Far too often in women’s basketball, we focus on just the blue bloods in the sport and neglect some really great teams across the country. Yes, Oregon, Baylor, Stanford, UConn, South Carolina, Maryland and others are all great, but there’s a few teams each year that fly under the radar and get overlooked.
And then the NCAA tournament rolls around and a team pulls off an unexpected upset and we all wonder, “How did that just happen?”
We’ve even seen a few upsets this season too, like Navy beating Clemson in Littlejohn Coliseum, Duke getting blown out by an unranked Northwestern team at home, and — on Thanksgiving — No. 17 Indiana topped No. 5 South Carolina, and No. 23 West Virginia lost to an unranked Creighton side.
If you don’t want to be surprised the next time an AP Top 25 team loses to an unranked team, or in March when a high seed falls, here’s a few under-the-radar teams you should be paying attention to.
South Dakota State
Last year: Made the Sweet 16
Best wins this season: No. 21 South Florida, Notre Dame
Player to watch: Paiton Buckhard, Sophomore, Forward (15 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 59.4 FG%)
The buzz: The Jackrabbits started the year off bumpy with losses to Drake and Creighton, but quickly got back on track and have now won five straight games. South Dakota State beat Quinnipiac and Syracuse last season to advance to the Sweet 16, where they ran up against a tough Oregon team and lost by 10. Still, the Jackrabbits have shown they’ll be a tough out again this season and might just have what it takes to be a second-weekend tournament team again. They’ll get a big opportunity to prove themselves on Dec. 8 when they travel to Eugene, Oregon for another meeting with the No. 1 Ducks.
Last year: WNIT semifinals
Best wins this season: Villanova, St. John’s
Player to watch: Kamiah Smalls, Senior, Guard (20.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.8 steals-pg)
The buzz: It’s likely that we’ll be hearing from the Dukes in March. So far this season, they’ve beaten three teams from the Big East and nearly upset No. 8 Maryland, losing to the Terps by just two points. James Madison had a pretty impressive season last year, winning 29 games before making a deep WNIT run, and seem to be poised to build on that this year. The Dukes are eighth in the country in blocked shots, and are tough to score on inside because of the presence of Kayla Cooper-Williams, who is averaging 7.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.17 blocks per-game, a mark that is 11th best in the country.
Last year: Sweet 16
Best wins this season: Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota
Player to watch: Alexa Willard, Senior, Guard (20 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 61.5 3pt%)
The buzz: The Lady Bears advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, beating DePaul and Iowa State comfortably before losing a battle with Stanford. Missouri State has picked up where it left off from last season — despite changing head coaches — and has piled up solid wins against No. 23 Minnesota, Boise State, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Their only loss was by 11 points to No. 7 Oregon State on the road. Missouri State is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country, making 43.3 percent of all its beyond-the-arc attempts, a mark which is seventh in the nation.
Last year: First round, NCAA tournament
Best wins this season: South Dakota State, Iowa State, Creighton
Player to watch: Sara Rhine, RS Senior, Forward (20.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 70.5 FG%)
The buzz: After winning the MVC title last season, the Bulldogs fell in the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing by a single point in overtime to Missouri. With that sour taste in their mouth, the Bulldogs seem to motivated for bigger and better things this season, winning four of their first five games. The Bulldogs have put an emphasis on taking care of the ball this season, as they are 14th in the nation in assist-turnover ratio. They also have the 20th best scoring offense in the country. Much of the Bulldogs’ efficiency on offense has to do with senior Brenni Rose, who is fifth in the nation in assists per-game with 7.2.
Last year: Lost in America East quarterfinals
Best wins this season: Lafayette
Player to watch: Kai Moon, Senior, Guard (24.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 47.5 3pt%)
The buzz: Okay, so none of Binghamton’s wins are super impressive. However, they are 7-0 to start the season (their second best-ever start in program history) and are beating their opponents by an average of 20.5 points-per-game. Much of this has to do with the play of their senior guard Kai Moon, who is second in the nation in three-pointers made with 28 and is third in the nation in scoring with an average of 24.7 points-per-game. The Bearcats have upcoming games against Eastern Michigan, Cornell, and then a very tough test on Dec. 17 when they visit No. 19 Miami. We should learn more about what they’re capable of over this stretch, but they’re still worth keeping an eye on.
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