks, but the Huskies absorbed losses to Georgia Tech, Louisville, and Oregon. All four of their non-conference losses were at neutral sites or on the road. There is still more than enough on the resume for Geno Auriemma’s team — highlighted by wins over ranked foes Tennessee, Notre Dame, and South Florida — to begin its path in the familiar spot of Bridgeport as either a No. 2 or No. 3 seed.

Auriemma will also be using the Big East tournament as a conditioning stint for Bueckers, who has played 28 minutes in her two games after missing the previous 19. It is rare to see the Huskies with long odds, by their standards at least, with DraftKings the best place to take a flyer with them at +700, followed by WynnBET at +500.

The other two squads tipped by oddsmakers for deep tournament runs are ACC rivals North Carolina State and Louisville, and it is likely both will be on the No. 1 seed line when the pairings are announced. The two teams were a cut above in a competitive conference expected to provide at least six teams to the field.

The Wolfpack went 26-3 overall and 17-1 in conference play, beating Louisville in the only head-to-head meeting between the teams. Center Elissa Cunane averaged 13.4 points and 7.5 rebounds for N.C. State and received plenty of perimeter help from Diamond Johnson, Jakia Brown-Turner, and Raina Perez as the trio combined for 118 3-pointers. North Carolina State is currently ranked seventh in the country in 3-point shooting at 37.7% and can be grabbed at +1000 at Caesars to win the title and +750 at DraftKings and PointsBet.

Louisville, looking to make its first Final Four appearance since 2018, has one of those victories over UConn as well as marquee non-conference wins over Kentucky and Michigan. The Cardinals’ losses outside the one to N.C. State were to ranked teams Arizona and North Carolina by a combined three points.

Hailey Van Lith and Kianna Smith are a formidable 1-2 perimeter punch for the Cardinals, combining to make 91 shots from beyond the arc, and both are connecting at a clip of better than 37%. Louisville, which is a +1500 option at Caesars and +1400 at PointsBet to win the title, also has an inside force in 6-1 center Emily Engstler, who averaged 11.6 points and 9.1 rebounds.

Assorted notes and plays to consider

A staple in the NCAA Women’s Tournament, Tennessee had a season of resurgence, but any serious hopes of winning the title took an enormous hit when leading scorer Jordan Horston suffered a dislocated elbow in mid-February. Horston, who averaged 16.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in the Lady Vols’ first 23 games, could be back in time for the tournament. Most oddsmakers have already written them off, however, as offerings range from +1500 at Caesars to +5000 at WynnBET.

Though Kim Mulkey left Baylor for LSU, the fifth-ranked Bears — a +2500 play at DraftKings, +2200 at PointsBet, and +2000 at Caesars — kept rolling and have clinched a share of the Big 12 regular-season title and top seed for the conference tournament. Senior forward NyLyssa Smith, who was on the 2019 title-winning team, has averaged 21.8 points and 11.7 rebounds and is less than 100 points shy of 2,000 for her career.

For those looking to wager on individual games with some enjoyment, Iowa is a must-watch with guard Caitlin Clark. The sophomore, averaging 27.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 7.9 assists, has Stephen Curry “in the gym” range and recorded five triple-doubles and 10 games of 30 or more points.

While the Hawkeyes have long title odds from +4000 at Caesars to +6000 at PointsBet, Clark gives them the proverbial shooters’ chance. In seven games against ranked teams, she has averaged 31.3 points and 8.1 assists while topping 40 points on two occasions.

Photo: Dawson Powers/USA TODAY 


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