By JOE REEDY
The number four figures prominently for Ohio State in the women’s NCAA Tournament.
It is 4 miles from Value City Arena to Nationwide Arena, where this year’s Women’s Final Four is being held. The Buckeyes, who have four senior starters, also need to win their next four games in order to make their first Final Four trip in 25 years.
In a tournament where UConn, the other top seeds (Louisville, Mississippi State and Louisville), perennial powers (Baylor, Notre Dame and Tennessee) and defending champion South Carolina figure to get most of the attention, the Buckeyes are one of the field’s under-the-radar teams.
Kelsey Mitchell, who needs 31 points to move into second place on the NCAA women’s career scoring list, says the Women’s Final Four in Columbus is not being overlooked.
“You’re not human if you don’t think about it. I don’t care who you are. If you’re not thinking about it, you’re crazy,” Mitchell said following the selections.
Ohio State (27-6) won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles en route to being the third seed in the Spokane Region. However, their road back home will likely have to go through the top-seeded Irish and No. 2 seed Oregon.
Even though Ohio State has only made it as far as the Sweet 16 two of the past three years, coach Kevin McGuff thinks his club has momentum going into the tournament.
“We’ve been playing our best basketball as of late,” he said. “This year does take on special meaning that it is here, but we are not about to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Besides the Buckeyes, here are some other dark horse teams to follow during the next three weeks:
If anyone deserves to play the no-respect card, it is the Bulls (26-7). Despite having a No. 14 RPI and being ranked 19th in the final Associated Press poll, USF is the sixth seed in the Albany Region. Not only do the Bulls have to go back to the Tallahassee Region, but they got put in the same region as UConn, who they lost to three times this season.
The Bulls open against Buffalo on Saturday. A possible USF-Florida State matchup could be one of the more intriguing second-round games.
The Beavers (23-7), who reached the Final Four two years ago, were ranked 13th in the final AP poll but find themselves as the sixth seed in the Lexington Region.
Should they win against Western Kentucky, the path would be daunting with No. 3 Tennessee, No. 2 Baylor and top-seeded Louisville possibly looming. However, Oregon State leads the nation in 3-point percentage, commits the second-fewest fouls in the county and has held 17 opponents below 35 percent shooting from the field.
The Hawkeyes (24-7) are back in the tournament for the first time in three years as the sixth seed in the Kansas City Region. In order to get to the Sweet 16, they would have to defeat 11th-seeded Creighton and then No. 3 UCLA.
Iowa, though, does have one of the nation’s top players in junior Megan Gustafson, who is averaging 25.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. Gustafson could put herself on the national map with a strong tournament run.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
Which team has the best shot to knock off a top seed before the Sweet 16? It might be the Jackrabbits (26-6), who lost by a point to No. 4 Stanford in the second round two years ago.
South Dakota State is the ninth seed in the Spokane Region and gets Villanova in the first round. If the Jackrabbits win, they would most likely get Notre Dame.
“Go ahead and play them and tell me they are a mid-major team. Good luck with that,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “They are really good.”
The 13th-seeded Bruins (31-3), who have never won an NCAA Tournament game in three previous trips, must go through fifth-seeded Duke and fourth-seeded Georgia to make the Sweet 16. But they are one of the nation’s hottest teams, having won 27 of their last 28 games, and are ranked 23rd in the final AP poll.
“We want to put our name out there and let people know we are Belmont from Nashville. Sometimes when we travel they think we are Belmont from New York,” guard Sierra Jones said.
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg and AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this story.
More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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