If ever a season wanted an additional day prior to March, that is it. Thank goodness for jump years as a result of we nonetheless have such a lot of questions.
As Baylor, Oregon and South Carolina stay profitable, are they truly the groups to overcome? Which groups have essentially the most to end up with lower than 3 weeks to move prior to Variety Monday?
With Duke on a roll and NC State stumbling, can we truly know the id of the Triangle’s best possible crew? What concerning the Chicago space, as Northwestern rises and DePaul tries to complete off the Large East?
As Championship Week arrives, are we able to observe for a 30th day in February to determine all of this?
ESPN.com journalists Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays and Charlie Creme cope with a few of the freshest subjects in girls’s faculty basketball this week.
The Mountain West event guidelines off March 1, and plenty of convention tournaments get underway in a while after. Give us a crew with one thing to end up when Championship Week opens?
Mechelle Voepel: The 5 video games in a row Tennessee misplaced from Feb. 2 to 20 have been all in opposition to truly just right groups, 4 of them have been ranked, two within the peak 10. In order that needs to be considered. Nonetheless, it was once a five-game dropping streak in February. Tennessee’s handiest victory over a ranked crew hardly ever counts: vs. then-No. 15 Notre Dame in November, when it wasn’t rather absolutely glaring the Irish have been nowhere close to a Best 25 crew.
The SEC Now team explores Kellie Harper’s profession in Knoxville, from her time as a Tennessee superstar to now main this system.
The Woman Vols beat Ole Pass over on Thursday — a loss in that sport would had been disastrous — however they are going to have a difficult regular-season finale at Auburn on Sunday once they opt for their 20th victory. Tennessee hasn’t ever overlooked the NCAA event, and a win over the Tigers and a few indicators of energy within the SEC event may just truly assist the Woman Vols.
Talking of energy, Texas A&M did not have it Thursday in a loss to Alabama. Credit score the Purple Tide for back-to-back wins over Mississippi State and Texas A&M, however the Aggies regarded torpid of their house finale, and now head into their regular-season finale at South Carolina. Except they are able to hand the Gamecocks their first SEC lack of the season, the Aggies will cross into the SEC event on a two-game skid and desiring a spice up.
Graham Hays: Is Stanford truly a identify contender or the most productive of the groups now not rather just right sufficient to win all of it? To me, this is nonetheless unresolved. Dropping at house to Oregon previous this week strikes the Cardinal to Zero-Three in opposition to the opposite two groups atop the %-12. And along with a loss to Texas, Stanford does not have any wins in opposition to groups within the peak echelon. The Cardinal are lots just right — this is not an try to cut price beating Oregon State two times, Gonzaga and Mississippi State. However for a crew ranked No. four regardless of dropping two large items to harm in DiJonai Carrington and Haley Jones (which might sink maximum contenders), let’s have a look at a commentary sport. Let’s have a look at the Cardinal beat UCLA if the 2 meet in a %-12 event semifinal after which push Oregon to the twine or past in a last.
Charlie Creme: NC State is both in a hunch or has already peaked. The ACC event will resolve which it’s. For many of the season it seemed NC State was once in that subsequent workforce of groups in the back of South Carolina, Baylor and Oregon. There was once some query as to the selection of in point of fact large wins, however the Wolfpack have been a just right crew that had quite a lot of alternative ways to win. Issues have got a bit of blurrier the previous two weeks. Over a up to date span of 3 losses in 4 video games, NC State made simply 23.7% of its Three-point makes an attempt. Ball and participant motion have stagnated and the Wolfpack have relied an excessive amount of on Elissa Cunane inside of. NC State wishes a reboot that, at this level, handiest the ACC event may give.
South Carolina is No. 1 within the AP ballot, Oregon is No. 1 within the RPI and Baylor is unbeaten with Lauren Cox. If you’ll handiest pick out one, which is truly the crew to overcome?
Hays: Baylor and South Carolina have not finished anything else to decrease themselves, however Oregon satisfied me in February. All 3 groups beat UConn, however Oregon profitable through 18 issues at Gampel Pavilion was once essentially the most spectacular results of 2019-20. It was once Oregon’s 1/3 sport in 5 days (spanning 1000’s of miles) — coming at the heels of back-to-back contention video games in opposition to Oregon State every week previous. That was once nearly scheduling a integrated loss, except for the Geese did not lose. And whilst the primary a part of Sabrina Ionescu’s day this previous Monday was once of infinitely extra result than the basketball sport that adopted within the night, her skill to compartmentalize and carry out within the win at Stanford — and the crew’s skill to practice her lead — displays one thing about how smartly the Geese tackle demanding situations.
The 3s are falling once more for Satou Sabally and Oregon’s offense is a sight to behold, however this may be a massively stepped forward defensive crew. Possibly inferior to Baylor or South Carolina however greater than just right sufficient to enrich the offense en path to a championship.
