The hope for a double-digit seed getting into the women's Sweet 16 evaporated in heartbreaking fashion for South Dakota State in the closing seconds at Stanford on Monday night. However, the early rounds of the tournament didn't completely go to form, either.
So we head into the regional semifinals with the four No. 1 seeds intact -- anything less would have been a real stunner -- but a pair of No. 2s vanquished by No. 7 seeds.
There aren't any regular-season rematches among the regional semifinal games, but there will be some interesting matchups of styles and traditions.
There's big news for the Pac-12: For the first time, the league has four teams in the Sweet 16, including No. 4 seed Stanford, which on Monday squeaked by No. 12 seed South Dakota State 66-65.
Also on Monday, No. 3 seed UCLA topped sixth-seeded South Florida 72-67 for the Bruins' first regional semifinal appearance since 1999, and No. 7 seed Washington upset 2-seed Maryland on the Terps' home court for the Huskies' first regional semifinal since 2001. On Sunday, No. 2 Oregon State became the first of the Pac-12 teams to move on.
The SEC, which is accustomed to having multiple teams go this deep, also makes up a quarter of the Sweet 16. This year, it's South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Kentucky. The ACC has three teams in the Sweet 16 (Notre Dame, Syracuse and Florida State) and the Big 12 two (Baylor and Texas).
So after four days of triumphs and letdowns, big shots and near misses, let's look ahead to next weekend's regionals (all tipoffs ET).
No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 7 Washington (ESPN, 7 p.m. Friday): The "home" team, Kentucky, will have the postseason stage to itself, since the Kentucky men's team is already out of its tournament. The spotlight in Lexington will be on Matthew Mitchell's squad, which didn't have much trouble in the early rounds. Most were expecting a Kentucky showdown with Maryland, but instead the Wildcats will take on Washington. What the Huskies don't have in depth (they have none, essentially), they make up for in hustle and in having one of the best pure scorers in the college game in guard Kelsey Plum, who burned the Terps on Monday for 32 points. While the focus will be on the guards in this game -- the Wildcats will hope Makayla Epps' shoulder is OK by Friday -- this one could be decided by which team dominates the boards.
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Stanford (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. Friday): It looked as if the Irish were going to have a rematch with South Dakota State, a team Notre Dame beat by 11 points in November. Instead, it's a "braniac bowl" between the eggheads of South Bend versus the geniuses of Palo Alto. Seriously, these are two storied programs, both of which have racked up a ton of Final Four visits in recent years without winning a title. Both programs have won the national championship, but it's been awhile -- 2001 for Notre Dame, 1990 and 1992 for Stanford. Notre Dame guard Lindsay Allen appears to be at the top of her game. And in general this season, everything the Cardinal do well, the Irish tend to do a little bit better.
Sioux Falls Regional
No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Syracuse (ESPN2, 7 p.m. Friday): It's a matchup between two coaches who have completely changed the mentality and expectations of their respective programs. Quentin Hillsman's Orange made it all the way to the ACC tournament title game before falling to Notre Dame, and their 3-point shooting could test the discipline of South Carolina's defense. But coach Dawn Staley led her Gamecocks to the Women's Final Four last year. And their only loss this season was to UConn. South Carolina's posts dominated their first-round victory, and their guards were especially strong in the second round. If the Gamecocks have both aspects of their offense going, they are very difficult to slow down. These teams met in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year in Columbia, South Carolina, and the Gamecocks won 97-68. But this is definitely a better Syracuse team than a year ago.
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 7 Tennessee (ESPN2, 9:30 p.m. Friday): Two of the more dynamic individual players -- the Buckeyes' Kelsey Mitchell and the Lady Vols' Diamond DeShields -- will be showcased in this game. However, Tennessee -- at least the latest, improved version of this team -- might not have to rely as much on DeShields for offense as Ohio State must rely on Mitchell. That's not to suggest that the Lady Vols are a better offensive team than Ohio State, though; they're not. However, the Lady Vols have found a few more answers on offense, as they showed in their second-round upset of second-seeded Arizona State. Tennessee would love to see the same Mercedes Russell who came out so strong against the Sun Devils repeat her performance against the Buckeyes. Also, Tennessee has tightened up its defense, which already was more of the team's strength. However, Mitchell can seriously test any defense.
No. 1 UConn vs. No. 5 Mississippi State (ESPN, 11:30 a.m. Saturday): Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer has long been known for his defensive wizardry, but it will really take some magic for Mississippi State to slow down the Huskies. UConn breezed through its early rounds, while Mississippi State went to the wire to get past Michigan State in the second round. Look to the Huskies to put a lot of pressure on Bulldogs scoring star Victoria Vivians and smallish point guard Morgan William. UConn's Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck all scored at least 20 points in their final game at Gampel Pavilion on Monday, a 97-51 victory over Duquesne, and they're so on point now that it almost seems like they could name the final score and hit it. It will be a test for the Bulldogs to stay in striking distance.
No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 UCLA (ESPN, 1:30 p.m. Saturday): The Longhorns have plenty of size inside, led by 6-foot-7 Imani Boyette, but they are most effective when their guards are causing havoc and getting great looks in transition. Texas looked very strong in both regards in its second-round victory over Missouri, dominating the Tigers in the paint but also harassing them on the perimeter. The Bruins, though, also have dynamic guards and the potential to own the paint. Texas' depth might come into play, especially on the perimeter, but this is an important game for two programs that are both trying to take a definitive step forward as national championship contenders -- if not this year, in the foreseeable future.
No. 1 Baylor vs. No. 5 Florida State (ESPN, 4 p.m. Saturday): The Lady Bears are the top rebounding team remaining in the tournament, averaging 46.1 per game. And Baylor's two main scoring threats, Nina Davis and Alexis Jones, have been very good -- and efficient -- so far this tournament. When the bracket came out, two teams that have beaten Baylor in the NCAA tournament in the past five years -- Texas A&M in 2011's Elite Eight and Louisville in 2013's Sweet 16 -- were projected to make it to this regional. But they were both defeated in the second round. Does that make the Lady Bears even bigger favorites? Perhaps, but let's not overlook Florida State's very capable offense and the Seminoles' postseason experience, as they nearly got to the Final Four last year. However ... Baylor has plenty of experience too.
No. 2 Oregon State vs. No. 6 DePaul (ESPN, 6:30 p.m. Saturday): Doug Bruno is known for his program's offensive prowess; among teams left in the tournament, the Blue Demons (81.2 points per game) trail only UConn (88.0) and Ohio State (86.8) in scoring average. But DePaul's shooters will be put to the test against the Beavers. Oregon State is tops in Division I in field goal percentage defense, limiting its foes to 31.2 percent shooting from the field. Oregon State won the Pac-12 tournament and hasn't been tested yet in this NCAA tournament, but that could change against DePaul, which already knocked out No. 3 seed Louisville.