March 6, 2024 

The Weekly Fast Break: Roads still to be traveled

Missy Heidrick analyzes the teams likely to enter the NCAA tournament on top. March Madness is upon us, so get ready for a wild ride.

With just a few exceptions scattered across the country, we have reached a pivotal point in the journey that has been the 2023-24 college basketball season. We have drug our tired legs up the hill and are faced with only way to go – postseason play. We rack our brains to remember all the way back to November, when we started non-conference games with sparkly sequins on the Las Vegas Strip. We then sprinted into conference play, where we have had the pleasure of watching hundreds of stellar games with fantastic performances and finishes.

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You may think you need a rest at the top of that hill, but we really do not have time. You need to follow the signs and get back home, because it is time to repack and hit the road. It will also be helpful to charge all your devices now so that you can refresh the “on-or-off the bubble” conversation in your browser every hour. Postseason tournaments begin this week across the nation and 32 automatic qualifying bids to the 2024 NCAA Tournament are on the line. For some of you, your trip to the Big Dance is a lock, whether you win your conference tournament or not. But for hundreds of other teams out there, this upcoming trek is the last they will make this season – capture a conference tournament title, or pack up and head back home. 

At The Weekly Fast Break, we salute all the regular season conference champions across the nation, because that was not an easy accomplishment. You battled through months of competition, travel, injuries, illness, wins, and losses, and you did what needed to be done as a team to capture the hardware. Your next challenge will not be an easy one, as your postseason dreams are on the line. And as you regroup and get back on the trail, remember that you have spent this season with a mindset to believe this: the loose ball you are chasing has your name on itNow you chase that long rebound, and your dreams, to keep your season alive. We cannot wait to see who is waiting at the top of the hill for this year’s March Madness.


Gamecock Power: Somewhat lost amongst the spotlights shining on individuals in the women’s game this season has been the steady and cool climb to the top of the mountain by #1 South Carolina, the only undefeated team left in the country, men’s or women’s. The Gamecocks started the preseason as the #6 team in the AP Top 25 and ever-so-quietly climbed to the top spot. They have remained there since week two. What is difficult to fathom is that Head Coach Dawn Staley has now led her team to its second straight perfect regular season, at 29-0. Her team has won 47 consecutive regular-season SEC conference games and 57 games in a row at home. This version of the Gamecocks is powered by 6’7 senior Kamilla Cardoso in the post and by a stacked backcourt of players who either joined the squad or stepped into bigger roles this season. Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao brought experience and an intensity to the floor that has fueled others, including junior Bree Hall and freshman sensation MiLaysia Fulwiley. South Carolina won by an average scoring margin of 32.17 points this season, dominating opponents at home and on the road. The Gamecocks are calm, cool, and collected and so subtly marching towards another trip to the Final Four – just as Dawn Staley drew it up. Staley was named 2024 SEC Coach of the Year on March 5.

Senior Skylar Vann led the Oklahoma Sooners to their first outright Big 12 Conference title since 2009 in what is their last season in the league.(Photo credit: Scott D. Weaver/Big 12 Conference)

Sooner Sendoff: When conference realignment landed in our laps two years ago, it began with Oklahoma and Texas announcing their departure from the Big 12 Conference to the SEC. For OU, once a part of the Big Eight and the original Big 12 Conference, this move would be bittersweet for many. A season ago, Oklahoma shared the Big 12 regular season title, and after losing much of their roster to graduation, the Sooners were picked fifth in the 2023-24 preseason poll. Third year head coach Jennie Baranczyk put together a tough non-conference schedule that would prepare her new team for the rigors of the Big 12. Her squad finished 15-3 in Big 12 play, 9-0 at home and claimed the 2024 regular season title, the first outright for the program since 2009. Senior forward Skylar Vann transitioned from her bench role to become the key catalyst for OU, earning her the 2024 Co-Big 12 Player of the Year Award. Junior transfer Peyton Verhulst was named Newcomer of the Year, averaging 12.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. With veteran point guard Nevaeh Tot running the fast-paced motion offense for Baranczyk, the Sooners found a way to eke out wins when they needed them the most. While it is bittersweet for many to have this be OU’s last season in the Big 12, the Sooners are going to enjoy showing their rings off next year in the SEC. Baranczyk was named 2024 Big 12 Coach of the Year on March 5.

