Final Four 2024: South Carolina, NC State, Iowa, UConn

Many a women’s basketball fan remembers the days of the Women’s NCAA Final Four seemingly always playing second fiddle to the men’s version of the same event. 

This season, thanks to a rise in star power in the women’s game, the roles have completely reversed. 

A new champion will be crowned in a few days in Cleveland with four teams standing – South Carolina, NC State, Iowa and UConn. 

With the regionals in Portland and Albany in the rear view mirror, northeastern Ohio will have the attention of many a sports fan for the next week. Without further adieu, here is a look at the four teams hoping to be crowned this year’s queens of women’s basketball. 

Remember those articles at the start of the season when Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks were picked to be the eighth best team in the nation and South Carolina would more closely resemble a team rebuilding? 

This season has been a testament to Staley’s prowess as a coach because this year’s rendition of the Gamecocks has looked like anything but a rebuild. It took a few games, but South Carolina managed to reclaim is place as the team to beat in the realm of women’s collegiate hoops. 

South Carolina is also aiming for something every bit as as significant as what would be a third national championship during the Staley era – and that is an undefeated season. 

What has made this year’s Gamecocks so difficult to defeat is their depth and their ability to really come alive in second halves of games. South Carolina can beat teams with its starting five of Te-Hina Paopao, Raven Johnson, Chloe Kitts, Bree Hall and Kamilla Cardoso (who recently declared for this year’s WNBA draft and is projected to be a lottery pick). 

Add in a bench that includes MiLaysia Fulwiley, Ashlyn Watkins and Tessa Johnson and it has the makings of a team opponents cannot rest against. 

Given the Wolfpack were in the same bracket as Texas and Stanford, NC State was considered to be somewhat of an underdog to emerge from its region. 

But Wes Moore’s NC State program has consistently assembled some of the premier teams in the nation these last several seasons and 2023-24 is no exception. 

Incorrect measurements or correct measurements, the Wolfpack certainly proved it was better than those Longhorns at the Elite Eight tilt in Portland. When the dust settled and the madness of March gave way to championship April, NC State would prove to be one of two teams that would send both its women’s and its men’s teams to Final Fours. 

If fans were not familiar before with Aziaha James, they certainly have become so throughout this tournament. They have also become familiar with River Baldwin, Mimi Collins and Saniya Rivers who previously played at South Carolina. Not to mention a star freshman in Zoe Brooks. 

To nearly get to the pinnacle of one’s sport only to be denied at the finish line is one of the more agonizing experiences as a team. 

Coach Lisa Bluder’s Iowa team experienced that last season when the Hawkeyes suffered defeat at the hands of LSU in last year’s much-ballyhooed national championship game. 

Entering this season, Iowa was seen as a team poised to once again be one of the top teams in the nation. But would Iowa have a supporting cast around Caitlin Clark to once again get the Hawkeyes to the promised land? 

The Hawkeyes have answered those questions. A big reason why they have is because of what Hannah Stuelke does in the interior. Add in Sydney Affolter and Kate Martin and this Iowa team does indeed have enough of a supporting cast around No. 22 to ensure she leaves the college ranks a winner before the next chapter of her career takes her to the WNBA – the Indiana Fever, more specifically.

Welcome back, Geno Auriemma…

Remember the days when women’s basketball was essentially a duopoly between Auriemma’s UConn and Pat Summitt’s Tennessee? 

With the record-setting parity that exists in the women’s game, those days are long gone. And while the Lady Vols have let go of coaches such as Holly Warlick and Kellie Harper, coach Auriemma’s Huskies are still going strong. 

UConn is the other team outside of NC State sending both its women’s and men’s squads to Final Fours. And while the men are defending champions, this year’s women’s team has had a remarkable run given all of the adversity and injuries they have fought through. 

It helps when a team has a healthy Paige Bueckers. It also helps when a team has an Aaliyah Edwards who is projected to be a first round draft pick so says many mocks. Nika Muhl, Ice Brady and KK Arnold are also talented players in their own rights.