Wednesday December 15th, 2010

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Connecticut Huskies
Last Ranking: 3
And so the moment comes. UConn can tie the UCLA men's 88-game winning streak, the longest in NCAA Division I basketball history, with a victory over Ohio State at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The Huskies will then play Florida State in Hartford two days later. UConn survived a tricky game against No. 3 Baylor (65-64) on Nov. 16 and hasn't been tested since. Senior forward Maya Moore (24.2 points) is shooting a ridiculous 56 percent from the field and leads the team in rebounds (7.3) and assists (4.1). Where coach Geno Auriemma has gotten better-than-expected output has been from a pair of freshmen: point guard Bria Hartley (13.8 points) and forward Samarie Walker (7.0 points and 7.7 rebounds). It'll be interesting to see how the freshmen (three have started this season, including Hartley, Walker and center Stefanie Dolson) react to a long layoff: The Huskies have been on break for final exams since Dec. 9.

Quotable: "That's a good question. I don't know. I really don't know how to answer that. Obviously we have an opportunity to do something that is pretty significant in terms of the basketball world. The basketball world views that number as a really significant number. There will be a lot of people in the building or watching television that are a little bit intrigued about it and it will mean different things to different people if that thing were to go our way. I'm sure everyone watching will have their own take on it."
-- coach Auriemma, on if the Ohio State game was the biggest in the program's history

Next Up: vs. Ohio State at New York City (Dec. 19), vs. Florida State (Dec. 21), at Pacific (Dec. 28), at Stanford (Dec. 30), vs. Villanova (Jan. 5)
 
2Baylor Bears
Last Ranking: 1
Seems Kim Mulkey might have finally settled on a backcourt. Freshman Odyssey Sims (11.5 points) and Kimetria Hayden (8.7 points) started together for the first time against Minnesota on Dec. 5 and produced 30 points, six rebounds, six assists and one turnover. Last month's loss to UConn has clearly given this team added focus: Baylor has seven consecutive victories, including a convincing 11-point win over Tennessee on Tuesday night in Waco. Sophomore center Brittney Griner (21.8 points , 8.0 rebounds and 5.5 blocks per game) has scored 20 points or more in all of those wins and even more good news: Impact transfer Destiny Williams, a 6-foot-1 sophomore forward, becomes eligible for Baylor's next game.

Quotable: "I think she makes more of a consistent or another three-point option on the floor; a consistent three-point option. Not that the other kids cannot shoot, but she is one of their best three-point shooters from deep three-point range. Spread the floor out and Griner is more open inside. I think they present a lot of problems when they have shooters on the perimeter and they have got a 6-8, great athlete inside."
-- Minnesota coach Pam Borton, on the impact of freshman Odyssey Sims.

Next Up: vs. Clemson at Nassau, Bahamas (Dec. 20), vs. Syracuse at Nassau, Bahamas (Dec. 21), vs. Texas-Pan-American (Dec. 30), vs. Iowa State (Jan. 8), at Texas (Jan. 12)
 
3Stanford Cardinal
Last Ranking: 2
The Cardinal are ranked behind Baylor here because their early-season schedule hasn't revealed much. They beat an up-and-coming Texas team, but failed to put Gonzaga away until late. As expected, the frontcourt of junior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike (18.0 points and 8.4 rebounds), senior forward Kayla Pedersen (11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds) and freshman Chiney Ogwumike (11.3 points and 7.7 rebounds) has been terrific. Stanford might have found its point guard, too: freshman Toni Kokenis made her first start in a rout of Fresno State on Sunday. Shooting guard Jeanette Pohlen (13.7) remains steady as the team's best outside option. Stanford has won 50 consecutive games at home and coach Tara VanDerveer needs one victory to get to 800 wins. That should come against DePaul on Thursday.

