The best way to follow up a season that got the highest viewing for the women’s college basketball national championship game? How about an opening week where the country’s top two ranked teams were upset?
That’s what happened to start 2023-24. Thus, here in the first ESPN Power Rankings of the season, we have a different No. 1 team than the one atop the preseason poll. And it’s the same team that led the Power Rankings wire-to-wire last season: South Carolina.
The Gamecocks’ only loss of 2022-23 was, of course, in the national semifinals to Iowa, and it came after our final Power Rankings. Losing all five starters from a 36-1 team, South Carolina opened this year at No. 6 in the preseason Associated Press poll.
The Gamecocks tipped off the season last Monday in Paris with a 100-71 victory over No. 10 Notre Dame. On Sunday, the Gamecocks won at home, beating No. 11 Maryland 114-76. Afterward, Terps coach Brenda Frese suggested this South Carolina team might be better than last season’s.
It’s too early to make that proclamation — one loss doesn’t erase how good South Carolina was in 2022-23 — but it’s fair to say this version of the Gamecocks is different with its offensive versatility. Will they be as good defensively as the Aliyah Boston-led teams of the past few seasons? That’s a tall order.
Speaking of which, fans go into every Iowa game now looking for more magic from Caitlin Clark, and she also delivered in the first week, which included her 12th career triple-double. With the Hawkeyes No. 3 in the preseason polls, we will see if they move up to No. 1 or if the Gamecocks leapfrog them.
Caitlin Clark becomes Iowa’s all-time leading scorer with triple-double
Caitlin Clark becomes Iowa’s all-time scoring leader after dropping a 24-point triple-double against Northern Iowa.
In a social media post, former Hawkeyes star Megan Gustafson jokingly asked Clark why she couldn’t have let her hold onto the school scoring record a little longer. Clark set the school record — she’s at 2,813 and counting — in Sunday’s victory over Northern Iowa, in which she picked up a 24-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double. The senior point guard and former Oregon standout Sabrina Ionescu are the only NCAA Division I players to have triple-doubles in four different seasons.
That came after a 44-point game Thursday to defeat No. 8 Virginia Tech. Clark opened the season with 28 points and 10 assists against Fairleigh Dickinson.
It’s not often that an opening-day play is sure to be on a season-ending highlight reel. But such was the wow factor of freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley’s coast-to-coast layup Monday against Notre Dame. Her skill level is one of many great signs for the Gamecocks, who hit the century mark in scoring in consecutive games against ranked opponents. South Carolina shot 54.4% from the field against the Irish and 51.8% vs. Maryland.
And considering the balanced attack with which South Carolina throttled the Terps — seven Gamecocks scored in double figures — it’s understandable why Frese is sounding the alarm now that Dawn Staley’s current team isn’t just chasing last season’s success but looking to top it.
The No. 20 Buffaloes started with a bang, knocking off the top-ranked Tigers in Las Vegas on Monday. Center Aaronette Vonleh and guards Frida Formann and Jaylyn Sherrod combined for 70 points for Colorado, which shot 53.2% against LSU.
While it was an upset, it wasn’t a shock to anyone who has watched Colorado’s development under coach JR Payne the past few seasons. The Buffs, who had just one NCAA tournament appearance between 2005-21, have played in the Big Dance each of the past two seasons.
Saniya Rivers drops 33 points in NC State’s upset of No. 2 UConn
Saniya Rivers scores a career-high 33 points to power NC State to its first victory over UConn since 1998.
Coach of the week: Wes Moore, NC State
Moore came close to his first Final Four trip in 2022 but was defeated in the Elite Eight by UConn in a double-overtime heartbreaker for the Wolfpack. Sunday’s 92-81 win was NC State’s first against the Huskies since 1998, when coach Kay Yow’s squad beat UConn for a trip to the Final Four.
