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The 10 teams that can win the 2024 women’s NCAA title

We've reached a point where almost anything can happen in the early rounds of the women's NCAA tournament. Last season, No. 1 seeds Stanford (to Ole Miss) and Indiana (to Miami) lost in the second round.

But by the regionals, big-time upsets are rarer. In the past 10 years, just two seeds below No. 4 have advanced to the women's Final Four: No. 5 Louisville in 2013 and No. 7 Washington in 2016.

The lowest-seeded team to ever win a national championship is No. 3: North Carolina in 1994, Tennessee in 1997 and LSU last season.

So when you consider which teams could win the 2024 NCAA title, no squad beyond the projected top 16 seeds appear to be a viable choice.

But who are the top teams among that group? Let's look at the clear favorite to win the 2024 title and the biggest challengers.

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Gamecocks earn eighth SEC title with thrilling win vs. LSU

MiLaysia Fulwiley scores a career-high 24 points to lead top-seeded South Carolina past the 2-seed Tigers' four double-digit scorers in the 79-72 championship win.

The Gamecocks, Division I's only undefeated team, have lost two games or fewer in four of the past five seasons. They seemed nearly unbeatable last season, but ran into the NCAA tournament's hottest player, Iowa's Caitlin Clark, and their own cold perimeter shooting in a national semifinal loss.

Saturday, South Carolina was nearly upset by Tennessee in the SEC tournament semifinals but escaped with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. It showed that even a rare time when the Gamecocks appeared to be in deep trouble, they still got out of it.

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South Carolina lost Aliyah Boston, the WNBA No. 1 draft pick, along with four other starters from last year. But this season's team has six players who average between 14.0 and 9.2 points; the team's balance is part of why South Carolina is so difficult to beat.

The Gamecocks do have some concerns: Their defense let them down in the second half against Tennessee, something that has rarely happened in the past three years. And cold spells in shooting can plague any team. However, if any team has shown the fewest weaknesses, it's the Gamecocks.

It's also noteworthy that of the teams seeded No. 1 in the Power 5 conference tournaments this season, South Carolina is the only one that won its title.

"It is March Madness for a reason," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said after his team upset Big 12 No. 1 seed Oklahoma on Monday. "It isn't best four out of seven. It isn't three out of five. You don't have to beat someone back-to-back nights. You have to be the best team in a 40-minute game. That's what postseason is about and that's what makes it so much fun. That's why collegiate basketball in March is the best thing going."

True, but the past few years, South Carolina has been the best thing going in women's college basketball.

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Caitlin Clark reacts to setting Big Ten tournament scoring mark

Iowa star Caitlin Clark gives credit to her coaches and teammates after setting the all-time scoring record for the Big Ten tournament.

Who are the next five teams that could win the national championship?

Beating South Carolina is not necessarily the way to win the title; it didn't happen for Iowa last year. In truth, LSU benefited the most from Iowa's victory over the Gamecocks. It meant the Tigers didn't have to face familiar SEC foe South Carolina in the national championship game. Instead, they played Iowa, and learned a lot from what the Gamecocks struggled with against the Hawkeyes. That helped LSU win its first national championship.

LSU and Iowa are back in the mix again this season and on our list of South Carolina's top challengers for the title.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes won their third Big Ten tournament title in a row Sunday. They didn't face two of the teams that beat them in league play: Ohio State and Indiana, which were both upset before the final. But Iowa did avenge its only other Big Ten regular-season loss by beating Nebraska in overtime in the final.

Clark struggled with her 3-point shot during the Big Ten tournament, but still finished with a three-game total of 86 points and was again MVP. The Hawkeyes also are getting strong play from the rest of their guards and forward Hannah Stuelke. Iowa might be vulnerable to a team with multiple post threats, but the Hawkeyes have an offense that can overcome almost anything when they're clicking.

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LSU: The Tigers are the defending champions, and there are times when they have looked capable of repeating. But their perimeter -- particularly the playmaking -- doesn't seem quite as reliable as it was last season. And considering how important LSU's guards were in leading the Tigers to the NCAA title last year, that might be a concern.

That said, LSU has size and quickness everywhere, and two of the college game's best rebounders in Angel Reese and Aneesah Morrow. So far in coach Kim Mulkey's three seasons at LSU, she hasn't defeated South Carolina. But depending on the NCAA bracket setup, the Tigers might not have to do that to win it all again.

USC: The Pac-12 tournament champion Trojans have a legitimate chance at a Final Four trip for the first time since the 1994, when future Hall of Famers Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson were teammates. USC reached the Elite Eight that season. In the 30 years since, the Trojans have had seven different coaches -- Mark Trakh had two stints separated by eight years -- and haven't gotten past the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Now the Trojans are soaring pretty high with a star in JuJu Watkins, the experience of coach Lindsay Gottlieb and the momentum of the league tournament -- and they have a chance to host the NCAA tournament early rounds for the first time in three decades.

