When the NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee revealed its projected top 16 seeds and regional assignments at halftime of Monday’s UConn-South Carolina game, the reaction was immediate: Really?
In the regional at Greensboro, North Carolina, the committee’s first projection of the season placed No. 1 overall seed Baylor, No. 6 overall seed Notre Dame, No. 11 seed Maryland and No. 13 seed South Carolina.
In the latest Associated Press poll, all four teams were ranked inside the top 11.
ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson called it a “PROBLEM.” Bracketologist Charlie Creme called it the toughest group of three teams for a No. 1 seed to get through. Broadcaster Maria Taylor highlighted it as an example of an unbalanced, though hypothetical, bracket.
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None of these projections are final, and South Carolina would have to win two games in the tournament before it would even reach the regional stage. Selection Monday is March 18.
But for USC fans, this first reveal likely brought mixed feelings — on one hand, the Gamecocks haven’t been lower than a No. 2 seed since 2013, and they have been surging as of late and are considered a No. 3 seed by Creme’s projections. On the other, regional placement has been a sore spot for coach Dawn Staley and her team for several years now, and Greensboro would be the closest regional USC has played in since 2015.
Ahead of Carolina’s game Thursday against Georgia, Staley said she’s not concerned about the projections.
“I really didn’t care about it in the past. It hasn’t been favorable to us on Selection Monday, so I’m not going to control what I can’t control,” Staley said. “At this point, it’s wherever. We have to be ready to play wherever they send us and whoever we have to play against.”
And despite, or perhaps because of, her frustration with the committee’s prior decisions with regard to regional placement, Staley said she’s not getting her hopes up or fixated on staying in Greensboro.
“It doesn’t matter for my importance. They’ve never considered what’s important to South Carolina, so I’m not ... I’m just ready to play wherever they send us and do the best that we can,” Staley said.
The NCAA has been revealing the top seeds in advance of the tournament since the 2014-2015 season. None of the reveals have any impact on the official bracket released on Selection Monday, but they do give insight into what the committee thinks of certain teams and which regionals they might be placed in.
In the first reveal of the 2015-2016 season, South Carolina was rated as a No. 1 seed with no regional assignment. The Gamecocks wound up as the top seed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
A year later, USC was again a No. 1 seed with no regional assignment in the first reveal before winding up as the high seed in Stockton, California, region. Last season, the Gamecocks started as the No. 8 team overall and therefore a No. 2 seed. They ended the season as a No. 2 seed in the Albany, New York region.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated Greensboro would be South Carolina’s closest regional since 2002. The Gamecocks played in Greensboro in 2015.