More March magic? Mississippi State guard Morgan William, center, celebrates with teammates after she hit the winning shot at the buzzer in overtime to defeat Connecticut 66-64 in the 2017 NCAA Tournament semifinals.

The 2018 NCAA Women’s Tournament tips off Friday and No. 1 seed Mississippi State joins the fray Saturday night against Nicholls State at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville.

UConn, as always, is a heavy favorite to win the national championship, but oddsmakers are giving State a slugger’s chance.

FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s well-respected statistical analysis website, gives State a seven percent chance of winning the entire tournament. That might not sound like much of a chance, but, says the statistical analysis, that’s the third best chance any team has to win the tournament.

Rick Cleveland

Before we dive into the analytics further, here’s what you should know: Despite what happened last year, oddsmakers believe this is still UConn’s party and everyone else is invited to participate.

FiveThirtyEight gives UConn a 65 percent chance of winning its fourth national championship in the last five years. After that, only Baylor is given a better chance than State. Baylor, a No. 2 seed in the Lexington Regional, has a 12 percent chance of winning it all.

Back to State: The Bulldogs are given a 99 percent chance of beating Nicholls State. They are given a 96 percent chance of advancing out of Starkville and into the Sweet 16. That sounds a little high to me, and we’ll get to that.

The Bulldogs are given an 83 percent chance of advancing in the Round of 16, and a 58 percent chance of advancing all the way to the Final Four at Columbus, Ohio. That means there’s a 42 percent chance the Bulldogs won’t make it to Columbus. That certainly hasn’t stopped many Bulldogs fans I know from booking rooms and ordering tickets for the Final Four. FiveThirtyEight says State has a 28 percent chance of winning in the semifinals, as they did last year. As already mentioned, the Bulldogs are given only a seven percent chance of winning it all.

Odds are, that would mean beating UConn, which only one team has beaten the last 144 times UConn has played. Of course, that team is State. And this, at least statistically, is a better State team than last year’s.

But know this also: UConn, statistically, is far, far better than last year’s Huskies – and even better than the 2016 Huskies who won it all, thoroughly embarrassed State 98-38 in a regional, and is widely considered the greatest women’s team of all time.

So let’s get back to the Starkville Regional, where 8-seed Syracuse plays 9-seed Oklahoma State in the other first-round game. State would be heavily favored over either, but neither is anything close to a sure thing.

In a game played Dec. 3 at Starkville, State edged Oklahoma State 71-68. It was close all the way. Keep an eye on Oklahoma State guard Loryn Goodwin, who played all 40 minutes, scored 35 points, had 10 rebounds and stole the ball four times against the Bulldogs.

Victoria Vivians scored 26 against Syracuse.

In a game played Dec. 21 at Las Vegas, State defeated Syracuse 76-65 in a competitive game. Both teams were plagued by foul trouble, but Victoria Vivians scored 26 to lead State to victory.

State is better than either team and will be playing at home. As a means of comparison, Syracuse is given only a one percent chance and Oklahoma State only a three percent chance of advancing from Starkville to the Sweet 16.

Of course, we all know how much odds can mean on any given day. Last year, State was a 21-point underdog before shocking UConn. Indeed, in Vegas you had to wager $6,000 on UConn for a chance to win just $100. Many did, looking for an easy 100 bucks.

That didn’t work out so well.

Click here for the FiveThirtyEight analysis.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.