Quotable: "They're big, but also fast, skilled and smart. Kind of your worst nightmare."
-- Fresno State coach Adrian Wiggins, to the San Jose Mercury News

Next Up: at DePaul (Dec. 16), at Tennessee (Dec. 19), at San Francisco (Dec. 22), vs. Xavier (Dec. 28), vs. Connecticut (Dec. 30)
 
4Xavier Musketeers
Last Ranking: 4
You know about the All-America frontcourt duo of Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips (they have combined for 34.6 points and 21.4 rebounds per game), but senior guard Megan Askew has given Xavier another offensive threat after starting just two games over her first three seasons. Askew scored a career-high 17 points against Middle Tennessee State last week and has been terrific in place of the injured Katie Rutan. She gives Xavier another athletic player who can run the floor in transition and provide offensive rebounding. The Musketeers are off to their best start in school history but will face a pair of massive road tests at Duke and Stanford this month.

Quotable: "They have a good team, and they were playing minus one of their better kids [Rutan]. Harris got inside and made some shots that nobody can stop, and big Phillips would get down low and plant herself. It is tough on anybody's team to keep her out.
-- Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insell, on Xavier.

Next Up: vs. Mississippi State (Dec. 17), at Duke (Dec. 21), at Stanford (Dec. 28), vs. Missouri (Jan. 5), vs. Dayton (Jan. 9)
 
5Duke Blue Devils
Last Ranking: 6
You have to love the balance here. The crop of touted freshmen (led by guard Chelsea Gray, who has scored in double figures for five straight games) have fit in nicely with a solid group of veterans that includes senior guards Jasmine Thomas and Karima Christmas. Nine players average more than 15 minutes per game, with Thomas (14.2 points) and Christmas (10.3) scoring in double figures. Duke is holding opponents to 35.2 shooting and showed some grit in a tight home win over Texas A&M on Dec. 6. One of the showdown games of Duke's season comes this weekend when the Blue Devils host Xavier.

Quotable: "That first half was as dominant of a half as we've played all year, a fantastically intense and immediate 20 minutes of basketball. I'm really proud of our team for that."
-- Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie, after her team's 73-45 win over Oklahoma State in Stillwater last Sunday.

Next Up: vs. Xavier (Dec. 21), vs. Temple (Dec. 30), vs. Kentucky (Jan. 4), vs. Maryland (Jan. 6), Florida State at Tallahassee (Jan. 14)
 
6Texas A&M Aggies
Last Ranking: 8
Poor shooting (34 percent) and a failure to convert three chances in the final minute doomed the Aggies against Duke in Durham, but it's a loss that will help them come tournament time because they now know they can play with the best in the country. Speaking of the best in the country, senior forward Danielle Adams (21.7 points) has been playing like an All-America this year. She scored a career-high 34 points in a rout of TCU, her 18th consecutive double-figure-scoring game. "This is the best I've ever felt," said Adams, who has struggled with her fitness over the years. "I just feel more lighter. I'm able to get up and down the court without getting tired."

Quotable: "She's just got the ability to score. Shoot, she looked like (Dirk) Nowitzki a couple of times with her shot from the corner. She just understands matchup and everything very well. She's coming into her own."
--Blair, on Adams after the TCU game.

Next Up: vs. Rutgers in New York City (Dec. 19), vs. Drexel in San Diego (Dec. 28), San Diego State or UTSA (Dec. 30), vs. Louisiana-Monroe (Jan. 4), vs. Colorado (Jan. 8)
 
7Tennessee Volunteers
Last Ranking: 5
How good has freshman guard Meighan Simmons been? Only Chamique Holdsclaw started her Lady Vol career with more games of 10-plus points than Simmons, who has scored double digits in every game this season and is averaging a team-high 17.3 points. Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry called the freshman Tennessee's most versatile offensive player. "She can take it off the dribble, she's got a mid-range game, and she's got the long ball," Larry said. The Lady Vols rebounded from an ugly loss to Georgetown in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 27 (they had 29 turnovers) for three straight wins before running into a superior Baylor team. Coach Pat Summitt will need to find a scoring option in the post outside of Shekinna Stricklen, who is better served as a wing player. Tennessee is the middle of the toughest two-game stretch any team will have this season, a back-to-back with Baylor and Stanford.

