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Picking the best conference in women’s college basketball

Celeste Taylor led Duke in scoring for the 2022-23 season. (Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports)

Conference debates happen every year in college basketball, but at no point are they fiercer than in the weeks leading up to Selection Sunday. And this women’s college basketball season, there is plenty to debate between three conferences: the Pac-12, the Big Ten and the ACC.

While the SEC has two of the top-five teams in the country, South Carolina and LSU, no other program from the conference is represented in the most recent AP Top-25 poll. The Big 12 has three current Top-25 teams (No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 17 Texas and No. 22 Iowa State) and the Big East has two (No. 6 UConn and No. 14 Villanova).

To determine the best conference, Just Women’s Sports used three factors: expert analysis, AP rankings and NET rankings. The NET is a system that takes into account a team’s results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, offensive and defensive efficiency, and quality of wins and losses.

Here are the cases to be made for each of the top three conferences.

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Cameron Brink and Stanford are the top team in the Pac-12, even with two conference losses. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports)

Pac-12

Ranked teams: No. 3 Stanford, No. 4 Utah, No. 16 UCLA, No. 18 Arizona, No. 21 Colorado, No. 25 USC

Top-25 NET teams: No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 Utah, No. 20 Colorado, No. 21 Oregon

The Pac-12 has looked stronger as the season progresses, with teams like Colorado and USC moving into the rankings and others like Stanford and Utah maintaining their success. In other words, the best teams are staying in top form, and the rest of the conference is catching up.

The Pac-12 also holds the distinction of having two of only four teams in the country, UCLA and Stanford, who have lost to No. 1 South Carolina by fewer than 10 points. The Cardinal took the Gamecocks to the brink on Nov. 20 before losing 76-71 in overtime, giving South Carolina the biggest challenge they’ve faced thus far.

And while Oregon has fallen off mightily since an 11-1 start to the season, the Ducks are still a positive for the Pac-12. They have a high net ranking, and they’ve managed to be competitive against most of their opponents. Those close games include eight-point losses to Utah and Stanford, a six-point loss to UCLA and a five-point loss to USC.

Overall, the Pac-12 is a competitive conference where even the bottom teams (other than 0-12 Arizona State) give their opponents trouble. Take Washington’s 72-67 win over Stanford as an example — despite being 13-11 and 5-9 in conference play, the Huskies were just the second team to top the Cardinal this season.

Big Ten

Ranked teams: No. 2 Indiana, No. 7 Iowa, No. 8 Maryland, No. 12 Michigan, No. 13 Ohio State

Top-25 NET teams: No. 5 Indiana, No. 7 Iowa, No. 14 Michigan, No. 15 Maryland, No. 16 Ohio State

At this point in the season, there are three teams that I think can win the national championship: South Carolina, Stanford and Indiana. The Big Ten’s No. 1 team can compete with the best of the best, and with the way the Hoosiers are playing right now, a Final Four seems plausible and a championship more than possible. That’s a good start for the Big Ten in the top conference debate, but the argument doesn’t end there.

There’s Ohio State, a team that also looked poised for a Final Four when healthy. It’s unclear whether they’ll get Jacy Sheldon and Rebeka Mikulasikova back in time for the postseason, but the Buckeyes’ 18-0 start can’t be discounted.

Having a player like Caitlin Clark in the Big Ten also gives the conference a lift, as the Player of the Year candidate makes Iowa a challenge for any opponent. Then, there’s Maryland, who has impressive non-conference wins over UConn, Notre Dame and Baylor, as well as Michigan, who topped North Carolina.

The conference also has two unranked but competitive teams in Nebraska and Illinois. The Huskers beat Maryland once this season and secured a triple-overtime win over a solid Kansas team, and Illinois defeated Iowa.

The argument for the Big Ten comes from Michigan State, who despite being 5-9 in conference play, is the only team in the country to beat Indiana.

