There was very little movement in our Top 25 last week, as many of our elite teams took the holidays off and those who saw action, for the most part, faced lesser opponents.
The big exception was Kansas State. The Wildcats drop out of the Full Court Top 25 after dropping back-to-back games by significant margins to unranked opponents in tournament action in San Antonio.
Their place is taken by Miami (FL), which enters our rankings at No. 25 after quietly amassing an 11-1 record that includes a signature win over No. 22 Georgetown.
In other moves, Xavier slips, but not by much, after dropping a heartbreaker to No. 3 Duke in the game's final seconds. DePaul takes a bigger slide after falling to unranked, but impressively strong Arizona State on the road, and Syracuse slips a bit after losing to No. 2 Baylor in the Bahamas.
Let's take a closer look at last week's Top 25 action.
The basketball was as good as it gets in high school Wednesday night in the packed Hamilton High gym in Chandler, Arizona, that hosted the finals of the 15th Annual Nike Tournament of Champions, one of the most prestigious events in girls' high school basketball. Two Southern California teams, Brea Olinda High School and Long Beach Poly, had spent the past three days duking it out with some of the best teams in the sport, drawn from across the country, for the right to compete in the title game.
They did not disappoint. In a game that was hard fought and close from start until the parade to the foul line began in the final minute -- Poly trailed by just one point, 48-49, with a little less than three minutes remaining but the absence of a shot clock in girls' high school basketball forced a succession of fouls in the end game -- Brea overcome a five-point halftime deficit to take a 56-48 win in the tournament's elite Joe Smith Division. Along with the Nike Tournament of Champions title comes a No. 1 national ranking for the Brea Ladycats -- at least for now, as there is a lot of high school basketball still ahead of us.
While the first two days of the Nike Tournament of Champions had plenty of talent on display, many of the games in the early going have been lopsided and rather uncompetitive. But while this years Tournament of Championships may have lacked some of the great early-round games that have typified the NCAA Tournament in recent years, Tuesday night's semifinals did not disappoint, as high school players, coaches, college coaches, and fans and families packed into Hamilton High School to witness the best night of girls' high school basketball so far this year. If there were any doubt about the state of the game, the naysayers were silenced on Tuesday night with two epic semifinal battles between some of the top female ballers in the country in the event's elite Joe Smith Division.
If you are under 50 years old, you need to shut up now about the alleged superiority of the mens game.
Before a sold-out crowd of 16,294 in Hartford's XL Center, the University of Connecticut womens basketball team proved itself to be the best Division I college basketball team in history Tuesday night, as they handily won their eighty-ninth consecutive game.* Behind a career-high 41 points, plus 10 boards, from two-time National Player of the Year Maya Moore, and another 22 points from freshman point prodigy Bria Hartley, the Huskies broke the seemingly untouchable record set 36 years ago by the UCLA men's team.
The UCLA Bruins mens team won eighty-eight in a row from 1971 to 74. Eighty-nine is more than eighty-eight. That simple math is all one needs to know to conclude that these UConn women are among the most dominant sports teams in history. But really, who cares whether they are better than the UCLA team who used to hold the consecutive game record? Connecticut doesnt care.
I dont want to compare anything to anything, UConn Coach Geno Auriemma said after his teams 93-62 victory over last week's Full Court Press No. 15 team, Florida State. What John Wooden and his team did will never, ever, be repeated. Im not John Wooden, and this team isnt UCLA. This is Connecticut, and thats good enough.
That is the right perspective on the media- and misogynist-driven denials and comparisons pitting UConns greatness against UCLAs legendary might. It isnt a question of womens or mens basketball. Each team dominated its sport in its time. Each holds a record unlikely to be equaled. But claims that UConns record is somehow less than UCLAs are driven either by ignorance of NCAA history, or by an insecurity fostered by the thought that women broke a mens record.
The top girls' high school basketball teams from around the nation are on display again this year at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chandler (just outside Phoenix), Arizona. More than 2,000 student athletes will participate over the two week course of this illustrious tournament, which has become known as the unofficial national championship for high school women's basketball, but most eyes, including those of the college coaches who flock to the event, will be locked on the premiere Joe Smith Division in session one this week.
