Not all the recruiting action has been happening on the gridiron – South Carolina women’s basketball got some very welcome news on Saturday, landing a commitment from Saniya Rivers, rated by ESPN as the #3 prospect in the Class of 2021. Rivers is an extremely athletic guard, who is explosive off the dribble and drew rave reviews for her ability to finish plays in traffic. The Wilmington, North Carolina product averaged 25 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in her junior season at Eugene Ashley High School. She joins fellow 5-star guard Aubryanna Hall as the second elite recruit in South Carolina’s 2021 class. Their 2019 class ranked #1 in the nation, but the Gamecocks fell out of the top 20 last season. South Carolina was ranked #1 this year when the season was cancelled due to COVID-19. UConn, Texas, NC State, and many other schools were known to be in pursuit of Rivers’ services.
4-Star CB Deuce Harmon commits to Texas A&M
Texas A&M scored a huge win on the recruiting front, as the Aggies landed 4-star cornerback Deuce Harmon, a top-20 player at his position for the Class of 2021. With 46 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble, Harmon was a dynamic contributor for Denton Guyer, making a state championship game appearance. He’s the first defensive back out of nine Texas A&M commits in 2021. Texas also made a strong bid for the in-state talent, while Notre Dame briefly appeared to be a contender for his services, but ultimately, the Aggies won out, earning the commitment from one of their earliest offers, as Harmon is headed to College Station.
Andrew Nembhard exits NBA Draft, leaves Florida
Andrew Nembhard, a former Florida guard, withdrew his name from the NBA Draft, but he is not staying with the Gators, as he will be taking his talents elsewhere after two years in Gainesville. Nembhard averaged 8 points per game in his freshman season, and he upped that mark to 11.2 last season. He’s also an excellent facilitator on offense, averaging a touch under six assists per game. Nembhard didn’t always have a high shot volume with Florida, but he had some excellent performances, with 25 and 24 points in wins over Georgia and Texas A&M respectively. He recorded two double-doubles and shot 44% from the field. It was a surprising decision, as not many expected Nembhard to transfer, so no real list of favorites has emerged to land the rising junior.
UAH Hockey Saved By Donations
Jackson Wilson reported yesterday on the end of the Alabama-Huntsville Hockey program, but the Chargers have a temporary reprieve. Between crowd-sourcing, and two major donations, UAH raised over $750,000 dollars to save the hockey team. Their efforts worked, although time will tell whether enough UAH players will stay with the program, after many looked to transfer following the initial announcement.
It’s slim pickings for daily headlines today, as there’s been a lull in the recruiting action on the gridiron, and if there’s anything to talk about in the sports world, it’s the current efforts of the NBA and NHL resuming their season this summer.
Aggies and Longhorns revive series on the hardwood
There’s been a lot of discussion about Texas and Texas A&M resuming their fierce rivalry on the gridiron, but while we have to wait for further news on that, the two schools did announce they would be meeting again on the basketball court, as their women’s basketball teams were announced as opponents in the Big 12/SEC challenge. It may not be the clash of titans hoped for by football fans, but their contests have provided some excellent competition in the past, although they have’t met on the court since 2014. The Longhorns have had more success in the series, winning four straight and owning a 62-23 record against the Aggies, but their in-state rivals have had more success on the national level recently. They won the national title in 2011, whereas Texas has not been to the Final Four since 2003, reaching only one Elite Eight in that time frame (2016). This match-up, regardless of the sport, is a classic rivalry, and we can only hope this game serves as the springboard for more contests between the two teams, both in women’s basketball and across other sports.
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It was an old rivalry with a new twist. As UConn coach Geno Auriemma said with uncharacteristic emotion, “It wasn’t the same. I miss having her there.”
‘Her’ was legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. Her and Auriemma’s squads did battle many times during her tenure, with UConn edging out Tennessee 13-9 for the series lead between the two teams. During each of those 22 games, both teams were in the Top 15 in the AP Poll. It was a rivalry for the ages that finally concluded around 2007.
On Thursday night, for the first time in thirteen years, the Huskies and Volunteers met on the basketball court again, although this time, Summitt was not leading the ladies in orange. Having retired in 2012, the all-time leader in coaching wins died in 2016 at just age 63, having been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers. It was a devastatingly early end to the career of one of the greatest coaches to ever do it.
