Women's college basketball winners and losers: Utah makes case for No. 1 seed; Caitlin Clark's moment
“Utah? That’s what I’m saying. Utah?? As the No. 1 seed? Now c’mon.”
Muffet McGraw was incredulous on ACC Network’s “Nothing But Net” on Thursday night hours after the NCAA women’s basketball selection committee released its second and final top 16 reveal. The legendary Notre Dame coach and ACC analyst wasn’t alone in the surprise that Utah swiped the final No. 1 seed line, replacing Connecticut in the last reveal before Selection Sunday on March 12.
The Utes swapped the question mark for an exclamation point days later in their season finale by upsetting Stanford, 84-78, and earning a share of the Pac-12 regular season title. It’s their first-ever conference title after joining the Pac-12 in 2011 and it came in front of 9,611 fans in Salt Lake City, the largest home crowd the team has had since 1993. They’re 25-3 with losses to conference brethren Colorado on Jan. 6, Stanford on Jan. 20 and Arizona on Feb. 17. All were by 10 to 12 points.
It gave them one thing the handful of other teams discussed as potential 1-seed liners did not: a share of the regular season conference title. And though it seems surprising that two Pac-12 teams would be 1-seeds given the competition in the ACC and Big Ten, Utah’s resume is similarly worthy.
The latest committee rankings — which will move around again before Selection Sunday given this last week of action alone — kept the same top three overall teams in No. 1 South Carolina (NET 1, 7-0 vs. NET 1-25), No. 2 Indiana (NET 4, 8-1) and No. 3 Stanford (NET 5, 8-2). Their records against the top 25 NET teams lead the nation. But after a rough-and-tumble stretch for UConn, and with time running out on the potential return of their early season National Player of the Year contender Azzi Fudd, the committee dropped the Huskies off the 1-seed line.
In their stead it put Utah (NET 7). The Utes were a 2-seed and the No. 6 overall squad in the first reveal on Feb. 8. They jumped LSU (NET 3, up two spots after Sunday’s games), which remained at the No. 5 overall seed and a conundrum for the committee given its unfortunately weak strength of schedule. Maryland (NET 13), Virginia Tech (NET 11) and Notre Dame (NET 6) have been thrown around as being on 1-seed watch.
McGraw wasn’t a fan of Utah on the 1-seed line in part because of its nonconference strength of schedule that ranks 131st through Sunday’s games. Its strongest noncon wins are a 46-point win at home against Oklahoma (NET 36) and a neutral site 2-point win against Ole Miss (NET 24). The win against Ole Miss looks even stronger after the Rebels took reigning champion South Carolina to overtime.
Its noncon SOS is worse than every team in the top 25 other than LSU (320th), Virginia Tech (139th), Colorado (NET 21, 151st) and Ole Miss (NET 24, 203rd). The real strength of its resume compared to the other top teams is a 5-2 record against programs in the NET 1-25 range. It’s the sixth-best winning percentage and five wins bests records by LSU (2-1), Notre Dame (3-4), Duke (4-5) and Texas (1-2) in the NET’s top 10. The Utes are 6-1 against NET 26-50, 5-0 against the next 50 teams and 9-0 against teams ranked 101-plus.
For comparison, UConn has the toughest nonconference schedule and No. 1 average opponent NET rank. The Huskies (25-5, 17-2 Big East) are 10-3 vs. NET 1-25, 2-1 against the next 50, 5-1 against the following 50 and 8-0 against teams 101-plus. Of the top seven NET teams, they have the most losses (17-5) against the top 100 and have two questionable losses against Marquette and St. John’s in February.
To McGraw and the “Nothing But Net” crew’s point, we won’t know until the NCAA tournament how solid the Pac-12 actually is to have two teams on the 1-seed line if those are to hold. And for as much talk there has been about the strength of the ACC — they lead all conferences with nine teams in the tournament, per ESPN’s latest bracketology — the highest team in the last reveal was Virginia Tech at No. 8 and a 2-seed. The Hokies, who trail both Notre Dame and Duke in NET, SOS and ACC standings, could play their way onto the 1-seed line if they run the table in the conference tournament.