Moore, an assistant to Yow from 1993-1995, has said ever since he took over at NC State in 2013 that he was proud to carry on Yow’s legacy. But Moore has accomplished quite a lot on his own with the Wolfpack after a successful 15 seasons at Chattanooga. Sunday’s victory was his 244th at NC State and 802nd of his career. The Wolfpack were unranked in the preseason, but that will change in a hurry.
MiLaysia Fulwiley steals and scores and-1 for South Carolina
MiLaysia Fulwiley gets the and-1 for South Carolina.
1. South Carolina Gamecocks (2-0)
This week: vs. Clemson (Thursday)
We’ve talked about how well the Gamecocks scored in their first two games, but we should mention rebounding, too. They won the board battle 53-33 vs. Maryland, with Ashlyn Watkins and Chloe Kitts combining for 21 rebounds. Against Notre Dame, South Carolina won 47-44 on the boards behind Kamilla Cardoso’s 15. Last season, the Gamecocks ranked second in Division I and first among Power 5 teams in averaging 49.4 rebounds. That’s a high bar for this year’s team to shoot for, but this group appears to have a lot of confidence.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0)
This week: vs. Kansas State (Thursday), vs. Drake (Sunday)
ESPN analyst Andraya Carter put it best regarding an early assessment of last season’s national championship game teams. Long-term, LSU appears to have more pieces, she said, but right now Iowa has more glue. That’s from three starting guards playing their fourth season together: Clark and super seniors Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin. Iowa’s post play is the perceived question mark, but sophomore Hannah Stuelke is averaging 16.7 PPG and 6.7 RPG.
Let’s see how the Hawkeyes fare this week against K-State, which beat Iowa last season, and Drake, which just defeated Iowa State on Sunday.
Lauren Betts with the hoop & harm
Lauren Betts with the hoop & harm, 11/12/2023
3. UCLA Bruins (3-0)
This week: vs. Princeton (Friday)
The Bruins have opened with three blowouts, and there have been good things in all those games — especially from sophomores Lauren Betts, the transfer from Stanford averaging 18.7 PPG and 11.0 RPG, Gabriela Jaquez (18.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG) and Kiki Rice (12 PPG, 8.0 APG).
4. Utah Utes (2-0)
This week: at Baylor (Tuesday), at Great Alaska Shootout vs. Alaska Anchorage (Saturday) and Eastern Kentucky/UAB (Sunday)
The Utes want to build on last season, when they were so close to making the Elite Eight but fell by three points in the regional semifinals to eventual national champion LSU. Feasting on two cupcakes to open this season while scoring a combined 212 points doesn’t tell us much about the Utes. The matchup against Baylor could.
5. LSU Tigers (2-1)
This week: vs. Kent State (Tuesday), at SE Louisiana (Friday)
Coach Kim Mulkey didn’t seem especially perturbed by the Tigers’ opening loss to Colorado because it wasn’t a surprise to her. She knew it would take time for LSU to adjust to the loss of graduated point guard Alexis Morris, and the matchup with an experienced Buffs team would expose that. It also takes early pressure off the Tigers, who have team cohesion to work on.
6. UConn Huskies (1-1)
This week: vs. Maryland (Thursday), at Minnesota (Sunday)
When UConn beat NC State in the 2022 Elite Eight instant classic, guard Paige Bueckers had 27 points. The comeback kid (she missed last season with an ACL injury) matched that total in Sunday’s loss to the Wolfpack. But overall, coach Geno Auriemma was displeased with UConn’s offense and defense. That said, these kinds of opponents will help the Huskies, whose nonconference schedule is stacked with good tests.
Stanford dominates Indiana behind Brink’s 20 points
Stanford dominates Indiana behind Cameron Brink’s 20-point game.
7. Stanford Cardinal (2-0)
This week: vs. Cal Poly (Thursday), vs. Duke (Sunday)
Depressing as it is to think of the Pac-12’s impending breakup, at least it appears the conference is going out at its best. This opening week, Pac-12 teams started a remarkable 28-0. The Cardinal were No. 15 in the preseason poll. That was before they crushed visiting No. 9 Indiana 96-64 on Sunday behind double-doubles from forwards Cameron Brink and Kiki Iriafen, who combined for 40 points and 28 rebounds.
