It’s always fun to wake up on Monday and know that the new AP rankings are coming out soon. In the past couple of seasons, there hasn’t been a single dominant program. That means your team, no matter where they are in the top 25, could become a contender in the NCAA Tournament come March.
Here’s an analysis of some of the teams that have risen — and fallen — in Week 9:
UConn moves to No. 1
Early this season, the Huskies did not have a lot of hype surrounding them. Although this is still true, they looked really good in their game against the Oklahoma Sooners on Dec. 22, a contest that started right after then-No. 1 Stanford Cardinal lost to the Texas Longhorns. The Huskies knew they were essentially playing for the No. 1 spot and they put forth their best offensive effort of the season with 97 points.
And it wasn’t just star junior Megan Walker who impressed. It was UConn’s entire “Big Four,” also including Christyn Williams, Crystal Dangerfield and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, the last of whom stuck out in particular. Nelson-Ododa was a bench player last year who filled in for an injured Katie Lou Samuelson for part of the season to give UConn more height on the court.
Samuelson and Nelson-Ododa are completely different players aside from size. The 6-foot-5 Nelson-Ododa is a true post player who looks to score inside. The sophomore broke out against the Sooners with a career-high 27 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. She was able to get out in transition, score and dominate in the paint. And Dangerfield, the team’s point guard, was doing an excellent job of getting her the ball and commanding the offense. Dangerfield was looking to pass for most of the game, but still dropped in 19 points, including three buckets from distance.
UConn is long and athletic just like last year, but its hope is to up its offensive efficiency with a better overall field goal percentage. Against Oklahoma, the Huskies were finding easy looks and making their attempts.
A win over Oklahoma isn’t a big indicator of how the Huskies will perform against the best teams in the nation come March but the talent was there on Dec. 22 (see video below).
These teams have stayed consistent
The Kentucky Wildcats are at No. 13, where they started the season, while the UCLA Bruins, No. 10, are a spot ahead of where they were in the preseason poll. The DePaul Blue Demons have climbed two spots since the preseason to stand at No. 16. Those are the three top 25 teams that have seen the least change thus far and the Blue Demons now are looking like a force to be reckoned with.
DePaul has been good about blowing out weaker competition and its losses have come to UConn and the No. 3 Oregon State Beavers. This past Sunday, the Blue Demons couldn’t have asked for a better start to Big East play — an 89-71 win over their rival, the Marquette Golden Eagles. DePaul surprised a lot of people by beating Marquette in a thrilling Big East championship game last year to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles team that they defeated was the favorite all season and featured two Big East Player of the Year honorees in Natisha Hiedeman and Allazia Blockton.
DePaul’s participation in the Big Dance last March marked its 17th-straight appearance but the Blue Demons lost in the first round. Led in scoring by Chante Stonewall and Sonya Morris, and Kelly Campbell in rebounds and assists, DePaul has the chance to make a legitimate tournament run this year.
Minnesota seeks a better Big Ten showing
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are back in the rankings, at No. 24. Last year, they went undefeated in non-conference play but failed to make the NCAA Tournament because of a 9-9 Big Ten record. This year, Lindsay Whalen’s crew lost their first game of the season to now-No. 21 Missouri State Bears but bounced back to enter conference play on a high note. The Gophers are now 11-1 and 1-0 in the Big Ten after beating Penn State on Dec. 28. Destiny Pitts (16.3 points) and Taiye Bello (13 points) lead Minnesota in scoring. Bello averages a double-double with 10.1 rebounds per game.
Texas is rewarded
Aside from Notre Dame, the Texas Longhorns took arguably the furthest fall early this season after starting at No. 15. But they got back on track, and then some, with their 69-64 win over Stanford. The voters decided to put Texas back in the top 25, just barely. We’ll see if the Longhorns can keep the momentum going after a disappointing second half last season.