What's on the line for the Power 5's last weekend of the regular season?


Happy March, basketball fans. You’ve made it to the best month of the year!

It’s been a thrilling college basketball season full of twists and turns aside from one unwavering constant — the dominant South Carolina Gamecocks. The stars on the women’s side have dazzled, from household names such as Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and Paige Bueckers to transcendent newcomers in JuJu Watkins and Hannah Hidalgo. Women’s college basketball has never had more momentum than it does now. And that popularity surge will intersect with the most critical stretch of the season.

One can only imagine what awaits over the next month with conference tournaments set to begin next week, Selection Sunday on March 17 and, before we know it, the Big Dance. But there’s some business to take care of before the real fun begins.

As we head into the regular season’s final weekend for Power 5 conferences, here are some of the major storylines to watch.

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NC State gets two clutch buckets late in OT

Aziaha James and Madison Hayes each come up with huge layups to help NC State take the lead in overtime.

Conference races coming to a close

All of the Power 5 regular-season titles were decided Thursday night, with each won outright. South Carolina comfortably won the SEC regular-season championship Sunday, its third straight outright title and eighth in 11 years. The Oklahoma Sooners clinched the Big 12 championship Wednesday (OU’s first such title since 2008-09) with a thrilling comeback win over the Texas Longhorns. Earlier Wednesday, Ohio State defeated Michigan to secure the Big Ten title, its first since 2017-18 (though that title was later vacated due to NCAA violations).

Then Thursday, the Virginia Tech Hokies came away with its first ACC title despite falling to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (courtesy of the NC State Wolfpack beating the Syracuse Orange), and the Stanford Cardinal defeated the Oregon State Beavers to secure the Pac-12 title.

Of those regular-season champions, only Virginia Tech was picked to win a title in its league’s preseason poll.

Even though the conference regular-season races have been decided, there’s still plenty to play for. The top four teams in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC will secure double byes in their respective conference tournaments (those top seeds in the Pac-12 receive just one bye), and this weekend’s results could jostle the standings on last time.

Conference player of the year races are (mostly) wide open

No one game or weekend will determine each conference’s player of the year, but a strong finish can help those in the running with official announcements likely coming before tournament play kicks off next week. The only Power 5 league where that honor seems completely wrapped up is the Big Ten, where Clark has reigned supreme for three years and has been a must-watch record-breaker in 2023-24.

But what about the ACC? Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley has been on a tear over the past month, but Notre Dame’s Hidalgo has put up historic numbers this season. Dyaisha Fair has turned Syracuse into an ACC contender and has the Orange on the fringe of hosting March Madness games. In the SEC, is the top candidate Reese or South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso? Out West, Watkins, Stanford’s Cameron Brink, UCLA’s Lauren Betts and Utah’s Alissa Pili have all been stellar, though the race might even be more open in the Big 12, where Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee, Texas’ Madison Booker and Oklahoma’s Skylar Vann are all in the running.

Another undefeated regular season for South Carolina?

The Gamecocks breezed through SEC play this season and with a win over Tennessee on Sunday, they’ll go undefeated in the regular season for the second straight year, extending their nation-best win streak to 29 consecutive games and adding to their SEC record of 46 straight regular-season conference victories.

The last time South Carolina dropped an SEC regular-season game was in December 2021, during Aliyah Boston’s junior year, and they went on to win the national title anyway.

The Gamecocks will conclude their regular season at Colonial Life Arena, where they’ve been particularly dominant in recent years, winning 56 consecutive home games (the third-longest mark in SEC history), including 28 straight by double figures (second-longest streak in SEC history). Their smallest margin of victory this season was six points at LSU.

Ohio State-Iowa, part II and other big games

No game this week has been as anticipated as Ohio State-Iowa, a rematch in Iowa City after the Buckeyes handed the Hawkeyes their first Big Ten loss last month in a 100-92 overtime thriller. And after Clark’s announcement Thursday that she’s going pro, emotions will be at an all-time high for Hawkeye faithful, as Sunday is senior night and officially Clark’s final regular-season home game.

Winners of 15 straight, Ohio State has only looked more and more dangerous over the past five weeks, while Iowa has since dropped road games to Nebraska and Indiana. Per Vivid Seats on Wednesday, the average ticket price sold was $408, Vivid’s highest on record for a Division I women’s basketball game — and yes even over last year’s title game between LSU and Iowa.