Winner and Loser: "College GameDay" in Iowa City
The roars at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Caitlin Clark’s wild buzzer-beating shot were ear-shattering, as anyone who has spent Monday morning replaying the moment knows well. The game sold out three weeks ago and the noise hit 119 decibels, the loudest The Athletic writer Scott Dochterman said he’s ever recorded at the arena, in the seconds after Clark hit the off-balance 3 and tore away toward the crowd.
It was a perfect environment for the second of ESPN’s three committed "College GameDay" women’s basketball stops. It was unique for women’s basketball in that we were actually able to see more candid off-court moments with each team’s stars. And there was a special feature on Harper Stribe, a young girl diagnosed with cancer who has developed a special connection with the team.
The game action itself was incredible from start to finish and the crowd showed up every moment. So did Clark, arguably the most well-known college basketball player in the nation for her classic 3-pointers from the logo. The frenzied finish was as wild for the shot as for her reaction to it and the photos will become legend.
It is and should provide every reason for "GameDay" to expand to more stops next season. The crowds are there all around college basketball and it’s time to fuel it further.
That’s the winning side, because it could have been handled better in the end.
ESPN rushed through the postgame after Holly Rowe swerved Clark back onto the court for an interview. Clark had stormed to the crowd to celebrate the roars, and cameras caught her brother coming down to congratulate her. During the interview, Clark gave Rowe an answer worthy of the next great reactionary T-shirt. One also worthy of discussion. Particularly since the shot put an end to the regular season and an emphasis on her National Player of the Year campaign.
But the game of the year contender immediately closed the way all women’s basketball games end: an abrupt goodbye to move on to a men’s contest. In this case it was, infuriatingly, an XFL game airing in a prime Sunday afternoon slot.
Holly: When that leaves your fingertips what are you thinking?
Caitlin: honestly, I thought it was money.
— Clinton Yates (@clintonyates) February 26, 2023
ESPN should have gone back to Elle Duncan, Andraya Carter and Carolyn Peck — with Rebecca Lobo available back at the media table — to react to Clark’s theatrics, quotes, player highlights and the March Madness of it all. What a perfect game to do it. Again, it was a missed opportunity that would have been easy to accomplish. The XFL could have started on another channel, as most games do when their predecessor goes late, or the analysis could have aired on another of ESPN’s networks.
I bet the atmosphere is incredible!!! And there is a whole broadcast crew there!! Ugh I’m so annoyed.
— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) February 26, 2023
Women’s sports entities are so used to being thankful for the crumbs, because at least it’s better than a bare floor. Broadcasters and media members with the power to make decisions need to look up and see all the space to the ceiling. And that ceiling keeps rising with games like Indiana vs. Iowa and superstars like Caitlin Clark. It’s not because it’s the “right thing to do.” It is because that’s how the game is grown, and broadcasters like ESPN will make more money off of it as the chart continues upward.
Loser: Notre Dame’s chances and fans missing out on Olivia Miles
Olivia Miles left Notre Dame’s ACC-clinching win against Louisville late in the second quarter after what looked like a potentially serious knee injury. Miles twisted her leg on a drive to the basket and was in obvious pain on the court, yelling and at one point slamming her sports goggles on the ground. She walked off on her own and returned to the bench to jump on one leg in celebration when the Fighting Irish came back for the win.
Miles is one of the most fun-to-watch players in college basketball and being without her in the NCAA tournament is a blow to not only Notre Dame and fans alike. The 5-foot-10 sophomore guard was the first freshman to complete a triple-double in a tournament game and her no-look highlight passes make you ask how she saw that. She’s also one of the best rebounding guards in the nation and leads Notre Dame in four main categories with 14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
Notre Dame, which is also without senior guard Dara Mabrey, has not updated her status as of Monday morning. Miles and the Fighting Irish have a double-bye in the ACC tournament and are off until Friday.
