March 16, 2022
Big 12 bracket buzz
A breakdown of the six teams headed to the Big Dance
If a Big 12 team is not prepared for March Madness after enduring an 18-game regular-season conference schedule and battling it out at the conference tournament, it makes you wonder if anyone is truly ready. Six Big 12 women’s basketball teams were selected to compete in the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship – March Madness is coming up and down the I-35 corridor and then some. This is the most selections for the conference since 2017 and proves yet again that this is one of the best women’s basketball leagues in the nation.
Four of the six teams selected will be hosting First and Second Round games on their respective campuses. Two teams have first-year head coaches (Baylor and Oklahoma), one is led by the dean of Big 12 coaches (Iowa State), one team cut down the nets in Kansas City (Texas). And the other two from the same state have been absent from the field in recent years (Kansas and Kansas State).
Here’s a breakdown of what to keep an eye on for the Big 12 teams looking to make waves in each of the four regions of the NCAA Tournament bracket.
Wichita Region – No. 2 Baylor (March 18)
After a disappointing loss to Texas in the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament, the Bears most likely slipped off that No. 1 seed line in the Wichita Region. Instead, they will face No. 15 Hawaii, winners of both the Big West regular season and tournament titles, earning the automatic bid into the field. Hawaii is 20-9 and has won eight straight games.
Baylor’s athleticism and speed will be an issue for Hawaii, who averages just 64 points per game. The Bears will rely on Big 12 Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith to assert herself from the jump and the Baylor backcourt to knock down perimeter shots.
Assuming they advance, Baylor will play the winner of the No. 7 Ole Miss vs. No. 10 South Dakota matchup. This game will showcase different styles, with each team having something to prove. Ole Miss returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years, finishing fourth in the SEC with a record of 23-8. The Coyotes are making their fourth-straight NCAA appearance, winning the Summit League tournament title behind three super seniors – Chloe Lamb, Hannah Sjerven and Olivia Korngable. The Second Round game for Baylor against the winner of this 7/10 game will be a quick scout and preparation for very different game plans.
Spokane Region – No. 2 Texas (March 18)
Shortly after cutting down the nets Sunday at the Big 12 Tournament, head coach Vic Schaefer was happy to tell anyone who would listen that his Texas team could easily be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns enter this year as a two-seed and will play one more weekend in the Erwin Center on the Texas campus. Then, they will take on No. 15 Fairfield in the First Round, a team that is making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1998. The Stags won the MAAC Tournament championship to earn the automatic bid. They are on a 15-game winning streak and are led by the MAAC leading scorer, 6’1 forward Lou Lopez-Senechal.
Texas is looking at an interesting matchup in the Second Round against the winner of the No. 7 Utah and No. 10 Arkansas. It will mirror playing one of their fellow Big 12 teams – Iowa State. Both Utah and Arkansas are in the top 15 in the nation in three-point attempts. Utah comes into the NCAA Tournament field at 20-11 and averages 9.4 three-pointers/game. Arkansas, 18-13, has four players that average double-figures and average 8.2 three-pointers/game.
Whoever is the matchup for the Longhorns, their relentless pressure defense will have to push their opponent off the three-point arc and force them to penetrate into an always congested lane. Texas is absolutely peaking at the right time again this season – do not be surprised to see them back in the Elite 8 in two weeks.
Greensboro Region – No. 3 Iowa State (March 18)
Iowa State had one of its best seasons of late with a record of 26-6 and a second-place finish in the Big 12 regular-season standings. Led by All-American Ashley Joens, the Cyclones are tournament-tested and ready for March. They secured a No. 3 seed for the fourth time in school history and, as a First and Second Round host site, will have a true homecourt advantage.
Iowa State fans will be looking to bring the “Hilton Magic” to life as their team lines up against No. 14 UT Arlington in the opening game. The Lady Mavericks earned their NCAA bid by knocking off top-seeded Troy in the Sun Belt Conference tournament and coming into this matchup with a 20-7 record and the Sun Belt Player of the Year, Starr Jacobs. Jacobs leads her team in scoring (21.1) and rebounding (6.6).
The projected Second Round game for Iowa State will be a tough one. Georgia comes to Ames as the No. 6 seed and gets the winner of a play-in game – No. 11 Dayton and No. 11 DePaul. This year, the Bulldogs are 9-4 on the road, including a win at then second-ranked NC State. DePaul is led by 6’1 freshman sensation Aneesah Morrow, who has been a double-double machine all season. Dayton comes into the play-in game 25-5, losing in the finals of the Atlantic 10 tournament by six to Massachusetts.