Oregon makes use of just right ball motion and will get it to Minyon Moore, who knocks down a Three-pointer from the nook.
Voepel: Oregon is the most obvious solution, and most likely the precise one for the entire causes Graham issues out. Nonetheless, let’s make fast circumstances for the Gamecocks and the Woman Bears. For something, essentially the most power to win all of it is not on South Carolina or Baylor, either one of that have gained fresh NCAA titles. It is on Oregon, which hasn’t finished that.
Each South Carolina and Baylor are undefeated in convention play, and whilst no person would say that the SEC or Large 12 are as difficult because the %-12, it nonetheless method the Gamecocks and Woman Bears have effectively navigated the groups that know them best possible.
It could now not appear proper to name South Carolina a pleasing wonder, making an allowance for the entire ability at the Gamecocks. However even trainer Morning time Staley has stated she did not understand how smartly they’d come in combination, particularly with 3 newcomers beginning. South Carolina can ranking in quite a lot of techniques, it has a senior level guard in Tyasha Harris who has been an incredible chief this 12 months, and the newcomers all have performed past their years. It’s essential see this workforce being the very best mixture of younger zeal and veteran enjoy to get to an NCAA identify.
Profitable the SEC regular-season championship is only the start for the exceptional newcomers Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Brea Beal.
For Baylor, being rather underneath the radar nationally — up to a No. 2-ranked protecting champion will also be — performs into the Woman Bears’ arms. When Baylor was once seeking to protect its NCAA identify in 2013 after a 40-Zero season, that crew was once thought to be the favourite and appeared to turn out to be overconfident. Then Louisville disenchanted Baylor within the Candy 16. It is a very other workforce of personalities, they usually appear to be flourishing although the nationwide highlight is not as a lot on them. They are additionally very robust defensively and feature an offense this is unfold out amongst more than one avid gamers, and each are conducive to creating some other identify run.
Creme: As just right as Baylor and South Carolina had been, making this solution a consensus was once simple. The Geese have overwhelmed 5 ranked groups this month. The Woman Bears and Gamecocks have blended to overcome 3. Oregon has merely finished extra in opposition to higher pageant extra not too long ago.
Who has grew to become out to be the season’s Most worthy switch?
Hays: There are applicants beneath the radar who’re value citing, Samford’s Sarah Myers and Texas Southern’s Ciani Cryor entrance and heart. There are transfers who’re going to steer the championship — Louisville’s Elizabeth Balogun, Baylor’s Te’a Cooper and Oregon’s Minyon Moore all are evoked. However I am not positive any switch has been as indispensable on the best possible stage of pageant as Arizona State’s Ja’Tavia Tapley.
This was once the improper 12 months to be shorthanded within the %-12, and the Solar Devils confronted that risk after pronouncing good-bye to a few starters in a deep rotation this is central to how Charli Turner Thorne needs to play. Stepping in as a graduate switch from USC, Tapley leads Arizona State in issues, rebounds, blocks and steals. She is even 5th in assists regardless of doing a lot of the grimy paintings within the put up. In a device that does not prioritize person fulfillment, it is nonetheless a outstanding effort from any individual who averaged simply six issues and 5 rebounds consistent with sport in her most efficient season at USC.
Creme: My nod is going to a switch tandem at Kentucky. Sabrina Haines (Arizona State) and Chasity Patterson (Texas) have given nationwide participant of the 12 months candidate Rhyne Howard the type of help that has now not handiest helped make Howard extra environment friendly, but additionally given the Wildcats the stability this is important to compete within the SEC. Patterson joined the crew after the primary semester and is Kentucky’s second-leading scorer. Haines is the convention’s third-most correct Three-point shooter. Howard overlooked two video games after breaking a finger in her nonshooting hand in opposition to Missouri and has been taking part in with a small forged ever since, but Kentucky continues to be in rivalry for a top-four SEC end and the coveted double-bye within the convention event. That does not occur with out Haines and Patterson appearing up in Lexington.
Baylor’s Te’a Cooper cuts thru a couple of Oklahoma State defenders and lays in a shot plus the foul within the first part.
Voepel: Graduate transfers have turn out to be lovely common, however it is fascinating that the luck of 1 at Baylor led trainer Kim Mulkey to switch her general philosophy about that possibility. Chloe Jackson was once this sort of luck ultimate season — she was once essentially the most remarkable participant on the Ultimate 4 as Baylor gained its 1/3 NCAA identify — Mulkey was once prepared to make use of the similar components this season. Jackson was once now not a so-called true level guard, however discovered at the process rather well. Her alternative, Te’a Cooper, sees herself as a real level guard, and was once desperate to fill that position. And he or she has are compatible in smartly. She’s moment at the crew in scoring and assists, as Baylor has gained its 10th consecutive Large 12 regular-season identify. In her one season in Waco, Cooper is proving to be simply what the Woman Bears want, and is more than likely serving to herself within the WNBA draft, too.
