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Women's March Madness bracket prep: Strengths, weaknesses for all 68 teams, outlooks and more

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Women's March Madness bracket prep: Strengths, weaknesses for all 68 teams, outlooks and more

After five months of regular-season and conference tournament action, we have finally reached the best stretch of the year.

It’s March Madness, and it’s setting up to be yet another eventful NCAA Tournament.

At 32-0, South Carolina seems like the easy pick to make it to the championship game, but we thought that last year, too. Fellow No. 1 seeds — Iowa, USC, and Texas — will look to make deep runs to challenge the Gamecocks.

Like every year, injuries will play a major role in the NCAA Tournament, and none may have a bigger impact on a team than three-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley’s knee. Kitley injured her knee in the regular-season finale, and if she’s not at 100 percent, the Hokies could be on upset alert early in the tournament — even with the hot play of Georgia Amoore.

All eyes – well, most eyes – will be on Caitlin Clark as she plays in her final tournament before departing for the WNBA. The same can be said for Rickea Jackson and Cameron Brink, and possibly Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso,  among others. But the spotlight will also be on the next generation of stars, including USC’s JuJu Watkins, Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo, South Carolina’s MiLaysia Fulwiley, Texas’ Madison Booker, Nebraska’s Natalie Potts, LSU’s Mikaylah Williams and more.

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Strengths: Where do we start? From top to bottom, South Carolina is loaded with talent from Te-Hina Paopao — who announced she will return for her final season — to Raven Johnson, Bree Hall, Kamilla Cardoso, Ashley Watkins, Chloe Kitts and freshman standout MiLaysia Fulwiley. There’s no solution to stopping the Gamecocks, who are particularly impressive considering this was going to be a “step-back year” for them. That’s funny, in hindsight.

Weaknesses: There is no weakness. Dawn Staley has her team ready to play every single game. The Gamecocks had only four games that they won by single digits. The smallest margin of victory came at LSU. South Carolina will be without Kamilla Cardoso in its opening game after being ejected in the SEC championship for fighting, but in two games without Cardoso this season, the Gamecocks defeated Missouri 83-45 and UConn 83-65. The Gamecocks will be just fine.

Outlook: It’s South Carolina vs. the world. Remember when people would bet on Tiger Woods or the field? That’s what you’re doing here with South Carolina. Last season, it was knocked off by Iowa. The Gamecocks remember that well. This season, there’s no stopping them from getting to the title game.

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Strengths: Where do we start? From top to bottom, South Carolina is loaded with talent from Te-Hina Paopao — who announced she will return for her final season — to Raven Johnson, Bree Hall, Kamilla Cardoso, Ashley Watkins, Chloe Kitts and freshman standout MiLaysia Fulwiley. There’s no solution to stopping the Gamecocks, who are particularly impressive considering this was going to be a “step-back year” for them. That’s funny, in hindsight.

Weaknesses: There is no weakness. Dawn Staley has her team ready to play every single game. The Gamecocks had only four games that they won by single digits. The smallest margin of victory came at LSU. South Carolina will be without Kamilla Cardoso in its opening game after being ejected in the SEC championship for fighting, but in two games without Cardoso this season, the Gamecocks defeated Missouri 83-45 and UConn 83-65. The Gamecocks will be just fine.

Outlook: It’s South Carolina vs. the world. Remember when people would bet on Tiger Woods or the field? That’s what you’re doing here with South Carolina. Last season, it was knocked off by Iowa. The Gamecocks remember that well. This season, there’s no stopping them from getting to the title game.

Strengths: Where do we start? From top to bottom, South Carolina is loaded with talent from Te-Hina Paopao — who announced she will return for her final season — to Raven Johnson, Bree Hall, Kamilla Cardoso, Ashley Watkins, Chloe Kitts and freshman standout MiLaysia Fulwiley. There’s no solution to stopping the Gamecocks, who are particularly impressive considering this was going to be a “step-back year” for them. That’s funny, in hindsight.

Weaknesses: There is no weakness. Dawn Staley has her team ready to play every single game. The Gamecocks had only four games that they won by single digits. The smallest margin of victory came at LSU. South Carolina will be without Kamilla Cardoso in its opening game after being ejected in the SEC championship for fighting, but in two games without Cardoso this season, the Gamecocks defeated Missouri 83-45 and UConn 83-65. The Gamecocks will be just fine.

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Outlook: It’s South Carolina vs. the world. Remember when people would bet on Tiger Woods or the field? That’s what you’re doing here with South Carolina. Last season, it was knocked off by Iowa. The Gamecocks remember that well. This season, there’s no stopping them from getting to the title game.

Team in 16 words: South Carolina has one loss since March 18, 2022. What else is there to say? Sheer dominance.

Record: 32-0 (14-2 SEC)

Coach: Dawn Staley; 5 FInal Fours, 2 titles

Player to watch: MiLaysia Fulwiley

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Strengths: When you have the all-time leading scorer on your team, it’s an obvious plus. What’s more, Molly Davis, who leads all Iowa starters in field-goal percentage, avoided a major injury in the season finale win against Ohio State. Iowa has the nation’s best offense, averaging 92.7 points per game on the shoulders of Clark’s 32.3 average. Even if opponents can contain Clark — or attempt to — Davis, Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall have all shown the ability to consistently hit the outside shot.

Weaknesses: Clark is the star, and while Martin and Hannah Stuelke can chip in, the team goes as far as Clark will take it – which was to the title game last season. But because of the pace that the Hawkeyes play, they are susceptible on defense, especially in transition. Opponents are averaging 71.8 points per game against the Hawkeyes — 20.9 fewer than Iowa averages, of course – which ranks in the bottom 12th percentile. Iowa will win a shootout, but the opportunity is there to attempt to go toe-to-toe with it.

Outlook: College basketball has always had stars. Skylar Diggins, Maya Moore, Cheryl Miller, Brittney Griner and so on. Caitlin Clark is the latest phenom to come along to bring new eyes on the product, and rightfully so. Iowa will be a bigger talking point nationally than South Carolina — who, you know, hasn’t lost a game all season — with the expectations that it’ll play in the championship again. Aside from scoring only 58 points in a loss to Kansas State, Iowa typically pours in buckets even in losses. It’s hard to see anyone slowing down the Hawkeyes, making them a great final weekend pick.

Strengths: When you have the all-time leading scorer on your team, it’s an obvious plus. What’s more, Molly Davis, who leads all Iowa starters in field-goal percentage, avoided a major injury in the season finale win against Ohio State. Iowa has the nation’s best offense, averaging 92.7 points per game on the shoulders of Clark’s 32.3 average. Even if opponents can contain Clark — or attempt to — Davis, Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall have all shown the ability to consistently hit the outside shot.

Weaknesses: Clark is the star, and while Martin and Hannah Stuelke can chip in, the team goes as far as Clark will take it – which was to the title game last season. But because of the pace that the Hawkeyes play, they are susceptible on defense, especially in transition. Opponents are averaging 71.8 points per game against the Hawkeyes — 20.9 fewer than Iowa averages, of course – which ranks in the bottom 12th percentile. Iowa will win a shootout, but the opportunity is there to attempt to go toe-to-toe with it.

Outlook: College basketball has always had stars. Skylar Diggins, Maya Moore, Cheryl Miller, Brittney Griner and so on. Caitlin Clark is the latest phenom to come along to bring new eyes on the product, and rightfully so. Iowa will be a bigger talking point nationally than South Carolina — who, you know, hasn’t lost a game all season — with the expectations that it’ll play in the championship again. Aside from scoring only 58 points in a loss to Kansas State, Iowa typically pours in buckets even in losses. It’s hard to see anyone slowing down the Hawkeyes, making them a great final weekend pick.

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Strengths: When you have the all-time leading scorer on your team, it’s an obvious plus. What’s more, Molly Davis, who leads all Iowa starters in field-goal percentage, avoided a major injury in the season finale win against Ohio State. Iowa has the nation’s best offense, averaging 92.7 points per game on the shoulders of Clark’s 32.3 average. Even if opponents can contain Clark — or attempt to — Davis, Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall have all shown the ability to consistently hit the outside shot.

Weaknesses: Clark is the star, and while Martin and Hannah Stuelke can chip in, the team goes as far as Clark will take it – which was to the title game last season. But because of the pace that the Hawkeyes play, they are susceptible on defense, especially in transition. Opponents are averaging 71.8 points per game against the Hawkeyes — 20.9 fewer than Iowa averages, of course – which ranks in the bottom 12th percentile. Iowa will win a shootout, but the opportunity is there to attempt to go toe-to-toe with it.

Outlook: College basketball has always had stars. Skylar Diggins, Maya Moore, Cheryl Miller, Brittney Griner and so on. Caitlin Clark is the latest phenom to come along to bring new eyes on the product, and rightfully so. Iowa will be a bigger talking point nationally than South Carolina — who, you know, hasn’t lost a game all season — with the expectations that it’ll play in the championship again. Aside from scoring only 58 points in a loss to Kansas State, Iowa typically pours in buckets even in losses. It’s hard to see anyone slowing down the Hawkeyes, making them a great final weekend pick.

Team in 16 words: After losing in the title game last year, can Caitlin Clark and Co. finish her story?

Record: 29-4

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Coach: Lisa Bluder, two Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight, one runner-up

Player to watch: Caitlin Clark

Strengths: In high school, JuJu Watkins had celebrities like The Game and 2-Chainz attending her games. Now, the phenom will have the world watching as she makes her NCAA Tournament debut. Watkins trails only Caitlin Clark as the nation’s scoring leader, as she’s averaging 27.8 points per game. Is efficiency a concern? Yeah, but when you’re a walking bucket, averaging the most shot attempts per game, you can live with missing 49.4 percent of them. USC goes as Watkins goes, but don’t overlook contributions from junior Rayah Marshall and All-Pac-12 senior McKenzie Forbes — both strong complementary players.

Weaknesses: The fouls. It’s always the fouls. We saw that when Watkins fouled out against Arizona, and USC nearly lost the game. If the Trojans can stay disciplined and avoid getting in foul trouble, then they shouldn’t have a problem in the tournament. Watkins is used to the bright lights, so don’t expect any primetime struggles there.

Outlook: USC won eight of its last nine games of this eason, with its lone loss coming against Utah in late February. But it enters the tournament on a hot streak, and it survived a double-overtime challenge from Arizona in the aforementioned game that Watkins fouled out. Utah was the only team to have USC’s number — the Trojans lost twice by a combined 26 points — but in their other three losses, the average margin of defeat was just 4.6 points. Elite Eight — at least — here it comes.

Strengths: In high school, JuJu Watkins had celebrities like The Game and 2-Chainz attending her games. Now, the phenom will have the world watching as she makes her NCAA Tournament debut. Watkins trails only Caitlin Clark as the nation’s scoring leader, as she’s averaging 27.8 points per game. Is efficiency a concern? Yeah, but when you’re a walking bucket, averaging the most shot attempts per game, you can live with missing 49.4 percent of them. USC goes as Watkins goes, but don’t overlook contributions from junior Rayah Marshall and All-Pac-12 senior McKenzie Forbes — both strong complementary players.

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Weaknesses: The fouls. It’s always the fouls. We saw that when Watkins fouled out against Arizona, and USC nearly lost the game. If the Trojans can stay disciplined and avoid getting in foul trouble, then they shouldn’t have a problem in the tournament. Watkins is used to the bright lights, so don’t expect any primetime struggles there.

Outlook: USC won eight of its last nine games of this eason, with its lone loss coming against Utah in late February. But it enters the tournament on a hot streak, and it survived a double-overtime challenge from Arizona in the aforementioned game that Watkins fouled out. Utah was the only team to have USC’s number — the Trojans lost twice by a combined 26 points — but in their other three losses, the average margin of defeat was just 4.6 points. Elite Eight — at least — here it comes.

Strengths: In high school, JuJu Watkins had celebrities like The Game and 2-Chainz attending her games. Now, the phenom will have the world watching as she makes her NCAA Tournament debut. Watkins trails only Caitlin Clark as the nation’s scoring leader, as she’s averaging 27.8 points per game. Is efficiency a concern? Yeah, but when you’re a walking bucket, averaging the most shot attempts per game, you can live with missing 49.4 percent of them. USC goes as Watkins goes, but don’t overlook contributions from junior Rayah Marshall and All-Pac-12 senior McKenzie Forbes — both strong complementary players.

Weaknesses: The fouls. It’s always the fouls. We saw that when Watkins fouled out against Arizona, and USC nearly lost the game. If the Trojans can stay disciplined and avoid getting in foul trouble, then they shouldn’t have a problem in the tournament. Watkins is used to the bright lights, so don’t expect any primetime struggles there.

Outlook: USC won eight of its last nine games of this eason, with its lone loss coming against Utah in late February. But it enters the tournament on a hot streak, and it survived a double-overtime challenge from Arizona in the aforementioned game that Watkins fouled out. Utah was the only team to have USC’s number — the Trojans lost twice by a combined 26 points — but in their other three losses, the average margin of defeat was just 4.6 points. Elite Eight — at least — here it comes.

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Team in 16 words: USC lost just one game in February (vs. Utah). Efficiency and defensive fouls remain a concern.

Record: 26-5

Coach: Lindsay Gottlieb, one Final Four

Player to watch: JuJu Watkins

Strengths: When Texas wins, it wins. Its margin of victory per game is 24.2 points, which ranks third. Its dominant offense averages 112.8 points per 100 possessions, led by freshman sensation Madison Booker. Among freshmen, Booker’s 28 PER was ninth-best in the country. While Booker paces the Texas’ scoring, Amina Muhammad and Taylor Jones each pull in 2.3 offensive boards per game. It’s a big advantage for Texas, as its 41.8 percent offensive rebound rate lends to the 57.4 overall rebound rate, which ranks fifth nationally.

Weaknesses: The margin of victory is so big for Texas, but its lossescame by a total of 14 points – including the last-second shot by Lexy Keys that gave Oklahoma a one-point win on Feb. 28. Texas’ smallest margin of victory was a five-point win over Texas Tech. How will the Longhorns respond when they’re in a March Madness slugfest?

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Outlook: Texas is a No. 1 seed that should face little resistance in making it to the second weekend. But once it gets to the Sweet 16, will it be able to pull out ahead in these closely contested games and shoot more 3s than usual? The talent is there to make a deep run.

Strengths: When Texas wins, it wins. Its margin of victory per game is 24.2 points, which ranks third. Its dominant offense averages 112.8 points per 100 possessions, led by freshman sensation Madison Booker. Among freshmen, Booker’s 28 PER was ninth-best in the country. While Booker paces the Texas’ scoring, Amina Muhammad and Taylor Jones each pull in 2.3 offensive boards per game. It’s a big advantage for Texas, as its 41.8 percent offensive rebound rate lends to the 57.4 overall rebound rate, which ranks fifth nationally.

Weaknesses: The margin of victory is so big for Texas, but its lossescame by a total of 14 points – including the last-second shot by Lexy Keys that gave Oklahoma a one-point win on Feb. 28. Texas’ smallest margin of victory was a five-point win over Texas Tech. How will the Longhorns respond when they’re in a March Madness slugfest?

Outlook: Texas is a No. 1 seed that should face little resistance in making it to the second weekend. But once it gets to the Sweet 16, will it be able to pull out ahead in these closely contested games and shoot more 3s than usual? The talent is there to make a deep run.

Strengths: When Texas wins, it wins. Its margin of victory per game is 24.2 points, which ranks third. Its dominant offense averages 112.8 points per 100 possessions, led by freshman sensation Madison Booker. Among freshmen, Booker’s 28 PER was ninth-best in the country. While Booker paces the Texas’ scoring, Amina Muhammad and Taylor Jones each pull in 2.3 offensive boards per game. It’s a big advantage for Texas, as its 41.8 percent offensive rebound rate lends to the 57.4 overall rebound rate, which ranks fifth nationally.

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Weaknesses: The margin of victory is so big for Texas, but its lossescame by a total of 14 points – including the last-second shot by Lexy Keys that gave Oklahoma a one-point win on Feb. 28. Texas’ smallest margin of victory was a five-point win over Texas Tech. How will the Longhorns respond when they’re in a March Madness slugfest?

Outlook: Texas is a No. 1 seed that should face little resistance in making it to the second weekend. But once it gets to the Sweet 16, will it be able to pull out ahead in these closely contested games and shoot more 3s than usual? The talent is there to make a deep run.

Team in 16 words: Texas is an elite team who too often struggles to close games. Owns the offensive glass.

Record: 30-4

Coach: Vic Schaefer, four Sweet 16 appearances, three Elite 8 appearances, 2 Final Fours, and 2 National Runner-up finishes.

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Player to watch: Madison Booker

Strengths: Notre Dame is more than just Hannah Hidalgo, of course, but it’ll go as far as she takes it. She has great complementary players on offense in Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld, who create a lot of movement within the Irish offense to free up the open shooter. It’s easy to forget that Notre Dame opened its season against South Carolina and lost by 29 points. It’s a different team now, and three of its other five losses came by an average of 5.3 points – with NC State and Syracuse being the other two big losses. But that’s overlooking Notre Dame’s huge victories, including wins by 78, 58, 47, 54, 50 and 47 points. Notre Dame is running hot entering the tournament, winning its last five games by an average of 17.6 points, holding its last four regular-season opponents to fewer than 60 points apiece. The Irish look to suffocate on defense – top 97 percentile in STOCKs – and run opponents off the court while still holding them in check defensively.

Weaknesses: Two big concerns. The first is the Irish’s ability — or lack thereof — to hit 3-pointers when needed. They shot 33.5 percent from 3 on the season, which is fine, but just 20.6 percent of their points came from 3. Only 51 teams had fewer of their points come from 3-pointers. The second is the stage for Hidalgo. We’ve seen her dominate throughout the season, but how will she handle the bright lights of March?

Outlook: The Irish are going to be a tough out, and when you have Hidalgo, you have a shot in every single game. The Irish like to play fast and incorporate a lot of movements within their half-court sets. If they can play at their pace and get opponents to play into their hands by forcing turnovers and collecting those STOCKs, the Irish could make a trip to the Elite Eight.

Strengths: Notre Dame is more than just Hannah Hidalgo, of course, but it’ll go as far as she takes it. She has great complementary players on offense in Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld, who create a lot of movement within the Irish offense to free up the open shooter. It’s easy to forget that Notre Dame opened its season against South Carolina and lost by 29 points. It’s a different team now, and three of its other five losses came by an average of 5.3 points – with NC State and Syracuse being the other two big losses. But that’s overlooking Notre Dame’s huge victories, including wins by 78, 58, 47, 54, 50 and 47 points. Notre Dame is running hot entering the tournament, winning its last five games by an average of 17.6 points, holding its last four regular-season opponents to fewer than 60 points apiece. The Irish look to suffocate on defense – top 97 percentile in STOCKs – and run opponents off the court while still holding them in check defensively.

Weaknesses: Two big concerns. The first is the Irish’s ability — or lack thereof — to hit 3-pointers when needed. They shot 33.5 percent from 3 on the season, which is fine, but just 20.6 percent of their points came from 3. Only 51 teams had fewer of their points come from 3-pointers. The second is the stage for Hidalgo. We’ve seen her dominate throughout the season, but how will she handle the bright lights of March?

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Outlook: The Irish are going to be a tough out, and when you have Hidalgo, you have a shot in every single game. The Irish like to play fast and incorporate a lot of movements within their half-court sets. If they can play at their pace and get opponents to play into their hands by forcing turnovers and collecting those STOCKs, the Irish could make a trip to the Elite Eight.

Strengths: Notre Dame is more than just Hannah Hidalgo, of course, but it’ll go as far as she takes it. She has great complementary players on offense in Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld, who create a lot of movement within the Irish offense to free up the open shooter. It’s easy to forget that Notre Dame opened its season against South Carolina and lost by 29 points. It’s a different team now, and three of its other five losses came by an average of 5.3 points – with NC State and Syracuse being the other two big losses. But that’s overlooking Notre Dame’s huge victories, including wins by 78, 58, 47, 54, 50 and 47 points. Notre Dame is running hot entering the tournament, winning its last five games by an average of 17.6 points, holding its last four regular-season opponents to fewer than 60 points apiece. The Irish look to suffocate on defense – top 97 percentile in STOCKs – and run opponents off the court while still holding them in check defensively.

Weaknesses: Two big concerns. The first is the Irish’s ability — or lack thereof — to hit 3-pointers when needed. They shot 33.5 percent from 3 on the season, which is fine, but just 20.6 percent of their points came from 3. Only 51 teams had fewer of their points come from 3-pointers. The second is the stage for Hidalgo. We’ve seen her dominate throughout the season, but how will she handle the bright lights of March?

Outlook: The Irish are going to be a tough out, and when you have Hidalgo, you have a shot in every single game. The Irish like to play fast and incorporate a lot of movements within their half-court sets. If they can play at their pace and get opponents to play into their hands by forcing turnovers and collecting those STOCKs, the Irish could make a trip to the Elite Eight.

Team in 16 words: Great offensively, elite defensively. Notre Dame has a nonstop defensive motor led by freshman Hannah Hidalgo.

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Record: 26-6

Coach: Niele Ivey, two Sweet 16s

Player to watch: Hannah Hidalgo

Strengths: Annoying. That’s the first word that comes to mind about the 79-77 loss to Oregon State off of a game-winning 3. If not for that, UCLA would have closed its season on an eight-game winning streak. Still, it’s one of the deepers teams in the country, and one of the youngest, which is scary for future opponents. Senior Charisma Osborne is the Bruins’ motor, but the sophomore trio of Kiki Rice, Londynn Jones and Lauren Betts will determine how far UCLA goes in the tournament. Rice, in particular, has been in her bag of late, scoring 41 combined points in the Bruins’ last three regular-season games.

Weaknesses: Will inexperience hurt UCLA? Its last Elite Eight appearance was in 2018. Outside of Osborne, Camryn Brown is the only other senior on the roster. If you have no concerns about the Bruins’ youth factor, you shouldn’t have concerns about them at all.

Outlook: UCLA doesn’t just score, it plays hard on the glass, too. It has the country’s top rebound rate and averages the 11th-most rebounds per game (43.2). Other teams may have more elite pairings than UCLA, but few are deeper and more in unison. Betts’ dominant interior play opens up the shots for Jones and Osborne from deep and for Rice to drive to the lane as we’ve become accustomed to. UCLA is a Final Four favorite.

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Strengths: Annoying. That’s the first word that comes to mind about the 79-77 loss to Oregon State off of a game-winning 3. If not for that, UCLA would have closed its season on an eight-game winning streak. Still, it’s one of the deepers teams in the country, and one of the youngest, which is scary for future opponents. Senior Charisma Osborne is the Bruins’ motor, but the sophomore trio of Kiki Rice, Londynn Jones and Lauren Betts will determine how far UCLA goes in the tournament. Rice, in particular, has been in her bag of late, scoring 41 combined points in the Bruins’ last three regular-season games.

Weaknesses: Will inexperience hurt UCLA? Its last Elite Eight appearance was in 2018. Outside of Osborne, Camryn Brown is the only other senior on the roster. If you have no concerns about the Bruins’ youth factor, you shouldn’t have concerns about them at all.

Outlook: UCLA doesn’t just score, it plays hard on the glass, too. It has the country’s top rebound rate and averages the 11th-most rebounds per game (43.2). Other teams may have more elite pairings than UCLA, but few are deeper and more in unison. Betts’ dominant interior play opens up the shots for Jones and Osborne from deep and for Rice to drive to the lane as we’ve become accustomed to. UCLA is a Final Four favorite.

Strengths: Annoying. That’s the first word that comes to mind about the 79-77 loss to Oregon State off of a game-winning 3. If not for that, UCLA would have closed its season on an eight-game winning streak. Still, it’s one of the deepers teams in the country, and one of the youngest, which is scary for future opponents. Senior Charisma Osborne is the Bruins’ motor, but the sophomore trio of Kiki Rice, Londynn Jones and Lauren Betts will determine how far UCLA goes in the tournament. Rice, in particular, has been in her bag of late, scoring 41 combined points in the Bruins’ last three regular-season games.

Weaknesses: Will inexperience hurt UCLA? Its last Elite Eight appearance was in 2018. Outside of Osborne, Camryn Brown is the only other senior on the roster. If you have no concerns about the Bruins’ youth factor, you shouldn’t have concerns about them at all.

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Outlook: UCLA doesn’t just score, it plays hard on the glass, too. It has the country’s top rebound rate and averages the 11th-most rebounds per game (43.2). Other teams may have more elite pairings than UCLA, but few are deeper and more in unison. Betts’ dominant interior play opens up the shots for Jones and Osborne from deep and for Rice to drive to the lane as we’ve become accustomed to. UCLA is a Final Four favorite.

Team in 16 words: Bruins won their last five games of the season by an average margin of 21.2 points.

Record: 25-6

Coach: Cori Close, four Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight

Player to watch: Lauren Betts

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Strengths: Ohio State bookended its season with losses to USC and Iowa, but the Buckeyes went 22-2 between those losses. Nancy Lieberman Award finalist Jacy Sheldon leads the Buckeyes’ charge, but she’s far from alone. Ohio State rolled out the same starting five in 27 of 28 games, and the unit isn’t just effective from all over the court but also efficient. Even in its season-finale loss to Iowa, Ohio State made 14 3s.

Weaknesses: Ohio State ranking in the bottom quarter of the nation in offensive rebounding. Though they limit offense boards, they fail to capitalize on potential second-chance points. It’s a very minor blip from a standout team.

Outlook: South Carolina is the clear favorite in the tournament — and rightfully so — but if it were upset, it’s hard not to pick Ohio State as a potential champion. Even in its four losses, the biggest deficit was 10 points — not counting its loss to Maryland in the Big Ten tournament – as it played all of its high-level opponents close throughout the season in wins and losses. Ohio State is a Final Four team. Full stop.

Strengths: Ohio State bookended its season with losses to USC and Iowa, but the Buckeyes went 22-2 between those losses. Nancy Lieberman Award finalist Jacy Sheldon leads the Buckeyes’ charge, but she’s far from alone. Ohio State rolled out the same starting five in 27 of 28 games, and the unit isn’t just effective from all over the court but also efficient. Even in its season-finale loss to Iowa, Ohio State made 14 3s.

Weaknesses: Ohio State ranking in the bottom quarter of the nation in offensive rebounding. Though they limit offense boards, they fail to capitalize on potential second-chance points. It’s a very minor blip from a standout team.

Outlook: South Carolina is the clear favorite in the tournament — and rightfully so — but if it were upset, it’s hard not to pick Ohio State as a potential champion. Even in its four losses, the biggest deficit was 10 points — not counting its loss to Maryland in the Big Ten tournament – as it played all of its high-level opponents close throughout the season in wins and losses. Ohio State is a Final Four team. Full stop.

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Strengths: Ohio State bookended its season with losses to USC and Iowa, but the Buckeyes went 22-2 between those losses. Nancy Lieberman Award finalist Jacy Sheldon leads the Buckeyes’ charge, but she’s far from alone. Ohio State rolled out the same starting five in 27 of 28 games, and the unit isn’t just effective from all over the court but also efficient. Even in its season-finale loss to Iowa, Ohio State made 14 3s.

Weaknesses: Ohio State ranking in the bottom quarter of the nation in offensive rebounding. Though they limit offense boards, they fail to capitalize on potential second-chance points. It’s a very minor blip from a standout team.

Outlook: South Carolina is the clear favorite in the tournament — and rightfully so — but if it were upset, it’s hard not to pick Ohio State as a potential champion. Even in its four losses, the biggest deficit was 10 points — not counting its loss to Maryland in the Big Ten tournament – as it played all of its high-level opponents close throughout the season in wins and losses. Ohio State is a Final Four team. Full stop.

Team in 16 words: The Buckeyes lost just one regular-season game in 2024, dropping the season finale at Iowa City.

Record: 25-5

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Coach: Kevin McGuff, three Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights

Player to watch: Jacy Sheldon

Strengths: All-American Cameron Brink is a pretty good start, wouldn’t you say? Brink recently announced she’ll enter the WNBA Draft, where she’s expected to be the No. 2 pick. Stanford will be the last Pac-12 champion (pour one out, folx) and will be in a good position to make one final run as the conference champ. Brink and Kiki Iriafen are one of only two pairs of college teammates to average a double-double this season — LSU’s Angel Reese and Aneesah Morrow are the others — giving the Cardinal a one-two combo that few can contend with.

Weaknesses: Stanford plays at a pretty slow pace — 68.7 possessions per 40 minutes — that makes me curious how it will react when it needs to play to its opponent’s pace instead. Look, it’s nit-picking, but finding a weakness is hard when it comes to elite teams. And make no mistake about it: Stanford is elite.

Outlook: Brink and Iriafen have tremendous chemistry as a top-five duo in college hoops – and that might be selling them short. Stanford is among a handful of teams outside of South Carolina with a serious shot at winning the title.

Strengths: All-American Cameron Brink is a pretty good start, wouldn’t you say? Brink recently announced she’ll enter the WNBA Draft, where she’s expected to be the No. 2 pick. Stanford will be the last Pac-12 champion (pour one out, folx) and will be in a good position to make one final run as the conference champ. Brink and Kiki Iriafen are one of only two pairs of college teammates to average a double-double this season — LSU’s Angel Reese and Aneesah Morrow are the others — giving the Cardinal a one-two combo that few can contend with.

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Weaknesses: Stanford plays at a pretty slow pace — 68.7 possessions per 40 minutes — that makes me curious how it will react when it needs to play to its opponent’s pace instead. Look, it’s nit-picking, but finding a weakness is hard when it comes to elite teams. And make no mistake about it: Stanford is elite.

