AP Top 25 women's basketball poll: South Carolina still undefeated after trying weekend

The weekly struggles of the No. 2 team in the Associated Press poll has finally ended.

Ohio State (22-3, 13-1) crushed Nebraska to keep hold of the Big Ten standings over fellow ranked squads Iowa (23-3, 12-2), which dominated Michigan during Caitlin Clark's historic night, and Indiana (21-3, 12-2).

None of the top five teams in the AP poll played a ranked opponent last week. All cruised except for No. 1 South Carolina, which was on rare upset alerts in games against Tennessee and Georgia. The most upheaval, unsurprisingly, was in the Pac-12.

There are only a handful of games left before conference tournaments begin in March. Here's a look at three teams vying for top positions in those brackets and what paths they could take to hosting duties for the NCAA tournament.

South Carolina's toughest week so far

South Carolina won its 42nd and 43rd consecutive regular season SEC games last week, breaking the record set by Pat Summit's 1991-1995 Tennessee teams. These games, first a 66-55 edging of Tennessee on the road and then a 70-56 win at home over Georgia, weren't as as easy as others this season.

“Some teams have gone through this all season long,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “For us, it's our turn. We don’t want it to be, but it’s our turn to work through the next step of continuing to improve on things.”

The Gamecocks (25-0, 12-0 SEC) are one of the nation's best 3-point shooting teams (39.9% ranks fourth) on the highest makes (6.7, 109th percentile) and attempts (16.8, 259th percentile) in Staley's tenure. It is a reliable part of their game now, which makes its absence problematic. Against Tennessee, they were 2-of-9 (22.2%) in the worst SEC outing behind the arc outside of the game against Ole Miss (2-10). They also struggled with turnovers. The Lady Vols couldn't capitalize enough offensively and South Carolina closed out another game leading by six at 4:30.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley talks to Raven Johnson during a win over Tennessee on Feb. 15. (Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley talks to Raven Johnson during a win over Tennessee on Feb. 15. (Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

South Carolina shot better from behind the arc overall against Georgia (9-27), but were in trouble early because they took 17 of those attempts in the first half and hit only six. They attempted eight shots inside the arc, which is where they usually dominate teams through Kamilla Cardoso in the paint.

Cardoso, who missed two games while with the Brazilian national team at its Olympic qualifying event, returned with back-to-back double-doubles this week while averaging 17 points and 13 rebounds. She could have been more efficient, but she limited turnovers (three over two games) and notched up her assists (eight), steals (four) and blocks (six). Staley has so many talented players in the starting five and the next five. But it's still Cardoso's aggressiveness and production that will be key to a Final Four return.

South Carolina can clinch a share of the SEC title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament with a victory at home against Alabama on Wednesday. The Gamecocks also became the first SEC team to begin back-to-back seasons a perfect 25-0. They have the inside track to the No.1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament again this year and are as much of a lock as one could be for the top seed.

Has Colorado already lost its No. 1 seed line?

Colorado (20-5, 10-4) slipping into the fourth and final No. 1 seed line in the NCAA selection committee’s first top-16 reveal was a surprise, and the Buffaloes might have already lost their hold on it. That’s how close the margin is for teams behind No. 1 overall seed South Carolina, which would have to hit serious and sudden struggles to lose its spot.

The Buffaloes are ranked 16 in the NET, one of the many criteria used to seed teams for the NCAA tournament, with a neutral-site win over LSU and an 18-point neutral-site loss to NC State in the non-conference. Chair Lisa Peterson said the biggest thing they looked at this year was “the quality of wins and losses” and how teams challenged themselves ahead of their conference schedule.

That win over LSU appears to be doing a lot for the Buffaloes. And Colorado certainly benefits from playing in the toughest conference in the country. The committee placed five Pac-12 teams in the top 16, more than the next closest Big Ten and ACC (three each).

That means those teams could jostle around each other a lot in the next week-plus before the committee’s second and final reveal. Already since the reveal, Colorado lost to Utah, 77-76, in one of its worst defensive performances of the season.

Iowa (23-3, 12-2) would be the first to move up, followed by NC State in the latest reveal. UCLA (20-5, 9-5) came in at seventh, but lost by a bucket to Oregon State (21-4, 10-4) on Friday and that might jumble things. The Bruins’ signature win is against UConn and they have a resume nearly identical to Colorado.

