Women’s Power Rankings: Hokies, Hawkeyes rise after Champ Week runs

Women’s Power Rankings: Hokies, Hawkeyes rise after Champ Week runs

March 6, 2023

    M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

The final installment of ESPN’s 2022-23 women’s college basketball Power Rankings are here, and SEC tournament champion South Carolina finishes where it started. The Gamecocks were the wire-to-wire No. 1 team in Power Rankings this season.

In all, 28 teams have been in our rankings at some point this season, with seven — South Carolina, Stanford, UConn, Iowa, Notre Dame, Indiana and LSU — making the list every week.

These final rankings give us plenty to think about and debate. We reiterate this is a little different than Bracketology or the AP Top 25 poll; the Power Rankings try to reflect more of a weekly snapshot of who’s hot and why. And some compelling conference tournament results had an impact on that this week.

The Virginia Tech and Washington State won the ACC and Pac-12 titles, respectively, for the first time. Iowa took over in Minneapolis and won its second consecutive Big Ten title. The Hokies and Hawkeyes made the biggest jumps this week in the Power Rankings, with each moving up five spots. Washington State didn’t crack the top 16, but the Cougars are ESPN’s team of the week.

The last Power 5 conference tournament is the Big 12 this week in Kansas City. And not long after that champion is determined Sunday, we’ll know the NCAA tournament field when the bracket is revealed (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App).

Player of the week: Caitlin Clark, Iowa

The junior guard earns the honor for the third time this season. It comes after a Big Ten tournament tour-de-force in which Clark had 74 points, 30 assists and 23 rebounds in the Hawkeyes’ three victories. She had the first triple-double in Big Ten championship game history and was tournament MVP for the second season in a row.

Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said of Clark’s 30-point, 17-assist, 10-rebound performance to beat his team in the final: “One area where she’s really grown is she’s reading the floor at an extremely high level. They’re setting ball screens, and she’s reading our coverages and making perfect passes to the appropriate person.

“And that makes it really tough to defend. She sees the floor and makes the right decisions as well as anybody I’ve seen, maybe ever, in college basketball.”

Team of the Week: Washington State

For most of the program’s existence, the Cougars have been irrelevant. They made one NCAA appearance in the first 38 tournaments. Then coach Kamie Ethridge took over in 2018, and after winning their first Pac-12 tournament championship on Sunday, the Cougars now will play in their third consecutive NCAA tournament.

Recruiting international players and then coaching to fit their style has been a big part of Ethridge’s success. Road trips to Pullman, Washington, are no longer just to pick up automatic victories.

Even so, who saw this title coming? The seventh-seeded Cougars beat 10-seed California, No. 2 Utah, No. 3 Colorado and No. 5 UCLA to win the championship. They still have never defeated Pac-12 goliath Stanford (0-72 all time), but UCLA took out that obstacle in the semifinals.

In Sunday’s 65-61 win over the Bruins, Charlisse Leger-Walker of New Zealand and center Bella Murekatete of Rwanda combined for 44 points on 15-for-22 shooting from the field.

Win of the week: Tennessee 69, LSU 67

It might seem odd not to pick one of the conference tournament championship games, but this was a big win for a Lady Vols program that really needed it. Tennessee was 22-10 going into the game, with no victories over ranked teams. Then the Lady Vols trailed by as much as 17 points in the SEC semifinals to an LSU team that had already defeated them in the regular season.

The Lady Vols fought their way back to win behind 26 points and 10 rebounds from Rickea Jackson and 17 and 10 from Jordan Horston. Tennessee then lost to No. 1 seed South Carolina in the final, but the Lady Vols had already helped their NCAA tournament seeding.

Coach of the week: Lynne Roberts, Rebecca Tillett, Saint Louis

The Billikens earned the first NCAA tournament appearance in program history with their run through the Atlantic 10 tournament. They were the No. 3 seed, but their 17-17 record is deceiving. They’ve won 11 of their last 12 games, getting their second victory this season against top-seeded UMass in the A-10 title game.

Iowa’s Clark wasn’t the only one with a triple-double to secure a tournament championship Sunday; Saint Louis’ Julia Martinez did it as well with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists as St. Louis won 91-85 in overtime.