Outlook: Brink and Iriafen have tremendous chemistry as a top-five duo in college hoops – and that might be selling them short. Stanford is among a handful of teams outside of South Carolina with a serious shot at winning the title.

Strengths: All-American Cameron Brink is a pretty good start, wouldn’t you say? Brink recently announced she’ll enter the WNBA Draft, where she’s expected to be the No. 2 pick. Stanford will be the last Pac-12 champion (pour one out, folx) and will be in a good position to make one final run as the conference champ. Brink and Kiki Iriafen are one of only two pairs of college teammates to average a double-double this season — LSU’s Angel Reese and Aneesah Morrow are the others — giving the Cardinal a one-two combo that few can contend with.

Weaknesses: Stanford plays at a pretty slow pace — 68.7 possessions per 40 minutes — that makes me curious how it will react when it needs to play to its opponent’s pace instead. Look, it’s nit-picking, but finding a weakness is hard when it comes to elite teams. And make no mistake about it: Stanford is elite.

Outlook: Brink and Iriafen have tremendous chemistry as a top-five duo in college hoops – and that might be selling them short. Stanford is among a handful of teams outside of South Carolina with a serious shot at winning the title.

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Team in 16 words: Stanford exceeded preseason expectations by winning the Pac-12 regular season behind Cameron Brink and Kiki Iriafen.

Record: 28-5

Coach: Tara VanDerveer, six Sweet 16s, six Elite Eights, eight Final Fours, two runner-ups, three championships

Player to watch: Cameron Brink

Strengths: The biggest plus is that Raegan Beers is back, and basketball fans everywhere get to rejoice. The Beavers lost three of the four games Beers missed, so her return as Oregon State’s leading scorer and rebounder is much-needed. The sophomore is one of 28 players averaging a double-double, and she’s one of only five sophomores to accomplish that feat.

Weaknesses: Oregon State struggles in a few areas, most notably ranking 355 out of 360 in steals per game (4.6). It also ranks in the 15th percentile in offensive rebounds per game and plays at an extremely slow pace of 67.6.

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Outlook: Outside of those areas, the big concern with Oregon State is lack of experience. It hasn’t made the tournament since 2021, and the last time it advanced to the second weekend was in 2019. The Beavers have five juniors and zero seniors. Oregon State has played everyone tough – its biggest loss was by 11 points to UCLA – so it shouldn’t be an easy opponent, per se, but a Sweet 16 appearance is probably the ceiling this year. And that’s OK as it builds to 2024-2025.

Strengths: The biggest plus is that Raegan Beers is back, and basketball fans everywhere get to rejoice. The Beavers lost three of the four games Beers missed, so her return as Oregon State’s leading scorer and rebounder is much-needed. The sophomore is one of 28 players averaging a double-double, and she’s one of only five sophomores to accomplish that feat.

Weaknesses: Oregon State struggles in a few areas, most notably ranking 355 out of 360 in steals per game (4.6). It also ranks in the 15th percentile in offensive rebounds per game and plays at an extremely slow pace of 67.6.

Outlook: Outside of those areas, the big concern with Oregon State is lack of experience. It hasn’t made the tournament since 2021, and the last time it advanced to the second weekend was in 2019. The Beavers have five juniors and zero seniors. Oregon State has played everyone tough – its biggest loss was by 11 points to UCLA – so it shouldn’t be an easy opponent, per se, but a Sweet 16 appearance is probably the ceiling this year. And that’s OK as it builds to 2024-2025.

Strengths: The biggest plus is that Raegan Beers is back, and basketball fans everywhere get to rejoice. The Beavers lost three of the four games Beers missed, so her return as Oregon State’s leading scorer and rebounder is much-needed. The sophomore is one of 28 players averaging a double-double, and she’s one of only five sophomores to accomplish that feat.

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Weaknesses: Oregon State struggles in a few areas, most notably ranking 355 out of 360 in steals per game (4.6). It also ranks in the 15th percentile in offensive rebounds per game and plays at an extremely slow pace of 67.6.

Outlook: Outside of those areas, the big concern with Oregon State is lack of experience. It hasn’t made the tournament since 2021, and the last time it advanced to the second weekend was in 2019. The Beavers have five juniors and zero seniors. Oregon State has played everyone tough – its biggest loss was by 11 points to UCLA – so it shouldn’t be an easy opponent, per se, but a Sweet 16 appearance is probably the ceiling this year. And that’s OK as it builds to 2024-2025.

Team in 16 words: Deadly from the outside (36.7 percent). Returning Raegan Beers (nose) is huge for the Beavers’ chances.

Record: 24-7

Coach: Scott Rueck, two Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight, one Final Four

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Player to watch: Raegan Beers

Strengths: Between losing its opener to Colorado and the early-season absence of Angel Reese, it looked like it was going to be a championship hangover in Baton Rouge. Instead, the Tigers went on to lose just three more games the rest of the season and showed the same dominance they had in 2022-2023. Reese, the SEC Player of the Year, led the charge with 19.1 points and 13 boards, and Aneesah Morrow also averaged a double-double (16.7 points, 10 rebounds), making them one of two duos in the country to average a double-double. LSU averaged the second-most points per game and plays at an extremely fast pace. It is an absolute menace on the boards — especially offensively — leading the country in offensive rebound rate.

Weaknesses: There aren’t any big weaknesses. It prefers to attack inside out, which makes sense given the Reese’s presence down low. It is middle-of-the-road in 3-point percentage, but it attempted the 315th fewest 3s in the country. LSU’s pace and ability to get to the charity stripe at a higher rate than any other team is the recipe to success, so if opponents can get it out of its zone and into a shootout, that could present a challenge.

Outlook: LSU has the makings to go on a deep run again, especially with its hot close to the season. It was a slow start for the Tigers, and it was an especially slow start for Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith. She has been an important part of LSU’s run since February, as she failed to hit double-digits scoring just twice, and set her two highest-scoring outputs during that stretch. If LSU keeps getting the high-level contributions from Van Lith and and Flau’Jae Johnson to complement Reese and Morrow, LSU could be Final Four bound again.

Strengths: Between losing its opener to Colorado and the early-season absence of Angel Reese, it looked like it was going to be a championship hangover in Baton Rouge. Instead, the Tigers went on to lose just three more games the rest of the season and showed the same dominance they had in 2022-2023. Reese, the SEC Player of the Year, led the charge with 19.1 points and 13 boards, and Aneesah Morrow also averaged a double-double (16.7 points, 10 rebounds), making them one of two duos in the country to average a double-double. LSU averaged the second-most points per game and plays at an extremely fast pace. It is an absolute menace on the boards — especially offensively — leading the country in offensive rebound rate.

Weaknesses: There aren’t any big weaknesses. It prefers to attack inside out, which makes sense given the Reese’s presence down low. It is middle-of-the-road in 3-point percentage, but it attempted the 315th fewest 3s in the country. LSU’s pace and ability to get to the charity stripe at a higher rate than any other team is the recipe to success, so if opponents can get it out of its zone and into a shootout, that could present a challenge.

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Outlook: LSU has the makings to go on a deep run again, especially with its hot close to the season. It was a slow start for the Tigers, and it was an especially slow start for Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith. She has been an important part of LSU’s run since February, as she failed to hit double-digits scoring just twice, and set her two highest-scoring outputs during that stretch. If LSU keeps getting the high-level contributions from Van Lith and and Flau’Jae Johnson to complement Reese and Morrow, LSU could be Final Four bound again.

Strengths: Between losing its opener to Colorado and the early-season absence of Angel Reese, it looked like it was going to be a championship hangover in Baton Rouge. Instead, the Tigers went on to lose just three more games the rest of the season and showed the same dominance they had in 2022-2023. Reese, the SEC Player of the Year, led the charge with 19.1 points and 13 boards, and Aneesah Morrow also averaged a double-double (16.7 points, 10 rebounds), making them one of two duos in the country to average a double-double. LSU averaged the second-most points per game and plays at an extremely fast pace. It is an absolute menace on the boards — especially offensively — leading the country in offensive rebound rate.

Weaknesses: There aren’t any big weaknesses. It prefers to attack inside out, which makes sense given the Reese’s presence down low. It is middle-of-the-road in 3-point percentage, but it attempted the 315th fewest 3s in the country. LSU’s pace and ability to get to the charity stripe at a higher rate than any other team is the recipe to success, so if opponents can get it out of its zone and into a shootout, that could present a challenge.

Outlook: LSU has the makings to go on a deep run again, especially with its hot close to the season. It was a slow start for the Tigers, and it was an especially slow start for Louisville transfer Hailey Van Lith. She has been an important part of LSU’s run since February, as she failed to hit double-digits scoring just twice, and set her two highest-scoring outputs during that stretch. If LSU keeps getting the high-level contributions from Van Lith and and Flau’Jae Johnson to complement Reese and Morrow, LSU could be Final Four bound again.

Team in 16 words: Lost its opener, but then did LSU things. Lost other three games by 15 total points.

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Record: 28-5

Coach: Kim Mulkey, five Sweet 16s, six Elite Eights, one Final Four, four championships

Player to watch: Angel Reese

Strengths: When Paige Bueckers did her best Jordan Belfort “I’m not going anywhere” announcement on senior night, saying she’s returning to UConn next year, you understood her mission because UConn is so close to being the UConn of old. Bueckers looks like the version of herself that we saw in 2020-2021, averaging 21 points and 3.7 assists per game. Her 39.7 PER is eighth in the country, but it’s far from a one-person show. Senior Aaliyah Edwards, 34.2 PER, is averaging a near double-double on the year with 17.7 points and 9.4 boards. They make up a dangerous one-two punch will be far from an easy out in the tournament.

Weaknesses: The biggest question I have is the depth beyond Bueckers and Edwards. UConn was bitten by the injury bug again this year, as Azzi Fudd played just two games before her ACL tear, and Aubrey Griffin tore hers just 13 games into the season. What’s more, Caroline Ducharme played only four games for the Huskies, as she wanted to put her full focus on getting healthy from her previous injuries.

Outlook: UConn’s losses have been ugly, dropping five games by an average of 13.4 points. What’s more, those losses came against heavy hitters who it may need to beat to make it to the Final Four. South Carolina, Notre Dame, Texas, UCLA and NC State all handled UConn fairly easily. Though it’s playing differently now — a team that has learned to play without Fudd and Griffin — it’s still a tall task. UConn should get to the Sweet 16 fairly easily, but a trip to the Elite Eight seems out of reach.

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Strengths: When Paige Bueckers did her best Jordan Belfort “I’m not going anywhere” announcement on senior night, saying she’s returning to UConn next year, you understood her mission because UConn is so close to being the UConn of old. Bueckers looks like the version of herself that we saw in 2020-2021, averaging 21 points and 3.7 assists per game. Her 39.7 PER is eighth in the country, but it’s far from a one-person show. Senior Aaliyah Edwards, 34.2 PER, is averaging a near double-double on the year with 17.7 points and 9.4 boards. They make up a dangerous one-two punch will be far from an easy out in the tournament.

Weaknesses: The biggest question I have is the depth beyond Bueckers and Edwards. UConn was bitten by the injury bug again this year, as Azzi Fudd played just two games before her ACL tear, and Aubrey Griffin tore hers just 13 games into the season. What’s more, Caroline Ducharme played only four games for the Huskies, as she wanted to put her full focus on getting healthy from her previous injuries.

Outlook: UConn’s losses have been ugly, dropping five games by an average of 13.4 points. What’s more, those losses came against heavy hitters who it may need to beat to make it to the Final Four. South Carolina, Notre Dame, Texas, UCLA and NC State all handled UConn fairly easily. Though it’s playing differently now — a team that has learned to play without Fudd and Griffin — it’s still a tall task. UConn should get to the Sweet 16 fairly easily, but a trip to the Elite Eight seems out of reach.

Strengths: When Paige Bueckers did her best Jordan Belfort “I’m not going anywhere” announcement on senior night, saying she’s returning to UConn next year, you understood her mission because UConn is so close to being the UConn of old. Bueckers looks like the version of herself that we saw in 2020-2021, averaging 21 points and 3.7 assists per game. Her 39.7 PER is eighth in the country, but it’s far from a one-person show. Senior Aaliyah Edwards, 34.2 PER, is averaging a near double-double on the year with 17.7 points and 9.4 boards. They make up a dangerous one-two punch will be far from an easy out in the tournament.

Weaknesses: The biggest question I have is the depth beyond Bueckers and Edwards. UConn was bitten by the injury bug again this year, as Azzi Fudd played just two games before her ACL tear, and Aubrey Griffin tore hers just 13 games into the season. What’s more, Caroline Ducharme played only four games for the Huskies, as she wanted to put her full focus on getting healthy from her previous injuries.

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Outlook: UConn’s losses have been ugly, dropping five games by an average of 13.4 points. What’s more, those losses came against heavy hitters who it may need to beat to make it to the Final Four. South Carolina, Notre Dame, Texas, UCLA and NC State all handled UConn fairly easily. Though it’s playing differently now — a team that has learned to play without Fudd and Griffin — it’s still a tall task. UConn should get to the Sweet 16 fairly easily, but a trip to the Elite Eight seems out of reach.

Team in 16 words: Injury-riddled team who finished conference play undefeated. Who can slow down Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards?

Record: 29-5

Coach: Geno Auriemma, three Sweet 16, five Elite Eights, 10 Final Fours, one runner-up, 11 championships

Player to watch: Paige Bueckers

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Strengths: If there’s a rebound to be had, NC State is going to get it. The Wolfpack have four players averaging at least 6.4 boards per game. NC State dominates the competition on the glass when it comes to defensive rebounds. It ranks third nationally with 31.5 defensive rebounds per game and 10th in overall boards (43.3 per). NC State lost the rebounding battle just six times this season — Rhode Island, Virginia Tech (twice), Notre Dame, UNC and Syracuse – and three of those ended up being losses.

Weaknesses: We know they’ll win the battle of the boards, but the Wolfpack struggles in two other key areas: steals and assisted shot rate. They don’t turn the ball over, which is great, but they rank in the 31st percentile in both steals per game (6.8) and assisted shot rate (51 percent). NC State has five players who are averaging double figures in points, but outside of Saniya Rivers (4.1) and Zoe Brooks (3.5), they don’t have any handlers who distribute regularly.

Outlook: The Wolfpack are two years removed from an Elite Eight appearance and should make a deep run again this year — at least to the second weekend. The recent losses to UNC and Duke are clouding the judgment a bit, so it’s a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the recency bias around NC State.

Strengths: If there’s a rebound to be had, NC State is going to get it. The Wolfpack have four players averaging at least 6.4 boards per game. NC State dominates the competition on the glass when it comes to defensive rebounds. It ranks third nationally with 31.5 defensive rebounds per game and 10th in overall boards (43.3 per). NC State lost the rebounding battle just six times this season — Rhode Island, Virginia Tech (twice), Notre Dame, UNC and Syracuse – and three of those ended up being losses.

Weaknesses: We know they’ll win the battle of the boards, but the Wolfpack struggles in two other key areas: steals and assisted shot rate. They don’t turn the ball over, which is great, but they rank in the 31st percentile in both steals per game (6.8) and assisted shot rate (51 percent). NC State has five players who are averaging double figures in points, but outside of Saniya Rivers (4.1) and Zoe Brooks (3.5), they don’t have any handlers who distribute regularly.

Outlook: The Wolfpack are two years removed from an Elite Eight appearance and should make a deep run again this year — at least to the second weekend. The recent losses to UNC and Duke are clouding the judgment a bit, so it’s a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the recency bias around NC State.

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Strengths: If there’s a rebound to be had, NC State is going to get it. The Wolfpack have four players averaging at least 6.4 boards per game. NC State dominates the competition on the glass when it comes to defensive rebounds. It ranks third nationally with 31.5 defensive rebounds per game and 10th in overall boards (43.3 per). NC State lost the rebounding battle just six times this season — Rhode Island, Virginia Tech (twice), Notre Dame, UNC and Syracuse – and three of those ended up being losses.

Weaknesses: We know they’ll win the battle of the boards, but the Wolfpack struggles in two other key areas: steals and assisted shot rate. They don’t turn the ball over, which is great, but they rank in the 31st percentile in both steals per game (6.8) and assisted shot rate (51 percent). NC State has five players who are averaging double figures in points, but outside of Saniya Rivers (4.1) and Zoe Brooks (3.5), they don’t have any handlers who distribute regularly.

Outlook: The Wolfpack are two years removed from an Elite Eight appearance and should make a deep run again this year — at least to the second weekend. The recent losses to UNC and Duke are clouding the judgment a bit, so it’s a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the recency bias around NC State.

Team in 16 words:Dominant on the boards and at home, losing just one game at Reynolds Coliseum (Virginia Tech).

Record: 27-6

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Coach: Wes Moore, three Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight

Player to watch: Saniya Rivers

Strengths: The Hoosiers showed out offensively this season, averaging 112.2 points per 100 possessions. They ranked second nationally in effective field goal percentage (58.8), points per scoring attempt (1.22) and points per play (1.01). That comes in large part to their elite 3-point shooting, which ranked first at 40.5 percent. Sara Scalia, Chloe Moore-McNeil and Yarden Garzon each shot 40 percent or better from behind the arc during the regular season, and that’s not even discussing the dominance that Mackenzie Holmes showed on the interior — both offensively and defensively.

Weaknesses: Though Holmes averaged 1.5 blocks per game, Indiana struggled breaking up the passing lanes, averaging 6.4 steals per game. That put it 279th in the metric. Indiana also handled business on the defensive boards, but offensively, it was bad. Like, really bad. Like, 350th out of 360 teams bad. If Holmes isn’t fully healthy after injuring her knee in the final regular-season game, Indiana could be in trouble on the glass.

Outlook: Indiana has an elite offense, making it one of the few teams that can keep up with Iowa. Indiana defeated Iowa 86-69 in late February and is unmatched from behind the arc. The Hoosiers are a second-weekend team, but if Holmes’ injury lingers, a dominant rebounding team could send them packing earlier than expected. If Holmes is healthy, this is an Elite Eight team.

Strengths: The Hoosiers showed out offensively this season, averaging 112.2 points per 100 possessions. They ranked second nationally in effective field goal percentage (58.8), points per scoring attempt (1.22) and points per play (1.01). That comes in large part to their elite 3-point shooting, which ranked first at 40.5 percent. Sara Scalia, Chloe Moore-McNeil and Yarden Garzon each shot 40 percent or better from behind the arc during the regular season, and that’s not even discussing the dominance that Mackenzie Holmes showed on the interior — both offensively and defensively.

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Weaknesses: Though Holmes averaged 1.5 blocks per game, Indiana struggled breaking up the passing lanes, averaging 6.4 steals per game. That put it 279th in the metric. Indiana also handled business on the defensive boards, but offensively, it was bad. Like, really bad. Like, 350th out of 360 teams bad. If Holmes isn’t fully healthy after injuring her knee in the final regular-season game, Indiana could be in trouble on the glass.

Outlook: Indiana has an elite offense, making it one of the few teams that can keep up with Iowa. Indiana defeated Iowa 86-69 in late February and is unmatched from behind the arc. The Hoosiers are a second-weekend team, but if Holmes’ injury lingers, a dominant rebounding team could send them packing earlier than expected. If Holmes is healthy, this is an Elite Eight team.

Strengths: The Hoosiers showed out offensively this season, averaging 112.2 points per 100 possessions. They ranked second nationally in effective field goal percentage (58.8), points per scoring attempt (1.22) and points per play (1.01). That comes in large part to their elite 3-point shooting, which ranked first at 40.5 percent. Sara Scalia, Chloe Moore-McNeil and Yarden Garzon each shot 40 percent or better from behind the arc during the regular season, and that’s not even discussing the dominance that Mackenzie Holmes showed on the interior — both offensively and defensively.

Weaknesses: Though Holmes averaged 1.5 blocks per game, Indiana struggled breaking up the passing lanes, averaging 6.4 steals per game. That put it 279th in the metric. Indiana also handled business on the defensive boards, but offensively, it was bad. Like, really bad. Like, 350th out of 360 teams bad. If Holmes isn’t fully healthy after injuring her knee in the final regular-season game, Indiana could be in trouble on the glass.

Outlook: Indiana has an elite offense, making it one of the few teams that can keep up with Iowa. Indiana defeated Iowa 86-69 in late February and is unmatched from behind the arc. The Hoosiers are a second-weekend team, but if Holmes’ injury lingers, a dominant rebounding team could send them packing earlier than expected. If Holmes is healthy, this is an Elite Eight team.

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Team in 16 words:The Indiana Hoosiers finished off with their highest offensive rating (112.6) in the team’s modern era.

Record: 24-5

Coach: Teri Moren, one Sweet 16, one Elite Eight

Player to watch: Mackenzie Holmes

Strengths: Kansas State’s athletic communication’s director posted on X: Among active NCAA Division I women’s basketball players, Ayoka Lee is the only player with 300-plus career blocks and 100-plus career steals. That tracks, as Lee is on the short-list for first-team All-American. Lee isn’t only a defensive menace, but she’s a bucket, too, averaging 19.8 points and 8.3 boards per game. It’s Kansas State’s team defense that stands out, allowing 57 points per game —- 15.7 fewer than it averages offensively.

Weaknesses: The main concern with Kansas State is the draw. Three of its six losses came when Lee was out with an ankle injury. That automatically bumps down the Wildcats’ seeding, giving them a so-so draw leading to the second weekend. Even in those losses, the Wildcats were in every single game. The largest losses (by 7 points each) were against Iowa and Texas. They’re great on the defensive boards, but losing out on potential offensive rebounds could cost them in close matchups.

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Outlook: Lee is healthy, and though she’s yet to say if she’s returning to Kansas State for one more season, you can expect these to be grind-them-out games with its middle-of-the-road pace of play. A Sweet 16 appearance is possible but far from a guarantee.

Strengths: Kansas State’s athletic communication’s director posted on X: Among active NCAA Division I women’s basketball players, Ayoka Lee is the only player with 300-plus career blocks and 100-plus career steals. That tracks, as Lee is on the short-list for first-team All-American. Lee isn’t only a defensive menace, but she’s a bucket, too, averaging 19.8 points and 8.3 boards per game. It’s Kansas State’s team defense that stands out, allowing 57 points per game —- 15.7 fewer than it averages offensively.

Weaknesses: The main concern with Kansas State is the draw. Three of its six losses came when Lee was out with an ankle injury. That automatically bumps down the Wildcats’ seeding, giving them a so-so draw leading to the second weekend. Even in those losses, the Wildcats were in every single game. The largest losses (by 7 points each) were against Iowa and Texas. They’re great on the defensive boards, but losing out on potential offensive rebounds could cost them in close matchups.

Outlook: Lee is healthy, and though she’s yet to say if she’s returning to Kansas State for one more season, you can expect these to be grind-them-out games with its middle-of-the-road pace of play. A Sweet 16 appearance is possible but far from a guarantee.

Strengths: Kansas State’s athletic communication’s director posted on X: Among active NCAA Division I women’s basketball players, Ayoka Lee is the only player with 300-plus career blocks and 100-plus career steals. That tracks, as Lee is on the short-list for first-team All-American. Lee isn’t only a defensive menace, but she’s a bucket, too, averaging 19.8 points and 8.3 boards per game. It’s Kansas State’s team defense that stands out, allowing 57 points per game —- 15.7 fewer than it averages offensively.

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Weaknesses: The main concern with Kansas State is the draw. Three of its six losses came when Lee was out with an ankle injury. That automatically bumps down the Wildcats’ seeding, giving them a so-so draw leading to the second weekend. Even in those losses, the Wildcats were in every single game. The largest losses (by 7 points each) were against Iowa and Texas. They’re great on the defensive boards, but losing out on potential offensive rebounds could cost them in close matchups.

Outlook: Lee is healthy, and though she’s yet to say if she’s returning to Kansas State for one more season, you can expect these to be grind-them-out games with its middle-of-the-road pace of play. A Sweet 16 appearance is possible but far from a guarantee.

Team in 16 words:Elite defensive team whose biggest loss this year was seven points (versus Iowa and against Texas).

Record: 25-7

Coach: Jeff Mittie

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Player to watch: Ayoka Lee

Strengths: Can we give Georgia Amoore her flowers, please? The growth she’s taken in Year 4 is impressive. Amoore has improved in nearly every metric, raising her PER to 26.3 and assists per game to 7.3 – the latter putting her behind only Caitlin Clark and Rori Harmon. The one-two punch of Amoore and three-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley was tough for defenses to stop, as it averaged 110.9 points per 100 possessions. The Hokies are an elite assist-to-turnover team, and a force down low.

Weaknesses: It’s not a minus, but just a bummer. That’s the injury that Kitley suffered on the final day of the regular season. As great as Amoore is, Kitley’s injury impacts Virginia Tech in so many ways. She is key down low, averaging 2.1 blocks per game – tied for 13th in the nation. Without Kitley’s interior presence at 100 percent, the Hokies can be had in the paint.

Outlook: Kitley’s health will impact how far the Hokies can go. Coming off last season’s Final Four appearance, a fully healthy squad making another deep run isn’t out of the question.

Strengths: Can we give Georgia Amoore her flowers, please? The growth she’s taken in Year 4 is impressive. Amoore has improved in nearly every metric, raising her PER to 26.3 and assists per game to 7.3 – the latter putting her behind only Caitlin Clark and Rori Harmon. The one-two punch of Amoore and three-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley was tough for defenses to stop, as it averaged 110.9 points per 100 possessions. The Hokies are an elite assist-to-turnover team, and a force down low.

Weaknesses: It’s not a minus, but just a bummer. That’s the injury that Kitley suffered on the final day of the regular season. As great as Amoore is, Kitley’s injury impacts Virginia Tech in so many ways. She is key down low, averaging 2.1 blocks per game – tied for 13th in the nation. Without Kitley’s interior presence at 100 percent, the Hokies can be had in the paint.

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Outlook: Kitley’s health will impact how far the Hokies can go. Coming off last season’s Final Four appearance, a fully healthy squad making another deep run isn’t out of the question.

Strengths: Can we give Georgia Amoore her flowers, please? The growth she’s taken in Year 4 is impressive. Amoore has improved in nearly every metric, raising her PER to 26.3 and assists per game to 7.3 – the latter putting her behind only Caitlin Clark and Rori Harmon. The one-two punch of Amoore and three-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley was tough for defenses to stop, as it averaged 110.9 points per 100 possessions. The Hokies are an elite assist-to-turnover team, and a force down low.

Weaknesses: It’s not a minus, but just a bummer. That’s the injury that Kitley suffered on the final day of the regular season. As great as Amoore is, Kitley’s injury impacts Virginia Tech in so many ways. She is key down low, averaging 2.1 blocks per game – tied for 13th in the nation. Without Kitley’s interior presence at 100 percent, the Hokies can be had in the paint.

Outlook: Kitley’s health will impact how far the Hokies can go. Coming off last season’s Final Four appearance, a fully healthy squad making another deep run isn’t out of the question.

Team in 16 words: The star-led Hokies won the ACC, but had a rough last week losing to Notre Dame.

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Record: 24-7

Coach: Kenny Brooks, one Final Four

Player to watch: Georgia Amoore

Strengths: Even as an offensive juggernaut, the Bulldogs play at a slow pace of 68.4 possessions per 40 minutes. That doesn’t hurt their efficiency or the effectiveness, though. They rank top four in points per play, points per scoring attempts, effective field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. All five starters average double figures in scoring, and Yvonne Ejim and Eliza Hollingsworth pull down 8.3 and 7.1 boards per game, respectively, leading Gonzaga, which has the nation’s sixth-best rebound rate.

Weaknesses: So we’ve highlighted Gonzaga’s elite offensive rating, but a lot of it is because of the opponents it faced. Gonzaga last lost on Nov. 27 to Louisville, and its strength of schedule was No. 72. Yes, it defeated Stanford as a marquee victory in early December — by 18 points, at that — but since the calendar turned, the closest game it played in was a 13-point win against Pacific. The adjustment to playing elite teams throughout the tournament may be a challenge.

Outlook: You can only play who’s on the schedule, but seeing Gonzaga make it to the Sweet 16 is a stretch. Yes, it’s elite offensively, but can it maintain the efficiency at the slow pace it wants to play at against heavy hitters? There are doubts, and we saw those come up against Portland in its conference tournament.

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Strengths: Even as an offensive juggernaut, the Bulldogs play at a slow pace of 68.4 possessions per 40 minutes. That doesn’t hurt their efficiency or the effectiveness, though. They rank top four in points per play, points per scoring attempts, effective field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. All five starters average double figures in scoring, and Yvonne Ejim and Eliza Hollingsworth pull down 8.3 and 7.1 boards per game, respectively, leading Gonzaga, which has the nation’s sixth-best rebound rate.

Weaknesses: So we’ve highlighted Gonzaga’s elite offensive rating, but a lot of it is because of the opponents it faced. Gonzaga last lost on Nov. 27 to Louisville, and its strength of schedule was No. 72. Yes, it defeated Stanford as a marquee victory in early December — by 18 points, at that — but since the calendar turned, the closest game it played in was a 13-point win against Pacific. The adjustment to playing elite teams throughout the tournament may be a challenge.

Outlook: You can only play who’s on the schedule, but seeing Gonzaga make it to the Sweet 16 is a stretch. Yes, it’s elite offensively, but can it maintain the efficiency at the slow pace it wants to play at against heavy hitters? There are doubts, and we saw those come up against Portland in its conference tournament.

Strengths: Even as an offensive juggernaut, the Bulldogs play at a slow pace of 68.4 possessions per 40 minutes. That doesn’t hurt their efficiency or the effectiveness, though. They rank top four in points per play, points per scoring attempts, effective field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. All five starters average double figures in scoring, and Yvonne Ejim and Eliza Hollingsworth pull down 8.3 and 7.1 boards per game, respectively, leading Gonzaga, which has the nation’s sixth-best rebound rate.

