March 20, 2024 

Inside scouting reports, opponents for SEC in the NCAA Tournament

Depth of the conference on display for the nation this week

Eight SEC Teams will face off this weekend in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This eclipses the seven teams that made last year’s tournament — illustrating the increased parity in the SEC and the conference’s transformative seasons.

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Whether you need bracket help or a scout for your favorite team’s opponent, here’s what to expect:

No. 11 Vanderbilt vs. No. 11 Columbia (First Four — March 20 at 9 p.m. ET)

Vanderbilt’s Iyana Moore (23) during the Women’s Basketball SEC Tournament between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Florida Gators at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville, South Carolina on Thursday, March 7, 2024. Photo by Todd Van Emst/ SEC

Prediction: Columbia

Columbia scout: Columbia plays fast and are best when they’re pushing the pace. Their players are versatile, with a penchant for offensive guard play. Even when they’re outsized, like they will be against Vanderbilt, they can often compensate with their switches and weaves. Columbia’s star is Abbey Hsu, who’s averaging over 20 points per game, holds the Ivy record for made threes, and is Columbia’s all-time leading scorer. If she gets hot, the Dores could be toast. Also watch out for Cecelia Collins, who often runs the paint but can also shoot from three. And the Lions have the momentum after winning 21 of their past 23 games. The Lions are coached by Columbia alumnus Meg Griffith, who made a passionate plea to the selection committee after Columbia’s Ivy League Tournament championship loss. In the same breath, she criticized including SEC teams with mediocre records. Now, her team will match up against an SEC team who’s 22-9, which will surely fuel their fire.

What Vanderbilt needs to do: The Commodores need to take a deep breath and play centered. They’ve had a solid season but looked particularly weak against Florida in the SEC Tournament. This team is new to winning and very new to March, so can’t get flustered by the easy things — layups, turnovers, etc. They’ll especially need to focus on keeping turnovers low because Columbia is great at exploiting mistakes in transition. That being said, Columbia is far weaker defensively than Vanderbilt. Vandy is one of the better defensive teams in the SEC, and if they want to grind out a win, they’ll need to remember that. It’ll be a fun matchup with Naismith Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist Jordyn Cambridge vs. Hsu. With their mistmatched size, this could be a big game for 6’2 Sacha Washington and 6′ 4 Justine Pissott.

Vanderbilt’s ceiling: Second Round. If Shea Ralph‘s squad can make it out of the First Four, they’ll face Baylor, who they could upset, but after that, the waters get very murky with Virginia Tech (though possibly without Elizabeth Kitley) lurking.

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No. 11 Auburn vs. No. 11 Arizona (First Four — March 21 at 7 p.m. ET)

Auburn’s JaMya Mingo-Young (2) during the Women’s Basketball SEC Tournament between the Auburn Tigers and the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville, South Carolina on Thursday, March 7, 2024. Photo by Todd Van Emst/SEC

Prediction: Auburn

Arizona scout: Arizona is no stranger to a magical March, and squeaked their way into the NCAA Tournament with a close performance against No. 1 USC in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament. However, the Cats only have seven healthy players, making their margin of error razor-thin. Helena Pueyo is playing the best of her career and is the leader of the team. Esmery Martinez is another key to the Wildcats’ success. Although Adia Barnes is an experienced coach, this team has five freshmen on the roster and lacks experience. Arizona is peaking at the right time with plenty of heart, but it’s unclear if they have what it takes to go far.

What Auburn needs to do: It’s surprising Auburn is in the First Four, with most bracketologists predicting they’d be in the field of 68, but it’s likely their 30-point loss to LSU in the SEC Tournament semifinals is to blame. This season Auburn has gone from challenging to watch a hungry, well-oiled, challenging opponent. The key to their success is Honesty Scott-Grayson, their All-SEC First Team graduate guard averaging 17.4 points per game. But in Auburn’s most recent loss to LSU, Scott-Grayson was completely extinguished by LSU’s defense. She only scored four points, which won’t be acceptable in the big dance. Otherwise, veteran guard JaMya Mingo-Young and forward Taylen Collins will need to bring energetic, gritty performances. Auburn is also a defensive machine, with the fourth-best defense in SEC play, averaging over ten steals per game. Auburn has beat very good SEC teams, like LSU, and need to remember they’re capable in big moments. But these teams are similar — they play in elite conferences, lost close games, and are peaking at the right time.

