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The Top 100 Programs in NCAA Division I Women's Basketball: #26-40

All of the time I've spent in front of the internet draws attention from my wife.  It's one thing to be a basketball widow; it's quite another to be a women's basketball widow.  It gives the impression that you're having an affair with another woman, or in this case several.

On the other hand, my wife has always given me her outsiders perspective.  She's not much into sports - when I used to be into baseball, her idea of a good baseball game was one where there was a good book to read while I watched.  She has attended a few WNBA games, but more on the basis of providing cheap entertainment to visitors rather than any real interest in the progress of the Atlanta Dream.  (However, things are improving.  She now knows who Diana Taurasi is and can name a few Dream players.)

The Ivy League Challenge

She was very interested in my progress in this project. I told her what I was doing. "I'm trying to rate the top 100 programs in women's college basketball.  This isn't a pre-season ranking.  Rather, this is a list of the best overall."

"Okay," she said. "Then my choice would be - who's the best team in the Ivy League?"

I ventured a guess.  "Princeton?"

"Yeah, Princeton," she said.  "After all, they can't be dummies if they're playing for Princeton.  And they're getting a Princeton education, and they're winning.  So wouldn't Princeton be the best women's basketball program in the USA?"

I had no answer for that one.  I might still not have an answer.

You can't deny that Princeton suffers from a set of restrictions limited to the eight other Division I teams in the Ivy League.  The Ivy League schools are the only Division I schools that do not offer athletic scholarships.  It isn't that a student might not received a need based "grant-in-aid" but for the most part, a basketball recruit that ends up at Princeton is paying her own way there. Some leeway might be granted during the college application process and an athlete might have grades/test scores below the typical Ivy League freshman - but not by much.  The Ivies won't take any girl who can just dribble a basketball really well.

The coaches at Princeton have to make sure that their athletes a) can qualify academically to Princeton (or make a plausible case), and b) can pay (if not qualifying for a grant).  This narrows the recruiting pool substantially, so students are recruited very early and aggressively. 

The academic workload is definitely heavier at Princeton than at most schools.  One could make the argument that Princeton's recruits are extra-dedicated and have the will power to overcome adversity - but so do the recruits from the other seven Ivy League schools.  And yet, Princeton has represented the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament for the past two years.  By that measure, wouldn't Princeton be an objectively better program than, say, the one at Louisiana Tech?  Louisiana Tech isn't burdened the same was as Princeton, and yet each team visited the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011, but not in 2009.

Why stop at academics? 

Aren't there colleges that have less financial resources than the power conferences?  Who have to struggle in antiquated gyms and beg for equipment?  Shouldn't that be considered in the overall rankings?  What about the role of the alumni association?  Would William and Mary have a better alumni association than Arizona State?  If they did - and I'm not making that claim - wouldn't that give weight to William and Mary being a better women's basketball program, strictly because it can offer its recruits so much more after college?

After thinking about this for a long time, I have two answers, neither of which might be very satisfactory.

1.  Self-imposed restrictions can't be taken into account.  Like it or not, the Ivy League wasn't compelled to forgo offering athletic scholarships by the NCAA or some academic board - it made tha decision on its own.  There is no way for our ranking method to "undo" such decisions and put every program in an imaginary school with equal enrollment and equal facilities.   Granted, some schools are going to be on an unequal footing from the very beginning - can Presbyterian really afford a 22,000 seat arena like Louisville has? - but part of being a great program depends on access to resources, and some programs will be unequal to others from the very beginning.

2.  Some things are hard to quantify.  Wins are easy to quantify.  Conference titles are easy to quantify.  But how is one to compare the academic prestige of Duke to Stanford?  Or Tennessee to Connecticut?  Which schools win those battles?

Not that some institutions haven't tried to rank universities based solely on their academics.  But each of these metrics have their critics.  Too much reliance on journals and publications.  Too much reliance on Google popularity.  Too much emphasis on selling the rankings vs. ranking accuratedly.

