Ranking the 2021 Women's Sweet 16: UConn, Baylor Lead Pack of Contenders

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There was a mix of chalk and upsets through the first two rounds of the women’s NCAA tournament, and the Sweet 16 may bring even more of a shakeup.

Though the margins of victory were high among the No. 1 and 2 seeds in the first two rounds, the strong defense of the remaining field should make for an exciting and unpredictable Sweet 16. Six No. 5 and 6 seeds pulled off upsets to advance and may be fit to surprise going forward.

The top eight seeds still remain in a tournament anchored by the Big Ten, which has four teams represented in the Sweet 16. Of those squads, No. 5 Iowa has the most highly anticipated contest of the Sweet 16, going against No. 1 seed UConn in a meeting of freshmen stars.

Will a No. 1 or 2 seed fall in the Sweet 16? Which teams will have the endurance to reach the Final Four?

This is how the full Sweet 16 field stands heading into the second weekend based on performances in the first two rounds and depth and balance shown so far.

Women's Sweet 16 rankings

1. UConn (No. 1 seed, River Walk Region)

UConn continued to run like a well-oiled machine without coach Geno Auriemma, with two dominant victories on the way to the Sweet 16. With Auriemma back from COVID-19 quarantine, Paige Bueckers and the Huskies have a tantalizing test ahead against Catlin Clark and Iowa. A must-watch matchup will likely have no shortage of buckets, but UConn has the strong defensive advantage—and if the Huskies advance, a meeting with No. 2 seed Baylor in the Elite Eight may be awaiting them.

2. Baylor (No. 2 seed, River Walk Region)

The Lady Bears strengthened their case to repeat as national champions after winning their first two tournament games by an average of 45.5 points. NaLyssa Smith and Moon Ursin have led the way offensively, while Baylor’s defense has been front and center, holding Jackson State and Virginia Tech to 30.5% shooting. The Lady Bears will have to get past No. 6 seed Michigan and likely UConn to reach the Final Four, but they have the weapons to prove dangerous through the rest of the tournament with their interior presence and offensive balance.

3. Stanford (No. 1 seed, Alamo Region)

Stanford’s second-round game against Oklahoma State was not a blowout like its first-round contest, but the Cardinal got the job done. Stanford’s depth prevailed as it poured in 13 three-pointers and held down OSU’s top scorer, Natasha Mack. Kiana Williams and the top-seeded Cardinal remain a favorite to win the NCAA title, and the team’s offensive versatility should prove formidable against No. 5 seed Missouri State in the Sweet 16 and beyond.

4. Maryland (No. 2 seed, HemisFair Region)

Maryland’s depth has been on display through its first two tournament games while being powered by six players averaging double figures in points. The Terrapins’ nation-leading offense has not slowed down, as the team set the record for most points by a Big Ten team in its first two NCAA tournament games (198). Maryland, led by Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller, will be tested next by No. 6 seed Texas in the Sweet 16 and may have difficulty against South Carolina’s defense in a potential Elite Eight matchup, but the team’s high-powered offense continues to keep it in the title conversation.

5. South Carolina (No. 1 seed, HemisFair Region)

Aliyah Boston has been stellar during the Gamecocks’ first two tournament games, with averages of 19.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. South Carolina’s defense has been as advertised while allowing a total of just 95 points in the first two rounds and showing dominance in the paint and on the boards. It’s well-suited to quiet its next opponent in No. 5 Georgia Tech, a team known for its strong defense but also an inconsistent offense.

6. Louisville (No. 2 seed, Alamo Region)

The Cardinals had a scare in the second round against Northwestern but ended up overcoming a season-worst 18-point deficit to win by nine. Louisville has gotten great contributions from its freshmen, as senior guard Dana Evans has not yet been true to form in March. Louisville will need offensive contributions across the lineup against its next opponent, No. 6 Oregon, which held opponents to a total of 97 points in the first two rounds.

7. Indiana (No. 4 seed, Mercado Region)

The Hoosiers have been riding their lockdown defense on the way to their first Sweet 16 appearance in 38 years. Indiana has been a quiet threat so far in March Madness but has held teams to a total of 80 points through the first two rounds. While Grace Berger has been Indiana’s offensive leader, the team’s lack of depth may be exposed against No. 1 seed NC State—but the Hoosiers’ defense will give them a chance against the heavyweights.

