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How Far Will In-State Women’s Basketball Teams Go in March Madness?

by Mar 20, 2024Creighton Womens Basketball, Nebraska Womens Basketball

Creighton Bluejay guard Lauren Jensen (15) makes a layup against Nebraska Cornhusker guard Jaz Shelley (1) in the fourth quarter during the basketball game on Sunday, November 19, 2023, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by John S. Peterson.
Photo Credit: John Peterson

Both Nebraska and Creighton women’s basketball made it into the NCAA Tournament this season. 

The Bluejays make their third straight appearance, while the Huskers qualify for the second time in three years. Both have hopes of making some noise in the bracket. Here’s an overview of the situation for both teams: 


Seed: No. 6 in Region 1

This was a higher seed than expected for the Huskers. They were projected as a No. 8 heading into Selection Sunday, with a reasonable chance of landing a line higher. Clearly, the selection committee valued their recent Big Ten tournament run highly.  

The top seed in the region is South Carolina, the top overall seed. The No. 2 is Notre Dame, while Nebraska will travel to No. 3 Oregon State. No. 4 Indiana fills out the region’s host sites for the early rounds. 

First-round opponent: Texas A&M (19-12 overall, 6-10 SEC)

Don’t be totally fooled by the subpar record here. Texas A&M has talent and is absolutely capable of sending Nebraska home.

The Aggies are led by second-year head coach Joni Taylor, who previously made four tournament appearances in seven seasons at Georgia. Her team advanced to the second round in three of those years, though with better seeding.

Texas A&M has four players averaging at least nine points per game, including three in double digits. Transfer guards Aicha Coulibaly (13.1 points per game) and Endyia Rogers (12.5) are the top two, but the next pair might be the players to watch. 

The frontcourt is made up of 6-foot-4 Janiah Barker and 6-foot-5 Lauren Ware. Barker is about as smooth of an athlete as there is at that size, able to score at all three levels and create off the dribble. She was the No. 3 ranked recruit in the 2022 class and may give Nebraska’s Natalie Potts problems, assuming that’s who draws the matchup.

Her size, along with Ware’s at the center spot, will make things tough for Alexis Markowski as well. The Aggies are a good defensive team overall, and things might get tough for the Huskers if they can’t get their junior center going. 

Texas A&M lost five of its last six regular season games, but that stretch came without Rogers in the lineup. The point guard returned off the bench for the team’s SEC tourney win over Mississippi State, and the Aggies followed that up with a respectable effort in a loss to undefeated South Carolina.

The No. 11 seed is indeed flawed in this matchup — bringing in a scoring offense that ranks outside the top 100 nationally. They don’t shoot threes or free throws well, though the percentages are made up for somewhat by a top-30 offensive rebounding rate. 

If Nebraska can stay strong on the glass and match the Aggies physically on both ends, it will have a good chance of emerging victorious. 

How deep can Nebraska go? 

Should Nebraska get through round one, Oregon State will likely be the obstacle in the way of a Sweet 16 appearance. 

The Beavers have their own challenge to get through against Big Sky champion Eastern Washington, but own a top-25 offensive and defensive rating. They’re extremely solid on both ends, have size and are led by Raegan Beers. The 6-foot-4 forward was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last season and averages 17.7 points on 66% shooting while also pulling down 10.4 rebounds per game. 

They’re 16-2 at home this season, with those losses coming to USC and Stanford. Still, this may be the best draw the Huskers could have asked for. 

Not only did Nebraska avoid a matchup with a No. 1 or 2 seed, it dodged the most threatening No. 3 teams as well. The other squads on the seed line are LSU (defending champs), UConn (last missed Sweet 16 three decades ago) and NC State (seven straight tourney appearances and ranked in top three at points this season).

Once again, this is no easy matchup. The Beavers may have missed the NCAA Tournament the past two years, but head coach Scott Rueck has made the Final Four and several other postseason runs in his 14 years with the school. 

Despite that, it feels like Nebraska would have a chance of pulling the upset if it plays like it did in the Big Ten bracket.

I’ll set the ceiling at Sweet 16, assuming No. 2 seed Notre Dame doesn’t exit early. Superstar freshman Hannah Hidalgo excels on both ends of the floor, and her talent — along with the rest of the Fighting Irish roster — may be too much to handle. Undefeated South Carolina is the heavy favorite to come out of the region, anyway.

What marks success? 

