The LSU Tigers (28-2) find themselves in a similar position to last year. The Tigers are once again hosting and once again a three seed. The six seed is once against a Big Ten team and the 11 seed is once again a top tier mid major.
That is about where the similarities between this season and last season.
LSU is virtually an entirely different team than the team that got bounced at home by The Ohio State before the Sweet 16.
The Tigers starting five from last year’s tournament games are entirely gone (senior Alexis Morris came off the bench due to injury during the tournament).
The current edition of LSU is inexperienced but loaded with talent. There is reason to believe LSU should go farther this year,
For one, LSU is healthy going into the tournament this season with Alexis Morris and co. at full strength.
Second, advanced metrics love the Tigers. ESPN’s 538 has LSU as the fifth most likely to win a national title and the strongest three seed (for comparison, LSU was the weakest three seed last year and not favored in its second round game).
HerHoopStats has LSU in the top five too. In fact, LSU is one of five teams in the top 10 in both offense and defense in HerHoopStats. The last 12 national champions all had that in common.
Third, the Tigers have been better from behind the arc and in the paint. Last year, LSU as very reliant on its guards to drive and get layups. That is still a feature of the offense but there is certainly much more diversity in the offense.
Lastly, LSU matches up a little bit better in this group than they did last year. Ohio State was the Big Ten champion and a prolific three point shooting team last season. The Tigers struggled all season to stop three-point barrages last season and it cost them.
This season, LSU has struggled against length. Both losses came to teams that could match up with LSU in the post and stop LSU from getting rebounds.
None of the teams in the region have quite that size, even if they have some talented post players.
LSU will be a favorite to get the sweet 16 (in fact, they might be favored to make the Elite Eight) and LSU is one of just two teams in its region to have ever made the Final Four.
The seed might not have been what LSU wanted but it is a pretty favorable region and the Tigers might be the most talented team in it (with stars like Morris, national player of the year contender Angel Reese, and SEC freshman of the year Flau’jae Johnson). That does not always translate to wins.
LSU’s opening opponent is the 14 seed Hawaii Rainbow Wahine (18-14). The Tigers will take them on in the PMAC at 4:30 on Friday.
No 14 seed has ever beat a 3 seed in the Women’s tournament before, but Jackson State came just close to doing that to LSU las year. Hawaii, on paper, is a much better matchup.
Jackson State was 60 spots higher in the NET than Hawaii is and was on a 21 game win streak going undefeated in the SWAC as opposed to finishing third in the Big West.
Jackson State had a player drafted last season, Hawaii probably will not.
The Rainbow Wahine might actually be a little overseeded, getting the 14 seed in large part due to their 11th strongest nonconference schedule (something the committee weighed heavily across the bracket).
Hawaii does not have the size LSU has or a prolific three-point shooting team. In fact, Hawaii has the lowest three-point percentage of any team in Baton Rouge (LSU has the highest).
The Rainbow Wahine have at times struggled to score. Only four times this season has Hawaii scored more than 70 points. LSU has only scored below 70 five times. Hawaii will need to play their best to keep up on offense.
If LSU comes out and plays as they should, the Tigers should advance (and easier than last time).
Their next matchup will be against a top 25 team. That is because both the 6 seed Michigan Wolverines (22-9) and the 11 seed UNLV Rebels (30-2) are both ranked.
UNLV, who is ranked 21, might at first glance seem to be pretty under seeded. However, UNLV is another team where schedule played a huge factor in seeding (their best win is a 10-point win over Hawaii).
However, most advanced metrics are not as keen on the Rebels, The Rebels are 50th in the NET and 538 places them as just the fourth toughest 11 seed despite their 21-game winning streak. ESPN’s Bracket Predictor gives UNLV the lowest chance of advancing of any 11 seed.
HerHoopStats feels slightly differently. It places Michigan at 23 and the Rebels just six spots lower at 29.
The Rebels are led by coach Lindy LaRoque who in three years as taken UNLV to two tournaments after having not been since 2002.
Their biggest strength is their ball handling. They are top 15 in the nation in turnover rate and steal rating because they take care of the ball and do not give opposing teams extra possessions.
Their other big strength is their starting center junior Desi Rae Young, who averages a double double.
Young is 6’1” and a little undersized in comparison to LSU center Ladazhia Williams at 6’4”. The Rebels have just two players over 6 feet who play regular minutes and have not yet faced a team with the size and length of LSU.
Still, if the Rebels get past the Wolverines, they will be a tough matchup. They have proven to be a well-coached team with talent. You simply do not win 30 games without it.
The more likely second round matchup is Michigan. The Wolverines finished fifth in the Big Ten after going 0-7 against the Big Ten’s top 4 teams.
Michigan is coming off its two best seasons in program history after making the Sweet 16 and then the Elite Eight, each for the first time in program history. Michigan has managed to replace WNBA draft pick and all-American Naz Hillmon without missing much of a beat.
While the Wolverines have a higher ranking in the polls than typical for a six seed, most advanced metrics place them solidly as a three seed. FiveThirtyEight and HerHoopsStats both have Michigan on the edge of the top 25.
The Wolverines are the only team in the tournament with three players averaging over 16 points per game and are a masterclass in efficiency with several top 15 rebounding and shooting percentage stats.
Michigan features size and length that UNLV and Hawaii do not have. Only three of their players are under 6 feet, although none of their players are as tall as Williams.
The Wolverines, like the Tigers, are not the deepest team. Four of their players average over 30 minutes, that is more than the three other teams in Baton Rouge who each have two players averaging thirty minutes or more.
Michigan is not a prolific three-point shooting team either, preferring to get their points inside. This means the game likely could be decide by the post, where LSU has been at its best.
The Wolverines will be a tough matchup, but the Tigers are projected to be a solid favorite in a matchup unlike last year when LSU was projected as roughly even to The Ohio State.
Reese could be the difference maker for LSU this tournament. Along with her, Morris and Flau’jae give the Tigers a formidable trio that should take them out of Baton Rouge, and maybe even to the Final Four in Dallas. Do not be surprised if they do.