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Around the NCAAW Weekly: Which of the 15 undefeated Division I teams are “for real”?

From No. 1 South Carolina to unranked California Baptist out of the WAC, 15 Division I teams enter the week before Christmas with undefeated records. Which teams have earned their unblemished marks by beating reputable opponents? Which ones have skated through a softer slate?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Utah at Baylor
Baylor’s Yaya Felder, Darianna Littlepage-Buggs and Sarah Andrews celebrate a recent victory by the 9-0 Bears.
Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

We review the best of the pre-holiday hoops action, highlighting noteworthy performances and more from Monday, Dec. 11 to Sunday, Dec. 17.

Takeaways from top-25 battles

The past week presented three games where both teams were ranked in the top 25. Let’s revisit the results.

No. 19 Marquette 76, No. 20 Creighton 70

Marquette (10-0) again escaped unscathed, edging Creighton (7-2) for the 76-70 home win on Wednesday. Similar to their squeaker against Illinois State, the Golden Eagles saved their best for the game’s latter stages, closing on a 12-6 run to triumph over their Big East foe. Liza Karlen once again was crucial, with her clutch scores contributing to her team-high 25 points. She also grabbed 12 boards to total her second-straight double-double.

The Bluejays, with an offense organized around high-volume 3-point shooting, couldn’t get it going from behind the arc, shooting 26.7 percent as a team. Senior forward Emma Ronsiek had the most success, hitting three triples as she scored a game-high 29 points.

No. 17 UConn 86, No. 18 Louisville 62

Senior wing Aubrey Griffin brought the energy and urgency the ailing Huskies needed, scoring a season-high 25 points while also securing five rebounds and four steals to propel UConn (7-3) to the 86-62 victory. Griffin’s impact came from the bench as, for the third-straight game, head coach Geno Auriemma continued to have freshmen guards KK Arnold and Ashlyn Shade join redshirt junior guard Paige Bueckers, senior guard Nika Mühl and senior big Aaliyah Edwards in the starting lineup.

Although Louisville (10-2) hung around in first half, UConn established separation in the third quarter and maintained it through the fourth, turning in the kind of dominant home performance expected of the Huskies. Bueckers, like Griffin, made her impact felt all over the floor. In what appears to be becoming a trend, she not only boosted the Huskies with her scoring, rebounding and passing—with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists—but also with her shot blocking, as she swatted five shots after rejecting four when UConn defeated Ball State. Edwards contributed 22 points and seven boards, while Mühl had 10 assists.

UConn also effectively slowed senior forward Olivia Cochran as the game progressed, holding her to 12 points. Senior guard Kiki Jefferson led Louisville with 19 points.

No. 10 Baylor 75, No. 24 Miami 57

Miami (8-1) is undefeated no more, while Baylor (9-0) preserved their perfect mark. It was a near wire-to-wire 75-57 win for the Bears. Nine first-quarter points from junior guard Jada Walker helped Baylor establish early control. From there, Baylor received contributions from up and down the roster, with Walker being one of six Bears to score in double figures. Senior guard Sarah Andrews led with 18 points and six assists. The 3-point line also proved pivotal, as Baylor enjoyed a 50-percent performance from behind the arc, going 10-for-20, while Miami was 3-for-16, good for just 18.8 percent.

Last week’s most wonderful performances

It’s the most wonderful time of year so let’s celebrate some wonderful individual performances:

  • Manhattan junior forward Petra Juric was a sparking 11-for-13 from the floor, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in her team’s resounding victory over Rider on Saturday.
  • Marshall senior guard Breanna Campbell, who spent the first four years of her college career playing at the junior college and Division II levels, had a breakout performance in the Thundering Herd’s win over Jacksonville on Friday, with 29 points on almost 77 percent shooting from the field. She was a perfect 7-for-7 from the line, in addition to contributing seven steals, five assists and five boards.
  • Kayla White put together one of the season’s more unique stat lines in Bethune-Cookman’s commanding win over Trinity Baptist on Friday. Albeit only 5-foot-6, the junior plays forward, proving why as she had nine points, eight rebounds, eight assists and eight steals. Earlier in the week, White scored 18 points and grabbed 17 boards to help Bethune-Cookman bowl over Johnson.
  • Sophomore guard Sydney Woodley helped Long Beach State hand Colorado State their first loss of the season on Friday. In the 49ersone-point win, she snagged seven steals to go along with 19 points, four boards and a pair of assists. Junior guard Patricia Chung sealed the game from the free throw line. Considering Long Beach was blown out by No. 5 Texas in their previous game, the bounceback performance—which included overcoming a 16-point deficit—was impressive.
  • As Edwin Garcia noted in his latest LSU update, the Lady Tigers recently dominated the Cowgirls of McNeese State. Behind junior guard Mireia Yespes, McNeese State responded to the demolition with their own authoritative win over Centenary on Thursday. The junior guard from Spain had 35 points and six boards, as well as a pair of assists and steals. The Cowgirls could not maintain the positive momentum, as Tarleton State defeated McNeese State on Saturday behind 34 points—on almost 85 percent shooting—from junior guard Jakoriah Long.
  • Campbell senior forward Christabel Ezumah tallied a double-double of 23 boards and 16 rebounds—including 10 offensive boards—as her team took care of business against Lancaster Bible.
  • North Florida freshman guard Alexa Washington drained nine 3-pointers on her way to 31 points as the Ospreys pounded Piedmont on Wednesday. North Florida next gave No. 12 Kansas State their best shot; however, a hyper-efficient 36-point effort from star senior big Ayoka Lee allowed the Wildcats to pull away from the Ospreys on Saturday evening.
  • Mississippi State grad center Jessika Carter posted a pair of loud performances last week. She first had a 31-point and 13-rebound double-double as the Bulldogs cruised past Kennesaw State on Monday. In a closer-than-expected contest against Jackson State on Thursday, her 17 points and 18 boards helped Mississippi State escape with the 10-point win.