Tennessee, led by coach Kelli Harper, came out of the gates firing on Thursday, taking a lead into halftime on the Huskies’ home court. Auriemma would ultimately pull the right strings, and his team played with a renewed ferocity. Their dominant second half propelled the home squad to a 60-45 victory. The intensity of the game, especially for the first three quarters when the game was still in doubt, echoed the old intensity of what was quite possibly the greatest rivalry ever on a college basketball court.
And, even if it wasn’t the same, it was a big win for the Huskies, who answered some major questions with a statement win over their first ranked opponent since their 16-point home loss to Baylor.
All Eyes On Oregon
In other women’s basketball headlines, the games to watch this weekend once again reside in the Pac-12. After Stanford engaged in two top-10 duels last week, there will be another pair of premier match-ups to watch in the coming days. Fans of high quality basketball and exciting rivalries will want to tune in as #4 Oregon hosts #7 Oregon State on Friday, before the two squads switch locations and do it again on Sunday, with the Ducks visiting the Beavers. Oregon is 15-2 and has won eight of their past eleven games by at least thirty points, including an 87-55 beat-down of Stanford. The Cowboys started 15-0, but they’ve been tripped up in two of their past three games, losing at Arizona State and at home to Stanford by a combined 11 points. It should be a thrilling series out west, and one that will clear up some of the muddled confusion at the top of the rankings.
There was a lot of chalk this week in women’s college basketball, but there were also a couple of really high-profile games and results that shifted the Power Rankings a little bit. One new team entered (welcome NC State), and one team dropped from the top 10 into the honorable mentions. Ultimately, the 15 teams mentioned stayed the same as no monumental upsets occurred.
10 – Arizona State (Last Week: 9)
The Sun Devils drop one spot largely due to circumstances out of their control. They had two wins by double digits over the weekend, beating Washington and Washington State, both on the road. They continue to, in my opinion, be undervalued by the polls, ranked 16th as of this writing, but they do drop one spot due to the performance of the teams surrounding them in the rankings.
9 – NC State (Last Week: Honorable Mention)
I excluded the Wolfpack – currently ranked 8th – from the Top 10 last week, and they shamed me into including them this week, as they rolled through 2 ACC games, including a 17-point win over #14 Florida State. I’m not necessarily convinced this team is a Final Four threat, but 17-1 is 17-1, so the Wolfpack slot in at #9 here.
8 – DePaul (Last Week: 10)
DePaul finally rose a little bit, from 14th to 11th, in the rankings this week, but I continue to value them a little bit higher. This team has been very impressive, especially offensively. They dominated two Big East road games this week, defeating Xavier by 23, and Butler by 15. It’s been over a month since they gave up more than 71 points, and almost 2 months since they scored less than 74. They are 17-2 and lead the Big East, so definitely watch out for this team.
7- Oregon State (Last Week: 5)
It’s hard to penalize the Cowboys too much for a brutally close road loss to an elite Stanford team, as their game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out at the buzzer. They are just 2-2 against ranked teams, with losses in two of their past three games overall, so a home and home set against Oregon should reveal something about this team, and whether they’re truly going to be capable of a deep run come March.
6 – Stanford (Last week: 3)
Yes, Stanford’s only loss was to Oregon…but they lost by 32 points. That’s unacceptable no matter what, especially as a Top-5 team. They were completely dominated in the second half and put together an all-around putrid performance. The Cardinal rebounded with a solid road victory of Oregon State, and they’ll get a couple of home games this week to prep for a road trip followed by a showdown with UCLA.
5 – UConn (Last Week: 6)
It’s honestly still difficult to figure out where this team slots into the national picture. After being outclassed by Baylor, the Huskies haven’t lost, but they haven’t really played a tough game. Conference opponents Memphis and UCF played UConn close, but the Huskies have also blown out Houston and Tulsa, by 40+ points each. They host Tennessee on Thursday, which should give a little bit of a clear idea of where this team stands right now, but I wouldn’t necessarily suggest betting against the Huskies and their history of success.
