It seems like just yesterday the season started and we were trying to figure out who'd finish in the race for second. But thanks to another fantastic game plan, Tara VanDerveer's Stanford Cardinal toppled the seemingly invincible UConn Huskies and there was some discussion about who's number one. Here's a few things I've picked up on.
1. Morgan Tuck is more than a role player
If you've been around this site as long as I have, you're probably aware with how I personally like two things when building a team: big guards and versatile posts. Well if you're looking for an example of the second description look no further than the defending champion Huskies.
Sure, Breanna Stewart can play the post in a pinch and has a solid post-up game. But her strengths lie in her jump-shooting, ball handling and athleticism and if the coach that drafts her wants to keep their job, she'll soon be making a full-time transition to the perimeter (and she likely will next season with Georgetown transfer Natalie Butler is eligible.) Tuck missed the majority of last season with injury and only played about 15 minutes per game as a freshman. Since entering the starting lineup, UConn has gone 5-0 by an average of 38 points while Tuck has produced to the tune of 15.8 points, 5.2 boards and 2.8 assists per outing in about 28 minutes per night.
Granted, with Tuck only shooting 22 percent from three and having blocked only 2 shots so far this year, the dynamic of this team changes but so does the basketball IQ. You'd have to be blind to not see the comfort level Tuck plays this game with and she illustrated it in her biggest start thus far: against Notre Dame --a superior team in my opinion-- Tuck dominated the game to the tune of 25 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists in 35 minutes, as her Huskies dominated the Fighting Irish. And winning ESPNW player of the week isn't too shabby either!
2. Parity is alive and well....for the most part
Not too many people had UConn losing this early, or at all, in the season. Stanford has losses to North Carolina and Texas. UConn dominated Notre Dame. Duke is out of the top ten for the first time in years. The SEC has two teams in the top 4 and 6 in the top 22.
Texas lost a McDonald's All-American freshman and still sits at 9-0. The National Freshman of the Year transferred and her old team is doing better than the old team (granted DeShields isn't playing for either but still whoddathunkit?) The most impressive example of this? Last year's Final Four consisted of teams that began the weekend with a combined 9 losses. Those same 4 teams in December? 6 losses combined.
3. Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
Try this on for size: Rachel Banham, Brittany Sykes, Mercedes Russell, Imani Stafford-McGee, Courtney Range, Brianna Turner, Ariel Atkins, Elizabeth Williams.
Sounds like a starting lineup or an All-American team right? All of the above players have missed games due to injuries this season, Banham's torn ACL ruining what was looking to be a banner senior season. The worst part is that this doesn't even account for all of the injuries: just look at Ohio State. Kevin Guff lost three players to ACLs before the season even began.
It's still early and the teams have found ways to respond (starting a Mickey D's All American as opposed to bringing them off the bench is tough right?) but I mentioned parody above. Can you imagine how crazy things could be if everyone was healthy?
4.The Rich Get Richer
Let's take a look at the class rankings for 2015 women's basketball recruits. The top 7 teams in these rankings have top ten caliber teams and final four aspirations. This doesn't bode well at all for teams trying to follow in Louisville and Kentucky's steps in the last few years and become relevant on the national level. UConn has snagged two of the top 7 (not to mention Butler being eligible next season) Texas has two of the top eight and adds a 4-star 6'4 post. Duke has 3 in the top 25 and still find themselves behind Louisville.
5. SCORE SCORE SCORE
Offense is the name of the game and there's a lot of it. For a long time, women's basketball has been viewed as inferior because in the past, it's rare that you see individual offensive talent the way you do in the men's game. Lots of people that aren't fans of basketball usually only focus on that side of the ball and let's face it, it's the part of the game even the average fan enjoys.
Well, anybody who says the same rings true should have their sanity questioned. Kelsey Plum was ridiculous against Oklahoma, going off for 45, including 15-27 from the field and 12-12 from the line. Keep in mind, she's a sophomore. Kelsey Mitchell, the freshman guard at Ohio State, is the leading freshman scorer in the country and has a 35 point game under her belt, meanwhile teammate Ameryst Alston has a 39 point game and a 34 point guard. And my favorite player of them all, Jewell Loyd put on an absolute show against Depaul, finishing with a career-high 41 with only one turnover.
And without further ado, I'd like to debut my player of the year rankings.
The Top 10 College Basketball players of 2014-15 so far
1. Jewell Loyd
Junior 5'10" Guard Notre Dame
Loyd's been one of my favorite players since she was a freshman in high school. She's from the same County in Illinois that I am so I got to see her quite a bit before she ended up at Notre Dame and it's continued as she's burst onto the scene as one of the toughest guards in the country. Loyd has been dominating Chicago Sky practices for a couple years now and the same can be said for women's college basketball. At 24.1 points per outing, Loyd is 15th in the country in scoring but she's also one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. She spent a stretch of the UConn game guarding Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and did a fantastic job, one of the best I've ever seen on a sniper like KML. She's also saved her best for the best competition averaging 29.4 points versus tournament teams from last season. Need I say more?