ACC

Ranked teams: No. 9 Duke, No. 10 Notre Dame, No. 11 Virginia Tech, No. 19 North Carolina, No. 24 Florida State

Top-25 NET teams: No. 7 Duke, No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 12 Virginia Tech, No. 17 NC State, No. 19 Florida State, No. 23 North Carolina

The ACC has the distinction of being the most chaotic conference in the country. Every week, ACC teams are beating up on each other, and the conference standings reflect that chaos. Duke is first at 12-2, Notre Dame follows at 11-3, Virginia Tech and Louisville are tied at 10-4, and Florida State, North Carolina and Miami are all 9-5. With just over a week left in the regular season, it’s going to be a fight for the top spot until the very end.

Let’s start with Duke, the team most likely to win the ACC. They’re 22-3 with one non-conference loss (78-50 against Connecticut), and their other defeats came against Florida State and North Carolina. Notre Dame, the second-place team, beat UConn in non-conference play and then lost to Duke and NC State in conference play. Louisville is unranked in both the AP Poll and the NET, but they are tied for third in the ACC. Finally, one of those 9-5 teams, Florida State, topped the conference’s first-place team but also lost to Boston College, who is 4-11 in conference play.

See? Pure chaos.

The ACC also has three unranked teams that have spent time in the Top 25, one of which is knocking on the door yet again. After a tough start to the season, Louisville is back to getting the type of results people expected of them, with a big win over UNC on Feb. 5. The other two unranked squads, Miami and NC State, have both spent time in the Top 25 and have wins over top conference opponents. Miami defeated UNC and Virginia Tech on back-to-back nights, while NC State has a win over Notre Dame and a non-conference victory over Iowa.

As this exercise makes clear, all three of these conferences are stacked this season. But I think one is just a bit better than the others based on overall parity. When I turn on an ACC game, I never know what’s going to happen because these squads are so close together.

In 2023, the ACC reigns supreme.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

Serena Williams is ‘super interested’ in owning a WNBA team

Serena Williams speaks on stage during keynote conversation at 2019 conference in San Jose, California
The tennis icon is all in on women's sports — and the WNBA is right on her heels. (Photo by Marla Aufmuth/WireImage via Getty Images)

Could Serena Williams co-own a WNBA team in the near future? 

Speaking with CNN on Monday, Williams expressed her interest in that potential — as well as the mounting enthusiasm for women’s sports around the world. 

"I think women’s sport is having a moment that it should have always had," Williams said. "I feel like tennis has had its moment. It’s international, and it’s huge, and it’s always gonna be there.

"Now it’s time to lift up other sports — women’s soccer, women’s basketball — there’s so many other sports that women do so great, let’s put it on that platform. Women’s basketball is getting there, and it’s arrived."

When asked if she had any interest in adding a WNBA team to her roster of ownership stakes, the tennis great welcomed the idea. "I absolutely would be," Williams said. "With the right market, I would definitely be super interested in that."

"There is no risk — women’s sport is exciting," Williams added, citing the 2024 NCAA women's tournament's record-breaking viewership as evidence. "People are realizing that it is exciting to watch, so it's an overly safe bet."

Williams may not need to wait long to act on that bet. On Monday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that she is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams — up from its current 12 — by 2028. 

The goal, she said, is to reach 14 by 2026. Oakland's Golden State is already on track to launch the league's 13th team in 2025. The move will mark the WNBA's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream debuted in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things," Engelbert said at a press conference before Monday's WNBA draft. "You need committed long-term ownership groups, and so the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls."

Engelbert went on to name a few of the cities behind those calls, saying that the league continues to engage in discussions with Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver, and Nashville, as well as South Florida.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

The Commissioner's 16 team goal is not only good news for WNBA fans, it's great news for current and future WNBA players. At 12 teams with just 12 roster spots each, the league is held to a total of 144 players for any given season. An abundance of fresh talent coming up through the NCAA ranks has put pressure on the organization to make room for more worthy competitors, and four additional teams might be just the ticket.

Hellen Obiri claims back-to-back Boston Marathon wins

Hellen Obiri, winner of the women's division of the Boston Marathon, poses with the Boston Marathon trophy
Hellen Obiri, winner of the 2024 Boston Marathon's women's division, poses with her trophy. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Kenyan runner Hellen Obiri won the 128th Boston Marathon on Monday, becoming the first woman to claim back-to-back titles since 2005.

