2015 may have failed to produce the hoverboard, like Back to the Future promised, but it has given us the ESPN app on the Amazon Fire Stick, which means you can watch every single game of the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament, which means your weekend plans are already taken care of because the Sweet 16 kicks off tonight! (I only mention the Fire Stick because when I was a kid, only like three women’s college basketball games came on TV every year, and I’m still not over the fact that I can watch my beloved Tennessee Lady Vols 30 times a season now.) Here’s a run-down of this weekend’s match-ups.
Friday, March 27
No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 4 North Carolina (7:00 p.m. EST on ESPN)
It’s silly to compare this match-up to both times the Tar Heels routed the Gamecocks last year, because these are completely different teams. If UNC has any chance, they’ve got to get every loose ball, box out every time a shot is fired, and try to wear out out South Carolina in transition (which isn’t going to be an easy task; the Gamecocks have two of the best players in the country coming off their bench every night). Honestly, the SEC tournament champs seem unbeatable at this point (except by UConn), so what North Carolina really needs is a miracle. Of course, longtime coach and all-around amazing human person Sylvia Hatchell beat leukemia to get back to her team this year, so never underestimate the power of playing for her. And, of course, Dawn Staley is on the sidelines for the South Carolina. Two of the greatest women in the history of basketball coaching against each other: what a night!
No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 3 Iowa (7:30 p.m. EST on ESPN)
The match-up between Baylor’s Niya Johnson and Iowa’s Samantha Logic is the talk of the Sweet 16. (Well, that and Notre Dame getting trapped in an airport in Oklahoma.) Logic has 884 assists in her career so far, a hundred more than any active NCAA player right now. But Johnson leads the NCAA in assists this year, averaging almost nine per game. This one’s going to be a battle of the boards, too. Baylor’s Nina Davis may be the best offensive rebounder since Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris (who was probably the greatest offensive rebounder in history). If you don’t know much about women’s college basketball, but are interested in just watching for funsies, this is the game for you. Brittney Griner might be there (or she might be watching Tennessee take on Gonzaga with fiancée Glory Johnson), and even if she’s not, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey is as fun to watch as the game itself.
No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Arizona State (9:00 p.m. EST on ESPN)
FSU had a killer season this year, and in the increasingly formidable ACC, but you can’t count out the Sun Devils. They are hardcore scrappy; they managed to rally back from a 16-point deficient in the final minutes against Little Rock in the last round to move into the Sweet 16. Neither of these teams is as well known as the other 2 vs. 3 match-up happening tonight, but it should still be an exciting game, and you’d better enjoy seeing them now because my money’s on South Carolina to trounce the winner of this game in the Elite Eight on Sunday.
No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 4 Stanford (9:30 p.m. EST on ESPN)
This is Stanford’s eighth Sweet 16 appearance in a row, under legendary coach Tara VanDerveer. Add that to the fact that Stanford is the only not-No. 1 seed that has beaten a No.1 seed in the regular season, and you’ve gotta believe the Cardinal have the confidence to make this one a barn burner. The key tonight for Stanford is going to be rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has been preaching rebounding harder than ever this year, and ACC Freshman of the Year Brianna Turner has risen to the challenge. Stanford has to keep her off the glass. And of course they’ve got to try (try!) to contain Jewell Loyd, who averages 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game, and is a Player of the Year contender.
Saturday, March 28
No. 1 seed Connecticut vs. No. 5 seed Texas (Noon EST on ESPN)
Can anybody beat UConn this year? South Carolina maybe. But not Texas.
No. 3 seed Louisville vs. No. 7 seed Dayton (2:00 p.m. EST on ESPN)
Dayton coach Jim Jabir promised to get a tattoo if his team made it to the Sweet 16, so that’ll be fun to see. His two senior superstars, Ally Malott and Andrea Hoover, have racked up over 100 wins for him; it’s really the least he could do. You’d thinl the experience of Malott and Hoover would be an advantage, since both of Louisville’s leading scorers are freshman, but coach Jeff Walz is no stranger to the Sweet 16 and you know he’s going to have his team ready. Walz loves a good underdog story, even when his team has a four-seed advantage over their opponents. This will be a good follow-up to what I’m assuming will be Texas getting routed at lunch time.
No. 1 Maryland vs. No. 4 Duke (4:30 EST on ESPN)
If you didn’t watch Maryland senior Laurin Mincy go full-on Shoni Schimmel in the last round against Princeton, you missed a thing of beauty. She hit six threes and only missed two shots the whole night. It was a clinic! who Maryland made their way to the Final Four just a few seasons ago and have a huge experience advantage over the super young Blue Devils.
No. 2 seed Tennessee vs. No. 11 seed Gonzaga (6:30 EST on ESPN)
I can’t write fairly about this match-up. I’m a Lady Vols stan and have been since I was about five years old. (Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to me.) Gonzaga may be the underdog here in terms of seeding, but they’re practically playing in their own back yard, and both the men’s and women’s teams are masters of the March Madness upset. For the first three quarters of Tennesse’s game against Pitt in last round, they looked like a Final Four team that could have exacted revenge against South Carolina for handing them a pair of late-season losses, but they got sloppy on the glass in the final minutes. They also gave up way too many turnovers the whole game long. Tennessee needs Bashaara Graves to keep stepping up in a major way if they’re going to keep advancing.
Who’s your Sweet 16 team?
The Elite Eight gets underway Sunday and Monday. Should we talk about it when it’s time? You tell me!