Women's NCAA tournament 2022: Picks and bold predictions for each region

The bracket is here, the early matchups are set and the 2022 NCAA women's basketball tournament officially tips off this week, with First Four games being held Wednesday and Thursday and first-round games beginning Friday.

Selection Sunday's unveiling of the bracket brought some tantalizing matchups (Kentucky-Princeton in the first round, potentially South Carolina-Iowa in the Elite Eight) and compelling storylines as teams and their fans dissect what their paths are to advance to Minneapolis and the women's Final Four. But no matter how things appear on paper, it's March, and perhaps this year more than most, we're sure to be in for a wealth of surprises.

Entering the first weekend of the tournament, which will be held at 16 campus sites, ESPN's Mechelle Voepel, Alexa Philippou and Charlie Creme break down what to know about each region -- Greensboro, North Carolina; Spokane, Washington; Bridgeport, Connecticut; and Wichita, Kansas -- and make predictions and picks for which teams might advance.

Follow this link for a printable 2022 women's NCAA tournament bracket, and visit this link to fill out a 2022 NCAA tournament bracket.

Navigate to each region:

Bridgeport | Greensboro | Spokane | Wichita

Bridgeport Regional

If No. 1 seed NC State doesn't reach the Final Four, this team will:

No. 2 seed UConn. There's a reason the Huskies were ranked No. 2 in the country at the beginning of the season, and we have started to be reminded of why now that they're finally healthy. UConn is both deep and balanced offensively, plays suffocating defense and has been battle-tested. Yes, they struggled at times when they were short-handed, but they also were within reach of beating No. 1 seed Louisville without Azzi Fudd and point guards Paige Bueckers and Nika Mühl. And the team has improved so much from the beginning of the season that its three-point fourth-quarter against South Carolina in November seems like it happened a lifetime ago. With six of their nine rotation players having competed in the national semifinal last year, the Huskies' newfound experience and maturity could push them over the edge for UConn to advance to its 14th consecutive Final Four.

Which team could ruin your bracket?

Maybe neither NC State nor UConn punches its ticket to Minneapolis and instead ... No. 3 seed Indiana does. Earlier this season, the Hoosiers went toe-to-toe with defending national champion Stanford as well as NC State. (Indiana upset the Wolfpack in the 2021 Sweet 16.) And the majority of the Hoosiers' losses in conference action came in a grueling stretch in which they played 12 games in 29 days. Even with second-team All-Big Ten forward Mackenzie Holmes still not 100 percent following her return from a midseason knee surgery, Indiana was able to advance to the conference title game. With Nicole Cardaño-Hillary spearheading the Hoosiers' defensive effort, they could cause some headaches in Bridgeport, especially if their offense comes through.

A first-round game that could end in an upset:

Here are two. Having won 10 straight games, No. 6 seed Kentucky is one of the hottest teams in the country going into the Big Dance, knocking off Tennessee, LSU and South Carolina to win the SEC tournament crown. That said, defensive-minded Princeton -- which allows just 50.9 points per game -- could be a tough matchup. The No. 11 seed Tigers, who totally dominated Ivy League play this year, are fairly tested in nonconference play, beating eventual fellow NCAA tournament teams Buffalo, Florida Gulf Coast and Villanova and losing to Texas. Princeton and Kentucky faced off in the first round of the 2019 tournament, with Kentucky beating the Tigers by five. Even if Kentucky advances, the road remains difficult for them with likely Indiana awaiting.

And then there's No. 13 seed IUPUI. Before going on a tear through Horizon League play, the Jaguars had two very intriguing nonconference results: taking Michigan to overtime before falling to the Wolverines and beating Iowa, both on the road. The Jaguars' 3-point defense (they hold teams to a 24.8% clip from the arc, and Iowa shot 18% on 3s against them!) could make life difficult for the Sooners, and IUPUI's Macee Williams could cause some problems in the paint, especially for a team like Oklahoma, which often struggles to defend inside.

Who are three under-the-radar players to watch?

Macee Williams, IUPUI: The 6-foot-2 forward/center is a four-time Horizon League player of the year, just the fifth Division I player across men's and women's basketball to win conference player of the year four times. Williams is averaging 18.7 points on 65% shooting to go along with 10.6 boards per game, and she is coming off a 19-point, 18-rebound performance in the conference championship game.

Dre'una Edwards, Kentucky: Potential future No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick Rhyne Howard is the first player who comes to mind when you think of Kentucky, but part of the reason the Wildcats have managed their current 10-game win streak is because of Edwards' elevated play. The 6-foot-2 forward is averaging 20.5 points per contest in that span, including 27 points and the game-winning 3 versus South Carolina in the SEC tournament championship game, while also getting it done on the boards. Across the five regular-season games she missed due to disciplinary matters, the Wildcats went 1-4.

