Iowa will meet South Carolina on Sunday afternoon in arguably the most highly-anticipated national championship game in the history of women’s college basketball.

Iowa’s last 2 games have both set ESPN viewership records, with its win over UConn in the Final Four being named the network’s most-watched basketball game of all time — at any level. Now, Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes will face a South Carolina team that hasn’t lost since these teams met in the Final Four just over a year ago.

Iowa finds itself in the rare position of being an underdog in this game. However, the Gamecocks were also favored a year ago in this matchup when Iowa pulled off the upset to advance to the title game. In that way, Clark and Iowa will be hoping to see history repeat itself on Sunday afternoon.

Here are the latest betting lines for this contest courtesy of DraftKings:

  • Spread: South Carolina -6.5
  • Total: 160.5 points
  • Money line: Iowa +255 | UConn -278

Here’s a look at some advanced stats for this matchup:

Note: All advanced stats data comes via WarrenNolan.

When Iowa has the ball

  • Iowa offensive rating: 117.8 (1st)
  • South Carolina defensive rating: 75.9 (1st)

This is setting up to be an electric matchup between the No. 1 offense and the No. 1 defense in the country. Caitlin Clark garners a lot of the headlines as the engine of Iowa’s elite offense, but the Hawkeyes have shotmaking all over the court. Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall are capable shooters and Sydney Affolter is emerging as an efficient scorer as well. There’s also Hannah Stuelke, who has been Iowa’s second leading scorer this season and is a big-time threat in the low post.

South Carolina’s defense is anchored by start center Kamilla Cardoso. At 6-foot-7, Cardoso will have a significant height advantage over any post player Iowa puts on her. Stuelke is listed at 6-foot-2 and backup forward Addison O’Grady is 6-foot-4, but they are the tallest players in Iowa’s rotation. With Cardoso leading the way, South Carolina’s defense leads the country in block percentage at 12.2%.

Of course, much of what South Carolina does defensively will revolve around Iowa’s 3-point line. Led by Clark, the Hawkeyes attempted 44.7% of their field goals from 3-point range this season. Clark alone averages 13.7 attempts from long range per contest and hits at a 38% clip. South Carolina’s defense limited opponents to just 26.9% shooting from distance in 2023-24, which is perhaps a major reason why the Gamecocks have the nation’s No. 1 defensive rating. South Carolina also faced a low volume of 3-point tries — just over 20 per game, which equates to about 32% of total field goal attempts.

Iowa will likely need to win this battle by a considerable margin in order to have a legit chance to pull off the upset. The Hawkeyes will certainly need better 3-point shooting than they got in their win over UConn in the semifinals. In that game, Clark went just 3-for-11 from downtown. Martin and Marshall, usually Iowa’s best outlets on the perimeter besides Clark, combined to shoot just 2-for-11 from distance. Iowa was able to hold off the Huskies because it shot 20-of-33 from inside the arc, but that may not be a reliable path to efficient offense with Cardoso protecting the rim.

When South Carolina has the ball

  • South Carolina offensive rating: 114.9 (3rd)
  • Iowa defensive rating: 93.0 (200th)

This side of the matchup is not quite as compelling. South Carolina has an elite offense that features an ensemble of efficient scorers from all over the court. Cardoso leads the way with just over 14 points per game, but the Gamecocks often get a variety of players involved in the offense. Nine different South Carolina players average between 6.2 and 14.3 points per night.

Iowa’s defense often just tries to survive. The Hawkeyes also struggled on this end of the floor a year ago, but were still talented enough to beat South Carolina and reach the national title game. Like last year, they are a little undersized in the front court and play at a high pace offensively, which can put strain on a defense. Iowa’s defense was excellent in its Elite Eight win over LSU, limiting the Tigers to an effective field goal percentage of just 43.2%. Iowa will likely be looking for a similar performance on Sunday vs. South Carolina.

South Carolina’s offense in the post against Stuelke and Iowa’s front court will be a matchup keep an eye on. Coach Dawn Staley spoke about that battle in her press conference on Saturday.

