South Carolina is the dominant story in the women's NCAA field
South Carolina has been the No. 1 women's college team in the country all season and is the clear favorite to repeat as national champion.
The Gamecocks (32-0) swept through the tough SEC during the regular season and won the conference tournament for the seventh time in nine seasons last weekend, winning by margins of 27, 29 and 16 points.
Following a 74-58 win over Tennessee in the SEC title game, South Carolina was a bit subdued with its celebration.
“It’s definitely because we have bigger goals ahead, but also we’re just not that type of team,” guard Zia Cooke, who is averaging 15.3 points, said after the win. “We celebrate our wins with each other, but we don’t do too much celebrating.”
South Carolina will be looking for a bigger celebration at the Final Four in Dallas.
The Gamecocks are expected to get the top overall seed when the NCAA Tournament field is revealed Sunday at 8 p.m.
The NCAA has decided to go with two regional sites starting this year, meaning there will be two No. 1 seeds in the Greenville and Seattle regions. South Carolina is expected to get one of the No. 1 seeds in the Greenville region.
South Carolina has impressive non-conference wins over Stanford, UConn, Maryland and UCLA. Reigning national player of the year Aliyah Boston, averaging 13.3 points and 9.7 rebounds, is arguably the most dominant player in the nation.
Which teams deserve the other No. 1 seeds?
The NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) has Big East champion UConn (29-5) at No. 2. Stanford (28-5) is No. 4, Indiana (27-3) is No. 5, Big Ten champion Iowa (26-6) is No. 6 and ACC champion Virginia Tech (27-4) is No. 9.
LSU (28-2) is No. 3 in the NET rankings but is viewed as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a weak strength of schedule.
Stanford looked to be a lock as a No. 1 seed until a loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 semifinals. The Cardinal still appear to be a No. 1 seed with 15 wins against teams in the NET’s top 50.
Despite blowing a 24-point lead and getting upset by Ohio State in the Big Ten semifinals, Indiana is in good position to get a No. 1 seed. The Hoosiers were the No. 2 team in both NCAA top 16 reveals last month.
That leaves UConn, Iowa and Virginia Tech.
UConn appears to have the strongest case for a No. 1 seed with its NET ranking, strength of schedule (No. 2) and 11 wins over teams in the NET’s top 25.
Iowa repeated as Big Ten Tournament champion last weekend, and star guard Caitlin Clark notched a triple-double in the title game win over Ohio State with 30 points, 17 assists and 10 rebounds.
“I think this does earn us a one seed, but at the same time, I don’t know how much difference there is in a one seed, the fourth one seed and the top two seed,” Clark, who is averaging 27 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds this season, said after the win. “You’re technically in the same region. We beat two one seeds in the past two weeks. I don’t know how that wouldn’t earn you a one seed, but I’m not the one that makes those decisions.”
Virginia Tech won their first ACC Tournament title last weekend and has an 11-game winning streak, which could be enough to land a No. 1 seed despite its NET ranking and strength of schedule.
The local connections
St. John’s (22-8, 13-7 Big East) will be nervously watching Sunday night’s selection show to see if it did enough to warrant an at-large bid. If the Red Storm make it in, former Sachem East star Danielle Cosgrove of Holbrook will be making a return to the NCAA Tournament. Cosgrove was a freshman on the 2018-19 Notre Dame team that lost to Baylor in the national championship game. Former St. Mary’s star Kadaja Bailey of Long Beach is the second-leading scorer for St. John’s.
Former Long Island Lutheran star Celeste Taylor of Valley Stream will likely be back in the NCAAs. Taylor previously played in the tournament with Texas but transferred to Duke and should make another appearance as the Blue Devils (25-6) of the ACC are projected to receive an at-large bid.
Another former Long Island Lutheran star, Grace Stone of Glen Cove, will make a return trip to the tournament with Princeton, which defeated Harvard for the Ivy League title and automatic bid Saturday.
Gardner-Webb won the Big South Tournament last weekend and received the automatic bid. Former Division star Emily Gillis of Levittown will be heading to the tournament with the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
Cara McCormick, a former St. John the Baptist star from Smithtown, will play for the NCAA automatic bid when her Holy Cross team plays Boston University for the Patriot League championship on Sunday.