The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

No. 3 LSU has work to do after takedown

Powered by Boston, defending champion Gamecocks still on top.

- By Megan Gauer

The NCAA Division I women’s basketball committee gave the first of two previews of the NCAA tournament bracket Thursday night, releasing its top 16 seeds. The rankings incorporat­ed games through Wednesday.

Perhaps the most interestin­g question entering Thursday’s reveal was how the committee would look at LSU. Until Sunday, when the Gamecocks beat the Tigers 88-64, LSU was the nation’s only undefeated team other than South Carolina; LSU ranks third in both the AP poll and the NET rankings. However, the Tigers have played one of the country’s weakest nonconfere­nce schedules, rank 179th in the nation for their overall strength of schedule (according to herhoopsta­ and have just two wins over teams in the top 25 of the NET. Despite its spotless record, LSU’S strength of schedule did in fact hold it back from receiving a No. 1 seed, and the Tigers were the first No. 2 seed in the bracket.

If LSU’S seeding was the most interestin­g question, South Carolina’s was the least as it was the top overall seed as expected. Indiana, on an 11-game winning streak after defeating Iowa on Thursday to claim first place in the Big Ten, took the second overall seed. Stanford and Connecticu­t rounded out the No. 1 seeds, which while not overly shocking, raised some eyebrows as both the Cardinal and the Huskies recently dropped games to unranked opponents. However, Uconn has eight wins over top 25 teams in the NET and Stanford

has five such wins.

In addition to Indiana, the Big Ten placed four other teams in the committee’s top 16. That reemphasiz­es the strength of the Big Ten that was on display during nonconfere­nce play. The ACC placed four teams in the top 16, while the Big East, Pac-12 and SEC all had two teams fall among the top four seed lines. Texas was the sole team representi­ng the Big 12.

South Carolina still the favorite

As the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in the country so far, the Gamecocks have not wavered as favorites to repeat as national champions. They’ve dominated much of their competitio­n, outscoring opponents by a Division I-best 33.9 points per game.

That dominance starts with reigning national player of the year Aliyah Boston, who continues to be a force in the paint for the Gamecocks. Boston is the only power conference player averaging a double-double in fewer than 30 minutes per game and ranks fifth nationally in total win shares.

Boston averaging only 25 minutes per game is a testament to the depth of this year’s South Carolina squad. The Gamecocks’ rotation features nine players averaging more than 15 minutes, and nearly 50 percent of their points have come off the bench.

Longhorns a Final Four threat?

Texas started the season ranked third in the preseason AP poll. However, sophomore point guard Rori Harmon, who was named to the Naismith Trophy midseason watch list this past week, suffered an early-season foot injury and the Longhorns lost four of their first seven games.

Since then, Texas has recovered nicely, winning 17 of its past 19 games and taking sole possession of first place in the Big 12. The Longhorns’ defense has been particular­ly locked in over that span, as we’re accustomed to seeing from Vic Schaefer-coached teams. They now rank seventh nationally in Her Hoop Stats’ defensive rating.

Also behind Texas’ recent success is the emergence of BYU transfer Shaylee Gonzales. The 2022 WCC player of the year has scored in double figures in nine of the Longhorns’ past 10 games. She’s also shooting 42.2 percent from beyond the arc in that span, helping Texas look like a team more aligned with its preseason expectatio­ns.

Bubble watch

It has been a big week on the bubble, particular­ly for teams in the Big East. Marquette picked up a statement win over No. 4 Uconn on Wednesday, handing the Huskies their first back-toback losses in nearly 30 years. That win, combined with the Golden Eagles’ strong nonconfere­nce résumé that includes a win over Texas, could help place Marquette firmly on the right side of the bubble.

Marquette’s win is also a win for fellow Big East bubble teams Seton Hall and St. John’s. The Pirates and the Red Storm have a win over the Golden Eagles on their résumés, wins that look even better after Marquette’s NET rating improved from 47th to 38th following the upset of Uconn.

Miami, which is sitting on the bubble despite being tied for third in the ACC, also picked up a critical win at home over Florida State on Thursday. The Hurricanes hurt their tournament chances with losses to Depaul and Florida in nonconfere­nce play but still have opportunit­ies to build their tournament case with road games against Duke and Louisville.

 ?? NELL REDMOND/AP ?? South Carolina guard Zia Cooke (1) drives to the basket against LSU guard Jasmine Carson during the first half of the game in Columbia on Sunday that ended in an 88-64 Gamecocks win.
NELL REDMOND/AP South Carolina guard Zia Cooke (1) drives to the basket against LSU guard Jasmine Carson during the first half of the game in Columbia on Sunday that ended in an 88-64 Gamecocks win.

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