Momentum is large with March simply across the nook. Which groups appear to be peaking on the proper time, and which might be in all probability heading within the improper course?
Charlie Creme: Two groups I am beginning to fear about are Florida State and Mississippi State. As not too long ago as 3 weeks in the past each and every gave the look of just right bets to host first- and second-round NCAA event video games. Now it could now not occur for both. The Seminoles, just right sufficient to overcome Louisville on Feb. 6, have since misplaced to each Duke and Georgia Tech. The offense is suffering to discover a rhythm, which is strange for a veteran crew this time of 12 months. The Bulldogs are in higher form than Florida State at this level, however they’ve additionally been scoring-challenged in a couple of latest losses to Kentucky and Alabama. Freshman Rickea Jackson and sophomore Jessika Carter are nonetheless handing over. It is veterans Jordan Danberry and Chole Bibby who’re suffering down the stretch, hurting the momentum of a crew that prior to this fresh skid had misplaced one sport — a slender two-point defeat at South Carolina — since Dec. Eight.
Maryland, then again, is steamrolling. The Terps have gained 12 consecutive video games with a 24.Eight-point moderate margin of victory. Lofty preseason expectancies have been put unsure when Maryland regarded out of sync in early losses to NC State and Florida State. Now the Terps are assembly that preseason outlook after which some. Regardless of the presence and just right profile of Northwestern, the way in which Maryland has performed the previous six weeks make the Terps the heavy favourite within the Large Ten event and to seal up that ultimate No. 1 seed for the NCAA event.
With underneath 30 seconds to play, Haley Gorecki drives into the enamel of the protection and rankings in visitors to clinch Duke’s 70-62 win over No. Eight NC State.
Mechelle Voepel: Monday’s Duke-NC State matchup looked like a case of groups passing each and every different at the stairwell: The Blue Devils have been headed up, and the Wolfpack down. NC State were given as top because the No. four rating within the Related Press Best 25 ballot on Feb. 10, however then misplaced 3 of the following 4, all at house, and wanted a overdue jumper to edge Miami through a basket at the highway. In that extend, the Wolfpack averaged simply 58.Eight issues. In the meantime, Monday’s win over the Wolfpack was once Duke’s 10th victory in its previous 12 video games.
However then glance what took place on Thursday: NC State had a robust house finale, beating Syracuse 69-60 and clinching the No. 2 seed within the ACC event. Duke went bloodless from the Three-point line and misplaced at Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack shut the steady season at Virginia on Sunday, whilst the Blue Devils end with the contention rematch in opposition to North Carolina. The Tar Heels are on a six-game dropping skid, however they may salvage some just right vibes if they are able to beat the Blue Devils.
So at the moment, the mojo is extra with the Wolfpack, and has light a bit of for the Blue Devils. We’re going to see if that is nonetheless the case after Sunday’s video games.
Graham Hays: DePaul is without doubt one of the most pleasurable groups within the nation to observe, so only from a basketball appreciation point of view, I’m hoping the Blue Demons did not height too quickly. It isn’t such a lot panic about ultimate week’s admittedly lopsided loss in opposition to Villanova — Doug Bruno needed to consider he would get another irritating provide from Harry Perretta on his manner out the door. However it is the imprecision in that loss blended with now not figuring out if the Large East has ready the Blue Demons for what regarded every now and then like a valid Elite 8 run. The Blue Demons shoot hot-and-cold for a crew that takes a ton of Three-pointers, and they have been getting much less and not more correct all over convention play.
As a result of some convention tournaments do not get started for greater than week, what are the largest regular-season races to observe that have an effect on Bracketology and bubble groups?
Creme: Most likely the one largest sport left at the regular-season time table after this weekend will likely be performed in Convention USA. Rice and Outdated Dominion are set to satisfy in Houston on March 7, and the winner is more likely to win the steady season identify outright. A win through the Owls they usually will be the league’s computerized bid for Bracketology functions. The Monarchs and Western Kentucky would stay within the box as at-large choices. Rice would now not be an at-large crew must it lose, so that’s the distinction between Convention USA getting two groups within the projected box or 3. By way of taking that additional spot, the Owls knock out some other doable bubble crew and one fewer at-large spot could be to be had.
All that results in the larger image of conceivable bid stealers. Non-Energy five groups equivalent to Central Michigan, Gonzaga, Missouri State, Princeton and South Dakota are all going to make the NCAA event. If any of them lose of their convention tournaments, then that league choices up an additional crew within the box, stealing a possible at-large bid from any individual else. Georgia Tech, UCF, West Virginia, Iowa State, Purdue and Tennessee must be gazing the ones groups and meetings carefully — and rooting onerous for the favorites to win.