2. Allisha Gray
Sophomore 6'0" Guard North Carolina
North Carolina was forced to go into scramble mode when National Freshman of the Year Diamond DeShields decided to transfer and the obvious answer to the naked eye, was to go the post for production and allow Xylina McDaniel and Stephanie Mavunga to be the focus of the offense. Well I don't have naked eyes. Gray was just as good as DeShields last season and she wears the number 15 so that made things even better. Gray has been fantastic: averaging 18.1 points and 7.8 boards while leading UNC to an 8-0 record that includes wins over ranked opponents Stanford, Rutgers, and at the time UCLA, as well as a solid Oklahoma State team.
3. LiLi Thompson
Sophomore 5'7" Guard Stanford
The smallest player on this list probably has the biggest heart of them all. She showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman last season; so much that VanDerveer scrapped her triangle and decided to put the ball in the hands of her talented guards. Insert Thompson. The diminutive guard is averaging 21.8 points (18th in the country) on shooting that includes 51% from the field and 53% from three. There have been some growing pains but this team is going to be a lot of fun to watch. The rest of the starting lineup, save Amber Orrange, includes a freshman and two more sophomores, so while the cupboard is far from bare, the prize thoroughbred for TVD is Thompson.
4. Breanna Stewart
Junior 6'4" Guard UConn
Her numbers are a bit down as she adjusts to being option 1-3 on a relatively inexperienced team but as much as I love Loyd, she's still the best player in the country and things will even out as the season goes on. This is a player averaging 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds while shooting 51% from the field, 40% from three and 75% from the line and she's "struggling." I'll take a large struggle for the win, please. Stewart has chosen her spots well and done a really good job of being more vocal this season. I can only imagine what's in store as we continue to watch her grow.
5. Betnijah Laney
Senior 6'0" Guard/Forward Rutgers
Laney took some time to find her niche at Rutgers but boy has she blossomed! If you're looking for an example of what she's capable of, look no further than her team's double-OT loss to North Carolina. In a game they really should have won, Laney dominated the game to the tune of 24 points and 24 boards along with 4 assists and 4 steals. On the season, Laney is putting up 16.4 points and grabbing 13.7 rebounds per outing and if she improves her shooting, she could find herself playing professionally very soon after this season ends.
6. Reshanda Gray
Senior 6'3" Forward Cal
Gray has become a staple in the Bears starting lineup the last two years and rightfully so. She's improved by leaps and bounds since her freshman season and it's allowing her to cruise so far in her senior season. Including a season-high 37, Gray is averaging 21.1 points per night and shooting 68% from the field. Gray has been underwhelming on the boards but that's mostly a by-product of the rebounders around her. Courtney Range has been fantastic as has athletic freshman Gabby Green. And we know the triple-double threat that is Brittany Boyd.
7. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis
Senior 5'11" Guard UConn
There's been a lot of talk this season about KML's size and here's my take: I'm more concerned with how tall she really is. And that's simply to know where to put her on defense. Being that I'm familiar with her struggle (I've been a chubby point guard my whole life and after every game, it was no longer a factor) I have to commend KML. As great as she's been, that's the conversation they're having and she handled it gracefully. Not only in her response but leading her team in scoring at 17.0 points per night while playing on the same floor as the best player in women's college basketball. Add in her 59% shooting clip from three and I personally would like to tell the critics to leave her be.
8. Kelsey Plum
Sophomore 5'8" Guard Washington
After opening the season with the OT loss to Oklahoma, Plum has carried the W to 7 straight wins without missing a beat. Second in the nation in scoring at 26.3 points per outing, Plum also leads her team in steals (19), three point shooting (18 made, 49%), free throwing (66 made, 88%) and is even third on the team in blocks. Plum gets to the rim when she chooses and she'd be much higher if Washington had played a stronger schedule.
9. Brittany Hrynko
Senior 5'8" Guard Depaul
Hrynko took the reins of this team from the time she enrolled as a freshman but she's taken it to another level this season. The feisty guard from Philly is averaging 19.2 points and dishing out just under 5 dimes a night. Add in her 39% shooting from three and Hrynko has done a great job of being a go-to for Doug Bruno's squad.
10. Aerial Powers
Sophomore 6'0 Forward Michigan State
Powers is following up a strong freshman season, averaging a double-double with 19.0 points and 12.6 rebounds for Suzy Merchant's squad.
Players just outsie the Top-10
11. Nina Davis, Baylor
12. Jennifer O'Neill, Kentucky
13. Kelsey Mitchell, Ohio State
14. Dearica Hamby, Wake Forest
15. Brittany Boyd, Cal