Key storylines in NCAA women’s basketball this season
The 2023 NCAA women’s basketball tournament was must-see television as the game’s biggest and brightest stars leveraged the spotlight to put on show-stopping performances.
Caitlin Clark was a virtuoso in leading Iowa to the national championship game, with two massive 41-point performances against Louisville in the Elite Eight and 2022 national champion South Carolina in the Final Four before the loss in the final to LSU, a game where Tigers star Angel Reese had a double-double and took home tournament MOP.
Watch South Carolina take on Notre Dame as the NCAA women's basketball regular season gets underway LIVE Monday at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT on TSN4/5 and streaming on TSN.ca and the TSN App.
However, it’s a new season with a lot of intriguing storylines. Can UConn finally stay healthy and take advantage of having Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd on their roster? Does LSU have it in them to be the first repeat champions since the UConn dynasty from 2013-2016? Will Clark manage to raise her game to even greater heights as a senior?
With analysis from TSN Basketball’s Kia Nurse, a guard with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and Tamika Nurse, who played four NCAA seasons split between Oregon and Bowling Green State, here is how they think some of the game’s biggest storylines could play out.
In their preseason rankings, ESPN has LSU and UConn at 1 and 2 in their preseason Top 25 rankings. They are two very talented squads that play different brands of basketball but both have championship expectations. How close are they?
Tamika Nurse: LSU, they just play with a swagger right now that I find it not quite paralleled in women’s basketball. Caitlin Clark can individually do it, but as a team, they just play really confident. It’s kind of one of those next man up situations so if my game is not on, we pass to the next player and they play collectively.
I do think it will be a 1-2 race in the end if UConn can stay healthy. I think a healthy Paige Bueckers, a healthy Aaliyah Edwards, a healthy Azzi Fudd, that’s very hard to compete against even if you are LSU. Again, can UConn stay healthy? [If so] I think that’s your national championship.
Kia Nurse: I think it comes down to guard play more often than not and UConn I think on paper wins in that guard situation but I think with LSU there’s an unpredictability to what they do on the offensive end.
UConn’s offence is built to create shots for people and at times most players don’t necessarily break out of that offence. They run that offence to death until something wide open happens because something wide open always ends up happening. Whereas LSU is a little bit more unpredictable. So they’ll run their offence but they might break a play because they like a matchup, maybe they see a guard that’s quicker than one of the UConn guards. They’re just going to go at them and they’re going to play a bit of isolation in that. So sometimes that becomes a little bit more difficult to guard team defence wise and I think that’s where LSU can kind of get out and transition.
If I’m playing against UConn, I want to make them play a half court game and want to try and slow them down. LSU wants to play a fast game, the want to play an up and down game. It would be interesting to see if those two just got in a track meet what it would look like.
After an incredible junior season, Clark is not sneaking up on anyone this year as a senior and will be asked to carry an even heavier load with starters Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock having graduated. How does Iowa stack up this season?
Caitlin Clark Iowa Hawkeyes
Tamika Nurse: I think you had a Cinderella story with Iowa last year, doesn’t mean [Caitlin Clark] can’t repeat it and the team can’t get the same thing done. But I think they came together when they needed to. She played as well as she could but she did have more help like [Monika] Czinano, that was her post inside, that’s a big piece and that’s a big piece not to have because you need to have an inside, outside threat.
Kia Nurse: You’re looking at Caitlin Clark that’s still going to elevate her game. I’m very excited to see how because I feel like a lot of it was already really, really good. But you have now a scouting report. People have seen it now. She was so forefront that you now have to have a scale for her. You have to have a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C because if you get to Plan B and it works, you’re probably going to win the game because you’re more than likely have to take Caitlin Clark out of the game.
After winning the NCAA title in 2022, South Carolina was eliminated in the Final Four in 2023 and lost star Aliyah Boston to the WNBA as well as Zia Cooke, Laeticia Amihere, Brea Beal and Victaria Saxton. How does Dawn Staley’s squad fare in 2024?
Tamika Nurse: South Carolina will always be competitive. Dawn Staley will always have her team prepped and I think they’ll always be able to recruit. I think they will be in that final group of eight I would say come the end of the year. I don’t know if I put them in the Final Four but I will say I think they’ll be in the final eight.
Dawn Staley South Carolina Gamecocks
The magic of March Madness means an underdog rises above expectations for the tournament. Who has the potential to surprise this season?
Kia Nurse: I think TCU surprises more this year but I don’t know if they get all the way to the Final Four but their coach [Mark Campbell] has done a really good job in the transfer portal of bringing in some big names. I know [Sedona] Prince from Oregon went over there. [Madison] Conner from Arizona went over. They were 1-17 in their conference last year. I think they’ll be way better this year.
[Both are also interested in seeing how Stanford fares this season. While they have star junior Cameron Brink, the team lost 2022 No. 1 recruit Lauren Betts to the transfer portal while Haley Jones graduated to the WNBA.]
Tamika Nurse: She [Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer] has always had a system and she recruits people to play in that system. And they played very structured and they play their roles, there’s one person to do this and one person to do this provided they can stay healthy. That’s why I think they’re always competitive at least. And it’s Stanford, so you recruit people who want a good education. You always have high IQ on that team.