4- Louisville (Last Week: 4)
This may have been my toughest ranking of the week, as Louisville put together two solid road performances, including a win over UNC who was 9-1 at home. However, the lack of ranked opponents, given their competititon’s achievements kept the Cardinals slotted in at #4 this week. They have just two ranked opponents – Florida State and NC State – left on their schedule, which will likely reveal how tournament-ready Louisville is.
3 – Oregon (Last Week: 7)
“They still have a deep tourney run in them, but they’ll have to win the games they’re supposed to.” That was my direct quote analyzing Oregon’s standing after last week, and the Ducks responded to my challenge – well probably not my challenge specifically, but they improved their play drastically. Hosting Stanford, who was #3 at the time, Oregon blew their Pac-12 rival out of the water, turning a slim halftime advantage into a second-half laugher. Thoughts of a letdown game were quickly squashed, as Oregon beat Cal by 50 points. Cal isn’t a powerhouse, but a 50-point conference win is really good. The Ducks are back, but they’ll have a chance to prove themselves again with two games versus Oregon State this weekend.
2 – South Carolina (Last Week: 2)
I still disagree with the AP Poll, which has the Gamecocks ranked 1st. South Carolina has no doubt been impressive, especially with their dominant start to SEC play, but I don’t see them as the top team in the country right now. They did add to their resume with a top-10 win over Mississippi State, but I’ll need further convincing to move the Gamecocks up the final rung of this ladder.
1 – Baylor (Last Week: 1)
South Carolina’s ranking at #2 has more do with what Baylor is doing than what South Carolina isn’t doing. The Bears look to be on cruise control right now, and if you don’t believe me, ask the rest of the Big 12. Baylor has won three straight conference games by at least 40 points. And not over scrubs either: The Bears have victimized Oklahoma State (11-6), Kansas (12-4), and #17 West Virginia (13-3). It’s been an unprecedented stretch of dominance by Baylor, and they sit at #1 until their performance indicates reason for change.
Stanford was involved in the best games of the week, as they faced off against #6 Oregon and then #8 Oregon State over the weekend. Thursday night was a demoralizing night for the Cardinal, as they lost 87-55, getting absolutely manhandled in the second half by the Ducks. Going down five after the first quarter on Sunday, things were looking dismal for the Cardinal, but they chipped away, eventually surging into the lead at the end of the third quarter by holding the Beavers to 6 points in the period. The Cardinal led for much of the way down the stretch, but they still needed to hold their breath as Oregon State missed a three-pointer at the buzzer. Stanford won 61-58. The two games showed that Oregon might be one of the best teams in the country, and that the Pac-12 boasts a bevy of elite teams.
Baylor is…really good
Baylor is currently ranked #2 in the AP Poll, but they earned the top spot in our Power Rankings last week. They gave us good reason to keep them in the #1 slot when they hosted #17 West Virginia and slammed the Mountaineers by 40 points. With a slate of very winnable Big 12 games ahead, the Bears could be on cruise-control towards getting a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament to defend their title.
A Lot of Chalk
There wasn’t a lot of exciting upsets in women’s basketball this weekend as, outside Oregon State’s loss, only one other ranked team lost on Sunday. That was #11 Kentucky, who dropped a tough road conference game to LSU, but that wasn’t exactly a ‘shock-the-world’ type of upset. After one of the most tumultuous weeks last week, which saw the top 3 teams in the country lose, this weekend lacked the upset appeal and resulted in a lot expected victories and big blowouts.
All Eyes On Oregon Next Week
While this week may have been a little underwhelming, next weekend promises another pair of great Pac-12 battles, with in-state rivals Oregon and Oregon State duking it out both on Friday and Sunday to headline next week’s slate. Another game worth watching will be #24 Tennessee at #4 UConn on Thursday, which has won four straight since their loss, albeit against all unranked competition. It will both hint at whether the Lady Vols are back, or whether UConn can deliver with a big ranked win.
How this women’s basketball season will turn out is pretty much anybody’s guess? For the first time in a while, there’s not one dominant team, but rather a group of favorites who all seem like viable options to be the last team standing. Last week, the top-3 teams in the AP Poll all lost, leaving the top of the rankings in disarray. I’m sure I’ll be less than successful, but I’ll try to sift through the madness of the regular season so far and give you my top 10 NCAA women’s basketball teams, plus a couple teams I think are very good, but not Top-10 material.
