The Road to Tampa: Columbia Subregional Breakdown

By Rixon Lane

The 64-team field for the NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Tournament has been unveiled.

With South Carolina earning a No. 1 seed, the Gamecocks will be at home for at least the first two rounds of play.

Here's a breakdown of all four teams in the Columbia subregional.

 

#1 South Carolina Gamecocks (30-2, 15-1 SEC)

The SEC tournament champions enter the Big Dance fresh off the best regular season in school history. Dawn Staley's team boasts one of the toughest defenses in the sport, holding opponents to just 52.6 points per game. With four post players standing 6'4" or taller, the Gamecocks have been able to bully most teams in the post, getting most of their productivity from A'ja Wilson, the 6'5" SEC Freshman of the Year. 

South Carolina is not a team that will pour in three-pointers. The Gamecocks have made less than five per game this season. However, because of their size, the Gamecocks can get high-percentage shots near the rim. South Carolina is the sixth-most efficient offense in the country, shooting 47.7% from the field on the year while the Gamecock defense has limited opponents to just 34.5% shooting.

If any team is going to beat South Carolina, it will have to rebound well, protect the basketball, and force the Gamecocks to play 40 quality minutes. South Carolina has won by an average of 23.0 points per game this season and has only been challenged a few times. If the Gamecocks get on a run during the first half, it's nearly impossible to come back against them.  South Carolina is a favorite to win the tournament and the subregional likely won't stand in its way.

Projected Starting Lineup: 

G #5 Khadijah Sessions (4.5 ppg)

G #25 Tiffany Mitchell (14.4 ppg)

F #31 Asia Dozier (3.8 ppg)

F #24 Aleighsa Welch (9.1 ppg)

C #33 Elem Ibiam (6.6 ppg)

 

#16 Savannah State Lady Tigers (21-10, 13-3 MEAC)

It may be a 16-seed, but Savannah State enters the tournament riding high. The Lady Tigers have not lost since January and are on an 11-game winning streak. Savannah State won the MEAC Tournament championship for the first time in school history and are looking to continue a magical campaign. 

Senior guard Ezinne Kalu is the key to Savannah State's success. The New Jersey native averages 16.4 points per game and must come to play if the Lady Tigers want to score an upset. Don't expect Savannah State to jack up three-pointers. The Lady Tigers have made less than 25% of their attempts from beyond the arc this season.

Savannah State will have to rely on a great defensive performance to top South Carolina. The Lady Tigers have forced over 21 turnovers per game this season. If they can frustrate the Gamecocks and take the Colonial Life Crowd out of the game, the Lady Tigers will have a chance, however slim, of making history.

Projected Starting Lineup:

G #23 Ezinne Kalu (16.4 ppg)

G #1 Bria Dorsey (8.9 ppg)

G #13 Jazmin Thomas (1.1 ppg)

F #15 Shanikwa Blue (2.6 ppg)

C #44 Tiyonda Davis (8.5 ppg)

 

#8 Syracuse Orange (21-9, 11-5 ACC)

The Syracuse Orange are hoping to put a disappointing ACC Tournament behind them. The Orange were upset in their first game by a Wake Forest team that won just two conference games all season. Syracuse is better than what they showed against the Demon Deacons, but they will have to get over the poor performance quickly. 

A talented young roster is highlighted by sophomore guard Alexis Peterson. The Ohio native paces the Orange with 15.7 points per game on the year. Syracuse's defense can put pressure on opponents, forcing over 21 turnovers per contest, but the Orange have not excelled at field goal defense. 

Gamecock fans are familiar with the Orange, after then 22nd-ranked Syracuse took South Carolina down to the wire in the Bahamas. The Gamecocks pulled out a 67-63 victory, but Syracuse proved that it can play with one of the elite teams in the country. The Orange will be gunning for another shot at South Carolina. 

Projected Starting Lineup:

G #1 Alexis Peterson (15.7 ppg)

G #11 Cornelia Fondren (7.4 ppg)

G #13 Brianna Butler (13.3 ppg)

F #10 Isabella Slim (1.9 ppg)

C #50 Briana Day (9.8 ppg)

 

#9 Nebraska Cornhuskers (21-10, 10-8 B1G)

Nebraska comes to Columbia looking to find momentum. The Cornhuskers limped into the tournament, losing six of their final 10 games of the season. Nebraska raced to a 10-1 start, including a 60-54 victory over Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but had issues during conference play. 

The Huskers will have to go dancing without their best player. Top scorer Rachel Theriot, a junior guard from Ohio, has been out since February. Besides averaging 16.5 points per game, Theriot was a useful weapon late in close contests, shooting 92.6% from the charity stripe. As a team, the Cornhuskers have shown a knack for battling on the boards, ripping down 41 rebounds per game this season and have a +2.5 rebounding margin on the year. 

The Cornhuskers have struggled lately, but sometimes a one-game season is exactly what teams like Nebraska need. If the Huskers can get by Syracuse in the opening round and can find a renewed energy after a slightly disappointing final two months, Nebraska might be able to put a scare into South Carolina.

Projected Starting Lineup:

G #13 Brandi Jeffery (7.9 ppg)

G #5 Natalie Romeo (8.7 ppg)

G #1 Tear'a Laudermill (13.8 ppg)

F #3 Hailie Sample (7.5 ppg)

F #23 Emily Cady (12.5 ppg)