N.C.A.A. Women’s Tournament: What to Watch as the Round of 64 Begins
The first round of the 2022 N.C.A.A. Division I women’s basketball tournament is finally here. Whether you’ve hitched your wagon to a double-digit seed with a great story, you’re rooting for South Carolina to end its season-long stay atop the Associated Press poll with its second national championship or you’re just cheering for chaos, it is time to finish tweaking your bracket and settle in for a truly overwhelming amount of games.
Women’s games — branded “March Madness” officially for the first time — will air across ESPN networks. ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNews will have games on continuously, while ESPN will show top-seeded South Carolina at 2 p.m. Eastern time and No. 2-seeded Iowa at 4 p.m. Below are a few ideas on what to look out for as you’re watching — and how to approach a 12-hour schedule of games for maximum enjoyment.
The tournament will look a little different this year.
Most of the changes the N.C.A.A. has made after the clear and eventually viral inequities between the 2021 men’s and women’s tournaments will be invisible to those watching at home. Equal swag bags for players, lounge areas for players and their families, and the same pay for women’s tournament staff and officials as those working at the men’s tournament are just a few of the changes that likely won’t be obvious.
A few changes, however, are. For the first time, 68 teams competed to make it into the final 64-team bracket, meaning four teams already started their tournament play. Most noticeably, the term “March Madness” is being used in marketing for the women’s tournament — TV commentators, as well as logos on courts and elsewhere will finally acknowledge the madness the women have been part of all along.
Hot offenses could fuel some early upsets.
Miami wreaked havoc in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, taking down second-seeded Louisville and third-seeded Notre Dame to reach the championship game before running out of steam. The Hurricanes are facing ninth-seeded South Florida in Friday’s first game (11:30 a.m., ESPN2), and attempting to keep their streak going against a very solid team that won its 8-9 matchup in last year’s tournament.
Dive Deeper Into the N.C.A.A. Tournaments
- A Catalyst for Change: A viral video by Oregon’s Sedona Prince led to a gender equity review in college basketball. Did the fixes go far enough?
- Throwback Big Men: In an era that prioritizes 3-pointers, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe and Illinois’s Kofi Cockburn are reminders of what the game used to be.
- Returning to the Big Stage: After years away from the tournament, these women’s teams made history before taking the floor.
- A Scout at Heart: Omar Minaya, a former Mets general manager, is a proud dad at Providence games. But he’s also watching for pro talent.
Appointment viewing for most women’s basketball fans will be No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast versus No. 5 Virginia Tech (2:30 p.m., ESPNU), although No. 7 Utah’s matchup with No. 10 Arkansas (5:30 p.m., ESPNews) might scratch a similar itch. All four teams make more than eight 3-point baskets per game, so advancing will likely come down to which shooters can get in a groove at the right time.
Watch the stars with uphill battles to escape the first round.
Caitlin Clark and South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston may both put on a show during the likely blowouts that will define their first round games, but barring some highly unusual swings, you’ll have a chance to see them against stiffer competition later. There are plenty of impressive players who might not get that chance, though, making them crucial to watch in the first round.
Delaware senior guard Jasmine Dickey led her team to the tournament for the first time in nine years by scoring 25.1 points per game, third in Division I. The Blue Hens may be just a No. 13 seed, but Dickey has been playing like she can compete with any Power 5 team, averaging a double-double with points and rebounds despite being just 5-foot-10. Dickey will face daunting opposition from No. 4 Maryland, but if she can replicate her best play this year Delaware might have a chance for an upset (5 p.m., ESPNU).
The second women’s First Four game was a surprise, 88-57, blowout win for No. 11 Dayton, steered by the graduate student Erin Whalen, who shot 7 of 12 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 28 points against DePaul. On Friday, Whalen will have to see if she can keep up that pace against Georgia, a considerably tougher adversary. Whalen, at 6-foot-1, is a combination guard/forward, giving her a unique skill set that might throw off a higher-seeded opponent (7:30 p.m., ESPNews).
Not all the stars are on offense. Lorela Cubaj, Georgia Tech’s 6-foot-4 forward, is the A.C.C. Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row after spending the season as one of the Division I’s best rebounders. She and the Yellowjackets will attempt to stifle No. 8 Kansas rather than outshoot them during what should be a close game (7:30 p.m., ESPNU).
Here’s how to see as many of the best moments as possible.
If you’re committed to diving headfirst into the games, try to be strategic so you don’t wind up realizing you’ve been watching basketball for five hours without a break and you still missed a crucial buzzer-beater. Watch the Miami-South Florida tip-off so you can feel that excitement of the first round starting, but don’t devote yourself to the game until the second half, which should begin around 12:30 p.m. Grab lunch and settle in for what will hopefully be a tight finish, and then after the buzzer stay on ESPN2 to see how Shakira Austin and No. 7 Mississippi looks.
Keep an eye on the two early 7-10 matchups, and don’t be afraid to flip to the one that’s closer. While those 7-10 games are at halftime, head to ESPN to watch Howard play in its first tournament in over two decades, and to get a glimpse at title favorite South Carolina.
At around 3 p.m., watch the end of Ole Miss versus South Dakota, and find out if Ole Miss will earn a tournament win in its first appearance since 2007. That should end in time to watch the second half of Florida Gulf Coast and Virginia Tech, one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round.
After that, see how Gonzaga versus Nebraska finishes. If Clark is starting to pad her statistics, tune into ESPN so you can say you watched; same story with Dickey and Delaware. Don’t forget to eat.
The next game with a chance to stay close all the way through is Arkansas versus Utah at 5:30 p.m.; after that wraps up, choose between Georgia versus Dayton, and Georgia Tech versus Kansas.
Those with stamina will stay up to watch Starr Jacobs, the Sun Belt player of the year, and Texas at Arlington try to earn its first tournament win over Iowa State (10 p.m., ESPNU); everyone else will rest up for another marathon day of basketball.