In a year in which no women’s college basketball team was crowned a champion due to the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, backyard fantasies are all any of us have.

And that’s why we decided to simulate the 2020 women’s NCAA tournament, based on my final bracket projection and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI).

The pre-tournament favorites included the usual suspects. Despite not being the No. 1 overall seed, Oregon was the overwhelming choice to capture its first title and send off Sabrina Ionescu with the storybook ending she envisioned 49 weeks ago. Here are the championship probabilities heading into our simulated tourney.

  • Oregon: 29.4%

  • Baylor: 19.3%

  • South Carolina: 19.1%

  • Maryland: 7.9%

  • UConn: 7.7%

  • Louisville: 6.0%

  • Stanford: 2.6%

  • Mississippi State: 2.1%

  • NC State: 1.9%

But here’s the thing about a one-time simulation: It’s just as one-and-done as the real thing. Bethune-Cookman might have only a 1-in-100 chance to beat Louisville, but if that one simulation says it happened, then that is the path this bracket follows.

The computers can give us probabilities, odds and this entire simulation, but what it can’t do is provide the narrative that is such a part of March. That is where the rest of the fun starts, and where we get to take some liberties with the details as we advance through the bracket.


Greenville Region

No. 1 South Carolina over No. 16 Jackson State

The momentum from a near-perfect season and dominating run through the SEC tournament is not slowed at all by the nearly two-week break for the Gamecocks. They win by 50.

No. 9 Florida Gulf Coast over No. 8 Michigan

The Eagles do two things better than any team in the country: make 3-pointers and protect the ball. Michigan felt the impact of both. With senior Davion Wingate leading the way, FGCU makes 14 3-pointers and the Wolverines’ length doesn’t help create any turnovers as the Eagles pull away late for a double-digit minor upset.

No. 12 Drexel over No. 5 Missouri State

This is the first truly big upset. Missouri State was a trendy pick to reach the Sweet 16 for a second straight year, but the Lady Bears were done in by another mid-major. The Dragons play at the slowest pace of any team in the country, and Missouri State was out of sync for nearly the entire game. A late rally falls short. Drexel moves on.

No. 4 Oregon State over No. 13 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

Getting out of the Pac-12 seems liberating for the Beavers, who play with a looseness that hasn’t been seen since a pair of 90-point performances in November. Oregon State doesn’t quite hit 90 here but is never challenged on its way to the second round.

No. 6 South Dakota over No. 11 Rice

Another mid-major clash in the Greenville region also pits two of the nation’s most underappreciated seniors against each other. South Dakota’s Ciara Duffy, espnW’s mid-major Player of the Year, outduels Erica Ogwumike, who finishes her career with a double-double, down the stretch, giving the Coyotes their first NCAA tournament win.

No. 3 UCLA over No. 14 Montana State

The Bruins look rusty, and for 30 minutes, it looks like the Big Sky-champion Bobcats might pull off the surprise of the tournament. Then, a concerted effort is made to get Michaela Onyenwere the ball, and the UCLA junior star dominates late, helping the Bruins survive.

No. 7 Arkansas over No. 10 Marquette

Back in November, most thought Arkansas would be a higher seed and Marquette would be in the WNIT at best. This game played out with those expectations in mind. The Razorbacks hit the Golden Eagles with an offensive barrage and run away with an easy win.

No. 2 NC State over No. 15 Campbell

The 3-point shooting that is so vital to the Wolfpack’s success was missing in action again, but with a huge size advantage over the Big South champs, NC State dominates inside behind the play of All-American Elissa Cunane.

Fort Wayne Region

No. 1 Maryland over No. 16 Samford

Since last losing on Jan. 9, the Terrapins didn’t have a game closer than nine points the rest of the season. This one also goes into the blowout category, as six Maryland players score in double figures and the Terps go over 100 for the sixth time.