Weaknesses: So we’ve highlighted Gonzaga’s elite offensive rating, but a lot of it is because of the opponents it faced. Gonzaga last lost on Nov. 27 to Louisville, and its strength of schedule was No. 72. Yes, it defeated Stanford as a marquee victory in early December — by 18 points, at that — but since the calendar turned, the closest game it played in was a 13-point win against Pacific. The adjustment to playing elite teams throughout the tournament may be a challenge.

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Outlook: You can only play who’s on the schedule, but seeing Gonzaga make it to the Sweet 16 is a stretch. Yes, it’s elite offensively, but can it maintain the efficiency at the slow pace it wants to play at against heavy hitters? There are doubts, and we saw those come up against Portland in its conference tournament.

Team in 16 words: Undefeated since Nov. 27, but strength of schedule ranked No. 72. No. 1 in offensive rating.

Record: 30-3

Coach: Lisa Fortier, one Sweet 16

Player to watch: Yvonne Ejim

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Strengths: Oklahoma excels on the boards and by distributing the ball. The Sooners rank second in assists per game (20.6) and first in assisted shot rate (71 percent). Payton Verhulst (four) and Nevaeh Tot (4.5) lead Oklahoma in the category. On the boards, Skylar Vann leads the charge, pulling down 7.2 per game to go along with her team-high 15 points per contest. The 43.8 rebounds as a team ranks eighth in basketball.

Weaknesses: Where Oklahoma gets in trouble is turning over the ball and committing fouls. The Sooners averaged 17.9 foul and committed 16.7 turnovers per game. Given the high pace that Oklahoma plays at (77.9), it leads to a ton of opportunities for its opponents, too. The Oklahoma defense ranks in the sixth percentile in field goals attempted and 21st percentile in fouls committed.

Outlook: Lexy Keys hit a shot at the buzzer to take down Texas in thrilling fashion, but Oklahoma was unable to build off that victory, losing to Kansas in the season finale. That’s been a recurring theme for Oklahoma. It earns a huge victory, only to follow it up with a letdown. We saw how Oklahoma struggled earlier in the season, losing five of six games from Thanksgiving to Christmas, but it bounced back nicely in the second half of the year. Given its up-and-down patterns, Oklahoma could be on upset alert in the first round or the Round of 32.

Strengths: Oklahoma excels on the boards and by distributing the ball. The Sooners rank second in assists per game (20.6) and first in assisted shot rate (71 percent). Payton Verhulst (four) and Nevaeh Tot (4.5) lead Oklahoma in the category. On the boards, Skylar Vann leads the charge, pulling down 7.2 per game to go along with her team-high 15 points per contest. The 43.8 rebounds as a team ranks eighth in basketball.

Weaknesses: Where Oklahoma gets in trouble is turning over the ball and committing fouls. The Sooners averaged 17.9 foul and committed 16.7 turnovers per game. Given the high pace that Oklahoma plays at (77.9), it leads to a ton of opportunities for its opponents, too. The Oklahoma defense ranks in the sixth percentile in field goals attempted and 21st percentile in fouls committed.

Outlook: Lexy Keys hit a shot at the buzzer to take down Texas in thrilling fashion, but Oklahoma was unable to build off that victory, losing to Kansas in the season finale. That’s been a recurring theme for Oklahoma. It earns a huge victory, only to follow it up with a letdown. We saw how Oklahoma struggled earlier in the season, losing five of six games from Thanksgiving to Christmas, but it bounced back nicely in the second half of the year. Given its up-and-down patterns, Oklahoma could be on upset alert in the first round or the Round of 32.

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Strengths: Oklahoma excels on the boards and by distributing the ball. The Sooners rank second in assists per game (20.6) and first in assisted shot rate (71 percent). Payton Verhulst (four) and Nevaeh Tot (4.5) lead Oklahoma in the category. On the boards, Skylar Vann leads the charge, pulling down 7.2 per game to go along with her team-high 15 points per contest. The 43.8 rebounds as a team ranks eighth in basketball.

Weaknesses: Where Oklahoma gets in trouble is turning over the ball and committing fouls. The Sooners averaged 17.9 foul and committed 16.7 turnovers per game. Given the high pace that Oklahoma plays at (77.9), it leads to a ton of opportunities for its opponents, too. The Oklahoma defense ranks in the sixth percentile in field goals attempted and 21st percentile in fouls committed.

Outlook: Lexy Keys hit a shot at the buzzer to take down Texas in thrilling fashion, but Oklahoma was unable to build off that victory, losing to Kansas in the season finale. That’s been a recurring theme for Oklahoma. It earns a huge victory, only to follow it up with a letdown. We saw how Oklahoma struggled earlier in the season, losing five of six games from Thanksgiving to Christmas, but it bounced back nicely in the second half of the year. Given its up-and-down patterns, Oklahoma could be on upset alert in the first round or the Round of 32.

Team in 16 words:Big second half of the season with a thrilling win over Texas before falling to Kansas.

Record: 22-9

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Coach: Jennie Baranczyk

Player to watch: Skylar Vann

Strengths: Colorado played a balance game all season, before its defense was picked apart down the stretch. The Buffaloes are an extremely unselfish team. They limit turnovers and have active hands defensively, averaging 10 steals per game. Kindyll Wetta plays a huge role off of the bench, averaging 4 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

Weaknesses: Colorado’s defense collapsed during the final month of the season. It allows 72, 76, 77 and 87 points in losses to conference rivals. Opponents are averaging 1.01 points per scoring attempt against Colorado, putting it in the lower-third of the country in the metric. If the defense doesn’t show up, forget about a deep run.

Outlook: Though Baylor played some of its best basketball down the stretch, the same can’t be said for Colorado, which lost five of its last six games. It looked poised to make a deep tournament run, but its February play raised major red flags — especially defensively. Based on talent alone, the Buffs should get to the second weekend, but it would hardly be a shock if they’re upset in the Round of 32.

Strengths: Colorado played a balance game all season, before its defense was picked apart down the stretch. The Buffaloes are an extremely unselfish team. They limit turnovers and have active hands defensively, averaging 10 steals per game. Kindyll Wetta plays a huge role off of the bench, averaging 4 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

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Weaknesses: Colorado’s defense collapsed during the final month of the season. It allows 72, 76, 77 and 87 points in losses to conference rivals. Opponents are averaging 1.01 points per scoring attempt against Colorado, putting it in the lower-third of the country in the metric. If the defense doesn’t show up, forget about a deep run.

Outlook: Though Baylor played some of its best basketball down the stretch, the same can’t be said for Colorado, which lost five of its last six games. It looked poised to make a deep tournament run, but its February play raised major red flags — especially defensively. Based on talent alone, the Buffs should get to the second weekend, but it would hardly be a shock if they’re upset in the Round of 32.

Strengths: Colorado played a balance game all season, before its defense was picked apart down the stretch. The Buffaloes are an extremely unselfish team. They limit turnovers and have active hands defensively, averaging 10 steals per game. Kindyll Wetta plays a huge role off of the bench, averaging 4 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

Weaknesses: Colorado’s defense collapsed during the final month of the season. It allows 72, 76, 77 and 87 points in losses to conference rivals. Opponents are averaging 1.01 points per scoring attempt against Colorado, putting it in the lower-third of the country in the metric. If the defense doesn’t show up, forget about a deep run.

Outlook: Though Baylor played some of its best basketball down the stretch, the same can’t be said for Colorado, which lost five of its last six games. It looked poised to make a deep tournament run, but its February play raised major red flags — especially defensively. Based on talent alone, the Buffs should get to the second weekend, but it would hardly be a shock if they’re upset in the Round of 32.

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Team in 16 words:Colorado struggled down the stretch of the regular season, losing five of its last six games.

Record: 22-9

Coach: JR Payne, one Sweet 16

Player to watch: Aaronette Vonleh

Strengths: Baylor is riding hot into the tournament, closing out the regular season on a five-game winning streak. It started the year 14-0, but given the competition, the streak to close the season is much more impressive. It defeated Texas Tech, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State by 29, 21, and 22 points, respectively. Baylor is extremely unselfish offensively, ranking eighth in the nation in assists per game with 19.1. Eight players average at least 15 minutes per game for Baylor, and only three of them average fewer than two assists per game.

Weaknesses: With those assists, though, come turnovers. The Bears average 16.2 turnovers per game, and their 469 turnovers on the season are the 247th most nationally. Their interior defense is a soft spot, too, as Baylor averages 2.5 blocks per game.

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Outlook: Baylor, by design, forces opponents inside, allowing 1,175 2-point attempts this season — ranking in the 22nd percentile. But that’s because its 3-point defense has been so effective. Baylor ranks third nationally in opponent’s 3-point percentage (25.5), and that could be big for it come tournament time. Baylor is riding hot, and if it can keep that momentum going, it could pull off an upset and advance to the second weekend.

Strengths: Baylor is riding hot into the tournament, closing out the regular season on a five-game winning streak. It started the year 14-0, but given the competition, the streak to close the season is much more impressive. It defeated Texas Tech, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State by 29, 21, and 22 points, respectively. Baylor is extremely unselfish offensively, ranking eighth in the nation in assists per game with 19.1. Eight players average at least 15 minutes per game for Baylor, and only three of them average fewer than two assists per game.

Weaknesses: With those assists, though, come turnovers. The Bears average 16.2 turnovers per game, and their 469 turnovers on the season are the 247th most nationally. Their interior defense is a soft spot, too, as Baylor averages 2.5 blocks per game.

Outlook: Baylor, by design, forces opponents inside, allowing 1,175 2-point attempts this season — ranking in the 22nd percentile. But that’s because its 3-point defense has been so effective. Baylor ranks third nationally in opponent’s 3-point percentage (25.5), and that could be big for it come tournament time. Baylor is riding hot, and if it can keep that momentum going, it could pull off an upset and advance to the second weekend.

Strengths: Baylor is riding hot into the tournament, closing out the regular season on a five-game winning streak. It started the year 14-0, but given the competition, the streak to close the season is much more impressive. It defeated Texas Tech, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State by 29, 21, and 22 points, respectively. Baylor is extremely unselfish offensively, ranking eighth in the nation in assists per game with 19.1. Eight players average at least 15 minutes per game for Baylor, and only three of them average fewer than two assists per game.

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Weaknesses: With those assists, though, come turnovers. The Bears average 16.2 turnovers per game, and their 469 turnovers on the season are the 247th most nationally. Their interior defense is a soft spot, too, as Baylor averages 2.5 blocks per game.

Outlook: Baylor, by design, forces opponents inside, allowing 1,175 2-point attempts this season — ranking in the 22nd percentile. But that’s because its 3-point defense has been so effective. Baylor ranks third nationally in opponent’s 3-point percentage (25.5), and that could be big for it come tournament time. Baylor is riding hot, and if it can keep that momentum going, it could pull off an upset and advance to the second weekend.

Team in 16 words:Unselfish team, with a 67.4 percent assisted shot rate. Playing their best ball down the stretch.

Record: 24-7

Coach: Nicki Collen

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Player to watch: Sarah Andrews/p>

Strengths: Wake up. Alyssa Pili and the Utes are playing. Pili is such a joy to watch, as her PER comes in ahead of Paige Bueckers, Rori Harmon and Mackenzie Holmes. She’s integral to Utah’s success, leading it to 110.3 points per possession. Keeping up its success from deep despite losing Gianna Kneepkens to season-ending foot surgery six games into the season has been encouraging. Kneepkens shot 42.3 percent from behind the arc last season, and despite her absence, Utah has made the fourth-most 3-pointers this season, shooting an efficient 36.1 percent.

Weaknesses: Utah had a brutal schedule, which was ranked 20th toughest. The Utes suffered some big losses against big-time opponents. UCLA defeated Utah by 30, while Oregon State and Washington won by 25 and 15, respectively. There were some key wins (against USC twice and UCLA), and Utah also lost to South Carolina by only 9 points.

Outlook: The tough schedule obviously will continue in the tournament, but the Utes are a sneaky team who could make the Sweet 16 as a lower seed. Pili has continued to evolve her game, and the All-Pac-12 star is going to shine. Track them as a sleeper team to make it to the second weekend.

Strengths: Wake up. Alyssa Pili and the Utes are playing. Pili is such a joy to watch, as her PER comes in ahead of Paige Bueckers, Rori Harmon and Mackenzie Holmes. She’s integral to Utah’s success, leading it to 110.3 points per possession. Keeping up its success from deep despite losing Gianna Kneepkens to season-ending foot surgery six games into the season has been encouraging. Kneepkens shot 42.3 percent from behind the arc last season, and despite her absence, Utah has made the fourth-most 3-pointers this season, shooting an efficient 36.1 percent.

Weaknesses: Utah had a brutal schedule, which was ranked 20th toughest. The Utes suffered some big losses against big-time opponents. UCLA defeated Utah by 30, while Oregon State and Washington won by 25 and 15, respectively. There were some key wins (against USC twice and UCLA), and Utah also lost to South Carolina by only 9 points.

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Outlook: The tough schedule obviously will continue in the tournament, but the Utes are a sneaky team who could make the Sweet 16 as a lower seed. Pili has continued to evolve her game, and the All-Pac-12 star is going to shine. Track them as a sleeper team to make it to the second weekend.

Strengths: Wake up. Alyssa Pili and the Utes are playing. Pili is such a joy to watch, as her PER comes in ahead of Paige Bueckers, Rori Harmon and Mackenzie Holmes. She’s integral to Utah’s success, leading it to 110.3 points per possession. Keeping up its success from deep despite losing Gianna Kneepkens to season-ending foot surgery six games into the season has been encouraging. Kneepkens shot 42.3 percent from behind the arc last season, and despite her absence, Utah has made the fourth-most 3-pointers this season, shooting an efficient 36.1 percent.

Weaknesses: Utah had a brutal schedule, which was ranked 20th toughest. The Utes suffered some big losses against big-time opponents. UCLA defeated Utah by 30, while Oregon State and Washington won by 25 and 15, respectively. There were some key wins (against USC twice and UCLA), and Utah also lost to South Carolina by only 9 points.

Outlook: The tough schedule obviously will continue in the tournament, but the Utes are a sneaky team who could make the Sweet 16 as a lower seed. Pili has continued to evolve her game, and the All-Pac-12 star is going to shine. Track them as a sleeper team to make it to the second weekend.

Team in 16 words:Tough schedule for Utah. Five of its nine losses were by double-digits — including a 30-point loss.

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Record: 22-10

Coach: Lynne Roberts, one Sweet 16

Player to watch: Alyssa Pili/p>

Strengths: Where were you when Nebraska knocked off Caitlin Clark and Iowa on ESPN? It was a huge moment for the Huskers — and a bigger moment for Jaz Shelley, who dropped 23 points on then-No. 2 Iowa with her family visiting from Australia.

Weaknesses: But reality set back in, and that has been the case too often for Nebraska. Following the win over Iowa, Ohio State defeated the Cornhuskers by 33 points in the next game. It was a season-long trend for Nebraska, which hoped to find consistency but couldn’t put stretches together. There was a 47-point win over Alcorn, followed by a 5-point loss to Creighton. A 25-point win followed by a 17-point loss. A 12-point victory followed by a 22-point loss. And so on and so on.

Outlook: Nebraska can get the big win, but can it get multiple big wins within the same weekend? That’s the hesitancy in picking it to make it beyond the first weekend. The opposition doesn’t have to worry about forced turnovers, as Nebraska ranks in the 27th percentile in steals per game and the sixth percentile in blocks per game. The Huskers are fun to watch, but if you want to see them in the tournament, you better make sure to catch them in the Round of 64.

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Strengths: Where were you when Nebraska knocked off Caitlin Clark and Iowa on ESPN? It was a huge moment for the Huskers — and a bigger moment for Jaz Shelley, who dropped 23 points on then-No. 2 Iowa with her family visiting from Australia.

Weaknesses: But reality set back in, and that has been the case too often for Nebraska. Following the win over Iowa, Ohio State defeated the Cornhuskers by 33 points in the next game. It was a season-long trend for Nebraska, which hoped to find consistency but couldn’t put stretches together. There was a 47-point win over Alcorn, followed by a 5-point loss to Creighton. A 25-point win followed by a 17-point loss. A 12-point victory followed by a 22-point loss. And so on and so on.

Outlook: Nebraska can get the big win, but can it get multiple big wins within the same weekend? That’s the hesitancy in picking it to make it beyond the first weekend. The opposition doesn’t have to worry about forced turnovers, as Nebraska ranks in the 27th percentile in steals per game and the sixth percentile in blocks per game. The Huskers are fun to watch, but if you want to see them in the tournament, you better make sure to catch them in the Round of 64.

Strengths: Where were you when Nebraska knocked off Caitlin Clark and Iowa on ESPN? It was a huge moment for the Huskers — and a bigger moment for Jaz Shelley, who dropped 23 points on then-No. 2 Iowa with her family visiting from Australia.

Weaknesses: But reality set back in, and that has been the case too often for Nebraska. Following the win over Iowa, Ohio State defeated the Cornhuskers by 33 points in the next game. It was a season-long trend for Nebraska, which hoped to find consistency but couldn’t put stretches together. There was a 47-point win over Alcorn, followed by a 5-point loss to Creighton. A 25-point win followed by a 17-point loss. A 12-point victory followed by a 22-point loss. And so on and so on.

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Outlook: Nebraska can get the big win, but can it get multiple big wins within the same weekend? That’s the hesitancy in picking it to make it beyond the first weekend. The opposition doesn’t have to worry about forced turnovers, as Nebraska ranks in the 27th percentile in steals per game and the sixth percentile in blocks per game. The Huskers are fun to watch, but if you want to see them in the tournament, you better make sure to catch them in the Round of 64.

Team in 16 words:Up-and-down season, with big wins (Iowa, Michigan State) and big losses (four by at least 17 points).

Record: 22-11

Coach: Amy Williams

Player to watch: Jaz Shelley

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Strengths: Outside of sophomore Nyla Harris, seniors and graduates primarily have been the Cardinals’ starters. Even after losing Hailey Van Lith to LSU, Louisville has fulfilled preseason predictions. The Cardinals clean up on the offensive glass, landing in the 94th percentile for offensive rebounds per game. Harris leads the way with three offensive boards – making her one of 16 sophomores averaging three or more per game in the nation. They’re efficient from the field, too, as their 50 percent 2-point rate brings them to an overall 45.6 field goal percentage – good for 29th nationally. James Madison transfer Kiki Jefferson has filled a void for the Cardinals with a team-high 118.5 offensive rating.

Weaknesses: It’s the 2-point shooting that carries the Cardinals, as they struggle from behind the arc. They shot 32.4 percent during the regular season, but they ranked No. 328 in 3-point rate. That’s an area they’ll need to improve on in the tournament, but their true weakness is interior defense. Louisville had 50 blocks on the year – only 28 teams had fewer – and committed 548 fouls resulting in 488 trips to the charity stripe for the opposition.

Outlook: Louisville limped out of the regular season, swapping wins and losses every other game throughout February. There’s no sense ofof momentum heading into the Big Dance. We’ve seen the Cardinals get hot at the right time and put together impressive victories – wins over Notre Dame, Syracuse and Duke come to mind. But if they run into an opponent that makes it a point to attack the interior of the defense, the Cardinals could be out early.

Strengths: Outside of sophomore Nyla Harris, seniors and graduates primarily have been the Cardinals’ starters. Even after losing Hailey Van Lith to LSU, Louisville has fulfilled preseason predictions. The Cardinals clean up on the offensive glass, landing in the 94th percentile for offensive rebounds per game. Harris leads the way with three offensive boards – making her one of 16 sophomores averaging three or more per game in the nation. They’re efficient from the field, too, as their 50 percent 2-point rate brings them to an overall 45.6 field goal percentage – good for 29th nationally. James Madison transfer Kiki Jefferson has filled a void for the Cardinals with a team-high 118.5 offensive rating.

Weaknesses: It’s the 2-point shooting that carries the Cardinals, as they struggle from behind the arc. They shot 32.4 percent during the regular season, but they ranked No. 328 in 3-point rate. That’s an area they’ll need to improve on in the tournament, but their true weakness is interior defense. Louisville had 50 blocks on the year – only 28 teams had fewer – and committed 548 fouls resulting in 488 trips to the charity stripe for the opposition.

Outlook: Louisville limped out of the regular season, swapping wins and losses every other game throughout February. There’s no sense ofof momentum heading into the Big Dance. We’ve seen the Cardinals get hot at the right time and put together impressive victories – wins over Notre Dame, Syracuse and Duke come to mind. But if they run into an opponent that makes it a point to attack the interior of the defense, the Cardinals could be out early.

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Strengths: Outside of sophomore Nyla Harris, seniors and graduates primarily have been the Cardinals’ starters. Even after losing Hailey Van Lith to LSU, Louisville has fulfilled preseason predictions. The Cardinals clean up on the offensive glass, landing in the 94th percentile for offensive rebounds per game. Harris leads the way with three offensive boards – making her one of 16 sophomores averaging three or more per game in the nation. They’re efficient from the field, too, as their 50 percent 2-point rate brings them to an overall 45.6 field goal percentage – good for 29th nationally. James Madison transfer Kiki Jefferson has filled a void for the Cardinals with a team-high 118.5 offensive rating.

Weaknesses: It’s the 2-point shooting that carries the Cardinals, as they struggle from behind the arc. They shot 32.4 percent during the regular season, but they ranked No. 328 in 3-point rate. That’s an area they’ll need to improve on in the tournament, but their true weakness is interior defense. Louisville had 50 blocks on the year – only 28 teams had fewer – and committed 548 fouls resulting in 488 trips to the charity stripe for the opposition.

Outlook: Louisville limped out of the regular season, swapping wins and losses every other game throughout February. There’s no sense ofof momentum heading into the Big Dance. We’ve seen the Cardinals get hot at the right time and put together impressive victories – wins over Notre Dame, Syracuse and Duke come to mind. But if they run into an opponent that makes it a point to attack the interior of the defense, the Cardinals could be out early.

Team in 16 words:Veteran-led team who has held track all season. Can they overcome their struggles behind the arc?

Record: 24-9

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Coach: Jeff Walz, four Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights, two Final Fours, two Runner-Ups

Player to watch: Kiki Jefferson

Strengths: The eyes were on Caitlin Clark and her pursuit – and achievement – of the all-time scoring record, but don’t overlook what Fair has done for Syracuse. She passed Brittney Griner for No. 5 on the all-time list. The Orange did a great job on the offensive glass, keeping the possessions alive for Fair and Co. Kyra Wood (91) and Alyssa Latham (89) were especially big there, helping ‘Cuse to the sixth-most offensive rebounds in the nation. Pair that with the top 90 percent STOCK rate, and it does just enough on both sides of the ball.

Weaknesses: Pace. That’s the glaring weakness for Syracuse, as it ranked No. 112 in team pace during the regular season. With the slow tempo, the Orange average only 71.9 possessions per 40 minutes, so the aim would be more involvement overall within the offense. But Syracuse is in the bottom 10th percentile in assisted shot rate (46.4 percent).

Outlook: The Orange will go as far as Fair and Georgia Woolley take them, but even the latter needs more involvement in the offense. Syracuse took care of opponents they needed to beat in the ACC, but when the Orange lost, they lost big. Four of their six losses were by at least 12 points, and all six regular season losses came to tournament-bound teams. Syracuse will need to control the boards and cash in on the second-chance opportunities if it hopes to advance to the second weekend.

Strengths: The eyes were on Caitlin Clark and her pursuit – and achievement – of the all-time scoring record, but don’t overlook what Fair has done for Syracuse. She passed Brittney Griner for No. 5 on the all-time list. The Orange did a great job on the offensive glass, keeping the possessions alive for Fair and Co. Kyra Wood (91) and Alyssa Latham (89) were especially big there, helping ‘Cuse to the sixth-most offensive rebounds in the nation. Pair that with the top 90 percent STOCK rate, and it does just enough on both sides of the ball.

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Weaknesses: Pace. That’s the glaring weakness for Syracuse, as it ranked No. 112 in team pace during the regular season. With the slow tempo, the Orange average only 71.9 possessions per 40 minutes, so the aim would be more involvement overall within the offense. But Syracuse is in the bottom 10th percentile in assisted shot rate (46.4 percent).

Outlook: The Orange will go as far as Fair and Georgia Woolley take them, but even the latter needs more involvement in the offense. Syracuse took care of opponents they needed to beat in the ACC, but when the Orange lost, they lost big. Four of their six losses were by at least 12 points, and all six regular season losses came to tournament-bound teams. Syracuse will need to control the boards and cash in on the second-chance opportunities if it hopes to advance to the second weekend.

Strengths: The eyes were on Caitlin Clark and her pursuit – and achievement – of the all-time scoring record, but don’t overlook what Fair has done for Syracuse. She passed Brittney Griner for No. 5 on the all-time list. The Orange did a great job on the offensive glass, keeping the possessions alive for Fair and Co. Kyra Wood (91) and Alyssa Latham (89) were especially big there, helping ‘Cuse to the sixth-most offensive rebounds in the nation. Pair that with the top 90 percent STOCK rate, and it does just enough on both sides of the ball.

Weaknesses: Pace. That’s the glaring weakness for Syracuse, as it ranked No. 112 in team pace during the regular season. With the slow tempo, the Orange average only 71.9 possessions per 40 minutes, so the aim would be more involvement overall within the offense. But Syracuse is in the bottom 10th percentile in assisted shot rate (46.4 percent).

Outlook: The Orange will go as far as Fair and Georgia Woolley take them, but even the latter needs more involvement in the offense. Syracuse took care of opponents they needed to beat in the ACC, but when the Orange lost, they lost big. Four of their six losses were by at least 12 points, and all six regular season losses came to tournament-bound teams. Syracuse will need to control the boards and cash in on the second-chance opportunities if it hopes to advance to the second weekend.

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Team in 16 words:Syracuse finished with its highest conference winning percentage (68.4 percent) since 2015-2016 (78.9 percent).

Record: 23-7

Coach: Felisha Legette-Jack, one Sweet 16

Player to watch: Dyaisha Fair

Strengths: Rickea Jackson is an offensive force, coming back post-injury looking like the version of her we expected to see all season. She’s going to be a Day 1 contributor in the WNBA. But before the draft, Jackson hopes to lead the Lady Vols back to the Sweet 16. It’ll be a tough path for Tennessee, but that’s been the story of their season. Offensively, Tennessee gets the job done, playing at a good tempo and averaging 75.8 points per game.

Weaknesses: Tennessee’s struggles fall into a few buckets. First, its defense gave up 70.1 points per game during the regular season, which flows into Tennessee’s inability to generate STOCKs. Its steal rate in the second percentile, and its block rate in the 26th. The other bucket is that Tennessee had the nation’s hardest schedule. Its opponents’ win percentage was 67.3 percent. The Lady Vols lost to Indiana, Notre Dame, Ohio State, LSU and twice against South Carolina. Though, if you believe in moral victories, the losses to South Carolina were by a combined 19 points.

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Outlook: Based on talent, Tennessee can get to the second weekend. But it’s going to need everything to click defensively to slow down the top seed in its bracket. The Lady Vols came within a miracle shot of being the first team to take down South Carolina in the SEC tournament semifinals.

Strengths: Rickea Jackson is an offensive force, coming back post-injury looking like the version of her we expected to see all season. She’s going to be a Day 1 contributor in the WNBA. But before the draft, Jackson hopes to lead the Lady Vols back to the Sweet 16. It’ll be a tough path for Tennessee, but that’s been the story of their season. Offensively, Tennessee gets the job done, playing at a good tempo and averaging 75.8 points per game.

Weaknesses: Tennessee’s struggles fall into a few buckets. First, its defense gave up 70.1 points per game during the regular season, which flows into Tennessee’s inability to generate STOCKs. Its steal rate in the second percentile, and its block rate in the 26th. The other bucket is that Tennessee had the nation’s hardest schedule. Its opponents’ win percentage was 67.3 percent. The Lady Vols lost to Indiana, Notre Dame, Ohio State, LSU and twice against South Carolina. Though, if you believe in moral victories, the losses to South Carolina were by a combined 19 points.

Outlook: Based on talent, Tennessee can get to the second weekend. But it’s going to need everything to click defensively to slow down the top seed in its bracket. The Lady Vols came within a miracle shot of being the first team to take down South Carolina in the SEC tournament semifinals.

Strengths: Rickea Jackson is an offensive force, coming back post-injury looking like the version of her we expected to see all season. She’s going to be a Day 1 contributor in the WNBA. But before the draft, Jackson hopes to lead the Lady Vols back to the Sweet 16. It’ll be a tough path for Tennessee, but that’s been the story of their season. Offensively, Tennessee gets the job done, playing at a good tempo and averaging 75.8 points per game.

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Weaknesses: Tennessee’s struggles fall into a few buckets. First, its defense gave up 70.1 points per game during the regular season, which flows into Tennessee’s inability to generate STOCKs. Its steal rate in the second percentile, and its block rate in the 26th. The other bucket is that Tennessee had the nation’s hardest schedule. Its opponents’ win percentage was 67.3 percent. The Lady Vols lost to Indiana, Notre Dame, Ohio State, LSU and twice against South Carolina. Though, if you believe in moral victories, the losses to South Carolina were by a combined 19 points.

Outlook: Based on talent, Tennessee can get to the second weekend. But it’s going to need everything to click defensively to slow down the top seed in its bracket. The Lady Vols came within a miracle shot of being the first team to take down South Carolina in the SEC tournament semifinals.

Team in 16 words:Vols faced the hardest schedule of any team this season. Opponents’ win percentage was 67.3 percent.

