Unexpected challenges arose from the position of the Tigers in the 2024 NCAA Women’s Championship revealed on Sunday evening. How will the final match between Angel Reese and LSU unfold?

GREENVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA - MARCH 10: Aalyah Del Rosario #23 of the LSU Lady Tigers celebrates with Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Lady Tigers after a basket and foul against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the third quarter during the championship game of the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 10, 2024 in Greenville, South Carolina. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

By Ben Pickman

Mar 18, 2024


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LSU coach Kim Mulkey had the same first reaction as the general public when the Tigers’ place in the 2024 women’s NCAA Tournament was revealed on Sunday night. “Initially, I just thought, ooh this is a tough, tough region.” The defending national champions were named as the No. 3 seed in the Albany 2 Region. It’s a quadrant headlined by Caitlin Clark and the top-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes, but it features a number of legitimate Final Four contenders. (You can print out our brackets and follow along here.)

Looking to become the first repeat champions since UConn in 2016, the Tigers will open the region with No. 14 Rice, which won the American Athletic Conference tournament championship, despite being the tournament’s 10th seed. The Owls last made the NCAA Tournament in 2019. They are coached by Lindsay Edmonds, who made the field of 68 numerous times over her eight years as an NC State assistant.

From there, the Tigers’ draw will get significantly tougher. Sixth-seeded Louisville has advanced to at least the Sweet 16 in six consecutive NCAA Tournaments and is deeply familiar with one of LSU’s star guards. Hailey Van Lith transferred to the Tigers after playing her first three seasons with the Cardinals. Middle Tennessee, a No. 11 seed, wouldn’t be an easy second-round opponent either if it defeats Louisville and advances to play the Tigers. The Blue Raiders, winners of 29 games this season, are one of the nation’s top mid-majors. They rank top-25 in offensive and defensive rating, according to Sports Reference.

UCLA, the region’s No. 2 seed, could await LSU in the Sweet 16. The Bruins have both the size — led by center Lauren Betts — and wing depth that matches up well with the Tigers. Betts has been a tough cover for practically every opponent this season. UCLA has lost only three games Betts that appeared and is nearly 15 points better per 100 possessions with her on the court than off of it. Offensively, she is near automatic around the basket, shooting 72 percent at the rim and 52.6 percent in the paint, both marks well above the national average. Defensively, Betts is a top shot-blocker (averaging 2.1 per game) and has proven disciplined enough to contest shots without fouling.

All that doesn’t factor in the unpredictability that could await the Tigers in the top half of the draw. Clark and Iowa are looking to avenge their defeat in last year’s title game. Though the Hawkeyes’ defense lapses at times, their offense is the best in the nation and can outscore any opponent on a given night. No. 4 seed Kansas State climbed as high as No. 2 in the AP poll this season and has quality wins over Iowa and Texas, and could pose a matchup problem because of senior center Ayoka Lee’s ability to control the paint. (Lee, like Betts, is in the 94th percentile nationally in field goal percentage at the rim, according to CBB Analytics, shooting nearly 73 percent from the field.) If the Wildcats can advance past the Sweet 16, they could be a tough test for LSU.

Then there’s fifth-seeded Colorado, which defeated the Tigers by 14 in their season-opener. LSU is much improved since then, and offseason additions Van Lith, junior forward Aneesah Morrow and freshman Mikaylah Williams have settled into roles. But the Buffaloes will enter a possible matchup with the Tigers confident yet again. Colorado has two bigs in Aaronette Vonleh and Quay Miller capable of matching LSU’s frontcourt and a number of wings who can counter LSU’s stars too.

The Tigers can survive in Albany 2. But a second consecutive Final Four berth would be well-earned if they do. As Mulkey said, it is a tough, tough region. That might be an understatement.

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