NCAA Division II Women's Basketball: Can GVSU Fend Off Tough Opposition?

NCAA Division II Women's Basketball: Can GVSU Fend Off Tough Opposition?

Here’s a look at the 2024 NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship, which kicks off Friday with the start of regional play.

Mar 13, 2024 by Briar Napier
NCAA Division II Women's Basketball: Can GVSU Fend Off Tough Opposition?

It’s March. Need we say more?

The month for postseason college basketball is in full swing, and in NCAA Division II, a stacked field features 64 teams gunning for the ultimate prize of a national championship.

The action gets going this week, and if you’re in need of a primer for the madness to come over the next few weeks, look no further.

Here’s a look at the 2024 NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship, which kicks off Friday with the start of regional play and all leads to the Division II Women’s Elite Eight later this month in St. Joseph, Missouri: 

Grand Valley State Leads Loaded Midwest

The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference sent three teams to the Midwest Regional, and whomever makes it out of the bracket and moves on to the Division II Women’s Elite Eight will have to go through a dogfight to get there. 

The top seed in the Midwest is GLIAC regular-season and tournament champion Grand Valley State, which ranks No. 2 in Tuesday’s Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll. 

The Lakers are 29-2 overall entering the NCAA Tournament, with one of those losses coming to Division I Ohio State, and the other coming to fierce rival Ferris State, ranked 14th in the most recent WBCA poll. 

GVSU, which will face No. 8 seed Trevecca Nazarene, is led by GLIAC Player and Defensive Player of the Year Rylie Bisballe. Grand Valley State narrowly beat out No. 2-seeded Ashland – the defending national champion and winner of 67 of its past 68 games – for hosting rights, with the potential GVSU-Ashland regional final having the makings of a classic. 

That is, unless No. 3-seeded Ferris State has something to say about it. 

Though the Bulldogs lost out on GLIAC hardware in both the regular season and tournament play, they have arguably the two most impressive wins in the country. They defeated both Grand Valley State and Ashland, being the only Division II team to beat either squad. 

Ferris State will bring three All-GLIAC first-team picks (Chloe Idoni, Kadyn Blanchard and Mallory McCartney) to the NCAA tourney, where they’ll square off with No. 6 Lewis. 

The GLIAC’s representation in the Midwest Regional is rounded out by No. 4 Northern Michigan, which returns to the regional round for the first time in five years and likely will have a date with GVSU (which the Wildcats took to overtime in the regular season) if NMU wins its first-round game against No. 5 Kentucky Wesleyan. 

Five SAC Teams Earn Regional Bids

Want some context to show how stacked the South Atlantic Conference was this season? 

Well, over half of the Southeast Regional consists of teams from the league, and all are top-6 seeds in the eight-team bracket. 

Leading the way as the top seed and host is regular-season conference champion (and a national semifinalist from a season ago) Catawba, which will face No. 8-seeded UNC Pembroke in the first round in front of friendly confines inside Goodman Arena, where it holds a national-best 33-game home winning streak. 

Two-time SAC Player of the Year Lyrik Thorne is fun to watch. She ranks 10th in Division II in scoring (20.1 points per game) on a team that scores 77.1 points per game, and Catawba will be looking to make up for a prior postseason misstep, a loss to Wingate in the semifinals of the SAC Championship. 

Speaking of Wingate, the SAC tournament champion earned the league’s automatic bid and the No. 3 seed in the Southeast, where the Bulldogs will face a familiar foe in the first round, fellow SAC team Anderson, the sixth seed. 

They split their two regular-season meetings – with Wingate’s Laney Beale notching a triple-double in the Bulldogs’ 88-62 win in their second game against each other late last month – to set up what should be another tense encounter this week with seasons on the line. 

No. 2 Carson-Newman, meanwhile, will be lurking and trying to upend Catawba after only losing by two on the road in the regular season. At 77.4 points scored per game on average (ninth in Division II), the Eagles, who face No. 7 Augusta to start things off, have more than enough offensive firepower to keep up, should they rematch with the hosts in the regional championship game. 