She clocked a total time of 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 37 seconds in a women's division that race organizers described as "historically fast."

"Defending the title was not easy," Obiri said. "Since Boston started, it's only six women [that have repeated]. If you want to be one of them, you have to work extra hard. And I'm so happy because I'm now one of them — I'm now in the history books."

A two-time Olympic silver medalist and two-time 5000m world champion, Obiri is a clear favorite in this summer’s Paris Olympics.

“Last year I was pretty familiar to the marathon, but this year my training was perfect — we trusted everything we were doing,” Obiri said. “When we won last year, of course I was saying I’m going to win this one. Winning is like love. It’s something precious to me.”

Though, she wasn’t without a challenge. Fellow Kenyan Sharon Lokedi finished a mere eight seconds behind Obiri. Edna Kiplagat, who won the 2017 Boston Marathon, completed the podium sweep for Kenya with a third place finish.

Emma Bates, the race's top American finisher, came in 12th.

Obiri wasn't alone in making Boston Marathon history this year. The repeat champ walked away with $150,000 in total prize money allocated from a purse that topped $1 million for the first time ever. 

College rivals Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso drafted to the Chicago Sky

Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso competing at the NCAA SEC Conference Tournament Championship
Once rivals, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are now teammates. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

The Chicago Sky made a splash in Monday night’s WNBA draft, taking Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese in the first round. 

South Carolina’s Cardoso, who was the 2024 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, went third to the Sky. The day before, the team had swapped picks with the Minnesota Lynx to land the No. 7 pick as well, which they used on Reese, the 2023 Final Four MOP.

Now, the two will team up in Chicago after battling each other in both college and high school

"She’s a great player, and I’m a great player. Nobody's going to get no rebounds on us," Cardoso joked afterwards, while Reese expressed excitement about playing under new Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon.

"Being able to be a Black woman and as a head coach, and everything she's done at the NBA level, I just knew everything they were bringing to the table," Reese said of the Sky. "Player development is something that I was looking for and they looked for in me. I'm super excited for this move."

Former NBA star and Chicago Sky co-owner Dwayne Wade welcomed the pair to Chicago.

“The foundation is set,” he wrote.

The Sky have entered re-building mode after winning a WNBA title in 2021. This offseason, they traded franchise cornerstone Kahleah Copper to the Phoenix Mercury for a package that included the No. 3 picked used on Cardoso.

Now, Cardoso and Reese will be looking to jump-start the team's return to contention.

Watch: Iowa star Kate Martin’s draft moment goes viral

Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert after being drafted by the Las Vegas Aces during the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York
2nd-round pick Kate Martin poses with Cathy Engelbert Commissioner of the WNBA at the 2024 draft. (Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa captain Kate Martin was in the audience during Monday night’s draft when she was selected 18th overall by the Las Vegas Aces. 

The moment quickly went viral, as Martin was in the crowd to support superstar teammate Caitlin Clark going No. 1 overall, and was not one of the 14 players invited to the draft.

"To be honest, I don't think I'd have the type of career if I don't have a teammate like Kate," Clark said about Martin leading up to the 2024 national championship game. "She's been one that has had my back. She holds me accountable. I hold her accountable. But I think at the same time, me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level."

Martin being drafted marks the first time that Iowa has had two players selected in the same WNBA draft since 1998.

“She's one of the best leaders I've been around," Clark said. "She wants the best for her teammates. She's one of the most selfless people."

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Monday that she is “so proud” of her player, “because her dreams came true.”

"She has been such a big part of our program over the last six years,” she said. “Her efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. I wish Kate all the success with this next step.”

Martin said afterward that she’s “excited for the opportunity” and to showcase her “really good” work ethic. Helping Iowa to back-to-back NCAA title games, Martin finished her college career with 1,299 points, 756 rebounds and 473 assists.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” Martin said in an interview on ESPN. “I’m really happy to be here. I was here to support Caitlin, but I was hoping to hear my name called. All I wanted was an opportunity and I got it. I’m really excited.”

While Martin was watching from the crowd, her family was watching from back home.

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