Record: 19-12

Coach: Kellie Harper, three Sweet 16s

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Player to watch: Rickea Jackson

Strengths: Ole Miss looked absolutely dominant, winning its final six games of the regular season and taking its last four by significant margins of victory. They beat Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky, and Arkansas — not exactly No. 1 seeds — but momentum is momentum. Ole Miss is great on the glass and at thwarting shots close to the rim. The Rebels had five players average 4.8 or more rebounds per game, led by Madison Scott’s 6.1, and they were 15th nationally in rebounds per game (42). Their 6.2 blocks per game were the second-highest mark this season, led by Rita Igbokwe’s 1.8 per contest.

Weaknesses: Ole Miss suffered a big blow early when transfer KK Deans went down with a knee injury, forcing her to miss the rest of the season. Deans missed half of the season with a knee injury during the 2021-2022 season when she was with West Virginia. The injury to Deans forced the Rebels to go with a bigger lineup, with Kennedy Todd-Williams serving as the only true guard in its starting lineup. It has allowed freshman Marija Avlijas to get some experience, though.

Outlook: Ole Miss has the size to control the game on the glass and down low, as it prefers to take an inside-out approach offensively. It advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, but the path will be much more difficult this year, requiring a massive second-round upset.

Strengths: Ole Miss looked absolutely dominant, winning its final six games of the regular season and taking its last four by significant margins of victory. They beat Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky, and Arkansas — not exactly No. 1 seeds — but momentum is momentum. Ole Miss is great on the glass and at thwarting shots close to the rim. The Rebels had five players average 4.8 or more rebounds per game, led by Madison Scott’s 6.1, and they were 15th nationally in rebounds per game (42). Their 6.2 blocks per game were the second-highest mark this season, led by Rita Igbokwe’s 1.8 per contest.

Weaknesses: Ole Miss suffered a big blow early when transfer KK Deans went down with a knee injury, forcing her to miss the rest of the season. Deans missed half of the season with a knee injury during the 2021-2022 season when she was with West Virginia. The injury to Deans forced the Rebels to go with a bigger lineup, with Kennedy Todd-Williams serving as the only true guard in its starting lineup. It has allowed freshman Marija Avlijas to get some experience, though.

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Outlook: Ole Miss has the size to control the game on the glass and down low, as it prefers to take an inside-out approach offensively. It advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, but the path will be much more difficult this year, requiring a massive second-round upset.

Strengths: Ole Miss looked absolutely dominant, winning its final six games of the regular season and taking its last four by significant margins of victory. They beat Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky, and Arkansas — not exactly No. 1 seeds — but momentum is momentum. Ole Miss is great on the glass and at thwarting shots close to the rim. The Rebels had five players average 4.8 or more rebounds per game, led by Madison Scott’s 6.1, and they were 15th nationally in rebounds per game (42). Their 6.2 blocks per game were the second-highest mark this season, led by Rita Igbokwe’s 1.8 per contest.

Weaknesses: Ole Miss suffered a big blow early when transfer KK Deans went down with a knee injury, forcing her to miss the rest of the season. Deans missed half of the season with a knee injury during the 2021-2022 season when she was with West Virginia. The injury to Deans forced the Rebels to go with a bigger lineup, with Kennedy Todd-Williams serving as the only true guard in its starting lineup. It has allowed freshman Marija Avlijas to get some experience, though.

Outlook: Ole Miss has the size to control the game on the glass and down low, as it prefers to take an inside-out approach offensively. It advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, but the path will be much more difficult this year, requiring a massive second-round upset.

Team in 16 words:Ole Miss ended the season winning by an average of 29.3 in its last four games.

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Record: 23-8

Coach: Yolett McPhee-McCuin, one Sweet 16

Player to watch: Madison Scott

Strengths: If you want to watch a veteran team with recent success (2022 Elite Eight) that does the little things right (No. 1 in the country in free-throw percentage and No. 5 in turnovers per game), watch the Bluejays. They can score, too, as Lauren Jensen, Emma Ronsiek and Morgan Maly lead the offensive charge with 17.2, 17.5 and 14.8 points per game, respectively.

Weaknesses: Creighton was able to beat up on inferior competition, but when it faced a solid opponent — UConn, Marquette and even Green Bay — it lost. It plays at such a slow pace that, while efficient, it can settle for too many forced 3s.

Outlook: Fundamentals can get you far, and being cool, calm and collected will help Creighton. But it has first weekend upset written all over it. Proceed with caution.

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Strengths: If you want to watch a veteran team with recent success (2022 Elite Eight) that does the little things right (No. 1 in the country in free-throw percentage and No. 5 in turnovers per game), watch the Bluejays. They can score, too, as Lauren Jensen, Emma Ronsiek and Morgan Maly lead the offensive charge with 17.2, 17.5 and 14.8 points per game, respectively.

Weaknesses: Creighton was able to beat up on inferior competition, but when it faced a solid opponent — UConn, Marquette and even Green Bay — it lost. It plays at such a slow pace that, while efficient, it can settle for too many forced 3s.

Outlook: Fundamentals can get you far, and being cool, calm and collected will help Creighton. But it has first weekend upset written all over it. Proceed with caution.

Strengths: If you want to watch a veteran team with recent success (2022 Elite Eight) that does the little things right (No. 1 in the country in free-throw percentage and No. 5 in turnovers per game), watch the Bluejays. They can score, too, as Lauren Jensen, Emma Ronsiek and Morgan Maly lead the offensive charge with 17.2, 17.5 and 14.8 points per game, respectively.

Weaknesses: Creighton was able to beat up on inferior competition, but when it faced a solid opponent — UConn, Marquette and even Green Bay — it lost. It plays at such a slow pace that, while efficient, it can settle for too many forced 3s.

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Outlook: Fundamentals can get you far, and being cool, calm and collected will help Creighton. But it has first weekend upset written all over it. Proceed with caution.

Team in 16 words:A senior-heavy team that doesn’t turn the ball over (11.1 per game, to rank fifth nationally).

Record: 25-5

Coach: Jim Flanery, one Elite Eight

Player to watch: Emma Ronsiek

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Strengths: It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party. A block party, that is, as the Blue Devils swatt away everything that comes at them at the rim. Their six blocks per game rank third nationally, and Duke pairs that with a defense that allows 57.9 points per game. Yeah, that’ll do it. Kennedy Brown, Jadyn Donovan and Camilla Emsbo each average more than a block per game, and three players rank inside the top 121 in defensive win shares.

Weaknesses: Though Duke is strong defensively, it struggles mightily on offense. It failed to score more than 60 points on five different occasions, and it went 11-7 in conference play. It managed to keep close in losses to Stanford (overtime), Miami, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and North Carolina, but all of those were due in part to its defense. The defense can bend but not break only so much in the tournament.

Outlook: The draw and seeding are going to make it tough for Duke to go deep in the tournament outside of a big upset. Is it possible? Yes, of course, but Duke will need to slow down the pace and rely on its elite defense for every minute to make a run to the Sweet 16 or beyond.

Strengths: It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party. A block party, that is, as the Blue Devils swatt away everything that comes at them at the rim. Their six blocks per game rank third nationally, and Duke pairs that with a defense that allows 57.9 points per game. Yeah, that’ll do it. Kennedy Brown, Jadyn Donovan and Camilla Emsbo each average more than a block per game, and three players rank inside the top 121 in defensive win shares.

Weaknesses: Though Duke is strong defensively, it struggles mightily on offense. It failed to score more than 60 points on five different occasions, and it went 11-7 in conference play. It managed to keep close in losses to Stanford (overtime), Miami, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and North Carolina, but all of those were due in part to its defense. The defense can bend but not break only so much in the tournament.

Outlook: The draw and seeding are going to make it tough for Duke to go deep in the tournament outside of a big upset. Is it possible? Yes, of course, but Duke will need to slow down the pace and rely on its elite defense for every minute to make a run to the Sweet 16 or beyond.

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Strengths: It’s a party, it’s a party, it’s a party. A block party, that is, as the Blue Devils swatt away everything that comes at them at the rim. Their six blocks per game rank third nationally, and Duke pairs that with a defense that allows 57.9 points per game. Yeah, that’ll do it. Kennedy Brown, Jadyn Donovan and Camilla Emsbo each average more than a block per game, and three players rank inside the top 121 in defensive win shares.

Weaknesses: Though Duke is strong defensively, it struggles mightily on offense. It failed to score more than 60 points on five different occasions, and it went 11-7 in conference play. It managed to keep close in losses to Stanford (overtime), Miami, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and North Carolina, but all of those were due in part to its defense. The defense can bend but not break only so much in the tournament.

Outlook: The draw and seeding are going to make it tough for Duke to go deep in the tournament outside of a big upset. Is it possible? Yes, of course, but Duke will need to slow down the pace and rely on its elite defense for every minute to make a run to the Sweet 16 or beyond.

Team in 16 words: Duke’s great defense covers for average offense. Failed to eclipse 60 points six times this year.

Record: 20-11

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Coach: Kara Lawson

Player to watch: Jadyn Donovan

Strengths: Iowa State is a fun team. Well, if you like high-scoring affairs with teams draining shots from 3, it’s fun. The Cyclones are in the 85th percentile in attempted 3s, as well as the 94th percentile in made 3s. As good as they are from behind the arc, it may not even be where they succeed most. That’s because Audi Crooks cooks down low, averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 boards. The boards are a big part of the Cyclones’ success. They’re elite on the defensive glass, ranking in the 99th percentile in defensive rebounds per game and 98th percentile in total rebound rate. Emily Ryan averages 6.3 assists per game, which is the country’s ninth-best mark.

Weaknesses: As fun as Iowa State’s offense is, its defense struggles. It especially struggles limiting opponents from behind the arc. Live by the sword, right? The Cyclones allow 68.1 points per game, but they rank No. 357 out of 360 teams in 3-point rate against. Opponents have made 233 3s against Iowa State. It allowed Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma to each make 13 3s against it — all losses. In wins, Iowa State allowed double-digits in 3s four times.

Outlook: Crooks was an unanimous choice for first-team All-Big 12 and is one of the best players in the country. But she can do only so much in the Round of 32 — assuming Iowa State advances out of the first round — against one of the top seeds in the tournament. Unless teams run ice cold from deep, Iowa State will struggle.

Strengths: Iowa State is a fun team. Well, if you like high-scoring affairs with teams draining shots from 3, it’s fun. The Cyclones are in the 85th percentile in attempted 3s, as well as the 94th percentile in made 3s. As good as they are from behind the arc, it may not even be where they succeed most. That’s because Audi Crooks cooks down low, averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 boards. The boards are a big part of the Cyclones’ success. They’re elite on the defensive glass, ranking in the 99th percentile in defensive rebounds per game and 98th percentile in total rebound rate. Emily Ryan averages 6.3 assists per game, which is the country’s ninth-best mark.

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Weaknesses: As fun as Iowa State’s offense is, its defense struggles. It especially struggles limiting opponents from behind the arc. Live by the sword, right? The Cyclones allow 68.1 points per game, but they rank No. 357 out of 360 teams in 3-point rate against. Opponents have made 233 3s against Iowa State. It allowed Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma to each make 13 3s against it — all losses. In wins, Iowa State allowed double-digits in 3s four times.

Outlook: Crooks was an unanimous choice for first-team All-Big 12 and is one of the best players in the country. But she can do only so much in the Round of 32 — assuming Iowa State advances out of the first round — against one of the top seeds in the tournament. Unless teams run ice cold from deep, Iowa State will struggle.

Strengths: Iowa State is a fun team. Well, if you like high-scoring affairs with teams draining shots from 3, it’s fun. The Cyclones are in the 85th percentile in attempted 3s, as well as the 94th percentile in made 3s. As good as they are from behind the arc, it may not even be where they succeed most. That’s because Audi Crooks cooks down low, averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 boards. The boards are a big part of the Cyclones’ success. They’re elite on the defensive glass, ranking in the 99th percentile in defensive rebounds per game and 98th percentile in total rebound rate. Emily Ryan averages 6.3 assists per game, which is the country’s ninth-best mark.

Weaknesses: As fun as Iowa State’s offense is, its defense struggles. It especially struggles limiting opponents from behind the arc. Live by the sword, right? The Cyclones allow 68.1 points per game, but they rank No. 357 out of 360 teams in 3-point rate against. Opponents have made 233 3s against Iowa State. It allowed Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma to each make 13 3s against it — all losses. In wins, Iowa State allowed double-digits in 3s four times.

Outlook: Crooks was an unanimous choice for first-team All-Big 12 and is one of the best players in the country. But she can do only so much in the Round of 32 — assuming Iowa State advances out of the first round — against one of the top seeds in the tournament. Unless teams run ice cold from deep, Iowa State will struggle.

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Team in 16 words: Cyclones struggle to contain the opposition from 3. They also live and die behind the line.

Record: 20-11

Coach: Bill Fennelly, four Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights

Player to watch: Audi Crooks

Strengths: Deja Kelly, a first-team All-ACC member for the third straight year, led the Tar Heels with 16.8 points per game. Though Carolina struggled down the stretch, the offense never slipped off of its pace, finishing with fewer than 60 points just twice. There’s nothing that Carolina does that will blow you away, but it’s solid across the board. Alyssa Ustby and Maria Gakdeng provide interior defensive presences for the Tar Heels, evidenced by their 17th-best block rate in the country.

Weaknesses: UNC beat Duke prior to the ACC tournament, which was huge given its late-season struggles. In those six losses since Jan. 28, the fewest number of points the Tar Heels allowed was 63. UNC has given up 61.9 points per game this season. Kelly and Ustby are fantastic players, but they can’t do it on their own.

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Outlook: The ACC is wild, and it doesn’t look like it will be the Tar Heels’ year. UNC made the Sweet 16 in 2022, but it’s hard to imagine it getting past the Round of 32.

Strengths: Deja Kelly, a first-team All-ACC member for the third straight year, led the Tar Heels with 16.8 points per game. Though Carolina struggled down the stretch, the offense never slipped off of its pace, finishing with fewer than 60 points just twice. There’s nothing that Carolina does that will blow you away, but it’s solid across the board. Alyssa Ustby and Maria Gakdeng provide interior defensive presences for the Tar Heels, evidenced by their 17th-best block rate in the country.

Weaknesses: UNC beat Duke prior to the ACC tournament, which was huge given its late-season struggles. In those six losses since Jan. 28, the fewest number of points the Tar Heels allowed was 63. UNC has given up 61.9 points per game this season. Kelly and Ustby are fantastic players, but they can’t do it on their own.

Outlook: The ACC is wild, and it doesn’t look like it will be the Tar Heels’ year. UNC made the Sweet 16 in 2022, but it’s hard to imagine it getting past the Round of 32.

Strengths: Deja Kelly, a first-team All-ACC member for the third straight year, led the Tar Heels with 16.8 points per game. Though Carolina struggled down the stretch, the offense never slipped off of its pace, finishing with fewer than 60 points just twice. There’s nothing that Carolina does that will blow you away, but it’s solid across the board. Alyssa Ustby and Maria Gakdeng provide interior defensive presences for the Tar Heels, evidenced by their 17th-best block rate in the country.

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Weaknesses: UNC beat Duke prior to the ACC tournament, which was huge given its late-season struggles. In those six losses since Jan. 28, the fewest number of points the Tar Heels allowed was 63. UNC has given up 61.9 points per game this season. Kelly and Ustby are fantastic players, but they can’t do it on their own.

Outlook: The ACC is wild, and it doesn’t look like it will be the Tar Heels’ year. UNC made the Sweet 16 in 2022, but it’s hard to imagine it getting past the Round of 32.

Team in 16 words: Veteran-led team that struggled down the stretch, going 4-6 in its final 10 regular season games.

Record: 19-12

Coach: Courtney Banghart

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Player to watch: Alyssa Ustby

Strengths: Few teams have the Mountaineers’ defensive prowess. They rank third in the country in defensive rating (77.9), and that’s thanks in large part to Jordan Harrison and Ja’Naiya Quinerly. Each averages around 3 steals per game, making them the only pair of teammates with average that high. The Mountaineers are in the 100th percentile in steals per game, and the 80th percentile in steals per game. Stocks on stocks on stocks. The aforementioned duo also lead West Virginia in scoring, with Quinerly putting up 19.4 points per game.

Weaknesses: It’s good that WVU is so active on defense with blocking shots and creating havoc in the passing lanes to force turnovers, because when it comes to the battle of the boards, WVU struggles. And that’s putting it nicely. It ranks No. 327 out of 360 teams in defensive rebounds per game. In its six losses, opponents outrebounded WVU by an average of 40 to 28.3. Five of those losses were by 10 points or fewer. A direct correlation? You can be the judge.

Outlook: West Virginia’s hard-nosed defense and Quinerly and Harrison making life miserable for opposing backcourts is the recipe for advancing. Its seed is deserved, but at best, it’ll face a Round of 32 exit.

Strengths: Few teams have the Mountaineers’ defensive prowess. They rank third in the country in defensive rating (77.9), and that’s thanks in large part to Jordan Harrison and Ja’Naiya Quinerly. Each averages around 3 steals per game, making them the only pair of teammates with average that high. The Mountaineers are in the 100th percentile in steals per game, and the 80th percentile in steals per game. Stocks on stocks on stocks. The aforementioned duo also lead West Virginia in scoring, with Quinerly putting up 19.4 points per game.

Weaknesses: It’s good that WVU is so active on defense with blocking shots and creating havoc in the passing lanes to force turnovers, because when it comes to the battle of the boards, WVU struggles. And that’s putting it nicely. It ranks No. 327 out of 360 teams in defensive rebounds per game. In its six losses, opponents outrebounded WVU by an average of 40 to 28.3. Five of those losses were by 10 points or fewer. A direct correlation? You can be the judge.

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Outlook: West Virginia’s hard-nosed defense and Quinerly and Harrison making life miserable for opposing backcourts is the recipe for advancing. Its seed is deserved, but at best, it’ll face a Round of 32 exit.

Strengths: Few teams have the Mountaineers’ defensive prowess. They rank third in the country in defensive rating (77.9), and that’s thanks in large part to Jordan Harrison and Ja’Naiya Quinerly. Each averages around 3 steals per game, making them the only pair of teammates with average that high. The Mountaineers are in the 100th percentile in steals per game, and the 80th percentile in steals per game. Stocks on stocks on stocks. The aforementioned duo also lead West Virginia in scoring, with Quinerly putting up 19.4 points per game.

Weaknesses: It’s good that WVU is so active on defense with blocking shots and creating havoc in the passing lanes to force turnovers, because when it comes to the battle of the boards, WVU struggles. And that’s putting it nicely. It ranks No. 327 out of 360 teams in defensive rebounds per game. In its six losses, opponents outrebounded WVU by an average of 40 to 28.3. Five of those losses were by 10 points or fewer. A direct correlation? You can be the judge.

Outlook: West Virginia’s hard-nosed defense and Quinerly and Harrison making life miserable for opposing backcourts is the recipe for advancing. Its seed is deserved, but at best, it’ll face a Round of 32 exit.

Team in 16 words:Six losses are West Virginia’s fewest since 2013-2014 season. Defense drives the results (78.5 defensive rating).

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Record: 24-7

Coach: Mark Kellogg

Player to watch: Jordan Harrison

Strengths: Kansas plays at a slow pace of 69.4 possessions per 40 minutes. It knows what it does well and sticks to it. Kansas essentially uses a six-player rotation, with Skyler Gill getting some time, too. But four players log at least 29.6 minutes per night, with Taiyanna Jackson standing out, averaging a double-double.

Weaknesses: The slow place leaves Kansas susceptible on defense, as it allows 63.7 points on average, leaving a slight 4.4 positive margin on the scoreboard. Kansas recorded key victories this season – notably against Iowa State, Nebraska and Baylor, but its inability to keep up offensively was its downfall. Kansas lost three games despite surrendering low totals of 63, 60 and 59 points.

Outlook: Kansas should be thrilled to get out of the first round, honestly. A second-round date with USC would await, and the Jayhawks just don’t have the offensive power to go basket for basket.

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Strengths: Kansas plays at a slow pace of 69.4 possessions per 40 minutes. It knows what it does well and sticks to it. Kansas essentially uses a six-player rotation, with Skyler Gill getting some time, too. But four players log at least 29.6 minutes per night, with Taiyanna Jackson standing out, averaging a double-double.

Weaknesses: The slow place leaves Kansas susceptible on defense, as it allows 63.7 points on average, leaving a slight 4.4 positive margin on the scoreboard. Kansas recorded key victories this season – notably against Iowa State, Nebraska and Baylor, but its inability to keep up offensively was its downfall. Kansas lost three games despite surrendering low totals of 63, 60 and 59 points.

Outlook: Kansas should be thrilled to get out of the first round, honestly. A second-round date with USC would await, and the Jayhawks just don’t have the offensive power to go basket for basket.

Strengths: Kansas plays at a slow pace of 69.4 possessions per 40 minutes. It knows what it does well and sticks to it. Kansas essentially uses a six-player rotation, with Skyler Gill getting some time, too. But four players log at least 29.6 minutes per night, with Taiyanna Jackson standing out, averaging a double-double.

Weaknesses: The slow place leaves Kansas susceptible on defense, as it allows 63.7 points on average, leaving a slight 4.4 positive margin on the scoreboard. Kansas recorded key victories this season – notably against Iowa State, Nebraska and Baylor, but its inability to keep up offensively was its downfall. Kansas lost three games despite surrendering low totals of 63, 60 and 59 points.

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Outlook: Kansas should be thrilled to get out of the first round, honestly. A second-round date with USC would await, and the Jayhawks just don’t have the offensive power to go basket for basket.

Team in 16 words:Kansas plays at an extremely slow pace, but struggles to keep up with its opponent offensively.

Record: 19-12

Coach: Brandon Schneider

Player to watch: Taiyanna Jackson

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Strengths: The Crimson Tide have four different players with usage rates at or above 21.1 percent. The three veterans — Aaliyah Nye, Sarash Ashlee Barker and Jessica Timmons — lead the way, but freshman Essence Cody has played a steady role, logging big minutes down the stretch. Alabama doesn’t stand out in any significant way, but it does everything pretty well.

Weaknesses: Alabama had eight losses, but seven of those were by double digits, making its average margin of defeat 15.5 points. The biggest losses, predictably, came against South Carolina and twice against LSU. You’d like to see some more assists overall from ‘Bama, as only Loyal McQueen averaged more than 3 dimes per game.

Outlook: Alabama has a tough road and a tough draw. It hasn’t made it out of the second round since 1998. Maybe next season can be the year with Cody’s growth, because it’s not going to be this year.

Strengths: The Crimson Tide have four different players with usage rates at or above 21.1 percent. The three veterans — Aaliyah Nye, Sarash Ashlee Barker and Jessica Timmons — lead the way, but freshman Essence Cody has played a steady role, logging big minutes down the stretch. Alabama doesn’t stand out in any significant way, but it does everything pretty well.

Weaknesses: Alabama had eight losses, but seven of those were by double digits, making its average margin of defeat 15.5 points. The biggest losses, predictably, came against South Carolina and twice against LSU. You’d like to see some more assists overall from ‘Bama, as only Loyal McQueen averaged more than 3 dimes per game.

Outlook: Alabama has a tough road and a tough draw. It hasn’t made it out of the second round since 1998. Maybe next season can be the year with Cody’s growth, because it’s not going to be this year.

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Strengths: The Crimson Tide have four different players with usage rates at or above 21.1 percent. The three veterans — Aaliyah Nye, Sarash Ashlee Barker and Jessica Timmons — lead the way, but freshman Essence Cody has played a steady role, logging big minutes down the stretch. Alabama doesn’t stand out in any significant way, but it does everything pretty well.

Weaknesses: Alabama had eight losses, but seven of those were by double digits, making its average margin of defeat 15.5 points. The biggest losses, predictably, came against South Carolina and twice against LSU. You’d like to see some more assists overall from ‘Bama, as only Loyal McQueen averaged more than 3 dimes per game.

Outlook: Alabama has a tough road and a tough draw. It hasn’t made it out of the second round since 1998. Maybe next season can be the year with Cody’s growth, because it’s not going to be this year.

Team in 16 words:When the Crimson Tide lost, they lost big time. Their average margin of defeat was 15.5.

Record: 23-9

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Coach: Kristy Curry, two Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight, one runner-up

Player to watch: Aaliyah Nye

Strengths: The Spartans make it rain from downtown. That much is sure. In coach Robyn Fralick’s first season, her Spartans are shooting 37.3 percent from behind the arc, making the ninth-most 3s (270) during the regular season. That’s why, despite a less-than-average defense, Michigan State is seemingly in every game. Moira Joiner and DeeDee Hagemann are gunners from behind the arc, knocking down their shots at a 42.8 percent and 40.6 percent clip, respectively.

Weaknesses: Michigan State was in most of its games, but in the three double-digit losses it had, it was torched defensively by Ohio State, Minnesota and Creighton. It’s not just a breakdown defensively, though, as it struggles to keep the opposing offense off the glass. Opponents have averaged 8.7 offensive boards per game against the Spartans, which is the 16th-highest mark.

Outlook: The Spartans likely will be one-and-done in the tournament, which is still considered a success with a first-year coach. They showed they could hang with tough teams — they lost to Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana and Nebraska by a total of 17 points — but reaching the second weekend seems unlikely.

Strengths: The Spartans make it rain from downtown. That much is sure. In coach Robyn Fralick’s first season, her Spartans are shooting 37.3 percent from behind the arc, making the ninth-most 3s (270) during the regular season. That’s why, despite a less-than-average defense, Michigan State is seemingly in every game. Moira Joiner and DeeDee Hagemann are gunners from behind the arc, knocking down their shots at a 42.8 percent and 40.6 percent clip, respectively.

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Weaknesses: Michigan State was in most of its games, but in the three double-digit losses it had, it was torched defensively by Ohio State, Minnesota and Creighton. It’s not just a breakdown defensively, though, as it struggles to keep the opposing offense off the glass. Opponents have averaged 8.7 offensive boards per game against the Spartans, which is the 16th-highest mark.

Outlook: The Spartans likely will be one-and-done in the tournament, which is still considered a success with a first-year coach. They showed they could hang with tough teams — they lost to Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana and Nebraska by a total of 17 points — but reaching the second weekend seems unlikely.

Strengths: The Spartans make it rain from downtown. That much is sure. In coach Robyn Fralick’s first season, her Spartans are shooting 37.3 percent from behind the arc, making the ninth-most 3s (270) during the regular season. That’s why, despite a less-than-average defense, Michigan State is seemingly in every game. Moira Joiner and DeeDee Hagemann are gunners from behind the arc, knocking down their shots at a 42.8 percent and 40.6 percent clip, respectively.

Weaknesses: Michigan State was in most of its games, but in the three double-digit losses it had, it was torched defensively by Ohio State, Minnesota and Creighton. It’s not just a breakdown defensively, though, as it struggles to keep the opposing offense off the glass. Opponents have averaged 8.7 offensive boards per game against the Spartans, which is the 16th-highest mark.

Outlook: The Spartans likely will be one-and-done in the tournament, which is still considered a success with a first-year coach. They showed they could hang with tough teams — they lost to Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana and Nebraska by a total of 17 points — but reaching the second weekend seems unlikely.

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Team in 16 words: Spartans enter March with fewest losses since the 2010-2011 season. Five players average double-figures in points.

Record: 22-8

Coach: Robyn Fralick

Player to watch: Moira Joiner

Strengths: Princeton’s driven by its defense, playing at a deliberate pace for grind-them-out games. The Tigers allowed just 56 points per game, and against Yale in February, they held the Bulldogs to just 25 points the entire contest. Princeton uses a suffocating defense that forces opponents into bad shots and mistakes. Despite the slow pace, it’s actually opened up Kaitlyn Chen to elevate her overall game — offensively and defensively.

Weaknesses: The pace and the competition come into play here for Princeton. It doesn’t attempt a ton of 3s, which could be a factor when it’s trailing. Princeton is solid on offensive boards, but it pulls down only 22.8 defensive boards per game, ranking 295th.

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Outlook: Princeton can hang with elite teams. It took UCLA to the buzzer and lost to Indiana by 9. The defense is tough, and the Tigers won’t be an easy out for anyone.

Strengths: Princeton’s driven by its defense, playing at a deliberate pace for grind-them-out games. The Tigers allowed just 56 points per game, and against Yale in February, they held the Bulldogs to just 25 points the entire contest. Princeton uses a suffocating defense that forces opponents into bad shots and mistakes. Despite the slow pace, it’s actually opened up Kaitlyn Chen to elevate her overall game — offensively and defensively.

Weaknesses: The pace and the competition come into play here for Princeton. It doesn’t attempt a ton of 3s, which could be a factor when it’s trailing. Princeton is solid on offensive boards, but it pulls down only 22.8 defensive boards per game, ranking 295th.

Outlook: Princeton can hang with elite teams. It took UCLA to the buzzer and lost to Indiana by 9. The defense is tough, and the Tigers won’t be an easy out for anyone.

Strengths: Princeton’s driven by its defense, playing at a deliberate pace for grind-them-out games. The Tigers allowed just 56 points per game, and against Yale in February, they held the Bulldogs to just 25 points the entire contest. Princeton uses a suffocating defense that forces opponents into bad shots and mistakes. Despite the slow pace, it’s actually opened up Kaitlyn Chen to elevate her overall game — offensively and defensively.

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Weaknesses: The pace and the competition come into play here for Princeton. It doesn’t attempt a ton of 3s, which could be a factor when it’s trailing. Princeton is solid on offensive boards, but it pulls down only 22.8 defensive boards per game, ranking 295th.