The only other matchup between two ranked teams this weekend is Louisville-Notre Dame in South Bend on Sunday, which has been a fun ACC rivalry in recent years. The Cardinals won their first meeting in February by seven points.

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No. 7 USC survives at 2OT buzzer as Arizona’s 3 rims out

Arizona’s Jada Williams gets a great look at a 3-pointer to win it, but she can’t connect and USC hangs on for the win in double overtime.

Record watch

By tallying 33 points Wednesday at Minnesota, Clark scored the exact amount she needed to pass Lynette Woodard’s AIAW major college record of 3,649 career points. Woodard achieved that distinction at Kansas from 1978 to 1981 before the NCAA began governing women’s athletics.

On Sunday, Clark needs 18 points to pass LSU legend Pete Maravich’s 3,667 points and become the top scorer in NCAA Division I basketball history.

Ohio State can be pesky defensively, but Clark shouldn’t have too much trouble getting at least 18. She put up 45 in their overtime meeting last month.

Speaking of scoring records, another player could be on the verge of adding her name to the record books. USC’s Watkins has scored 725 points this season and needs 174 more to break the all-time freshman scoring record, held by Tina Hutchinson of San Diego State, and just 64 more to crack the top five of that list. If the Trojans can manage lengthy Pac-12 and NCAA tournament runs, Watkins could likely reach those thresholds. USC concludes its regular season at Arizona State on Saturday.

Clarity on the WNBA draft?

UConn star Bueckers made waves last month by announcing at her senior day that she will return to Storrs, Connecticut, next season, while Clark posted Thursday that this will be her last season at Iowa. But we are yet to see which other seniors will join Bueckers in returning to college, using the freebie year of eligibility granted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and which will opt to go pro like Clark. While players don’t need to make an official decision until after their season wraps up, will others take a page from Bueckers’ and Clark’s book and get their announcements over with before March Madness?

No single player’s choice figured to be as impactful as Clark’s, but other figures such as Brink, Cardoso, Aaliyah Edwards, Reese and Georgia Amoore (a junior) have big decisions on their hands.

Looking ahead to Champ Week

There’s not much time for a breather as Champ Week gets underway beginning Tuesday, when the Horizon and Sun Belt conferences kick off their tournaments. On Wednesday, the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC tournaments begin.

The first official ticket to the 2024 NCAA tournament will be punched March 9, when the OVC tournament title game is held at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN+. Seven more automatic bids will be secured the following day when the Big Ten, ACC, SEC and Pac-12 are among the leagues concluding their tournaments. The Big 12 doesn’t crown a champion until March 12.

What to watch this weekend

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Tennessee at No. 1 South Carolina

Sunday at noon ET, ESPN

The Lady Vols have had a tumultuous season, spending a portion of it not even in the Bracketology field after a lackluster nonconference run (granted, star Rickea Jackson was absent most of that time). Currently, Charlie Creme projects them to be a No. 9 seed. Since LSU pulled away late in their matchup in Knoxville on Sunday, Tennessee still doesn’t have a real marquee win and it doesn’t seem likely it will get one in Columbia on Sunday. Nonetheless, it’ll be worth watching how the Lady Vols close out the regular season and fare in the SEC tournament.

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No. 2 Ohio State at No. 6 Iowa

Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, Fox

The newly crowned Big Ten champs have won 15 consecutive games and took down Iowa last month, but Clark & Co. are a tough out at Carver Hawkeye Arena, where they are 12-1 on the season. Their sole loss came against Kansas State on Nov. 16.

The Buckeyes, who have held all but three Big Ten opponents under 72 points, have been clicking. Will the Hawkeyes have an answer for Cotie McMahon (who had 33 points in Round 1) this time around? Ohio State has so many players who can hurt you, including future WNBA draft pick Jacy Sheldon and the increasingly impressive Celeste Taylor.

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No. 22 Louisville at No. 17 Notre Dame

Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN

Notre Dame is flying high after knocking off the hottest team in the ACC in Virginia Tech, which had won 10 straight before falling to the Irish in South Bend on Thursday. If Niele Ivey’s squad can defend as effectively as they did against the Hokies, the Irish could be peaking at the right time. Having Maddy Westbeld (19 points vs. Virginia Tech) and Sonia Citron (21 second-half points) get going and help out Hidalgo from a scoring perspective will only boost their chances.

Louisville is coming off a comfortable win over Florida State.



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