Thanksgiving tournaments provided much more data for evaluating teams, with several nationally ranked teams facing upsets. Last weeks nationally ranked teams collectively lost 12 games; some also lost key players. (Still, credit the teams who chose to put their rankings on the line against substantial competition, while others continue to play what amounts to an "exhibition" schedule.)
As a result, while some teams places in the pecking order became clearer, the bottom half of the Top 25 grew even less settled. While December will still be primarily non-conference games, the Big Ten starts their conference play this weekend.
First, a disclaimer: I did not attend these games. Too much driving at bad times on a post-holiday Sunday, and I needed to get in a bike ride, as the temperature was around 50 degrees in Southern Connecticut today.
The early game between Hofstra and Richmond was genuinely worth missing. These are the games that drive sports fans away from women's basketball. Hofstra lost a second consecutive one-point game at the free throw line. The Pride hit just nine of 19 freebies, and missed five in the final 1:17 of a game they lost 42-41. The victorious Richmond Spiders, who managed to get out of Storrs 2-1, shot a stunning 24 percent from the field, but hit that extra free throw (they were 10-of-15) to win the game. Hofstra finished the tournament 0-3.
The main event saw Connecticut beat Clemson, 87-48. But this game was not a bit like yesterday's. Connecticut shot two-of-15 from outside the arc, after hitting 10 threes in the first half alone on Saturday. For those who want to create nightmares about the Huskies, consider a performance by the guards like that against Stanford, and you have the makings of a blow-out by the Cardinal.
The Huskies rumbled over Richmond, 86-37, while in the more exciting undercard game, Clemson edged out Hofstra by a single point, 69-68, on Day Two of the WBCA Classic being held at Gampel Pavillion this weekend.
Connecticut 86 Richmond 37
Richmond played an entire half without an assist. UConn had 13 on 19 buckets. The Huskies were 10-14 on threes in the first half alone, as Richmond decided to triple team the post, hoping that Connecticut would miss from the outside. Not today.
UConn continues to practice the 2-2-1 press on makes and misses. The defense does not appear designed to steal the ball, but to delay it. The Huskies also continue to make some very odd passes into traffic. That worked against Richmond, but will be deadly against more active defenses.
Maya Moore played all 20 minutes in a first half that UConn finished 51-14. What's up with that? Was it a promise made in recruiting? Should there be any concern that she might get worn down by season's end? Just questions. I have no answers.
This week's column may be a bit more densely packed than usual. That's only appropriate, as it addresses a sensitive area for many fans of womens sports.
The goal is to make a relative comparison between womens and mens college basketball, and step one is to compare male and female players.
At one level, of course, thats easy: Men are, on average, bigger, faster and stronger. As a general matter, that translates to better. But how much better? (Well get to whether it matters next.)
The received physiological wisdom is that males of our species are about 15 percent stronger than females. In basketball terms, that translates into speed, quickness and jumping ability, three key components of basketball skill. The speed and jumping ability differences can be measured objectively in track, but quickness too is tied to musculature: Explosive movements take explosive muscle contractions, and since mens muscles are relatively bigger, they will be more explosive.
A digression: Sure, an elite female athlete can outperform an average male, but the comparison were trying to get to is between elite females and elite males. Theres no doubt the Phoenix Mercury could go down to the park on Saturday and win all day except of course if the Suns were there.
Its also true that men are taller, and nobody questions that basketball is a game that rewards the tall. My general rule of thumb is that there are about six inches difference when it comes to basketball in other words, a 5-8 female is comparable to a 6-2 male, relatively speaking, and a 6-4 female is comparable to a 6-10 male. What falls out of that is that 6-4 females are as rare as 6-10 males, and 5-4 females are as common as 5-10 males.
No. 24 Oklahoma Sooners spanked No. 20 San Diego State Aztecs and unranked Rutgers snapped the leash on the No. 17 Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs in a day of upsets among the Top 25 women's basketball teams in the country.
As day turned to dusk, the parade of upsets in the Top 25 continued at the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, as the unranked USC Women of Troy knocked the horns off No. 12-ranked Texas, 61-54. The Longhorns were the highest ranked team in the nation to lose today.
On paper, at least, the Oklahoma-San Diego State contest on day two of the Paradise Jam looked likely to be one of the most even match-ups on a day on which many of the Top 25 found themselves paired off against what can charitably be called lightweight opponents. That's why they play the game of basketball on the hardwood, not on paper, however.
In fact, the game turned into a rout, with the Sooners toasting the Aztecs, 87-48. The 39-point margin of victory was Oklahoma's largest ever against a nationally ranked opponent. (The previous record of 34 points was sent on November 12, 2006, when OU defeated then-No. 20 DePaul,105-71, in its season opener.)
Rutgers' 62-54 upset of No. 17 Mississippi State, wasn't a rout. But then again, Rutgers wasn't even nationally ranked. And it was the second loss in as many days for the 'Dawgs, who dropped their game against the 12th ranked Texas Longhorns yesterday.
But tonight, the 'Horns weren't so lucky. They, too, fell to an unranked team, the University of Southern California, who are now 2-3 on their season.
It may have been a day of upsets for some Top 25 teams, but such was not the case in Gampel Pavillion. To no one's great surprise, UConn trounced Hofstra, 91-46.