Outlook: Princeton can hang with elite teams. It took UCLA to the buzzer and lost to Indiana by 9. The defense is tough, and the Tigers won’t be an easy out for anyone.

Team in 16 words: Princeton showed it could hang out of conference with single-digit loss to UCLA. Extremely slow-paced team.

Record: 25-4

Coach: Carla Berube

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Player to watch: Ellie Mitchell

Strengths: Laila Phelia, a junior and first-team All-Big Ten selection, built off last season’s individual success, leading the Wolverines with 16.3 points per game and a 25.2 usage rate. The Wolverines ranked in the middle of just about every key metric, and that was indicative of their up-and-down season, where they went 9-9 in conference play.

Weaknesses: Of Michigan’s 12 losses, 10 were by double-digits — three of them coming by 21 or more points. Phelia didn’t have a lot of help offensively, with Lauren Hansen serving as the only other player averaging double-digits.

Outlook: The Wolverines made it to the Elite Eight two seasons ago — the first career trip for Kim Barnes Arico — but to get to the second weekend this season, they’ll need consecutive upsets. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of Phelia.

Strengths: Laila Phelia, a junior and first-team All-Big Ten selection, built off last season’s individual success, leading the Wolverines with 16.3 points per game and a 25.2 usage rate. The Wolverines ranked in the middle of just about every key metric, and that was indicative of their up-and-down season, where they went 9-9 in conference play.

Weaknesses: Of Michigan’s 12 losses, 10 were by double-digits — three of them coming by 21 or more points. Phelia didn’t have a lot of help offensively, with Lauren Hansen serving as the only other player averaging double-digits.

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Outlook: The Wolverines made it to the Elite Eight two seasons ago — the first career trip for Kim Barnes Arico — but to get to the second weekend this season, they’ll need consecutive upsets. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of Phelia.

Strengths: Laila Phelia, a junior and first-team All-Big Ten selection, built off last season’s individual success, leading the Wolverines with 16.3 points per game and a 25.2 usage rate. The Wolverines ranked in the middle of just about every key metric, and that was indicative of their up-and-down season, where they went 9-9 in conference play.

Weaknesses: Of Michigan’s 12 losses, 10 were by double-digits — three of them coming by 21 or more points. Phelia didn’t have a lot of help offensively, with Lauren Hansen serving as the only other player averaging double-digits.

Outlook: The Wolverines made it to the Elite Eight two seasons ago — the first career trip for Kim Barnes Arico — but to get to the second weekend this season, they’ll need consecutive upsets. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of Phelia.

Team in 16 words: Michigan’s 61.3 winning percentage was its lowest mark since 2015-2016 when it was at 60 percent.

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Record: 20-13

Coach: Kim Barnes Arico, two Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight

Player to watch: Laila Phelia

Strengths: If Florida State is going to do one thing, it’s take care of the ball. The Seminoles had the third-lowest turnover rate in the country (13 percent), and that’s with their fast-paced offense, averaging 77 possessions per 40 minutes. Florida State was quick to shoot all season, averaging the second-most field goal attempts in the country. Ta’Niya Latson led the offensive charge, averaging 21.4 points per game.

Weaknesses: Florida State’s defense struggled. It allowed the most points per game (72) of any ACC team. That turnstile mark put FSU in the nation’s bottom 12th percentile. The Seminoles allowed 90 or more points five different times this season — four of them in losses save for their 92-91 win over Tennessee — and allowed Stanford to hit the century mark.

Outlook: Florida State is deep, with seven players competing at least 19 minutes per game. It’ll need that depth and scoring throughout the tournament as it hasn’t found a way to adjust defensively. It depends on the draw, but seeing Florida State advance to the Sweet 16 seems like a longshot.

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Strengths: If Florida State is going to do one thing, it’s take care of the ball. The Seminoles had the third-lowest turnover rate in the country (13 percent), and that’s with their fast-paced offense, averaging 77 possessions per 40 minutes. Florida State was quick to shoot all season, averaging the second-most field goal attempts in the country. Ta’Niya Latson led the offensive charge, averaging 21.4 points per game.

Weaknesses: Florida State’s defense struggled. It allowed the most points per game (72) of any ACC team. That turnstile mark put FSU in the nation’s bottom 12th percentile. The Seminoles allowed 90 or more points five different times this season — four of them in losses save for their 92-91 win over Tennessee — and allowed Stanford to hit the century mark.

Outlook: Florida State is deep, with seven players competing at least 19 minutes per game. It’ll need that depth and scoring throughout the tournament as it hasn’t found a way to adjust defensively. It depends on the draw, but seeing Florida State advance to the Sweet 16 seems like a longshot.

Strengths: If Florida State is going to do one thing, it’s take care of the ball. The Seminoles had the third-lowest turnover rate in the country (13 percent), and that’s with their fast-paced offense, averaging 77 possessions per 40 minutes. Florida State was quick to shoot all season, averaging the second-most field goal attempts in the country. Ta’Niya Latson led the offensive charge, averaging 21.4 points per game.

Weaknesses: Florida State’s defense struggled. It allowed the most points per game (72) of any ACC team. That turnstile mark put FSU in the nation’s bottom 12th percentile. The Seminoles allowed 90 or more points five different times this season — four of them in losses save for their 92-91 win over Tennessee — and allowed Stanford to hit the century mark.

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Outlook: Florida State is deep, with seven players competing at least 19 minutes per game. It’ll need that depth and scoring throughout the tournament as it hasn’t found a way to adjust defensively. It depends on the draw, but seeing Florida State advance to the Sweet 16 seems like a longshot.

Team in 16 words: Seminoles limit turnovers but struggle defensively to stop the opposition, allowing conference-high 72 points per game.

Record: 23-10

Coach: Brooke Wyckoff

Player to watch: Makayla Timpson

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Strengths: Marquette starts five seniors, and its style of play reflects that. It averagings the 12th-most assists per game, with an assisted shot rate of 68.3 and an assist to turnover rate of 1.29. Liza Karlen has taken on a bigger role for Marquette this season, upping her usage rate to a team-high 29.6, while elevating her per-game numbers from 11.4 points last season to 18.

Weaknesses: Despite a relatively easy schedule, Marquette lost both games against UConn by a total of 57 points. In its other five losses, it lost by a total of 18 points. So you can look at that as it being able to stay in close games, or you can look at it as Marquette being unable to put away teams like St. John’s and Villanova twice.

Outlook: Marquette can advance out of the No. 7 versus No. 10 matchup, but then it might have to take down the No. 2 seed in its bracket. The veteran Golden Eagles can do a lot, but that’s a tall task.

Strengths: Marquette starts five seniors, and its style of play reflects that. It averagings the 12th-most assists per game, with an assisted shot rate of 68.3 and an assist to turnover rate of 1.29. Liza Karlen has taken on a bigger role for Marquette this season, upping her usage rate to a team-high 29.6, while elevating her per-game numbers from 11.4 points last season to 18.

Weaknesses: Despite a relatively easy schedule, Marquette lost both games against UConn by a total of 57 points. In its other five losses, it lost by a total of 18 points. So you can look at that as it being able to stay in close games, or you can look at it as Marquette being unable to put away teams like St. John’s and Villanova twice.

Outlook: Marquette can advance out of the No. 7 versus No. 10 matchup, but then it might have to take down the No. 2 seed in its bracket. The veteran Golden Eagles can do a lot, but that’s a tall task.

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Strengths: Marquette starts five seniors, and its style of play reflects that. It averagings the 12th-most assists per game, with an assisted shot rate of 68.3 and an assist to turnover rate of 1.29. Liza Karlen has taken on a bigger role for Marquette this season, upping her usage rate to a team-high 29.6, while elevating her per-game numbers from 11.4 points last season to 18.

Weaknesses: Despite a relatively easy schedule, Marquette lost both games against UConn by a total of 57 points. In its other five losses, it lost by a total of 18 points. So you can look at that as it being able to stay in close games, or you can look at it as Marquette being unable to put away teams like St. John’s and Villanova twice.

Outlook: Marquette can advance out of the No. 7 versus No. 10 matchup, but then it might have to take down the No. 2 seed in its bracket. The veteran Golden Eagles can do a lot, but that’s a tall task.

Team in 16 words: Veteran-laden team that gets everyone involved. It has the nation’s sixth-highest assisted shot rate (68.3 percent).

Record: 23-8

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Coach: Megan Duffy

Player to watch: Liz Karlen

Strengths: Regardless of the context, 26-2 is one hell of a season. UNLV won by a margin of 20.6 points, averaging 112.9 points per 100 possessions despite an average 70.7 pace. The Lady Rebels led the nation in defensive rebound rate, while rarely turning over the ball – just 10.6 per game.

Weaknesses: UNLV also had a strength of schedule that ranked pretty low. Its marquee victories came in December against Arizona and Oklahoma — and it won both comfortably. But it struggled to put away games against Boise State, Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico. .

Outlook: It’s hard to fully buy into UNLV given the lack of true competition it faced this year. Round 2 is the ceiling.

Strengths: Regardless of the context, 26-2 is one hell of a season. UNLV won by a margin of 20.6 points, averaging 112.9 points per 100 possessions despite an average 70.7 pace. The Lady Rebels led the nation in defensive rebound rate, while rarely turning over the ball – just 10.6 per game.

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Weaknesses: UNLV also had a strength of schedule that ranked pretty low. Its marquee victories came in December against Arizona and Oklahoma — and it won both comfortably. But it struggled to put away games against Boise State, Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico. .

Outlook: It’s hard to fully buy into UNLV given the lack of true competition it faced this year. Round 2 is the ceiling.

Strengths: Regardless of the context, 26-2 is one hell of a season. UNLV won by a margin of 20.6 points, averaging 112.9 points per 100 possessions despite an average 70.7 pace. The Lady Rebels led the nation in defensive rebound rate, while rarely turning over the ball – just 10.6 per game.

Weaknesses: UNLV also had a strength of schedule that ranked pretty low. Its marquee victories came in December against Arizona and Oklahoma — and it won both comfortably. But it struggled to put away games against Boise State, Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico. .

Outlook: It’s hard to fully buy into UNLV given the lack of true competition it faced this year. Round 2 is the ceiling.

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Team in 16 words:UNLV finished 26-2 with the No. 104 hardest schedule. It led nationally in defensive rebound rate.

Record: 30-2

Coach: Lindy La Rocque

Player to watch: Desi-Rae Young

Strengths: Richmond finished the regular season with its highest winning percentage in more than three decades. It’s in the tournament for the first time since 2005. What an accomplishment for fourth-year head coach Aaron Roussell. The Spiders are elite from behind the arc, with 37.5 percent of its total points coming from downtown. Siobhan Ryan leads the nation with her 49 3-point percent among players with at least 100 attempts.

Weaknesses: Richmond is pretty one-dimensional. It attempted just 946 2-point field goals this season. For context, it shot 754 3-pointers. The Spiders don’t generate a ton of second-chance opportunities given its offensive gameplan, so it must hit its shots.

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Outlook:An upset here isn’t impossible, and if Richmond gets hot, it could be a Cinderella who advances to the Sweet 16. We’ve seen it struggle against tournament schools this season, though, so pick the Spiders at your own risk.

Strengths: Richmond finished the regular season with its highest winning percentage in more than three decades. It’s in the tournament for the first time since 2005. What an accomplishment for fourth-year head coach Aaron Roussell. The Spiders are elite from behind the arc, with 37.5 percent of its total points coming from downtown. Siobhan Ryan leads the nation with her 49 3-point percent among players with at least 100 attempts.

Weaknesses: Richmond is pretty one-dimensional. It attempted just 946 2-point field goals this season. For context, it shot 754 3-pointers. The Spiders don’t generate a ton of second-chance opportunities given its offensive gameplan, so it must hit its shots.

Outlook:An upset here isn’t impossible, and if Richmond gets hot, it could be a Cinderella who advances to the Sweet 16. We’ve seen it struggle against tournament schools this season, though, so pick the Spiders at your own risk.

Strengths: Richmond finished the regular season with its highest winning percentage in more than three decades. It’s in the tournament for the first time since 2005. What an accomplishment for fourth-year head coach Aaron Roussell. The Spiders are elite from behind the arc, with 37.5 percent of its total points coming from downtown. Siobhan Ryan leads the nation with her 49 3-point percent among players with at least 100 attempts.

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Weaknesses: Richmond is pretty one-dimensional. It attempted just 946 2-point field goals this season. For context, it shot 754 3-pointers. The Spiders don’t generate a ton of second-chance opportunities given its offensive gameplan, so it must hit its shots.

Outlook:An upset here isn’t impossible, and if Richmond gets hot, it could be a Cinderella who advances to the Sweet 16. We’ve seen it struggle against tournament schools this season, though, so pick the Spiders at your own risk.

Team in 16 words:The Richmond Spiders’ 83.9 winning percentage ties the all-time school record, set way back in 1990-1991.

Record: 29-5

Coach: Aaron Roussell

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Player to watch: Siobhan Ryan

Strengths: Maryland played at a fast pace all season, averaging 77.9 points per game and 101.7 points per 100 possessions. The former ranked 22nd in the country. Shyanne Sellers paced the play all season long for the Terrapins, averaging a team-high 15.3 points and 5.3 assists per game. The assists were tied for the 17th-most per game in the country. Maryland is an extremely deep squad, with nine players averaging 13 or more minutes per game, and it used seven different starters this season..

Weaknesses: Its 17-12 record is rough, but the strength of schedule is a big reason. The Terps had the nation’s eighth-hardest schedule, with their opponents’ average win percent at 63. And that pace and high-powered offense we spoke about? Yeah, it was needed, as it allowed 73.1 points per game. Only 26 teams allowed more points than Maryland did.

Outlook:Maryland’s losses made sense: South Carolina, UConn, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana. That’s really, really tough. You know what else is tough? Tournament teams. Maryland may be deep, and even though it won big against Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney, it will struggle to keep pace with the others.

Strengths: Maryland played at a fast pace all season, averaging 77.9 points per game and 101.7 points per 100 possessions. The former ranked 22nd in the country. Shyanne Sellers paced the play all season long for the Terrapins, averaging a team-high 15.3 points and 5.3 assists per game. The assists were tied for the 17th-most per game in the country. Maryland is an extremely deep squad, with nine players averaging 13 or more minutes per game, and it used seven different starters this season..

Weaknesses: Its 17-12 record is rough, but the strength of schedule is a big reason. The Terps had the nation’s eighth-hardest schedule, with their opponents’ average win percent at 63. And that pace and high-powered offense we spoke about? Yeah, it was needed, as it allowed 73.1 points per game. Only 26 teams allowed more points than Maryland did.

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Outlook:Maryland’s losses made sense: South Carolina, UConn, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana. That’s really, really tough. You know what else is tough? Tournament teams. Maryland may be deep, and even though it won big against Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney, it will struggle to keep pace with the others.

Strengths: Maryland played at a fast pace all season, averaging 77.9 points per game and 101.7 points per 100 possessions. The former ranked 22nd in the country. Shyanne Sellers paced the play all season long for the Terrapins, averaging a team-high 15.3 points and 5.3 assists per game. The assists were tied for the 17th-most per game in the country. Maryland is an extremely deep squad, with nine players averaging 13 or more minutes per game, and it used seven different starters this season..

Weaknesses: Its 17-12 record is rough, but the strength of schedule is a big reason. The Terps had the nation’s eighth-hardest schedule, with their opponents’ average win percent at 63. And that pace and high-powered offense we spoke about? Yeah, it was needed, as it allowed 73.1 points per game. Only 26 teams allowed more points than Maryland did.

Outlook:Maryland’s losses made sense: South Carolina, UConn, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana. That’s really, really tough. You know what else is tough? Tournament teams. Maryland may be deep, and even though it won big against Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney, it will struggle to keep pace with the others.

Team in 16 words:Maryland’s a deep team that finished 17-12 but had the eighth-hardest schedule (63 opponent win percent).

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Record: 19-13

Coach: Brenda Frese, four Sweet 16s, four Elite Eights, two Final Fours, one championship

Player to watch: Shyanne Sellers

Strengths: The Aggies’ defense was strong this season, holding opponents to 82.8 points per 100 possessions and 68.7 points per game. They also thrived on the boards, averaging 14 rebounds per game behind the duo of Lauren Ware and Janiah Baker. Auburn transfer Aicha Coulibaly was one of the more underrated SEC players, averaging 14.5 points per conference game.

Weaknesses: Efficiency was a big offensive issue for Texas A&M. It shot 27.9 from 3, 46.2 percent from 2 and a poor 67.8 percent on free throws. The Aggies started the season red hot, but when conference play started, they struggled majorly. They went 6-10 in the SEC, losing five of its six final regular-season contests.

Outlook: If the Aggies makes it past the first weekend — let alone out of the first round — it’ll be by controlling the boards and playing strong defense. A first-round upset could be in the cards, but anything beyond that isn’t worth banking on.

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Strengths: The Aggies’ defense was strong this season, holding opponents to 82.8 points per 100 possessions and 68.7 points per game. They also thrived on the boards, averaging 14 rebounds per game behind the duo of Lauren Ware and Janiah Baker. Auburn transfer Aicha Coulibaly was one of the more underrated SEC players, averaging 14.5 points per conference game.

Weaknesses: Efficiency was a big offensive issue for Texas A&M. It shot 27.9 from 3, 46.2 percent from 2 and a poor 67.8 percent on free throws. The Aggies started the season red hot, but when conference play started, they struggled majorly. They went 6-10 in the SEC, losing five of its six final regular-season contests.

Outlook: If the Aggies makes it past the first weekend — let alone out of the first round — it’ll be by controlling the boards and playing strong defense. A first-round upset could be in the cards, but anything beyond that isn’t worth banking on.

Strengths: The Aggies’ defense was strong this season, holding opponents to 82.8 points per 100 possessions and 68.7 points per game. They also thrived on the boards, averaging 14 rebounds per game behind the duo of Lauren Ware and Janiah Baker. Auburn transfer Aicha Coulibaly was one of the more underrated SEC players, averaging 14.5 points per conference game.

Weaknesses: Efficiency was a big offensive issue for Texas A&M. It shot 27.9 from 3, 46.2 percent from 2 and a poor 67.8 percent on free throws. The Aggies started the season red hot, but when conference play started, they struggled majorly. They went 6-10 in the SEC, losing five of its six final regular-season contests.

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Outlook: If the Aggies makes it past the first weekend — let alone out of the first round — it’ll be by controlling the boards and playing strong defense. A first-round upset could be in the cards, but anything beyond that isn’t worth banking on.

Team in 16 words: Texas A&M’s 82.8 defensive rating was the Aggies’ highest mark since hitting 82.4 in 2012-2013 season.

Record: 19-12

Coach: Joni Taylor

Player to watch: Aicha Coulibaly

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Strengths: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Will Durant may have come up with the quote, but the Blue Raiders applied it this season. The Conference USA champs started the same five players in all 29 regular-season games. Those players were in at least 30.4 minutes per game. Coach Thibs is somewhere smiling right now. Middle Tennessee’s defense is elite, holding opponents to 54.3 points per game.

Weaknesses: The Blue Raiders’ strength of schedule was No. 170. Beating Tennessee was their biggest win — on paper, at least, as they registered a 45-point victory over Florida A&M — so they haven’t been tested like they will be in the tournament. Can their defense translate over?

Outlook: The last time Middle Tennessee got out of the first round was 2007, when it was a No. 5 seed and knocked off Gonzaga. Since then, it’s been one-and-done eight different times. A second round appearance is in the cards this year.

Strengths: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Will Durant may have come up with the quote, but the Blue Raiders applied it this season. The Conference USA champs started the same five players in all 29 regular-season games. Those players were in at least 30.4 minutes per game. Coach Thibs is somewhere smiling right now. Middle Tennessee’s defense is elite, holding opponents to 54.3 points per game.

Weaknesses: The Blue Raiders’ strength of schedule was No. 170. Beating Tennessee was their biggest win — on paper, at least, as they registered a 45-point victory over Florida A&M — so they haven’t been tested like they will be in the tournament. Can their defense translate over?

Outlook: The last time Middle Tennessee got out of the first round was 2007, when it was a No. 5 seed and knocked off Gonzaga. Since then, it’s been one-and-done eight different times. A second round appearance is in the cards this year.

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Strengths: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Will Durant may have come up with the quote, but the Blue Raiders applied it this season. The Conference USA champs started the same five players in all 29 regular-season games. Those players were in at least 30.4 minutes per game. Coach Thibs is somewhere smiling right now. Middle Tennessee’s defense is elite, holding opponents to 54.3 points per game.

Weaknesses: The Blue Raiders’ strength of schedule was No. 170. Beating Tennessee was their biggest win — on paper, at least, as they registered a 45-point victory over Florida A&M — so they haven’t been tested like they will be in the tournament. Can their defense translate over?

Outlook: The last time Middle Tennessee got out of the first round was 2007, when it was a No. 5 seed and knocked off Gonzaga. Since then, it’s been one-and-done eight different times. A second round appearance is in the cards this year.

Team in 16 words: From top to bottom, this may be the best Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders team since 2013-2014.

Record: 29-4

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Coach:Rick Insell

Player to watch: Anastasiia Boldyreva

Strengths: You’re going to struggle in the SEC — unless you’re South Carolina. It was no different for Auburn, but it did finish the season on a three-game winning streak against Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Florida. The Tigers had close calls against LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee – all losses that were by single digits that its defense kept competitive. That unit allows only 79.8 points per 100 possession, which is good for the seventh best mark in the country.

Weaknesses: Auburn was ugly from 3-point range, shooting only 28.7 percent there making just 110 treys all season. It had the 13th-worst 3-point rate at 18.8 percent. That’s why, despite the solid pace it plays, it still wasn’t able to score at the rate it needed to to complement its defensive efforts.

Outlook: Auburn hasn’t made it to the second weekend since 1996, despite making the tournament nine times since then. It’ll face a tough road as it works to end that streak. Even if first-team All-SEC Honesty Scott-Grayson is in her bag, the lack of shooting will put Auburn’s journey on hold.

Strengths: You’re going to struggle in the SEC — unless you’re South Carolina. It was no different for Auburn, but it did finish the season on a three-game winning streak against Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Florida. The Tigers had close calls against LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee – all losses that were by single digits that its defense kept competitive. That unit allows only 79.8 points per 100 possession, which is good for the seventh best mark in the country.

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Weaknesses: Auburn was ugly from 3-point range, shooting only 28.7 percent there making just 110 treys all season. It had the 13th-worst 3-point rate at 18.8 percent. That’s why, despite the solid pace it plays, it still wasn’t able to score at the rate it needed to to complement its defensive efforts.

Outlook: Auburn hasn’t made it to the second weekend since 1996, despite making the tournament nine times since then. It’ll face a tough road as it works to end that streak. Even if first-team All-SEC Honesty Scott-Grayson is in her bag, the lack of shooting will put Auburn’s journey on hold.

Strengths: You’re going to struggle in the SEC — unless you’re South Carolina. It was no different for Auburn, but it did finish the season on a three-game winning streak against Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Florida. The Tigers had close calls against LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee – all losses that were by single digits that its defense kept competitive. That unit allows only 79.8 points per 100 possession, which is good for the seventh best mark in the country.

Weaknesses: Auburn was ugly from 3-point range, shooting only 28.7 percent there making just 110 treys all season. It had the 13th-worst 3-point rate at 18.8 percent. That’s why, despite the solid pace it plays, it still wasn’t able to score at the rate it needed to to complement its defensive efforts.

Outlook: Auburn hasn’t made it to the second weekend since 1996, despite making the tournament nine times since then. It’ll face a tough road as it works to end that streak. Even if first-team All-SEC Honesty Scott-Grayson is in her bag, the lack of shooting will put Auburn’s journey on hold.

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Team in 16 words: Auburn has a stifling defense, but it struggles immensely from 3-point range, shooting just 29 percent.

Record: 20-11

Coach:Johnnie Harris

Player to watch: Honesty Scott-Grayson

Strengths: Arizona loves to play inside out. It attempted just 414 3-pointers this season to rate in the 16th percentile. Helena Pueyo earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors as she played 36.4 minutes per game and swiped three balls per game on average. The future is bright in Arizona, too, as freshman Jada Williams earned All-Freshman honors.

Weaknesses: The Wildcats are in a tough spot. Leading scorer Kailyn Gilbert made her last appearance for Arizona on Feb. 18. The struggles came before Gilbert left the team, though, as Arizona found itself in a stretch where it lost six of eight games between Jan. 5 and Jan. 28. Williams and Pueyo help, of course, but it’s hard to make up for Gilbert’s absence, and those two alone can’t improve Arizona’s defensive rebounding, which hauled 21.9 per game.

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Outlook: Getting Williams tournament experience is a big plus here. Whether it’s a game or two remains the question, but building off it for next year is the main goal.

Strengths: Arizona loves to play inside out. It attempted just 414 3-pointers this season to rate in the 16th percentile. Helena Pueyo earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors as she played 36.4 minutes per game and swiped three balls per game on average. The future is bright in Arizona, too, as freshman Jada Williams earned All-Freshman honors.

Weaknesses: The Wildcats are in a tough spot. Leading scorer Kailyn Gilbert made her last appearance for Arizona on Feb. 18. The struggles came before Gilbert left the team, though, as Arizona found itself in a stretch where it lost six of eight games between Jan. 5 and Jan. 28. Williams and Pueyo help, of course, but it’s hard to make up for Gilbert’s absence, and those two alone can’t improve Arizona’s defensive rebounding, which hauled 21.9 per game.

Outlook: Getting Williams tournament experience is a big plus here. Whether it’s a game or two remains the question, but building off it for next year is the main goal.

Strengths: Arizona loves to play inside out. It attempted just 414 3-pointers this season to rate in the 16th percentile. Helena Pueyo earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors as she played 36.4 minutes per game and swiped three balls per game on average. The future is bright in Arizona, too, as freshman Jada Williams earned All-Freshman honors.

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Weaknesses: The Wildcats are in a tough spot. Leading scorer Kailyn Gilbert made her last appearance for Arizona on Feb. 18. The struggles came before Gilbert left the team, though, as Arizona found itself in a stretch where it lost six of eight games between Jan. 5 and Jan. 28. Williams and Pueyo help, of course, but it’s hard to make up for Gilbert’s absence, and those two alone can’t improve Arizona’s defensive rebounding, which hauled 21.9 per game.

Outlook: Getting Williams tournament experience is a big plus here. Whether it’s a game or two remains the question, but building off it for next year is the main goal.

Team in 16 words: Who needs the deep ball? Not Arizona, apparently, as it attempted just 414 on the season.

Record: 17-15

Coach:Adia Barnes, one Final Four

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Player to watch: Helena Pueyo

Strengths: Green Bay plays at a slow pace, which is elevated by its hard-nosed defense. Its 66.7 possessions per 40 minutes ranked No. 322, but it held opponents to 57.8 points per game, with an average margin of victory of 16.4 points. First-team Horizon League guard Natalie McNeal leads the nation in scoring and rebounds.

Weaknesses: Despite all of its bigs and wings listed at 6-foot-1 or taller, Green Bay ranks in the 18th percentile in blocks per game with 2.1. The Phoenix also struggle mightily on the boards, pulling down 34.2 per game.

Outlook: Green Bay was competitive in most games, with its biggest loss coming against Horizon League Player of the Year Colbi Maples and Cleveland State. The Phoenix had nonconference wins against Creighton and Washington State — by an average of 11.5 points. A second-round appearance wouldn’t shock me, but it’s hard to see them getting to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.

Strengths: Green Bay plays at a slow pace, which is elevated by its hard-nosed defense. Its 66.7 possessions per 40 minutes ranked No. 322, but it held opponents to 57.8 points per game, with an average margin of victory of 16.4 points. First-team Horizon League guard Natalie McNeal leads the nation in scoring and rebounds.

Weaknesses: Despite all of its bigs and wings listed at 6-foot-1 or taller, Green Bay ranks in the 18th percentile in blocks per game with 2.1. The Phoenix also struggle mightily on the boards, pulling down 34.2 per game.

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Outlook: Green Bay was competitive in most games, with its biggest loss coming against Horizon League Player of the Year Colbi Maples and Cleveland State. The Phoenix had nonconference wins against Creighton and Washington State — by an average of 11.5 points. A second-round appearance wouldn’t shock me, but it’s hard to see them getting to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.

Strengths: Green Bay plays at a slow pace, which is elevated by its hard-nosed defense. Its 66.7 possessions per 40 minutes ranked No. 322, but it held opponents to 57.8 points per game, with an average margin of victory of 16.4 points. First-team Horizon League guard Natalie McNeal leads the nation in scoring and rebounds.

Weaknesses: Despite all of its bigs and wings listed at 6-foot-1 or taller, Green Bay ranks in the 18th percentile in blocks per game with 2.1. The Phoenix also struggle mightily on the boards, pulling down 34.2 per game.

Outlook: Green Bay was competitive in most games, with its biggest loss coming against Horizon League Player of the Year Colbi Maples and Cleveland State. The Phoenix had nonconference wins against Creighton and Washington State — by an average of 11.5 points. A second-round appearance wouldn’t shock me, but it’s hard to see them getting to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.

Team in 16 words: No senioritis in Green Bay, as it starts five juniors and rosters one senior (Natalie Andersen).

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Record: 27-6

Coach:Kevin Borseth

Player to watch: Natalie McNeal

Portland 4

Horizon League

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Strengths: The Eagles went undefeated in conference, and it wasn’t an easy road, as they dealt with injuries to key contributors all season. Still, they made it rain from behind the arc, attempting the eighth-most 3-pointers in the country. They attempted so many, in fact, that the 804 attempts were just four shy of their total 2-point attempts.

