Disrupting the Doubters: How Top Upsets are Rewriting Women's March Madness

As the women's NCAA tournament kicks off this week, a growing trend of upsets by double-digit seeds against top-two teams has many wondering if we are entering a new era of parity in women's college basketball.

Historically, top-two seeds have dominated at home in the first and second rounds, but the last two years have seen a shift in momentum. From Creighton's victory over Iowa in 2022 to Ole Miss' stunner against Stanford last year, these upsets have coaches and players alike wondering what the future holds.

Experts say that while these upsets may be attributed to higher parity across the sport, it also comes down to specific matchups and the mental toughness of players. With the stage set for this year's tournament, could we see more history-making upsets?

Creighton's coach Jim Flanery had a simple message for his team headed into the 2022 women's NCAA tournament, as a No. 10 seed playing on the road and a possible game against No. 2 seed Iowa and Caitlin Clark looming.

"We're going to Iowa City to win two games," Flanery told his team.

He knew the odds and history were against them, but someone had to instill belief the Bluejays could do it. Since women's college basketball went back to playing first- and second-round games on home courts in 2015, top-two seeds had gone 74-4 at home. Of the four that pulled the upset, only one was a double-digit seed.

To win two games in Iowa City, the Bluejays would have to pull two upsets. First up: An 84-74 win over No. 7 seed Colorado in the first round. Up next: The Hawkeyes, playing on their home court, in front of nearly 15,000 fans, with the Clark effect in full swing. She had won her first Big Ten Player of the Year award as a sophomore that season, leading the nation in scoring at 27 points per game.

Flanery felt confident going into the game because Creighton had more familiarity with Clark than most teams. Sure enough, the Bluejays slowed her down enough to pull a 64-62 stunner.

A few hours later, fellow 10-seed South Dakota beat No. 2 seed Baylor in Waco. Then last year, No. 9 seed Miami beat No. 1 seed Indiana, and No. 8 seed Ole Miss beat No. 1 seed Stanford, both road teams coming out victorious.

These types of upsets remain rare in the women's NCAA tournament, but it's a trend worth monitoring when the first round tips Friday. Should top-two seeds be on alert headed into this year's NCAA tournament? Factor this in, too: The No. 2-ranked team in the AP poll this season has lost 11 times, the most in a season over the past 25 years.

History shows the vast majority of teams hosting first- and second-round games have a huge advantage. But it is also true there have been as many upsets involving top-two seeds in the past two NCAA tournaments than the previous five combined.

"Because of our win and because of Ole Miss' win, people are like, 'Oh yeah, you can break through,' " Miami coach Katie Meier said, referring to last year. "It's really, really hard to do that."

It's ridiculous to win in front of 16,000 people rooting against you. But we are getting to the point where if you're in a major conference, you've been playing on the road against hostile fans since December, so it's not as dramatic for your players to walk in to. They don't just freeze. That's a credit to the growth of the game.

Clark has helped facilitate some of that growth -- her popularity set attendance records across the Big Ten and in the Big Ten tournament this year, and has helped spur rising television ratings. Back in 2022, she had star power, but the Creighton players were not intimidated when it came time for their second-round game.

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In fact, Flanery felt good about the matchup for multiple reasons. Creighton and Iowa had played a closed-door scrimmage in October, an annual routine for the two programs. Creighton lost by five, but playing a game that was one possession until a couple of late free throws gave his players confidence to know they could win.

Several of his players played against Clark in high school. His star guard, Lauren Jensen, played with Clark the previous season at Iowa, before transferring to Creighton. They knew what they were up against.

Flanery also knew the pressure would be entirely on Iowa. Flanery told his team in the locker room before the game, "Of course, you're going to be nervous because there's 15,000 people. But you know what else? Iowa is going to be nervous because there's 15,000 people, and they're supposed to win. So let's do some breathing so we can try to relax and be in the moment."

Creighton did not give Clark much room or freedom to shoot, and slowing down the tempo became an advantage. The longer Creighton led, the more Flanery sensed the pressure growing on Iowa. Though the Hawkeyes came back to take a lead in the fourth quarter, Creighton believed it could win. Jensen

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