In 2021, the No. 6 seeds of the NCAA tournament face three conference champions and one surprise at-large mid-major.
Since 1994, when the women’s tournament expanded to 64 teams, No. 6 seeds are 72-32 against No. 11 seeds. Dating back to 2015, there has been at least one upset in four of the last five tournaments with three No. 11 seeds earning victories over the No. 6 seeds in two of those tournaments (2015 and 2018).
These upsets occur due to the higher-seeded team having been inconsistent throughout the year and that inconsistent play follows them into the postseason as they face the well-oiled machine of a conference champion from a smaller conference or a top mid-major program.
The 2021 No. 6 seeds looking to move on to the second round are the Oregon Ducks, Texas Longhorns, Michigan Wolverines and Rutgers Scarlet Knights. If they can avoid the upset, can they make an upset of their own against the No. 3 seeds?
Alamo Region: No. 6 Oregon Ducks (13-8)
First round: vs. No. 11 South Dakota Coyotes (Monday, 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2)
Potential second round: vs. No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs (TBD)
This matchup has drawn some attention as a possible upset in the making. The Oregon Ducks of 2021 are good but are not nearly at the level that we have been accustomed to seeing in recent seasons. These Ducks are young and dangerous but will be without their All-Pac-12 guard Te-Hina Paopao, who is injured. Oregon ended the season by losing five of its last six games.
South Dakota has played five games against teams in the tournament field and went 1-4 in those games but played South Carolina and Gonzaga close. The Summit League champions are led by three seniors who will be looking to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament victory.
Hemisfair Region: No. 6 Texas Longhorns (18-9)
First round: vs. No. 11 Bradley Braves (Monday, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2)
Potential second round: vs. No. 3 UCLA Bruins (TBD)
The Texas Longhorns will face the Bradley Braves, who are in the tournament for the first time after winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The gap between these two teams is the largest of the four matchups.
Despite ending the season with three losses in their last five games, the Longhorns are extremely talented. Scoring consistency has been a problem for Texas this season with forward Charli Collier being the one constant on offense.
The Braves finished fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference and advanced to the tournament final after the MVC regular season champion, Missouri State, withdrew from the tournament. The Braves average seven made 3-point shots and that could be an equalizing factor that keeps Bradley in the game.
Texas’ scoring differential in the first half is 179 points while in the second it is just 15 points. If Bradley can keep it close, they may have a chance to earn the win.
Should Texas earn the win, it will face the UCLA Bruins and Michaela Onyenwere. The Bruins feature a trio of players who shot over 35 percent from long range and made more than 10 threes as a team in four games this season. That said, UCLA is susceptible to losing to inferior teams.
Mercado Region: No. 6 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (14-4)
First round: vs. No. 11 BYU Cougars (Monday 12 p.m. ET on ESPNU)
Potential second round: vs. No. 3 Arizona Wildcats (TBD)
In a matchup of two at-large teams, this is the most unpredictable matchup of the No. 6 vs No. 11 games.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights feature a player on the All-Big Ten First Team, Second Team, and Third Team and won their last nine games following a five week COVID pause. Rutgers was eliminated by Iowa in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. Senior guard Arella Guirantes finished third in scoring in the Big Ten with 20.8 points and led her team in assists with 5.2 per contest and blocks with 1.8. Not too far behind was freshman Diamond Johnson who finished with 17.8 points and shot 45 percent on 3-point shots.
The BYU Cougars lost the WCC tournament, 43-42, against the Gonzaga Bulldogs and were unsure if they would be included in this year’s field of 64. There was a question after the tournament if they should have been included at all. The Cougars are led by Shaylee Gonzales who averages 17.9 points.
If BYU can break the Rutgers’ press and get easy baskets, they might be able to get the upset. Rutgers forced their opponents into an average of 19.9 turnovers this season and had a point differential of 18.5 points. Defensive dominance against BYU should see Rutgers through to an Arizona team that should beat either opponent easily.
River Walk Region: No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (14-5)
First round: vs. No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2)
Potential second round: vs. No. 3 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (TBD)
The Michigan Wolverines finished their season 4-5 after a 10-0 start and are facing the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles who have won 25 straight games.
FGCU averages over 35 three attempts, making nearly 12 triples per contest, but carries a near-zero rebounding differential while Michigan features a rebounding differential of 11.6. This could factor large if the Eagles are unable to convert on many of their long-range attempts.
Junior forward Naz Hillmon has been a star for the Wolverines since her freshman year. This year, Hillmon took her game to another level, averaging 25.2 points and 11.4 rebounds. The Wolverines turn the ball over more often than they force turnovers and this could provide extra offensive opportunities for a FGCU team that is not terribly strong in the rebounding department.
FGCU makes and takes a lot of 3-point shots but a solid half court game by Michigan should see them through to face the Tennessee Lady Vols. Rennia Davis vs Naz Hillmon is a must-watch TV. Rae Burrell of Tennessee could steal the show as she averaged 16.8 points and shot 41 percent from beyond the arc. Both teams are strong in the paint but can be plagued by turnovers, leaving this is as a really close matchup on paper.