8. NC State (No. 1 seed, Mercado Region)

NC State has yet to stand out among the most dominant teams in the tournament as it has dealt with injuries and inconsistent performances. Starting forward Kayla Jones missed the team’s second-round game with a patella tendon injury as the Wolfpack defeated No. 8 seed South Florida and may remain out for the Sweet 16. Jones has anchored NC State this season, and the Wolfpack will need a breakout offensive game from Elissa Cunane against Indiana’s imposing defense.

9. Missouri State (No. 5 seed, Alamo Region)

Missouri State took care of business through its first two rounds while defeating No. 12 UC Davis and No. 13 Wright State by an average of 22 points. The Lady Bears’ next opponent will be a step up in caliber in top-seeded Stanford. Missouri State has done a good job in silencing opponents’ top stars and will need to keep up its defensive edge against a Stanford team that has averaged 78.6 points per game this season.

10. Texas A&M (No. 2 seed, Mercado Region)

Texas A&M is riding a wave of excitement after its thrilling overtime victory against No. 7 Iowa State in the second round. Jordan Nixon, who made the game-winning shot, has led the way for the Aggies as they have won by slim margins in the first two rounds. Texas A&M has yet to establish itself as a surefire threat compared with dominant performances of the other top seeds and will be put to the test against No. 3 seed Arizona in the Sweet 16.

11. Oregon (No. 6 seed, Alamo Region)

Oregon has hit its stride just in time with Nyara Sabally and Sedona Prince making their marks on this year’s tournament. After Prince went viral last week while revealing the women’s workout conditions, the forward helped lead the Ducks in an upset defeat of No. 3 Georgia to advance to the Sweet 16. Oregon will likely be tested against No. 2 Louisville, but the Ducks can keep things competitive with their size and defense.

12. Arizona (No. 3 seed, Mercado Region)

Arizona had a close call against No. 11 seed BYU in the second round but brought enough grit to earn its way to the program’s second Sweet 16 berth. Aari McDonald is the Wildcats’ anchor on both offense and defense, averaging 18.5 points and 3.5 steals through the team’s first two games. Arizona next faces a Texas A&M team riding the momentum of its overtime victory, but it will have to rely on its resilience and grind-it-out play to wear down the Aggies and advance to the Elite Eight.

13. Michigan (No. 6 seed, River Walk Region)

Naz Hillmon and Leigha Brown helped lead Michigan to an upset of No. 3 Tennessee to advance to the program’s first Sweet 16. The Wolverines’ defense and size have proved tough to beat while shutting down the perimeter. Michigan will face another tough defensive opponent in No. 2 Baylor, so its offense will have to rise to the occasion to pull off another upset and make the Elite Eight.

14. No. 6 Texas (No. 6 seed, HemisFair Region)

Texas is one of three No. 6 seeds that advanced to the Sweet 16, and it may be the biggest wild card of the group. The Longhorns took down No. 3 UCLA in the second round but have a larger task at hand against Maryland’s high-powered offense. Texas will need big contributions throughout its lineup to match the Terps, but Maryland may have too many weapons for the Longhorns to find an edge.

15. No. 5 Iowa (No. 5 seed, River Walk Region)

The Hawkeyes have been one of the top story lines of the tournament, thanks to Clark. The freshman phenom continues to make her name known after pouring on 35 points against No. 4 Kentucky and next faces Bueckers and UConn in a highly anticipated matchup. The two freshmen headline the Sweet 16 contest, but Iowa will have to overcome the Huskies’ swarming defense to pull off the upset.

16. Georgia Tech (No. 5 seed, HemisFair Region)

Georgia Tech has stuck to its defensive identity during the first two rounds of the tournament. The Yellow Jackets were able to overcome a 17-point deficit to win in overtime against Stephen F. Austin and bounced back with a hot shooting night against No. 4 seed West Virginia. The team will face another defensive-minded opponent in South Carolina in the Sweet 16, so Georgia Tech will need another above-average performance from its offense to keep its Elite Eight hopes alive.

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