AP Top 25 Women’s Basketball Poll: It’s South Carolina…and then Everyone Else (Again)

By | March 5, 2024

The Associated Press voters’ version of the “Sunday Scaries” sits down and tries to make sense of their Top 25 poll.

The No. 2 spot changed again this week after Iowa defeated Ohio State at home on senior day. Caitlin Clark scored 35 to pass Pete Maravich and move up the all-time record. The Buckeyes were one of three teams in the top five to lose, although all of the losses were to ranked squads.

Conference tournaments begin this week with automatic qualifiers for the NCAA tournament. Everyone is playing for access and positioning. Here are the top storylines heading into a new week of the AP Top 25 poll, which won’t be any easier next Sunday.

Everyone’s on the hunt for South Carolina again

This time last year, LSU head coach Kim Mulkey described the league as “South Carolina…and everyone else.” The Gamecocks were so much better than any other team in the field and on their way to a repeat national championship before Iowa ended their undefeated season in the Final Four.

Now it’s LSU looking for a repeat, although it will have to do so from deep within the seed once again. And South Carolina still stands above all the others with an undefeated season, even if that gap feels much smaller this year.

There are more highly talented teams that could upset South Carolina and the SEC hasn’t been as tough as other conferences, namely the ACC and Pac-12. (Of course we said the same thing last year and then this happened.)

The Gamecocks are 5-0 against teams in the top 25 of the NET. It is the best record, but the fewest games played of almost all games in that ranking category. SEC opponent LSU (1-2) and mid-major Gonzaga (1-2) are two of them. Three of the five wins came before the calendar year started, as teams settled into new lineups and struggled with injuries.

South Carolina hasn’t been tested at a high level as often as other teams in this poll on a nightly basis. How that comes into play will become clear in the coming weeks.

Dawn Staley's team finished the regular season undefeated for the second year in a row.  (Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)Dawn Staley's team finished the regular season undefeated for the second year in a row.  (Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dawn Staley’s team finished the regular season undefeated for the second year in a row. (Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

How will likely Pac-12 tournament upsets decide seeding?

What happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas when it comes to the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament. It will impact teams’ seedings in the NCAA tournament later this month, as there will most likely be upsets regardless of whether the teams are ranked or not. And a few teams are trying to get out of the bubble.

The Pac-12 had possibly its best and most exciting season in its very last. Realignment led to the demise of the conference, which is an embarrassment to women’s basketball on the West Coast. There has been no clear top team this season and no team is capable of beating another on any given night. And it’s not an exaggeration.

Stanford won the regular season title and No. 1 seed in the tournament, but did so in part because of the easier Pac-12 schedule. The Cardinal only had to play UCLA, USC, Colorado and Utah once. These teams finished second, third, fifth and sixth respectively. After dropping a line in the last reveal, an early loss to Stanford could mean another drop in the top seed.

UCLA, which slipped to the last No. 1 seed, is also in danger of falling due to an early upset. The Bruins played USC, Colorado and Utah twice each.

Colorado may already have dropped out of hosting completely — a shocking drop after the Buffaloes were No. 1 a few weeks ago. They are 1-5 to end the season and need to make a deep run to become hosts after losses to UCLA and Washington State in the past week. They could also use a confidence boost.

Utah could have moved up to a host spot, but lost to Washington and could have been completely out of contention for a top four spot.

Washington State, an early-season top-25 team, and Arizona, making a late push, have the most to gain in the tournament. They’re all in the bubble with solid wins in conference play to boost their resumes.

Injuries hurt Virginia Tech, Iowa, Indiana

Injuries, which have already had an outsized impact on the season, will impact at least three top programs this week. It’s never good to lose a star player, but right now it’s win or go home time and there’s limited live game action to work on adjustments. It could upset Virginia Tech, Iowa and Indiana’s chances at a national championship. All were included in the NCAA selection committee’s final top 16 reveal Thursday, led by Virginia Tech and Iowa as No. 2 seeds.

Virginia Tech center Elizabeth Kitley left four minutes into the second half of the regular season finale with a knee injury. The two-time ACC Player of the Year and WNBA prospect was a 2023 Naismith Player of the Year finalist with Clark, Aliyah Boston and Maddy Siegrist.

The loss of Kitley is huge for Virginia Tech, one of the hottest teams entering the tournament era. Kitley and point guard Georgia Amoore are the top options for the Hokies and one of the best duos in the country. They had to adjust after reaching the Final Four with nine new players on the roster. Things started to come together in late January and another magical late-season run could have been in play.

Kitley is averaging 22.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game in his career. Virginia Tech was the No. 5 overall seed in the committee’s latest reveal. The Hokies lost to Notre Dame later that night, but with so many upsets, it didn’t mean their shot at No. 1 was done. Now it can be so.

Fifth-year Iowa senior Molly Davis suffered a possible knee injury in the second quarter of Iowa’s win against Ohio State on Sunday. Davis was on the field for a few minutes before managers carried her off the field. She came out for senior parties in a wheelchair with her right leg wrapped.

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said the team won’t know more until Monday. Davis came over from Central Michigan prior to last season to come off the bench and relieve Clark of constant ball-handling duties. As a starter this year, she is averaging 6.1 points and 3.1 assists per game. It won’t be as damaging as Tech losing Kitley, but a little more will be given back to Clark and the top reserves without Davis there.

Indiana senior forward Mackenzie Holmes landed awkwardly on her left knee with one minute left in the third quarter of a win over Maryland on senior day. The All-American left for the locker room and did not return.

Holmes, who has battled knee injuries including surgery on her left side, is averaging 20.7 points while shooting 67%, sixth-best in Division I. The Hoosiers have five players averaging double figures, but playing through Holmes. It was her 24-point performance and early play that upset Indiana at Iowa late last month.

AP vote from Yahoo Sports

1. South Carolina (29-0)
2. Stanford (26-4)
3. Iowa (25-4)
4. Ohio State (25-3)
5. Texas (27-4)
6.UCLA (24-5)
7. USC (23-5)
8. Oregon State (23-6)
9. Virginia Tech (23-5)
10. UConn (26-5)
11. Indiana (23-4)
12. LSU (25-4)
13. NC State (24-5)
14. Notre Dame (22-6)
15. Syracuse (23-6)
16. Kansas State (24-6)
17.Oklahoma (21-8)
18. Gonzaga (29-2)
19. Utah (21-9)
20. Baylor (23-6)
21. Colorado (21-8)
22. Creighton (23-4)
23. Princeton (22-4)
24. UNLV (26-2)
25. Duke (19-9)

Week 18 AP Rankings

1. South Carolina
3. Iowa
4. Ohio State
5. USC
8. LSU
9. UConn
10. NC State
11.Virginia Tech
13. State of Oregon
14. Notre Dame
15. Gonzaga
16. State of Kansas
17. Baylor
19. Okla
20. Syracuse
21. Creighton
23. UNLV
25. Fairfield

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