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NCAAW AP Poll (Week 12): Which team is for real in the talent-packed Pac-12?

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The Pac-12 has six ranked teams, highlighted by the No. 4 Oregon Ducks, No. 6 Stanford Cardinal and No. 7 Oregon State Beavers. Which is most likely to best represent the West coast at the Big Dance? Plus, the DePaul Blue Demons and Gonzaga Bulldogs continue to rise.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Stanford at Oregon
Sabrina Ionescu (shooting) finally had the monster game fans were hoping to see.
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

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 12.

Pac-12

The top of the Pac-12 was expected to have the highest concentration of talent in the country this year and the three best teams (No. 4 Oregon Ducks, No. 6 Stanford Cardinal and No. 7 Oregon State Beavers) are still in the conversation when it comes to predicting the NCAA Tournament's one-seeds.

The recent conference games between the six Top-25 teams in the Pac-12 have been exciting. The No. 16 Arizona State Sun Devils have highlighted conference play thus far with upset wins over both the Ducks and the Beavers. And the Ducks put on a show in their blowout win over the Cardinal before that same Stanford team was tough enough to edge past the Beavers.

There’s still a lot of basketball to be played. Yet, with recent matchups occurring between the six ranked teams (the others being the No. 10 UCLA Bruins and No. 18 Arizona Wildcats), it’s a good time to gauge how well those teams have lived up to preseason expectations.

The Ducks had a slow start against Stanford but once they got going, they were unstoppable. In non-conference play, Ionescu did the right thing by being a pass-first guard, but she stepped up in the scoring column when her team needed her in a high-pressure game. She scored a career-high 37 points against the Cardinal. Ionescu is the most poised Oregon player when it comes to clutch moments and remains the emotional leader of the team.

Highlights: Ionescu drops 37 on Stanford

In the very next game, Satou Sabally led the way with 31 points in the Ducks’ 105-55 domination of the California Golden Bears.

The Cardinal are led by junior Kiana Williams and sophomore Lexie Hull. Haley Jones, the No. 1 recruit coming into the season, was playing well before her injury. She hasn’t been the top freshman in the country, though. That nod would go to No. 3 recruit Aliyah Boston, starting center for the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks.

Williams, Hull and Jones are the Cardinal’s top three scorers but neither is dominant. Stanford doesn’t have the explosive offense that Oregon has and none of the other Pac-12 teams do either. Stanford is second in the conference on offense, with 76.2 points per game, more than 10 points behind Oregon’s 87.6.

If Oregon is to be upset, it may take a team with stellar defense. Arizona (fourth nationally in least points per game allowed as of Jan. 19), Oregon State (10th) and Arizona State (21st) all have better defenses than the Ducks (29th), while UCLA isn’t too far behind (35th).

The Beavers, who sit just one spot behind Stanford in the AP rankings after their loss to the Cardinal, score 74.1 points per game. They rely heavily on senior Mikayla Pivec, but it is now Destiny Slocum who leads them in scoring as of Jan. 19. Slocum is the most prolific 3-point shooter on Oregon State’s roster and shoots 38.4 percent from downtown. Slocum played seven fewer minutes per game than Pivec last year and playing her a little more (which the Beavers are) is only going to help the team’s offense.

Interview: Slocum talks OSU’s fast start after win vs. Colorado Buffaloes earlier this season

Meanwhile, Oregon State has 6-foot-6 forward Kennedy Brown and fellow freshman 6-foot-4 Taylor Jones in the frontcourt, which will benefit the Beavers when they go up against Ducks star forward Ruthy Hebard, who stands at 6’4”. With the two freshmen bigs, plus Pivec and Slocum on the perimeter, Oregon State has the potential to form a deadly inside-out game. The only rotation player in the Pac-12 who is taller than Brown is 6-foot-7 Chen Yue of the California Golden Bears. Semaj Smith of the No. 18 Arizona Wildcats matches the Beavers’ Brown in height.

Stanford’s Ashten Prechtel, a freshman who was the No. 15 recruit in the nation, is a 6-foot-5 post who can hit from 3-point range. With increased minutes beyond her average 13.6, Prechtel could help Stanford slow Hebard and add offensive power.

So both Oregon State and Stanford have a slight edge over Oregon when it comes to size but lack the Ducks’ speed in transition. That should make things very interesting between the three teams moving forward.

Steady climbs

The No. 11 DePaul Blue Demons and the No. 13 Gonzaga Bulldogs are the highest-ranked mid-majors in the nation and both have flawless conference records of 7-0. The Blue Demons started the season No. 18 and the Bulldogs were receiving votes. DePaul has wins over the Miami Hurricanes (who have fallen off the national radar but previously were ranked and had a healthy Beatrice Mompremier when the Blue Demons beat them) and the No. 22 Northwestern Wildcats. Gonzaga, on the other hand, has wins over the Missouri State Lady Bears (who fell out of the rankings this week), fellow WCC contender Brigham Young and a decent Big Ten team in Purdue.

It will be interesting to see if DePaul and Gonzaga can keep up with the major schools come NCAA Tournament time. The Bulldogs took Stanford to overtime, while DePaul has losses to UConn and Oregon State on its resume. The Blue Demons and Bulldogs have experience playing against the best of the best which is going to be beneficial in March.

Northwestern: A force to be reckoned with in Big Ten

Entering the season, the Wildcats knew they had a star in Lindsey Pulliam but she has far exceeded expectations. Now, Northwestern sits aside the Iowa Hawkeyes at the top of the Big Ten standings. The Wildcats also have entered the national poll at No. 22. Their coming-out party occurred when they beat perennial Big Ten power Maryland by 23 points and — after a loss to Iowa in their next game — put together a four-game winning streak. Northwestern is one of the most exciting stories in the country right now, and the Wildcats will try to sneak up on the No. 20 Maryland Terrapins, No. 19 Hawkeyes and No. 17 Indiana Hoosiers, that last of whom they defeated in overtime on Jan. 16.

Biggest declines

The West Virginia Mountaineers lost to the Oklahoma Sooners by 24 points and to the Baylor Lady Bears by 40, causing them to slide from No. 17 to No. 25. Meanwhile, Missouri State fell from No. 19 to out of the rankings after its loss to Southern Illinois, but is still receiving votes.