Taylor Robertson, Oklahoma: Maybe it's pushing it to call Robertson "under the radar," but she didn't make the cut for our top 25 players in the NCAA tournament rankings, so I'm going with it. If you're a fan of 3-point shooting, you're going to want to tune in to watch Robertson, a 5-foot-11 guard who enters the tourney with a 45.2% clip from 3 on eight attempts per game. According to Her Hoops Stats, she is one of just four players since 2009-10 who shot at least 45% on that many attempts from the arc per contest. And earlier this season, she broke the Big 12 record for career treys -- now with 439, and counting! -- Philippou

Which four teams will advance to the Sweet 16?

Creme: NC State, UConn, Indiana, Notre Dame
Philippou: NC State, UConn, Indiana, IUPUI
Voepel: NC State, UConn, Oklahoma, Kentucky

Greensboro Regional

If No. 1 seed South Carolina doesn't reach the Final Four, this team will:

South Carolina enters the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and the heavy favorite to win its second national title. And as soon as the bracket came out, who didn't immediately notice the potential matchup of national player of the year favorites Aliyah Boston and Caitlin Clark on the same court in an Elite Eight matchup?

Perhaps it is too obvious to pick the No. 2 seed if the Gamecocks don't make it to Minneapolis, but who is hotter than the Hawkeyes right now? Iowa can outscore anyone in Greensboro -- and that includes the Gamecocks. If the two meet in a regional final, Clark has the ability to make shots even a great defensive team like South Carolina can't guard. And the way the Hawkeyes can spread the floor would make South Carolina's shot-blockers less impactful against the inside game of Monika Czinano, the nation's leader in field goal percentage (67.8%).

Which team could ruin your bracket?

Given the lopsided nature of their Feb. 13 meeting, which was 51-25 at halftime, the Lady Bulldogs' chances of beating South Carolina in a possible Elite Eight matchup isn't likely. But Georgia is capable of taking down No. 3 seed Iowa State in the second round and No. 2 seed Iowa in the Sweet 16. Center and leading scorer Jenna Staiti and guard and assist leader Que Morrison are in their fifth seasons. Guard Mikayla Coombs is in her fourth. No team in the region has that kind of experience. The desperation of not wanting to lose your final game can go a long way.

A first-round game that could end in an upset:

No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin's style is difficult to prepare for and could challenge fifth-seeded North Carolina. The Ladyjacks like to play fast, apply full-court pressure and attack on offense. Playing another ACC team in the first round in last year's tournament, SFA had Georgia Tech on the ropes before falling in overtime.

Who are three under-the-radar players to watch?

Alyssa Ustby, North Carolina: Deja Kelly is North Carolina's leading scorer, and Carlie Littlefield provides the veteran leadership, but Ustby provides the heartbeat. Seemingly always around the ball, the 6-foot-1 sophomore leads the team in rebounding (8.6 per game) and has already developed an ability to make big plays in crucial moments. Ustby's versatility extends to the defensive end, where she can guard any position and likely gets assigned to the opponent's best player.

Essence Booker, UNLV: Booker might even be under the radar on her own team. Forward Desi-Rae Young was the MWC player of the year, but Booker makes the Lady Rebels go. The point guard led UNLV in scoring (15.6 points per game) and assists (3.7 per contest), and she tallied 25 points in the conference tournament title game, earning the Lady Rebels their first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years.

Mya Hollingshed, Colorado: As the Buffaloes' leading scorer (14.4 PPG) and rebounder (7.2 RPG), Hollingshed has propelled Colorado into its first NCAA tournament since 2013. She doesn't get the attention of some of the other stars in the Pac-12, but the 6-foot-3 forward is a two-time all-conference selection. She posted eight double-doubles this season, good for second in the league, and led the Buffs in 3-point rate (38.8%). -- Creme

Which four teams will advance to the Sweet 16?

Creme: South Carolina, Iowa, Arizona, Georgia
Philippou: South Carolina, Iowa, Iowa State, North Carolina
Voepel: South Carolina, Iowa, Iowa State, Arizona

Spokane Regional

If No. 1 seed Stanford doesn't reach the Final Four, this team will:

Three coaches in this tournament have won at least three national championships: UConn's Geno Auriemma, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer and LSU's Kim Mulkey. VanDerveer's Cardinal might be the least-discussed defending national champion ever. But here they are again, riding a 20-game winning streak and a second consecutive No. 1 seed into the tournament.

But if Stanford stumbles, perhaps Mulkey's Tigers find their way to Minneapolis. LSU has its highest seed since 2008, and few expected Mulkey to accomplish everything she has -- 25 victories, a second-place SEC finish -- in her first season in Baton Rouge. In Khayla Pointer, Alexis Morris and Jailin Cherry, Mulkey has three veteran guards who can all handle the ball, defend and score -- which is a good starting point for any potential Final Four team.

Which team could ruin your bracket?