#10 – DePaul
Probably not the most popular pick at #10 as DePaul is ranked just 14th in the AP Poll and 15th in the coaches poll, but I really like DePaul’s offense and I think they can stay with anyone when their shooting game is hot. They are near the top of the country in 3-pointers made and 3pt percentage, as well as fourth in the country in points per game. They may not be the most well rounded team, but they’ve got a bevy of lethal shooters that are more than capable of turning a game on its head.
#9 – Arizona State
Again, the Sun Devils aren’t really a Top 10 team by their whole resume, but wow they are playing like one right now. They pushed #7 UCLA to the brink on the road, and they followed that up with a three-game winning streak, taking down #6 Oregon and ending #8 Oregon State’s undefeated season in the process. They struggled early, but the Sun Devils are quickly proving themselves capable of playing with the best.
#8 – UCLA
The Bruins rank 6th in RPI, and they’re the only undefeated team in the country. The toughest part of their schedule is yet to come so their spot at #8 indicates a respect for their results so far with some wary optimism about what’s ahead. They’ve been dominant in Pac-12 play, with two wins by at least 24 points, and a 12-point win over #21 Arizona.
#7 – Oregon
The Ducks were #2 and knocking on the doorstep of #1 following UConn’s loss to Baylor, but the Ducks turned around and were upset by Arizona State, sending them crashing out of the top 5. They’re #6 in the AP Poll, and they land #7 here. They still have a deep tourney run in them, but they’ll have to win the games they’re supposed to.
#6 – UConn
In our last women’s basketball post, we discussed whether UConn was still a dynasty, and we came to the conclusion that they are, but that does not mean they’re the best team this year. They’ve been dominant at times, but they’ve also shown some holes, including being unable to pull away from a pesky Memphis squad in their most recent AAC game. The Huskies have never lost a game in the AAC, but they didn’t look convincing last night, just one game removed from a 16-point home loss to Baylor. UConn is an elite team, but they’re sitting at #6 until they show a more consistent string of dominance.
#5 – Oregon State
The Beavers almost made it to these power rankings unscathed, but they fell victim to the wave of upsets as Arizona State took them down. Before that however, Oregon State beat Arizona on the road, handled Colorado easily, and stormed by Utah to start Pac-12 play. Prior to conference games, the Cowboys had won 12 straight, all by double digits.
#4 – Louisville
The Cardinals boast an extremely impressive resume already, and they are cruising in the ACC, posting a 4-0 record while barely breaking a sweat. Outside of a close road loss to Ohio State, Louisville has quality road wins over #11 Kentucky and #6 Oregon. They’re currently on an 8-game winning streak, a run that includes five road victories.
#3 – Stanford
It was a close call between Stanford and Louisville, but the west coast squad got the bid for the third spot. The Cardinal have a signature blowout victory in a 27-point victory over a quality Tennessee team, and they have dominated the Pac-12 to start the year, going 4-0 with their closest contest being a 14 point victory. They also beat #10 Mississippi State and #16 Gonzaga this year, but the Cardinal will have to eventually start proving themselves on the road, as they’ve played just four games away from home, losing one of them.
#2 – South Carolina
The Gamecocks are #1 in the AP Poll and #2 in the Coach’s poll, tussling for the top spot with Baylor. I gave the nod to Baylor, demoting South Carolina to #2 in the initial Power Rankings. South Carolina is third in the country in scoring margin, and they have quite simply dominated throughout the year. They have a road victory versus Maryland on their resume, and they’ve scored 90 or more points in six games, including four straight. They’ve beaten several ranked opponents in Arkansas and Kentucky, and Baylor, but their 14-point home loss to Indiana was hard to ignore.
#1 – Baylor
Baylor just ended UConn’s 98-game home winning streak, giving the Bears the premier win they needed the nab the top spot in the power rankings. The Baylor’s men team is ranked #2 in the AP Poll, giving Baylor probably the top basketball program in the country right now as a whole. The women’s team has given up the second least amount of points, scored the most, and subsequently, leads the country in scoring margin, having scored 100+ points a whopping four times already. Although they lost to South Carolina head to head, the Bears have won their ensuing games by 38.7 points per game, including the UConn victory. It’s a toss-up, but a gut feeling says to give the top spot to the Bears. We’ll see if they keep it through the next edition of power rankings.