Set in Hamilton High School gymnasium, the Joe Smith Division features six of the top 10-nationally ranked girls' high school teams in the country battling it out for top honors. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA) comes into the tournament ranked No. 1, and is the team to beat, but took a heavy blow when Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, one of the top recruits in the country this year, sprained her ankle after coming down hard on an awkwardly positioned joint. Mosqueda-Lewis had to sit out the rest of yesterday's quarterfinals games on crutches, but promises to return for today's semifinals; her availability, however, is still uncertain.
With or without Mosqueda-Lewis, it would be wrong to rule out the other top contenders. No. 2/3 Brea advanced yesterday, as did No. 3/2 Bolingbrook and No. 5/8 Long Beach Poly. That means there will be plenty of competitive play, not just in the Joe Smith Division, but in all six divisions scattered throughout several nearby gyms, over the final two days of Session I. Let's take a look at some of the top action from Monday's quarterfinals.
Many of our Top 25 teams enjoyed relaxed exam-week schedules last week, but there was still some significant movement among those who saw action. In the week's biggest upset, last week's No. 10 team, Tennessee, quickly bounced back from an 11-point loss to then-No. 3 Baylor, heading home to hand Stanford (No. 2 last week) a 10-point loss in overtime. It was the second loss of the week for the previously unbeaten Cardinal, who had just dropped a road game at No. 19 DePaul. With two losses to lesser ranked teams, Stanford plummets to No. 10, the Lady Vols step up to No. 9 and the Blue Demons rise to No. 14 in our rankings.
In the other big news of the week, Connecticut equaled the 88-consecutive win record set by John Wooden's men's basketball team in the early 70s with an 82-50 beatdown of the Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU had entered the game ranked No. 11, not only by Full Court but by the other two polls as well, after falling out of the Top Five a week ago with a loss to then-unranked Syracuse. So the loss itself was not entirely unexpected, but a 32-point shellacking in front of a national TV audience most definitely was, and the Buckeyes drop to No. 16 as a consequence.
Who would have thunk it?!? In the week's biggest upset, No. 15 Florida Street fell to the lowly Elis, who came into the game not merely unranked but with a season record of 1-7. Nine-and-two isn't a bad record at this point in the season, but it's tough to justify a spot in the Top 25 after that kind of loss, so the Seminoles fall from the ranks of the elite, at least for the time being.
Their place is taken by unbeaten Arkansas, one of the most pleasant surprises of the early season, who enter our rankings at No. 25 after handing Oklahoma (No. 12 at the time) a 10-point loss last week. The Sooners slip to No. 17 and the remainder of our ranked teams move up to fill in the gaps.
Let's take a closer look at last week's Top 25 action.
The eyes of women's basketball fans around the world will turn to New York on Sunday, December 19, 2010, as the fifth annual Maggie Dixon Classic tips off in Madison Square Garden (2 p.m. EST). The draw? Game two of the day between No. 1 Connecticut and Ohio State, which until last weekend was ranked at No. 5 in the country.
Though the Buckeyes tumbled into the teens this week after dropping a 66-75 upset to then-unranked Syracuse, the game, if not evenly matched, is still one of historic importance. A win for the Huskies, which seems even more likely than it did at the beginning of the season, would allow tie Connecticut with John Wooden's UCLA team of the early '70s for the all-time winning streak in basketball for teams of either gender. Another win against Florida State on Tuesday, in Hartford, would break that record.
But for all the fanfare, one thing will be noticeably different at this year's Maggie Dixon Classic, and that is Maggie Dixon's team, Army. The tournament was created in memory of the former Army Black Knights womens basketball coach who died on April 6, 2006, at age 28, of an undiagnosed heart condition. Over the course of her six months at the helm of the women's basketball team at the United States Military Academy, Maggie Dixon led the program to unprecedented heights; the Black Knights played in their first Patriot League Championship and Dixon led her team to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. It was the only time any Army basketball team had played in the NCAAs.
