Wichita Region Preview: Upset Potential


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

The Wildcats celebrate in The Finn on Selection Sunday after receiving their bid.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

For the first time since 2018, the Villanova women’s basketball team has the opportunity to compete for a national title. The Wildcats, led by the nation’s second leading scorer Maddy Siegrist, tied the program record for most conference wins in a season, beat two ranked teams, finished second in the Big East and made it to the Big East Tournament Championship, all building their resume and forcing the Selection Committee to award them an at-large bid on Sunday.

The ‘Cats earned the No.11 seed in the Wichita Region and will face No. 6 BYU. Both teams lost in their respective conference finals and are led by their conference’s Player of the Year, with Siegrist for the Wildcats and Shaylee Gonzales for the Cougars. Siegrist, named one of the top 25 players to watch in the tournament, led the Wildcats to a 15-2 record over their last 17 games, averaging 26.8 points per game in that stretch. Gonzales averaged 18.7 points per game and led her team to a 15-1 record in the WCC, enough for a first place finish in the regular season. 

Villanova, despite its consistent success, never earned a spot in the AP-Top 25 throughout the season, while BYU has been ranked since the end of November, getting as high as No. 16. Each team beat two ranked opponents while unranked, but the Wildcats arguably played a tougher schedule, with the Big East having four teams in the tournament, while the WCC had just two. A similar style of play and a star studded matchup in Siegrist and Gonzales will set up a competitive game and potential for a Wildcat upset. 

With a win, the Wildcats would advance to the second round and face the winner of No. 3 Michigan and No. 14 American. The Wolverines started their season 20-2 but have lost four of their last six contests, including a 76-73 loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten quarterfinals. While Michigan seems to have hit a rough patch, this would be a tough and unlikely upset for the Eagles of American. 

Other matchups in the bottom half of the Wichita Bracket include No. 7 Ole Miss taking on No. 10 South Dakota, along with No. 2 Baylor and No. 15 Hawai’i. Ole Miss and South Dakota both have impressive resumes, including a conference championship for the Coyotes. The Rebels lost in the SEC Semifinals, but the consistent competition and experience that they faced in a conference that brings seven teams to the tournament gives them the advantage over South Dakota. For Baylor, this matchup is a chance to solidify its position as a top program in the country after a tough loss to Texas in the Big 12 Championship. Unless Hawai’i can muster up some March Madness magic, especially facing the Bears on its home court, Baylor should emerge victorious.

A key game to watch in the region is the No. 8 Nebraska versus No. 9 Gonzaga matchup, with the Bulldogs coming off a WCC Championship and the Huskers advancing to the Big Ten championship as a six-seed. The No. 8 versus No. 9 game is always a toss-up, as it involves theoretically the most evenly matched teams in the bracket, and this case is no exception. Regardless of the competitiveness of the matchup, the team that comes out on top will ultimately have to face region leader Louisville. 

As a late addition to the No. 1 line after Baylor’s loss, the Cardinals will be facing No. 16 Albany, the automatic qualifier from the America East conference. With an offense and a defense both in the top-10 in the country, Lousiville’s talent might be too much for the Great Danes to overcome. 

Rounding out the region are two matchups that usually come with some upset potential, but in the case of No. 13 Buffalo and No. 12 Belmont, the Cinderella story is unlikely. Buffalo will take on No. 4 Tennessee who will be looking to bounce back after losing to eventual tournament champion Kentucky in the SEC Semifinals. Belmont is faced with No. 5 Oregon, which is also coming off a conference tournament semifinal loss and looking to reestablish itself as a program in National Championship contention. 

The Wichita Region as a whole is filled with strong top-seeded teams surrounded by teams, like the Wildcats, who have great potential for upsets. Villanova has a tough road ahead, but the ‘Cats have the talent and the confidence to be the Wichita Region’s Cinderella.