Tillett is in her first season at SLU after four years with Longwood; she led the Lancers to their first NCAA tournament last year. Tillett is just the second coach in D-I history to win an automatic NCAA berth in different leagues in consecutive years.

After a playing career with at William & Mary, Tillett coached at the high school level in Virginia for a decade before going to the college ranks. She took over at Longwood after being an assistant at Navy.

Power Rankings

1. South Carolina Gamecocks (32-0)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

The SEC tournament title slipped away from the Gamecocks last season, but that wasn’t going to happen this year. They won their three tournament games with authority, and now have some time to rest before beginning NCAA tournament play as defending champions. Guard Kierra Fletcher missed the SEC final after twisting her ankle in the semifinals. But coach Dawn Staley said Fletcher is expected to be back for the NCAA tournament, as the Gamecocks — who haven’t lost since March 6, 2022 — continue their march toward a perfect season.

2. Virginia Tech Hokies (27-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

The Hokies’ ACC tournament trophy was historic — a first for the program — and might have propelled them into a NCAA No. 1 seed. ACC player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 20 points in Virginia Tech’s 75-67 title-game victory over Louisville. But guard Georgia Amoore stole the show for the Hokies. She had 25 points against Louisville and set the record for most 3-pointers in an ACC tournament with 14. She averaged 21.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game during the three contests and was named tournament MVP. The Hokies, who have earned their highest ranking of the season, have won 11 games in a row.

3. Iowa Hawkeyes (26-6)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

Iowa has yo-yoed in the Power Rankings; this is the Hawkeyes’ high point, and they’ve been as low as No. 16 on Jan. 2. That was after a loss at Illinois that dropped them to 11-4. Iowa has lost just twice since — at Indiana and at Maryland — but also has defeated both those teams. The Hawkeyes’ starting five started their 86th game together Sunday in a 105-72 demolition of Ohio State for the program’s fifth Big Ten tournament title. As good as stars Clark and Monika Czinano were, the other starters — Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and McKenna Warnock — were also big parts of the Hawkeyes’ tournament run.

4. Indiana Hoosiers (27-3)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

You wouldn’t blame the Hoosiers for feeling grumpy and snake-bit right now, even though they still have their Big Ten regular-season title and are projected as a No. 1 seed. But they had to endure the Clark victory lap at Iowa on Feb. 26 after a last-second 86-85 loss to the Hawkeyes. Then in the Big Ten tournament, they beat Michigan State and looked well on their way to the championship game with a 24-point lead over Ohio State in the semifinals. Yet that slipped away for another frustrating loss for Indiana. However, the Hoosiers have plenty of time to regroup and reenergize for the NCAA tournament, and they don’t fall too far in the Power Rankings.

5. UConn Huskies (28-5)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Villanova in Big East championship game Monday (Uncasville, Connecticut)

Coach Geno Auriemma did one of his usual motivational tactics, teeing off on the Huskies last Monday for a lackadaisical win over hapless Xavier in the regular-season finale. It seemed to work (it usually does) as they clobbered Big East tournament foes Georgetown and Marquette to advance to the final, where they will try to beat Villanova for a third time this season. But the biggest news of all is guard Azzi Fudd returning to the lineup after being out most of this season with injuries; she had 10 points against Georgetown and four against Marquette. Aaliyah Edwards had a combined 39 points and 25 rebounds in the two games. Things are looking up at the right time for UConn.

6. Maryland Terrapins (25-6)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

The Terps and Hawkeyes played the Big Ten tournament’s most exciting game in the semifinals, and Maryland was left lamenting Iowa’s 15 3-pointers in an 89-84 loss. That stung after they had defeated the Hawkeyes by 28 points in Maryland 11 days earlier Still, the Terps go into the NCAA tournament feeling confident that when they’re on, they can be a threat to any team.

7. LSU Tigers (28-2)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

The Tigers dropped four spots after they let a 17-point lead get away against Tennessee in the SEC tournament semifinals. It cost LSU a rematch against South Carolina, which previously was the only team to beat the Tigers this season. They lost at South Carolina by 24 points on Feb. 12, so it might not have gone much differently. But LSU wanted to get the chance. As it is, the Tigers head into the NCAA tournament with critics still grumbling about their weak nonconference schedule. But LSU is confident it can make a run.

