With the last of the conference tournaments concluded, there are a few last-minute leaps and drops in March Madness seeding. Duke women's basketball has been named a No. 3 seed, and the Blue Zone offers some thoughts on Selection Sunday:
Blue Devils dancing
For the first time since 2018, Duke is heading to March Madness. While the Blue Devils were eliminated in the semifinal of the ACC tournament in a blowout loss to Virginia Tech, strong play against other ranked teams all year has demonstrated that Duke can hoop with some of the best teams in the country. The Blue Devils earned a No. 3 seed in the tournament, and as a result will host their first two games in Durham, opening with a Saturday game against No. 14-seed Iona. Duke’s identity all season has been defense, and the Blue Devils will look to play to their strengths in March. Led by star guard Celeste Taylor, Duke has had one of the best scoring defenses in the country this season, ranking No. 2 nationally and allowing just 50.8 points per game. Where the Blue Devils will need to improve for a deep run is on the offensive end of the floor. In its most recent game against Virginia Tech, Duke scored just 37 points in a loss. The Blue Devils will inevitably face some of the best teams in the country over the next few weeks, and if they want to make it past the first two or three games of the tournament they will need to consistently produce more on the offensive end.
Overall, Selection Sunday proved itself to be an excellent showing for the ACC. Virginia Tech, the conference tournament champions, led the way. The Hokies earned themselves a No.1 seed in March Madness and will host two games in Blacksburg, Va. Virginia Tech is led by star center and ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley, who has been a dominant post scorer and defender all season long, and will look to launch the Hokies to new heights. This is the first time Virginia Tech has ever been a No. 1-seed coming into March Madness, and it will be interesting to see how the Hokies handle the pressure.
Besides Virginia Tech and Duke, six other teams from the ACC will be in the Big Dance. Notre Dame, N.C. State, Miami, Louisville, Florida State and North Carolina all made the tournament. The level of parity in the ACC has been a topic of conversation all year, and the conference’s strength has prepared teams well for March’s high level of play.
Out of those teams, deeper runs can be expected from Notre Dame and North Carolina, who earned No. 3 and No. 6 seeds, respectively. While it is unknown how the Fighting Irish will fare as star guard Olivia Miles’ injury status remains unknown, Notre Dame has been a strong team all season and there is no reason why it cannot string together a few wins in March. The Tar Heels, who were eliminated by Duke in the ACC quarterfinals, have been an excellent squad all year long. Now fully healthy in the postseason, North Carolina will be scary.
Chaos in the Pac-12
It was a week full of shake-ups in the Pac-12, as the conference’s tournament featured several big-time upsets. Stanford and Utah, teams that have both consistently featured in the AP top 10, lost earlier than expected. Stanford was, however, able to maintain its No. 1 seed placement.
Washington State, on the other hand, was rewarded generously for an excellent postseason run. The Cougars defeated several very strong teams, including the Utes, Colorado and UCLA en route to a Pac-12 tournament championship. Washington State rose to a No. 5 seed in March Madness.
Overall the Pac-12 sent an impressive seven teams to the Big Dance. Utah, Stanford, Washington State, UCLA, USC, Arizona and Colorado all punched their tickets to the NCAA tournament. Despite some missteps in the postseason, Utah and Stanford had stellar regular seasons and will look to build on that success in the tournament.
While the strongest teams like South Carolina are obviously favored to win the tournament this year, this is anyone’s championship to win. Squads like Virginia Tech that have gotten hot at the right time could make a trophy run, and traditional powerhouses like UConn have that winning pedigree that comes in handy when the lights are brighter than ever before. Even Duke has a chance if it can tune up its offense. Regardless of all the uncertainty about the champion this year, one guarantee is that it will be as entertaining a tournament as ever before.
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