With a win over the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, the UC Riverside women’s basketball team has continued to carve their path toward a Big West title. The team’s five-game winning streak to open conference play is the longest such streak since the Highlanders won eight in a row to start their inaugural 2001-02 conference season. With the Highlanders emerging as favorites to win the Big West and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament, discussions of where the team might be seeded have reached a national platform. Bracketologist Charlie Creme of ESPN has UCR projected as a 14 seed, a scenario where they would head to Tempe, Ariz. to take on #8 Arizona State. While this matchup would mirror the team’s last trip to the tournament in 2007 — with the 14 seed Highlanders barely succumbing to the three seed Sun Devils, 57-50 — many things could change over the remaining two months of the season. Based on the bracket by Creme along with the AP and coaches’ polls, here are some possible matchups for the Highlanders in the round of 64, ordered by distance from campus. (All statistics and standings as of Jan. 23, 2016)

#8 Arizona State (16-3, 7-0)

Approx. Distance from Campus: 325 miles

Conference: Pac-12

Leading Scorer: Sophie Brunner (11.0 PPG)

The Sun Devils are an exceptional defensive team, allowing their opponents to score only 51.8 ppg on 38.7 percent shooting on the season. They are exceptional at forcing turnovers, averaging 9.7 steals per game on the way to a +4.7 turnover margin per game. The Highlanders rely more on an offense that shoots 45.5 percent from the field, with the trio of Crain (19.4), Verin (18.2) and Ito (13.8) each possessing higher scoring averages than Arizona State’s top scorer. An interesting thing to note is that the Sun Devils have taken 128 more total shots than their opponents. The Highlanders have only 31 more than theirs. As long as the Highlanders continue to keep the ball flowing through its Princeton offense and take advantage of all the openings they can find in the Arizona State defense, their chances to pull out a win here could become much greater.

#12 Stanford (15-5, 5-2)

Approx.Distance from Campus: 420 miles

Conference: Pac-12

Leading Scorer: Lili Thompson (14.8 PPG)

Stanford has played some of the same competition that the Highlanders have this season with mixed results. The Cardinal squeaked out a two-point victory against Oregon in Eugene, where the Highlanders fell 91-85 earlier in the year. However, Stanford only mustered 50 points versus Oregon State in an eight-point loss. The Highlanders also fell to Oregon State this season, but managed to score 15 more than Stanford did against the Beavers. The Cardinal dismantled UC Davis — the only other team undefeated in Big West play and a team UCR hosts Feb.4 — 74-45 in their season opener on the road. The Cardinal can shoot the three better than most of UCR’s opponents, averaging a 35.5 percent clip from three, markedly higher than the 31 percent the Highlanders opponents have shot against them. If the Highlanders can crowd the three-point line and contain Stanford’s second chances, they have just as good of a chance as anyone.

#11 Oregon State

Approx. Distance from Campus: 935 miles

Conference: Pac-12

Leading Scorer: Jamie Weisner (17.0 PPG)

The Highlanders already visited Corvallis, Ore. on Nov. 22, but were blown out 86-65. The team will look to adapt to the high-paced ball movement that the Beavers employ on offense, and improve on a defensive effort that allowed Oregon State to shoot 56.4 percent from the field. The three-point line was also an issue in that game, as UCR gave up 10, including an Oregon State record five threes to Sydney Wiese. A second look at an offense and a chance for redemption for a UCR bench that shot 4-17 in their last meeting may be what the Highlanders need to advance.

#6 Texas (18-1, 7-1)

Approx. Distance from Campus: 1320 miles

Conference: Big 12

Leading Scorer: Imani Boyette (13.6 PPG)

The Longhorns are a very scary matchup because of how complete their team is. An overpowering offense combined with a stifling defense has generated their massive +19.7 point differential on the season. Both their offense and defense are balanced and deep; with seven players averaging at least seven points per game, the Longhorns are able to keep their players fresh while wearing out their opposition. Such a balanced offense coupled with a unified defensive effort that only allows opponents to shoot 33.7 percent from the field, and this matchup is the most difficult and disadvantageous for the Highlanders.

#10 Mississippi State (17-3, 4-2)

Approx. Distance from Campus: 1900 miles

Conference: SEC

Leading Scorer: Victoria Vivians (17.6 PPG)

Arguably the most aggressive and physical team on this list, Mississippi State wins by bullying its opposition on the defensive end and forcing turnovers. Meanwhile, the Highlanders have taken pride in their lack of turnovers this season, garnering the only positive assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big West this season by averaging only 14.4 turnovers per game. However, the Bulldogs average 4.7 blocks per game —  over twice what the Highlanders’ opponents have gotten this season —  and 9.1 steals, allowing the Bulldogs to force more turnovers per game than the Highlanders. A game in Starkville, Miss. would be decided by the Highlanders’ ability to take care of the ball, something that can become difficult on a bigger stage, under a hostile crowd.
Despite the many strengths of these top teams listed above, the month of March is a strange beast for college basketball teams. Anything can happen (hence the long-standing moniker, “March Madness”). A 16 seed can beat a one seed on the women’s side (16 seeds are 0-124 on the men’s side). Small schools like Liberty, Marist and Middle Tennessee once made a name for themselves on the grand stage of March Madness, and even UC Santa Barbara made a mini-run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004 as a 11 seed. Perhaps the Highlanders can do the same.