March Madness got a massive shake-up last year.
A number of changes have been made after several controversies surfaced during and after last year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Videos were posted exposing inadequate weight rooms, and a study showed the NCAA had significantly undervalued women’s basketball.
Some of the changes are easy to spot. The bracket has been expanded to 68 teams, and the women’s tournament is being referred to as March Madness. Previously, only the men’s tournament was allowed to use the popular nickname as part of its marketing and branding.
Lynn Holzman, the NCAA vice president of women’s basketball, said:
“This year there will be numerous and notable enhancements to the championship. What those have translated to is an enhanced women’s basketball student-athlete experience and fan experience.”
While Massachusetts residents cannot legally bet on tournament games, the state houses one women’s team that’s already punched its tournament ticket.
Minutewomen finish the season strong
The UMass Minutewomen may have gotten an invite even without winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament. However, that’s precisely what they did. The No. 3 seed dispatched Fordham, St. Joseph’s, and No. 1 seed Dayton to earn the conference’s automatic bid.
The win over the Flyers was the Minutewomen’s fifth straight victory, and it cemented the program’s first-ever A-10 title. Furthermore, they’ve won 10 of their last 11 games, with just a single loss on their sheet since late-January. Their record now stands at an impressive 26-6.
UMass boasts one of the most efficient offenses in the country. They shoot nearly 44% from the floor, good for 40th nationally. Their 466 assists on the 2021-22 season, meanwhile, put them tied for 36th in Division I.
Three Minutewomen average more than 10 points per game. Sam Breen (16.1 points per game) and Sydney Taylor (15.8) are two of the top seven scorers in the Atlantic 10.
Breen, who’s also the league’s second-leading rebounder (10.3 boards per game), was named the A-10 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Taylor joined her on the All-Championship Team.
UMass’s chances at a deep run
The Minutewomen have plenty of strengths that make them an interesting team to watch this March. The 10-1 push to an A-10 title shows they’re playing their best basketball at the right time.
UMass is no stranger to top-level competition. The non-conference scheduled included an 18-point road win at Big East foe Providence. The Minutewomen also advanced to the finals of the Gulf Coast Showcase, where they gave No. 13 Iowa State all they could handle in a 76-71, neutral-site defeat.
ESPN projects UMass as a No. 12 seed. As a point of reference, Dayton, the team UMass dispatched in the A-10 final, is squarely on the bubble. The Flyers are projected as one of the “last four in.”
It might be a bit farfetched to think UMass can win it all. DraftKings and FanDuel agree, as the Minutewomen are unlisted in women’s basketball futures on both sites. However, don’t be surprised if the A-10 champs make a bit of a run.
The NCAA women’s basketball selection show is set for 8 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, March 13. It will be televised on ESPN.