Georgia matches up with either team and will rely on their All-SEC players Jenna Staiti in the post and Que Morrison to defend out front. Freshman Reigan Richardson has come on as of late, scoring in double figures six of the last seven games. Iowa State will need to control the tempo and, as always, hit three’s to keep the magic alive and advance to the Sweet 16.
Bridgeport Region – No. 4 Oklahoma (March 19)
Oklahoma is back in the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since 2018, with a 24-8 record. First-year head coach Jennie Baranczyk brought a new style and a reset of the program culture to Norman. Now the Sooners are the No. 4 seed in their region and hosting at home. Their Saturday matchup will be against No. 13 IUPUI, the Horizon League Tournament champions. The Jaguars are 24-4, winners of five straight and went 10-4 on the road this season. Oklahoma, averaging 83 points per game, will look to All Big-12 first-team selections Madi Williams and Taylor Robertson to start the game fast and never take their foot off the gas.
A win by OU sets up a meeting against the winner of the No. 5 Notre Dame/No. 12 UMass matchup. Another turn-around occurred in South Bend as Notre Dame was 10-10 last year but is back in the NCAA Tournament under head coach Niele Ivey. She makes her first trip to the tournament as a head coach, her team sitting at 22-8 with solid veteran leadership and talented freshmen. Point guard Olivia Miles was an All-ACC First Team selection and freshman Sonia Citron was named ACC Rookie of the Year. For the first time in 24 years, UMass saw their school appear on Selection Sunday, entering at the No. 12 seed after claiming the Atlantic 10 Championship. 6’1 forward Sam Breen, the A-10 Player of the Year, averages a double-double on the season, leading the team in scoring (16.9) and rebounding (10.3).
This 5/12 game is very intriguing, and the winner should get an OU team that plays fast, loose, and hard on every possession.
Spokane Region – No. 8 Kansas (March 18)
It has been a long road for Big 12 Coach of the Year Brandon Schneider in his seven seasons at Kansas, but his veteran-laden Jayhawks finally turned the corner this year. Finishing 20-9, this is the first appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the program since 2013. KU will take on the No. 9 seed Georgia Tech in sunny Palo Alto, CA – the winner gets No. 1 seed, Stanford.
The Jayhawks will have to contend with a Yellow Jackets squad, under second-year head coach Nell Fortner, which has four players that average double figures on the year, including the 2022 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Lorela Cubaj. Georgia Tech (21-10) averages just 61 points per game, but their stingy defense held opponents to just under 52 points per game. Kansas will push in transition and create easy offense with their defense. All-Big 12 guard Holly Kersgieter leads the Jayhawks in scoring and is their top three-point threat – you must get back and find her in transition.
The winner of this tough matchup will have one day to prepare for the reigning national champions, Stanford. Tara VanDerveer’s team is 28-3 and have won 20 games in a row. They went undefeated in the Pac 12 regular season and blasted through the Pac 12 Tournament. Confetti showers are normal for the Cardinal – if KU advances, it will be the biggest challenge of their record-setting year.
Bridgeport Region – No. 9 Kansas State (March 19)
This will be the second trip for the Kansas State Wildcats to Raleigh, NC, this season, having traveled there as part of the Pre-Season WNIT tournament. Their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament field since 2018 comes with interesting connections and matchups. K-State will face the No. 8 seed Washington State (19-12), who makes their third tournament appearance in school history. Last year the Cougars were also in the 8/9 game as the No. 9 seed. Head coach Kamie Ethridge, now in her fourth season, was the former associate head coach at Kansas State for 18 seasons. Former Wildcat guard Laurie Koehn is an assistant coach for the Cougars and Deb Patterson, the all-time winningest coach in K-State history serves as Ethridge’s director of player personnel.
On the floor, K-State will rely heavily on the services of their all-American center Ayoka Lee, who averages 22.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. The Wildcats have suffered from an inability to score down the stretch, only breaking 70 points once in the last nine games. A young backcourt for K-State will have their hands full shutting down Washington State’s three-point threats – Johanna Teder and sisters Charlisse and Krystal Leger-Walker.
The winner of this game will get No. 1 seed NC State in front of a packed house of fanatic Wolfpack fans. K-State lost to NC State 90-69 in the November 2021 matchup. If they can survive and advance, it will be a monster test for the Wildcats.
Written by Missy Heidrick
I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!