By Arianna McCleod
It’s time to go dancing! March is here, and the start of the tournament is just days away. With the tournament selection taking place on March 12, here’s everything you need to know about this season’s top contenders before you fill out your bracket.
In a tournament of one-and-done games, there is only one option for the best teams in DI college basketball… survive and advance. While multiple teams have shown throughout this season that they deserve to make it to the championship game, there can only be one winner. This list is composed, from best to worst, of the teams that have the best chance of winning it all.
1. University of South Carolina
The defending national champions and No. 1 team in the nation have had a stellar season thus far. With the help of reigning national player of the year, Aliyah Boston, the Gamecocks have remained undefeated heading into March. The predicted No. 1 seed has everything they need to win the tournament. They have unwavering leadership from senior point guard Zia Cooke and lockdown defense from 6-foot-1 senior guard Brea Beal. Beal has also become a consistent threat from behind the arc, a key component that the gamecocks were missing last season. This battle-tested team has proven that they have all the components it takes to win the tournament.
2. University of Iowa
Coming off of a buzzer-beater win against the Indiana Hoosiers, the No. 2 team in the nation is playing with a lot of confidence. The Hawkeyes are led by a sensational junior guard, Caitlin Clark. Clark is the heart and soul of this team. She leads the team in all aspects of the game — scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks. The tough schedule Iowa has faced this year will get them ready for the level of competition they will face in the tournament. If Clark plays to her strengths and the rest of the team falls in line, then Iowa has a good shot at winning the title.
3. Indiana University
With a record of 26-2, the No. 3 team in the nation has had the best start to a season in program history. Unlike the other top teams, the Hoosiers have consistently shown their depth throughout the season, with multiple players scoring over nine points per game. Led by senior forward Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana is looking to use their success throughout the regular season to drive them towards the championship game.
4. University of Maryland
The No. 6 team in the nation is looking to make a statement heading into March Madness. At the start of the season, it was unclear what kind of team Maryland would become after the shocking departures from star players Ashely Owusu and Angel Reese. Fortunately for the Terrapins, senior guard Diamond Miller has filled the vacant roles. Leading the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks, Miller has stepped up in big moments this season, including a game-winner against rival Notre Dame. Maryland has defeated ranked opponents Iowa, UConn, Notre Dame and Ohio State. While the team may have a different look than last season, they have shown up when it counts (and it truly does count in March).
5. University of Connecticut
This season has been extremely unique for the usually dominant UConn Huskies. Plagued by seemingly endless injuries, UConn has been forced to play big games without their star players. Star junior guard Paige Bueckers, who is a key contributor to UConn’s offense, has been out the whole season with a knee injury. Sophomore Azzi Fudd, UConn’s most consistent three-point shooter, has also been unavailable for most of this season with a knee injury. However, UConn’s ability to remain successful has been made possible by the contributions of players like Aaliyah Edwards, Lou Lopez Senechal and Nika Muhl. While UConn may not be as strong as they have been in previous years heading into March Madness, the heart that this team shows may be just enough to help them find success in the tournament.
6. Louisiana State University
With a record of 27-1, the ninth ranked team in the nation is ready to make a deep run in the tournament. Although the SEC is not filled with tough competition, LSU has a roster full of experienced players that have proven to be up for any challenge. Led by sophomore Maryland transfer Angel Reese, LSU’s physicality on both ends of the floor is a strength that not many other teams are accustomed to playing against.
7. University of Notre Dame
The 11th ranked team in the nation is both young and filled with extremely skilled players on the offensive end. Led by sophomores Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron, Notre Dame is looking to make an impact in this year’s tournament. Miles is a shifty pass-first point guard and crafty finisher at the rim. Citron is a very physical guard and is often at the receiving end of Miles’ assists. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, fifth-year sharp-shooting guard Dara Mabrey suffered a late season ACL tear which will no doubt change their offensive strategy heading into the tournament. Miles and Citron will have to become the key contributors in the tournament in order for the Irish to make it far.
As the start of the tournament approaches, these teams will certainly be the ones to watch. As you put together your March Madness bracket, it is important to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each team. However, in this tournament, upsets are inevitable, so while you decide which teams will dominate, remember that no team is safe. The best time of the year is here, grab your bracket and popcorn and watch it all unfold. The Women’s Tournament tips off on March 15 and will conclude on April 2.