Winner: Ta’Niya Latson
Ta’Niya Latson is poised to have Florida State atop the ACC for the next handful of years. Latson set the ACC record for most points by a freshman on Thursday and finished the regular season with 659, ranking fifth for total points in Division I. She is only the fourth player in FSU history to surpass 600 points in a season. Her ACC record breaks the 648 mark set by Diamond DeShields at North Carolina.
Latson, a 5-foot-8 five-star guard from Miami, has won 10 ACC Rookie of the Week honors to surpass the record set by Wake Forest’s Tracy Connor in 1993 and Duke’s Elizabeth Williams in 2012. She’s averaging 21.3 points per game, ranking 12th in Division I, and is a favorite for the yearlong Rookie of the Year honors.
Winners: Conference champions bye teams
A few conference tournament schedules are ready for the week. The Big East awaits final seeding for the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds between St. John’s and Marquette. UConn, Villanova and Creighton, in order, locked up the top three seeds. The Big 12 completes its schedule on Saturday.
Teams finishing in the top four of the ACC and Big Ten have double-byes. For those in the Power Six:
ACC: No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Virginia Tech, No. 4 Louisville
A chalk bracket would mean a third meeting between Notre Dame and Louisville in the semifinals. The teams have played two close games this season, the first won by Miles’ buzzer-beater.
Big Ten: No. 1 Indiana, No. 2 Iowa, No. 3 Maryland, No. 4 Ohio State
Indiana and Iowa are in line to play another classic in the title game. It’s Indiana’s first regular season conference title in 40 years.
SEC: No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 4 Ole Miss
South Carolina, which completed its first undefeated regular season in program history, could match up with Ole Miss again in the tournament after the Rebels took the reigning champions to overtime last week. LSU could have a chance to avenge its 24-point loss to South Carolina earlier in February.
Pac-12: No. 1 Stanford, No. 2 Utah, No. 3 Colorado, No. 4 Arizona
The Cardinal needed two overtimes against Colorado on Thursday before they lost to Utah two days later. Only Stanford and Oregon have won titles dating back to 2017.
What to watch this week
Villanova (25-5, 16-3 Big East) at Seton Hall (17-12, 10-9), 7 p.m. ET on FS1
Baylor (18-10, 9-7 Big 12) at Texas (22-7, 13-3), 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Pac-12 Tournament begins at 3 p.m. ET on Pac-12 Networks
ACC Tournament begins at 1 p.m. ET on ACC Network
SEC Tournament begins at 11 a.m. ET on SEC Network
ACC second round begins at 11 a.m. ET
SEC second round begins at noon ET
Big Ten second round begins at 12:30 p.m. ET
Pac-12 quarterfinals begin at 3 p.m. ET
Big East Tournament begins at 11 a.m. ET
ACC quarterfinals begin at 11 a.m. ET
Big Ten quarterfinals begin at 12:30 p.m. ET
SEC quarterfinals begin at noon ET
Pac-12 semifinals, 9 and 11:30 p.m. ET
Big East quarterfinals begin at noon ET
Big Ten semifinals, 2:30 and 5 p.m. ET
ACC semifinals, noon and 2:30 p.m. ET
SEC semifinals, 4:30 and 7 p.m. ET
ACC at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN
SEC at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN
Big Ten at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
Pac-12 at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Big East semifinals at 3 and 5:30 p.m. ET
Big East tournament final, 7 p.m. ET on FS1
AP Top 25 Poll (as of Feb. 27)
1. South Carolina (29-0)
2. Indiana (26-2)
3. Utah (25-3)
4. LSU (27-1)
5. Maryland (24-5)
6. Stanford (27-4)
7. Iowa (23-6)
8. Virginia Tech (24-4)
9. UConn (25-5)
10. Notre Dame (24-4)
11. Villanova (25-5)
12. Texas (22-7)
13. Duke (24-5)
14. Ohio State (23-6)
15. Gonzaga (27-3)
16. Oklahoma (22-5)
17. Michigan (21-8)
18. North Carolina (20-9)
19. UCLA (22-8)
20. Colorado (22-7)
21. Arizona (21-8)
22. UNLV (27-2)
23. Iowa State (18-8)
24. Middle Tennessee (23-4)
25. South Florida (25-5)