Weaknesses: FGCU plays at a super slow pace of 68.4 possessions per 40 minutes. The Eagles also take a volume approach for its shots from behind the arc, shooting 30.3 percent, which is right around the 50th percentile in the metric.

Outlook: FGCU has made the second round in consecutive years but hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 2007. If the shots fall at better than a 30.3 percent clip, it might just see the second weekend.

Strengths: The Eagles went undefeated in conference, and it wasn’t an easy road, as they dealt with injuries to key contributors all season. Still, they made it rain from behind the arc, attempting the eighth-most 3-pointers in the country. They attempted so many, in fact, that the 804 attempts were just four shy of their total 2-point attempts.

Weaknesses: FGCU plays at a super slow pace of 68.4 possessions per 40 minutes. The Eagles also take a volume approach for its shots from behind the arc, shooting 30.3 percent, which is right around the 50th percentile in the metric.

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Outlook: FGCU has made the second round in consecutive years but hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 2007. If the shots fall at better than a 30.3 percent clip, it might just see the second weekend.

Strengths: The Eagles went undefeated in conference, and it wasn’t an easy road, as they dealt with injuries to key contributors all season. Still, they made it rain from behind the arc, attempting the eighth-most 3-pointers in the country. They attempted so many, in fact, that the 804 attempts were just four shy of their total 2-point attempts.

Weaknesses: FGCU plays at a super slow pace of 68.4 possessions per 40 minutes. The Eagles also take a volume approach for its shots from behind the arc, shooting 30.3 percent, which is right around the 50th percentile in the metric.

Outlook: FGCU has made the second round in consecutive years but hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 2007. If the shots fall at better than a 30.3 percent clip, it might just see the second weekend.

Team in 16 words: The slow-paced FGCU Eagles held their opponents to the fewest points per game (55.9) since 2015-2016.

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Record: 29-4

Coach: Karl Smesko

Player to watch: Uju Ezeudu

Strengths: Katie Dinnebier was fantastic this season, averaging 18.1 points and 7 assists per game as well as 2.5 steals. Dinnebier was the only player in the country to average at least 18 points, 7 assists and 2 steals in a game.

Weaknesses: Drake turned averaged 17.7 turnovers per game, and it had four starters — Dinnebier, Grace Berg, Anna Miller and Taylor McAulay — who averaged at least 2 per game.

Outlook: Four of Drake’s five losses came against Iowa, Richmond, Creighton and a double-overtime loss against Minnesota. It’ll need some help for Dinnebier — perhaps from Anna Miller? — if it hopes to get to the second weekend.

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Strengths: Katie Dinnebier was fantastic this season, averaging 18.1 points and 7 assists per game as well as 2.5 steals. Dinnebier was the only player in the country to average at least 18 points, 7 assists and 2 steals in a game.

Weaknesses: Drake turned averaged 17.7 turnovers per game, and it had four starters — Dinnebier, Grace Berg, Anna Miller and Taylor McAulay — who averaged at least 2 per game.

Outlook: Four of Drake’s five losses came against Iowa, Richmond, Creighton and a double-overtime loss against Minnesota. It’ll need some help for Dinnebier — perhaps from Anna Miller? — if it hopes to get to the second weekend.

Strengths: Katie Dinnebier was fantastic this season, averaging 18.1 points and 7 assists per game as well as 2.5 steals. Dinnebier was the only player in the country to average at least 18 points, 7 assists and 2 steals in a game.

Weaknesses: Drake turned averaged 17.7 turnovers per game, and it had four starters — Dinnebier, Grace Berg, Anna Miller and Taylor McAulay — who averaged at least 2 per game.

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Outlook: Four of Drake’s five losses came against Iowa, Richmond, Creighton and a double-overtime loss against Minnesota. It’ll need some help for Dinnebier — perhaps from Anna Miller? — if it hopes to get to the second weekend.

Team in 16 words: The Bulldogs’ 83.9 winning percentage is their highest mark since the 2016-2017 season (at 84.4 percent).

Record: 27-5

Coach: Allison Pohlman

Player to watch: Katie Dinnebier

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Strengths: Vandy is fantastic at getting steals. It was in the 92nd percentile in steals per game and 94th percentile in steal rate. Though it struggled down the stretch, it kept games close against non-elite SEC teams — South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee — before losing to Florida in the second round of the conference tournament.

Weaknesses: Vandy has promise for the future. It has only two seniors on its roster. Losing freshman Madison Greene to a season-ending ACL injury after 11 games was a big blow.

Outlook: Next season will be a positive one, but as far as this tournament goes, it’s going to be an early exit. The Commodores, though, should be proud of its best regular-season in 11 years.

Strengths: Vandy is fantastic at getting steals. It was in the 92nd percentile in steals per game and 94th percentile in steal rate. Though it struggled down the stretch, it kept games close against non-elite SEC teams — South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee — before losing to Florida in the second round of the conference tournament.

Weaknesses: Vandy has promise for the future. It has only two seniors on its roster. Losing freshman Madison Greene to a season-ending ACL injury after 11 games was a big blow.

Outlook: Next season will be a positive one, but as far as this tournament goes, it’s going to be an early exit. The Commodores, though, should be proud of its best regular-season in 11 years.

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Strengths: Vandy is fantastic at getting steals. It was in the 92nd percentile in steals per game and 94th percentile in steal rate. Though it struggled down the stretch, it kept games close against non-elite SEC teams — South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee — before losing to Florida in the second round of the conference tournament.

Weaknesses: Vandy has promise for the future. It has only two seniors on its roster. Losing freshman Madison Greene to a season-ending ACL injury after 11 games was a big blow.

Outlook: Next season will be a positive one, but as far as this tournament goes, it’s going to be an early exit. The Commodores, though, should be proud of its best regular-season in 11 years.

Team in 16 words: Vandy started the season hot, going 16-1, but floundered late, finishing 6-9 to finish the year.

Record: 22-9

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Coach: Shea Ralph

Player to watch: Iyana Moore

Strengths: The Lions are a sneaky-good offensive team. They scored 108 points per 100 possessions and averaged 76 points per game, which helps to offset its 63.2 points allowed on average defensively. Columbia’s offensive rebounding ability can’t be overstated. It ranked sixth in the nation in offensive rebounding rate, behind Kitty Henderon’s team-leading 2.4 boards.

Weaknesses: Columbia didn’t face a tough schedule — No. 94 in the country as far as difficulty — and its defense leaves a lot to be desired. It can be attacked on the interior, as it was in the 24th percentile in blocks per game with 2.3.

Outlook: This is Columbia’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, despite competing in the Ivy League since 1984. Could it knock off Vanderbilt? Yeah. Can it take down Baylor if it wins? Unlikely.

Strengths: The Lions are a sneaky-good offensive team. They scored 108 points per 100 possessions and averaged 76 points per game, which helps to offset its 63.2 points allowed on average defensively. Columbia’s offensive rebounding ability can’t be overstated. It ranked sixth in the nation in offensive rebounding rate, behind Kitty Henderon’s team-leading 2.4 boards.

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Weaknesses: Columbia didn’t face a tough schedule — No. 94 in the country as far as difficulty — and its defense leaves a lot to be desired. It can be attacked on the interior, as it was in the 24th percentile in blocks per game with 2.3.

Outlook: This is Columbia’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, despite competing in the Ivy League since 1984. Could it knock off Vanderbilt? Yeah. Can it take down Baylor if it wins? Unlikely.

Strengths: The Lions are a sneaky-good offensive team. They scored 108 points per 100 possessions and averaged 76 points per game, which helps to offset its 63.2 points allowed on average defensively. Columbia’s offensive rebounding ability can’t be overstated. It ranked sixth in the nation in offensive rebounding rate, behind Kitty Henderon’s team-leading 2.4 boards.

Weaknesses: Columbia didn’t face a tough schedule — No. 94 in the country as far as difficulty — and its defense leaves a lot to be desired. It can be attacked on the interior, as it was in the 24th percentile in blocks per game with 2.3.

Outlook: This is Columbia’s first NCAA Tournament appearance, despite competing in the Ivy League since 1984. Could it knock off Vanderbilt? Yeah. Can it take down Baylor if it wins? Unlikely.

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Team in 16 words: Columbia’s 108.9 offensive rating is its highest in the modern era (rating at 104.8 in 2023).

Record: 23-6

Coach: Megan Griffith

Player to watch: Abbey Hsu

Strengths: The Jackrabbits love the 3-point shot. Their 38.7 percent from 3 is the fourth-best nationally this season. That plays a part in South Dakota State’s 0.93 points per play and 1.14 points per scoring attempt marks despite playing at a slow pace.

Weaknesses: When faced with nonconference competition, South Dakota State has struggled mightily. All five losses came against five tournament-bound opponents. The Jackrabbits have overcome a lot of injuries, losing Madysen Vlastuin to a season-ended injury 19 games into the season. They also lost Kallie Theisen and Haleigh Timmer before the season even started.

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Outlook: South Dakota State can score, but we’ve seen what happens when it goes up against a nonconference foes. Yes, the Jackrabbits made the Sweet 16 in 2019 when they upset No. 3 Oregon, but this isn’t 2019. This Jackrabbits team has early exit written all over it.

Strengths: The Jackrabbits love the 3-point shot. Their 38.7 percent from 3 is the fourth-best nationally this season. That plays a part in South Dakota State’s 0.93 points per play and 1.14 points per scoring attempt marks despite playing at a slow pace.

Weaknesses: When faced with nonconference competition, South Dakota State has struggled mightily. All five losses came against five tournament-bound opponents. The Jackrabbits have overcome a lot of injuries, losing Madysen Vlastuin to a season-ended injury 19 games into the season. They also lost Kallie Theisen and Haleigh Timmer before the season even started.

Outlook: South Dakota State can score, but we’ve seen what happens when it goes up against a nonconference foes. Yes, the Jackrabbits made the Sweet 16 in 2019 when they upset No. 3 Oregon, but this isn’t 2019. This Jackrabbits team has early exit written all over it.

Strengths: The Jackrabbits love the 3-point shot. Their 38.7 percent from 3 is the fourth-best nationally this season. That plays a part in South Dakota State’s 0.93 points per play and 1.14 points per scoring attempt marks despite playing at a slow pace.

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Weaknesses: When faced with nonconference competition, South Dakota State has struggled mightily. All five losses came against five tournament-bound opponents. The Jackrabbits have overcome a lot of injuries, losing Madysen Vlastuin to a season-ended injury 19 games into the season. They also lost Kallie Theisen and Haleigh Timmer before the season even started.

Outlook: South Dakota State can score, but we’ve seen what happens when it goes up against a nonconference foes. Yes, the Jackrabbits made the Sweet 16 in 2019 when they upset No. 3 Oregon, but this isn’t 2019. This Jackrabbits team has early exit written all over it.

Team in 16 words: South Dakota has been undefeated since Dec. 31, but went 0-5 against nonconference NCAA Tournament teams.

Record: 27-5

Coach: Aaron Johnston, one Sweet 16

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Player to watch: Brooklyn Meyer

Portland 4

Summit League

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Strengths: Fairfield’s offense was fine, but its defense that allowed 55 points per game was the big reason it lost only once this season. Meghan Andersen led the Stags with 15.5 points and 1.4 blocks per game.

Weaknesses: The Stags don’t have a deep bench, with seven players averaging 15 minutes or more per game. After that, it’s a deep drop-off. Fairfield’s defense is strong, but will that translate against tougher teams? If not, can its offense step up?

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Outlook: It was a historic season, as its only loss came on Nov. 12 in a three-point loss to Vanderbilt. The Stags would make a great Cinderella, and the path isn’t the hardest to advance to the second weekend. I’ll pick them as a Round of 32 team.

Strengths: Fairfield’s offense was fine, but its defense that allowed 55 points per game was the big reason it lost only once this season. Meghan Andersen led the Stags with 15.5 points and 1.4 blocks per game.

Weaknesses: The Stags don’t have a deep bench, with seven players averaging 15 minutes or more per game. After that, it’s a deep drop-off. Fairfield’s defense is strong, but will that translate against tougher teams? If not, can its offense step up?

Outlook: It was a historic season, as its only loss came on Nov. 12 in a three-point loss to Vanderbilt. The Stags would make a great Cinderella, and the path isn’t the hardest to advance to the second weekend. I’ll pick them as a Round of 32 team.

Strengths: Fairfield’s offense was fine, but its defense that allowed 55 points per game was the big reason it lost only once this season. Meghan Andersen led the Stags with 15.5 points and 1.4 blocks per game.

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Weaknesses: The Stags don’t have a deep bench, with seven players averaging 15 minutes or more per game. After that, it’s a deep drop-off. Fairfield’s defense is strong, but will that translate against tougher teams? If not, can its offense step up?

Outlook: It was a historic season, as its only loss came on Nov. 12 in a three-point loss to Vanderbilt. The Stags would make a great Cinderella, and the path isn’t the hardest to advance to the second weekend. I’ll pick them as a Round of 32 team.

Team in 16 words: Fairfield’s lone loss against Vanderbilt (73-70) is its fewest in school history, dating back to 1981.

Record: 31-1

Coach: Carly Thibault-DuDonis

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Player to watch: Meghan Andersen

Strengths: The Pilots are riding the momentum after taking down Gonzaga in one of the season’s biggest upsets in the WCC title game. They play at a fast pace and are active defensively, averaging 10.5 steals and 5.6 blocks per game.

Weaknesses: It’s been a true momentum run through the conference tournament. Portland lost four of its final five games of the regular season, and the last two losses were to San Francisco and Gonzaga by 12 and 50 points, respectively. The Pilots average 18 turnovers per game, and their 559 turnovers ranked No. 331 out of 360 teams.

Outlook: The conference run has been great, and bursting the bubble of teams on the fringe has to feel good. But Portland has next to no chance to exit the first round as winner.

Strengths: The Pilots are riding the momentum after taking down Gonzaga in one of the season’s biggest upsets in the WCC title game. They play at a fast pace and are active defensively, averaging 10.5 steals and 5.6 blocks per game.

Weaknesses: It’s been a true momentum run through the conference tournament. Portland lost four of its final five games of the regular season, and the last two losses were to San Francisco and Gonzaga by 12 and 50 points, respectively. The Pilots average 18 turnovers per game, and their 559 turnovers ranked No. 331 out of 360 teams.

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Outlook: The conference run has been great, and bursting the bubble of teams on the fringe has to feel good. But Portland has next to no chance to exit the first round as winner.

Strengths: The Pilots are riding the momentum after taking down Gonzaga in one of the season’s biggest upsets in the WCC title game. They play at a fast pace and are active defensively, averaging 10.5 steals and 5.6 blocks per game.

Weaknesses: It’s been a true momentum run through the conference tournament. Portland lost four of its final five games of the regular season, and the last two losses were to San Francisco and Gonzaga by 12 and 50 points, respectively. The Pilots average 18 turnovers per game, and their 559 turnovers ranked No. 331 out of 360 teams.

Outlook: The conference run has been great, and bursting the bubble of teams on the fringe has to feel good. But Portland has next to no chance to exit the first round as winner.

Team in 16 words: The Pilots’ defensive rating (86.9) is the highest it has been in more than a decade.

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Record: 21-12

Coach: Michael Meek

Player to watch: Emme Shearer

Strengths: Marshall scored 116 points against Appalachian State in the Sun Belt tournament, and it’s just an example of the offense it’s capable of. The Herd have three players who average at least 13.9 points per game.

Weaknesses: The Herd struggle from the charity stripe, shooting 65.7 percent per game. What’s more, its defense allows 71.6 points per game.

Outlook: Marshall can pour on the points — it scored more than 100 points three times this season — but will its defense be able to stop anyone in the tournament? It’s going home early this year.

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Strengths: Marshall scored 116 points against Appalachian State in the Sun Belt tournament, and it’s just an example of the offense it’s capable of. The Herd have three players who average at least 13.9 points per game.

Weaknesses: The Herd struggle from the charity stripe, shooting 65.7 percent per game. What’s more, its defense allows 71.6 points per game.

Outlook: Marshall can pour on the points — it scored more than 100 points three times this season — but will its defense be able to stop anyone in the tournament? It’s going home early this year.

Strengths: Marshall scored 116 points against Appalachian State in the Sun Belt tournament, and it’s just an example of the offense it’s capable of. The Herd have three players who average at least 13.9 points per game.

Weaknesses: The Herd struggle from the charity stripe, shooting 65.7 percent per game. What’s more, its defense allows 71.6 points per game.

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Outlook: Marshall can pour on the points — it scored more than 100 points three times this season — but will its defense be able to stop anyone in the tournament? It’s going home early this year.

Team in 16 words: Marshall can absolutely score, averaging 84.2 points per game (that ranks as fifth in the country).

Record: 26-6

Coach: Kim Stephens

Player to watch: Abby Beeman

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Strengths: UC Irvine is elite defensively. Five different players – Nikki Tom, Deja Lee, Diaba Konate, Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba, and Nevaeh Dean – finished the season with defensive win shares of more than 1. Lee was the highest at 1.7.

Weaknesses: The Anteaters trade elite defense for poor offense at a slow pace. They rank in the 16th percentile in pace (67.4) and average a hair over 63.2 points per game.

Outlook: Its key victory this season was against Eastern Washington, so UC Irvine might struggle against tournament teams. It had the 59th easiest schedule on the year.

Strengths: UC Irvine is elite defensively. Five different players – Nikki Tom, Deja Lee, Diaba Konate, Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba, and Nevaeh Dean – finished the season with defensive win shares of more than 1. Lee was the highest at 1.7.

Weaknesses: The Anteaters trade elite defense for poor offense at a slow pace. They rank in the 16th percentile in pace (67.4) and average a hair over 63.2 points per game.

Outlook: Its key victory this season was against Eastern Washington, so UC Irvine might struggle against tournament teams. It had the 59th easiest schedule on the year.

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Strengths: UC Irvine is elite defensively. Five different players – Nikki Tom, Deja Lee, Diaba Konate, Moulayna Johnson Sidi Baba, and Nevaeh Dean – finished the season with defensive win shares of more than 1. Lee was the highest at 1.7.

Weaknesses: The Anteaters trade elite defense for poor offense at a slow pace. They rank in the 16th percentile in pace (67.4) and average a hair over 63.2 points per game.

Outlook: Its key victory this season was against Eastern Washington, so UC Irvine might struggle against tournament teams. It had the 59th easiest schedule on the year.

Team in 16 words: The Anteaters are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1995, when they lost to Stanford.

Record: 23-8

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Coach: Tamara Inoue

Player to watch: Deja Lee

Strengths: Aaliyah Alexander and Jamie Loera are Eastern Washington’s leaders, helping secure its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 37 years. Loera averages 2.4 steals per game.

Weaknesses: Eastern Washington had the 93rd easiest schedule this season, with its opponents’ average winning percentage coming in at 46.2 percent.

Outlook: Returning to the tournament is a fantastic accomplishment for Joddie Gleason and Co. No shame in an early exit.

Strengths: Aaliyah Alexander and Jamie Loera are Eastern Washington’s leaders, helping secure its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 37 years. Loera averages 2.4 steals per game.

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Weaknesses: Eastern Washington had the 93rd easiest schedule this season, with its opponents’ average winning percentage coming in at 46.2 percent.

Outlook: Returning to the tournament is a fantastic accomplishment for Joddie Gleason and Co. No shame in an early exit.

Strengths: Aaliyah Alexander and Jamie Loera are Eastern Washington’s leaders, helping secure its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 37 years. Loera averages 2.4 steals per game.

Weaknesses: Eastern Washington had the 93rd easiest schedule this season, with its opponents’ average winning percentage coming in at 46.2 percent.

Outlook: Returning to the tournament is a fantastic accomplishment for Joddie Gleason and Co. No shame in an early exit.

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Team in 16 words: This is the Eagles first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1987, when it lost 75-56 versus Oregon.

Record: 29-5

Coach: Joddie Gleason

Player to watch: Jamie Loera

Strengths: After losing its final five games of the season, Rice made fairly easy work of the competition in the AAC tournament. What was the difference? Well, the Owls’ defense stepped up. Both its offense and defense was middling during the regular season, but in the conference tournament, Rice didn’t allow anyone to eclipse the 60-point mark. It was especially impressive holding East Carolina to 41 points.

Weaknesses: Rice can get sloppy. It turned over the ball 500 times this season — 15.2 per game — and allowed its opponents to live at the foul line, committing 18.1 fouls per game.

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Outlook: It’s a surprising tournament bid for Rice, and it’s a great accomplishment for Lindsay Edmonds, making her first Big Dance as a head coach. But Rice struggled in close games all season against inferior competition compared to what it will face in the NCAA Tournament. With neither an above-average offense or defense, it’s hard to see Rice being the first No. 14 seed to pull off an upset.

Strengths: After losing its final five games of the season, Rice made fairly easy work of the competition in the AAC tournament. What was the difference? Well, the Owls’ defense stepped up. Both its offense and defense was middling during the regular season, but in the conference tournament, Rice didn’t allow anyone to eclipse the 60-point mark. It was especially impressive holding East Carolina to 41 points.

Weaknesses: Rice can get sloppy. It turned over the ball 500 times this season — 15.2 per game — and allowed its opponents to live at the foul line, committing 18.1 fouls per game.

Outlook: It’s a surprising tournament bid for Rice, and it’s a great accomplishment for Lindsay Edmonds, making her first Big Dance as a head coach. But Rice struggled in close games all season against inferior competition compared to what it will face in the NCAA Tournament. With neither an above-average offense or defense, it’s hard to see Rice being the first No. 14 seed to pull off an upset.

Strengths: After losing its final five games of the season, Rice made fairly easy work of the competition in the AAC tournament. What was the difference? Well, the Owls’ defense stepped up. Both its offense and defense was middling during the regular season, but in the conference tournament, Rice didn’t allow anyone to eclipse the 60-point mark. It was especially impressive holding East Carolina to 41 points.

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Weaknesses: Rice can get sloppy. It turned over the ball 500 times this season — 15.2 per game — and allowed its opponents to live at the foul line, committing 18.1 fouls per game.

Outlook: It’s a surprising tournament bid for Rice, and it’s a great accomplishment for Lindsay Edmonds, making her first Big Dance as a head coach. But Rice struggled in close games all season against inferior competition compared to what it will face in the NCAA Tournament. With neither an above-average offense or defense, it’s hard to see Rice being the first No. 14 seed to pull off an upset.

Team in 16 words: This year’s NCAA Tournament is Rice’s fourth appearance in the Big Dance in its school’s history.

Record: 19-14

Coach:Lindsay Edmonds

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Player to watch: Malia Fisher

Strengths: Miya Crump and Angel Jackson provide a nice one-two punch for the Tigers. Jackson State averages 10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. The blocks puts the Tigers in the nation’s 100th percentile.

Weaknesses: The Tigers have a tendency to foul a ton. They average 17.8 fouls per game, so there is a downside to its 4.8 blocks per game and the aggressiveness defensively.

Outlook: A No. 14 seed has never defeated a No. 3 seed. It’s not happening this year with Jackson State, either.

Strengths: Miya Crump and Angel Jackson provide a nice one-two punch for the Tigers. Jackson State averages 10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. The blocks puts the Tigers in the nation’s 100th percentile.

Weaknesses: The Tigers have a tendency to foul a ton. They average 17.8 fouls per game, so there is a downside to its 4.8 blocks per game and the aggressiveness defensively.

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Outlook: A No. 14 seed has never defeated a No. 3 seed. It’s not happening this year with Jackson State, either.

Strengths: Miya Crump and Angel Jackson provide a nice one-two punch for the Tigers. Jackson State averages 10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. The blocks puts the Tigers in the nation’s 100th percentile.

Weaknesses: The Tigers have a tendency to foul a ton. They average 17.8 fouls per game, so there is a downside to its 4.8 blocks per game and the aggressiveness defensively.

Outlook: A No. 14 seed has never defeated a No. 3 seed. It’s not happening this year with Jackson State, either.

Team in 16 words:It was a great finish to the season as Jackson State finished 18-0 after starting 2-6.

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Record: 26-6

Coach: Tomekia Reed

Player to watch: Angel Jackson

Strengths: Jada Quinn was a bucket for Chattanooga this season, averaging 19.5 points and 7.2 boards per game on 52.2 percent shooting. Its defense was tough, allowing 54.5 points per game.
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Weaknesses: The Mocs struggled from downtown, shooting 29.4 percent from 3. They also ranked No. 357 out of 360 teams with 7.1 offensive rebounds per game.

Outlook: A key win against Mississippi State showed that it can compete, but Chattanooga isn’t going to get past the first round against NC State.

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Strengths: Jada Quinn was a bucket for Chattanooga this season, averaging 19.5 points and 7.2 boards per game on 52.2 percent shooting. Its defense was tough, allowing 54.5 points per game.
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Weaknesses: The Mocs struggled from downtown, shooting 29.4 percent from 3. They also ranked No. 357 out of 360 teams with 7.1 offensive rebounds per game.

Outlook: A key win against Mississippi State showed that it can compete, but Chattanooga isn’t going to get past the first round against NC State.

Strengths: Jada Quinn was a bucket for Chattanooga this season, averaging 19.5 points and 7.2 boards per game on 52.2 percent shooting. Its defense was tough, allowing 54.5 points per game.
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Weaknesses: The Mocs struggled from downtown, shooting 29.4 percent from 3. They also ranked No. 357 out of 360 teams with 7.1 offensive rebounds per game.

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Outlook: A key win against Mississippi State showed that it can compete, but Chattanooga isn’t going to get past the first round against NC State.

Team in 16 words: Its 25 wins, behind an elite defense that allows 54.7 ppg, are the most since 2014-2015.

Record: 28-4

Coach: Shawn Poppie

Player to watch: Jada Quinn

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Portland 4

Southern Conference

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Strengths: The Golden Flashes offense, led by Katie Shumate (15.1 points per game) and Jenna Batsch (13.8) does enough to keep them in games, averaging 70.2 points per contest. In half of its losses, Kent State was unable to hit its season-long mark in average points scored per game.

Weaknesses: Kent State struggles mightily from the free-throw line, shooting 74.3 percent. That reared its head in single-digit losses to Ball State, Ohio, Old Dominion and Duquesne.

Outlook: Kent State is going dancing for the first time in two-plus years. Does the outcome really matter? It’s a huge accomplishment for Todd Starkey and staff — even with a first-round exit lined up.

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Strengths: The Golden Flashes offense, led by Katie Shumate (15.1 points per game) and Jenna Batsch (13.8) does enough to keep them in games, averaging 70.2 points per contest. In half of its losses, Kent State was unable to hit its season-long mark in average points scored per game.

Weaknesses: Kent State struggles mightily from the free-throw line, shooting 74.3 percent. That reared its head in single-digit losses to Ball State, Ohio, Old Dominion and Duquesne.

Outlook: Kent State is going dancing for the first time in two-plus years. Does the outcome really matter? It’s a huge accomplishment for Todd Starkey and staff — even with a first-round exit lined up.

Strengths: The Golden Flashes offense, led by Katie Shumate (15.1 points per game) and Jenna Batsch (13.8) does enough to keep them in games, averaging 70.2 points per contest. In half of its losses, Kent State was unable to hit its season-long mark in average points scored per game.

Weaknesses: Kent State struggles mightily from the free-throw line, shooting 74.3 percent. That reared its head in single-digit losses to Ball State, Ohio, Old Dominion and Duquesne.

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Outlook: Kent State is going dancing for the first time in two-plus years. Does the outcome really matter? It’s a huge accomplishment for Todd Starkey and staff — even with a first-round exit lined up.

Team in 16 words: Kent State is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2002 season (No. 14 seed).

Record: 21-10

Coach: Todd Starkey

Player to watch: Katie Shumate

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Strengths: The Lancers can score, and they can score in bunches. Chloe Webb leads them with 21.1 points per game, but as a squad, they average 81.1 points to rank No. 11 nationally – thanks to its fast pace (78.3 possessions per 40 minutes).

Weaknesses: Cal Baptist’s defense allows opponents to score at will, allowing 70.9 points per game. It also struggles on the glass; its 30.1 defensive rebounds per game are the fifth-fewest per game in the country.

Outlook: The Lancers have been dominant since making the switch to Division I, losing a total of 26 games over the past four seasons — half of those coming last year. They should look at making the NCAA Tournament as a check of the box. Switch to DI? Check. Win the conference? Check. Make the tournament? Check. Win a tournament game? Maybe next year.

Strengths: The Lancers can score, and they can score in bunches. Chloe Webb leads them with 21.1 points per game, but as a squad, they average 81.1 points to rank No. 11 nationally – thanks to its fast pace (78.3 possessions per 40 minutes).

Weaknesses: Cal Baptist’s defense allows opponents to score at will, allowing 70.9 points per game. It also struggles on the glass; its 30.1 defensive rebounds per game are the fifth-fewest per game in the country.

Outlook: The Lancers have been dominant since making the switch to Division I, losing a total of 26 games over the past four seasons — half of those coming last year. They should look at making the NCAA Tournament as a check of the box. Switch to DI? Check. Win the conference? Check. Make the tournament? Check. Win a tournament game? Maybe next year.

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Strengths: The Lancers can score, and they can score in bunches. Chloe Webb leads them with 21.1 points per game, but as a squad, they average 81.1 points to rank No. 11 nationally – thanks to its fast pace (78.3 possessions per 40 minutes).

Weaknesses: Cal Baptist’s defense allows opponents to score at will, allowing 70.9 points per game. It also struggles on the glass; its 30.1 defensive rebounds per game are the fifth-fewest per game in the country.

Outlook: The Lancers have been dominant since making the switch to Division I, losing a total of 26 games over the past four seasons — half of those coming last year. They should look at making the NCAA Tournament as a check of the box. Switch to DI? Check. Win the conference? Check. Make the tournament? Check. Win a tournament game? Maybe next year.

