Women’s NCAA Tournament power rankings: Why LSU drops in our list of title contenders


(Editor’s note: This is part of the Bracket Central Series, an inside look at the run-up to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, along with analysis and picks during the tournaments.)

This season has been so beautiful, and the NCAA Tournament is a welcome extension of that so far. In a sport that’s defined ever more by speed, pace and efficiency, it’s crucial to stop every so often to soak in how excellent the game is.

Iowa State’s Audi Crooks, a true freshman, dropped 40 points in her first tournament appearance. She did that while shooting 18 of 20 and leading the Cyclones back from a 20-point deficit against Maryland to advance to the second round.

We saw other freshmen ascend to terrific heights, too. JuJu Watkins has propelled USC back to levels the Trojans haven’t been to in decades. Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo seems to break a record every day. Texas’ Madison Booker has stepped up. MiLaysia Fulwiley’s stardom and impact continues to grow. Crooks and the four other freshmen in Iowa State’s self-proclaimed Fab Five have the Cyclones dancing in what was expected to be a rebuild year.

This video from from former Gonzaga and current Long Beach State men’s coach Dan Monson struck a chord. It’s a good reminder to fully appreciate what’s happening in the moment — as players or coaches, analysts or fans.

We don’t know what the rest of the tournament holds, but I have a feeling it will continue to be heavily impacted by the future generation.

With one round down, how are the NCAA Tournament Power Rankings shifting?

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The Gamecocks rolled to a 91-39 victory over in-state foe, Presbyterian, who won its way into first round through the First Four. Sania Feagin stepped up big in the wake of Kamilla Cardoso’s absence due to suspension, chipping in an efficient double-double as a starter. Te-Hina Paopao found her stroke from deep again, nailing four 3-pointers. Chloe Kitts finished a perfect 9 of 9 from the floor, recording a 21-point 13-rebound outing.
MiLaysia Fulwiley added 17 points in 21 minutes off the bench. Her energy brings extra verve to the Gamecocks. Even down two starters (Bree Hall was held out for precautionary reasons), South Carolina’s depth is a highlight. Previous rank: 1

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The Trojans dipped deeper into their rotation more than usual as they took a commanding lead against Texas A&M-Corpus-Cristi. USC’s defense continues to stifle and impress,, setting the tone for Lindsay Gottlieb’s squad. The Trojans combined for 14 blocks in the first round. (South Carolina led the country averaging a hair under 8 per game, for reference.)
JuJu Watkins and McKenzie Forbes each dazzled while running the offense, scoring 23 points apiece. The Trojans’ second-round game against Kansas in the second round will be an exciting clash of styles. Jayhawks center Taiyanna Jackson poses an interesting matchup for USC, which plays with size across the board but is a little smaller at the five. Previous rank: 2

No. 16. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

87-55

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The Hawkeyes started off slow by their standards, but they wound up scoring at least 20 points in every quarter as they secured a 26-point first-round win against Holy Cross. Caitlin Clark didn’t find her rhythm until later in the game, but Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall were substantial early. Martin registered a double-double, and Marshall hit three 3s. Hannah Stuelke played limited minutes and was sidelined for much of the late game with migraine symptoms, but she is expected to be ready for Monday’s game against No. 8 seed West Virginia. Iowa performing so well despite Clark’s frustrations is a testament to its growth as a group throughout the season. That will be put further to the test in the Round of 32. Previous rank: 3

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Star freshman Madison Booker and the Longhorns lit up Drexel, as Booker set a new career high with 14 assists. It was just her second game this season finishing with double digit helpers as her composure and poise stood out yet again. She handles pressure from defense,and the big moments in a way that’s hard to fathom from anyone, let alone a true freshman carrying a team with Final Four dreams.
One of the biggest developments out of the first round for the Longhorns was Shaylee Gonzales’ performance. She finished above 20 points for the first time this season. For Texas to make a deep run, her additional shot-making will be crucial. Previous rank: 4