No. 9 Iowa State over No. 8 Virginia Tech

In one of the most tightly contested games of the opening round, the Cyclones and Hokies give the College Park fans the excitement they didn’t get in Maryland’s rout. Iowa State senior Adriana Camber hits a 3-pointer at the buzzer for her only field goal of the game, giving the Cyclones a one-point win.

No. 5 Texas A&M over No. 12 Dayton

The Flyers slow the pace and frustrate the Aggies for a while, but ultimately Dayton can’t handle N’dea Jones and Ciera Johnson inside, and Texas A&M wins an NCAA tournament game for the fifth consecutive year.

No. 4 DePaul over No. 13 Rider

The Broncs’ outstanding season and first NCAA tournament appearance is over quickly against the offensive onslaught of the nation’s second-highest-scoring team.

No. 6 Kentucky over No. 11 Old Dominion

Both teams take a defense-first philosophy, and the game is low-scoring and physical. The difference is the Wildcats have Rhyne Howard, and each time they need a basket, she delivers. Eventually, the Monarchs just don’t have enough offense to stay in the game.

No. 14 Southeast Missouri over No. 3 Arizona

Southeast Missouri saw the Drexel upset and went even bigger. The Pac-12 loses its fourth-best team, as Arizona’s usually stingy defense can’t stop Carrie Shephard and Tesia Thompson. Arizona’s Aari McDonald expends so much energy bouncing off screens and chasing them, she doesn’t have enough in the tank for the late charge the Wildcats need. Arizona’s ascent will have to wait another year.

No. 7 TCU over No. 10 Purdue

Like Arizona, TCU is a program on the rise. The Horned Frogs didn’t have as much success in the regular season as the Wildcats but did something the Wildcats could not — get to the second round in the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2010.

No. 2 Louisville over No. 15 Bethune-Cookman

Bethune-Cookman’s second trip to the NCAA tournament goes better than its first. But only slightly. After losing to Notre Dame by 42 last year, the Wildcats fall to the Cardinals by 35. Louisville coach Jeff Walz is able to rest his regulars for the entire fourth quarter.

Dallas Region

No. 1 Baylor over No. 16 UMKC

In the previous five NCAA tournaments, the Lady Bears beat their first-round opponents by an average of 53.4 points. That number gets bigger after a 60-point win over the Kangaroos.

No. 8 Drake over No. 9 LSU

Drake greats Becca Hittner and Sara Rhine were just not ready to see their careers end. They each score 20 points, and LSU doesn’t have enough firepower to keep up.

No. 12 IUPUI over No. 5 Florida State

We have reached the point where every favorite needs to be on alert. The upsets are coming with regularity. The Jags make their first NCAA tournament appearance count, and the Seminoles continue their late-season trend of playing to the level of their competition. Not getting into the top 16 and hosting games seems to really cost Florida State, which plays with little sense of urgency at Carver-Hawkeye Arena until it’s too late.

No. 4 Iowa over No. 13 Bucknell

The Hawkeyes look like a team desperately wanting to get back on the court after the disappointing quarterfinal-round loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. The offense clicks from the opening tip, and Bucknell is never in the game.

No. 11 James Madison over No. 6 Ohio State

Make it 2-for-2 for the CAA. The Dukes barely made it into the field after losing a heartbreaker to Drexel in the conference tournament final and took full advantage of the opportunity. JMU senior Kamiah Smalls, the CAA Player of the Year and one of the most overlooked players in the country, becomes a household name for a day after scoring 32 points in the upset.

No. 3 Mississippi State over No. 14 Stony Brook

Mississippi State has been a very accomplished NCAA tournament team over the past few years, but not this group. The young Bulldogs struggle early as they find their footing, even with the game in Starkville. Everything clicks by the end of the second quarter, as senior Jordan Danberry shows the way.

No. 7 Duke over No. 10 Creighton

Haley Gorecki seemed to will the Blue Devils back to the NCAA tournament in the second half of the season, and she does the same in a win over the Bluejays.

