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The Daily Wildcat


OPINION: College WBB favorites and sleeper picks heading into March Madness

Ryan Wohl
The Arizona men’s basketball team is competing in the 2022 March Madness tournament.

Throughout the 2023-2024 women’s college basketball season, tremendous talents have arisen and have continued to make an impact for women’s sports. As March Madness approaches, with selections beginning on Sunday, March 17, there are already some clear favorites surfacing, as well as teams that may need to improve in certain areas if they hope to be the last team standing when it’s all said and done.


No. 1 University of South Carolina:

With South Carolina being one of the overall favorites to win the NCAA 2024 Championship, the Gamecocks are the only undefeated team in the NCAA, boasting a 32-0 season record and a 16-0 conference record. A youthful new core, due to the loss of four of five starters from last season, has come with offensive talents that are third in the nation with their 39.7% 3-point percentage. South Carolina has secured seven ranked wins throughout its conference record against schools like Louisiana State University and the University of Connecticut.

The South Carolina team features four players that average double figures when scoring, including senior center Kamilla Cardoso, who leads the team in points and rebounds, averaging 14 points per game, 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Te-Hina Paopao is another crucial player for the Gamecocks offense, averaging 11.1 points, 3.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game. The University of Oregon transfer put up 12 points, five assists, two rebounds and two steals in their 79-72 Southern Eastern Conference Championship victory over LSU. South Carolina’s revamped offense has shined this season and, along with the Gamecocks’ height advantages, they have continued to prove themselves as serious contenders.

No. 2 University of Iowa:

The Iowa Hawkeyes have made noise in the NCAA after an impressive few seasons with contributing players like Caitlin Clark, Hannah Stuelke and Kate Martin making their own impact. Not only have these leading scorers helped boost where Iowa stands with its 29-4 season record, but the team itself is led by head coach Lisa Bluder, who led Iowa to its first 22-3 start this season. In addition to the Hawkeyes’ 55,646 record-breaking attendance, Iowa has obtained multiple AP Top-20 wins, solidifying its dominance through the season.

Iowa is coming off an exciting 93-83 win over No. 7 Ohio State University, where Clark broke the NCAA Division Ⅰ all-time scoring record for both women’s and men’s basketball, surpassing Pete Maravich’s previous 54-year-old record. At the Senior Day game’s conclusion, Clark had tallied a total of 3,685 points in her college career. A few days later, Clark shared her announcement that she would be entering the 2024 WNBA draft. Additionally, Clark was named the women’s Big Ten Player of the Year for the third consecutive season

Stuelke is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game; she notably marked a recent season-high 47 points against Pennsylvania State University on Feb. 8, on 17-20 field goals. Martin is another player that adds to the versatility of the Hawkeyes’ roster, averaging 12.9 points, 2.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game. The guard grabbed 16 rebounds against Penn State and she and Stuelke were both included in the second-team all-conference selections in the 2023-2024 Big Ten women’s basketball honors.

No. 4 Stanford University:

Stanford has collected a 28-5 season record and a 15-3 conference record so far. The Cardinal got off to a 15-1 start at the beginning of the season under head coach Tara VanDerveer, who is the winningest coach in women’s college basketball. The team’s defensive prowess is what has helped Stanford stand out and win, with the team only allowing its opponents to score an average of 59.2 points per game. Two of Stanford’s players currently average a double-double, with Cameron Brink marking her 16th one of the season on March 2, against Oregon. In this game, the forward picked up 18 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks in the 76-56 victory.

Brink recently won the Pac-12 Player and Defensive Player of the Year and has announced her 2024 WNBA draft candidacy. Brink leads the team in rebounds, averaging 12 rebounds and 17.8 points per game. Brink also recently obtained a game-high 24 rebounds against Oregon State University. In addition to Brink, Kiki Iriafen leads Stanford in scoring, averaging 18.6 points, 11 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Iriafen also received an award, being named Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year, showcasing her 54.8% field goal percentage and growth in scoring.

No. 7 Ohio State University:

Ohio State has just clinched the Big Ten’s regular season title after boasting a 16-2 record in conference play and a 25-5 overall record this season. One of the reasons the Buckeyes have seen so much success is due to their combined talents that balance offense and defense. Ohio State forces its opponents to 21.2 turnovers per game, while the Buckeyes only give up an average of 13.5 turnovers per game. Guard Jacy Sheldon is one of the offensive talents that leads Ohio in consistent scoring, averaging 18 points, 3.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game on top of 2.1 steals.

The Buckeyes have additional players who average and score in double digits, including Cotie McMahon, who boasts a stat line of 14.1 points, 2.2 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game, and Celeste Taylor, who has 10.2 points, 3.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. Ohio has also notably won nine of its last 11 matchups, with the two losses being against Iowa on March 3, and against No. 8 University of Maryland, giving plenty of reasons as to why the Buckeyes are considered contenders.

No. 3 USC:

The Trojans started the season off 10-1, as their only loss came from in-state rival UCLA in a 71-64 toe-to-toe matchup. USC has shown resilience since and has continued to build its 26-5 overall record this season to shape its way into the top-five of the NCAA rankings with versatile players like JuJu Watkins and Rayah Marshall showing their dominance on the court.

