October 24, 2021 

Women’s basketball bracketology: UConn and South Carolina top the preseason bracket

Three teams with arguments for the top spot as season dawns

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It seems like it’s been 10 years since we last had college basketball, but the wait is almost over, making it the perfect time for wild, chaotic speculation.

The preseason bracket projection is finally here and this has been, by far, the toughest I’ve ever had to put together. Any preseason projection includes an element of blindfolded dart-throwing. Toss in a 2020-21 season skewed majorly by a global pandemic and still unknown bracket rules and, honestly, I’ll be astounded if the final product in March looks anything like this.

Still, this is my best effort and should be roughly in line with preseason expectations for each team included — plus or minus a couple seed lines based on where I disagree with preseason polls and conference standings.

As chaotic as it is, some things never change:

  • UConn is a 1 seed. For now, the Huskies are the No. 1 overall, but as I explain here, I have no problem with anyone who thinks it should be South Carolina or Stanford. My guess is all three will fill that spot at some point this season.
  • Louisville, Baylor, and Maryland are also major players who will compete for a 1 seed. Baylor is on the 3 line for now, but the Bears have a world of potential in high-impact transfers and a new head coach.
  • The traditional powers in the one-bid conferences are back. Princeton, which did not play last year, is projected to go to the NCAA Tournament for the ninth time since 2010, Missouri State is looking to make it three tournaments in a row, and FGCU should be a single-digit seed.

After that…there’s a whole lot to break down.

Bracketology methodology

Right now, the plan is for the committee to approach the NCAA Tournament the same way it did in 2019. That means there will be four regional sites and the top four seeds in each region will host first- and second-round games. That went out the window last year as the entire tournament moved to San Antonio due to the pandemic. It doesn’t look like we’ll have to do that again (knock on wood, seriously, find some wood and knock on it).

I have assigned automatic bids to each team picked to win its conference in the preseason. Not every conference has held its media day yet, so for those, I have taken my best guess at the favorite.

With the tournament moving back to regional sites, it is safe to assume the S-Curve will go back to its previous reduced role. In other words, teams will still be placed into the bracket based on their true seed (the 20th overall will get its spot before the 21st, then the 22nd, etc.), but their placement will be based first on geography, then adjusted for balance. This means the best 1 seed is not definitely going to be paired with the worst 2. It does, however, mean that the best 1 seed goes into the bracket first in the region closest to home. The best 2 seed will be the first 2 in the bracket, and rather than getting matched with the worst 1, it will get first pick at the region that makes the most geographic sense.

A reminder on some basic bracket rules:

  • The top four seed lines in each region shall be from different conferences unless a conference has more than four teams in the top 16 (making this rule impossible to follow, as is the case with the Big Ten in this bracket).
  • Teams from the same conference shall not be projected to meet until the Elite Eight if they met three times during the regular season, or the Sweet 16 if they met twice. Because we don’t know what will happen in conference tournaments, I am assuming every conference team will face each other once more than is on the schedule. Fortunately this week, I do not project any conference to send more than eight teams, so I have been able to keep league teams away from each other until the Elite Eight.
  • In order to comply by bracket rules, it is acceptable to move a team up or down one seed line. I’ll note any cases of this in the “procedural bumps” section.

Bracket Breakdown:

Multi-Bid Conferences:

ACC: 8
SEC: 8
Big Ten: 7
Pac-12: 7
Big 12: 5
Big East: 2
Summit: 2

Last Four In:


First Four Out:

Seton Hall
Oklahoma State

Next Four Out:

Mississippi State
Arizona State

Procedural Bumps:

BYU from a 9 to a 10
North Carolina from a 10 to a 9

Next Update: Post-Thanksgiving MTEs

Written by Russell Steinberg

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