Women's March Madness bracket winners, losers, next steps

Women's college basketball won't have a rematch of the national championship game in 2024, but LSU vs. Iowa could be the blockbuster of the Elite Eight tournament. If both even go that far, that is.

Who are the winners and losers of the Women's NCAA Tournament? We start on the losers' side, and that starts with the last two teams standing in 2023. Neither is headed to Cleveland. In fact, no one can be there.

There are three teams in the Albany 2 region that many may have picked to reach the Final Four before the bracket was revealed: national champion LSU, national runner-up Iowa and UCLA.

Who thought this was a good idea? The NCAA selection committee decided to combine the trio with No. 4 Kansas State.

As ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo put it, South Carolina earned — and got — what it calls an “easy” regional bracket, with the tournament's top overall seed and Albany 1 ranked first. Iowa — a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1992 — should have had the second-easiest corner of the bracket, but got the tougher one instead.

The defending Big Ten Tournament champion Hawkeyes, SEC Tournament runner-up LSU and Pac-12 semifinalist UCLA were in the top four of the preseason Associated Press poll and are now in the top eight. Of course, poll rankings are one thing and NCAA tournament berths are another. Still, it's amazing to see them all together.

“At first, I thought, 'Oh, this is a tough, tough part,'” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said of his first reaction to the bracket.

We'll further break down the girls bracket winners and losers and the road ahead for undefeated South Carolina and Kaitlin Clark and Iowa.

Winners

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1:25

Carolyn Beck: South Carolina is motivated going into the tournament

Caroline Beck, Andrea Carter, Rebecca Lobo and Elle Duncan blazed South Carolina's path to the women's NCAA tournament.

South Carolina Gamecox

Two-time national champion South Carolina Albany 1 in Regional No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Oregon State and No. 4 Indiana. The Irish are the reigning ACC Tournament champions and are playing well, but the Gamecocks have the benefit of having already faced them this season. That happened in Paris in November — a 29-point Gamecock victory — and both teams have grown a lot.

The Gamecocks were so good that they would be “winners” regardless of bracket matchups. But coach Dan Staley has to be happy with the road ahead for his team.

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Center Camila Cardoso will miss South Carolina's opener against the Presbyterian-Sacred Heart winner after being ejected for fighting in the SEC Tournament final. It will have little effect on that game. But the Gamecocks will be happy to follow her up against the winner of North Carolina-Michigan State, an 8-9 matchup.

If the Gamecox advance to the Sweet 16 — they last fell in the second round in 2013 — the No. They could face No. 4 Indiana.

If there's an Elite Eight matchup between South Carolina and Notre Dame, we'll see two top freshmen in Gamecox's Milesia Fulvili and the Irish's Hannah Hidalgo. But South Carolina's interior presence and depth should carry Gamecocks to Cleveland.

The Ivy League

The conference has two teams in the field: Ivy Madness champion Princeton and runner-up Columbia. This is the second time two Ivy teams have reached the field (Penn and Princeton advanced in 2016).

Both the Tigers and Lions finished 13–1 in league play, with Columbia handing Princeton its lone league loss, 67–65 on February 25 in New York.

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0:40

Andraya Carter: Regional 3 is a 'certified bucket' region

Andrea Carter breaks down how Region 3 is filled with “certified bucket” receivers in the women's NCAA Tournament.

USC Trojans

The program had a No. 1 seed since 1986, Trojans legend Cheryl Miller's senior year, until Sunday. USC, top-ranked in the Portland 3 Region, has had a breakthrough season thanks to a star freshman class, JuJu Watkins. But as the Trojans proved in their Pac-12 Tournament final when Stanford focused on shutting down Watkins, USC is more than its young superstar.

The Trojans have waited a long time — since 1994 — to make the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament again, so USC is excited, too.

USC looks to have a good path to the Elite Eight, where an epic showdown awaits the Paige Buickers and No. 3 seed UConn — the most decorated team in this corner of the bracket.

Texas Longhorns

The Big 12 Tournament champion earned its first No. 1 ranking since 2004. Like fellow No. 1 seed Iowa, the Longhorns did not win their conference regular-season title, but did win the league tournament.

After losing star guard Rory Harmon to a knee injury in late December, Texas had to navigate Big 12 play without him. They lost twice to Baylor, Kansas State and regular season champion Oklahoma. In the Big 12 tournament, the Longhorns beat Kansas, K-State and Iowa State, with freshman Madison Booker winning MVP honors.

