In a year in which no women's college basketball team was crowned a champion due to the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, backyard fantasies are all any of us have.
And that's why we decided to simulate the 2020 women's NCAA tournament, based on my final bracket projection and ESPN's Basketball Power Index (BPI).
The pre-tournament favorites included the usual suspects. Despite not being the No. 1 overall seed, Oregon was the overwhelming choice to capture its first title and send off Sabrina Ionescu with the storybook ending she envisioned 49 weeks ago. Here are the championship probabilities heading into our simulated tourney.
South Carolina: 19.1%
Mississippi State: 2.1%
NC State: 1.9%
But here's the thing about a one-time simulation: It's just as one-and-done as the real thing. Bethune-Cookman might have only a 1-in-100 chance to beat Louisville, but if that one simulation says it happened, then that is the path this bracket follows.
The computers can give us probabilities, odds and this entire simulation, but what they can't do is provide the narrative that is such a part of March. That is where the rest of the fun starts, and where we get to take some liberties with the details as we advance through the bracket.
No. 1 South Carolina over No. 16 Jackson State
The momentum from a near-perfect season and dominant run through the SEC tournament is not slowed at all by the nearly two-week break for the Gamecocks. They win by 50.
No. 9 Florida Gulf Coast over No. 8 Michigan
The Eagles do two things better than any team in the country: make 3-pointers and protect the ball. Michigan feels the impact of both. With senior Davion Wingate leading the way, FGCU makes 14 3-pointers and the Wolverines' length doesn't help create any turnovers as the Eagles pull away late for a double-digit minor upset.
No. 12 Drexel over No. 5 Missouri State
This is the first truly big upset. Missouri State was a trendy pick to reach the Sweet 16 for a second straight year, but the Lady Bears were done in by another mid-major. The Dragons play at the slowest pace of any team in the country, and Missouri State was out of sync for nearly the entire game. A late rally falls short. Drexel moves on.
No. 4 Oregon State over No. 13 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Getting out of the Pac-12 seems liberating for the Beavers, who play with a looseness that hasn't been seen since a pair of 90-point performances in November. Oregon State doesn't quite hit 90 here but is never challenged on its way to the second round.
No. 6 South Dakota over No. 11 Rice
Another mid-major clash in the Greenville region also pits two of the nation's most underappreciated seniors against each other. South Dakota's Ciara Duffy, espnW's mid-major Player of the Year, outduels Erica Ogwumike, who finishes her career with a double-double, down the stretch, giving the Coyotes their first NCAA tournament win.
No. 3 UCLA over No. 14 Montana State
The Bruins look rusty, and for 30 minutes, it looks like the Big Sky-champion Bobcats might pull off the surprise of the tournament. Then, a concerted effort is made to get Michaela Onyenwere the ball, and the UCLA junior star dominates late, helping the Bruins survive.
No. 7 Arkansas over No. 10 Marquette
Back in November, most thought Arkansas would be a higher seed and Marquette would be in the WNIT at best. This game played out with those expectations in mind. The Razorbacks hit the Golden Eagles with an offensive barrage and run away with an easy win.
No. 2 NC State over No. 15 Campbell
The 3-point shooting that is so vital to the Wolfpack's success was missing in action again, but with a huge size advantage over the Big South champs, NC State dominates inside behind the play of All-American Elissa Cunane.
Fort Wayne Region
No. 1 Maryland over No. 16 Samford
Since last losing on Jan. 9, the Terrapins didn't have a game closer than nine points the rest of the season. This one also goes into the blowout category, as six Maryland players score in double figures and the Terps go over 100 for the sixth time.
No. 9 Iowa State over No. 8 Virginia Tech
In one of the most tightly contested games of the opening round, the Cyclones and Hokies give the College Park fans the excitement they didn't get in Maryland's rout. Iowa State senior Adriana Camber hits a 3-pointer at the buzzer for her only field goal of the game, giving the Cyclones a one-point win.