If there is one conversation that virtually every sports fan will have an opinion on, it is dynasties. If you love Alabama, or more recently, Clemson football, you love dynasties. If you are a fan of one of their SEC or ACC victims…probably not as much. So whether you’re rooting for your program’s dynasty to continue, or desperately waiting for your rival to cease their dominance, discussing dynasties is almost always topical and interesting.
This brings us to a series of questions…what is a dynasty? How should we measure one, and hat is the difference between dynasty and elite? And when is it acceptable to declare a dynasty dead?
To answer these questions, we’ll look at a modern-day college program who has unquestionably been a dynasty for a long time: The UConn Women’s Basketball program. Under the expert tutelage of Geno Auriemma, the Huskies have dominated, winning ten national titles since 2000. Only once in that span has one of Auriemma’s teams eclipsed five losses in a season; on the flip side, the Huskies have finished unbeaten five times. They have unquestionably been the dynasty of the modern era of college women’s basketball, but lately, their stranglehold on the top spot has begun to slip.
For the first time since 2005-2008, the Huskies have gone three successive years without claiming a national title; they do not have a player on their roster who has won a championship. Within their era of success, such a statistic is unprecedented. But, while they may not have claimed their usual spot atop the basketball world, they’ve still knocked on the door each year, losing in the Final Four the past three years. They’ve been among the last four teams standing for a stunning 12 straight years. But the lack of recent titles and Final Four success has people questioning if UConn’s dynasty is over. Just recently, their 98-game home winning streak came crashing to a halt when they scored just 6 fourth-quarter points in a 74-58 loss to defending national champion Baylor.
If you measure a dynasty by consistency in claiming titles, then you might be right in declaring the Huskies’ dynasty dead. But such a measurement is faulty and doesn’t encompass the true nature of a dynasty. A dynasty is winning titles but also maintaining a certain level of dominance. Teams can win a couple of titles and not be considered a dynasty – remember the San Francisco Giants winning titles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Three years in five titles may be considered a dynasty, but in 2011, 2013, and 2015, the Giants were just 246-240 and didn’t make the playoffs. They never felt like a dynasty because they never maintained their success – it just felt like they got hot at the right time. That’s certainly not what UConn has does, and it’s why we shouldn’t make their title count the sole measure of their dynasty.
I believe the perfect measurement was described by Kurt Russell when he depicted USA hockey coach Herb Brooks in the movie “Miracle”. Any sports fan knows about the 1980 USA hockey team, which stunned the Soviet team that had won four consecutive Olympic Gold Medals in historically dominant fashion. In the movie, Brooks watches Soviet film with his team and says, “They know they’re going to win. And so does their opponent.”
This is the essence of a dynasty. It’s a level of intimidation, a sheer presence that has your opponent cowering before the first whistle. UConn still has that presence in the world of college basketball. Maybe the most elite teams believe they have a shot, but to this day, no one has shown the ability to consistently beat this team. Last year, UConn finally dropped to a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament, but when they ran into #1 Louisville, the Huskies led the entire way and still advanced to the Final Four. Even on a so-called down year, the Huskies maintained their place among the best in the country.
UConn’s recent loss to Baylor threatened the veil of invincibility that has long surrounded their program. A double-digit home loss will do that, but the fact remains that until UConn starts losing when it truly matters, their dynasty prevails. It was extremely similar with a dynasty like the New England Patriots; they may not have won the Super Bowl each year, but they maintained a certain level of dominance, and nobody wanted to play them in January. But a 1st-round playoff loss at home was an announcement that the AFC has caught up, and they no longer fear New England. That message has not been sent to UConn. They continue to win, often by brutally large margins. They are 106-0 all time in AAC play, and before last year’s ‘lackluster’ 35-3 season, they had not lost a regular season game since November 14, 2014. One loss does not destroy a dynasty and neither does three straight semifinal losses. The Huskies are still here about about 95% of the time they take the court, they know they’re going to win…and so does their opponent. They may have a few challengers at the very top, but none of those teams have even come close to maintaining a similar level of continued success. Therein lies the difference between a dynasty and an elite program. Everyone loves to declare a dynasty dead, but now is not the Huskies’ time to go.