After its run to the Big 12 tournament title, Texas will be a fashionable pick to advance at least to an Elite Eight and possibly end Stanford's hopes of repeating. But what if in the Longhorns' potential second-round meeting with Arkansas, the Razorbacks have one of those can't-seem-to-miss games? Arkansas ranks 17th in the country in 3-pointers made. As good as the their defense is, the Longhorns can only defend Amber Ramirez and Makayla Daniels so far on the perimeter. A hot shooting day from Arkansas could end a Texas run before it gets started.

A first-round game that could end in an upset:

No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast has no answer for ACC player of the year Elizabeth Kitley inside, but the Eagles can outshoot anyone. FGCU makes a nation-best 11.8 3s per game and is also second in 2-point field goal percentage. And the Eagles have a potential WNBA first-round pick in Kierstan Bell. If they can force the tempo to their favor and get open looks, the 5-seed Hokies might have a difficult time scoring enough.

Who are three under-the-radar players to watch?

Taylor Mikesell, Ohio State: The well-traveled Mikesell will be playing in a third NCAA tournament, all with different teams. Everywhere she has been -- first at Maryland, then Oregon and now this season in Columbus -- Mikesell has brought one of the most accurate shooting strokes in the country. The 5-foot-11 senior ranked third nationally with a 3-point rate of 46.7%, and she also has made 91.3% of her free throws.

Gianna Kneepkens, Utah: The Pac-12 freshman of the year, Kneepkens has combined with classmate Jenna Johnson to completely reset a Utah program that is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011. Kneepkens began the season coming off the bench, but after scoring 29 points against BYU, she was a starter for good. She leads the deep Utes at 12.0 points per game.

Jasmine Dickey, Delaware: The best Blue Hen since Elena Delle Donne, Dickey carried Delaware to its first NCAA tournament appearance since a Sweet 16 performance in 2013 with a 27-point, 18-rebound performance against Drexel in the CAA tournament championship game. Dickey's 25.1 points per game were good for third in the country this season behind only Iowa's Caitlin Clark and Villanova's Maddy Siegrist. -- Creme

Which four teams will advance to the Sweet 16?

Creme: Stanford, Texas, LSU, Maryland
Philippou: Stanford, Texas, LSU, Maryland
Voepel: Stanford, Texas, LSU, Maryland

Wichita Regional

If No. 1 seed Louisville doesn't reach the Final Four, this team will:

No. 2 seed Baylor looked as if it was going to swipe the top seed, until it lost to Texas in the Big 12 tournament final on March 13. The Bears had won 12 games in a row before the 67-58 loss to the Longhorns; it was Baylor's season low in points. But the Bears are not going to face many other teams that will defend them like Texas did, because few are capable of defense that good. Louisville is, though: The Cardinals are allowing 55.0 points per game, which is 18th in Division I and third among Power 5 schools (fourth if you throw UConn in the mix).

If the Wichita final pits the top two seeds, Baylor will look to channel the kind of game it played in the Big 12 semifinal versus Oklahoma, during which the Bears made seven 3-pointers and dominated inside behind NaLyssa Smith.

As for Louisville, the ACC quarterfinal game that got away from the Cards on Miami's buzzer-beater on March 4 has been burning in them a couple of weeks and should be fuel for the NCAA tournament.

Which team could ruin your bracket?

No. 6 seed BYU was upset 71-59 by Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference final. But the Cougars are 26-3 overall, which includes victories over NCAA tournament teams Florida State, Utah, Washington State and Gonzaga, which fell to BYU twice in the regular season. If the Cougars get past No. 11 Villanova in the first round, they will face a No. 3 seed Michigan squad that lost four of its last six games coming into the tournament.

A first-round game that could end in an upset:

No. 10 seed South Dakota's only loss since November was at rival South Dakota State on Feb. 5. The Coyotes are looking for their first win in a fourth appearance in the Big Dance. Might it come against No. 7 Ole Miss? The Rebels are playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. South Dakota has averaged 6.3 3-pointers per game as compared to Ole Miss's 3.1. The Rebels are allowing 3.5 treys for their foes.

Who are three under-the-radar players to watch?

Shaylee Gonzales, BYU: The sophomore guard is averaging 17.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 4.0 APG while shooting 50.5% from the field. She was the WCC player of the year.

Alexis Markowski, Nebraska: The Big Ten freshman of the year is averaging 12.8 PPG and 8.0 RPG. The center/forward's father, Andy Markowski, was a forward for Nebraska from 1994 to 1999.

Jordan Walker, Tennessee: Especially with Jordan Horston having been out the past month due to an elbow injury, Walker has had to anchor the Lady Vols' perimeter play. The graduate student is averaging 7.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 3.2 APG. -- Voepel

Which four teams will advance to the Sweet 16?

Creme: Louisville, Baylor, Michigan, Tennessee
Philippou: Louisville, Baylor, Michigan, Oregon
Voepel: Louisville, Baylor, Michigan, Oregon