Women’s basketball Bracket Watch: Portland’s upset of Gonzaga opens and closes doors – The Athletic

By Mark SchindlerMar 13, 2024Supported By

(Editor’s note: This is part of the Bracket Central Series, an inside look at the run-up to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, along with analysis and picks during the tournaments.)

For the first, and likely not the last, time this week, the bubble has burst. The Portland Pilots are going dancing, securing the automatic qualifying bid by winning the West Coast Conference tournament. Portland was solid this season, finishing a respectable third in the conference behind Santa Clara and Gonzaga.


Gonzaga had been projected in the field and looked like a lock to host for much of the season, with a stellar nonconference run and dominance in the WCC. The Zags beat Portland by 21 the first time they met and defeated Portland 90-40 just two weeks ago. Now Portland walks out with a trip to March Madness with a 1-point victory over the Bulldogs.

This is what March is all about. Everything we think we know can change in an instant.

First Four Columbia 16 Sacred Heart 16 UT Martin Corvallis 11 Marquette 11 Miami Los Angeles 16 Holy Cross 16 Presbyterian Baton Rouge 11 Arizona 11 Texas A&M Albany 1 Columbia 1 South Carolina 16 Sacred Heart UT Martin Columbia 8 Michigan State 9 Kansas Manhattan 4 Kansas State 13 Fairfield Manhattan 5 Gonzaga 12 FGCU Corvallis 3 Oregon State 14 Rice Corvallis 6 Ole Miss 11 Marquette Miami Columbus 2 Ohio State 15 Maine Columbus 7 Duke 10 Vanderbilt Portland 2 Los Angeles 1 USC 16 Holy Cross Presbyterian Los Angeles 8 Princeton 9 Maryland Bloomington 4 Indiana 13 South Dakota State Bloomington 5 Oklahoma 12 Toledo South Bend 3 Notre Dame 14 Stony Brook South Bend 6 Baylor 11 Arizona Texas A&M Baton Rouge 2 LSU 15 Norfolk State Baton Rouge 7 Creighton 10 Michigan Albany 3 Iowa City 1 Iowa 16 Hawaii Iowa City 8 Tennessee 9 North Carolina Boulder 4 Colorado 13 Marshall Boulder 5 Syracuse 12 Richmond Raleigh 3 NC State 14 Chattanooga Raleigh 6 West Virginia 11 Green Bay Los Angeles 2 UCLA 15 Cal Baptist Los Angeles 7 Iowa State 10 Auburn Portland 4 Palo Alto 1 Stanford 16 Lamar Palo Alto 8 Nebraska 9 Alabama Blacksburg 4 Virginia Tech 13 Eastern Washington Blacksburg 5 Utah 12 Drake Storrs 3 UConn 14 Jackson State Storrs 6 Louisville 11 Middle Tennessee Austin 2 Texas 15 Portland Austin 7 Florida State 10 UNLV

Last four in First four out Next four out Last four byes
Marquette Columbia Saint Joseph’s UNLV
Texas A&M Washington State Villanova Michigan
Arizona Mississippi State VCU Vanderbilt
Miami Penn State Washington Auburn

Multi-bid conference

League Bids
Big Ten 7
Big 12 7
Pac-12 7
Big East 3
West Coast 2

What does Gonzaga’s fallout mean?

If you were a team on the bubble of hosting the first two rounds, you rejoiced with Gonzaga’s loss. If you were on the bubble of making the tournament, you let out a lengthy sigh.

Given how the selection committee has seemingly viewed Gonzaga’s resume throughout the season, it’s safe to say the Bulldogs are no longer on track to host in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga made its first appearance in the final Top 16 reveal — and only at 15. And that was before the loss to a team that isn’t in the NET top 100. I don’t think the Bulldogs will fall more than a seed line, dropping them to a No. 5 seed after that loss. But it opens the door now for other teams that were on the outside.

Nothing is guaranteed, but I view Colorado as the most likely beneficiary of Gonzaga’s loss, as so much of that range from No. 12-20 in the seed list has been in upheaval the past week.

Will a Big 12 team move up?

Gonzaga’s loss has more ripple effects. I have Kansas State slotting in as that final hosting team in the Big Dance. The Wildcats were not included in the NCAA’s final Top 16 reveal, coming off of close losses to Kansas and Iowa State. However, after Oklahoma stumbled against Kansas the week after and its early exit in the Big 12 tournament with a blowout loss to Iowa State, K State appears to have a solid chance at locking in this last spot to host.


The Wildcats showed they could hang tough with Texas, putting together a competitive game in the Big 12 semifinals, while taking out a talented West Virginia for the second time this season. When comparing the two and zooming out for the whole season, there aren’t many teams in this range outside Colorado that can come close in comparison with top-end wins, taking down Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye. Kansas State never quite found its footing again as that Final Four-level team it looked like in early January before Ayoka Lee’s injury, but the totality of the Wildcats’ season should have them back in the top 16 seeds.

