The Lady Bears left no doubt.
Top-ranked Baylor will be the No. 1-overall seed in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament when the brackets are announced on Selection Monday.
There’s no argument that could put anyone else in that slot. Baylor has proven its merit on a regular basis over the last two months.
The Lady Bears vaulted into the No. 1 ranking in the nation when they defeated then-top-ranked Connecticut, 68-57, on Jan. 3 at the Ferrell Center. That was the second victory in what has become a 23-game winning streak through the rest of the regular season and the Big 12 Tournament. Along the way, Baylor posted a perfect conference record and went 6-0 against ranked opponents.
The NCAA women’s basketball selection committee released its latest projected top 16 seeds on March 4, putting Baylor in the No. 1-overall spot. The Lady Bears have only solidified that position in the intervening two weeks as they defeated West Virginia, Texas Tech, Kansas State and No. 13 Iowa State.
During the last couple weeks of the regular season, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said that her team’s status as the No. 1-overall seed was secure because the teams directly behind Baylor in the rankings had lost in recent weeks.
That made sense. But did anyone really want to test that theory?
The Lady Bears clearly preferred to make things as easy as possible on the brave souls who will fill-in the bracket.
Or maybe, as I wrote last week in previewing the Big 12 Tournament, this Baylor team just has a hunger to compete no matter the circumstances.
The Lady Bears (31-1) showed no let up as they pummeled the Lady Raiders, Wildcats and Cyclones in the conference tournament in Oklahoma City. Baylor won its three games at Chesapeake Energy Arena by an average of 28 points.
Thus we arrive at possibly the most fun moment of the college basketball season — the bracket reveal.
And while Baylor is the only choice to be the top seed, there are a couple of points left to be determined.
1. Where will the committee send the Lady Bears?
The first two rounds will be in Waco. If Baylor survives and advances to the Sweet 16, there are four options — Albany, N.Y, Portland, Ore., Greensboro, N.C., and Chicago.
I’m hereby lobbying for Chicago, but that’s just because I have a warm place in my heart for Gibsons Steakhouse.
However, the selection committee has been consistent in both its seed projections that it likes Baylor in Greensboro. Looking at the four options, you figure UConn is going to Albany. It wouldn’t be too cool for the committee to send Baylor, as the top overall seed, 2,000 miles from home to the Pacific Northwest. Notre Dame defeated Louisville to win the ACC Tournament and moved up to No. 3 in the nation, which could lock up Chicago for the Fighting Irish. Although, perhaps Chicago would be the fairest place to send Baylor.
Nonetheless, Lady Bears fans might start wrapping their heads around going to Carolina.
That leads me to...
2. How will the committee populate Baylor’s quadrant of the bracket?
The latest seed projection indicated they’ll snake the picks. That means whichever team is slotted as the No. 4 overall seed will then have the No. 5 overall seed in its region. If that happens, Baylor’s theoretical toughest opponent between here and the Final Four would be the No. 8 team in the country and right now that’s Iowa. Of course, the snaking picks also means that the No. 9 overall seed will be in Baylor’s region and that could be Maryland or N.C. State, both of which are way closer to Greensboro than Baylor is.
However it shakes out, there’s no such thing as an easy road to the Final Four, or a perfect bracket for that matter. My advice is to buckle up and get ready for a fun ride.