USC acquired Watkins early, and she has grown in the span of her time being a Trojan. The freshman guard leads the team in multiple categories, averaging 27 points, 3.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game. She additionally obtains 2.4 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Watkins reached a game-high 51 points in a recent 67-58 victory over Stanford approaching the end of the regular season, building a great case as to why USC continues to be confident it can win it all. The Trojans have two other players that average double-digits, including Marshall, who leads the team in rebounding and blocks, averaging 10.2 points, 1.5 assists and 10.5 rebounds along with 2.1 blocks per game, and McKenzie Forbes, who has 13.5 points per game, 3.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.

The contributions from these women, along with the team’s strategic defense that holds opponents to 62.2 points per game, play a large role in why USC has finished its regular season with its highest ranking in 30 years.

Sleeper picks:

No. 8 Louisiana State University:

The Tigers are currently ranked at No. 8 and are the defending 2023 national champions, but have been met with questions about recruitment and where they will be seeded in the bracket. LSU has moved up five spots in the NCAA rankings after the Tigers closed out the season with eight consecutive wins. Currently, the team has a 28-5 season record and are 13-3 in conference play. Head coach Kim Mulkey has led the team with her influence to create growth and impact in the game.

The Tigers have multiple players that are lethal in matchups. The team averages 86.7 points per game, improving from last season’s average of 82.3 points per game. Angel Reese is a vital factor for LSU, along with Hailey Van Lith. Both stars have played in college for four years and are met with a decision to part ways with the team shortly, unless they decide to come back for another year. Reese leads the team in scoring and rebounding as she relentlessly puts up 19 points per game, 2.3 assists and 13.1 rebounds per game. Reese is only one of six players that average double figures on the team as Aneesah Morrow (16.5 points per game, 2.6 steals and 10 rebounds per game) and Van Lith (12.3 points per game, 3.8 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game) make their presence felt as well. Van Lith, the transfer from the University of Louisville, put up a season-high 26 points against Tennessee on Feb. 25, and collected 59 points in her past three regular-season matchups. LSU sits comfortably but will need to continue to prosper in order to defend the national title with a target on its back.

No. 6 UCLA:

The Bruins dropped a few places back in February due to a loss against Oregon State but have climbed their way back into the top 10 after making a late season push in a 61-41 victory over the University of Arizona on March 2. The Bruins hold a 25-6 overall record this season and are 13-5 in conference play; they won five straight games to end the regular season. UCLA has shown perseverance throughout the year, especially in a game against Washington State University, where the Bruins ultimately lost but had a 16-point comeback after halftime.

The team features dynamic players like Lauren Betts, who leads the team in scoring, averaging 14.7 points per game, nine rebounds and two blocks per game. Betts showcased her dominance earlier this season, grabbing a game-high 18 rebounds against Florida State University and scoring 22 points in the same game. Alongside Betts, Charisma Osborne has been a key piece to the Bruins’ success. The versatile guard targets ways to win from all sides of the game. With her ball-handling skills, Osborne averages 14.4 points per game, four assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. Osborne reached her season high when she scored 32 points on Feb. 2 against the University of California, Berkeley. UCLA will have the opportunity to upset higher-seed teams as the Bruins moved up recently to the No. 1 seed, replacing the University of Colorado, Boulder.

No. 10 University of Connecticut:

UConn began this season as an unranked team, but the Huskies have improved to 18-0 in the Big East Conference while wrapping up the regular season with a 29-5 overall record. So far, the Huskies have worked more freshmen in the rotation due to injuries that have left the team without some of its key players. Guard Paige Bueckers became the first freshman to win the Associated Press women’s basketball Player of the Year in 2021, and has vastly improved as the team’s leading scorer. Bueckers averages 21.3 points per game, 3.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game, making her impact next to teammates like Aaliyah Edwards, Aubrey Griffin, Azzi Fudd and more.

Edwards leads the team in rebounding; the six-foot-three forward averages 9.3 rebounds, 17.8 points and 2.1 assists per game, reaching a game-high 33 points against St. John’s University on Feb. 4. Additionally, Edwards obtained seven double-doubles in the last 10 matchups she’s played in, making sure her presence is known in each game. In the 2021 NCAA Final Four, the Huskies faced a stunning defeat against the Wildcats, leaving them with a reason to continue their resilience and make a comeback for the challenging tournament ahead.

No. 17 University of Oklahoma:

The Sooners have climbed their way to a 15-3 record in the Big 12 Conference despite a rough stretch they went through, losing five of six games they played early in the season. With a 22-9 overall record, Oklahoma was able to hold down former-No. 2 University of Texas at Austin in order to claim the Big 12 regular season title with a 71-70 nail-biting victory. Payton Verhulst led the team with 18 points and six rebounds against the Longhorns, as she also remains the team’s second leading scorer, averaging 12.9 points per game, four assists and 5.9 rebounds per game. Skylar Vann is another key scorer for the Sooners, as the junior guard leads the team in rebounding and scoring, hoping to advance the team farther than expected. Vann averages 14.7 points per game, 2.5 assists and 7.1 rebounds per game as the rest of the contributing roster boasts a 42.6% field goal percentage as a team.

Oklahoma closed out the regular season with a 83-74 loss against the University of Kansas and, depending on the bracket, the Sooners could be faced with challenges when going against higher-seeded teams or could pull off the upset depending on the talent the roster provides.

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