South Carolina expectedly earned the No. 1 overall seed in the women’s NCAA Tournament on Sunday night.
This year’s bracket expanded to 68 teams for the first time to match the men’s field with the play-in games on Wednesday and Thursday. The Gamecocks, who top the Greensboro Region, will face the winner of Howard and Incarnate Word — one of the First Four games.
North Carolina State, Stanford and Louisville also earned No. 1 seeds.
Expanding the field was one of the many changes to the women’s basketball tournament in the wake of inequities revealed at last season’s NCAAs. The last four teams in the field will play games on Wednesday and Thursday.
Potentially awaiting Aliyah Boston and the Gamecocks in the regional final could be Caitlin Clark and No. 2 Iowa in a matchup of two top players in the sport.
“They said that the No. 1 overall seed has an easier path to the Final Four. I don’t see that,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “But I do believe we’re going to play our best basketball from here on out.”
North Carolina State is the top seed in the Bridgeport Region and could face second-seeded UConn in the regional final. The Huskies finally are getting healthy with reigning Associated Press player of the year Paige Bueckers working her way back from a knee injury that sidelined her for two months.
Defending champion Stanford headlines the Spokane Region. The Cardinal cruised through the Pac-12 and will try to win a second straight national title. Texas, which won the Big 12 earlier on Sunday, handed the Cardinal one of its three losses this season.
Louisville is the top seed in the Wichita Region. The Cardinals were the most surprising of the top seeds, edging No. 2 seed Baylor after the Bears lost in the Big 12 title game.
The NCAA announced the selections on Sunday for the first time since 2006 this year. Officials hope to move the announcement back to its normal Monday night slot next year. NCAA officials also would like to play next year’s opening round play-in games at a neutral site, similar to the men’s event in Dayton, Ohio.
While there are changes to the tournament, there is also a return to normalcy. The top 16 seeds again will host the first- and second-round games, a year after the entire tournament was played in a makeshift bubble in San Antonio because of COVID-19 concerns. Though the coronavirus is still impacting the country, the NCAA expects to be able to play the tournament in its normal locations, including at campus sites for the first weekend.
Bridgeport, Connecticut; Greensboro, North Carolina; Spokane, Washington; and Wichita, Kansas, will host the regionals and Minneapolis is the site of the Final Four on April 1 and 3.
Longwood, IUPUI and Incarnate Word will all be making their first appearance in March Madness — a phrase the women are allowed to use for the first time. Incarnate Word became the first sub-.500 team to play in the tournament since 2015.