No. 5 Texas A&M over No. 12 Dayton
The Flyers slow the pace and frustrate the Aggies for a while, but ultimately Dayton can't handle N'dea Jones and Ciera Johnson inside, and Texas A&M wins an NCAA tournament game for the fifth consecutive year.
No. 4 DePaul over No. 13 Rider
The Broncs' outstanding season and first NCAA tournament appearance is over quickly against the offensive onslaught of the nation's second-highest-scoring team.
No. 6 Kentucky over No. 11 Old Dominion
Both teams take a defense-first philosophy, and the game is low-scoring and physical. The difference is the Wildcats have Rhyne Howard, and each time they need a basket, she delivers. Eventually, the Monarchs just don't have enough offense to stay in the game.
No. 14 Southeast Missouri over No. 3 Arizona
Southeast Missouri saw the Drexel upset and went even bigger. The Pac-12 loses its fourth-best team, as Arizona's usually stingy defense can't stop Carrie Shephard and Tesia Thompson. Arizona's Aari McDonald expends so much energy bouncing off screens and chasing them, she doesn't have enough in the tank for the late charge the Wildcats need. Arizona's ascent will have to wait another year.
No. 7 TCU over No. 10 Purdue
Like Arizona, TCU is a program on the rise. The Horned Frogs didn't have as much success in the regular season as the Wildcats but did something the Wildcats could not -- get to the second round in the program's first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2010.
No. 2 Louisville over No. 15 Bethune-Cookman
Bethune-Cookman's second trip to the NCAA tournament goes better than its first. But only slightly. After losing to Notre Dame by 42 last year, the Wildcats fall to the Cardinals by 35. Louisville coach Jeff Walz is able to rest his regulars for the entire fourth quarter.
No. 1 Baylor over No. 16 UMKC
In the previous five NCAA tournaments, the Lady Bears beat their first-round opponents by an average of 53.4 points. That number gets bigger after a 60-point win over the Kangaroos.
No. 8 Drake over No. 9 LSU
Drake greats Becca Hittner and Sara Rhine were just not ready to see their careers end. They each score 20 points, and LSU doesn't have enough firepower to keep up.
No. 12 IUPUI over No. 5 Florida State
We have reached the point where every favorite needs to be on alert. The upsets are coming with regularity. The Jags make their first NCAA tournament appearance count, and the Seminoles continue their late-season trend of playing to the level of their competition. Not getting into the top 16 and hosting games seems to really cost Florida State, which plays with little sense of urgency at Carver-Hawkeye Arena until it's too late.
No. 4 Iowa over No. 13 Bucknell
The Hawkeyes look like a team desperately wanting to get back on the court after the disappointing quarterfinal-round loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament. The offense clicks from the opening tip, and Bucknell is never in the game.
No. 11 James Madison over No. 6 Ohio State
Make it 2-for-2 for the CAA. The Dukes barely made it into the field after losing a heartbreaker to Drexel in the conference tournament final and took full advantage of the opportunity. JMU senior Kamiah Smalls, the CAA Player of the Year and one of the most overlooked players in the country, becomes a household name for a day after scoring 32 points in the upset.
No. 3 Mississippi State over No. 14 Stony Brook
Mississippi State has been a very accomplished NCAA tournament team over the past few years, but not this group. The young Bulldogs struggle early as they find their footing, even with the game in Starkville. Everything clicks by the end of the second quarter, as senior Jordan Danberry shows the way.
No. 7 Duke over No. 10 Creighton
Haley Gorecki seemed to will the Blue Devils back to the NCAA tournament in the second half of the season, and she does the same in a win over the Bluejays.
No. 2 Stanford over No. 15 Portland
The Pilots played the role of the spoiler -- and stole a spot on the bubble, knocking Western Kentucky out of the NCAA tournament field -- when they won the WCC tournament. Beating Gonzaga in the conference tournament was one thing. Knocking off Stanford would have been another. The Cardinal make quick work of Portland in Maples Pavilion.
