Must-see TV: NCAA women's bracket set up perfectly for sport's growth

Apr. 2—About two weeks ago when this tournament was getting underway, I said the NCAA intentionally set the bracket up to where Caitlin Clark and Iowa could face off in the championship game with undefeated South Carolina if things unfolded that way.

Here we are on April 3, and those two teams are in the Final Four with a chance to square off at 2 p.m. Sunday in the national championship.

I also said it was intentionally set up for Louisiana State and Iowa to meet in the Elite Eight. I've seen complaints about that matchup being too early, but I love it.

The LSU-Iowa matchup wasn't too early. Those two teams already met in the championship last year. If you want to be the best two years in a row, you better be able to get past that opponent earlier in the tournament. No one wants to watch a repeat of last year's championship anyway.

With both teams receiving the exact same seeds they got last year, there was no need to put them on opposite sides of the bracket again. Plus, it's better for the game to get more teams and more faces in the spotlight while its garnering this much viewership.

Iowa's win over LSU averaged 12.3 million viewers throughout the contest. That surpassed the two programs' championship matchup, which tallied 9.9 million average viewers.

Last year's semifinal games — both Final Four games and the championship — averaged 6.5 million viewers for the entire weekend.

Don't be a reason those numbers slip. Even with Angel Reese and LSU eliminated, there is great basketball ahead. Paige Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards and Connecticut, led by head coach Geno Auriemma, are no joke. Watching that group face the Iowa Hawkeyes will be a treat.

There's no reason to take your eyes off the tournament now. Nothing — and I mean nothing — is guaranteed.

This tournament has been perfect for the growth of the game. Eyes have been locked onto the play so far and shouldn't be going anywhere. Because of that, people are talking about the women's game unlike a handful of years ago when everyone just assumed UConn was winning it all every year.

I do want to react to something I've seen on social media that I don't like. People have claimed that the women's tournament has been better or more talked about than the men's tournament. Stop. Comparing the two sports is what got the women's game in a bad spot to begin with.

There's a men's sport and a women's sport for a reason. One is not better than the other, and the quality of play is good from both no matter how many "stars" are or are not playing.

The women's tournament has been great. But we're talking about it being better just because most "fans" aren't used to talking about the women's game this much. Saying it's better than the men's tournament is almost unfair to the female athletes — as if the tournament hasn't been good in years past.

The tournament is good and has been. It has just taken time to get eyes on it. Now that we have those eyes, we have to make sure they stay.

About the action, here are four storylines to look at:


Bueckers took the country by storm four years ago — when the game was just as good — and earned a national player of the year award as a freshman.

She's battled injuries since then with a banged up knee and spent over 500 days not competing in a single game.

She's back and is playing at that player of the year caliber once again. Could Bueckers and UConn complete a revenge tour by winning another title?


It'll require 38 wins if the Gamecocks want to be the 10th team to complete a perfect season in the women's sport.

It's been done six times by UConn, once by Baylor, once by Tennessee and once by Stanford.

Could Dawn Staley and this spectacular South Carolina team join some of the most legendary teams in the women's sport with a perfect season?


If Iowa wants to win it all, it will have to be more multidimensional. The Hawkeyes have to use Clark's unbelievable shooting but also find ways to produce more offense.

Clark can call her shots like she is known for, but someone else must step up big in the semifinals. UConn holds opponents to 57.5 ppg. Iowa will not run up 89 points like it has three times in this tournament.

I would look to Kate Martin to take that next step. I think Hannah Stuelke will have her hands full on the interior with UConn's Edwards on Friday.


I would venture to say that few people had NC State in the Final Four. And even going into this weekend, I would guess no one is picking the Wolf Pack over the Gamecocks.

I know I'm not.

But the entire starting five players average 10-plus points per game and are led by junior guard Aziaha James at 16.7 ppg. This is a strong starting five that competes with the likes of LSU's starting five.