“We have to make her guard us,” Staley said of Stuelke. “She’s going to have to guard not one, not two, not three, four. We’ve got four or five legitimate post players that she’s going to see and have to guard, and they all are different.”

Point spread analysis

Iowa has been consistently favored throughout the NCAA Tournament, but the Hawkeyes are big underdogs in this spot against an undefeated South Carolina team. The public was all over Iowa to cover -3.5 on Saturday night vs. UConn, but ended up falling short in a 2-point victory. Caitlin Clark also fell well below her lofty total of 33.5 points, which was also a very popular pick with the public. It’s possible those performances are having an impact on the market for this game.

However, according to Warren Nolan’s projection, this line still isn’t high enough in South Carolina’s favor. That prediction shows Iowa as a 9-point underdog to Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks. Iowa did out-perform Warren Nolan’s projection in the Final Four against UConn by about 5 points — but that model was right to be skeptical about the Hawkeyes, who still weren’t able to cover the 3.5 points in Vegas.

Last year when these teams met in the Final Four, South Carolina was an 11.5-point favorite. Both teams have significant differences in personnel, but there are also some similarities. South Carolina is still undefeated. Caitlin Clark is still the sport’s best shooter and a dominant force on the No. 1 offense in the country. The Hawkeyes’ defense is still bad, especially for a national championship-caliber team. Of course, Iowa ended up winning that game outright thanks to a legendary game from Clark: 41 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists.

Ultimately, I think Clark will rise to the occasion again and take this one down to the wire. South Carolina’s balanced offense may end up being more of a weakness than a strength in the 4th quarter of a close game when you need someone to take control. I’d back South Carolina to win outright, but this Iowa team is more than capable of making this a close game if the 3-pointers are falling.

PICK: Iowa +6.5 (-105 at bet365)

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Caitlin Clark point total prop

  • Caitlin Clark point total: 31.5 points (via FanDuel)

Against UConn, I took Clark to score under 33.5 points — a total she’s only hit 15 times all season. I expected the Huskies to defend her much more competitively than LSU did in the Elite Eight, and that more-or-less bore out. However, I’m taking the over here. Clark scored 41 points against the Gamecocks a year ago, and she didn’t even have a particularly good night from 3-point range (5-of-17). I think South Carolina will decide to live with Clark’s scoring while focusing much of their attention on completely shutting down the likes of Stuelke, Martin and Marshall. That’s the strategy South Carolina deployed a year ago in this matchup, and it would have worked if the Gamecocks hadn’t struggled so much on the other end of the floor. I think we’ll see more of the same in this game.

PICK: Caitlin Clark over 31.5 points (-114)

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Kamilla Cardoso point total prop

  • Kamilla Cardoso point total: 18.5 points (via DraftKings)

Cardoso is an exceptional player who is more than capable of putting up points in bunches against Iowa’s front court, but this total is too high. Cardoso got to 19 points just 4 times all season. Granted, 2 of those instances have come during the NCAA Tournament. But South Carolina gets so many different players involved offensively, it’s tough to bet on Cardoso to score nearly 5 points more than her average in this spot. Cardoso also briefly left the semifinal with an ankle injury — she returned to the game in the second half and appears to be fine, but it’s something to monitor throughout the game.

PICK: Kamilla Cardoso under 18.5 points (-120)

Ashlyn Watkins rebounds prop

  • Ashlyn Watkins rebound total: 9.5 rebounds (via DraftKings)

This number is perhaps a little inflated on the heels of Watkins’ 20-rebound performance against NC State, but I don’t think it’s high enough. South Carolina finished in the top-5 nationally this season in offensive rebounding rate, and Watkins was a huge reason why. Her total rebounding rate of 17.9% was second on the team only to Cardoso. Against LSU, another elite offensive rebounding team, Iowa really struggled. Angel Reese cruised to 20 boards in that matchup, with half of those coming on the offensive glass. I expect South Carolina to use Watkins relentlessly as a rebounder against an undersized Hawkeyes front court. Watkins, a sophomore, has easily eclipsed this number in back-to-back games despite coming off the bench.

PICK: Ashlyn Watkins over 9.5 rebounds (+100)

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