Women's NCAA tournament 2023: Bold predictions for each region

For the first time, the 2023 women's NCAA tournament won't have four "roads to the Final Four." Instead, in a change that is sure to be examined and critiqued, two regionals -- which this year are in Greenville, South Carolina, and Seattle -- will each send two teams to Dallas.

The NCAA made the change from four to two regionals in August 2019, nearly two years before the 2021 NCAA tournament in the COVID-19 pandemic bubble in San Antonio exposed inequities in the women's and men's tournaments. So this two-regional decision pre-dates the scrutiny that subsequent moves regarding the women's tournament have faced. Now, it's going to get that scrutiny in real time.

The bicoastal regional setup leaves a big chunk of the nation far from Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games. How will it impact attendance? And with no regional in the Central time zone, the NCAA likely has guaranteed more teams than ever will have to travel two or maybe three time zones to play in the regional. These are all things to watch; the NCAA has already picked sites under this system through 2026.

But the basketball should be fantastic. Defending champion South Carolina and forward Aliyah Boston are trying to complete a perfect season, and they will stay in their home state all the way to the Final Four if they advance that far. The Big Ten will try to complete one of its best seasons by sending at least one team -- and it hopes more than one -- to Dallas. That could mean No. 2 Iowa making a return visit 30 years after the program's first Final Four trip -- and this time highlighting the triple-double threat of guard Caitlin Clark.

The past two NCAA champions -- No. 1 seeds South Carolina and Stanford -- are on the left side of the bracket. On the right side are No. 1 seeds Indiana and Virginia Tech, both seeking their first trip to the women's Final Four.

UConn is a No. 2 seed, but beware: The Huskies seem to be closer to full health with the return of guard Azzi Fudd, and they're looking to keep alive their streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances that dates to 2008.

Brackets are open! Head to Women's Tournament Challenge and fill out your bracket now! And click here for a printable bracket.

It all gets started with the First Four on Wednesday, and every game of the tournament will be shown on ABC/ESPN platforms, culminating with the national championship on April 2 on ABC. ESPN's Alexa Philippou, Charlie Creme and M.A. Voepel break down the bracket and possible upsets to watch out for, along with predictions on which teams will advance to the Sweet 16.

Navigate to each region:

Greenville 1 | Greenville 2 | Seattle 3 | Seattle 4

Greenville 1 Regional

Which team might match up well with and test No. 1 seed South Carolina?

Creme: I don't anticipate the Gamecocks having much difficulty navigating their way to the Sweet 16, but UCLA is one team that might make South Carolina sweat a little in a potential Sweet 16 matchup. In fact, the Bruins have already done it. The two met Nov. 29 in Columbia, and UCLA led at half before losing 73-64. Guards Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice combined for 40 points, and the backcourt would have to lead the way again. The Bruins won't get enough scoring inside against Aliyah Boston and Kamilla Cardoso.

Philippou: We already saw a Maryland-South Carolina matchup earlier this season, albeit without Diamond Miller because of injury. The Terps kept it close in the first half before the Gamecocks pulled away after the break and won by 25. Maryland is significantly better than it was in that Nov. 11 matchup, with more of its role players contributing, plus the Terps would have Miller on the floor. I'd love to see that potential rematch in the Elite Eight, even if South Carolina still has the upper hand.

Voepel: Maryland should have the best chance of preventing South Carolina from getting to Dallas for two reasons: As Alexa points out, the Terps are a better, more cohesive team now than when the teams played in November. But also because if these teams are to meet up, it will be in the Elite Eight, which in some ways can be the highest-pressure round for the top seeds. We don't really expect nerves to affect a team with so much experience as the Gamecocks, especially as they will be playing in the familiarity of Greenville, but if there's a time it might hit, it's then.

Where's the upset in this corner of the bracket?

Creme: I'm picking Illinois to beat Mississippi State in the First Four, and then I think the 11th-seeded Illini will upset No. 6 seed Creighton in the first round. The Bluejays were the darlings of last year's tournament, reaching the Elite Eight before losing to South Carolina. They won't get that chance again. The Illini's run will end against Notre Dame, but not before they take out Creighton.

Philippou: In what might be my biggest hot take of the bracket, I wouldn't be shocked if the winner of the Illinois-Mississippi State First Four game ends up in the Sweet 16. Or maybe Creighton will return after its Cinderella run last year. Notre Dame hasn't said anything official about whether Olivia Miles will play, but it seems like we've seen the last of her this season. With the Irish down their star (not to mention Dara Mabrey), they could struggle to get out of South Bend.

Voepel: No. 5 seed Oklahoma will hit Los Angeles with the offensive blitz for which the Sooners are known. More healthy than they were in the Big 12 tournament, the Sooners will advance to the Sweet 16 after the mild upset of beating No. 4 seed UCLA.