In the end, the decision was made to focus only on the process of recruiting and playing women's basketball, as opposed to any of the other benefits that choosing one school over another might offer.  Maybe Texas A&M's alumni can offer their athletes the connections they need for success in the next forty years of their lives - but that success will take place off the court rather than on it, and will not be reflected here.

Click here for an overview of how these rankings were determined.


Programs #26-40

26.  West Virginia:  Head coach Mike Carey prepares to reload after previous season ranked as high as #6 nationally.  The Mountaineers lost five seniors including G Sarah Miles and G Liz Repella.  Of those five seniors, three were top scorers.
27.  DePaul:  Team hit hard with senior losses, but will stay a contender under Doug Bruno.   F Felicia Chester and G Sam Quigley lost to graduation and despite coming off ninth straight visit to NCAAs last year might have been a peak year.  Blue Demons undefeated at McGrath Arena last season.
28.  Virginia:  Joanne Boyle takes over in Virginia after Debbie Ryan retires.  Boyle wastes no time, picks up #27 ranked recruit - F Faith Randolph - right away.  Virginia is still (relatively) young team.
29.  Xavier:  Might be the end of the road for the Musketeers.  F Amber Harris and C Ta'Shia Phillips both went in the first round of the WNBA Draft.  Kevin McGuff, who won almost 75 percent of his games at Xavier, left for the troubled Washington program.  He took a successful assistant coach, Mike Neighbors, with him.  When he left, one recruit decommitted and G Katie Rutan transferred to Maryland.
30.  Middle Tennessee State:   The task for the Lady Raiders next year will be clear - to recover their composure and to deal with the loss of their beloved teammate Tina Stewart.  Finding the balance between the demands of basketball and the needs of his players will be coach Rick Insell's toughest task next year.

31.  New Mexico:  What could hurt more in Albuquerque than a 13-18 season for the Lobos?  How about the retirement of legendary women's coach Don Flanagan?  The Pit will never be the same.
32.  Pittsburgh:  Four players graduate, five freshmen move in in what is the #19 class in the country according to Hoopgurlz.  14-17 season has to be a disappointment after previous season ranked in Top 25.  Not a single upperclassman on roster, Panthers will live or die by youth.
33.  California:  Joanne Boyle heads off to Virgina; most of her assistants also part ways with Golden Bears.  Her parting gift to new head coach Lindsay Gottlieb:  the #5 recruiting class in the country according to Hoopgurlz led by #7 overall recruit post Justine Hartman.
34.  Arizona State:  Charli Turner Thorne decides to sit out one year from head coaching after 12 straight post-season appearances.  G/F Karina Alofaituli decommits from program, permitted to pursue other options.
35.  Florida State:  Tallahassee must prove that it really cares about its successful women's basketball squad.  The most attention Florida State got in the national media was when UConn beat them 96-62 for their 89th straight win.  Could be why coach Sue Semrau interviewed at LSU and was considered at Washington.
36.  Georgia Tech:  G/F Alex Montgomery drafted by New York Liberty in first round, highest draft position ever by a Georgia Tech player.  Senior class were all-time wins leaders at Georgia Tech.  Alexander Memorial Coliseum gets complete renovation but Yellow Jackets must vacate digs for one year.  Jackets looking for next level.
37.  Wisconsin:  Badgers reboot after 16-15 season with Bobbie Kelsey out of Stanford a head coach - one good year couldn't save Lisa Stone.  It will all depend on who Kelsey can recruit to Madison.
38.  James Madison:  Sixth straight 24+ win season by Kenny Brooks on way to second straight CAA championship.  CAA all-time leading scorer G Dawn Evans graduates - with 23.1 ppg last season - but doesn't get drafted in WNBA.  She'll be missed in Harrisonburg.
39.  Auburn:  Tigers have been floating around .500 for the last two seasons.  Touted freshmen recruits only made up 11.0 of the 61.1 points per game scored by Auburn, leading scorer G Alli Smalley graduates.  If freshmen don't develop, what does this mean for Auburn?
40.  Kansas State: Three players leave/booted (?) from K-State, including sophomore G Taelor Karr. Many have their theories (but no proof) as to why both assistants and players abandon Deb Patterson's program at Manhattan.