NCAA Tournament to feature intense competition, big crowds and plenty of coverage all the way through

If there were few surprises around which teams made the field of 68 Sunday, the decision to include them – and especially where to place them – was not easy to come by.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Committee Chair Lisa Peterson said the growth of the game meant she and her colleagues had intense discussions leading up to seeding and placement of teams for the NCAA Tournament, which tips off Wednesday.

“This is my fourth year on the committee, and I’ve never been in a room that was so highly-debated,” Peterson said. “We went back and forth and revisited all of the teams that we put in the bracket…..There’s so much parity happening. And it makes it really exciting for the game.”

Peterson said the committee spent a lot of time on making sure each seed pairing would play out fairly, all the way to the winner of each regional.

“We also spent a lot of time on the last four teams in,” she said. “It was something that was debated over a couple of days, as we finished watching the rest of the tournaments play out.”

Undefeated South Carolina is the No. 1 seed in Albany regional 1, while Notre Dame is No. 2, Oregon State No. 3, and Indiana No. 4. The Hoosiers’ matchup with 13th-seeded Fairfield, who has lost only one game this season, could be contentious, as could No. 8 North Carolina vs. No. 9 Michigan State; as well as No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 FGCU.

In Albany regional 2, Iowa takes the top seed, while UCLA, LSU and Kansas State, respectively round out the top 4. Intriguing games there could be the Wildcats against No. 13 Portland, and No. 7 Creighton against No. 10 UNLV.

The No. 1 seed in Portland regional 3 is USC, which began the season unranked and spent most of the rest of the way in the top 10. They unseated Stanford in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament after beating them in the regular season. The second seed in the regional is Ohio State, with Connecticut checking in at No. 3 and Virginia Tech at 4. The Hokies will face a tough Marshall team, seeded 13th, while No. 8 Kansas and No. 9 Michigan could be contentious,

Texas is the top seed in Portland regional 4, while the Cardinal are No. 2, NC State is No. 3 and Gonzaga, No. 4. No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 South Dakota State will likely make for a dramatic matchup, as could No. 8 Alabama and No. 9 Florida State.

Eight teams will play in the “first four” round Wednesday and Thursday, for the last four spots in the bracket: Vanderbilt and Columbia, Auburn and Arizona, Holy Cross and UT Martin, and Presbyterian and Sacred Heart.

In the Final Four in Cleveland, the winner of Albany 2 will take on the Portland regional 3 winner for a chance at the championship game. The Albany 1 and Portland 4 winners will fight for that chance on the other side of the bracket.

Last year’s NCAA Tournament boasted record attendance throughout each round, and the Championship was the most-viewed women’s title game in history. Peterson said the record might be broken again this season.

“During this tournament, we’re going to have 9 million (attendees), which is really incredible,” she said. “And if you look at the beginning of the second round of this tournament, all games will be on ABC or ESPN. Those of you who have been covering this game a long time truly understand the impact of that.”

First-round play is this Friday and Saturday, and second-round games are Sunday and Monday.