The NCAA women's basketball conference tournaments are here, a sentence most didn't think would happen after the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will look different, but the brackets and seedings are beginning to take shape for both conferences and the NCAA tournament.
The second top-16 reveal by the Division I Women's Basketball Committee will take place Sunday in a 30-minute special on ESPN at 5 p.m. ET. It is moved up a day from its originally scheduled slot of Monday night during halftime of the game between Baylor and Texas.
Connecticut, led by sensational freshman Paige Bueckers, appears to have a tight hold on the No. 1 spot. But losses below the Huskies have jostled some teams out or into contention. Meanwhile, regular-season titles are at stake.
No. 4 Stanford won the Pac-12 regular-season title for the first time since 2014 with its win over No. 9 Arizona on Monday night. It's the 24th regular-season title for the Cardinal. No. 6 Louisville controls the ACC, but could potentially lose the crown after losing to FSU. The Cardinals close against Notre Dame with NC State at second in the standings.
And the SEC is primed for plenty more upsets in the final week of the regular season. No. 5 South Carolina and No. 3 Texas A&M will close out what has been an exciting slate in that conference.
The full schedule for the weekend is here. All games are a go as of Wednesday afternoon.
No. 19 Kentucky (15-6, 8-5) at No. 17 Georgia (17-4, 9-4)
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, SECN
WHY WATCH: Kentucky was the final seed in the first top-16 team reveal and was blown out by 21 points against South Carolina the following weekend.
Georgia was seeded 12th overall and the final team in on the 3-seed line. They head into the final weekend on a four-game winning streak that includes an overtime victory over Alabama and a two-point win over Tennessee.
They are fighting for positioning heading into the SEC tournament that begins March 3. Georgia is currently third and Kentucky fifth, with Tennessee (13-6, 7-4) in between.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The key to shutting down Kentucky is to shut down Rhyne Howard, who averages 19.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. But even when she plays well — like a 32-point outing in the January meeting against South Carolina — it's not enough for the win without help. Look for Chasity Patterson, a senior guard who leads the team in steals and is second in scoring.
Georgia is the best team in the SEC defensively and is the only team to rank in the top-5 in every defensive category. The Bulldogs allow an average 59.1 points per game to opponents and average 6.4 blocked shots per game. Center Jenna Staiti has half of them (3.1 BPG) and leads the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game.
No. 11 Indiana (14-4, 12-2) at No. 15 Ohio State (13-4, 9-4)
Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, BTN
WHY WATCH: Indiana barely made it into the top-16 seeds in the first reveal, coming in at No. 15 despite ranking ninth in the NET. All four losses are against teams currently ranked (Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, Ohio State) by an average margin of six points. The Buckeyes are the last notable team on their schedule before the Big Ten tournament begins, and they'll look to avenge a loss to look better in the NCAA committee's eyes.
Ohio State's season is coming to an end since the program self-imposed a postseason ban because of potential infractions. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten tournament in 2018 and lost to Maryland in the championship game last year.
LAST MEETING: Ohio State won, 78-70, on Jan. 28. The Buckeyes outscored Indiana, 25-16, in the final frame and were led by 25 points from Braxtin Miller and 12 rebounds by Dorka Juhasz. Grace Berger scored 26 for Indiana, which went 1-for-14 from 3-point range.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Indiana's Mackenzie Holmes is one of the conference's best shooters, making 56.8 percent of her shots and averaging 17.3 points per game. She's also one of the best defenders low, averaging 2.7 blocks per game. Berger is often setting her up, averaging 5.4 assists per game
Ohio State's Jacy Sheldon is a 50% shooter averaging a team-best 16.9 points per game. Juhasz averages 14.9 points, but has struggled at the free-throw line (28-for-65). Her 11.2 rebounds per game is second in the Big Ten behind national player of the year contender Naz Hillmon of Michigan.
The Buckeyes rank 10th in the nation in scoring (82.3 PPG), good for third in the conference. Indiana's strength is on defense, allowing a conference second-best average of 59.4 points per game. Their margins of victory are approximately the same.
No. 5 South Carolina (18-3, 13-1) at No. 3 Texas A&M (20-1, 11-1)
Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
PRIOR: Texas A&M plays at Alabama (15-6, 8-6) on Thursday night, while South Carolina hosts Ole Miss (9-9, 3-9).
WHY WATCH: This is likely to be the game of the weekend and has been circled on calendars for a long time now. These two squads are the best of the SEC, which is saying a lot this year given the talent from top to bottom. The SEC led all conferences with five teams in the top-16 NCAA bracket reveal, led by South Carolina at No. 2 overall and Texas A&M at No. 5 overall, just out of the 1-seed line.
A lot changed since then, shuffling around ESPN's projections for the seed lines and what the committee is thinking ahead of the second reveal. South Carolina fell to Tennessee in another game they were set up to win late, while Texas A&M benefited from then third-ranked Louisville losing in an upset.
This game could determine the regular-season conference champion, and therefore the No. 1 seed in possibly the best conference tournament of the postseason.
NOTABLE: Texas A&M is 8-0 against ranked teams this season and its only loss is in overtime to LSU in mid-January. South Carolina has losses against ranked teams in NC State, Connecticut and Tennessee.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Gamecocks bring block city every night with Aliyah Boston (3.2 BPG) and Victaria Saxton (1.7). Boston dominates the boards, but can get into foul trouble early and easily. The backcourt duo of Zia Cooke (15.9 PPG) and Destanni Henderson (12.2 PPG) can take over games when needed.
N'dea Jones averages a double-double (12.0 PPG, 10.2 RPG) for Texas A&M. She's scored a total of 19 points over the last four games, shooting 5-for-20. The Aggies play around a balanced group of seniors and have more experience winning the big games.
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