With Selection Monday getting closer, teams are beginning to pick up the pace to help improve their chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
Numerous teams have likely high seeds waiting for them in a few weeks, currently attempting to solidify those spots as conference tournaments are right around the corner. Other teams are still vying to make the NCAA Tournament with resume building wins.
It’s those teams, the ones still looking to improve their season summaries, which other programs want nothing to do with over the next few weeks.
In fact, let’s look at five of those teams who no one wants to see right now.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Fighting Irish are 22-3 right now and are the No. 6 team in the nation. You have four players (Arike Ogunbowale, Jessica Shepard, Brianna Turner, Jackie Young) who are in contention for end-of-the-season awards. They are a team that is going to make the NCAA Tournament.
The real question is this: what seed will Notre Dame be once the NCAA Tournament begins?
The Fighting Irish will be looking to garner a No. 1 seed in the tournament come Selection Monday. After all, Notre Dame happen to be the defending national champions. Despite the semantics, Notre Dame will be looking to secure their road to the Final Four and they will be looking to take a top seed away.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the loss to Miami last Thursday knocked them off the one-seed line when the committee’s Top 16 rankings were released on Monday. Because of that loss, a team like Mississippi State was able to sneak in and get one of the initial top-seeds. With the ACC regular season winding down, the Fighting Irish have a win over Louisville and another resume matchup with NC State looming.
Notre Dame plays great team basketball and is one of the best shooting teams in the country. The Fighting Irish are sixth in the nation in assists per game (20 assists per game) and third in field goal percentage (51.6%). With the ACC Tournament around the corner, Notre Dame is going to come with their best shot every night to make their road to another championship easier.
Despite the loss to Michigan State, the Maryland Terrapins are beginning to hit their stride going into the last stretch of the season. Maryland (23-3) is still one of the top teams in the Big Ten. Although they took a tough loss to Iowa on Sunday, the Terps are still strong.
In the light of the 3-2 start to Big Ten play, Maryland would begin to put their foot on the pedal. Since the loss to Michigan State, the Terps are on an eight-game winning streak. The most compelling highlight of this run: Maryland’s defense. Brenda Frese’s team is playing spectacular on that end. Teams are only scoring 58.9 points per game against the Terps during this run.
Another key point to remember is the play of All-Big Ten performer Kaila Charles. The junior guard is averaging 15.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals and is shooting 51.4% from the field during this nine-game run. Also, the play of freshman duo Taylor Mikesell and Shakira Austin is boosting Maryland.
Beginning with Austin, she is averaging 8.5 points and 8 rebounds. In addition, Mikesell is giving Maryland 12 points and is shooting 42.8% from beyond the arc.
If this eight-game run is a sign, then opponents should be ready whenever they face the Terrapins.
Speaking of the Hawkeyes, this team is starting to hit their stride at the right time.
As mentioned, Iowa was able to pick up a huge win against Maryland on Sunday. The Hawkeyes were able to keep All-Big Ten performer Kaila Charles under control. The key to their victory: Megan Gustafson.
Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year is not just laying her mark down against Maryland. Teams have not found a way to contain Gustafson. The All-American is averaging 27.4 points, 13.1 rebounds and is shooting 79.2% from the field. Fortunately for Iowa, Gustafson is not doing it alone.
Junior guard Kathleen Doyle continues to improve on her best season so far. She is averaging 12.9 points and 5.7 assists. Her backcourt mate Tania Davis is also making it easy for the Hawkeyes. The 5-foot-3 senior is averaging 10.7 points and 4.7 assists per game this season.
The opposition is also struggling to score against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are allowing teams to shoot just 40.4% from the field
As a result of the win over Maryland, Iowa is in a tie with the Terps for first place. If the Hawkeyes keep up this pace, be on the lookout for them being a threat come the NCAA Tournament.
The Miami Hurricanes (21-5) have three quality wins on their resume. After defeating Notre Dame and Louisville, the Hurricanes are 3-1 against the RPI top 10. They will have another chance for another top RPI win when they play NC State on March 3.
Of course, the one parameter we must pay attention to is the play of Beatrice Mompremier. The redshirt junior is averaging 16.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game this year. Her play has her on the Naismith Trophy midseason watch list. It has also been critical for the success of the Hurricanes. For example, Mompremier has averaged 13.7 points and 12 rebounds against the RPI top 10. As stated, the Hurricanes are 3-1 against the RPI top 10 and Mompremier is a big reason why.
As a team, Miami is dominating the glass and makes it hard for teams to have multiple possessions.
This season, the Hurricanes have grabbed 724 defensive rebounds (fifth in NCAA). For one thing, this usually means teams have one possession per trip on offense because Miami finishes the possession. Along with that, Miami averages 38 rebounds per game.
To clarify: toughness inside and strong defense is helping lead the charge for Miami to the NCAA Tournament.
South Dakota Coyotes
To say nothing of South Dakota’s magical run would be an understatement. The Coyotes (23-3) are on the verge of capturing another Summit League championship.
South Dakota is one of the most balanced teams in the country and they are continuing to make it difficult for the opposition. This is one of those teams that does not have an outright star on the team. Each player contributes a great rate where you cannot single one player out. On the court, Ciara Duffy, Allison Arens and Hannah Sjerven are leading the way for the Coyotes.
Defense is the main ingredient for the Coyotes’ success this season. Opponents are scoring 57.5 points per game this season against South Dakota. Coupled with taking care of the basketball (13.3 turnovers per game) and shooting well from beyond the arc (37.5% from 3-point range), the Coyotes are tough.
South Dakota, also, has key wins this season.
Specifically, the Coyotes are 3-1 against the RPI top-50. Two of those victories were against Iowa State and Missouri. Do not be surprised to see this team making a Cinderella run in the tournament.
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