Women's college basketball fans are familiar with the dominance of defending NCAA champion South Carolina, led by reigning national player of the year Aliyah Boston. And it's practically impossible to miss the tear junior Caitlin Clark has been on, propelling Iowa to back-to-back Big Ten tournament titles.
But March is a whole new ballgame, and other teams are waiting in the wings to make statements once the NCAA tournament tips off.
The Gamecocks and Indiana appear to be locks as 1-seeds and are largely expected to make their way to Dallas and the women's Final Four. But from there, there's great uncertainty over who will join them. Many teams have been inconsistent within the regular season or conference play. Some programs look poised for deep runs, but don't have much past tournament success to fall back on. Injuries can greatly tip the scale, with some programs like Notre Dame and Texas depending on the health of Olivia Miles and Sonya Morris over the coming weeks.
Ahead of the 68-team bracket reveal Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), here's a look at some squads fresh off impressive runs or that could be poised to peak at the right time, teams you might not want to see in your team's corner of the bracket.
Virginia Tech: The new kids on the block
Record: 27-4 (ACC's automatic NCAA berth)
Bracketology projection: No. 1 seed in Seattle 3 Region
It might feel odd to have a projected 1-seed included here, but unlike others vying for this spot, the Hokies are in truly unchartered waters: They last made it to the second weekend of the tournament in 1999, well before coach Kenny Brooks took over, and have never advanced past the Sweet 16. They haven't yet secured a "we arrived" moment in March, either. Not fully healthy and up against a tough matchup in Florida Gulf Coast in last year's NCAA tournament, Virginia Tech was bounced in the first round.
Brooks has exalted his group -- one, he points out, is not full of McDonald's All Americans -- for its maturity, camaraderie, unselfishness and understanding of the moment and opportunity in front of the team. That has been on display in the Hokies current 11-game win streak that culminated in the program's first ACC tournament crown, the first time a 3-seed or lower won the event since 2012.
Two-time ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley and tournament MVP Georgia Amoore have been arguably the most potent one-two punch over the past few weeks of the season, while Kayana Traylor, Cayla King, Taylor Soule and D'asia Gregg are consummate role players. If the Hokies can continue to get that sort of inside-out production, and stay tough on the defensive end, their ACC run might not be the only history they make in March.
UConn: Down but not out
UConn's Aaliyah Edwards protects rim with big block
Record: 29-5 (Big East's automatic NCAA berth)
Bracketology projection: No. 2 seed in Greenville 2 Region
For much of February, the Huskies looked like a shell of the team that took South Carolina to the wire on Feb. 5, and even coach Geno Auriemma wasn't buying fatigue as an excuse anymore. Losses to Marquette and St. John's were one thing, but UConn had trouble putting away Xavier, which went winless in conference play, in the regular-season finale.
A week later, the Huskies were dancing in confetti at Mohegan Sun Arena, winners of the Big East tournament after a convincing weekend featuring comfortable, UConn-esque wins over Georgetown, Marquette and No. 10 Villanova by an average margin of 24 points. Sophomore guard Azzi Fudd made her return, and though her numbers were subdued (8.3 points on 32.1% shooting in 23 minutes per game), it's reasonable to expect she'll be more impactful as the month goes on. Auriemma said she only had two team practices under her belt going into the Big East tournament.
While Fudd's shooting and offensive prowess can't be overstated, Auriemma has maintained all season that his team's fate will lie primarily with posts Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz. Both have had stretches of inconsistency this season (more recently Edwards in February), but the duo wreaked havoc when it mattered in Uncasville, and life should only get easier for them with Fudd serving as a floor spacer.
The Huskies' February struggles seem like a distant memory now. It's March, and they know what that entails at a place like UConn.
Tennessee: How far can talent take you?
Rickea Jackson and Jordan Horston become the first Lady Vols duo to record double-doubles in a conference tournament game since 2014, eliminating the Tigers, 69-67.
Record: 23-11 (at-large bid; SEC tournament runner-up)
Bracketology projection: No. 5 seed in Seattle 3 Region
Despite high preseason expectations, Tennessee has had its well-documented struggles this year, failing to pick up a ranked win amid its grueling nonconference schedule until last weekend's upset over LSU in the SEC tournament semifinals. The Lady Vols won't get very far playing like they did in the first half against the Tigers, but the way they rallied to erase a 17-point deficit in the final 20 minutes and put away LSU demonstrated a growth since their previous close losses to the likes of Virginia Tech and Stanford.
Tennessee hasn't always played to its potential this season, but the Lady Vols are a team few would be jazzed to see on their side of the bracket considering the talent they boast in potential first-round WNBA draft picks Rickea Jackson and Jordan Horston. Despite falling short versus South Carolina 74-58, the players said their SEC tournament run built their confidence in what they can do during the rest of March, with coach Kellie Harper noting her team is playing with more grit and toughness than before. Could Greenville mark the start of Tennessee finally living up to its promise? If so, expect X factors Jillian Hollingshead and Tess Darby to step up massively down low and on the perimeter, respectively.
South Dakota State: Double-digit seed Cinderella
Paige Meyer makes a nice move for the layup
Record: 28-5 (Summit League's automatic NCAA berth)
Bracketology projection: No. 11 seed in Greenville 2 Region
Last year, 10-seed South Dakota was one of the Cinderellas of the NCAA tournament, as the Coyotes beat 7-seed Ole Miss and 2-seed Baylor to advance to the Sweet 16 (and were within reach of upsetting third-seeded Michigan in that run, too). Who's to say their Summit League rival won't make a similar run this year? The Jackrabbits went perfect in conference play this season as well as 4-4 against Power 5 or Big East programs, with wins over tournament teams Mississippi State and Louisville and a narrow loss in a relatively tight game against South Carolina.
Additionally, the Jackrabbits are the reigning 2022 WNIT champions, which has historically carried over into NCAA tournament success. The program made it past the first weekend as recently as in 2019, so perhaps this is the year it takes the next step. Sixth-year senior and two-time Summit League Player of the Year Myah Selland was part of the run and is certain to draw from that experience. South Dakota State will enter March Madness with great momentum, too, as winners of 21 straight games and officially clinching its NCAA tournament bid with a 93-51 rout of Omaha, the fourth-largest win margin of any conference tournament final since 2000 and largest since UConn's 56-point win over South Florida in 2017.
Ohio State: Most intriguing wild card
Ohio State completes a 24-point comeback against top-seeded Indiana in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
Record: 24-7 (at-large bid; Big Ten tournament runner-up)
A 105-72 blowout loss to Iowa in the Big Ten championship game showed the Buckeyes are not infallible. But in a tournament in which most teams are unfamiliar with their opponents, you probably don't want your first time going up against Ohio State's trademark press to be in a win-or-go-home situation. Sharpshooter Taylor Mikesell might be their best-known player, but Cotie McMahon has made a statement as one of the best freshmen in the country, and after missing most of the season with an injury, Jacy Sheldon is back and ready to make an impact on both ends.
Even last year, coach Kevin McGuff nearly guided his team to an Elite Eight bid after upsetting LSU, and a lot of the experience from that squad returns to the tournament. After starting the season 19-0, Ohio State lost six of its final 10 games of the regular season, leading to a dip in the rankings and in expectations externally. But their semifinal win over Indiana, in which they rallied from 24 down to advance to the final (one of several big comebacks they've had this season), signified they're not a team to trifle with. If the Buckeyes can come through with the energy and resilience they exhibited in the second half against Indiana, they'll be a tough out no matter the competition.