Millions of fans are celebrating the return of March Madness after its almost two-year break from the COVID-19 pandemic canceling last year’s tournament. Once more, college basketball fans can watch game after game of all-star play, buzzer-beaters and bracket-busting underdogs. College athletes will have the chance to avenge their lost season and vie for the coveted title of national champion.
On average, the men’s tournament receives more than five times as many views as the women’s tournament. In the 2019 championship games, the difference was very clear: The men’s game of Virginia against Texas Tech had 19.6 million viewers, while around 3.6 million people tuned into the women’s battle between Baylor and Notre Dame.
Although the women’s tournament may be less popular, their version of March Madness has been anything but boring to watch. With powerhouse programs like UConn and Notre Dame, as well as recent dominators such as South Carolina, the past few years have been full of exciting competition.
For example, in two of the most recent women’s tournaments, the Final Four and championship games had fans on the edge of their seats. In 2018, Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale hit not one, but two game-ending jump shots. In those final games, she helped carry her team to defeat its rival UConn in the semifinals and win the championship against Mississippi State, 61-58.
In 2019, the dramatic finishes and high level of competition continued. The season was capped off with Baylor, led by star player Chloe Jackson, defeating defending champions Notre Dame by only one point in the last seconds of the national championship game.
Looking forward, the 2021 NCAA women’s basketball tournament promises to continue the high stakes and display of skills that it has always shown. Notably, the top eight teams of the tournament are playing some of the best basketball in the nation, and each has a tough but legitimate path to the championship title.
In the Alamo Region, top overall seed Stanford (25-2, 19-2 Pac-12) stands tall as the reigning Pac-12 champions. Stanford’s many offensive weapons and strong coaching under veteran Tara VanDerveer give the Cardinals a chance to run deep into the tournament.
In addition, No. 2 seed Louisville (23-3, 14-2 ACC) is a formidable threat, despite a tough loss in the ACC Championship to North Carolina State on March 7. Led by star guard Dana Evans, who has scored in 25 out of 26 games, the Louisville Cardinals can challenge any team they face.
South Carolina (22-4, 14-2 SEC) sits atop the Hemisfair region as the first seed after winning a talented SEC conference. The Gamecocks lead the country in blocks and are second in rebounding, which, when combined with great coaching from Dawn Staley makes them a fierce contender.
However, No. 2 seed Maryland (24-2, 17-1 Big Ten) boasts the best-scoring offense in the country and finished the season on a 13 game-winning streak, giving the Terrapins a very good chance of making a good run in the tournament as well.
In the River Walk Region, top seed UConn (24-1, 18-0 Big East) has a long legacy of championship wins and are once again primed to add another ring to the collection. However, the Huskies will play without their coach Geno Auriemma for the first two rounds after Auriemma tested positive for COVID-19. This team ended the season ranked No. 1 in the country in the AP Poll, averaging 82 points per game and has a bright future ahead of them, especially with Big East Freshman and Player of the Year Paige Bueckers dominating in just her first year.
Also in this region is the reigning champion Baylor (25-2, 17-1 Big 12), who is making its 10th-straight appearance in the NCAA tournament as a top two seed. With lots of talent in players like forward NaLyssa Smith and center Queen Egbo, this team is looking to go all the way to defend its title.
Another well-accomplished team lies in No. 2 seed Texas A&M (23-2, 13-1 SEC). Although the Aggies lost in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament to Georgia, their consistent regular season domination and coaching under Naismith Coach of the Year finalist Gary Blair can help them make a deep run this year.
Lastly, in the Mercado Region, NC State (20-2, 12-2 ACC) was awarded the No. 1 seed after a strong season, topped off by winning its second consecutive ACC Championship. The Wolfpack have beaten Louisville and South Carolina, two teams ranked No. 1 this year, on the road, which shows they are more than ready for big games.
While these top eight teams seemed poised to face off in the final rounds, the tournament as a whole is filled with deserving teams, with abundant dark horses and sleeper teams sure to bust fans’ brackets. With so much athleticism and hustle to be displayed over the next few weeks, I think young female athletes and basketball fans everywhere will enjoy this year’s women’s March Madness.
Julia Cannamela is a first-year in the College. Women’s World of Sports appears online every other week.