When someone says the phrase, “I’m excited for March Madness” most people would first think of men’s basketball. But the women’s tournament has been growing in popularity and attention for a number of years now, despite not being as popular as the men’s tournament. With the men’s tournament being the more widely-watched and revenue-producing of the two, it also received the most investment. In an attempt to achieve greater parity, the NCAA has committed to investing more in the women’s tournament in a variety of means in 2022. In addition to more investment and paying officials equally, the biggest changes have been to make the women’s tournament sound, look, and feel more like the men’s tournaments.
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) March 3, 2022
Currently, both the men’s and women’s Selection Sunday broadcasts will be on Sunday, March 13, meaning, the two will be competing for viewers. To avoid this conflict in the future, starting in 2023, the NCAA will be moving the women’s selection to Monday. This is a promising start which will allow fans of both an equal opportunity to tune in – and means college hoops fans can get double their basketball fix!
The sports analysis, commercials, and even branding on the website is going to look different this year for the women’s tournament as it will be the first time the NCAA will call both the men’s and women’s tournament “March Madness.” With this branding change, both tournaments will be referred to as “March Madness” and hopefully, this will have a lasting impact on popularity, visibility, and more.
Expansion and March Madness schedule
The 2022 tournament will be the first time the women’s tournament will host 68 teams with a bracket set-up that mirrors that of the men’s tournament. With the expansion to 68 teams, the women’s tournament will have a First Four round on Wednesday and Thursday: March 16 and 17. The two tournaments will play games concurrently, with only one day of games for each one not overlapping with the other. For example, the men’s First Four will play on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 15 and 16), compared to the women’s Wednesday and Thursday times.
Following the First Four games are Rounds 1 and 2. The men will begin play on Thursday and continue through Sunday (March 17-20), while the women will begin play on Friday and continue through Monday (March 18-21). The men will begin their Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight weekend first, playing Thursday through Sunday again (March 24-27), while the women play Friday through Monday again (March 25-28). The women play the Final Four games first on Friday (4/1), followed by the championship on Sunday (4/3). The men play their Final Four games on Saturday (4/2) with their championship on Monday (4/4). A notable difference for the women’s Final Four and Championship weekend is that they will have an open practice the day before the championship game, something the men have already had.
One major difference when looking at the changes occurring with the expansion and bracket for the women’s tournament is the locations of play. The men have neutral venues for all their games, beginning with the First Four whereas the women play at the top-16 seed’s home gyms. The women do not begin playing on neutral courts until the Sweet Sixteen round.
Where to start: the women’s conferences heating up
Although NCAA Men’s basketball is still finishing up their regular season, women’s basketball is already in full swing in their conference tournaments. Starting Tuesday, 12 conferences began their tournaments (March 1-3) with another six beginning play over the weekend (March 4-6). The remaining 14 conference tournaments will begin next week, between March 7-11. All tournaments will conclude prior to Sunday night (3/13) and the official bracket selection. With the women’s tournament expanding to 68 teams, there are more opportunities for teams to get into March Madness and just as many opportunities to spoil another team’s hopes.
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) March 4, 2022
AP Top 25: The Conference Picture
Although all the conferences will see tough battles by teams who’s only shot at getting into March Madness is through winning their respective conference tournament, eight conferences have particularly difficult paths to the title and a subsequent spot in March Madness. As of February 28th, the Associated Press’s Top 25 teams came from just eight conferences. Teams in these eight conferences will have to fight and claw their way through any Top 25 opponents housed in their conference to guarantee themselves a spot in the post-season. The following conferences house Top 25 opponents: the ACC has the most with six; the BIG 10 and SEC each have five, with the SEC having the #1 overall team in the nation (South Carolina); the BIG 12 has four; the PAC-12 has two; and ASUN, Big East, & WCC each have one.
POLL ALERT: Iowa climbs nine spots in women’s AP Top 25 to No. 12, Texas back into top 10; South Carolina, Stanford remain 1-2 as top five unchanged.
— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) February 28, 2022
The ACC has six teams in the top 25 but the conference is expecting to send eight teams. Both the Big 10 and SEC have five teams in the top 25; however, the Big 10 is expecting to send seven teams and the SEC is expecting to send nine. While the Big 12 has four teams in the top 25 and the PAC 12 has two, they each expect to send six teams into March Madness. ASUN is only expecting to send one team into March Madness, and although they have one team in the top 25, if they don’t win, spots begin to shuffle, and Florida Gulf Coast (#22) could see themselves at home watching the tournament rather than playing in it. Both the Big East and WCC have a team in the top 25 and expect to send one more each.
Overall, conference tournaments can be an exciting time, especially if you like an upset. If one of the expected teams for these or any conferences don’t win their respective tournament, it means they will knock out an expected team – either from their own conference or another. Selection Sunday is nerve racking for all teams without that conference tournament win, guaranteeing them a spot because without it all comes down to which 32 teams won, the team’s own strength of schedule, and how well the team played – key wins and losses. When it comes to March, nothing is guaranteed until your ticket is punched.
If you are a fan of basketball, why only watch men’s tournament? You can have twice as many games to watch; twice as much excitement; twice as many upsets and Cinderella stories; and, most importantly, twice the Madness.