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The Cardinal faced a stiff test from Norfolk State in the first round. The Spartans excel with ball pressure and two-way guard play, showing they were capable of testing Stanford’s ability to guard one-on-one and create efficient offense.
Stanford dominated with defense as Cameron Brink racked up 6 blocks and shut down the paint as the Cardinal held the Spartans to 13 points or fewer in three quarters. The Spartans didn’t have an answer for the Brink or Kiki Iriafen on the interior as they combined for 34 of Stanford’s 79 points. That post play opened up the outside for Elena Bosgana and Hannah Jump, who combined for an impressive 8 of 12 from 3. The ball didn’t stick, the defense was cohesive, and the Cardinal played with poise. It’s a combination they’ll need when they host a vastly different opponent in Iowa State. Previous rank: 5

No. 15 Norfolk State

79-50

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The Bruins struggled in a shooting slump to start the game against California Baptist, but ripped off a dominant run to start the second half and never looked back. It’s worth noting that starting center Lauren Betts sat due to a foot injury and is considered day to day. Despite of Betts’ absence, UCLA’s defense stood out and appeared imposing with size and length at every position. Charisma Osborne’s jumper was off against the Lancers, but she played an excellent floor game, notching a double-double. She was consistently the first player to the ball in every situation. Gabriela Jaquez was efficient early, filling in as a starter for Betts, and her supplementary scoring punch could pay dividends moving forward in the tournament. Previous rank: 6

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After a slower start, the Buckeyes took over to comfortably beat Maine in Columbus. When Ohio State can set the press, it puts opponents in a bind, constantly on the back foot and playing catch up.
Kevin McGuff’s squad forced a turnover on 28.2 percent of Maine’s possessions, an absurd number compared to Ohio State’s 14.5 percent. Celeste Taylor was everywhere for the Buckeyes, stealing the ball six times while adding 12 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. That production will be needed again Sunday, when Ohio State takes on Taylor’s former team, the No. 7 seed Duke.
Ohio State found balance with four starters hitting double digits in scoring, finishing with 17 assists as a team on 28 made shots. How the Buckeyes handle a much bigger frontcourt in Duke will be key. Previous rank: 7

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The Irish’s Sonia Citron was consistently dominant, finishing with 29 points while shooting 13 of 20 from the floor to beat Kent State. Hannah Hidalgo finished with 14 points, 11 assists and 6 steals as she got her first March Madness experience. However, this game certainly showed some of Notre Dame’s difficulties with having such a short rotation due to injury, Three Irish starters accrued four fouls with Maddy Westbeld in the most significant foul trouble. Foul trouble could be a huge storyline to watch against Ole Miss in Monday’s second round. Previous rank: 9

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The Beavers trailed Eastern Washington early but cruised to a 73-51 victory. Star center Raegan Beers produced 19 points and 9 rebounds in just 22 minutes of play but exited early with an ankle injury. Beers said in the postgame press conference that she wouldn’t miss any time, which is a sigh of relief for Oregon State.
The Beavers’ depth never ceases to amaze. Freshman Dominika Paurova played her part as she scored a career-high 17 points on her birthday and first career NCAA Tournament game. Oregon State struggled with turnovers at an uncustomary level, coughing up possession 19 times, but that felt more like a blip than a reason to raise an eyebrow. Previous rank: 10

No. 14 Eastern Washington

73-51

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Survive and advance is the name of the game in March, and that’s exactly what the Tigers did to move to the second round. Rice comfortably took LSU off the bounce much of the game, getting into the lane on drives. The Tigers, in turn, struggled to create easy offense when it wasn’t off of turnovers and in transition. They ultimately dominated the rebounding and free-throw battle, nearly doubling up the Owls on the glass, 40-23, and earning 31 trips to the free-throw line. This was far from LSU’s best, finishing with more turnovers than made field goals (24 to 21). LSU frankly can’t afford to play like that or close to it again. Previous rank: 8

