The field is crowded, but primarily in favour of South Carolina. Conferences are hurrying to alter procedures in order to accommodate the new version. Most, including every Power 5 conference, have reversed recent regulations that declared any cancellation due to coronavirus protocol a forfeiture by the exposed team. What remains to be seen is if the NCAA will change its 25-game criterion for tournament eligibility if clubs are unable to reschedule enough cancelled games.

Fourth. Arizona had not played since December 17 due to coronavirus infection among its own players. The Wildcats will not play again until at least Friday since their first two league opponents, Southern California and U.C.L.A., have had exposes in their programs. Arizona will have had four games cancelled or postponed at a time when many more cancellations appear to be on the way, potentially jeopardising the team’s postseason chances.

Undefeated teams from all five Power 5 conferences start conference play with a lot to prove.

Three Division I clubs are still unbeaten. Arizona was one of the teams that competed in the 2021 championship game. The other two, on the other hand, have astonished opponents and observers by avoiding loss, and will enter their challenging conference games with double-digit victory streaks.

Thanks to excellent shooting from forward Mya Hollingshed, a 2022 W.N.B.A. draught candidate, and Quay Miller, a transfer from Washington, the Colorado Buffaloes have already won as many games — 11 — as they did during the 2020-21 season. The squad has also employed fast hands to increase its margins of victory while playing a relatively light nonconference schedule: it is averaging 12.5 thefts per game, which ranks seventh among Division I teams, according to Her Hoop Stats.

With just one conference win, the Buffaloes completed the 2018-19 season at the bottom of the Pac-12. Two years later, they defeated top-ranked Stanford in overtime – their first win over a No. 1 team, their first win against the Cardinal, and the first of just two defeats that season for Stanford, the eventual national champion. Colorado is now aiming for its first winning conference season since 2013, as well as its first trip to the N.C.A.A. tournament since 2013.

No. 24 North Carolina is undefeated and has the highest average margin of victory in Division I (32.3 points per game). The Tar Heels have shown they can score, but their most valuable attribute is their defence: So far, the club has only let up more than 50 points to four opponents. North Carolina has yet to play a ranked opponent, but that will change on Thursday when the Tar Heels take on No. 5 North Carolina State. A win over the team’s (other) in-state opponent may herald a return to form for the programme, which hasn’t advanced past the round of 16 since 2015 despite previously playing deep in the N.C.A.A. tournament in the 1990s and 2000s.