Auburn’s ceiling: Second round. If Auburn tops Arizona, which they could easily do, they’ll matchup against Syracuse. They’ll give Syracuse a run for their money, but with UConn lurking in the second round, that’s probably where things end for the Tigers.

No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 16 Presbyterian/Sacred Heart (March 22 at 2 p.m. ET)

South Carolina’s bench during the Women’s Basketball SEC Tournament between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Texas A&M Aggies at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville, South Carolina on Friday, March 8, 2024. Photo by Todd Van Emst/SEC

Prediction: South Carolina

Presbyterian/Sacred Heart scout: The world will officially know tonight who the Gamecocks match up against. As a quick overview, Sacred Heart is on a 15-game win streak and appearing in its fifth NCAA Tournament. On the flipside, this is Presbyterian’s first-ever NCAA Tournament after winning the Big South Championship as a fifth seed. Presbyterian and South Carolina played in December, and the Gamecocks wiped the floor with their fellow South Carolina opponents by 70 points. With Sacred Heart’s tournament history and winning streak, they’ll likely come out victorious.

What South Carolina needs to do: After South Carolina’s 11-point win over Texas A&M in their first game of the SEC Tournament, All-SEC First Team member Kamilla Cardoso said, “We needed this game to loosen up.” Despite South Carolina’s raging undefeated success, they’re a younger team than last year and are beating teams by smaller spreads than in the past. Against the 16 seed, they needed to keep the calm and simultaneously focus after the brawl-marred SEC Tournament championship. And despite Cardoso’s wise words, she won’t be playing in this game after her disqualifying ejection. There’s a slight chance missing Cardoso might hurt the ‘Cocks, especially considering their opponent’s momentum. But ultimately, if the Gamecocks just play like themselves everything should come easy.

South Carolina’s ceiling: National Championship. Like the last few years in Columbia, SC, it’s championship or bust for the Cocks. This year’s undefeated team is debatably better than last year’s squad, but anything could happen in March. This is the team to beat.

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No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Rice (March 22 at 4 p.m. ET)

LSU’s Angel Reese bodies to the basket during the Women’s Basketball SEC Tournament between the Auburn Tigers and the LSU Tigers at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville, South Carolina on Friday, March 8, 2024. Photo by Todd Van Emst/SEC

Prediction: LSU

Rice scout: The Rice Owls are a solid offensive team, ranking No. 44 in the nation in free throw percentage. They aren’t dangerous from outside but have a few threats in the field, with leading scorer Malia Fisher, who averages 13.1 points per game. Junior Sussy Ngulefac shoots over 70% from the field in about 15 minutes and is coming off a 15-point game in the AAC Conference finals. Rice finished sixth in the AAC regular season but pulled off an impressive 20-point win in the conference championship. Rice doesn’t seem like a threat for LSU but has proven they can run with the big dogs after a close loss to No. 4 Gonzaga early in the season.

What LSU needs to do: Ultimately LSU just needs to play like themselves. They’re playing their best basketball of the season and have an intangible hunger and will to win. Angel Reese looks particularly good, hitting new heights with her ability to take over games. Otherwise, the Tigers need to play a clean game after the scuffle at the SEC Tournament Championship, and because of Rice’s prowess at the stripe. The Tigers also need to hope for health. Head Coach Kim Mulkey says freshman Mikaylah Williams is fully back, and Reese’s ankle is close to fully healed. It appears they’ll still be without Last-Tear Poa after she went down with a nasty concussion. That shouldn’t be an issue on Friday, but could prove challenging with she and Hailey Van Lith’s guard balance.

LSU’s ceiling: National Championship. It’s highly unlikely LSU will repeat, but the country’s learned its lesson about counting the Tigers out. However, this year they have a deathly region, with No. 2 UCLA and No. 1 Iowa lurking. Honestly, the most exciting part of this matchup is that LSU will likely play Louisville in the second round — where Van Lith just transferred from. This tournament might be the toughest challenge of LSU’s recent history, but Reese and Mulkey are made for March.