USC (No. 9 overall seed, NET 12) and Oregon State (No. 11, NET 17) are also in the mix. Each team is 5-3 against teams ranking in the NET top-25. Neither played strong non-conference schedules nor have a signature non-conference victory.

Utah (19-7, 9-5) is sixth in NET with a stronger non-conference schedule (though a far worst average opponent NET ranking) and fighting its way to the top 16. The Utes improved to 4-6 against teams ranking in the NET top-25 (Colorado is 5-5) and 10-7 against teams ranked top 100 (Colorado is 12-5). They have a quality loss against South Carolina, 78-69, on a neutral site in December.

Utah and Colorado travel to UCLA and USC for four games that will play big into the next reveal and which of these teams will have easier roads to the final weekend.

How Syracuse surpassed Louisville

Syracuse (22-4, 12-3) moved up over Louisville (21-6, 10-4) for the first time in my ballot last week after edging out the Cardinals at home. The Orange moved up another couple of spots for holding the second spot in the ACC standings behind Virginia Tech (22-4, 13-2).

Dyaisha Fair is the engine behind Syracuse. She’s averaging 21.3 ppg (15th in DI), notched her third 30-plus point outing against Virginia on Sunday, and is sixth on the all-time scoring list with 3,224 points. She's now 60 behind Brittney Griner.

Fair, a fifth-year guard, takes over close contests for Syracuse late and can light it up from behind the 3-point line. She leads the ACC with 3.6 made 3s per game (Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore is second at 2.6) and a 38.6 percentage (Amoore, 32.5%). Lately, she’s received critical backcourt help from Georgia Woolley, a junior guard who also came over from Buffalo when Felisha Legette-Jack took the head coaching job.

Woolley is averaging 14.2 ppg over the season, but scored 24 against Miami and 26 against Virginia this week. They’re season highs and both on shooting percentages of 50-plus, more top marks. Plus, she dished out five assists in each contest. She averages 3.3 per game and had five or more only three times this year.

Syracuse hosts Duke (16-8, 8-5) and Pitt (8-19, 2-12) this week before ending on Feb. 29 at NC State (23-3, 11-3) in a matchup that could determine that No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, as well as NCAA seeding. The Wolfpack have a road trip to North Carolina (16-9, 8-5) and Duke, followed by home games against Syracuse and Wake Forest. Syracuse, sitting in the 5-6 seed line area, still has a chance to move into the top 16 and host games over the first weekend. The Orange would need to win out and receive a little help from teams above them faltering.

Louisville, fourth in the ACC, has had too many defensive lapses in big moments, an issue head coach Jeff Walz has called out since the start of the season. Opponents are shooting 41% against them, a mark that ranks in the bottom of the ACC with Pitt, Clemson, Wake Forest and Boston College. The Cardinals’ closing schedule is Georgia Tech, Virginia and then Florida State and Notre Dame.

Yahoo Sports' AP ballot

1. South Carolina (24-0)
2. Ohio State (22-3)
3. Stanford (23-3)
4. Iowa (23-3)
5. NC State (22-3)
6. Colorado (20-5)
7. Texas (24-3)
8. Kansas State (22-4)
9. Oregon State (21-3)
10. Virginia Tech (21-4)
11. UCLA (19-5)
12. USC (19-4)
13. UConn (22-5)
14. Indiana (21-3)
15. Notre Dame (18-6)
16. Syracuse (21-4)
17. LSU (21-4)
18. Gonzaga (26-2)
19. Utah (19-7)
20. Louisville (21-5)
21. Creighton (21-3)
22. West Virginia (22-3)
23. Princeton (20-3)
24. Oklahoma (18-7)
25. Baylor (18-6)

Official Week 16 AP rankings

1. South Carolina
2. Ohio State
3. Stanford
4. Iowa
5. Texas
6. NC State
7. USC
8. Virginia Tech
9. Oregon State
10. Kansas State
11. Colorado
12. UCLA
13. LSU
14. Indiana
15. UConn
16. Gonzaga
17. Syracuse
18. Utah
19. Notre Dame
20. Louisville
21. Creighton
22. West Virginia
23. Oklahoma
24. Baylor
25. Princeton