(Photo: Brooke Faber/WCSN)
For the NCAA tournament, the Arizona State Sun Devils will serve as the 2-seed in the Sioux Falls region of the bracket. Here, I’ll examine each team in the region in order of seeding, pointing out the players to watch as well as giving a best-case and worst-case scenario for each team as they all compete for a trip to the Final Four.
In this installment, we’ll start with the top four seeds, all of which will host the two opening rounds at their respective home courts.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (31-1, 1st in SEC)
The Gamecocks, a perennial final four team, have put together yet another stellar season under charismatic coach Dawn Staley. They were able to go undefeated in SEC play, as well as winning the conference tournament. The only loss the Gamecocks suffered this season was to the top overall seeded UConn Huskies, who pretty much beat everyone. They’re one of only two teams in the region that ASU has met with this season, narrowly defeating the Sun Devils 60-58 in Hawaii. Led by superstars A’ja Wilson, Tiffany Mitchell and Alaina Coates, the Gamecocks are without a doubt ASU’s biggest threat in the Sioux Falls region.
Player to Watch: A’ja Wilson, forward (16.4ppg, 8.7rpg, 3.1bpg)
Best Case: Championship game
Worst Case: Elite Eight
2. Arizona State Sun Devils (25-6, T-1st in Pac-12)
The Sun Devils have had an exceptional season of their own. With a 16-2 record in Pac-12 play, ASU was able to win a share of the regular season Pac-12 championship, the program’s first since 2001. On top of all of that, the Sun Devils were awarded a 2-seed, something that came as a surprise to just about everyone, including the players themselves (see the video below). This means ASU will host a sub-regional consisting of 7-seed Tennessee, 10-seed Wisconsin-Green Bay and 15-seed New Mexico State. Although it’s a tough sub-regional, this region as a whole gives ASU a real shot of making it really far, potentially even the Final Four. The only bad rap on the Sun Devils has to be their two consecutive losses to end the regular season, including an ugly one against Cal in the Pac-12 tournament.
Player to Watch: Sophie Brunner, forward (10.8ppg, 7.5rpg, 1.8spg)
Best Case: Final Four
Worst Case: Second round
3. Ohio State Buckeyes (24-7, 2nd in Big Ten)
Ohio State played an extremely tough schedule, making all of their losses extremely reasonable. The Buckeyes opened the season against the top two teams of the country in South Carolina and UConn, as well as playing No. 3 Notre Dame. In all, six of the Buckeyes’ seven losses came against NCAA tournament teams. They were the second best team in the Big Ten this season, and look primed to make a run to the Sweet Sixteen after being placed in a relatively weak sub-regional consisting of 6-seed West Virginia, 11-seed Princeton and 14-seed Buffalo. One of the best scoring teams in the nation, Ohio State has four different players that average double digit points per game, led by one of the nation’s most dynamic scorers in Kelsey Mitchell. Unfortunately, Ohio State is entering the tournament on a bit of a cold streak after losing three of their last four games, but they’ll look to right the ship in their opening game against Buffalo.
Player to Watch: Kelsey Mitchell, guard (25.7ppg, 3.3apg, 1.7spg)
Best Case: Elite Eight
Worst Case: Second round
4. Syracuse Orange (25-7, 3rd in ACC)
Syracuse is yet another team in this region without any questionable losses. They’ve dropped games to powerhouse teams like Notre Dame (twice) and Maryland, perfectly reasonable losses for just about any team aside from UConn. The Sun Devils might have an advantage over the Orange, having defeated them earlier this season 61-54 on Syracuse’s home court. However, before ASU could even have a chance to meet Syracuse, the Orange would have to defeat South Carolina, a tall task. Syracuse is looking good as of late, scoring an impressive win over Louisville, a 3-seed in the tournament, and playing Notre Dame very close in the ACC tournament, but their opening round matchup with Army is no cupcake, and easily has the potential for an upset.
Player to Watch: Alexis Peterson (14.8ppg, .405 FG percentage, 2.3spg)
Best Case: Sweet Sixteen
Worst Case: Upset by Army in the opening round