Quotable: "It's been pretty amazing to see a freshman that is just fearless and just loves the game. Did I think Meighan would come in and be a freshman and start? No. I thought, 'It'll take her a while.' It didn't take me long to figure out we didn't need a while.
-- Summitt

Next Up: vs. Stanford (Dec. 19), vs. ETSU (Dec. 22), vs. Rutgers (Dec. 30), at LSU (Jan. 2), vs. Alabama (Jan. 6)
 
8West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Ranking: 10
The Mountaineers have wins over Top 25 opponents TCU and Iowa State and are off to their best start in school history. Before the season coach Mike Carey suggested his team needed to score in the 70s this season in order to be a consistent top-10 team and West Virginia is averaging 68.7 points per game so far, including strong performances from senior co-captains Madina Ali (14.4 points) and Liz Repella (14.0). Ali, a six-foot forward, has four double-doubles this season and is scoring nearly eight points more per game this season than last year.

Quotable: "It's always good to struggle and win. I'd rather win ugly than lose ugly."
-- Carey, following West Virginia's 39-36 win over Villanova on Dec. 9

Next Up: vs. St Francis (Pa.) (Dec. 18), at North Carolina Central (Dec. 21), vs. at St. Bonaventure (Dec. 30), vs. Central Connecticut State (Jan. 2), at Seton Hall (Jan. 5)
 
9North Carolina Tar Heels
Last Ranking: --
No player in the nation has been hotter than senior guard Italee Lucas, who can score in transition and from distance. Lucas scored a career-high 34 points in a win over Iowa on Dec 2 and has averaged 19.2 points this season. Senior forward Jessica Breland (back from Hodgkin's lymphoma) might be the nation's best story, playing a season-high 28 minutes and scoring 24 points in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win over UNLV last Sunday. She's averaged 13.0 points and 8.1 rebounds over the first 10 games. The Tar Heels' early-season schedule (sans Iowa) has offered little resistance, which is why they are averaging a nation's best +40.5 scoring margin. We'll find out how good this team is next month when they host UConn (Jan. 17) and travel to Maryland (Jan. 23).

Quotable: "She's a shooter. You've just got to get her open, but she's a shooter. But she is a more complete player this year. And she's not trying to overdo it. I think her decision-making is better. But hey, I don't know anybody in the country that can shoot [like Lucas] -- she is a pure shooter and she can stretch the defense, no doubt about that."
-- North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell to ESPN.com on Italee Lucas

Next Up: vs. South Carolina (Dec. 19), vs. College of Charleston (Dec. 28), at Gardner-Webb (Dec. 31), vs. North Carolina Central (Jan. 3), at Georgia Tech (Jan. 6)
 
10Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Ranking: 7
The Buckeyes remain in the top 10 mostly on faith, despite a terrible road loss to Syracuse last Saturday in which they were outrebounded 43-33 and showed little energy in crunch time. (Kudos to the Orange, who played terrific down the stretch and earned a historic win over then-No.6 OSU.) Prior to the Syracuse game, Ohio State beat LSU on the road and had a terrific home win over Oklahoma, with All-America senior center Jantel Lavender scoring 32 points and All-America junior point guard Samantha Prahalis finishing with 15 points and a career-high 15 assists. As always, the question for Ohio State is how mentally tough will they be in games that matter. UConn looms next, and we'll find out plenty about this team in a nationally televised game.

Quotable: "We have a senior-led team. We have a junior point guard (Prahalis) who has played in a lot of games. We shouldn't get bumps like that. We fell into the trap of taking too many threes against their zone. I didn't like our defensive effort all night. I just didn't like the effort from start to finish."
-- Ohio State coach Jim Foster, to the Columbus Dispatch after the Syracuse loss.

Next Up: UConn at New York City (Dec. 19), vs. Duquesne (Dec. 28), at Michigan (Dec. 30), vs. Bethune Cookman (Jan. 2), vs. Indiana (Jan. 5)

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