Notre Dame: The Irish didn't have injured guard Olivia Miles this season, and freshman Hannah Hidalgo had to learn on the fly. But it has worked for them. Hidalgo would be the national freshman of the year if it weren't for USC's Watkins.

The Irish's ACC tournament victories were all against different types of teams: In those three games, Notre Dame scored 77, 82 and 55 points. The Irish have won eight in a row, and even though they were the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament, they played like the No. 1 seed.

UConn: The Huskies have been out of the national spotlight this season more than usual, losing five nonconference games and then cruising through a Big East slate that didn't really challenge them. Plus, their NCAA-record streak of making every Final Four from 2008 to 2022 ended last season, too, so there isn't that same sense of invincibility that UConn had for so long.

To say the least, injuries have altered UConn's reality over the past two years (Azzi Fudd was the biggest loss this season). Because of that, the Huskies don't have the same margin for error they have usually had.

Even so, Paige Bueckers has had a tremendous season, and elite guards like her mean so much in the NCAA tournament. She scored a combined 83 points in the Huskies' three Big East tournament games.

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Notre Dame wins ACC Championship with late-game heroics

Notre Dame's Sonia Citron comes down with a clutch rebound late in the fourth quarter to ice the game against NC State.

What other teams might have a chance to triumph in Cleveland?

Stanford is the outlier in this quartet because the Cardinal have been Final Four regulars -- most recently reaching the national semifinals in 2022 -- and won a national championship as recently as 2021, the program's third.

Texas' last Final Four was 2003, and Ohio State's was 1993. The Longhorns won the NCAA title in 1986; Ohio State hasn't won a national championship. UCLA hasn't been to the Final Four in the NCAA era but won the AIWA championship in 1978.

This year, Stanford, UCLA and Ohio State all spent time ranked No. 2 in the country, while Texas has been as high as No. 3. The Longhorns are also still in the mix to win their conference tournament title, as they face Iowa State in the Big 12 final Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Women's Tournament Challenge

Complete your bracket by selecting the winner for each game of the 2024 women's NCAA tournament. Play Women's Tournament Challenge

Stanford: Of these last four teams, the Cardinal likely have the biggest disparity between the best and worst versions of themselves. At times they have looked like a Final Four contender. But in their four losses to Pac-12 foes -- two of them to USC -- the offense has been lacking. In those games, Stanford scored 59, 58, 61 and 61 points.

The most recent defeat was in the Pac-12 final. There, Stanford did a much better job against USC's JuJu Watkins -- she had 51 points in their Feb. 2 regular-season matchup vs. nine points Sunday -- but struggled offensively and was dominated on the boards.

UCLA: Since a 20-point loss at Stanford on Feb. 4, the Bruins have played well, going 8-2. So why are they in this third group? There is concern over late-game execution in the two losses. They fell 79-77 at Oregon State on Feb. 16 after leading by seven with less than three minutes left. Then the lead changed hands five times in the last 15 seconds. Credit Oregon State, but it felt like the game slipped away from UCLA.

Then in their double-overtime loss to USC in Friday's Pac-12 tournament semifinal, the Bruins had the last possession at the end of regulation and the first of overtime, but didn't get a shot off either time. It might not seem fair to focus on what UCLA did wrong amid doing so much right. But the Bruins must be ready for crunch time in the NCAA tournament.

Ohio State: The Big Ten regular-season champion Buckeyes were one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 15 in a row going into their regular-season finale at Iowa. But then they lost by 10 to the Hawkeyes and were blown out by 21 by No. 8 seed Maryland in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. The Buckeyes have concerns about rebounding that showed up in both of those defeats. But in the loss to the Terps, coach Kevin McGuff questioned Ohio State's effort and focus.

Ohio State had one of the biggest wins in the NCAA tournament last year, beating UConn in the regional semifinals. For the Buckeyes to go to a Final Four this year, they must look at what went wrong in these last two losses and get back on track.

Texas: The Longhorns came into the Big 12 tournament hoping for another chance at Oklahoma, the team that beat Texas twice this season. That won't happen since the Sooners were upset in the semifinals, but Texas can leave Kansas City with another championship.

The Longhorns lost star guard Rori Harmon to injury in December, but freshman Madison Booker has been a revelation, and they have many ways to score. Defensively, the Horns can dominate games, too. Whether their consistency can hold up for a national championship run is a question, but they have enough talent to play with any team.

    

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