Reseeding the Final Four: South Carolina or Iowa at No. 1?


The Paige Bueckers vs. JuJu Watkins showdown lived up to the hype. The LSU-Iowa rematch exceeded it. South Carolina hung on to stay undefeated. NC State pulled another upset.

Now the Final Four is set with storylines aplenty.

Caitlin Clark will be trying to add to her already-mighty legacy by trying to bring Iowa its first national title after falling just one game short a season ago.

After missing all of last season, Bueckers is back in the Final Four for the third time, attempting to finish the job she wasn’t able to in 2021 and 2022. UConn hasn’t won the title since 2016.

South Carolina doesn’t have a star on the level of Clark or Bueckers. The Gamecocks are more of a collective — and there might not be a better one in all of sports. After taking an unblemished record into the Final Four a year ago, only to see it all end to Clark and the Hawkeyes in the national semifinals, South Carolina will be taking another run to complete the perfect season.

NC State was the team that wasn’t supposed to be here, but the Wolfpack might have had the easiest journey. They just beat a No. 1 and No. 2 seed by double digits to reach the program’s second Final Four.

The next few days will have plenty of examination of these stories and many more, but here is your first look at the Final Four.

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Undefeated South Carolina advances to Final Four

Tessa Johnson scores 15 points, Kamilla Cardoso adds 12 and the Gamecocks advance to the Final Four for the fourth straight time with a 70-58 win over Oregon State.

No. 1 seed

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South Carolina Gamecocks
Original seed: No. 1 overall (Region 1 in Albany)
NCAA tournament results: Defeated 16-seed Presbyterian 91-39; defeated 8-seed North Carolina 88-41; defeated 4-seed Indiana 79-75; defeated 3-seed Oregon State 70-58

The Gamecocks are still No. 1 overall despite the tense moments they had in both regional games. Undefeated is undefeated. Since their 29-point win over Notre Dame in the season opener in Paris, they have been considered the country’s best and lived up to that every turn — the close call with Tennessee in the SEC tournament and the blown leads to Indiana and Oregon State in Albany notwithstanding. Coach Dawn Staley and South Carolina remain the favorite to win their third national title.

South Carolina never trailed against the Hoosiers or Beavers. But concerns about the Gamecocks’ ability to close reemerged when a 22-point lead over Indiana shrunk to two in the fourth quarter and a 14-point lead dwindled to four in the final period against Oregon State. In both instances, South Carolina made a big play — a 3-pointer by Raven Johnson against the Hoosiers and a three-point play by freshman Tessa Johnson against the Beavers — to prevent either game from getting any closer and propel South Carolina to wins. Staley’s team has now shown a capacity to overwhelm opponents and make a key play in crunch time. And the Gamecocks don’t have to rely on one person to do it. They have had four different leading scorers in each tournament game and have had nine players score in each of the past three games.

Up next: 3-seed NC State (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 2 seed

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Iowa Hawkeyes
Original seed: No. 1 (Region 2 in Albany)
NCAA tournament results: Defeated Holy Cross 91-65; defeated West Virginia 64-54; defeated 5-seed Colorado 89-68; defeated 3-seed LSU 94-87

Only an undefeated team keeps the Hawkeyes from the top of the list. Clark and the Hawkeyes were that good in beating Colorado and LSU in the regionals. Clark averaged 30 points in the two games, including a 41-point performance against the Tigers in Monday’s rematch of last year’s national championship game.

Iowa’s 91.5 points per game in Albany came against a pair of top 20-rated defenses. Clark’s nine 3-pointers tied the record for the most in an NCAA tournament game, but along the way she also became the all-time tournament leader in assists. Her 12 against the Tigers helped Kate Martin (21 points Monday vs. 13.1 PPG on the season) and Sydney Affolter (16 points vs. 8.3 PPG on the season) score well above their season averages.

Not surprisingly, offense carries Iowa. But with Clark leading the charge, the Hawkeyes aren’t just a good offense; they’re special. They lead the country in points per play, points per scoring attempt, 2-point field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage and assists per game. Most of that means the Hawkeyes aren’t just prolific. They are efficient.

