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There has been no shortage of stars in women's college basketball this season, with the brightest stars facing off against their respective teams vying for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with Selection Sunday about two months away.
It's too early to call any team a lock for the top spot, but South Carolina is about as close as it was in January. The Gamecocks (16-0) are the last undefeated team in the nation after Baylor and UCLA each suffered their first losses last week. According to his hoops stats, South Carolina should be a double-digit favorite in all of its remaining regular-season games, including its matchup next week against defending national champion LSU.
The eventful week proved that there are no truly great teams in men's college basketball
Although the Gamecocks look completely different from last year's Final Four team after graduating all five starters, they remain in a familiar spot at the top of the Associated Press poll. Camilla Cardoso, a 6-foot senior center, anchors this year's team, but the development of quarterback play behind Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao has transformed South Carolina's offense. The Gamecocks shot a mediocre 31 percent from three-point range last season; this year, they are shooting first in Division I at 43.6 percent. It all adds up to an offense averaging 90 points.
The Pac-12, which has four teams ranked in the top 10 in this week's AP poll, also leads the conversation about who could claim the top spot during the tournament. Despite Sunday's loss to Southern California, UCLA (14-1) has the strongest case among Pac-12 schools for the No. 1 seed. Even after the loss to the Trojans dropped the Bruins from No. 2 to No. 5 in the AP rankings, UCLA is 6-1 against teams in the top 50 of the NET rankings. The backcourt of Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice picked up where they left off last season, and the addition of Stanford transfer Lauren Betts, a 6-7 center averaging 15.6 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds, has taken UCLA to a new level. . .
Stanford (15-2) is also in the lineup thanks to national player of the year candidate Cameron Brink, who is averaging 17.6 points and 11.1 rebounds. Brink's success in her senior season, along with junior Kiki Iriafen, who is averaging 17.2 points and 10.5 rebounds, has helped the No. 8 Cardinal to four wins against top-25 NET teams. It ties UCLA and Iowa for the most in the nation, and the Pac-12 will continue to provide opportunities to add to that resume. Seven of the league's 12 teams are ranked in the top 25 in the NET rankings.
Southern Cal (13-1) and Colorado (15-1) can't be considered odds-on for the top seed. Each is 3-1 against top 25 teams in the NET rankings. The Trojans are ranked No. 6 in the AP after this win over UCLA, which included a 32-point performance from freshman Juju Watkins. Colorado, the last undefeated team in Pac-12 play, beat Stanford 71-59 on Sunday to start a three-game stretch against top 10 teams that continues Friday against UCLA and ends Sunday against USC. .
Elsewhere, Kaitlyn Clark's Iowa is a heavy favorite to win the Big Ten and also has the inside track to the No. 1 seed after reaching the national title game as the No. 2 seed last year. Clarke, who is averaging 30.9 points, eased concerns about whether Iowa could repeat last season's success without Monica Cinano. No. 2 Iowa (17-1) has won 14 straight since a season-opening loss to Kansas State, including seven of its last eight by at least 20 points.
Connecticut (14-3) 12 straight seasons from 2006-17. until 2017/2018 was seeded No. 1, but has been seeded No. 2 in three of the last four tournaments, and its chances of finishing in first place. 2018's starting lineup looked bleak in early December after Texas handed the Huskies their third loss. Despite four players suffering season-ending injuries, coach Geno Auriemma has turned things around and the numbers point to No. 1. Connecticut's only losses (to North Carolina State, UCLA and Texas) came as a top-10 team in the NET rankings, and the Huskies moved up to No. 4 in that ranking and No. 9 in the AP poll. Connecticut has the tightest schedule in the countrybut Paige Buecker's efficiency on both ends propelled the Huskies to a 7-3 record against the NET top 50, including convincing wins over Louisville and Creighton.
NC State (15-1), coming off its first loss to Connecticut in November, appears to be the favorite in the ACC. The Wolfpack emerged as one of the top teams in the country in the preseason and are ranked No. 4 in the AP. Its only blemish was a one-point loss to Virginia Tech.
Finally, No. 11 Texas is ranked No. 2 in the NET and is another team capable of contending for the No. 1 spot. But the Longhorns (16-2) have lost twice to Baylor and Kansas State since starting quarterback Rory Harmon was sidelined last month with an ACL injury. Losing Harmon, who was both the catalyst for the Longhorns' offense and the driving force behind their defensive energy, could derail Texas' upward trajectory.
A lot can happen between now and March 17, when the names of the top four teams will be announced. Before that, the anticipation will only continue for what should be an incredibly competitive NCAA Tournament.
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