Five storylines heading into the women’s NCAA Tournament

It’s tournament time! With the NCAA Women’s Tournament tipping off on Friday, here are five storylines to look out for. The road to the Final Four in Cleveland starts now.

Can South Carolina become a dynasty?

I know what you’re saying — “the Gamecocks already are one!” And while that’s a take that I would certainly listen to, given that in the nine years, South Carolina has made five Final Four appearances and won two national titles, a third title would just add to the clear fact that Dawn Staley’s program rules the sport right now. 

As the No. 1 overall seed, the Gamecocks are favored to get it done this year, a season after going undefeated until their Final Four loss to Iowa in Dallas. With a win, Staley would become the fifth women’s basketball coach to win at least three NCAA titles. The others? Geno Auriemma (11), Pat Summitt (eight), Kim Mulkey (four) and Tara VanDerveer (three), a who’s who of the sport’s greats. 

Will Caitlin Clark get enough support in Iowa’s run?

We all know that Clark will deliver every time she steps on the court. The senior is averaging a gaudy 31.9 points, 8.9 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game this season, after all. 

But if Iowa is to win a championship in her final NCAA Tournament, then Clark will need some help from her supporting cast — particularly Hannah Stuelke inside and Kate Martin on the wing. Given the Hawkeyes just won their third straight Big Ten Tournament title, in part thanks to the steady play of Stuelke, Martin and guard Sydney Affolter, count on this team being part than the Clark show over the next couple of weeks. 

How far will the defending champs go?

It’s been a … weird year for LSU. The Tigers lost their first game of the season to Colorado, Angel Reese missed four nonconference games due to internal issues and lost two straight in January (marking just the second time a Mulkey-led team had lost consecutive games since 2016).

But over the last six weeks, LSU has been very LSU-like. The Tigers enter the Big Dance having won 10 of their last 11 games, with the lone loss coming by seven to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament final. As a No. 3 seed in the Albany Regional 2, now it’s time for LSU to become the first repeat champion since UConn capped off a four-peat in 2016. 

Can Virginia Tech overcome the loss of Elizabeth Kitley?

The answer: not likely. Kitley has simply been a force throughout her college career; this year was no different, as the stellar center averaged 22.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game en route to her third straight ACC Player of the Year award (a feat only two previous women, Duke’s Alana Beard from 2004-06 and Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas from 2012-14, had pulled off in conference history). 

But Kitley’s storied career has come to a devastatingly premature end, as she announced on her Instagram Thursday that she would not be able to play in the NCAA Tournament due to a knee injury suffered in the Hokies’ regular-season finale against Virginia. 

The fourth-seeded Hokies still have standout guard Georgia Amoore (averaging 19.2 points and 6.9 assists per game) on their side, but a first-round matchup against No. 13 seed Marshall on Friday just got a whole lot more interesting.

Which Pac-12 team will go the furthest?

Take your pick. Will it be No. 1 seed USC (with stud freshman JuJu Watkins), No. 2 seed Stanford, No. 2 seed UCLA or someone else? The Pac-12, in its final season as a cohesive league, delivered from start to finish, with the Trojans, Cardinal and Bruins proving themselves as contenders from November until now. 

Will it translate into a run to Cleveland for any (or multiple) of them? What about No. 5 seeds Utah and Colorado? That’s the beauty of March: we just don’t know. 

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