8. Stanford Cardinal (28-5)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

Will the Cardinal play in the NCAA tournament as the powerhouse everyone was expecting them to be? Or as the team that has surprised most people by losing five games and not even reaching the Pac-12 tournament final? The loss to UCLA in the semifinals in Las Vegas followed a regular-season finale loss at Utah. Cameron Brink keeps putting up big numbers, but there has been some inconsistency from the rest of the Cardinal.

9. Utah Utes (25-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

A mark of a good conference is that teams with momentum and high expectations can still come into the league tournament and get upset. It happened to the Utes, who celebrated a win over Stanford to share the regular-season title on Feb. 25, but then lost their Pac-12 tournament opener to Washington State. The Utes can take some solace knowing the Cougars did the same to the three other foes they faced in Las Vegas. But it is also worrisome for the Utes as they had been looking forward to a potential NCAA No. 1 seed.

10. Ohio State Buckeyes (25-7)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

The good news for Ohio State was getting guard Jacy Sheldon, who has missed most of this season with an injury, back for the Big Ten tournament. And advancing to the league tournament final with a big rally to beat Indiana in the semifinals. The bad news was the Buckeyes really had nothing in the tank to face Iowa, and endured a championship game to forget, falling 105-72. Still, enough went well in Minneapolis that the Buckeyes should go into the NCAA tournament more like the team that started this season 19-0.

11. Texas Longhorns (23-8)
Previous ranking:
This week: No. 1 seed at Big 12 tournament in Kansas City

The Longhorns stayed put in the Power Rankings despite their disappointing loss last Monday to Baylor Bears, which kept them from clinching the Big 12 regular-season title outright. Instead, they beat Kansas State on Saturday and shared the championship with Oklahoma, although they have beaten the Sooners twice this season. It was Texas’ first Big 12 regular-season title since 2004. The Longhorns are still the favorites going into the Big 12 tournament, which they won last year, but there could be some upsets in KC.

12. Oklahoma Sooners (24-5)
Previous ranking:
This week: No. 2 seed at Big 12 tournament in Kansas City

After losing to Texas on Feb. 25 and falling a game behind the Longhorns with two games to play, it looked like Oklahoma’s title hopes were dim. But after Texas fell to Baylor, the Sooners beat Kansas State in a nail-biter in overtime and topped rival Oklahoma State to finish tied atop the Big 12 with the Longhorns. It is Oklahoma’s first Big 12 title since 2009 and comes in coach Jennie Baranczyk’s second season with the Sooners. Oklahoma’s concern going into the Big 12 tournament is the health of leading scorer Madi Williams, who injured her knee at Oklahoma State.

13. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-5)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

Injuries finally caught up to the Irish at the ACC tournament. They were the No. 1 seed, but didn’t have star guard Olivia Miles, who was injured in the regular-season finale at Louisville on Feb. 26. Notre Dame won that game with Miles sitting out the second half. Then with her sidelined for the ACC tournament, the Irish beat NC State but fell in their rematch with Louisville 64-38. Notre Dame has gotten contributions from others, but it’s hard to envision a long NCAA tournament run without Miles. Especially since the Irish also lost guard Dara Mabrey in January.

14. Duke Blue Devils (25-6)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

We know this version of Duke wins with defense, but the Blue Devils are putting a lot of pressure on that strength. In its last three games, Duke scored just 41, 44 and 37 points. No, those aren’t halftime totals. At the ACC tournament, Duke beat rival North Carolina in a game in which offense was like pulling teeth, and then fell to eventual champion Virginia Tech. We’ll see how much the style of play helps or hinders the Blue Devils in the NCAA tournament.

15. Villanova Wildcats (28-5)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. UConn in Big East championship game Monday (Uncasville, Connecticut)

The Wildcats edged DePaul by one point and Creighton by two points in the Big East tournament. Now they face nemesis UConn in the final. The Huskies won the first two matchup against Villanova: by five points on Jan. 29 and by nine on Feb. 18.

16. UCLA Bruins (25-9)
Previous ranking:
This week: No games

It was a pretty great week for the Bruins, just not quite enough. They beat Arizona State (in overtime), Arizona and Stanford to advance to the Pac-12 championship game. But then they fell to Washington State, the Cinderella team that claimed the title. Freshman Kiki Rice had 22 points in the 69-65 win over Stanford.

Fell out: Colorado (No. 16)

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