No. 8 Alabama vs. No. 9 Florida State (March 22 at 5:30 p.m. ET)

Alabama’s Sarah Ashlee Barker during the Women’s Basketball SEC Tournament between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville, South Carolina on Friday, March 8, 2024. Photo by Noelle Iglesias/SEC

Prediction: Florida State

Florida State scout: Florida State is a tough team that has been dangerous all season, but particularly now around tournament time. The scariest obstacle on this team is Ta’Niya Latson, the sophomore averaging 21.3 points per game, thirteenth-highest in the nation. Sara Bejedi kickstarts this team and is a key part of what makes them go. Makayla Timpson is one of the ACC’s best rebounders and rim protectors. They just came off an ACC championship game despite being the sixth-best team in the ACC. They’ve got the momentum and will give Alabama a run for their money. However, FSU hasn’t seen the second round since 2019, so it’s unclear how well they do in March. But if anyone’s going to lead them, it’s Latson.

What Alabama needs to do: Alabama needs to feed Sarah Ashlee Barker the ball and run its excellent offense. Ashlee Barker is averaging over 17 points per game, shooting over 50% from the field. If the Tide can get hot from the outside, where they average nearly five 3s a game, they can put FSU on their toes. On defense, they’re without Jessica Timmons, who announced a season-ending injury. Instead, Essence Cody will have to step up. Alabama is great at converting turnovers, so they’ll need to apply the pressure on FSU. Ultimately, despite regular season success, Alabama has struggled in the postseason with first-round losses in their last two SEC Tournaments and last year’s March Madness. They’ll need some short-term memory to play better under the bright lights.

Alabama’s ceiling: Second round. If the Crimson Tide can pull FSU off, they’ll likely find themselves against powerhouse Texas in the second round. It’s unlikely they’ll make it out of Austin.

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No. 11 Texas A&M vs. No. 6 Nebraska (March 22 at 10:30 p.m.)

Texas A&M’s Janiah Barker (2) during the Women’s Basketball SEC Tournament between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Texas A&M Aggies at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville, South Carolina on Friday, March 8, 2024. Photo by Todd Van Emst/SEC

Prediction: Nebraska

Nebraska scout: Nebraska has made great strides in the last year, best exemplified by making it to the Big Ten Championship with a narrow loss to Iowa. Jaz Shelley had a breakout tournament and is an incredible shooter, averaging 13.7 points per game and north of 30% from beyond the arc. Alexis Markowski is a double-double machine who can stretch the floor. Shelley and Markowski are the key to the Huskers’ success, but they also have options in Natalie Potts and Logan Nissley. And although they’ve shown great improvement, they’re still not super consistent. And as much as they light it up on offense, Nebraska leaves something to be desired on defense. But with the momentum of the Big Ten Tournament, they could do some damage in March.

What Texas A&M needs to do: Going up against Nebraska, it’s all about defense for Texas A&M. Because when the Aggies are firing on all defensive cylinders, they’re impressive, especially with their size from Lauren Ware and Janiah Barker. During the SEC Tournament, Barker played some of her best basketball with an intensity that was challenging to extinguish. But this is Barker’s first NCAA Tournament, and so this game be telling if she’s ready to take over at a high level. In the Aggies’ 11-pt loss to South Carolina to end their SEC Tournament run, Barker sat much of the game due to foul trouble. A clean game will be vital, knowing Nebraska’s shooting capability. Offensively, Aicha Coulibaly will need to thrive like she did with her 32-point game against South Carolina. This team is green to the tournament, but they’ve got Joni Taylor at the helm and are very good at turning it on in the postseason. If they play their best basketball, an upset wouldn’t be surprising, but they’ll have to dig deep for that consistency.

Texas A&M’s ceiling: Sweet Sixteen. Although Nebraska has the edge on this game, the Aggies making it to the second round is not a surprise. Beating Oregon State — the likely second-round matchup — would be more shocking, but this team might have what it takes for a March run.