Explaining the middle

When looking at this as a whole, think of it like a sandwich. The bottom crust, where the majority of the automatic qualifiers will slot in, gets a slightly thicker slice of bread now that the automatic qualifier for the conference doesn’t have the bid and Portland would not be in the field without it. Simultaneously, the upper crust gets a slightly thicker slice of bread as well with Gonzaga falling slightly, but again, not getting in as an automatic qualifier.

The WCC is a league that will typically only send one team to March Madness: the conference tournament champion. With Gonzaga an at-large team, that changes things, given that it was expected to be the automatic qualifier. There’s less room for any sort of filling between those slices, other teams that are at-large bids.

In general, the resounding questions I seem to get assume the bubble as the bottom of all of the bids, when in reality, it’s in the middle and squeezing tighter as more and more bids become fully locked in. Is the bubble actually just the trash compactor from the Death Star? Who’s to say!

Columbia is still alive with an opportunity to make things shake in the Ivy League tournament, but they move to the first team out after losing a spot.


How Green Bay clinched

Speaking of the bubble sandwich, the Horizon League gave bubble hopefuls some breathing room. As I wrote yesterday, the Phoenix weren’t as likely to be an at-large selection after recently losing to UW Milwaukee, but Green Bay had a resume worthy of garnering looks for the play-in or an outright No. 11 seed.

After eviscerating Cleveland State from start to finish Tuesday afternoon, the Phoenix took any sort of decision-making out of the committee’s hands while also playing one of their most complete games of the season.

Natalie McNeal set a career high with 32 points, all 2-pointers, comfortably pulling up from the midrange at will throughout the game.

Green Bay finished 15th nationally in adjusted defensive rating, per CBB Analytics, and it showed. The Phoenix generally play slower, but they play with intention. They finished first in Division I with a 1.74 assist-to-turnover ratio, taking great care of every possession.

They have a lot of players who can shoot the 3 and space the floor, but the paint is where they thrive, highly efficient and effective inside the arc. They’re balanced, they play with depth, playing nine players 10 or more minutes per game, and they’re experienced with juniors as their top six scorers. With wins over Creighton in Omaha and against Washington State before Charlisse Leger-Walker’s injury, this is a team to know before Selection Sunday

Who should be on your radar next?

• The Mountain West tournament championship has a real chance to burst the bubble as well. UNLV has largely run away with the MWC all season, going 17-1 in conference play and comfortably winning the first two games of the conference tournament. However, as we saw with Gonzaga, everything is out the window once the calendar flips to March. The Rebels will make the NCAA Tournament no matter what, playing a strong nonconference schedule with marquee wins over strong Power 5 teams, most notably Oklahoma. A loss will likely drop them a seed line, but the larger issue for the bubble is that a team without a chance for an at-large bid will take up an automatic qualifier spot. That adds to the trash compactor squeeze in the middle.

• Keep your eyes on the Conference USA tournament, which continues Wednesday. Middle Tennessee is in the same boat as UNLV, a likely at-large regardless of how the conference tournament shakes out barring a blowout loss.

Seed list

Seed Team Automatic qualifier
1 South Carolina AQ
3 Iowa AQ
4 Stanford
5 Texas
7 Ohio State
9 Notre Dame AQ
10 NC State
12 Oregon State
13 Virginia Tech
14 Indiana
15 Colorado
16 Kansas State
17 Gonzaga
18 Oklahoma
19 Utah
20 Syracuse
21 Baylor
22 Ole Miss
23 Louisville
24 West Virginia
25 Duke
26 Creighton
27 Florida State
28 Iowa State
29 Nebraska
30 Tennessee
31 Michigan State
32 Princeton AQ
33 North Carolina
34 Alabama
35 Kansas
36 Maryland
38 Michigan
39 Vanderbilt
40 Auburn
41 Marquette
42 Texas A&M
43 Arizona
44 Miami
45 Green Bay AQ
46 Middle Tennessee AQ
47 Drake AQ
48 Richmond AQ
49 Toledo AQ
51 Fairfield AQ
52 South Dakota State AQ
53 Marshall AQ
54 Eastern Washington AQ
55 Jackson State AQ
56 Chattanooga AQ
57 Stony Brook AQ
58 Rice AQ
59 Maine AQ
60 Norfolk State AQ
61 Cal Baptist AQ
62 Portland AQ
63 Lamar AQ
64 Hawaii AQ
65 Holy Cross AQ
66 Presbyterian AQ
67 Sacred Heart AQ
68 Tennessee Martin AQ

The Bracket Central series is part of a partnership with E*TRADE.

The Athletic maintains full editorial independence. Partners have no control over or input into the reporting or editing process and do not review stories before publication.

(Photo of Portland: Kyle Terada / USA Today)

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Mark Schindler is a 2021 graduate of the University of Toledo and has been working in basketball in a scouting and writing capacity since 2019. Alongside his current Bracket Watch and Bubble Watch series at The Athletic, you can find his work with Seven Star Digital covering all things basketball.