No. 1 Oregon over No. 16 UC Davis
Sabrina Ionescu's unfinished business was to have really begun here. No triple-double in this one, as the consensus Player of the Year plays well below her average 33.7 minutes per game in a Ducks rout, fueling the tank for bigger things to come.
No. 9 Central Michigan over No. 8 Rutgers
Last year, the Chippewas probably had a better team but couldn't get out of the 8-9 game, a one-point loss in a classic against Michigan State. This time: same game, same conference for their opponent, but a different outcome. The Scarlet Knights never find an answer for the nation's fifth-leading scorer Micaela Kelly.
No. 5 Indiana over No. 12 Troy
The Trojans, with their entertaining and up-tempo style, were so close to making it three No. 12 seeds into the second round, but Jaelynn Penn rescued the Hoosiers with some late heroics in one of the most entertaining games of Day 2.
No. 4 Gonzaga over No. 13 Boise State
The Zags played like they wanted no part of another upset. The balance that defined Gonzaga's offense was on full display, but the defense shutting down a good Broncos offense and a packed house at the McCarthey Athletic Center pushed the Zags into the second round.
No. 11 Tennessee over No. 6 Princeton
So many critics didn't think the Lady Vols belonged. Others thought the tallest team in the country hadn't utilized its size properly all season. Tennessee proved both groups wrong Friday night in Evanston. Princeton's honorable-mention All-American Bella Alarie couldn't get any clean looks inside against 6-foot-5 Tamari Key and 6-foot-4 Kasiyahna Kushkituah, and Tennessee won a tournament game for the 37th time in 39 years.
No. 3 Northwestern over No. 14 Kent State
Playing at home helps the Wildcats ease into the program's first NCAA tournament since 2015 and made getting the school's first tournament win in 27 years relatively easy against the surprise MAC champions. Will that home-court advantage provide the same kind of comfort against a storied program such as Tennessee in Round 2?
No. 7 Arizona State over No. 10 Texas
For an offense that never found its identity this season, Texas drew what might have been its worst possible matchup. Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne is a master at making opponents uncomfortable, and the Longhorns never made a significant run.
No. 2 UConn over No. 15 Robert Morris
Sure, the Huskies will eventually have to head west to reach a 13th consecutive Final Four, but they enjoy getting the tournament started in the familiar surroundings of Gampel Pavilion by crushing the Colonials.
No. 1 South Carolina over No. 9 Florida Gulf Coast
South Carolina showed no true weaknesses all season, but one of the Gamecocks' worst statistical areas was defending the 3-pointer -- a glimmer of hope for the deep-shooting Eagles. No matter. South Carolina is too physically strong and comfortably moves to the Sweet 16.
No. 4 Oregon State over No. 12 Drexel
The Dragons' fun as Cinderella ends harshly. Oregon State makes nearly every possession miserable for Drexel, which doesn't even get to 50.
No. 3 UCLA over No. 6 South Dakota
Shooting remains an issue for the Bruins, but second-chance points came at such an abundance it didn't matter against the smaller Coyotes. Duffy's brilliant career goes out in a whimper as she struggles to shake loose of UCLA's Japreece Dean.
No. 2 NC State over No. 7 Arkansas
NC State's 3-point shooting wakes up just in time. The Razorbacks make a bunch from deep, but the Wolfpack make more and win a high-scoring, entertaining shootout.
Fort Wayne Region
No. 1 Maryland over No. 9 Iowa State
The Terps' dominant play continues. They immediately grab control of the tempo and don't let go. The Cyclones are no match for Stephanie Jones and Shakira Austin inside.
No. 4 DePaul over No. 5 Texas A&M
The Blue Demons start hot again and in the second half, Chennedy Carter tries to outshoot them herself. She puts up big numbers, outdoing the 35 points she scored a year ago against Notre Dame in the Sweet 16, but it's not nearly enough.
No. 6 Kentucky over No. 13 Southeast Missouri
Howard is not at her best, but Chasity Patterson is and that is enough. Kentucky is fortunate with the matchup. Southeast Missouri just doesn't have the same energy it did two days earlier in the upset of Arizona.
