We're just halfway through January and it’s clear that this is one of the most wide-open seasons in women’s college basketball this decade.
Notre Dame lost to UConn, which lost to Baylor, which lost to Stanford, which lost to Gonzaga, which just lost to BYU. By no means should the transitive property ever apply in sports, but this indicates how exciting this season is going to be down the stretch leading into the NCAA tournament.
So as a look ahead, here are the 15 best games remaining this Division I women’s college basketball season that could have significant impact on NCAA tournament seeding.
Notre Dame at Tennessee - Jan. 24
It doesn’t get much more historic than this. Tennessee hasn’t made a Women’s Final Four since 2008, but the Lady Vols still have had tournament success since the late, great Pat Summitt retired after the 2011-12 season. Notre Dame, of course, has the talent to repeat as national champions. Tennessee has a lot of youth on its team, which has led to some struggles this season, but this is a chance at home to really assert itself as an elite team this season.
UConn at Louisville - Jan. 31
Smack dab in the middle of conference play, these two 2018 Final Four participants will square off in one of the biggest games of the year that is certain to attract national attention. Unless the two championship contenders meet in the NCAA tournament, this will be the last time super seniors Asia Durr for Louisville and Katie-Lou Samuelson for UConn will square off. The Huskies won the last matchup on Feb. 12, 2018, in Storrs.
South Carolina at Kentucky - Jan. 31
UConn vs. Louisville will be the game of the day, but this marquee SEC matchup should receive a lot of attention as well. The Gamecocks are two years removed from a national championship and look completely different, but seem to be hitting their stride. South Carolina still wants to be known as the team to beat in the SEC, but Wildcats senior Maci Morris and freshman Rhyne Howard have been incredibly difficult to stop this season.
Baylor at Texas - Feb. 4
The Baylor Bears are more than the team that knocked off UConn from the ranks of the unbeatens. Baylor is one of the best rim-protecting teams and eats up just about every ball around the rim. The only thing is, so does Texas. These are the two programs expected to compete for the Big 12 title, and its safe to say it will be won on the glass with Baylor being the nation’s leader in rebounding margin, and the Texas Longhorns ranked third. Baylor also leads the country in assists per game, in which Texas ranks just inside the top 100.
Oregon at Stanford - Feb. 10
Sabrina Ionescu vs. Alanna Smith. These two players are the heart and soul of the Ducks and the Cardinal, two teams that are legitimate Final Four contenders. Ionescu and Smith are two candidates for Pac-12 player of the year and likely will be first-team All-Americans. This is the only time Oregon and Stanford will meet in the regular season.
Tennessee at Mississippi State - Feb. 10
By this time, Tennessee’s true colors will shine a bit brighter. Mississippi State is still searching for that elusive national championship after two straight runner-up seasons. Teaira McCowan has made Mississippi State go for a third straight season now. As one of the nation’s best post players and rebounders, Tennessee will have to throw everything at her to try to steal a big road win.
South Carolina at UConn - Feb. 11
One of the best things about women’s basketball is that the top of the top play each other nearly every season. South Carolina and UConn have met in February annually since the 2014-15 season. UConn is still its dominant self, while Dawn Staley is still trying to find consistent production since the departure of WNBA No. 1 overall pick A’ja Wilson. There will be a much different feel for this installment of Gamecocks vs. Huskies.
Oregon State at Oregon - Feb. 15
One could argue that Oregon State has become a fixture as an elite team in women’s college basketball. The Beavers have made five straight NCAA tournaments, been to two regional finals in the past three seasons and made the Final Four in 2016. The Oregon Ducks aren’t in that conversation yet, but they’re certainly near it. There likely won’t be better a better game to watch in the Pac-12 all season than this one, or the game in Corvallis.
Maryland at Iowa - Feb. 17
The Big Ten has flown under the radar a bit, but certainly has some of the best players in women’s college basketball. Near the top of that list has to be Iowa forward, and the nation’s leading scorer, Megan Gustafson, who also is one of the leaders in rebounds per game. Iowa also leads the nation in total team assists. Maryland has a team capable of making its first Final Four since 2015. This should be the Terrapins toughest test left on its schedule.
Notre Dame at NC State - Feb. 18
The NC State Wolfpack have to be the biggest surprise in women’s college hoops this season. NC State has won three combined tournament games in the past two NCAA tournaments, so they’re not necessarily new to spotlight. But it’s doubtful anyone expected this team to be the last unbeaten in women’s college basketball. A game against Notre Dame at home, however, is the type of game that can lift a team’s perception to being championship caliber.
Oregon at Oregon State - Feb. 18
Three days after the showdown in Eugene, the two northwest rivals play in Corvallis. Maryland transfer Destiny Slocum has become an elite scorer for the Beavers. If any team is going to beat Oregon, it has to limit turnovers and slow the game down. The Ducks have the NCAA-leading assist-to-turnover ratio.
South Carolina at Tennessee - Feb. 24
The struggles of South Carolina and Tennessee are outlined above. By this point in the year, they could be completely different teams. Mississippi State is the likely runaway winner for the SEC regular season title, but this will be important for tournament positioning. South Carolina’s final four games also include Kentucky and Mississippi State. Tennessee is a likely NCAA tournament team, but based on the way things look right now, there’s no guarantee.
Notre Dame at Syracuse - Feb. 25
Three years since Syracuse made its first-ever Final Four and national championship game, the Orange have rebuilt itself into one of the top teams in a loaded ACC with two transfers leading the way. In her second season since transferring from junior college, Tiana Mangakahia picked up where she left off. She’s the Orange’s leading scorer and one of the nation’s assists leaders after averaging 17.5 points and 10.2 assists per game in 2017-18. This is a legitimate test for Arike Ogunbowale and the Fighting Irish.
NC State at Louisville - Feb. 28
As great as NC State has been, the Wolfpack still have to prove itself in a marquee road matchup. The back-to-back trips to Florida State and Syracuse on Feb. 7 and Feb. 13 should serve as a valuable measuring tool for just how much NC State can achieve this season. But if the Wolfpack truly want to be known as one of the premier teams in the country, it has to win games — or at least be extremely competitive — in games at Louisville and at Notre Dame. What a treat this game will be as the penultimate regular-season game.
Mississippi State at South Carolina - March 3
Most probably expect Mississippi State to clinch the SEC regular season by this point. If not, South Carolina can play the role that so many teams played against the Gamecocks in recent years — spoiler. In the first matchup this season, McCowan had an astonishing 26 points and 24 rebounds, 12 of which were on the offensive glass.