The victory was Associate Head Coach Chris Dailey's 700th win at UConn. It was, not coincidentally, also Geno Auriemma's 700th win. Auriemma leads all Division I coaches with a .851 winning percentage.
Asked to comment on the 700th win, Auriemma said, I think I can remember every single game I ever coached . . . I can probably tell you something that one of my players did [in each of the games] that still stays with me all of these years.
But on winning 700? I'm not a put-it-all-in-perspective kind of guy. That's not what I do.
Later: If you ask me . . . we won our first game we ever played. That was really cool. And I told Jamelle [Elliott Cincinnati's new head coach and former UConn assistant] that. They won their first game and I told her, 'You remember that the rest of your life.' . . . We went 7-0 my first year.' And she says, 'Then what?' I said, 'We lost 10 straight.'
Last season the Pacific 10 conference went 9-3 in the NCAA Tournament, with all three losses coming to eventual champion Connecticut. The nine wins for the Pac 10 was more than the ACC, SEC or Big 10, and the Pac 10's .750 winning percentage was better than any other conference. But the record also points to a real problem for the conference: Only three teams made the Big Dance. The Pac 10 has become a very top-heavy conference with Stanford, California and Arizona State all worthy of Top 10 consideration, but no one else even in the Top 25.
This season Stanford has a squad that can rival its national championship teams of the 1990s. California and Arizona State are both slightly down from last season -- for the most part due to player injuries -- but are still the next two best teams. All three teams are in the preseason Top 25 rankings and are likely to make the NCAA tournament again this season. The southern California teams -- UCLA and USC -- represent the only realistic chances for the conference to get any additional teams into the tournament, and USCs chances took a real blow when Stefanie Gilbreath suffered yet another Lady Trojan ACL injury.
Other than Stanford, the biggest story in the Pac 10 is the influx of two WNBA championship coaches. Michael Cooper won two titles in the WNBA with the Los Angeles Sparks and this season takes over the USC Trojans' head job. There have been many questions surrounding Cooper and whether his laid back style can work at the college level. Paul Westhead guided the Phoenix Mercury to their first championship in 2007 and now tries to bring his run-and-gun style to Eugene, Oregon. At 70 years of age, Westhead may not be a long-term answer for the Ducks, but he should bring some excitement back to a team that used to have one of the strongest followings in the West.
Here's how the Pac 10 stacks up in the early weeks of the season:
Lauren Jackson, regarded by many as the world's best active women's basketball player, will not return to Russia for the European season following the assassination of the Shabtai Kalmanovitch, the owner of Spartak Moscow, her Russian basketball club. Kalmanovitch was mowed down while by multiple assailants armed with semi-automatic weapons, wounded at least 20 times while driving his Mercedes through the Russian capital, in an apparent Russian mob hit.
Jackson, who has been at the Australian Institute of Sport rehabilitating the two stress fractures in her back that kept her out of action during the Seattle Storm's abbreviated WNBA playoff run this season, had not yet arrived in Russia at the time of Kalmanovitch's slaying. She did travel to Israel to attend the funeral of the owner who bestowed lavish salaries and benefits on his players, a collection of the world's top stars, and was affectionately called "Papa" by many of them. She was expected to return to the Euroleague next month.
Jackson opted out of the final two years of her Russian contract and will return to the Australian WNBL for the first time in three years, rejoining the Canberra Capitals, the team with which she won four WNBL titles. (Jackson won her fifth WNBL title while playing with AIS.) Though rumors of a pending deal have been circulating over the past week, Jackson beat the WNBL's mid-season registration deadline by a matter of hours according to Australian press reports.
Jackson, who is still recuperating from her back injury, will not be ready to play in Canberra's game against the Sydney Flames this weekend, and is not expected to take the court before December 5 when the Capitals take on Bendigo. That means she is likely to play only nine games for the Capitals, who are currently ranked fifth in the WNBL with a 6-4 record. At a reported salary of $220,000 AUD or the balance of the Australian season, that works out to $815 AUD per minute if Jackson maintains her customary average of around 30 minutes per game on the court. On average, WNBL players earn approximately $20,000 AUD per season.
Canberra obviously considers the price tag well worth it, as they have become the instant favorites to take the WNBL title and has Canberra considering moving the remainder of their games to a larger venue. Members of the Canberra business community, led by Actew Corporation chairman John Mackey, joined with the ACT government, who contributed a $50,000 grant to meet Jackson's salary.
Editor's Note: In a new weekly column, "The Big Ten: As I See It," veteran Full Court correspondent Sharon Crowson will share her thoughts on Big Ten and midwestern women's basketball.
Last season, Illinois second-year coach Jolette Law got the attention of the womens basketball world when she signed one of the nations very best recruiting classes. Law had been highly successful as a recruiter for Rutgers C. Vivian Stringer and she planned to use her contacts to build her program at Illinois. The class, which was ranked as high as number two nationally, contained six players, four of whom were ranked in the top 45 by one recruiting service or another. But within a month of starting practice, Laws dream may well be crumbling.
The season is only ten days old, but already there is a little bit more clarity in selecting the top 25. Tennessee has already shown that last year was an aberration and the Lady Vols will be a force once again this season. The SEC may also be rejuvenated as LSU, Georgia and Mississippi State have all had impressive wins. Xavier and Texas A&M have also secured big wins to bolster their position in the rankings.