Analyzing the undefeateds

Last week, No. 23 UNLV (9-1) and No. 24 Miami (8-1) fell from the ranks of the undefeated, leaving 15 Division I teams without a loss. But, are all of these 15 teams “for real”? Which squads have earned their perfect record by testing themselves against high-quality teams? Which ones have skated through soft schedules? Here’s some details from data—Strength of Schedule (SOS) and Simple Rating System (SRS), which accounts for strength of schedule and average point differential, from Sports Reference College Basketball as of Sunday night—that, while not definitive, provides a perspective of which of December’s unbeatens will be most relevant in March.

  • No. 1 South Carolina (9-0): 11.04 SOS (19th), 53.64 SRS (1st)
  • No. 2 UCLA (9-0): 4.07 SOS (96th), 36.30 SRS (5th)
  • No. 3 NC State (11-0): 9.55 SOS (26th), 32.10 SRS (12th)
  • No. 5 Texas (11-0): 1.93 SOS (133rd), 38.66 SRS (2nd)
  • No. 6 USC (8-0): 8.98 SOS (32nd), 32.86 SRS (9th)
  • No. 10 Baylor (9-0): -3.01 SOS (239th), 30.21 SRS (14th)
  • No. 19 Marquette (11-0): 3.09 SOS (113th), 25.79 SRS (20th)
  • Washington (11-0): -3.19 SOS (242nd), 22.09 SRS (33rd)
  • TCU (11-0): 0.25 SOS (165th), 24.36 SRS (26th)
  • West Virginia (9-0): -4.46 SOS (268th), 25.43 SRS (22nd)
  • Texas Tech (11-0): -2.20 SOS (221st), 20.89 SRS (38th)
  • Oregon State (8-0): 0.21 SOS (166th), 23.96 SRS (29th)
  • UCF (8-0): -1.70 SOS (211th), 13.44 SRS (67th)
  • Old Dominion (8-0): -7.28 SOS (311th), 6.43 SRS (112th)
  • California Baptist (9-0): -3.06 SOS (241st), 4.83 (122nd)

If there was any doubt, top-ranked South Carolina is legit. UCLA and Texas sport similar profiles; while neither team has played a particularly tough schedule, they’ve consistently outclassed opponents. NC State and USC, in contrast, has played stronger schedules, resulting in less commanding, but possibly more predictive, victories. Baylor’s mark certainly raises eyebrows; despite their most recent win over Miami, they otherwise have faced a rather overmatched slate of opponents.

The same is true for three of the Big 12’s other undefeated teams, as West Virginia, Texas Tech and UCF have had breezy schedules. Nonetheless, the Red Raiders and Knights have had quite a few close calls, while the Mountaineers have more comfortably and consistently taken care of lesser opponents. The Big 12’s fifth undefeated team—TCU—is a bit more intriguing, with their performance against a slightly above average schedule suggesting they may make more noise in the conference than expected. The Pac-12’s undefeated-but-unranked teams will have the opportunity to prove themselves once conference play begins; for now, the data suggests Oregon State’s 8-0 mark is more impressive than Washington’s 11-0, even though the Huskies have a signature win over in-state rival Washington State.

Even as Old Dominion has feasted on one of the nation’s easiest schedules, they shouldn’t be quickly dismissed. Head coach DeLisha Milton-Jones has her team playing the nation’s best defense, giving up only 46.1 points per game. If that defensive identity maintains, the Monarchs should contend for a Sun Belt title. Projected to finished third in the WAC, California Baptist already has two conference wins, including one over a Southern Utah team that was expected to finish second in the conference.

A look ahead

Before women’s college basketball goes quiet for Christmas, there are a few tasty matchups on the week’s calendar, beginning with a top-15 tilt on Monday evening.

Monday, Dec. 18

No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 12 Ohio State (6:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

Tuesday, Dec. 19

No. 25 North Carolina vs. Oklahoma (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Wednesday, Dec. 20

No. 3 NC State vs. Old Dominion (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Washington vs. No. 18 Louisville (7 p.m. ET, ACC Network)