Which four teams will advance to the Sweet 16?

Creme: South Carolina, Maryland, Notre Dame, UCLA
Philippou: South Carolina, Maryland, UCLA, Creighton
Voepel: South Carolina, Maryland, Notre Dame, Oklahoma

Greenville 2 Regional

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

Creme: Indiana isn't the favorite South Carolina is to reach the final weekend, but I would be surprised if the Hoosiers aren't in Dallas. If they don't make it, LSU will be the team that takes out Indiana in the Elite Eight. Angel Reese's length could bother Mackenzie Holmes just enough, and LSU has one of the best NCAA tournament coaches of all time in Kim Mulkey. She won't win a fourth national title in 2023, but the Tigers could be good enough to get to a Final Four.

Voepel: Utah was the first victim in Washington State run to the Pac-12 tournament title, and the Utes will want to avenge that loss with a long NCAA tournament run. They shared the Pac-12 regular-season title with Stanford in large part because they can be so good on offense, averaging 83.5 points and 18.3 assists behind a strong forward in Alissa Pili and a 3-point sharpshooter in Gianna Kneepkens. Utah sounds a little like Iowa, which beat Indiana in the regular-season finale on Caitlin Clark's buzzerbeater. I think the Hoosiers will be in Dallas. But if they aren't, a first-time Final Four team from this region, Utah, could be.

Philippou: I also think Indiana will reach Dallas. LSU gets my vote as the next most likely to emerge from Greenville 2. Then maybe fourth-seeded Villanova. When you have the best player on the court, you always have a chance of winning, and that might be Maddy Siegrist in several games in Greenville. That said, she'll need more help from her teammates, and for the Wildcats to lock it down defensively, to go on a deep run.

Where's the upset in this corner of the bracket?

Philippou: With NC State's Diamond Johnson either out because of injury or not 100% healthy, No. 10 seed Princeton has a great chance of upsetting the seventh-seeded Wolfpack, and maybe even going further. The Tigers play really gritty defense and have shown before they're capable of upsetting teams in the tournament (they eliminated Rhyne Howard and Kentucky last season before narrowly falling to Indiana in the second round). Carla Berube had enormous success in the tournament at the Division III level during her time at Tufts, so maybe she can lead her Tigers on a magical run.

Creme: Washington State was the darling of Championship Week after winning the Pac-12 tournament for the first time, but the magic could end in the first round for the 5-seed. No. 12 seed Florida Gulf Coast leads the country in 3-pointers made and ranks third in 3-point percentage. That style can be dangerous to play against for the first time. Just ask the Virginia Tech Hokies. FGCU knocked off the Hokies in the first round a year ago.

Voepel: FGCU has quite a history in the NCAA tournament of upsets or near-upsets of higher seeds -- to the point I don't think any of us actually think of them as upsets anymore, and won't be surprised if it happens this year. But I'll also mention No. 11 seed UNLV to challenge and possibly topple 6-seed Michigan. Consider the roll UNLV has been on -- 22 consecutive victories -- in winning the Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles.

Which four teams will advance to the Sweet 16?

Creme: Indiana, Utah, LSU, Villanova
Philippou: Indiana, Utah, LSU, Villanova
Voepel: Indiana, Utah, LSU, Villanova

Seattle 3 Regional

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

Creme: UConn is my pick to get through this region with a win over the Hokies in the Elite Eight. This might not be fair, but it comes down to the Huskies' extensive NCAA tournament experience -- and the fact Virginia Tech has so little. Fudd's return, now with some significant practice time, also presents a potentially different level for UConn, the version that beat Texas, Iowa, NC State and Duke early in the season.

Philippou: UConn, for all the reasons Charlie stated. And if posts Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhász continue to play like they have over the past few weeks, they'll make life a lot more difficult for Virginia Tech's Elizabeth Kitley in a potential Elite Eight matchup.

Voepel: It's 3-for-3 for UConn. The Huskies might be licking their chops at this bracket, although Ohio State could be a tough game for them in the Sweet 16. Don't look at the Buckeyes' blowout loss to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament final. Think more of the version that started the season 19-0 with strong, disruptive defense.

The bracket does allow for the possibility of a UConn-Tennessee matchup in the Elite Eight, which would be their first meeting in the NCAA tournament since 2004, when the Diana Taurasi-led Huskies beat the Lady Vols in the national championship game.

Where's the upset in this corner of the bracket?