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Leaping in the Top 25: Sometimes, during the regular season, you just have to keep chipping away, one win at a time, for people to really notice your team. If you are the Fairfield Stags, it has taken 24-straight wins, a MAAC regular season title (18-0 in conference play) and an overall record of 26-1 to get voters and others to take notice. The Stags finally have their first ever AP Top 25 ranking in program history, in this week at #25 in just the second season under head coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis. It has been a combination of efficient offense and lockdown defense – one that is ranked in the top 10 nationally in both scoring defense (53.9 points per game) and field goal percentage defense (35.2% per game). Freshman Meghan Anderson has been fantastic all year, leading Fairfield in scoring and rebounding, but the balance up and down the roster each night has made this team so difficult to beat. Thibault-DuDonis and her squad are now on the hunt for more hardware and a MAAC tournament title, along with the automatic bid that comes with it to the NCAA Tournament. Run your own poll in the next 11 days and you will not find a coach in the country that wants to see Fairfield on their side of the bracket for March Madness. 

#25 Fairfield is in the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time in program history, sitting at 26-1 on the year, led by freshman sensation Megan Anderson. (Photo credit: Fairfield WBB)


“Ponytail Pete”: Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark has broken record after record this season. She became the all-time leading scorer in program history, she broke the women’s NCAA scoring record on Feb. 15 and then on Feb. 28 at Minnesota, and she passed Lynette Woodard for the major-college women’s scoring record. Woodard, who played at Kansas just before the NCAA era, scored 3,649 points from 1977 to 1981, when women’s college sports were governed by the AIAW. There was just one major record left to fall, and fittingly, on senior day, in front a sold-out crowd of rabid Hawkeye fans, Clark broke Pete Maravich’s record of 3,667 points, thereby passing the LSU and NBA legend for the most points scored by a Division I basketball player, men’s or women’s.

Caitlin Clark pumps up the crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark broke the all-time scoring record on her senior day in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on March 3.
(Photo credit: Iowa Athletics)

Someone asked us last week “why did Clark announce she is not coming back next year?” In simple terms – the young lady wanted to celebrate her senior day with her teammates, her family, and with the loyal Iowa fans. And to do it on the day that she broke Pistol Pete’s record was just that much sweeter. Every player – star, reserve, or walk-on – deserves their moment on senior day, and to share that with those you have been in battle with every day since you got there is a memory that will last a lifetime. For “Ponytail Pete” and her fellow senior teammates, Clark made sure it was a day for the record books.

*Clark was awarded Big Ten Player of the Year on March 5, the third of her career at Iowa

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Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley is now a three-time ACC Player of the Year, just one of three women to accomplish such a feat.
(Photo credit: Mitchell Northam / The Next)

3-Time Hokie Charm: There is a direct connection between the success of the Virginia Tech women’s basketball program and the arrival of Elizabeth Kitley to Blacksburg, Virginia. The fifth-year graduate student has rewritten the record books for the program as well as the ACC, and on March 5 she was named ACC Player of the Year. Kitley joins an elite list of those that have won the award three times (which ironically now has three names on it) – Kitley, Alana Beard of Duke, and Alyssa Thomas of Maryland. The 6’6 center from Summerfield, North Carolina ranks second in the conference in scoring (22.79), second in field goal percentage (55.6%), first in rebounds (11.38), second in blocks (2.07), first in double-doubles with 19 and first in 30-point games with eight. To accompany her Player of the Year award, Kitley earned her fourth first-team All-ACC selection, making her just the second player in conference history to accomplish the feat, along with Elizabeth Williams of Duke. She was also recognized as an All-Defensive Team member for the third consecutive season. 