Making it here marks success in some way for Nebraska. 

Missing out on the tournament was a major disappointment last year, and the team’s postseason fate looked shaky again after a February loss to Rutgers. 

The Huskers have now made the tournament or WNIT in each of the last four seasons, including the NCAA bracket two of the last three years. That’s a solid floor to set. Given the young talent already on the team and entering in future years, they have a good chance to maintain it.

Still, head coach Amy Williams is in year eight at Nebraska, and is searching for her first tournament win. The Huskers have the seeding and talent to do it. They’ve had the latter since Jaz Shelley and Alexis Markowski arrived in 2021-22. Not earning a tourney win over this three-year stretch might not be seen as a reason for panic, but it would be disappointing. 

Just beating Texas A&M removes plenty of doubts. 


Seed: No. 7 in Region 2

At 25-5 on the season, the Bluejays are probably underseeded. The No. 7 placement was projected by many after a disappointing loss to Georgetown in the conference tournament, but you could make an argument for Creighton’s resume over a few No. 6 seeds. 

What held the seeding back was a lack of top-tier wins and a weak conference. Creighton beat four tournament teams in nonconference play, including Nebraska, Michigan State and Drake away from home. Only the Huskers earned a higher seed than Creighton, landing one line higher. 

Two other Big East teams made the tournament. Creighton split a pair of games against No. 10 seed Marquette, and lost twice to No. 3 seed UConn by a combined 64 points. The Bluejays didn’t have many chances to prove themselves against top-tier programs, and shortcomings by the non-tourney teams in the league didn’t help. 

The top seed in the region is Iowa. Creighton lands in Los Angeles with No. 2 seed UCLA, while defending champs LSU and No. 4 seed Kansas State fill out the region. 

First-round opponent: UNLV (30-2 overall, 17-1 Mountain West)

So, Creighton caught an unlucky break with its seed. Maybe the first-round matchup will help remedy that?


The Bluejays take on UNLV, which enters with a record of 30-2 and a winning streak of 15 games. HerHoopStats favors the Rebels slightly in round one. They’re a top-10 offense in the country and have been fairly efficient defensively as well. 

Creighton struggles at times with opposing star post players, and UNLV is led by center Desi-Rae Young. At 6-foot-1, she doesn’t have overwhelming size, but averages 17.9 points per game on 55.8% shooting. 

UNLV doesn’t have many glaring statistical flaws, besides not getting to the free-throw line often. It is worth looking at the nonconference performance, given that the Rebels play in the Mountain West. They beat power conference tournament teams Arizona and Oklahoma decisively, but followed those back-to-back wins with a 30-point loss to Seton Hall. 

For reference, the Pirates are 17-14, lost to Creighton three times this year and were selected for the WBIT — the NCAA’s secondary tournament.

This could end up a high-scoring contest, given the firepower on both sides. Creighton will look to play at its own pace and lock in defensively, though has the versatility to feel comfortable however the game goes.  

How deep can Creighton go?

Creighton also is in what appears to be the most loaded region. It’ll need to get through a star-studded UCLA team to reach the Sweet 16, and would likely meet No. 3 seed LSU, last year’s tourney champion, in that round. Caitlin Clark and Iowa hold down the top seed.

Chaos could change things, but the Bluejays’ path currently projects as a gauntlet from the start. A win against UNLV is more than reasonable, but it’s harder to see victories after that. They’d be at a major size disadvantage against UCLA and 6-foot-7 forward Lauren Betts. 

The Bruins have lost just one game at home and have six players contributing at least nine points per game. 

I won’t fully count out a Sweet 16 appearance, but it’d be pretty surprising. Creighton pulled multiple upsets in its Elite Eight run as a No. 10 seed two years ago, and will hope to find similar success with the same core group. 

What marks success? 

The Bluejays exited in the first round last year as a No. 6 seed, and will look to avoid the same fate this time around. 

Given the draw, getting into the round of 32 and competing with an outstanding UCLA group would be impressive. This team has the talent and coaching to accomplish that. Creighton surely believes it can pull the upset, too, and it’ll be worth keeping an eye on. 

The starting group, plus Jayme Horan off the bench, is fully made up of seniors. They all have the opportunity to come back for another season if they choose, but that likely won’t be known for certain publicly until after the team’s tourney run ends. 

Head coach Jim Flanery has already done a great job with this current group, and will look to add to that legacy in this tournament.

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