8. Colorado Buffaloes (3-0)
This week: at SMU
The Buffs didn’t have a letdown after their big win over LSU in Las Vegas. They dominated Le Moyne 97-38, and then won 86-75 over Oklahoma State, which made 15 3-pointers. Colorado will be back in the Big 12 next season, but the Buffs currently are adding to the Pac-12’s last hurrah.
9. NC State Wolfpack (2-0)
This week: vs. Elon (Wednesday), vs. Rhode Island (Sunday)
Saniya Rivers won the 2022 NCAA title with South Carolina against UConn as a freshman, then transferred to NC State. Last season, she had five points for the Wolfpack in a loss to UConn. Sunday, she was spectacular in NC State’s upset of the Huskies, with 33 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocked shots.
A note from the Pack’s bench Sunday: Freshman Maddie Cox scored her first college points against UConn. Her older sister, Lauren Cox, was an All-American and national champion at Baylor.
10. Virginia Tech Hokies (1-1)
This week: vs. Houston Christian (Thursday)
The Hokies lost 80-76 Thursday to Iowa in the first of two nonconference matchups with fellow 2023 Final Four teams. They will travel to LSU later this month. Virginia Tech had the same kind of hard time guarding Caitlin Clark that most teams do. But the Hokies’ point guard, Georgia Amoore, put on a show, too. She had 31 points and will be a handful for foes to slow down.
11. Baylor Bears (1-0)
This week: vs. Utah (Tuesday), vs. Harvard (Sunday)
The Bears cruised in their opening 85-53 win over Southern, notable for the return of Dre’Una Edwards (9 of 10 shooting for 20 points). The senior forward transferred to Baylor from Kentucky last season but had to sit out because of eligibility issues. Aijha Blackwell is also back for the Bears after being limited to eight games last season because of injury.
12. Texas Longhorns (2-0)
This week: vs. UT Arlington (Tuesday), vs. Louisiana Tech (Sunday)
Keep an eye on 6-foot-4 forward Amina Muhammad, who was on the Big 12’s all-freshman team last season. She is averaging 14.0 PPG and 10.5 RPG for a Longhorns team that has a lot of size and depth.
13. Maryland Terrapins (1-1)
This week: at UConn (Thursday), vs. Syracuse (Sunday)
After defeating Harvard in its opener, Maryland was overwhelmed by South Carolina in Sunday’s loss. The Terps can look at the first and third quarters, when they played the Gamecocks close, for inspiration before taking on UConn this week.
14. USC Trojans (2-0)
This week: vs. Le Moyne (Monday)
It was a great opening week for the Trojans. Superstar freshman JuJu Watkins had 32 points in an upset of Ohio State and then 18 in beating mid-major power Florida Gulf Coast. And Aaliyah Gayles made her college debut against FGCU on Friday after being seriously injured in an April 2022 shooting.
Florida State hangs on at the buzzer to beat Tennessee
Alexis Tucker hits a clutch free throw to put Florida State ahead, then the Seminoles’ defense holds strong to deny Tennessee in the final seconds.
15. Florida State Seminoles (2-0)
This week: at Florida (Friday), vs. South Alabama (Sunday)
After a season-opening win against Florida Southern, the Seminoles got a big nonconference feather in their cap with a victory over Tennessee. Ta’Niya Latson is back to build on her national freshman of the year season, and she has lots of help at guard. The perimeter-based Seminoles are going to be challenging to defend.
16. Ohio State Buckeyes (1-1)
This week: vs. Boston College (Thursday)
The Buckeyes didn’t get the start they hoped for with the loss to USC. But it was great for Ohio State to see guard Jacy Sheldon looking strong with 28 points and five steals against the Trojans. She was hampered by injury last season and played just 13 games. A healthy Sheldon will be a big boost for the Buckeyes.