Voepel: Did all of No. 5 seed Iowa State magic end in Kansas City? I thought they deserved to host after beating Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Longhorns in consecutive days to win the Big 12 tournament after finishing third in the league. Instead of playing in front of 10,000-plus at home in Hilton Coliseum, they will be in the Orange Palace of Doom in Knoxville, Tennessee. If Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly beats his long-ago former school, Toledo, in the first round and faces Tennessee at home in the second, the Lady Vols will be big favorites. But Tennessee coach Kellie Harper's last Missouri State Bears team upset Iowa State on its home court in the second round in 2019. Iowa State super senior and Big 12 Player of the Year Ashley Joens was a freshman then; maybe she and the Cyclones could return the favor vs. Harper.

Creme: A No. 9 seed beating a No. 8 isn't really much of an upset, but South Dakota State is always a dangerous team, and I am picking the Jackrabbits to beat USC. And while I think Virginia Tech is playing too well right now to lose in the second round, South Dakota State won't make it easy. That potential second-round game has nail-biter written all over it.

Philippou: A Ohio State-North Carolina matchup -- in the second round, no less -- would be incredibly intriguing. Many thought UNC got the short end of the stick seeding-wise -- the Tar Heels were projected as high as a No. 4 seed but received a 6-seed -- and third-seeded Ohio State at its best looks better than a 3-seed. Both teams have shown a tendency to be hot and cold, but they are also getting healthy at the right time, with Alyssa Ustby, Eva Hodgson and Jacy Sheldon all back. I'd pick Ohio State to win that potential game, but if UNC finally puts it all together for 40 minutes and Deja Kelly goes off, the Tar Heels could be playing in the Sweet 16.

Which four teams will advance to the Sweet 16?

Creme: Virginia Tech, UConn, Ohio State, Tennessee
Philippou: Virginia Tech, UConn, Ohio State, Tennessee
Voepel: Virginia Tech, UConn, Ohio State, Tennessee

Seattle 4 Regional

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

Voepel: Understandably, some folks point to Iowa's 28-point loss at Maryland on Feb. 21 as reason enough for the Hawkeyes not to be a No. 1 seed. But that game was a total outlier: In a revenge matchup for Maryland after an earlier loss at Iowa, the Hawkeyes got down big early and the Terps ran away from them. It might have been a great spark for the Hawkeyes, who haven't lost since. Their starting five has been together forever, and there would be something serendipitous about Iowa returning on 30-year anniversary of the program's only previous Final Four.

Creme: This is finally the year for Iowa. One of the most anticipated games of the season would be a Cardinal-Hawkeyes Elite Eight matchup. In a game for the ages I'm picking Iowa to make its first Final Four in 30 years. The star power in the game would be at a high level, and Caitlin Clark is the biggest star in the game. She prevails over Cameron Brink and Haley Jones, stopping Stanford's Final Four streak at two.

Philippou: Iowa. Maybe this is too much recency bias, but it's hard to pick against a team that has really seemed to figure it out the past few weeks, while Stanford struggled toward the end of the regular season and bowed out early in the Pac-12 tournament. The Cardinal are going to need to figure out their offensive issues fast if they want to get as far as the Elite Eight.

Where's the upset in this corner of the bracket?

Creme: The upset I feel strongest about in the entire tournament is 11th-seeded Middle Tennessee over No. 3 seed Colorado. The Blue Raiders play at a fast pace, share the ball and have an array of good shooters. For good measure they also have 6-foot-6 Anastasiia Boldyreva to patrol the paint. She might help neutralize Quay Miller and Aaronette Vonleh, while Jalynn Gregory, Courtney Whitson and Savannah Wheeler run around making 3-pointers.

Philippou: I like Charlie's MTSU pick. I'll also have my eye on Louisville-Drake. The 12th-seeded Bulldogs nearly took down Iowa at the beginning of the season (falling by six in overtime) and have a balanced, highly efficient offense. No. 5 seed Louisville is known for its defensive intensity and is coming off an ACC tournament championship game appearance, but has also been shaky at times this season. Which unit will prevail? The Cardinals' defense will need to be on point for them to avoid an upset here.

Voepel: Never underestimate Louisville coach Jeff Walz in the NCAA tournament. This is the 10-year anniversary of one of the tournament's biggest upsets: His then-No. 5 seed Cardinals beat defending national champion Baylor and Brittney Griner in the Sweet 16 in 2013. If Louisville and Texas meet in the second round, we'll see two of the nation's best defensive guards in the Cardinals' Mykasa Robinson and the Longhorns' Rori Harmon. Texas has been missing the 3-point threat of injured guard Sonya Morris since she last played in early February, and her return is uncertain. The Longhorns' 61-51 loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 final Sunday was a subpar offensive performance they can't afford again if they hope to reach the Elite Eight for a third consecutive season.

Which four teams will advance to the Sweet 16?

Creme: Stanford, Iowa, Duke, Texas
Philippou: Stanford, Iowa, Texas, Middle Tennessee
Voepel: Stanford, Iowa, Louisville, Colorado