The NCAA women’s basketball tournament will get going in earnest on Friday after First Four games Wednesday and Thursday, and the 6-seed BYU Cougars and 7-seed Utah Utes could end up having two of the more exciting games of the first round.
That’s according to a couple of previews that have been written about the tournament on prominent national websites.
In both a preview by Jenn Hatfield for FiveThirtyEight and one by ESPN staff, BYU guard Shaylee Gonzalez — who was named Wednesday as an honorable mention All-American by the Associated Press — is listed as an underrated player to watch, and ESPN’s preview lists the Cougars as a team in the Wichita Regional that “could ruin your bracket.”
Of Gonzalez, Hatfield wrote, “... if you’re most interested in seeing underrated stars ball on a national stage, make sure to watch Maddy Siegrist and No. 11 seed Villanova take on Shaylee Gonzales and No. 6 seed BYU (Saturday, 11 a.m. MDT). BYU has a 78 percent chance to advance, but that doesn’t mean the game won’t be exciting.”
ESPN, meanwhile, has Gonzalez listed as one of three under-the-radar players to watch in the Wichita Regional, writing, “The sophomore guard is averaging 17.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 4.0 APG while shooting 50.5% from the field. She was the WCC player of the year.”
Additionally, ESPN wrote of BYU, “No. 6 seed BYU was upset 71-59 by Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference final. But the Cougars are 26-3 overall, which includes victories over NCAA tournament teams Florida State, Utah, Washington State and Gonzaga, which fell to BYU twice in the regular season.
“If the Cougars get past No. 11 Villanova in the first round, they will face a No. 3 seed Michigan squad that lost four of its last six games coming into the tournament.” (That’s barring a huge upset by 14-seed American, of course)
That being said, ESPN analysts Charlie Creme, Alexa Philippou and Mechelle Voepel all picked Michigan to win in the second round and thus advance to the Sweet 16.
As for the Utes, their first-round game against the Arkansas Razorbacks topped Hatfield’s list of first-round matchups to watch because both teams employ a high-powered offensive style of play.
“If you like offense, the first-round game to watch is No. 7 seed Utah against No. 10 seed Arkansas (Friday, 3:30 p.m. MDT),” Hatfield wrote. “Both teams rank inside the top 25 nationally in points per game, and they get it done with efficient scoring rather than simply with volume.”
In the next sentence, however, Hatfield wrote that the Utes should be on upset alert.
“This game also has upset potential, as our model gives the Razorbacks a 56 percent chance to advance,” Hatfield wrote.
In the ESPN preview, Utah freshman sensation Gianna Kneepkens was listed, like Gonzalez, as one of the three under-the-radar players to watch in the Spokane Regional.
“The Pac-12 freshman of the year, Kneepkens has combined with classmate Jenna Johnson to completely reset a Utah program that is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011,” ESPN wrote.
“Kneepkens began the season coming off the bench, but after scoring 29 points against BYU, she was a starter for good. She leads the deep Utes at 12.0 points per game.”
That said, Arkansas was listed as the team in the Spokane Regional that could ruin brackets.
“After its run to the Big 12 tournament title, Texas will be a fashionable pick to advance at least to an Elite Eight and possibly end Stanford’s hopes of repeating. But what if in the Longhorns’ potential second-round meeting with Arkansas, the Razorbacks have one of those can’t-seem-to-miss games?,” ESPN wrote.
“Arkansas ranks 17th in the country in 3-pointers made. As good as the their defense is, the Longhorns can only defend Amber Ramirez and Makayla Daniels so far on the perimeter. A hot shooting day from Arkansas could end a Texas run before it gets started.”
Given the previous two paragraphs, perhaps it won’t come as a surprise that Creme, Philippou and Voepel don’t expect Utah to make it to the Sweet 16, as they all have Texas ultimately making it there.