Team in 16 words: The Lancers are making the NCAA Tournament for the first time after completing their DI transition.

Record: 28-3

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Coach: Jarrod Olson

Player to watch: Chloe Webb

Strengths: Adrianna Smith was fantastic for the Black Bears, averaging 16.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per to go along with 4.7 assists. Smith was the only player to accomplish those marks this season.

Weaknesses: Maine’s slow pace limits its offensive ceiling. It averaged 64.3 points per game, and though its defense held opponents to 56.5, that was against non-tournament competition.

Outlook: A first-round loss is happening, but the defense and Smith’s play will keep it from being a blowout. Take the under if you’re a betting person.

Strengths: Adrianna Smith was fantastic for the Black Bears, averaging 16.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per to go along with 4.7 assists. Smith was the only player to accomplish those marks this season.

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Weaknesses: Maine’s slow pace limits its offensive ceiling. It averaged 64.3 points per game, and though its defense held opponents to 56.5, that was against non-tournament competition.

Outlook: A first-round loss is happening, but the defense and Smith’s play will keep it from being a blowout. Take the under if you’re a betting person.

Strengths: Adrianna Smith was fantastic for the Black Bears, averaging 16.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per to go along with 4.7 assists. Smith was the only player to accomplish those marks this season.

Weaknesses: Maine’s slow pace limits its offensive ceiling. It averaged 64.3 points per game, and though its defense held opponents to 56.5, that was against non-tournament competition.

Outlook: A first-round loss is happening, but the defense and Smith’s play will keep it from being a blowout. Take the under if you’re a betting person.

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Team in 16 words: Maine plays at a 65.5 pace (sixth percentile) — and that is up from 64.5 last season.

Record: 24-9

Coach: Amy Vachon

Player to watch: Adrianna Smith

Strengths: Diamond Johnson averaged 4 steals per game, which trailed only Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo and Siena’s Elisa Mevius this season.

Weaknesses: Norfolk State ranks dead last in opponents average points per 100 possessions with 82.3.

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Outlook: No. 15 seeds are 0-116 all time in the tournament.

Strengths: Diamond Johnson averaged 4 steals per game, which trailed only Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo and Siena’s Elisa Mevius this season.

Weaknesses: Norfolk State ranks dead last in opponents average points per 100 possessions with 82.3.

Outlook: No. 15 seeds are 0-116 all time in the tournament.

Strengths: Diamond Johnson averaged 4 steals per game, which trailed only Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo and Siena’s Elisa Mevius this season.

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Weaknesses: Norfolk State ranks dead last in opponents average points per 100 possessions with 82.3.

Outlook: No. 15 seeds are 0-116 all time in the tournament.

Team in 16 words: Norfolk State’s ranked in the 95th percentile or better in opponents ppg five times since 2017-2018.

Record: 27-5

Coach: Larry Vickers

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Player to watch: Diamond Johnson

Strengths: If there’s one thing that stands out in a good way for the Blue Hose, it’s their defense. They limit the scoring opportunies and own the defensive boards.

Weaknesses: That’s where the praise ends. Presbyterian has a -3.3 scoring differential on the season, averaging 56.5 points on offense and 59.8 allowed per game on defense.

Outlook: Seventeen years after becoming a Division I school, Alauara Sharp led Presby to its first NCAA Tournament. Losing in the first round will still be considered a success.

Strengths: If there’s one thing that stands out in a good way for the Blue Hose, it’s their defense. They limit the scoring opportunies and own the defensive boards.

Weaknesses: That’s where the praise ends. Presbyterian has a -3.3 scoring differential on the season, averaging 56.5 points on offense and 59.8 allowed per game on defense.

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Outlook: Seventeen years after becoming a Division I school, Alauara Sharp led Presby to its first NCAA Tournament. Losing in the first round will still be considered a success.

Strengths: If there’s one thing that stands out in a good way for the Blue Hose, it’s their defense. They limit the scoring opportunies and own the defensive boards.

Weaknesses: That’s where the praise ends. Presbyterian has a -3.3 scoring differential on the season, averaging 56.5 points on offense and 59.8 allowed per game on defense.

Outlook: Seventeen years after becoming a Division I school, Alauara Sharp led Presby to its first NCAA Tournament. Losing in the first round will still be considered a success.

Team in 16 words: Great defensively but not so much on offense; it’s great just to be in!

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Record: 20-14 (8-8 Big South)

Coach: Alaura Sharp (First NCAA Tournament)

Players to watch: Bryanna Brady and Tilda Sjokvist

Strengths: The offense for Sacred Heart runs through Ny’Ceara Pryor. She attempts 15.2 field goals per game, averaging 19.4 points per contest with a 30.5 usage rate.

Weaknesses: The Pioneers struggled at the charity stripe (68.7 percent) as well as behind the arc (28.7 percent) on offense, and they also struggled on the boards defensively, averaging just 23.1 defensive rebounds per game.

Outlook: Pryor will provide the scoring volume that Sacred Heart needs to avoid a first-half blowout, but there aren’t enough complementary players around her to put them in upset territory.

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Strengths: The offense for Sacred Heart runs through Ny’Ceara Pryor. She attempts 15.2 field goals per game, averaging 19.4 points per contest with a 30.5 usage rate.

Weaknesses: The Pioneers struggled at the charity stripe (68.7 percent) as well as behind the arc (28.7 percent) on offense, and they also struggled on the boards defensively, averaging just 23.1 defensive rebounds per game.

Outlook: Pryor will provide the scoring volume that Sacred Heart needs to avoid a first-half blowout, but there aren’t enough complementary players around her to put them in upset territory.

Strengths: The offense for Sacred Heart runs through Ny’Ceara Pryor. She attempts 15.2 field goals per game, averaging 19.4 points per contest with a 30.5 usage rate.

Weaknesses: The Pioneers struggled at the charity stripe (68.7 percent) as well as behind the arc (28.7 percent) on offense, and they also struggled on the boards defensively, averaging just 23.1 defensive rebounds per game.

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Outlook: Pryor will provide the scoring volume that Sacred Heart needs to avoid a first-half blowout, but there aren’t enough complementary players around her to put them in upset territory.

Team in 16 words: The Pioneers are making the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years for the first time in history.

Record: 24-9

Coach: Jessica Mannetti

Player to watch: Ny’Ceara Pryor

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Strengths: Holy Cross is going dancing again, and it’s in large part to the play of Bronagh Power-Cassidy, who not only has improved her scoring average from 13.5 points last season to 16.6 this season, but her 24.2 PER and 26 percent usage rate are high-water marks in her four-year career.

Weaknesses: Holy Cross plays at an exceptionally slow pace, averaging 65.9 possessions per 40 minutes. Though it has a solid overall defensive rating and holds opponents off of the scoreboard, it’s one of the worst teams in the country (No. 351) in steals per game with just 4.9.

Outlook: Back-to-back years in the tournament out of the Patriot League is a fantastic accomplishment.

Strengths: Holy Cross is going dancing again, and it’s in large part to the play of Bronagh Power-Cassidy, who not only has improved her scoring average from 13.5 points last season to 16.6 this season, but her 24.2 PER and 26 percent usage rate are high-water marks in her four-year career.

Weaknesses: Holy Cross plays at an exceptionally slow pace, averaging 65.9 possessions per 40 minutes. Though it has a solid overall defensive rating and holds opponents off of the scoreboard, it’s one of the worst teams in the country (No. 351) in steals per game with just 4.9.

Outlook: Back-to-back years in the tournament out of the Patriot League is a fantastic accomplishment.

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Strengths: Holy Cross is going dancing again, and it’s in large part to the play of Bronagh Power-Cassidy, who not only has improved her scoring average from 13.5 points last season to 16.6 this season, but her 24.2 PER and 26 percent usage rate are high-water marks in her four-year career.

Weaknesses: Holy Cross plays at an exceptionally slow pace, averaging 65.9 possessions per 40 minutes. Though it has a solid overall defensive rating and holds opponents off of the scoreboard, it’s one of the worst teams in the country (No. 351) in steals per game with just 4.9.

Outlook: Back-to-back years in the tournament out of the Patriot League is a fantastic accomplishment.

Team in 16 words: The Crusaders are making consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000-2001.

Record: 20-12

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Coach: Maureen Magarity

Player to watch: Bronagh Power-Cassidy

Strengths: Anaya Brown stood out for the Skyhawks, averaging 15.1 points, 8.9 boards and 3.4 STOCKs. UT Martin ranked No. 21 (77.4 percent) and No. 14 (36.9 percent) in free throw and 3-point percentage, respectively.

Weaknesses: The Skyhawks slow pace resulted in just 67.3 possessions per 40 minutes. What’s more, their opponents averaged 93.6 points per 100 possessions.

Outlook: Kudos are deserved for turning around a season that appeared to be lost in early December. It’s the fifth overall NCAA Tournament for the Skyhawks — their first since 2014.

Strengths: Anaya Brown stood out for the Skyhawks, averaging 15.1 points, 8.9 boards and 3.4 STOCKs. UT Martin ranked No. 21 (77.4 percent) and No. 14 (36.9 percent) in free throw and 3-point percentage, respectively.

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Weaknesses: The Skyhawks slow pace resulted in just 67.3 possessions per 40 minutes. What’s more, their opponents averaged 93.6 points per 100 possessions.

Outlook: Kudos are deserved for turning around a season that appeared to be lost in early December. It’s the fifth overall NCAA Tournament for the Skyhawks — their first since 2014.

Strengths: Anaya Brown stood out for the Skyhawks, averaging 15.1 points, 8.9 boards and 3.4 STOCKs. UT Martin ranked No. 21 (77.4 percent) and No. 14 (36.9 percent) in free throw and 3-point percentage, respectively.

Weaknesses: The Skyhawks slow pace resulted in just 67.3 possessions per 40 minutes. What’s more, their opponents averaged 93.6 points per 100 possessions.

Outlook: Kudos are deserved for turning around a season that appeared to be lost in early December. It’s the fifth overall NCAA Tournament for the Skyhawks — their first since 2014.

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Team in 16 words: UT Martin lost eight of its first nine games, finishing .500 after winning its conference tournament.

Record: 16-16

Coach: Kevin McMillan

Player to watch: Anaya Brown

Strengths: The Islanders have three players who carry the load offensively, relying on Paige Allen, Alecia Westbrook and Mireia Aguado — all of whom average 11-plus points per game. Their tough defense limits opponents to 82.5 points per 100 possessions.

Weaknesses: The Islanders struggle from behind the 3-point line, where they shot 26.2 percent. Only 29 teams shot worse.

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Outlook: Only one No. 16 team ever knocked off a No. 1 seed before. The big win for the Islanders was over Lamar in the conference tournament … and making it to the Big Dance for the first time.

Strengths: The Islanders have three players who carry the load offensively, relying on Paige Allen, Alecia Westbrook and Mireia Aguado — all of whom average 11-plus points per game. Their tough defense limits opponents to 82.5 points per 100 possessions.

Weaknesses: The Islanders struggle from behind the 3-point line, where they shot 26.2 percent. Only 29 teams shot worse.

Outlook: Only one No. 16 team ever knocked off a No. 1 seed before. The big win for the Islanders was over Lamar in the conference tournament … and making it to the Big Dance for the first time.

Strengths: The Islanders have three players who carry the load offensively, relying on Paige Allen, Alecia Westbrook and Mireia Aguado — all of whom average 11-plus points per game. Their tough defense limits opponents to 82.5 points per 100 possessions.

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Weaknesses: The Islanders struggle from behind the 3-point line, where they shot 26.2 percent. Only 29 teams shot worse.

Outlook: Only one No. 16 team ever knocked off a No. 1 seed before. The big win for the Islanders was over Lamar in the conference tournament … and making it to the Big Dance for the first time.

Team in 16 words: The Islanders earned their first NCAA Tournament bid in school history after knocking off Lamar 68-61.

Record: 23-8

Coach: Royce Chadwick

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Player to watch: Alecia Westbrook

Portland 3

Southland Conference

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Strengths: Drexel continued its streak of playing elite defense, as 2023-2024 marked the 14th straight season where it has allowed fewer than 60 points per game. Its 55.5 allowed on average was the 12th-best mark this season.

Weaknesses: The pace. Was so. Slow. Drexel’s 63.5 pace was the fourth-worst mark in the country. With that, it scored 57.2 points per game.

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Outlook: When its opponents scored at least 60 points, Drexel was 2-10. Its other four losses came when its offense stalled, scoring 57, 56, 47, and 48 points, respectively. The lack of offense won’t play for Drexel’s hopes of making a decent run in the NCAA Tournament.

Strengths: Drexel continued its streak of playing elite defense, as 2023-2024 marked the 14th straight season where it has allowed fewer than 60 points per game. Its 55.5 allowed on average was the 12th-best mark this season.

Weaknesses: The pace. Was so. Slow. Drexel’s 63.5 pace was the fourth-worst mark in the country. With that, it scored 57.2 points per game.

Outlook: When its opponents scored at least 60 points, Drexel was 2-10. Its other four losses came when its offense stalled, scoring 57, 56, 47, and 48 points, respectively. The lack of offense won’t play for Drexel’s hopes of making a decent run in the NCAA Tournament.

Strengths: Drexel continued its streak of playing elite defense, as 2023-2024 marked the 14th straight season where it has allowed fewer than 60 points per game. Its 55.5 allowed on average was the 12th-best mark this season.

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Weaknesses: The pace. Was so. Slow. Drexel’s 63.5 pace was the fourth-worst mark in the country. With that, it scored 57.2 points per game.

Outlook: When its opponents scored at least 60 points, Drexel was 2-10. Its other four losses came when its offense stalled, scoring 57, 56, 47, and 48 points, respectively. The lack of offense won’t play for Drexel’s hopes of making a decent run in the NCAA Tournament.

Team in 16 words: Drexel has allowed fewer than 60 points per game in each of the last 14 seasons.

Record: 19-14

Coach: Amy Mallon

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Player to watch: Chloe Hodges

 

Regional breakdowns

Albany 1

South Carolina being the No. 1 overall seed is no surprise, of course, and if the bracket goes full chalk, we’ll get a showdown between the Gamecocks and Hanna Hidalgo and the Irish. The must-watch game of the bracket — assuming both win their respective first-round matchups — is Nebraska vs. Oregon State in Round 2. Nebraska is one of the few teams that has the ability to knock off South Carolina in regional play. We’ve seen how tough it played Iowa this year.

If Mackenzie Holmes isn’t 100 percent, Oklahoma could have an easier path to the Sweet 16 than anticipated.

Albany 2

Caitlin Clark and Iowa made it to the title game last year. If it hopes to return, it has one heck of a journey ahead of it. Iowa, arguably, has the hardest journey for a No. 1 seed, as it would have to overcome LSU or UCLA as potential favorites from the bottom of the region.

You saw the faces of the LSU players and staff, right? They seemed as surprised as us at home when they saw that it was a No. 3 seed instead of a No. 2 seed.

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Bulletin board material right there, and you have to feel for Rice who has to face the Tigers in the first round.

Whatever the Over/Under is on the West Virginia and Princeton game, hammer the Under. Both teams are tough defensively, and Princeton plays a grind-them-out style of ball. If it can defeat West Virginia, watching that defense against Clark and Iowa is going to be a lot of fun.

Portland 3

Butter or plain? No matter how you take your popcorn, get it ready. This is a region that is going to put on a show. JuJu Watkins, Jacy Sheldon, Georgia Amoore, Dyaisha Fair, Paige Bueckers — the buckets are endless here.

As fun as it’s going to be as viewers, for fans of the respective teams in the region — and, of course, the teams themselves – this is a tough, tough region.

Outside of how Watkins plays in the tournament as a true freshman, the other biggest storyline here is the health of Elizabeth Kitley, the three-time ACC Player of the Year for Virginia Tech. She injured her knee in the regular-season finale, and updates have been scarce. If Kitley is able to go and is anything close to 100 percent, Virginia Tech becomes a team who could easily make it out of the region and on to Cleveland.

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Circled in the region is the potential Round of 32 matchup between UConn and Syracuse. Fair vs. the combo of Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards is the type of game where you must fake a sick day to tune in.

The winner of Vanderbilt and Columbia has a tough matchup against Baylor, but you can pencil in Baylor vs. Virginia Tech in Round 2.

Portland 4

What have you done for me lately, or what have you earned? That’s the question with the No. 1 seed here. Texas – not Stanford – earned the No. 1 seed, and with Texas’ play in the Big 12 Tournament, you can see why. 

Cameron Brink and the Cardinal will get the winner of Maryland and Iowa State in Round 2. The Cyclones struggled against the Longhorns in tournament play, but seeing Brink against Audi Crooks will be fun.

Don’t sleep on Tennessee, as Rickea Jackson came on during the second half of the season and looked like the player we expected to see. She’s going to shine in the WNBA, but not before putting on a show in the tournament. Tennessee vs. Stanford in the Sweet 16? Yes, please.

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Gonzaga has a great Round 1 draw, but will face a challenge against Utah in the second round.

This still feels like Stanford’s region to lose.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; Photos of JuJu Watkins, Paige Bueckers and Hannah Hidalgo: Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, G Fiume / Getty Images, Joseph Weiser / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Culture

Ten Hag thinks Manchester United are unlucky. He's only partly right

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Ten Hag thinks Manchester United are unlucky. He's only partly right

You may have watched Manchester United reach their second FA Cup final in as many seasons by the leather of Haji Wright’s left boot and considered it a fortunate escape that their collapse from 3-0 up against Championship opposition did not deserve.

Erik ten Hag did not think United got lucky, though. If anything, he was at his most impassioned in his post-match press conference when discussing his side’s misfortune, specifically for Coventry City’s stoppage-time penalty, arguing it was an “absolutely crazy” decision to award a handball against Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Ten Hag took much the same line of argument before United’s last Premier League outing against Bournemouth. While accepting that “like a minister” he will bear ultimate responsibility for results, he could not help but bemoan his side’s bad luck over the past eight months.

“It’s huge. A lot went against us this season,” he said. And though United’s misfortune is not limited to refereeing calls in Ten Hag’s mind, that was where he trained his focus.

“You see all the penalties we conceded last week (against Chelsea and Liverpool) could also have been going in another way. You think over the course of a season sometimes you will get one, sometimes you will concede one. This season it feels like we only concede.”

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United have been awarded five penalties this season and have conceded 11, with four given away in the opening four games of the Champions League group stage. While most of those in Europe were not especially contentious, many of the six conceded in the Premier League have sparked debate.

Some have been soft — Rasmus Hojlund and Casemiro’s concessions against Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers in particular — and others more debatable. None, it should be noted, have resulted in the officials responsible being stood down for the subsequent round of fixtures, as happened after Wolves were denied a penalty at Old Trafford on the opening weekend of the season.

All those decisions, however, are a matter of opinion. Outside of offside, most refereeing calls are subjective by nature and, as the era of VAR has taught us, there are different definitions of what constitutes a clear and obvious mistake.

Ten Hag has more substantive grounds for complaint on arguably the biggest single reason for United’s struggles: player injuries and enforced absences. The revolving door of United’s treatment room has seen all but four senior squad members — Bruno Fernandes, Andre Onana, Diogo Dalot and Alejandro Garnacho — pass through it at some point this year.

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The 2-2 draw at Bournemouth was the first time United have named an unchanged line-up since the opening two games of a season ravaged by injury. According to data from transfermarkt, United’s squad have collectively spent 1,710 days sidelined since the start of the season.

Ten Hag said last week he has not been able to pick his “favourite” line-up since the 2-1 victory over Manchester City at Old Trafford in January of last year. Just as United’s injuries have appeared to abate, new concerns have cropped up.

Fresh problems for Willy Kambwala, Mason Mount and Sofyan Amrabat meant United’s absentee list swelled into double figures again ahead of the semi-final, while Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay both appeared to be carrying issues when substituted at Wembley.


Marcus Rashford walks off after being injured at Wembley (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

The absence of either of his first-choice left-backs for the majority of the season has, Ten Hag feels, had a material effect on United’s ability to play the way he wants. Lisandro Martinez’s unavailability has deprived him of a player who had a transformative effect during his first year in Manchester.

But is it all down to luck or could certain things be done differently? United have set to work restructuring the medical department since the appointment of head of sports medicine Gary O’Driscoll. Sources, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their relationships, believe there have been noticeable improvements since the former Arsenal club doctor’s arrival and that restructuring continues apace.

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Ten Hag’s training methods have also come under scrutiny and can be intense, particularly for those not involved in matches, who are put through rigorous sessions the day after games to maintain a consistent level of physical load across the squad. The fast, direct and often chaotic style of play that has been adopted this season also has to be considered as part of that equation.

Everybody knows by now that United face a lot of shots on goal — 574 in total in the Premier League this season. No top-flight team has faced as many on a per-game basis, but in the context of recent history, that figure only becomes all the more remarkable.

Since 2016-17, eight of the 15 top-flight sides to have faced more shots than United have been relegated. None have finished higher than 15th. At the current rate, United will surpass all of those 15 sides and yet even in the absolute worst-case scenario, they cannot finish any lower than 14th.

Ten Hag has defended United’s apparent willingness to give up shots by arguing they are predominantly low-quality chances and he has a point. The average shot United have faced in the league this season has had a 10 per cent chance of resulting in a goal.

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Andre Onana has been busy this season (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Brentford and Newcastle have the worst record in that regard, with the average shot having a 13 per cent chance of being scored. The difference between a 13 per cent and 10 per cent chance is small but significant. A marginal gain, if you like.

But if you concede at least 20 shots a game, as United have regularly been doing of late, and one in every 10 goes in, you’ll need to score three to win. The eighth-worst attack in the league, with only 47 goals in 32 league games, cannot count on that.

United’s 47 goals is level with Luton Town and in line with expected data, too. Defensively, Ten Hag’s side have conceded 48 goals — one of the Premier League’s better records — but from an expected total of 59.8.

Take one away from the other and United’s expected goal difference is -12.2, the fifth-worst in the league. Suddenly, that actual goal difference of -1 does not look so bad after all.

But nothing can change perceptions and narratives around a side like a favourable run of fixtures, in the short term at least, and United now face the Premier League’s bottom two at Old Trafford in the space of four days.

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It should not need saying, but United are a better side than both Sheffield United and Burnley by any comprehensive measure. They should not need to get lucky to prove it.

(Top photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

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How hockey helped make J.J. McCarthy one of NFL Draft's most intriguing prospects

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How hockey helped make J.J. McCarthy one of NFL Draft's most intriguing prospects

Dan Capuano’s funeral at St. Rita of Cascia High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side was standing-room only. Hundreds of firefighters from Chicago and around the country attended. Members of the St. Jude Knights youth hockey club were there, too, wearing their jerseys.

Capuano’s sons, Andrew and Nick, played for the Knights, a Northern Illinois Hockey League program that feeds many of Chicago’s powerhouse Catholic schools. Nick was on the 2012-13 team that won the Squirt A state championship.

Dan had devoted much of his time to the Knights before he died in the line of duty while fighting a warehouse fire on the South Side on Dec. 14, 2015.

That title-winning Knights team wanted to get back together to honor Capuano and his family, so in March 2016, a new team was formed. “Team Capuano” would play in the Shamrock Shuffle at the University of Notre Dame over a weekend. Their jerseys would be red and white and include Dan’s badge number: 1676.

There was an early hiccup. “The guy that was running the tournament, he didn’t want to let us in,” said Ralph Lawrence, a former St. Jude coach. “He said that the competition would be way too high.”

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Team Capuano just wanted to play together again. It got in. Things got chippy. During one game, a hit from behind sent center Luke Lawrence, Ralph’s son, hard into the boards.

“Could have paralyzed him,” Ralph said. “It was a bad hit.”

That’s when 13-year-old wing J.J. McCarthy rushed in. The future five-star recruit, Michigan quarterback, national champion and soon-to-be NFL draft pick was livid. He didn’t drop his gloves, but a scrum ensued.

“It was a little cheap hit in the corner,” Luke said. “J.J. was the first one to me, come into the corner and exchange a few words with the kid.”

“J.J. went off on the kid and got kicked out of the game,” Ralph said.

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The whole scene was unlike McCarthy. He was typically more collected on the ice — his father, Jim, one of the primary organizers of Team Capuano, didn’t like the outburst — but Luke was J.J.’s close friend, and the tournament was an emotional experience. And in hockey, leadership often involves going into the corners.

“Those kids played for something more than hockey that weekend,” Ralph said.

When it was over, Team Capuano — the team some thought didn’t belong in South Bend — won the tournament. A year later, they returned and repeated as champions.


Ice is in McCarthy’s blood. His mother, Megan, was a competitive figure skater. He started playing hockey in kindergarten. Organized football came later.

McCarthy is on record calling hockey his first love. What he experienced on the ice would ultimately help make him a better quarterback — one now on the verge of being drafted in the first round.

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He was 10 when the Knights defeated Winnetka in the Tier II Squirt A state championship in March 2013. He and Luke Lawrence assisted on the only goal of the game. It was a special season for a special group, one that eventually split up as players changed teams and levels.


McCarthy (far right) got used to winning early as part of a championship squad with the St. Jude Knights. (Courtesy of Ralph Lawrence)

McCarthy and Lawrence were inseparable for years. Competitive in everything, they played so much and so well together on the same line that they earned a nickname referencing Henrik and Daniel Sedin, the twin stars from the Vancouver Canucks.

The Lawrences and McCarthys stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts before practices or games. The dads would get coffee. Luke would get a bagel or a banana. McCarthy always ordered a strawberry frosted donut. Ralph Lawerence advised against the pre-skate pastry, but it became McCarthy’s go-to. (After McCarthy signed an NIL deal at Michigan, a medium iced coffee and a strawberry frosted donut became his official Dunkin’ Donuts meal in the Detroit area.)

“We laugh till this day,” Ralph said. “And it didn’t hurt him. His speed was fine. His stomach didn’t get upset.”

As a coach, Lawrence emphasized playing positionally strong in the neutral zone and the importance of forechecking and backchecking. But McCarthy played the game with feel.

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“He knew where the puck was going to be,” Ralph said. “He knew what the other team was going to do.”

As Lawrence watched McCarthy play football, he saw similar things happen on the field.

“He had an instinct,” Lawrence said. “It was the same way he had it on the ice.”

McCarthy and Lawrence moved on to the Northern Express, another Tier II team that played in the Central States Development Hockey League, which expanded outside of Illinois. It was time for a new challenge.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as a coach,” Northern Express coach Brent Dolan said.

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Dolan’s team excelled defensively. The team’s forecheck was relentless, but it didn’t score a lot.

“When J.J. and Luke came, that instantly changed,” Dolan said. “I would say our goals per game went up by two — and that’s massive in hockey.”

Checking was now permitted, too. There would be contact and a lot of it, a new and different level of physicality. McCarthy could give hits, take hits — and avoid them. The extra contact also meant extracurriculars, and McCarthy had no problem mixing it up.

“If I needed anything or if I was getting banged up in the corner, J.J.’s always there for me, getting in there and making sure that nothing’s gonna escalate,” Luke said. “He would always stick up for me.”


By the time he hung up his skates, McCarthy had developed into a fast, physical forward. (Courtesy of Ted Eagle)

Hockey requires quick decision-making under duress and amid contact. For McCarthy, as a forward, that often meant receiving the puck while exiting his own zone and deciding what to do as an opposing defenseman barreled his way.

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Pass the puck quickly to a teammate? Make a quick cut around the defenseman? Chip the puck past the opponent and go after it?

“People who don’t play hockey don’t really understand how fast of a sport it is and how many different components go into it,” Dolan said. “You have to make a decision with the puck, and you got to know where to go with it and execute that all in a split second. That’s not overexaggerating it. That probably helped J.J.’s vision in football.”

A shift on the ice can feel like standing in the pocket: chaos everywhere, violence nearby. You have to see it — or, more importantly, feel it — to overcome it. McCarthy, who was on Northern Express’ power play, had the poise and spatial awareness to operate in the maelstrom.

“Hockey definitely slowed down football,” Luke Lawrence said.

In particular, McCarthy developed a Patrick Kane-like knack for avoiding major hits. Dolan later saw him make hockey-like cuts playing for Michigan.

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“He’s trying to avoid getting drilled,” Dolan said. “The quick, subtle movements that you make in hockey probably helped him in the pocket and then also while he’s out on the edge rushing or scrambling.”

In the summer between seventh and eighth grade, McCarthy started training with Greg Holcomb, a private QB coach from Next Level Athletix. Holcomb saw a lot of natural ability. He also saw hockey’s influence.

“One of the reasons why he was so good at throwing off platform and moving around and changing direction is probably because in hockey he would get absolutely killed if he wasn’t able to skate past guys or make them miss,” Holcomb said. “Hockey definitely helped him.”


The first game of McCarthy’s final hockey season came, fittingly enough, at Yost Ice Arena on the University of Michigan campus.

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He was playing for the 14-and-under Chicago Young Americans, a Tier I team, during his freshman year at Nazareth Academy high school. McCarthy had always been talented enough to play at the highest level of youth hockey, but football overlapped with hockey too much, especially on the weekends.

CYA coach Ted Eagle didn’t mind the conflict because of who McCarthy was.

McCarthy had good hands and a quick release. He played hard, generated turnovers and scored. “He was a beast in hockey,” Eagle said. “He threw the body around and he wasn’t kind of this less skilled, bigger guy. He was just fast and physical.”

And he was a spark — a tone-setter. In hockey, you need that.

“I relied on him, too,” Eagle said. “It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the team when one or two guys are kind of pushing the pace.”