No. 2 Louisville over No. 7 TCU
Louisville's trip to the second weekend becomes a bit overlooked because of the ease in which it happens. No fanfare. Just business. But it gets much more fun with a regional semifinal meeting with rival Kentucky awaiting.
No. 1 Baylor over No. 8 Drake
Only two teams in the country took a smaller percentage of their shots from 3-point range than Baylor. In this one, the Lady Bears don't take a single field goal attempt from beyond the arc and barely take any from outside the paint and physically dismantle Drake.
No. 4 Iowa over No. 12 IUPUI
IUPUI's Macee Williams is the best player on the court for 35 minutes and the Jags almost do it again. However, like they did so much during the season, the Hawkeyes find a way to come back behind the clutch play of Kathleen Doyle.
No. 11 James Madison over No. 3 Mississippi State
Taking inspiration from what IUPUI almost did, the Dukes complete the job and pull off the stunner. That makes three years in a row that a No. 11 seed has reached the Sweet 16.
No. 2 Stanford over No. 7 Duke
Ten years ago this might have been a classic Elite Eight or Final Four matchup. It's still a pretty good one in the second round. The Blue Devils hadn't run into this combination of talent, discipline and ability to execute since they met Louisville in early January. That was too much for them then and Stanford was too much this time.
No. 1 Oregon over No. 9 Central Michigan
This is Ruthy Hebard's night. Central Michigan has no answer for the pick-and-roll and Oregon's senior forward gets layup after layup. She doesn't miss a shot and Oregon wins in a near flawless display of offensive efficiency.
No. 5 Indiana over No. 4 Gonzaga
Still feeling snubbed about not hosting, the Hoosiers go into Spokane and win anyway. Indiana does it by scoring the game's final five points in the best atmosphere of the tournament and most intensely contested game of the second round.
No. 11 Tennessee over No. 3 Northwestern
The lightbulb finally seemed to go on for the Lady Vols in the NCAA tournament. They stopped turning over the ball and the offense is showing a crispness that was lacking most of the season. This was by far Tennessee's best performance of the year and a resurgent season for the Wildcats ends unceremoniously on their home court.
No. 2 UConn over No. 7 Arizona State
It took 13 years to get Tennessee and UConn on the court together and then, thanks to NCAA tournament karma, it happens twice in one season. The Huskies did their part with a systematic and fundamental dismantling of the Sun Devils' defense, and Arizona State didn't have enough firepower at the other end to keep up.
No. 1 South Carolina over No. 4 Oregon State
Other than Drexel's first-round win, Greenville provided few surprises in Sim No. 2020 as the top-four seeds make it to the Sweet 16. The trend continues with the Gamecocks leading from start to finish against a game, but overmatched, Oregon State team. Aliyah Boston dominates inside with seven blocks and 13 rebounds in another comfortable South Carolina win.
No. 3 UCLA over No. 2 NC State
The Bruins make sure the region has at least one Pac-12 representative in the Elite Eight. Early foul trouble to Cunane hurts the Wolfpack, and UCLA is able to do what it does best: control the boards. A couple of big 3-pointers by Natalie Chou late help the Bruins hold on.
Fort Wayne Region
No. 1 Maryland over No. 4 DePaul
DePaul is the second-most prolific point-producing team in the country. Maryland is fourth. So it's no surprise this is the highest-scoring game of the tournament. The difference is the Terrapins' ability to turn their rare misses into offensive rebounds and second-chance points.
No. 2 Louisville over No. 6 Kentucky
The Allen County War Memorial Coliseum is packed with equal parts red and blue. The red are the fans who leave happy. The Cardinals are playing their best basketball of the season and move one step closer to the Final Four by beating Kentucky for the second time this season.