6th Player Impact: There are a host of players around the country that sometimes do not get the accolades they deserve because they are not in starting lineups. We tend to associate the “best players” with those that start each game, but any coach will tell you: role players, and ones that embrace what is asked of them, are crucial pieces to a team’s success. This week, we shine a spotlight on a few Sixth Players of the Year who are so deserving of the award:

DeYona Gaston (Texas), Big 12 Sixth Player of the Year: Among reserves who played 15 or more games, Gaston led the Big 12 with 8.8 points per game off the bench and becomes the first Longhorn to earn this award. Having overcome injuries this year, Gaston scored in double figures three of the last four games of the regular season. The 6’2 center from Pearland, Texas shot 53.6% from the field in conference games and logged 19 minutes per game in Big 12 action. 

Theryn Hallock (Michigan State), Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year: A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hallock becomes just the second Spartan to claim this award. She appeared in all 29 games of the regular season for Michigan State, averaging 11.2 points and 2.7 assists per game and played almost 26 minutes per game on the year. The 5’10 guard dropped a season-high 24 points against Purdue on Jan. 24, drilling 10 made field goals.

Timea Gardner (Oregon State) Pac-12 Sixth Player of the Year: A sophomore guard, Gardiner appeared in all 29 games for Oregon State, making three starts during the regular season. She is second on the team with 11.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and is top-10 in the Pac-12 in three-point field goal percentage (41.7%). The Ogden, Utah native has four double-doubles this season and enters the Pac-12 Tournament having scored in double figures in 10-straight games. Gardiner is the third Beaver to earn Sixth Player of the Year honors.

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Injuries – a topic we highlighted in length recently here at The Weekly Fast Break, and which has decimated seasons across the country. While many teams played with incredibly short rosters for large parts of the season (you will find at least one in every conference), there was one instance of a team cancelling games earlier this year. TCU ruffled many feathers in the Big 12 Conference when it cancelled two league contests in January against Kansas State and Iowa State due to a lack of available players. The Horned Frogs did later add three players through walk-on tryouts (and the volleyball team) to their roster to continue the season. Regardless of how a roster is managed at the beginning of the season, injuries are not something anyone can predict, yet coaches must be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

On March 1, the Davidson College athletic department announced that the remainder of the 2023-24 women’s basketball season had been cancelled due to a significant number of injuries. In a statement released by the department, athletic director Chris Clunie said, “The physical, mental, and emotional toll of this unfortunate and injury-riddled season has brought us to this point. We are incredibly saddened that we cannot finish out the season strong, but feel this is the best decision for our scholar-athletes.”

The Wildcats forfeited two games prior to hosting George Washington on Feb. 28 to celebrate senior night. Davidson lost 45-40 and did not play their last Atlantic 10 Conference game of the year on March 2 at Saint Louis. After starting the season on a terror at 12-1 including a win over Duke and finding themselves receiving votes in the AP Top 25 Poll, they finished 18-8. Their abrupt end to the season did alter the seeding for the Atlantic-10 post-season tournament. 

Could Davidson have played the final regular season game and in the Atlantic-10 tournament with seven players? Yes, they absolutely could have, and there will be teams playing in the upcoming days with that same number of available players. All we can do is hope that this decision by Davidson was not made in a silo but with input from the players in that locker room. Playing shorthanded is difficult, but quitting does not always make the situation better, either.


It is too difficult to pick out games that we need to keep an eye on for the next 11 days in the lead-up to Selection Sunday (March 17). There are still some conference regular season games to be played that will help crown regular season champs and determine seeding for their postseason tournament. Our friends at will keep your schedule in check via their site with real-time updates of teams that advance in their tournament play to help map out your viewing schedule. There is a very good chance you will find yourself up way too late on many nights watching games, and checking scores and highlights over coffee the next morning. But do not worry, because this is exactly how it is supposed to be in March – late nights, buzzer beater happiness, and madness galore. Welcome to the party friends – get ready to dance and enjoy every moment!

Written by Missy Heidrick

I am a retired Kansas State shooting guard and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, Locked on Women's Basketball podcast host, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!

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