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Texas has made the Elite Eight twice since Vic Schaefer took over as coach in 2020-21. After the Big 12 finals, he said he thought the Longhorns proved they deserved the No. 1 seed. The group agreed.

“When you win a championship in a league where you play the schedule these kids played, I don't know what else we can do,” Schaefer said. “I'm really confident in this team. They've done nothing but show me that they can do it.

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Why Texas is a Team to Fear in the Women's Tournament

Charlie Cream, Rebecca Lobo, Caroline Beck and Andrea Carter swept Region 4 in the women's NCAA tournament.

UConn Huskies and Tennessee Lady Vols

Both teams could make waves in the bracket. UConn ran the schedule in the Big East this season. The Huskies could be motivated by a potential revenge matchup with Ohio State in the Sweet 16, after the Buckeyes knocked off UConn in that round last year.

Tennessee, Portland 4 Region no. 6 seed, coming off a last-second loss to South Carolina in the SEC semifinals in the NCAA tournament. But the Lady Vols know they can compete with anyone from the way they played Gamecocks.

Tennessee's potential path to the Sweet 16, which includes a win over No. 3 seed NC State in the second round, won't be easy. But lady blocks have a chance.

losers

Iowa Hawkeyes

Last season, Stanford — ranked No. 1 in Iowa's region — was eliminated in the second round by Ole Miss. The Rebels were defeated by Louisville and then fell to Iowa in the Elite Eight.

It hasn't been an easy road to the Final Four for the Hawkeyes in 2023, but it looks easier in retrospect given what they could face this season at Albany 2.

The potential difficulty begins in the second round. The Hawkeyes open against the Holy Cross-UD Martin winner and will next face the 8-9 West Virginia-Princeton winner.

Last year, Georgia's ability to defend Iowa gave the Hawkeyes a nerve-wracking second-round victory. It could be similar if they face West Virginia, which leads the Big 12 in steals. Against Princeton, Iowa will face a program that upset Kentucky two years ago.

If seeded, Iowa will have its third meeting this season against Kansas State; The teams played twice in November, with the Wildcats winning the first and the Hawkeyes winning the second. Center Ayoka Lee provides the muscle for a K-State team that pushed Texas in the Big 12 semifinals.

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If Iowa makes the Elite Eight against No. 2 UCLA or No. 3 LSU, one of the biggest issues will be how the Hawkeyes deal with the size inside for both teams.

UCLA Bruins

Location-wise, the Bruins wouldn't mind trading their Pac-12 rivals Portland at 4 with Stanford or Portland at 3 with USC. But that didn't work out after falling to the UCLA Trojans in the semifinals of the Pac-12 tournament. . The Pac-12, as we know it in its final season, has three teams in the top two for the first time in conference history. UCLA has the toughest route of the three.

The Bruins won the 1978 AIAW Championship. But it's fair to say that UCLA is the best women's program in the NCAA era that began in 1982 not to make the Final Four. A strong chance of building on that progress in 2024. We're not ruling them out, especially with a stellar sophomore class that includes fifth-year senior leader Karisma Osborne and 6-foot-7 post Lauren Betts.

But staying in this region is tough for the Bruins. If the seeds hold, they will have to get back through two different types of teams, LSU and Iowa. Can UCLA do it? Yes, but it is a real challenge.

LSU Tigers

Albany 2 at No. The 3rd place defending champion also matches our bracket losers. However, their path doesn't look as difficult as Iowa or UCLA. For three reasons: One, they've already played South Carolina, the best team in the country, twice. The Tigers lost their SEC regular season and matchups with the Gamecocks, but they hung with them both times. Second, LSU won the NCAA title last season, defeating Iowa in the finals, so the Tigers should head into this regional with confidence. Third, Mulkey is already a four-time national championship coach. It's her time of year.

Miami Hurricanes

Last year, the Hurricanes were one of the biggest stories of March on the women's side. No. 9th place, they are no. 8 Oklahoma State, no. 1 Indiana and defeated No. 4 Villanova to advance to the Elite Eight, where they lost to eventual national champion LSU.

But last year's Mojo didn't go to Miami until 2024. The Hurricanes went 19-12 overall but 8-10 in the ACC. Wins over NCAA Tournament teams NC State, Duke and North Carolina weren't enough to offset some of Miami's losses.

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