No. 1 Baylor over No. 4 Iowa
The Big 12 might have lulled Baylor into complacency, but the NCAA tournament has snapped the Lady Bears back into a focused machine. Watching them get better with each tournament game is beginning to get intimidating for some. Count the Hawkeyes as one of those teams. With DiDi Richards and Juicy Landrum flying all over the court, the Iowa guards looked lost at times and Baylor waltzes into the regional final.
No. 2 Stanford over No. 11 James Madison
The Cardinal keeps the Pac-12 dream alive of having three teams in the Final Four and the Dukes' thrilling run ends. The upsets in the early rounds are starting to feel like ancient history with the highest-seeded teams proving their superiority.
No. 1 Oregon over No. 5 Indiana
The Hoosiers represent another great matchup for Oregon, and the Ducks take full advantage. Ionescu gets her first triple-double (the 27th of her career) of this tournament and the entire offense looks unstoppable.
No. 2 UConn over No. 11 Tennessee
Tennessee is clearly an improved team from the one that lost to the Huskies on Jan. 23. The problem for the Lady Vols is that UConn is better, too. The Sweet 16 run renews some faith in Knoxville, but the Huskies control the game from the start and advance to another rematch from earlier in the season, this one against Oregon.
No. 1 South Carolina over No. 3 UCLA
UCLA, a top-10 team much of the season, is now the lowest-seeded team left in the simulation. The Gamecocks have been the No. 1-ranked team since the middle of January and were not about to let their incredible season end short of the Final Four. This game becomes Tyasha Harris' moment, and point guard to point guard, she and coach Dawn Staley celebrate by cutting down the nets in Greenville together.
Fort Wayne Region
No. 1 Maryland over No. 2 Louisville
Kaila Charles has deferred to teammates for most of the tournament, but not in this one. Excelling in transition and mid-range, the Maryland senior takes over in the second half and the Cardinals don't have enough answers. It's close, but the Terps prevail, making it two No. 1 seeds into the Final Four.
No. 1 Baylor over No. 2 Stanford
Formidable front lines, veteran point guards, big-game experience. Baylor and Stanford have plenty in common. What the Cardinal don't have is Lauren Cox, who delivers key defense and two big baskets in the final three minutes as the Lady Bears are off to New Orleans with an eight-point win.
No. 1 Oregon over No. 2 UConn
Three times UConn went up against the nation's best teams in the regular season, and three times the Huskies lost. Make it four. Not unlike the first time these two teams met in Storrs, Connecticut, on Feb. 3, once again Oregon is just better. The streak of 12 straight Final Fours ends here for the Huskies (in non-simulation life, they still get a chance to extend this one in 2021), and the Ducks are two wins away from finishing that business.
No. 1 South Carolina over No. 1 Maryland
No craziness here. Yes, the women's game has more depth and parity than it has in years, but the four top seeds still made it to New Orleans. The Terps were a bit late to the party this season in the "best in the nation" category and it shows early, as South Carolina jumps to an early double-digit lead. Maryland makes a couple of small runs to provide hope, but the Gamecock freshmen never wilt under the Final Four spotlight and will now play for a national championship.
No.1 Baylor over No. 1 Oregon
In a rematch from 2019, the game follows a similar script. Oregon makes a bunch of 3-pointers and Baylor barely takes any. However, the Lady Bears dominate nearly everything in the paint and the Ducks' highly efficient offense struggles to get anything easy. Oregon entered the tournament with a 10% higher probability to win the title than anyone else, but it's not to be. Ionescu, Hebard and Satou Sabally don't get the opportunity to play in a national championship game.
No.1 Baylor over No. 1 South Carolina
Make it two in a row for the Baylor Lady Bears. The doubts that a loss to Iowa State in the regular-season finale conjured up now seem foolish as Baylor plays a near flawless six games to win its fourth championship. The formula of adding a graduate transfer point guard works again for Kim Mulkey as Te'a Cooper helps beat the team that she played for a season ago. But she's not the one to hit the game-winning shot like Chloe Jackson did in 2019. This time it's another senior guard, Juicy Landrum, who provides the late-game heroics. Sophomore NaLyssa Smith wins the simulated Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.