AP Top 25 women's basketball poll: Which team has the best case for No. 2?

South Carolina is solidly the top team in the country and the only undefeated team still standing. The rest of the top five? Its status is complicated.

All four of them lost at least one game this week, raising the biggest question of the Associated Press Top 25 poll: Who has the resume and more defined team to deserve the No. 2 overall spot?

Who is the No. 2 team in the country?

A quick look at the blind resumes:

Overall record and conference record | NET ranking | Record vs AP Top 25 teams (vs. Top 5 teams) | Record vs. Her Hoop Stats rating top-10 | Head-to-head

Team 1: (16-2, 6-1): 17 | 4-2 (1-1) | Lost to Teams 2 and 3

Team 2: (15-1, 4-1): 7 | 5-1 (1-0) | 1-0 | Defeated Team 1 on the road

Team 3: (16-2, 4-2): 11 | 3-1 (2-0) | 1-0 | Defeated Team 1 at neutral site

Team 4: (18-2, 7-1): 5 | 3-1 (0-0) | 1-0 | N/A

Team 1 is Colorado, which lost to Team 2 UCLA on Friday night. Team 3 is NC State, which was upset by Miami on a wild night in the ACC, and Team 4 is Iowa, whose only AP loss was in overtime to Ohio State on Sunday.

NC State slid up from No. 3 to No. 2 in my ballot for its record against the top five (UConn when it was No. 2 and Colorado) compared to that of the other teams. UCLA and Colorado are racking up quality wins within their conference in a way not afforded to NC State. (In related news, longtime Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer became the all-time NCAA DI wins leader by passing Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski on Sunday.)

I also went with the Wolfpack for reasons outside of the blind statistics above.

The Wolfpack’s only two losses were while fifth-year center River Baldwin was out with an ankle injury. Her presence alone makes NC State a better team and her improved production from her senior year is a huge bonus. I would have liked to see a matchup with Virginia Tech while Baldwin was healthy. They’ll meet again Feb. 8.

The team posted three of its four worst rebounding rates over the four games she missed, and Miami was able to crush the Wolfpack in paint points, 38-16, shooting 28% from the floor.

The guards need Baldwin in the paint, and now that she’s back, NC State has a complete team (with the best defense of the bunch) with a resume worthy of No. 2. UCLA was such a close second.

North Carolina State's Saniya Rivers (22) celebrates a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B. DeBlaker)
North Carolina State has done enough so far to earn the No. 2 spot in this week's poll. (AP Photo/Karl B. DeBlaker)

Ohio State is at its best when Cotie McMahon is at her best

McMahon bodied her way to buckets all afternoon against Iowa, but none were more important than her three layups in overtime of a 100-92 upset of then-No. 2 Iowa. She is the reason the Buckeyes earned a signature win and better chance at hosting NCAA tournament games in March. It’s what the Buckeyes (15-3, 6-1 Big Ten) were lacking in their biggest matchups.

McMahon, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is experiencing a slight sophomore slump. She hasn’t taken over games like she had last year, when she scored at least 20 points in 11 games. At this point of the season, she had notched eight of them. Her field goal percentage is down nearly five percent (51% to 46.2) and her free throw percentage is down nearly seven (67.7 to 61.1) despite getting to the line more. Her assist and steal numbers are also down on a per-40 minute basis.

It’s her lack of impact in Ohio State’s ranked matchups that dropped the Buckeyes' ceiling. In the opener, the 6-foot forward scored seven points while shooting 27.3% against USC. At home against UCLA last month, she scored seven while shooting 14.3% (2-of-14). She attempted a total of two free throws in those two games. In a loss to Michigan, which has not been ranked, she scored five, going 2-of-6 with two free throw attempts.

“This season’s been kind of hard for me, but I knew if we wanted to win this game [against Iowa] I had to be on my Ps and Qs,” McMahon said on the NBC broadcast. “I needed to do what I needed to do to win this game.”

[See the latest AP Top 25 poll right here.]

McMahon scored a career-high 33 points by being aggressive and overpowering Iowa near the basket. The Hawkeyes couldn’t contain her, leading to a career-high 14 free throw attempts (she was 9-of-14), and she reeled in a season-high 12 rebounds (three times her average).

In two of the three periods Ohio State either tied or lost, McMahon scored a combined one point, missing all eight attempts. In the fourth quarter and overtime, she was 8-of-9 for 21 points and six rebounds. Defensively, her 66.3 stop percentage led the team and her run across the block to alter Caitlin Clark’s final-possession drive gave Ohio State the opportunity in overtime.

This is the McMahon the Buckeyes need to be a legitimate NCAA contender. Ohio State won’t have many opportunities to improve their NET 16 ranking with only Indiana and Iowa left on the regular season schedule.

Florida State and the great close-out problem

The win probability chart should not be trusted during Florida State games. The Seminoles watched a 19-point lead disappear against Syracuse on Thursday night and allowed Virginia, which was winless in ACC play, to close on a 17-9 run.

Florida State (14-6, 5-3 ACC) is not a strong defensive team. The Seminoles' 91.6 defensive rating is in the 50th percentile, down from 86.2 and the 84th percentile in 2022-23. Their opponents’ success last week made it glaringly obvious the Seminoles need to improve. There are too many great individual players and high-scoring teams in the ACC who can go off for a big day.

The Seminoles rank 14th in the ACC, allowing 70.4 ppg, less than a point off last-place Clemson. Nationally that's in the 16th percentile; opponents' 91.6 points per 100 possessions is in the 50th percentile. Though they’re decent defensively within the arc (41.8% opponent FG% is in the 82nd percentile), the Seminoles struggle to close out deep shooters (31.4% is in the 44th percentile). And they can’t always rely on outscoring an opponent.

Syracuse (16-2, 6-1) fifth-year guard Dyaisha Fair exploited it with a program-record nine 3s, three of which were at pivotal points in the fourth quarter. The Orange finished 47.6% (10-of-21) from 3-point range. (Actually, this was mostly Fair, who made 64% of her 14 attempts). Syracuse averages 32.5% and Fair is a 38% 3-point shooter.

It’s one thing to allow an experienced sharpshooter torch your defense. It’s quite another to give it up to a freshman on a team winless in ACC play. Virginia (9-9, 1-6) guard Kymora Johnson’s 35 points while shooting 70% (14-of-20) was a career-high and nearly three times her 13.4 ppg average. The team made eight 3s shooting 47.1%, better than its 27.4% season average. And Virginia's 91 points was three off a season high and far better than the 68.3 points it averaged in ACC play.

Associated Press Top 25 ballot

  1. South Carolina

  2. NC State

  3. Colorado

  4. Iowa

  5. UCLA

  6. Stanford

  7. UConn

  8. Kansas State

  9. Texas

  10. USC

  11. Utah

  12. Ohio State

  13. Louisville

  14. LSU

  15. Virginia Tech

  16. Indiana

  17. Notre Dame

  18. Gonzaga

  19. North Carolina

  20. Baylor

  21. Florida State

  22. Creighton

  23. Princeton

  24. Syracuse

  25. Iowa State