Her Hoop Stats Final Four Predictions
By Megan Gauer, Hunter Hames, Jenn Hatfield, Jacob Mox
With day one of the 2018–19 college hoops season complete, we already can’t help but look ahead to March. Last year’s Final Four brought three of the most exciting games of the season, with two overtime semifinals and a championship decided by a buzzer-beater. Arike Ogunbowale sank two amazing game-ending shots, launching herself into the national spotlight.
It’s hard to imagine a Final Four more exciting than last year’s, but nevertheless our contributors discussed some of their predictions for how this season will end in Tampa.
Heading into the season, what teams do you have in your Final Four?
Notre Dame is returning almost all its key players from its title run a year ago in addition to having Brianna Turner return after sitting out the 2017–2018 season recovering from ACL surgery. With championship experience and a fully healthy roster, this is not a team you would like to see in your side of the bracket!
2012 is the last time the Baylor Lady Bears, a national powerhouse and staple in the top five, made an appearance in the Final Four. The Big 12 juggernauts bring in the #1 recruiting class in the nation, including dynamic forward Aquira DeCosta, to help All-American Kalani Brown reach the first Final Four of her illustrious career.
Megan Gauer: I agree with Hunter, with the exception of Notre Dame. Right now, I would have UConn, Oregon, Mississippi State and Baylor in my Final Four.
I’ve pretty much been saying since last March that this will be the year Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard carry Oregon to the Final Four. They saw Oregon’s first and second Elite Eights as underclassmen, and I’ll think they’ll take the team to the next step as juniors.
Mississippi State lost almost its entire starting lineup to graduation last year, but with the return of Teaira McCowan and the addition of Anriel Howard, the Bulldogs have two of the best post players in the country. They are going to be nearly impossible to defend in the paint.
Jenn Hatfield: March Madness always comes down to the matchups, so it’s hard to make predictions without seeing the bracket, but I’ll pick UConn, Mississippi State, Louisville, and Oregon. As much as I love watching Baylor’s post players dominate, I think their lack of proven options at the point could end their season a game short of the Final Four for the fifth time in six years. Notre Dame is definitely a championship contender, but they might be due for an upset after conjuring up some late-game magic in their two Final Four games last season.
Louisville, the team that famously upset Brittney Griner and company in the 2013 Sweet Sixteen, could be a leading candidate to send the Lady Bears or Fighting Irish packing in 2019. Jeff Walz’s team lost only one player, Myisha Hines-Allen, from last year’s team, which went 36–3 and beat Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament championship before losing to Mississippi State in the Final Four. They return last season’s ACC Player of the Year Asia Durr and an experienced supporting cast. What’s more, the Cardinals add Yacine Diop, a Senegal national team player and graduate transfer from Pittsburgh who Hines-Allen said could be “even better” than she was. Don’t crown Notre Dame ACC champions just yet — and mark your calendars for January 10, when the teams face off in South Bend.
In Mississippi State, I see a team similar to Baylor, with two All-America-caliber frontcourt players in McCowan and Howard. (That potential postseason matchup is something I’ll be hoping for all season, and perhaps one of the only ways we could get a more exciting postseason than last year’s.) But I give the edge to Mississippi State because it has the more proven point guard: senior Jazzmun Holmes, who had a 2.7-to-1 assist to turnover ratio last season and at times outplayed 2017 Final Four hero Morgan William.
Jacob Mox: UConn and Notre Dame look to be locks to win the Albany and Chicago regionals, respectively. Both teams will likely experience a large home-court advantage, and it is highly unlikely either team will face any daunting opponents prior to the Final Four.
Traditionally, the top eight teams are kept close to home for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, which means there will likely be a tough battle to get out of the Greensboro, N.C. regional. I see South Carolina and its efficient scoring offense squeaking past the conventional favorite, Mississippi State.
What about the championship?
Megan Gauer: UConn and Oregon, with UConn winning it all. The Huskies have a tough road schedule to start the season, and a strong strength of schedule as always. I expect that they might drop a regular season game or two early on, but they’ll be holding the trophy in the first week of April.
Hunter Hames: I chose Notre Dame and Baylor to battle for the title with Notre Dame once again coming out on top. This is a team that played six healthy players in last year’s championship game, so I am expecting a more well-rested and energized squad this year, which should concern teams across the country.
Jenn Hatfield: Many people are probably thinking, surely Geno Auriemma can’t lose again in the semifinals, right? I’ll counter with, surely Vic Schaefer can’t lose again in the championship game, right? In a rematch of last year’s semifinal, I’ll pick Mississippi State to take on Louisville. And despite a dazzling performance from Louisville’s Asia Durr and a coach in Walz who has developed a winning game plan against a dominant center before, I’ll bet on “Big T” McCowan and the Bulldogs to capture the trophy for the first time and extend the “drought” between UConn championships.
Jacob Mox: UConn and Notre Dame are my picks, and I just can’t see UConn failing to win the title for a third consecutive year. Seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson won’t want to close out their college careers on a down note, and I expect to see lights-out performances from them both.
Last year Arike Ogunbowale was the difference-maker for Notre Dame. What player do you think is going to be this year’s Most Outstanding Player?
Megan Gauer: I’m all about Napheesa Collier this year. Last year was a bit of a down year for her (if you can even call it that). But her sophomore year she averaged 20.4 points and 9.1 boards per game and led the nation in points per scoring attempt. I think she’s going to be the best all-around player for UConn this year and shine in the Final Four.
Hunter Hames: You don’t usually hear defensive players highlighted in the Final Four, but Lauren Cox does that and so much more for Baylor. Not only is she the the perfect complement to Kalani Brown, but Cox anchors a defense that was 5th nationally in overall defensive rating during the 2017–2018 season while averaging 15.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, and 2.7 BPG. I’m looking for the rising junior to have an even better breakthrough season in 2018–2019.
Jenn Hatfield: Like Hunter, I expect to see a dominant frontcourt pairing, but from a different team. Last year, Mississippi State’s McCowan posted 18 points and 17 rebounds in the title game and 21 points and 25 rebounds in the semifinals. This season, she will have more help inside (primarily from Howard), so I don’t expect her rebounding numbers to be quite as gaudy. But I predict that the added balance will result in a championship for the Bulldogs and the Most Outstanding Player award for McCowan. (That would also fit a recent trend: since 2006, 10 of 13 MOPs have stood 6'3" or taller.)
Jacob Mox: Like I mentioned, expect to see UConn’s Collier and Samuelson put everything into the Final Four. The two Huskies have incredible chemistry, and whichever player gets on a roll when it matters most can count on the other to feed them the ball. I’m leaning towards Samuelson due to her three-point shooting prowess.