Amid the annual discussion of whether a dynasty is good or bad for women’s college basketball, Connecticut’s No. 2 seeding in the N.C.A.A. tournament qualifies as a sign of parity. With four No. 1 seeds — Baylor, Notre Dame, Louisville and Mississippi State — and three No. 2 seeds — UConn, Stanford and Oregon — that are strong contenders for the national title, the tournament appears to be more open than in the past.
When the brackets were announced, the Huskies’ seeding was considered shocking, which speaks to the ridiculously high standard to which the program is held. The last time the Huskies plummeted to such depths was in 2006. After all, this is a team that has advanced to the region semifinals in each of the last 24 seasons, making 19 Final Four appearances and winning 11 national titles.
In seven of the previous 10 years, there was at least one team that entered the tournament unbeaten and favored to make a dominant run. This season, every team in The Associated Press Top 25 poll has lost, and all but one of the top 10, Baylor, has lost multiple times, another sign of the game’s competitive growth.
“I mean, we did lose two games,” UConn Coach Geno Auriemma told reporters, sarcasm in full bloom. The losses came against the No. 1 seeds Baylor and Louisville, each on the road. “I’m surprised we’re a No. 2,” he continued. “I thought we’d be a four or five. We’re not in one of those conferences that perennially wins national championships. We can’t be expected to lose two games and not drop. I’m just happy they kept us a two and not a four.”
Rhonda Lundin Bennett, the chairwoman of the N.C.A.A. women’s basketball committee, said UConn, ranked second in the A.P. poll, was considered to be a top seed, but the decision came down to strength of schedule, strength of conference and how each team played down the stretch.
“It was very difficult,” Lundin Bennett said. “We had a lot of discussion, considerable discussion, about a lot of lines in the seeding as well as the teams that would get into the field.”
The Huskies play in the lightly regarded American Athletic Conference, with a 120-0 record against league opponents since it was formed in 2013. Even so, UConn (31-2) will enter Friday’s first-round game against No. 15-seeded Towson (20-12) in Storrs, Conn., looking as strong as it has all season.
The Huskies cruised to a conference tournament title without one of their best players, guard Katie Lou Samuelson. She missed the A.A.C. tournament because of a back injury but will play in the N.C.A.A. tournament. Samuelson averaged 18.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
Expect the perceived slight of a No. 2 seed to give Auriemma plenty of kindling to ignite a team that has not won a national title in forever, otherwise known as 2016.
In last year’s tournament, there were plenty of upsets in the earlier rounds — nine in the first round, four in the second and two in the round of 16 — a trend that could continue this year given the unpredictable regular season. The top teams have either lost to each other or to unranked teams. Baylor’s only loss this season was to Stanford. Notre Dame fell to UConn and unranked North Carolina, but knocked off Louisville twice. Louisville topped UConn for the first time in 12 seasons under Coach Jeff Walz. Mississippi State breezed through the Southeastern Conference except for a stumble against Missouri. The Lady Bulldogs lost at Oregon.
Despite the ego blow of a No. 2 seed, the Huskies are likely better off; two wins in Storrs would be followed by a drive to Albany. No. 1 Mississippi State, the national runner-up the past two years, was shipped to Portland, Ore., where it could face the Ducks again in the region final. UConn could find itself with a rematch against Louisville in the round of 8 in Albany with a trip to the Final Four in Tampa, Fla., on the line.
Baylor (31-1), winner of 23 consecutive games, headlines the Greensboro, N.C., region. The defending champion, Notre Dame (30-3), leads the Chicago region, and is healthier and stronger than it was last season.
The suspense of the tournament is expected to surpass the rain-on-parade damper of Monday’s bracket unveiling. When ESPN accidentally broadcast the pairings four hours before the scheduled release, the plans of dozens of colleges which had invited friends and fans to attend elaborate watch parties were altered or canceled.
“We did the best that we could knowing what had happened,” Lundin Bennett said.
Though the premature bracket release deflated the celebration, a topsy-turvy tournament would render that miscue a forgotten footnote.