March is here! Teams all over the country are punching their tickets to the NCAA Tournament in women’s college basketball. Winning the conference tournament is the sure way to secure a spot in the Big Dance. It is also proving ground for college basketball’s elite. In the last ten years, seven conference champions have gone on to win the National Title. To say this is an important week of basketball would be an understatement.
Championship Week signifies the start of tournament play. Stakes are raised. The level of competition is at new heights. For many teams in women’s hoops, it’s win or go home. If you’re a team looking to make a run at the National Championship, there is no better preparation than the conference tournament. Unless of course, you are UConn, who just dismantled East Carolina, 106-56 in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament. Let’s just be honest. If you’re UConn, your conference tournament is like a walk in the park.
With eight conferences (A10, ACC, BIG SOUTH, BIG10, OVC, PAC12, SEC, SOCON) wrapping up their tournament play this past weekend, what three teams were the most impressive?
Maryland Terrapins – Big Ten Champions go undefeated (22-0 vs Conference Opponents this year)
Maryland 77, Ohio State 74 in Big Ten Championship Thriller
In their first season as a member of the Big Ten conference, the Maryland Terrapins have proven their dominance in undefeated fashion. With a perfect 18-0 record in conference play during the regular season, the Terps were clearly favored to win the Big Ten Tournament. They still had to do it, though. For the Terps, the conference tournament has given them valuable experience playing with the bullseye on their backs. In a competitive championship game, the Terps showed resilience and poise, withstanding late Ohio State runs and displaying depth of contribution throughout their team.
South Carolina Gamecocks – SEC Champions prove the hype is real:
South Carolina 62, Tennessee 46
I expected this game to be closer. We all expected this game to be closer. But, the truth of the matter is this South Carolina team can flat out play. Shooting over 50% in the second half, the Gamecocks easily pulled away from the Volunteers and pulled into what should be a sure number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. It will be their highest placement in the tournament in program history.
Confidence is the biggest takeaway for the Gamecocks from their first-ever conference tournament title. For a team that has completely reshaped the program into national championship contenders in just seven short years, confidence is the key to playing up to potential in the weeks to come. Not that they’re lacking any, under head coach and WNBA Hall of Fame point guard Dawn Staley, the Gamecocks believe it’s their time. With the show they put on in the SEC title game, they’re making the rest of us believe it too.
Notre Dame Irish cruise at the top of the ACC:
Notre Dame 71, Florida State 58
This game was a contest for all of ten minutes. Notre Dame commanded control midway through the first half with a 10-0 run and never looked back. For the Irish, being at the top is nothing new. Had they not been in the Big East, battling with arguably the best program in college basketball history, they would likely have more than three conference titles to call their own. The Irish lost six conference championships to their former Big East rival UConn, so the fact that Notre Dame’s opponents are now in the ACC is a welcomed challenge. It’s their second year in the conference and their second title.
I know it’s too soon to call them the new Queens of the ACC, but the trend is looking obvious to me. Overall, the strength of the ACC from top to bottom is making Notre Dame a stronger program. Competing in the ACC has already given them more hardware to take home, but it’s unclear if not having the “iron sharpens iron” rival UConn to face three sometimes four times a year is helping or hurting them in the national title hunt.