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McCarthy missed the first game of the tournament at Michigan because of a Nazareth football game then showed up in the first period of their second game against the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite junior team. Eagle considers it one of his favorite hockey memories. “He raced up, and he showed up mid-game and scored a couple of goals against one of the top teams in the country,” Eagle said.

There were three hockey practices every week, mostly after football practice, which resulted in some very late nights for a high school freshman. And there were the out-of-town games missed because of football games on Friday nights or Saturday mornings. CYA would play nearly 70 games that season, many that required travel, and McCarthy made more than 40 of them, according to Eagle.

The back-and-forth between football and hockey required discipline, but McCarthy was different. Eagle described him as a “front-of-the-line guy” in practice. He paid attention to the smallest details, asked plenty of questions, talked through different scenarios. Eagle said McCarthy craved the information to get better. Teammates were drawn to him.

“I’m sure a lot of people are aware of this by now,” Eagle said, “but he was just like an ultimate leader.”

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McCarthy hung up his skates after his freshman year of high school to focus on football. During his sophomore season the next year — and just days before Illinois’ Class 7A state championship game in 2018 — McCarthy’s throwing hand collided with a defensive lineman’s helmet as he released a pass.

“As a quarterback, it’s the kiss of death,” said Brody Budmayr, Nazareth’s former quarterbacks coach.

Everything stopped. McCarthy was in pain — serious, excruciating pain. After a few nervous moments, the sophomore starter with Division-I interest wanted to test his hand. He dropped back to pass, and then …

“It’s just the pain and anguish of you know it’s broke,” Budmayr said. “It’s him actually dropping to his knees and us thinking, ‘Wow, this is not good.’”

But there was no way he was missing Nazareth’s state championship game against St. Charles North. His parents found an orthopedic surgeon to work on Thanksgiving, and playing became a matter of pain tolerance.

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That wasn’t a problem. McCarthy was a hockey player.

In the state championship game, McCarthy was 15-for-21 passing for 201 yards and a touchdown as Nazareth dominated 31-10. A legend was born.

“Ultimately, he was the one that had to go out there,” Budmayr said. “He taped it up and he led us to a state championship.”


McCarthy’s hockey coaches are convinced his experience on the ice informed his play on the gridiron. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

On May 11, 2019, McCarthy announced he was committing to Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh. During the recruiting process, Nazareth head coach Tim Racki told the story about McCarthy and his broken thumb.

“When I told him he was a hockey player, (Harbaugh’s) eyes lit up,” Racki said. “And then when I told him that story, that sealed the deal in terms of the kid’s toughness and the grit that he had.”

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When McCarthy announced his college decision on social media, he thanked three hockey coaches — Lawrence, Dolan and Eagle — for allowing him to play both sports together.

“I would not be where I am without having had hockey in my life,” he wrote.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; photos: courtesy of Ted Eagle, Scott Taetsch / Getty Images

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Anonymous NBA player poll 2024: LeBron or Jordan for GOAT? Most overrated? Finals favorite?

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Anonymous NBA player poll 2024: LeBron or Jordan for GOAT? Most overrated? Finals favorite?

Sample size matters, people.

So when The Athletic launched its first NBA player poll in 2019, with 127 players answering questions about league matters so honestly because of the anonymity they were granted, the bar was set very high. We hit triple digits again last year (108 players), when the popular poll returned in full force after a COVID-19-induced hiatus because of limited locker room access for reporters during that time.

This time around, with familiar topics like MVP, “most overrated,” “player you’d least like to fight” and the referees to discuss, as well as new debates over the 65-game rule and the commissioner’s letter grade, our NBA staff interviewed a whopping 142 players from March 5 through April 11. That’s nearly a third of the entire league, with unfiltered views of stars and role players alike. And yes, all 30 teams had a voice.

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As is always the case, not every player answered every question. But the unprecedented participation means there are more opinions and insights than ever. There’s a bonus question, too, with players telling us which non-NBA player is their current favorite athlete (yes, as you might have imagined, Caitlin Clark received a few votes).

Away we go…

(Editor’s Note: In some cases, the combined percentages of all the answers to a question may not add up to 100 percent, because individual percentages have been rounded up or down to the nearest tenth of a percentage point.)


Here’s a not-so-bold prediction when it comes to the actual MVP race: Nikola Jokić is going to win it by a far more significant margin than the one you see above. This has been the trend with our polls, with players typically seeing it very differently from the 100 media members who vote on the award every year.

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So while Jokić is considered the heavy front-runner, it should come as no surprise that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander came so close to taking the top honor here. And bear in mind, these votes were taken before Oklahoma City secured the top seed in the Western Conference on the last day of the regular season.

Luka Dončić was simply incredible down the season’s home stretch, but — like SGA — didn’t see his full body of work reflected in the polling because of the timing factor in the process.

Jokić voters

• “He’s Jokić. He affects the game in many ways that people just can’t understand — both offensively and defensively, honestly. His defense has gotten a lot better.”

• “He’s unstoppable.”

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• “To be this effective the year after winning a championship, when it’s supposed to be harder, is impressive.”

• “Nikola Jokić is MVP. Consistent, still winning, still affecting the team in a number of ways. And it’s noticeable when he’s off the floor.”

• “He’s changed the game. His defense is underrated. He just knows the game so much.”

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SGA voters

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• “No one expected the Thunder to be what they are this season, and he’s the head of that snake. And he’s consistent every single game — same numbers, and they’re incredible numbers. And he plays on both ends of the floor.”

• “I think he’s the most consistent No. 1 option on his team without a consistent helper. Like, there isn’t really a clear second superstar even though Jalen Williams is coming on as well. I think what he’s doing every game is the most impressive, and it translates into wins.”

• “Obviously, he’s scoring the ball. But the way he shares it and has his team involved is very unselfish. And I think he’s up there in steals as well (tied with Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox for the league lead at two per game). And he’s been doing it all season long. …He’s just been really consistent in the style of play that he has. He’s just been dominating the game, and it’s not just points. It’s rebounds, assists, and he’s done a great job of leading that team over there.”

• “Underdog. Just with what OKC is doing, nobody would be mad if they were a 10 seed with their roster. If they were a 10 seed, nobody would be like, ‘Oh, they’re having a bad year.’ They’d be like, ‘They’re still rebuilding.’ … With what he’s doing, I think that’s my MVP.”


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Victor Wembanyama said last month that his friend and fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert would be a worthy winner of the 2023-24 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. But Wembanyama also added that, in future seasons, he, and not Gobert, would be the front-runner.

Their NBA peers, however, feel Wembanyama’s time has already arrived. Players voted the towering Spurs rookie as the league’s best defender right now.

Wembanyama led the league in blocks, averaging 3.58 per game. His next closest competitor, Utah’s Walker Kessler, recorded 2.41 blocks per game.

“He just makes it so hard to finish at the rim,” one opponent said of Wembanyama.

Another player said: “He’s changing the game. Players — you can’t say ‘scared’ — but he’s changing their shots. He deserves it.”

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The Grizzlies certainly looked terrified in this three-on-one Wemby highlight that went viral earlier this month.

Gobert, who would join Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace as the only four-time winners of the DPOY award if he wins it this season, finished fifth in our vote (6 percent). As you’ll see later on in this poll, this isn’t the last time Gobert is questioned by his peers.

Jrue Holiday, the top vote-getter by a wide margin in last year’s poll, placed second in the voting this year at 12.9 percent, barely trailing Wembanyama.

Wembanyama voter

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“He really, like, affects everything in the paint. He has dudes not even trying to go to the rim. He damn near leads the league in blocks right now, and this is his first year. He’s doing it in limited time too.”

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Holiday voter

“I think guard defenders are more impressive because they’re on the ball all the time. As a big man, you make up mistakes by helping off your man. So it’s easier. Protecting the paint is somewhat easier than staying in front of the ball.”

Lu Dort voter

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“(He) guards multiple positions, (is a) physical defender, guards without fouling — even when at the beginning of the season when the referees were calling fouls. Now, it helps him even more, because they’re not calling fouls.”


Wembanyama entered last year’s draft with enormous hype. The answers to this question once again demonstrate that, in the players’ eyes, the adulation was deserved.

“Some of the stuff he does offensively, the way he moves, it just looks so fluid,” one player said. “Just seeing him from afar, he’s playing the right way. He has the right principles. He’s focused on the right things. I like him.”

Wembanyama’s age factored into some of the players’ votes, as he turned 20 in January. Naturally, any team executive looking to build a title-contending team wants as long of a runway as possible.

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“You can have him for 20 years,” one of the players said.

Another player who chose Wemby explained his vote like this: “The upside and at 20 years old, you can see that if he stays healthy and continues to get better, he can be a truly great player. I don’t want to put a ceiling on him.”

Jokić, on the other hand, is 29. So, it says something about how much his peers respect his game that so many of them still would make him their first signee even though he’s nearly one decade older than Wembanyama. Jokić is seven years older than Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and four years older than Dončić.

Do you think Jokić faring so well is impressive? How about the fact that LeBron James is still getting votes in this young man’s category at the ripe old age of 39 (he’ll be 40 on Dec. 30). Ditto for Steph Curry, who turned 36 on March 14. The same can’t be said for 29-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won this category by a landslide in both 2019 (36.4 percent to Anthony Davis’ 10.4 percent) and 2023 (52.4 percent to Jokić’s 8.7 percent) but registered a measly 2.2 percent this time around.


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There’s just something about Gobert’s game that his peers don’t like. Maybe the skepticism stems from a lack of playoff success, as none of Gobert’s teams have advanced to the conference finals. Or maybe it all traces back to the bubble in 2020 when the Clippers’ Terance Mann buried all those 3s over Gobert in the West semifinals and sparked serious scrutiny about the perceived limitations of the big man’s game.

Gobert has the elite résumé, though, with the three DPOY awards, three All-Star appearances, an All-NBA Second Team selection and three All-NBA Third Team nods. He has the receipts from this season, as he was the indisputable anchor of a Minnesota defense that was the best in the league while Gobert finished second in rebounds (12.9) and sixth in blocks (2.1) on a team that came just two wins shy of earning the No. 1 seed in the West (it finished third). And as our resident Timberwolves expert Jon Krawczynski wrote in January, the truth about those Jazz teams was that their lack of perimeter defense was the real problem that was exposed in those playoffs. These Timberwolves don’t have that deficiency.

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Still, Gobert joins Draymond Green (2019) and Trae Young (2023) as the latest winner of this undesirable award.


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Seven seasons in, Derrick White’s top claim to NBA fame is finishing 16th in the media’s 2018-19 Most Improved Player voting and being named to the 2022-23 NBA All-Defensive Second Team. Jalen Williams, in his second season, placed second in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting but was also routinely mistaken on opposing telecasts for the Thunder’s “other” Jaylin Williams. Both Jalen Williams and White were lightly recruited coming out of high school.

So yes, in other words, they’re very familiar with the experience of being underrated. And while both are receiving more acclaim, they’re not the ones commanding the brightest spotlight on their respective teams.

White plays in the shadows of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porziņģis and Holiday. Williams, meanwhile, is on a dynamic young Thunder team where Gilgeous-Alexander commands most of the spotlight alongside big man Chet Holmgren.

One of the players who voted for White said, “I say that every single day: He’s one of the most underrated players in the league. They talk about him more (now), but they still don’t talk about him enough.”

Said another: “(White) defends really well (and) does a little bit of everything on offense.”

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It’s notable, too, that Gilgeous-Alexander finished fourth in the players’ most-underrated voting even though he’s a virtual lock to be an All-NBA First Team selection by the media for the second season in a row.

“I don’t know if you can even say it anymore because he’s starting to get his due, but from a players’ perspective, it doesn’t feel like it’s covered enough,” an SGA voter said. “But what Shai has done this year, just how his progression has gone … I don’t know if you can call him underrated, but it almost feels like how for all those years they were talking about Damian Lillard (during his Portland years), how he was kind of flying under the radar (because of Steph Curry). But if you asked players, (they would’ve said) he’s one of the best guards in the league, in the top two. So I’m starting to see some of that with how we’re talking about Shai.”


The legend of James Johnson grows yet again.

Not only is the 6-foot-7, 240-pound, 37-year-old tough guy now a three-time winner of this award, but he continues to inspire fear in his opponents despite playing in just nine games this season. The Pacers forward has been mostly out of sight, but he’s not out of mind.

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As many players discussed, it’s Johnson’s formal training as an actual fighter that most concerns them. He previously said that he holds a 20-0 record as a kickboxer, is 7-0 in mixed martial arts fights and has a black belt in karate. His nickname is “Bloodsport.” Need we say more?

In a January podcast interview with former NBA player Ryan Hollins, Johnson shared his opinion that, with a year of training in ground defense, he could beat UFC heavyweight legend Jon Jones in a fight.

Here’s the best part of Johnson’s latest season, though: Johnson re-signed with Indiana just two days after the game ball kerfuffle between the Pacers and Bucks on Dec. 13. Johnson had been available all season long, but the Pacers just so happened to come calling for him to return after that wild night in which Antetokounmpo gave them all the Big Brother treatment.

Johnson has been on board ever since, with a brief interruption for paperwork purposes. Indiana had to waive him to complete the Pascal Siakam trade with Toronto on Jan. 17 but signed him to a 10-day contract two days later before signing him for the rest of the season.

“He can actually fight,” one player said. “He’s different. He’s crazy. He’s one of those where you won’t win, but if you do win, you’ll have to kill him.”

Another player said: “Is he still in the league? He’s a triple black belt. I’m not f—ing with James. There’s other guys (where) I might actually lose the fight, but I’m not f—ng with James. He might kick me in my head.”

One of Johnson’s former teammates said: “J.J. is actually the coolest dude ever. He’s super cool. I just know his reputation. I know if you mess with him, it can get like that. But he’s one of my favorite teammates that I’ve had.”

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Speaking of consistency in this category, Steven Adams (6-11, 250) takes second place behind Johnson for the third consecutive time. The Houston Rockets big man hasn’t played since Jan. 22, 2023, when he suffered a posterior cruciate ligament sprain in his right knee that would later require surgery. But like Johnson, the intimidation factor remains.

“(Adams) knows all the MMA stuff, and he can get you in a chokehold real quick,” one Adams voter said. “He’ll be nice with it, but he’ll choke you out and be like, ‘It’s OK, buddy.’”

And how’s this for a terrifying thought for Rockets opponents during an on-court melee? A healthy Adams and his 7-4, 290-pound teammate, Boban Marjanović, in the same scuffle. The Serbian big man, who played a villain in “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” and starred in the below fight scene with Keanu Reeves, garnered votes as well.

“John Wick 3,” one Marjanović voter said in explaining his choice. “It’s not like he can fight, but he’s huge.”

You may have noticed Wembanyama received a vote for the player guys would least like to fight. Picking Wembanyama seemed like an iffy choice considering how thin he is. But, sure enough, Wemby garnered the player’s vote. The reasoning? He would have a massive reach advantage.

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Do you think MJ’s getting nervous? King James almost took his (player poll) GOAT crown this time around, and he’ll do just that next year if this voting trend continues.

In this endless debate, His Airness has experienced serious slippage for the third consecutive poll. Jordan had a huge edge in 2019 (73 percent to LeBron’s 11.9 percent) and was still nearly doubling him in 2023 (58.3 percent to 33 percent). Now the gap is only 3.8 percent.

It makes some sense, though, as James is doing things at this late stage of his career that players this age have never done. And these many feats, it’s quite clear, are changing the way some players see this debate. Consider the highlights of his past 14 months…

  • Broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record on Feb. 7, 2023
  • Led the Lakers to the West finals three months later
  • Led the Lakers to an (inaugural) In-Season Tournament title in December
  • Became the first player to be named to a 20th All-Star team in February
  • Was one of three players to average at least 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds this season (the others were Jokić and Dončić)
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As one of us wrote when James became the first player to cross the 40,000-point barrier in early March, the constant comparisons do a disservice to both. Their respective journeys have become too different for the discussion to maintain any merit. But James’ ability to remain elite for this long, and to put together this incredible body of NBA work that started during George W. Bush’s first term as U.S. president in 2003, is forever changing the way his career will be remembered.

As a final note here, someone did, in fact, vote for Paul Pierce as the GOAT. (Insert shrug emoji here…)


The folks who run Madison Square Garden call it “The World’s Most Famous Arena” and the “Mecca.” But what sounds like brash marketing hype also matches the opinions of NBA players.

One player responded: “MSG. It’s the Mecca. It’s classic.”

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Another who chose the Garden answered: “At MSG and Crypto, there are bright lights and celebrities.”

The Celtics’ arena historically has gotten a lot of praise for its fans, and nothing’s changed this season. One player said: “Crazy atmosphere. Some big sports fans. It’s so loud in there.” Another said he likes facing the Celtics in Boston because he enjoys playing in a “hostile environment.”


The architects who designed Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena, Charlotte’s Spectrum Center and Memphis’ FedExForum shouldn’t feel bad. Those arenas top this list because the home teams in those venues struggled to draw fans this season relative to other clubs.

Little Caesars Arena, which the Pistons share with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, “won” this dubious honor even though its average announced crowd was said to be a respectable 18,159 fans per game.

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“No fans, no atmosphere at the moment,” one player said.

Another added: “It’s very open. It’s got to be packed out for it to stand out, and that’s just not what it is.”

The Hornets ranked next to last in home attendance this season, prompting one of the players who voted for Spectrum Center to say, “It’s quiet. Good arena. But it’s quiet.”

One of the NBA’s off-court dramas this season swirled in Washington, where Wizards principal owner Ted Leonsis attempted to move the team and the NHL’s Washington Capitals to Alexandria, Va. Leonsis later scuttled those plans after they failed to move forward in Virginia’s legislature, and Leonsis subsequently reached a deal to remain at Capital One Arena and receive $515 million in funding from the local government to upgrade the arena.

Opposing players don’t like the arena much. One of them said: “Just the way it’s built, it’s a very cold arena. It feels like there’s no soul to it. It feels very empty when you’re there — not by how many people are there. There’s no warmth. I don’t really know how to explain it. … As a player, you like to feel enveloped by the crowd. It doesn’t feel like that.”

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You may be wondering why Denver’s Ball Arena, where fans have been rocking for years now, ranks seventh in the voting. The answer: the altitude, which is something the Nuggets and NHL’s Colorado Avalanche lean into as a psychological play. When visiting teams’ buses arrive in the arena’s loading dock, players see a sign that says: “Ball Arena WELCOMES YOU TO THE MILE HIGH CITY, ELEVATION 5,280 FEET.”

“Oh my God, that team needs to be moved,” one player said. “The altitude is crazy. I don’t like it at all. Every time I play there, I’m dog-tired.”


This is a case where players’ opinions appear to have changed in one year. Gregg Popovich won this vote last year, followed by runner-up Steve Kerr.

Erik Spoelstra placed third last year, receiving 9.5 percent of the vote, but has since vaulted to the top. He has come a long way in this poll since getting just 1 percent of the vote (12th place) in 2019. Considering that his Heat reached the NBA Finals by way of the Play-In last season, it’s safe to assume that earned him even more respect.

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“Just the Heat culture — they’re always competing,” one Spoelstra voter said. “They’re always trying to find a way (to win). I feel like they’re always taking guys that fit their system, and that makes them play very good.”

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Popovich remains highly regarded.

“Pop,” one player answered. “Easy. I love those types of coaches, like Pop and Spo. I would rather you ‘mother—’ me than smile in my face.”

The Knicks’ Josh Hart, who voted for Spoelstra, insisted that he be quoted on the record for this one.

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“Spo, hands down,” said Hart, who worked with Spoelstra at the FIBA World Cup tournament last summer when the Heat head coach was a Team USA assistant. “Quote me on that one. F–ing love Spo.”


Few coaches get more out of their teams than Tom Thibodeau does. But no coach gets more grief for it than Thibodeau, either.

Thibodeau’s Knicks finished 50-32 and earned the East’s second seed, but New York’s success this season and his two NBA Coach of the Year awards didn’t seem to matter much to players. He’s been named the coach players least would like to play for in all three polls, with this margin (37.7 percent ahead of Doc Rivers) the largest yet (he was 13.5 percent ahead of Chicago’s Jim Boylen in 2019 and 29.1 percent ahead of Houston’s Stephen Silas last year).

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“I’m too old for those practices,” one player said.

“He’s playing everyone 48 minutes,” another said.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. According to the NBA’s figures, four Knicks players ranked in the top 50 in minutes per game this season: Julius Randle (15th at 35.4 per game), Jalen Brunson (16th at 35.4 per game), Anunoby (35th at 34.0 per game) and Hart (50th at 33.4 per game).


It’s said that the NBA has improved parity in recent years, and that’s true.

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But players still think the NBA title race will come down to two teams: the defending champion Nuggets and the team with the league’s best regular-season record, the Celtics.

“Whoever comes out of the East is going to lose to the Western Conference teams,” one player said. “I just think when you look at the landscape out West, the best teams — Denver is my pick. OKC’s too young and they’re not big enough. … The one team that could give (Denver) problems would be the Clippers if they play at their best and they’re healthy, just based on matchups. But continuity in this league is everything, and Denver has it. So that’s my pick.”

Another player who voted for the Nuggets said: “It’s like a factory, plug and play. They play the right way, no matter who’s out there. Shoutout to Jokić.”

Still, Boston was a buzz saw during the regular season, compiling a league-best 64-18 record while finishing first in offensive rating and second in defensive rating.

“When you’ve got Jrue Holiday on the team with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who are shot makers, he’s a great defender obviously,” one player said. “And with Kristaps Porziņģis, they have got danger everywhere and defensively as well. Also, their fans make it hard to beat them, for sure.”

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All things considered, this report card could have been much worse for the refs. In essence, you had 21.9 percent of the players polled indicating that the officiating job was below average this season and 78.1 percent giving a grade of average or better. Given all the high-profile frustration with the officiating on display this season, as well as the midseason change in “points of emphasis” that empowered defenders again and suppressed scoring, no one should be surprised that they didn’t get straight As.

Voters who gave an F

“Sh–, they don’t know if they want us to play or not play.”

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“But they good people…”

Voter who gave a D

“It’s a different sense of entitlement that they feel, and they get a little bit more sensitive than they had previously. Some of the missed calls, it’s just like, that’s not OK. And some of them are blatant. It’s not an easy job by any means. (But) I’ve seen better years.”

Voter who gave a C

“The issue is there’s just too much volatility. But also, the inconsistency. I would say there’s eight elite officials, great officials, and then you have the rest of the 50 that are just, you could carry them in. It makes it hard on those guys. There’s eight elite officials who are great at communicating and at officiating, and then there’s four (who can do) one of each, where they can either officiate or they can communicate. And the rest of them are just … bad.”

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Voter who gave a B

“I don’t think people realize how hard that job is. All things considered, they’ve done a good job. That’s not a job I would ever want to have. There’s still definitely room for growth, but within the job and what’s asked of them and where the game’s moving, I think they’ve done a great job.”

Voter who gave an A

“They make the calls that the league wants them to make, right? … And now, we’re just adjusting again, because there’s more holding and grabbing now. So they’re allowing stuff now. I guess they just do whatever they’re told.”


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What’s more telling? That 46.2 percent of the players gave the commissioner an A or that none of the 130 players who responded gave him a D or an F?

“Some of the things he does, we’re not going to like, but that’s just us as players,” said one of the players who gave Adam Silver an A. “We like to complain about s—. But I think what he’s doing is great for the league. The In-Season Tournament. The Play-In. All this is to build the luster of the league and to build the TV ratings to make sure they’re in a certain place so when it comes time to do this new TV deal, we can do it.”

Another said: “I’d give him an A. The money’s good. The fans are enjoying the games. We’ve got a new In-Season Tournament that everybody looks forward to now, especially because there’s money on the line. I really wanted to win that In-Season Tournament. I had some plans for that money, for real.”

It’s not all perfect, of course.

“Everything is good except the All-Star Game, and that weekend wasn’t great,” said one player who still gave Silver an A. “Other than that, I feel like it’s been entertaining. I feel like the league’s been real competitive.”

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One player who gave Silver a B said: “There’s a big disparity with the referees still. Referees aren’t consistent with their integrity, the way they approach you, and the NBA has a huge problem on its hands. That’s the biggest thing in the NBA right now: the referees. Some people get calls and some people don’t get calls. It may be the same (play), but if it’s Trae Young or somebody else, it looks different.”

In terms of criticism for Silver, several players indicated officiating is one of the few areas in which they believe he has fallen short.

“The only reason (I’m giving Silver) a B and not an A is that I’m not sure that players have the liberty to speak out (against referees) the way it should be,” one player said. “I do, to a certain extent, understand why that is, because you’ve got to create a culture of togetherness and can’t just randomly criticize referees and all that stuff. But some of this stuff, especially with referees, they have an ego and they know that so they act a certain way toward you because they know you’ll lose money if you criticize them. … Adam’s doing a great job of maximizing our money in a great way.”


The new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players, enacted last summer, includes a provision that says players must appear in at least 65 games to be eligible for most end-of-the-season honors, including MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, the All-NBA teams and All-Defensive teams.

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From league officials’ perspective, the new rule is designed to get the league’s best players on the court more often. In addition to benefiting the fans who purchase tickets to games, the theory goes that having such a rule will make the league even more attractive to suitors for the upcoming media rights deal.

The rule has come under fire from some players, even though they voted to accept the new CBA. Keep in mind that the rule is one small part of a large, dense document that came as the result of thorough negotiations between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association that represents them. Neither side got everything it wanted.

But still, we wondered how players feel about the rule now. In the wake of the sensitive Embiid situation earlier this season, when the reigning MVP was roundly ridiculed for missing a nationally televised Jan. 27 game at Denver because of a left knee injury only to get hurt three days later when Jonathan Kuminga fell on the knee in a game at Golden State, the discussion about whether the rule was putting players in harm’s way was front and center for the second half of the season.

Exactly half of the players who answered the question said they’re against the rule.

“Obviously, I get why they do it in terms of wanting guys to play,” said one player who is against the rule. “But I also think guys will force themselves to play through things sometimes — obviously, the Embiid thing that happened, whether he was right or not to play. I just think it gets risky for guys. If you’re talking about MVP, I think for everyone in the league it’s clear who the MVP is, whether they play 65 or 82 games. From a player’s point of view, I think guys know who the MVP is. It’s always going to be whatever the top two or three or whoever those guys are. So, I just think it’s forcing guys to play sometimes when there (are) legitimate reasons (not to play).”

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Some of the players against the 65-game rule said they’re in favor of having a rule but would prefer the threshold be set at a lower number of games.

One player said: “I think that’s a lot of games, honestly, when you think about how the game is played. Back in the day, guys would play 80-some games. They would walk the ball up and post up. But we’re non-stop, and there’s a lot of wear and tear So, guys like Embiid, guys that are superstars in this league, there’s a situation where they might have to fight through games to get to a threshold to get an award. It’s kind of tough, kind of bulls— sometimes. But what if one of those guys, they’re at 60 games, they’ve got a bad knee injury and, in one of those five games, tears his meniscus because he’s trying to get an award? I don’t like that.”

Nearly 45 percent of the players who responded said they were in favor of the rule.

“Sixty-five games, that gives you a 17-game cushion to miss if you need rest or things like that,” one of the rule’s supporters said. “I’m all for it. You’ve got to be out there on the floor if you can.”


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Let’s face it, folks: During the 2023-24 college basketball season, no player was more compelling than Clark. And when we were enjoying March Madness, the women’s NCAA Tournament seemed to have more engaging storylines and colorful characters than the men’s.

This got us wondering: Is women’s basketball having a moment within the NBA too?

The answer appears to be a resounding “yes!”

In our survey, Clark not only ranked as the second-favorite current non-NBA athlete, but women’s basketball players — Sabrina Ionescu, Kelsey Plum, Angel Reese, JuJu Watkins, A’ja Wilson and Clark — were named on 12.2 percent of all NBA players’ ballots. Only NFL players were named on more ballots (39.1 percent of them) than women’s basketball players.

“She’s unreal,” one NBA player said about Clark, who went first overall last week to the Indiana Fever in the 2024 WNBA Draft. “I’m excited to see how her journey pans out and what she does for the women’s game.”

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Now that Clark has finished her college career, who, if anyone, will become the most popular NCAA women’s player? Maybe Watkins, the dynamic 6-foot-2 guard who just finished her first season at USC.

One NBA player said: “Her game is so pretty to watch. She’s so fluid, smooth. … I hadn’t watched a full game (of hers) until tournament time. I’d seen little clips and highlights and stuff. But watching her against UConn the other night, she definitely made a big fan out of me.”

Soccer players — none of them American — were named on the third-highest number of ballots, coming in at 11.3 percent.

Given that the NFL dominates the North American sports landscape, it should come as no surprise that it dominated our poll. Jackson, the Baltimore Ravens quarterback who won his second NFL MVP last season, has a bunch of fans in the NBA.

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“He’s one of the best QBs ever since he came into the league,” one player said. “His running ability is crazy.”

But it was one other NFL quarterback — a quarterback far less talented than Jackson — who drew one of the funniest responses in our entire poll: Cousins, the former Commanders and Vikings quarterback who recently signed a four-year, $180 million contract to join the Atlanta Falcons, with $100 million of that total guaranteed.

When an NBA player named Cousins as his favorite current non-NBA athlete, the response elicited a dumbfounded “Why?” from one writer from The Athletic.

The NBA player said: “Kirk Cousins because he gets paid and doesn’t have to win or don’t have to do anything and made $400 million off of one playoff win. Legend.”

(Illustration by John Bradford / The Athletic; top photos of Rudy Gobert, Victor Wembanyama and Adam Silver: Kenny Giarla, Ronald Cortes, Justin Tafoya / Getty Images)

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