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’s been no one dominant program, and the rankings can shake up considerably from one week to the next. As the regular season winds down, here’s an analysis of some of the Top 25 teams that have risen — and fallen — in Week 18.
Burning questions about teams on the rise
Can the No. 11 Northwestern Wildcats spoil the No. 6 Maryland Terrapins’ bid for a one-seed?
Northwestern (26-3, 16-2 Big Ten) tied the Oregon State Beavers with the biggest rise this week. The Wildcats, who won a program record 26 games in the regular season, are an intriguing team that defeated Maryland (25-4, 16-2 Big Ten) on Dec. 31. The Terrapins (who rose one spot this week) avenged that loss on Jan. 26, but not by as many points (nine) as the Wildcats beat them by — 23. Maryland did, however, receive the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament by virtue of its 1-1 record against the third-place Iowa Hawkeyes, who ranked 19th nationally.
Northwestern lost its only contest against Iowa so the Wildcats will be the two-seed.
Northwestern and Maryland shared the conference regular-season title and are two of the hottest teams in the nation right now. The Terps, who started the season ranked No. 4, have climbed from as low as No. 20 to No. 6. If they win the Big Ten Tournament, the Terrapins can completely wipe the slate clean and have a shot at being a one-seed in the Big Dance — the position they were expected to be in at the start of the season.
Northwestern wants to be the team preventing the Terps from getting that one-seed.
Wildcat junior guard Lindsey Pulliam is a versatile offensive weapon who, along with sophomore guard Veronica Burton, gave Maryland fits back on Dec. 31. Pulliam scored 24 points in that contest and was the game’s high-scorer in the Wildcats’ loss to the Terrapins. If the two teams meet in the Big Ten championship game and Pulliam has another strong performance, her Wildcats could earn the Big Ten’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990.
But if the Terps play at the same level they’ve been playing at recently, they will be hard to beat.
Maryland, significantly improved on both sides of the ball since the beginning of the season, has been blowing away opponents by an average of 37.8 points over their last six games.
Are the No. 21 Princeton Tigers for real?
Princeton (24-1, 12-0 Ivy) has made the tournament twice in a row but never in program history has it advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
The Tigers are the No. 21 team in the country after rising two spots from last week, and look to be a higher seed than an 11 or 12 like last year and the year before, respectively.
Since their two wins over Power 5 teams, the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-22, 1-17 Big Ten) and Missouri Tigers (8-21, 5-11 SEC), the Tigers have not picked up any signature wins. Yet, Princeton has been consistent throughout its current 20-game winning streak and its only loss this season came in overtime against Iowa on Nov. 20.
Princeton has won all of its Ivy League games by at least 14 points and is dominating lately. The Tigers won three games last week, two by 30 or more points over the Penn Quakers and Brown Bears, and one by 15 points over the Yale Bulldogs. With potential first-round WNBA Draft pick Bella Alarie on its team, Princeton has a chance to shake things up in the Big Dance.
Should the No. 3 Oregon Ducks be ahead of the No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears?
The Lady Bears have not lost since rising back to the second spot in the nation in Week 11 and they have just one loss overall, whereas Oregon has two, and Baylor’s sole loss came against the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks on Nov. 30 at the Paradise Jam in a game Lady Bear star Lauren Cox missed due to a foot injury.
But the Ducks (28-2, 17-1 Pac-12) have nine wins over currently ranked teams, including one over the No. 5 UConn Huskies on Feb. 3 and two over the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal on Jan. 16 and Feb. 24. Baylor (27-1, 16-0) has just two wins over ranked teams this year with triumphs over UConn (Jan. 9) and the No. 20 Indiana Hoosiers (Nov. 29 at the Paradise Jam).
The Pac-12 was expected to be competitive enough for Oregon to boost its resume. The Big 12, however, has been weaker than expected, with Baylor being the only ranked team in the conference.
On the decline
No. 22 Florida State Seminoles (22-7, 11-7 ACC)
The Seminoles’ loss to the lowly Notre Dame Fighting Irish (13-17, 8-10 ACC) on Sunday dropped them three spots. The Seminoles, who were ranked eighth for five weeks, from early December to early January, lost three of their last five regular-season games and join the Boston College Eagles and Virginia Tech Hokies (both unranked) at 11-7 in ACC play. Unless they win the ACC Tournament, it is unlikely the Seminoles will be able to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
No. 15 Texas A&M Aggies (22-7, 10-6 SEC)
The preseason No. 6 team in the nation was looking good in its first four games with star Chennedy Carter back from an ankle injury, but the unranked Alabama Crimson Tide (18-11, 8-8 SEC) bested the Aggies on Feb. 27. Then, on Sunday, Texas A&M couldn’t pull off an upset over South Carolina, giving them two-straight losses to end the season, resulting in a three-spot slide.