College basketball’s biggest stage is set. Iowa, South Carolina, LSU and Virginia Tech are headed to the Final Four, and in three short days, one team will hoist the national championship trophy.
First, No. 3 LSU and No. 1 Virginia Tech (7 pm ET, ESPN), and No. 2 Iowa and No. 1 South Carolina (9 pm ET, ESPN) square off on Friday for the final two spots.
To have Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston, the country’s top two players, squaring off in the Final Four is a gift from the basketball gods. And though the 2023 National Player of the Year and 2022 National Player of the Year will dominate headlines, this game is going to come down to the other eight players on the court.
Clark is going to be Clark. No one in the country has been able to contain her thus far, and even with an elite defender like Brea Beal marking her, I don’t see South Carolina slowing her down either. On the other side, Boston is going to be Boston. Monika Czinano is a talented center, but she’s no match for Boston, who will likely dominate the post matchup.
So, the stars will likely cancel each other out, meaning the winner of this game will be determined by the supporting cast. In that battle, South Carolina is superior. Beal, Victoria Saxton, Zia Cooke and Kierra Fletcher round out the Gamecocks’ starting five, which will go up against Czinano, Gabbie Marshall, McKenna Warnock and Kate Martin. While Iowa has shooters, their ability to score hinges largely on the playmaking skills of Clark, whereas South Carolina’s role players can create their own looks.
Then, there’s the bench. Iowa’s Hannah Stuelke is going to have an incredible future in the program, and Molly Davis has provided exactly what the Hawkeyes needed from her off the bench, but South Carolina has the best bench unit in the country. With 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso and elite point guard Raven Johnson, the Gamecocks don’t experience any drop-off when they go to the bench. It also means they don’t have to worry about foul trouble, a luxury Iowa doesn’t have.
Pick: South Carolina
When it comes to personalities, there aren’t two teams more different than LSU and Virginia Tech. The Tigers find motivation through trash talk and celebrations, while the Hokies prefer to keep their heads down and play basketball. The fact that both teams are here speaks to how important it is for coaches to let their players be themselves. When they embrace personalities, it allows their players to thrive.
When it comes to production, however, LSU and Virginia Tech have similar makeups. They both rely on an elite guard/post combo to power their offenses. For LSU, that’s Angel Reese and Alexis Morris, and for Virginia Tech, it’s Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore.
Reese averages 23.2 points and 15.7 rebounds per game, while Kitley averages 18.2 points and 10.7 rebounds. This post matchup could be the best of the tournament. As for the guards, Amoore contributes 16.3 points and 5.0 assists per game, while Morris averages 14.9 points and 4.1 assists.
Like in the South Carolina-Iowa matchup, I expect someone other than the stars to step up. It could be a player like Flau’jae Johnson for LSU, who has had a remarkable freshman campaign, or 3-point specialist Cayla King for Virginia Tech.
The 3-point line is going to be key in this game, as the Hokies like to shoot from long range. Amoore set the record for most makes in the first four games of the tournament with 20. King, meanwhile, averages 8.1 points per game, with 6.6 of those coming from beyond the arc. The Hokies are 20th in the country in 3-point makes, while LSU is 249th (out of 361) when it comes to defensive 3-point rate, meaning the Tigers allow a lot of points from deep.
Pick: Virginia Tech
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.