Connecticut has dominated women’s basketball for, well, a long time. It has been a stranglehold for much of the last decade, although the last few years have seen them come up just short in classic games against Mississippi State and Notre Dame.
This year, though, is different. It isn’t just Connecticut way out front, with a chance that a couple of teams might knock them off in the Finals. The #1 team, depending on which power rating you view, is either Notre Dame or Mississippi State. There are several teams within striking distance, and for the first time since perhaps 2005, there is some balance up top where any of ten teams could win the title.
Using the power ratings by Sonny Moore, here is a comparison showing the number of teams within 5, 10, 15, and 20 points of the best team in women’s basketball for this year, compared to the average of the last decade.
On average, there were only three teams even within 15 points of the best team over the previous decade. There are five within just 5 points this year, and 17 teams within 15 points in the power ratings. For comparison to men’s college basketball, there are also five teams within 5 points of Duke in the same ratings, though it expands to 52 teams within 15 points.
This season compares to what we see in looking at historical power ratings in the men’s game in the 1970’s, when the UCLA dynasty (the only similar comparison to what Connecticut has done recently) was ending. It remains to be seen whether this is a one-year blip or start of a trend where greater participation numbers and distribution of talent leads to relatively more parity going forward.
But what does seem certain is that things are more wide open this year compared to other recent years, and more teams have a chance.
Here are my projections for how the bracket will shake out. Just as I do with the men’s projections, I don’t just look at current resumé. I look at overall predictive power ratings and upcoming schedule strength, so some teams on my projections may be lower or higher if the field was selected today (It will not be, which is why I try to look to the future). In fact, I would say that two of my four #1 seeds would not be #1 seeds if it was selected today. (all projected auto bids marked with a +).
South Dakota State