Finally, Lenoir-Rhyne is the No. 4 seed and gets No. 5 Georgia Southwestern in the first round, with the Bears trying to pick up the second NCAA Tournament win in their history and first since 2009. The potential reward of Catawba – which they defeated 81-66 on Feb. 14 in Hickory – looms in the Round of 32.

Valdosta State Carries Some Firepower

No one in Division II carries a longer winning streak into the NCAA Tournament than Valdosta State, and the well-deserved No. 1-seeded team in the South Regional, which was taken out in last year’s first round, is aiming for a deeper run this time around. 

The Blazers started the 2023-2024 season a middling 3-2, losing in their season opener to Eckerd (the South’s eventual No. 7 seed) and their Gulf South Conference opener to Lee. 

Since then, VSU has been on a tear, winning 26 straight games – all against GSC foes, in the regular season and in the conference tournament – to roll to the league’s regular-season and tournament titles. 

Undefeated at home this season (15-0), the Blazers have home-court advantage against No. 8 Miles for its first-round matchup and for the rest of the regional, as junior forward Kalifa Ford (the GSC Player of the Year) leads the way for VSU. 

Two other GSC teams will be joining the champs in the South Regional, and they’re unsurprisingly the two teams that gave the Blazers their most trouble at the top of the league standings: Union and Lee. 

No. 2 Union, holding a 29-3 record going into the tourney, likely would’ve been a No. 1 seed in many other regions across the country but could never quite get past the Blazers, losing to them twice in the regular season. 

Still, a sturdy Bulldogs squad, paced by two-time All-GSC first-team selection Shanique Lucas – who is 66 points from 2,000 in her career – will be bound to give the Blazers, and the rest of the South Regional, some trouble, starting when her team plays Eckerd to start off its NCAA journey. 

Lee rounds out the GSC’s trio in the regional as the No. 5 seed, and though there’s a little more inconsistency with the Flames (21-10) than some of the other teams in the bracket, wins over Valdosta State and Union (which Lee defeated in the GSC Tournament semis) speak for themselves. 

Senior guard Mallory Hampton may only be 5-foot-5, but her scoring prowess (19.3 points per game) is big-time and can give teams fits.

Gannon, Azusa Pacific Among Other Contenders

Seven of a possible eight No. 1 seeds for the regionals advanced to the Elite Eight in 2023, and if that trend holds for 2024, that’s good news for white-hot teams such as Gannon, Azusa Pacific and Texas Woman’s, which all are the top seeds in their respective regionals. 

No team has more wins in Division II this year than Gannon’s 32, with the Atlantic Regional’s No. 1 seed trying to get redemption after being upset in the first round as a No. 2 seed a year ago. 

The Golden Knights have one of the most dangerous players in the field in redshirt senior forward Samantha Pirosko – who had a ridiculous 40-point, 19-rebound night in 35 minutes of play in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament semifinals against West Chester – and play No. 8 West Virginia State in its fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. 

Over in the West Regional lies another powerful top seed in Azusa Pacific, which isn’t far behind Valdosta State’s nation-leading winning streak, as the Cougars have won 24 straight games heading into their first-round matchup with No. 8 Cal State Los Angeles. 

APU must be weary of the dangers of an upset, however; Cal State LA was the last team to defeat it (79-75 on Nov. 21 in Azusa), while No. 3 Western Washington – the Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament champion and 2022 national runner-up – also took the Cougars down three days prior in nonconference play. 

Texas Woman’s, meanwhile, also enters the regional round with a loaded resume – as the Lone Star Conference’s regular-season and tournament champion and No. 1 team in the South Central Regional – and holding five top-25 victories on the season. 

No. 8 Colorado School of Mines is first on the docket for the Pioneers, who have a force down low in junior forward Ashley Ingram (18.1 points per game). The Pioneers will try to ensure that their first time hosting a regional remains an occasion they want to remember.