The Louisville Cardinals maintained a No. 1 seed in the NCAA women's basketball tournament despite losing in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, while the Iowa Hawkeyes' recent surge and Big Ten tournament title earned them a No. 2 seed in the Greensboro Regional that also features No. 1 South Carolina, the tournament bracket announcement revealed on Selection Sunday.
Louisville, the top seed in the Wichita Regional, appeared to be at risk of sliding to a 2-seed after its loss to Miami in the ACC tournament and as the Baylor Bears went on a tear throughout Big 12 play. Baylor ultimately fell to Texas in the Big 12 tournament championship game Sunday afternoon, keeping the Bears on the 2-line and bumping the Longhorns up to a No. 2 seed as well.
"We had a lot of discussion around [Louisville's] whole body of work and what they had done throughout the whole year and felt like they were a really consistent team," Nina King, chair of the NCAA Division I women's basketball committee, told reporters Sunday. "Their overall record is extremely strong. ... What they have done as well as the teams above and below them just didn't feel like it warranted moving Louisville."
South Carolina, defending national champion Stanford and NC State were the other top seeds, as expected, and will play in the regionals in Greensboro, North Carolina; Spokane, Washington; and Bridgeport, Connecticut, respectively. South Carolina is the No. 1 overall seed.
In addition, the UConn Huskies -- who played without reigning national player of the year Paige Bueckers for 19 games due to a knee injury -- were tabbed the No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport Regional. The last time the Huskies did not play in a Bridgeport or Albany regional was when they traveled west to Omaha, Nebraska, in 2014 -- a year in which there was no regional based in the Northeast. UConn was slotted in the Greensboro Regional in the women's basketball championship committee's third midseason reveal.
When asked whether UConn received an unfair advantage by being placed in its backyard, King said the group considers a variety of factors, starting with the S-curve and following other bracket principles like avoiding conference matchups in early rounds, but also "[takes] into account fan experience, student-athlete welfare, modes of transportation, whether it's a drive or a flight."
"Certainly UConn in Bridgeport was one of those that we spent a lot of time on ensuring that we got it right," King said.
Kentucky -- which shocked the basketball world by upsetting the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the SEC tournament, including South Carolina, to win the conference title -- is a No. 6 seed in Bridgeport, after the Wildcats were projected to miss out on the Big Dance a month ago.
"Their run through the SEC tournament, an extremely strong conference, and they have been playing really well," King said. "We really focus on how a team is playing now, and Kentucky just vaulted themselves right up onto that 6-line. We obviously looked at the entire body of work but couldn't discount what they've done in the last couple of weeks."
The SEC and ACC each have eight representatives in the NCAA tournament, while the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 each have six. The Big East sports four, while the Missouri Valley Conference, American Athletic Conference, West Coast Conference and Atlantic 10 each got in two teams.
With the cancellation of the 2020 tournament amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 iteration of the event held entirely in the San Antonio area, the 2022 NCAA tournament will return to being held at 16 different schools for the first two rounds before the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are contested at the four regional sites.
There were no teams that moved out of the top 16 since the committee's Feb. 28 reveal, just reshuffling of the seeds. UConn, Iowa and Texas moved up to claim 2-seeds, while Iowa State, Michigan and LSU fell to the 3-line following losses in their respective conference tournaments. Indiana's run to the Big Ten tournament final bumped it up to a 3-seed, while Arizona's and Maryland's early tournament losses dropped them to 4-seeds.
The women's championship will include 68 teams for the first time, with First Four games being held Wednesday and Thursday at top-16 host sites before the rest of the field takes the floor Friday and Saturday. The last four teams to receive at-large bids -- DePaul, Florida State, Missouri State and Dayton -- are among the programs that will participate in the First Four this week, alongside 16-seed automatic bids Howard, Incarnate Word, Longwood and Mount St. Mary's.
"The last four in and the first four out was probably where we spent the most amount of time debating teams into the tournament," King said. "Each of the teams hit on various criteria."
If any team needs to withdraw from the tournament due to COVID-19 issues, Boston College, Missouri, South Dakota State and UCLA -- the first four teams out -- are on standby to take someone's place.
The Final Four will be held April 1 (national semifinal games) and April 3 (national championship) at Minneapolis' Target Center.