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The Wolfpack impressed against a challenging opponent in their first round against Chattanooga. The Mocs play at one of the slowest paces in Division I and work to win the possession game, and they are so good playing in a box on offense.
NC State took that challenge head on and flipped it, owning the glass and thriving in the mid-range. Saniya Rivers controlled the game with her defense and, on offense, draw defensive attention as a ballhandler, showcasing her continued growth as a lead guard. River Baldwin posted a double-double, secured more offensive rebounds than the Mocs as a team, and was an imposing two-way presence. Against another Tennessee opponent, this time Kellie Harper’s Lady Vols in the second round, NC State will face an even stiffer test. Previous rank: 11

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Jackson State played a solid three quarters, but UConn owned the first and controlled the key factors. The Huskies won the turnover margin, outrebounded the Tigers and dominated the paint.
Paige Bueckers was stellar, earning a near triple-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists along with 3 steals while shooting above 50 percent. Aaliyah Edwards also added a 20 and 10 double-double, and freshman guard Ashlynn Shade was a game-changer, finishing with 26 points and five 3s.
When UConn can get into its high-post offense and attack with motion, it’s hard to beat. That’s without mentioning how in tune the Huskies’ defense has been. UConn versus Syracuse should be one for the books. Previous rank: 12

No. 14 Jackson State

86-64

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The Hoosiers had their hands full against No. 13 seed Fairfield, one of the best mid-majors in the country. The Stags secured a second-quarter lead during a tight first half. However, Indiana impressed in the second half, as Lexus Bargesser saw more time on the court and was dynamic guarding Fairfield’s best perimeter threats while getting into the teeth of the defense herself.
Sara Scalia caught fire in the second half, finishing with a game-high 27 points, while hitting five 3s in gut-wrenching fashion for the Stags. The Hoosiers can ride the high of a fantastic fourth quarter into the second round. Previous rank: 13

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The Lady Vols faced one of the toughest first rounds among No. 6 seeds or higher, taking on No. 11 seed Green Bay, which plays a difficult five-out motion system. After a tight first quarter, Tennessee imposed its will and comfortably achieved a 29-point victory.
Rickea Jackson was a force, scoring 26 points and collecting 9 rebounds. With one of the very best players in the tournament field, the Lady Vols can play at a much higher level than the seed indicates. Despite some early defensive struggles, Tennessee shifted to a smaller lineup, receiving a huge performance from Kaiya Wynn off the bench. Previous rank: 15

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The Wildcats held serve against feisty Portland, racing out to a 25-10 lead, and then trading runs for the remainder of the game. It was never quite as close as the final score indicated, but also never a blowout, which makes sense given Kansas State typically plays at a slower pace.
Ayoka Lee, Gabby Gregory and Serena Sundell combined for 59 of K-State’s 79 points, all shooting above 50 percent and getting to the free-throw line at least six times each. When Jeff Mittie’s big three play at such a collective high level, they’re tough to beat. Zyanna Walker was huge off the bench as well, thriving as a scorer and facilitator. The Wildcats will need her continued production and offensive punch to make a run. Previous rank: 14

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The Hokies are unfortunately without star center Elizabeth Kitley (ACL) for the duration of the NCAA Tournament. However, they dominated Marshall from start to finish for a 43-point first-round win. Virginia Tech’s defense and depth were the story, a welcomed surprise for its hopes. Georgia Amoore had a quiet game due to early foul trouble, but others stepped up big.
Freshman Clara Strack was imposing defensively, registering four blocks, while also scoring 17 points and owning the low block. Carleigh Wenzel was tremendous setting up the offense with Amoore on the bench, and Matilda Ekh hit five triples.
Tech’s defense was huge in preventing Marshall from getting to its drive-and-kick offense. The Hokies contested shots and made it difficult to settle in. Previous rank: 16

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(Photo of Aneesah Morrow: Andy Hancock / NCAA Photos / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)





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