The omission of Army is a sign that television continues to dictate the match-ups in major tournaments. This is the first year that the tournament will not feature Coach Dixon's Army team, the powers that be having apparently determined that four years was enough homage to pay to Coach Dixon's success at Army. Of course, Army had been the weak link in this young early-season tournament, and this years field is the strongest yet.
Most of the top teams had relaxed exam-week schedules, in a week that was really a place-holder for the record-determinative week that is to come. Yet the biggest upset of the week was unranked Syracuse beating No. 5 Ohio State handily. The Orangewomen join our rankings at No. 23 courtesy of that victory. We'll see what they're made of again in a week, when they take on No. 3 Baylor in the Bahamas.
If it is possible to fly under the radar at No. 4, Duke continues to do so. The Blue Devils beat another ranked opponent, No. 6 Texas A&M, remaining undefeated, and showing a balanced team, confident in its abilities. The Aggies slide, but not by much, since Duke had been higher ranked to begin with.
The parity of the teams in the lower half of the rankings resulted once again in significant movement among teams. Georgetown, once the Cinderella of the Top 15, continued its losing ways, looking like a one-player team that needs a lot of work. The Hoyas tumble to the bottom of our Top 25, remaining in the national rankings solely by virtue of their signature wins over then-No. 1 Tennessee and nationally ranked Maryland. Texas lost another one, this time to Tennessee, and joins the Hoyas near the bottom of our rankings, but remain in our Top 25 since, like Notre Dame, all of their losses come at the hands of higher ranked teams. And the Cyclones and the Hawkeyes sorted out who's on top in Iowa last week, with the Hawkeyes emerging victorious.
Green Bay drops out of our rankings after losing its face-off with unranked Marquette. If that seems a harsh penalty for a three-point loss, consider that the Phoenix have not played a nationally ranked team in the season -- Penn State was once ranked, but has since slid out of the Top 25, and absent a miracle in the Horizon League, are not likely to see a ranked team unless they make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Its still about UConn. With the squeaky, sloppy win over an even sloppier Baylor, The Streak continues. It is still not a certainty, as the Huskies have one of the most demanding non-conference schedules in the country this year, but it is possible that UConn will break the mens 88-game record streak set by UCLA under John Wooden some 36 years ago (1971-1974).
Game No. 88, however, will be against No. 5 Ohio State at Madison Square Garden on December 19. If the Huskies survive that challenge, the record-breaker would be against No. 18 Florida State in Hartford two days later. Right now, the streak may depend on the maturity of the UConn freshmen and the health of Ohio States Sammy Prahalis.
As for the rest of the league, the Big East has never been more competitive top to bottom. There are no sure losers, even in the bottom third. Many teams are relying on newcomers, but many of those newcomers (including a lot of transfers) are ready to play serious minutes.
Georgetown is back to the status of an elite team, as confirmed by their definitive win over Tennessee this week. WBCA Coach of the Year Terry Williams-Flournoy has rebuilt the once proud team into a contender which can challenge Connecticut. West Virginia and DePaul bring back all their starters. And Notre Dame, despite some interior issues, will probably be in the mix. Add in another strong team from resurgent St.Johns, and the top of the league should be seriously competitive. Who knows? This year, UConn might not even go undefeated.
When Muffet McGraw first took over the Notre Dame Womens basketball team in 1987, she could almost count the number of fans in the seats during a time out. At its best, the number could be counted during pregame warm-ups.
Today, however, it is a far different story.
Over the past month and change since the exhibition season commenced, I have attended 14 of the 17 basketball games -- both men's and women's -- played at Notre Dame's Purcell Pavilion. As a general rule, for the men's games, I drove unimpeded into the parking lot, parked in the nearest lot, and had an unobstructed walk into the arena. In contrast, for the women's games, I had to endure a 15-minute (or longer!) traffic backup that extended for a good half a mile, parked in an outer lot (the closer ones long since full), and then had to wend my way through the crowds to get to my seat at the press table.