Iowa did get beat up on the boards by LSU (54-36), but Clark’s 3-point shooting (9-for-20 against the Tigers) can offset that. South Carolina is the only team left in Iowa’s possible path that rebounds at an elite level — and the Hawkeyes navigated the Gamecocks’ size in last year’s national semifinals.

Some credit should go to Lisa Bluder and her adjustments at halftime. The Hawkeyes were plus-19 in the third quarter during the regionals.

Up next: 3-seed UConn (Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET ESPN)

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UConn reaches record 23rd Final Four behind Bueckers’ 28-point night

Paige Bueckers scores 28 points to go with 10 rebounds and 6 assists as UConn tops USC to reach its 23rd Final Four.

No. 3 seed

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UConn Huskies
Original seed: No. 3 (Region 3 in Portland)
NCAA tournament results: Defeated 14-seed Jackson State 86-64; defeated 6-seed Syracuse 72-64; defeated 7-seed Duke 53-45; defeated 1-seed USC 80-73

Geno Auriemma built the UConn program from the ground up. He has won 11 national championships. He has had five unbeaten seasons. But this might be his greatest coaching job yet. UConn lost five players to injury this season, and every one of them would have played a substantial role on this team.

The Huskies have used a six-player rotation since early January. Three of those six are freshmen. Bueckers, Nika Muhl and Aaliyah Edwards all played 40 minutes in the regional final win against USC. Bueckers hasn’t left the court in three games. Auriemma and his staff helped this team navigate through it all to reach the program’s 23rd Final Four.

If Clark has been the No. 1 player in the tournament, Bueckers is 1A. The sheer numbers aren’t as gaudy, but she has delivered in every way. Her 28 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists came while she was asked to guard Watkins for big parts of the game. Bueckers has three double-doubles in four tournament games and has shot 51.1% from the field.

According to HerHoopStats.com, she has been the most efficient player per minute and has the most defensive wins shares since the start of March Madness. With what she’s doing at both ends of the court, at 5-foot-11 rebounding like a WNBA power forward, perhaps Bueckers takes the crown as the best all-around player in the tournament.

Up next: 1-seed Iowa (Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

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NC State rides hot first half to Final Four berth

Aziaha James’ five first-half 3s power the Wolfpack to their second Final Four berth in school history.

No. 4 seed

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NC State Wolfpack
Original seed: No. 3 (Region 4 in Portland)
NCAA tournament results: Defeated 14-seed Chattanooga 64-45; defeated 6-seed Tennessee 79-72; defeated 2-seed Stanford 77-67; defeated 1-seed Texas 76-66

Raleigh is now the centerpiece of the basketball universe with the Wolfpack’s improbable spot in the Final Four, the program’s first since its lone appearance in 1998, and the 11th-seeded men’s team’s even more unlikely journey to the final weekend of the season.

The women entered the NCAA tournament with a sputtering offense. The Wolfpack averaged 58.0 PPG in the three games prior to March Madness. In their past three games in the NCAA tournament, the Wolfpack scored 77.3 PPG. That came against the 34th- (Tennessee), eighth- (Stanford) and third-rated (Texas) defenses in the country, according to HerHoopStats.com. Whatever switch Wes Moore flipped has worked. Only the next opponent, South Carolina, has averaged more from the second round through the regionals. The big reason for the turnaround? Aziaha James. Her shooting (7-for-9 on 3-pointers) was the chief reason for the upset of the Longhorns. She’s averaging 24.3 PPG in the NCAA tournament after producing 15.8 PPG during the season.

NC State is the third No. 3 seed or lower to reach the Final Four since 2017, joining LSU and Arizona. Yes, the Tigers won the title last year as a 3-seed. But the Wolfpack’s run this year has perhaps been more impressive. They had to beat the highest-seeded opponent possible in each round, topping No. 6 Tennessee, No. 2 Stanford and No. 1 Texas. LSU during last year’s championship run beat No. 2 seed Utah and No. 9 seed Miami in the regionals, while Arizona faced a No. 2 in Texas A&M and No. 4 Indiana on its way to the Final Four.

Up next: 1-seed South Carolina (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)



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