No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 11 Green Bay (March 23 at 12:00 p.m.)

GREENVILLE, South Carolina - MARCH 09 - Bon Secours Arena during the Women’s Basketball SEC Tournament between the the Tennessee Volunteers and South Carolina Gamecocks at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville, South Carolina on Saturday, March 9, 2024.
Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson is among standout prospects from 2024 SEC Tournament (Photo credit: Noelle Iglesias/ SEC)

Prediction: Tennessee

Green Bay scout: Green Bay starts and ends with Natalie McNeal, who leads her team in both points and rebounds at 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Bailey Butler is another solid option who facilitates the ball and disrupts lanes well. The Phoenix are the 12th-best in the nation from the charity stripe, shooting 78%, which could prove problematic for a physical SEC team. They’re coached by Kevin Borseth, who’s got the 20th-most career wins in the NCAA. Borseth’s seen this tournament before, but it’s been over ten years since they’ve won a game or advanced. However, this could be the season with a very solid group.

What Tennessee to do: All Tennesse needs to do is play March basketball. They come alive this time a year, maybe in part because it’s their 42nd NCAA Tournament. However, they need to stay disciplined. If they get into foul trouble, especially considering their size advantage, they could be in a challenging situation. Rickea Jackson continues to prove herself a generational player with the ability to lock in and take over games, like in the SEC Tournament semifinals. After the heartbreaker, despite head coach Kellie Harper’s tears, Jackson and Jewel Spear seemed serious. They were ready for whatever was going to come next.

Tennessee’s ceiling: Sweet Sixteen. The Lady Vols probably have NC State to look forward to in the second round. They could potentially take the Wolfpack, but No. 2 Stanford would be another story. Both opponents are very familiar to Harper and her team, but it’s unlikely Tennessee does anything spectacular this year.

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No. 7 Mississippi vs. No. 10 Marquette (March 21 at 4:45 p.m.)

Ole Miss’s Marquesha Davis (2) during the Women’s Basketball SEC Tournament between the Florida Gators and the Ole Miss Rebels at Bon Secours Arena in Greenville, South Carolina on Friday, March 8, 2024. Photo by Todd Van Emst/SEC

Prediction: Mississippi

Marquette scout: Marquette is a vet-led team that had graced the Top 25 for multiple weeks this year. They’re led by fifth-year Jordan King, sophomore Mackenzie Hare, and senior Liza Karlen. Karlen is averaging 14.1 points per game, with multiple Big East honors under her belt. King is fantastic from outside the arc, and Hare is a great off-ball shooter. However, with Missisippi’s defense, their offensive options will be severely limited, particularly in the post. They underperformed at the Big East Tournament with an exit in the semifinals, only scoring 79 points across their two games. It’s unclear if Marquette is in a downward spiral or can turn it on for the tournament.

What Mississippi needs to do: Score. Mississippi’s got one of the best defenses in the SEC, if not the country, but they also need to put the ball in the hoop. Mississippi’s offense often falls stagnant, and the scoring load falls to just one or two players. All-SEC First Team’s Marquesha Davis will need to shine with her athletic drives. Mississippi also needs to take care of the ball. After their SEC Tournament Semifinals loss, Coach Yo lamented over the inexperience of her freshman point guard Zakiya Stephenson after fifth-year KK Deans went down with a season-ending injury. All-SEC First Team member Madison Scott has helped at the point, but her size, strength, and defense will be needed elsewhere. Mississippi has proved to be a tough team that really believes in themselves to gut out tough wins.

Mississippi’s ceiling: Elite Eight. The players are gunning for the Final Four after their upset in the second round last season, but with Notre Dame and Oregon State around the corner, this will be an uphill battle for the Rebels. However, they’re a team that can’t be counted out.

Reporting contributed by Jenn Hatfield, Mitchell Northam, Tee Barker, Michelle Smith, Em Adler, and Eric Rynston-Lobel.

Written by Gabriella Lewis

Gabriella is The Next's Atlanta Dream and SEC beat reporter. She is a Bay Area native currently studying at Emory University.

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