No. 2 Stanford over No. 15 Portland

The Pilots played the role of the spoiler — and stole a spot on the bubble, knocking Western Kentucky out of the NCAA tournament field — when they won the WCC tournament. Beating Gonzaga in the conference tournament was one thing. Knocking off Stanford would have been another. The Cardinal make quick work of Portland in Maples Pavilion.

Portland Region

No. 1 Oregon over No. 16 UC Davis

Sabrina Ionescu’s unfinished business was to have really begun here. No triple-double in this one, as the consensus Player of the Year plays well below her average 33.7 minutes per game in a Ducks rout, fueling the tank for bigger things to come.

No. 9 Central Michigan over No. 8 Rutgers

Last year, the Chippewas probably had a better team but couldn’t get out of the 8-9 game, a one-point loss in a classic against Michigan State. This time: same game, same conference opponent, but a different outcome. The Scarlet Knights never find an answer for the nation’s fifth-leading scorer Micaela Kelly.

No. 5 Indiana over No. 12 Troy

The Trojans, with their entertaining and up-tempo style, were so close to making it three No. 12 seeds into the second round, but Jaelynn Penn rescued the Hoosiers with some late heroics in one of the most entertaining games of Day 2.

No. 4 Gonzaga over No. 13 Boise State

The Zags played like they wanted no part of another upset. The balance that defined Gonzaga’s offense was on full display, but the defense shutting down a good Broncos offense and a packed house at the McCarthey Athletic Center pushed the Zags into the second round.

No. 11 Tennessee over No. 6 Princeton

So many critics didn’t think the Lady Vols belonged. Others thought the tallest team in the country hadn’t utilized its size properly all season. Tennessee proved both groups wrong Friday night in Evanston. Princeton’s honorable-mention All-American Bella Alarie couldn’t get any clean looks inside against 6-foot-5 Tamari Key and 6-foot-4 Kasiyahna Kushkituah, and Tennessee won a tournament game for the 37th time in 39 years.

No. 3 Northwestern over No. 14 Kent State

Playing at home helps the Wildcats ease into the program’s first NCAA tournament since 2015 and made getting the school’s first tournament win in 27 years relatively easy against the surprise MAC champions. Will that home-court advantage provide the same kind of comfort against a storied program such as Tennessee in Round 2?

No. 7 Arizona State over No. 10 Texas

For an offense that never found its identity this season, Texas drew what might have been its worst possible matchup. Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne is a master at making opponents uncomfortable, and the Longhorns never made a significant run.

No. 2 UConn over No. 15 Robert Morris

Sure, the Huskies will eventually have to head west to reach a 13th consecutive Final Four, but they enjoy getting the tournament started in the familiar surroundings of Gampel Pavilion by crushing the Colonials.


Greenville Region

No. 1 South Carolina over No. 9 Florida Gulf Coast

South Carolina showed no true weaknesses all season, but one of the Gamecocks’ worst statistical areas was defending the 3-pointer — a glimmer of hope for the deep-shooting Eagles. No matter. South Carolina is too physically strong and comfortably moves to the Sweet 16.

No. 4 Oregon State over No. 12 Drexel

The Dragons’ fun as Cinderella ends harshly. Oregon State makes nearly every possession miserable for Drexel, which doesn’t even get to 50.

No. 3 UCLA over No. 6 South Dakota

Shooting remains an issue for the Bruins, but second-chance points came at such an abundance it didn’t matter against the smaller Coyotes. Duffy’s brilliant career goes out in a whimper as she struggles to shake loose of UCLA’s Japreece Dean.

No. 2 NC State over No. 7 Arkansas

NC State’s 3-point shooting wakes up just in time. The Razorbacks make a bunch from deep, but the Wolfpack make more and win a high-scoring, entertaining shootout.

Fort Wayne Region

No. 1 Maryland over No. 9 Iowa State

The Terps’ dominant play continues. They immediately grab control of the tempo and don’t let go. The Cyclones are no match for Stephanie Jones and Shakira Austin inside.

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