December 26, 2023 

The Weekly Fast Break: Defrosting women’s college basketball for 2024

Back to work with sights set on big wins and performances

If you take a slow drive through your favorite campus this week, you will notice the quiet calm along the streets and a few people wandering about. It could be professors spending time in their offices catching up on work, maintenance professionals fixing bathrooms in dorms or a group of women’s college basketball players straggling in for practice after the holiday break.

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The first conversations back from a short time away are usually about things like ‘did your mom send the good cookies back with you’ or ‘you’ll never guess who the first person I saw in town was when I got home.’ But then reality sets in — managers are rolling out the ball racks and the jump ropes, trainers have filled the water bottles and coaches appear with a practice plan that takes up two pages. Break time is over — it is time to get to work.

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In just a few short days the calendar will flip to 2024, meaning everything that happened in 2023, including stellar or weak non-conference performances, is in the past. We can only look forward and know that Selection Sunday is just over 100 days away. What can you do to put your team in a place to be part of the Field of 68? Who is chasing a conference title and who is just looking for a lifeline to stay alive come March? This season we go by a simple rule that says you must believe that the loose ball you are chasing has your name on it. Your break time is over, and the intensity is headed to another level, so do not back down from that loose ball drill this week. It could very likely tell you how the season will bounce in 2024.

As the conferences turn

With the past week being a quiet one in terms of game action, we have been keeping our eye on developments across college athletics as the ‘drip-drip’ continues from conference realignment. When the Pac-12 collapsed this summer as teams exited to the Big Ten and the Big 12, there were several institutions with nowhere to go. After months of uncertainty, Stanford and Cal joined the ACC (along with SMU from the American Athletic Conference), leaving Oregon State and Washington State with no home when the lights are turned out on the Pac-12 in 2024. Leaders from those two schools had sued the Pac-12 membership in September for on-going control of the Pac-12. On Dec. 21, it was announced that an agreement had been made in principle that would end the litigation initiated by OSU and WSU. 

Washington State celebrated their first ever Pac-12 Tournament championship in March 2023. When the lights go out at the conference in 2024, the Cougars will have a new home for two years in the WCC. (Photo Credit: Powers Imagery)

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The actions of these two institutions have made it quite clear that their intention is to keep the Pac-12 afloat in some form or fashion in the future. As part of the agreement, the 10 departing schools will forfeit an undisclosed portion of revenue distributions over the rest of the 2023–24 school year and have provided “specific guarantees against potential future liabilities.” The Pac-12 will retain all its assets and future revenues and the agreement now positions all involved to move forward. For OSU and WSU, this gives them a more stable outlook of what their financial standing will be as they begin the process to rebuild the Pac-12.

In a joint statement, OSU president Jayathi Murthy and WSU president Kirk Schultz said, “In September, as the two remaining members of the Pac-12 Conference, Oregon State University and Washington State University were forced to act swiftly to protect the future viability of the Pac-12. Thanks to the determination and strength of Beaver Nation and Cougar Nation and the excellence of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff, we are now closer to achieving our goal.  Today’s news marks a huge victory for our universities and a significant step toward stabilizing the Pac-12 Conference and preserving its 108-year legacy.”

R/V Oregon State and sophomore Raegan Beers are off to a 10-0 start to the 2023-24 season. What will next year look like for the Beavers? (Photo credit: Oregon State Athletics)

What happens next for Beaver Nation and Cougar Nation? On Dec. 22 it was announced that both OSU and WSU have agreed to two-year affiliated memberships with the West Coast Conference (WCC) which will land many of the schools’ sports to compete in the WCC, including men’s and women’s basketball. However, not all sports will be competing in the WCC as they are still determining where and how those programs will compete in the future. For instance, neither school has announced plans for baseball and OSU announced its gymnastics, wrestling, indoor/outdoor track & field and men’s rowing teams will remain categorized as Pac-12 teams, which is made possible by those sports primarily competing in meet or tournament settings.

While there is some clarity on the next steps for OSU and WSU in the wake of the implosion of the Pac-12, there still is great uncertainty for many sports and student-athletes. There is also the underlying current that OSU and WSU leadership will spend the next two years trying to recruit new members and rebuild the Pac-12. Is that even feasible in this era of college athletics? Without a lucrative television contract that is driven by football in a time zone that is often forgotten by others across the country, a rebuild of the Pac-12 seems to be an uphill battle. In the meantime, what will become of the women’s basketball programs at these two schools as they go from a Power-5 to a mid-major conference? Will coaches leave? Will players leave? Can they sustain their level of success? Can the presence of OSU and WSU turn the WCC into a multi-bid league come NCAA Tournament time? These questions will be answered sooner rather than later, we can promise you that.

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Poll watch

There was little big game action last week ahead of the holiday break and so the polls were quiet, but decisive this week. No. 1 South Carolina remains the unanimous choice at the top of this week’s AP Top 25 poll, receiving all 36 votes from the national media panel. The top 10 remained unchanged and after returning to the AP Top 25, Washington bounced out after just one week of being ranked with a 59–51 loss at No. 19 Louisville. No. 17 Ohio State dropped four spots, but TCU is up two at No. 23. West Virginia becomes the fifth Big 12 team to join the Top 25, hopping in at No. 25 and landing in the poll for the first time since 2021. The Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC are the only three conferences to have every school still with a winning record heading into the teeth of conference play.

Star power

It appears the stars always shine brightest during the holiday season and so when two triple-doubles pop on the same night (Dec. 21), we here at The Weekly Fast Break take notice. It may have been her first, but we are quite sure that it will not be the last one in the career of Hannah Hidalgo, the 5’6 dynamite point guard for No. 13 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish dismantled Western Michigan on Dec. 21, 84–49, behind the efforts of Hidalgo’s 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. 

Caitlin Clark and #4 Iowa are 12-1 and fresh off her 13th career triple-double on Dec. 21 against Loyola-Chicago.
(Photo credit: Domenic Allegra/The Next)

It most definitely is not her first triple-double, but the second of this season and 13th of her career for No. 4 Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. The All-American led her team to a 98–69 victory over Loyola-Chicago in front of a sold-out home crowd in Iowa City, posting 36 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists. Clark and WNBA guard Sabrina Ionescu, who played at Oregon, are the only players in women’s college basketball history to record a triple-double in four consecutive seasons.

Full court press

With the lights are back on in practice gyms from Washington to Maine, it means we are just one backdoor pass away from a non-stop barrage of games to watch from now until the Final Four. Conference matchups, rivalries and must-win home games all start this week — here are some games to keep an eye on as we ring in the New Year (Check your local listings and broadcast schedule for times):

Dec. 20

Georgia Tech at No. 22 Florida State

North Dakota at St. Thomas (MN)

No. 9 Stanford at Cal

North Dakota State at South Dakota

Dec. 30

No. 17 Ohio State at Michigan

No. 12 Utah at No. 8 Colorado

No. 6 USC at No. 2 UCLA

No. 25 West Virginia at Kansas

No. 11 Kansas State at Cincinnati

No. 10 Baylor at No. 5 Texas

Iowa State at Oklahoma State

BYU at No. 23 TCU

Dec. 31

Illinois at No. 16 Indiana

No. 18 Marquette at No. 15 UConn

Oregon at R/V Oregon State

Jan. 2

UTSA at East Carolina

Northwestern at R/V Penn State

R/V Davidson at La Salle

R/V Michigan State at No. 4 Iowa

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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