Friday February 26th, 2010

NCAA Basketball Power Rankings
1Connecticut Huskies
Last Rankings: 1
Connecticut Huskies (28-0, 14-0)
If you want to nitpick, this hasn't been UConn's best stretch. They failed to put up 80 against both St. John's (Feb. 13) and Oklahoma (Feb. 15) and shot under 50 percent from the field in back-to-back games for only the third time this season. The Oklahoma game is also worth noting because it was just fourth time since the start of the 67-game winning streak that an opponent was within two points of Connecticut at halftime. The team's upcoming road game against Notre Dame offers an interesting test: The Irish are always tough at home and are 14-0 at the Joyce Center this season. Still, no one is beating UConn this season.

Quotable: "The people out there that read our scores and watch us, they're under this impression that we come out, we play and everybody just says, 'OK, let's lose by 30 and then go home.' When other teams compete and the other teams play really hard and they do what they're supposed to do and they're well-coached, it's going to be a game."
-- UConn coach Geno Auriemma

Next up: Georgetown (Feb. 27), at Notre Dame (Mar. 1), Big East Tournament (Mar. 5-9).
2Stanford Cardinal
Last Rankings: 2
Stanford Cardinal (26-1, 16-0)
The Cardinal have won 17 straight since their loss to UConn on Dec. 23 and they give you the impression the earliest they'll lose again is the national championship. Stanford captured another Pac 10 title this week -- its sixth consecutive outright regular season championship -- with a win over Arizona State. Sophomore forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike (18.1 points and 9.2 rebounds) has emerged as a star alongside All-America center Jayne Appel (14.4 points and 9.9 rebounds). This team won't lose to anyone this season other than Connecticut.

Quotable: "We're playing our best when it counts. I think we can go a long way. We kind of hit a little bit of a lull through January, but we've really picked it up in February. Obviously the best time to play your best is in March."
-- Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer

Next up: at Arizona (Feb. 27), at California (Mar. 6), Pac-10 Tournament (Mar. 11-14).
3Tennessee Volunteers
Last Rankings: 3
Tennessee Volunteers (26-2, 14-1)
It's turned into a stunning regular season for Pat Summitt's team -- the Vols just won their first SEC regular-season title since 2007 -- especially when you consider the ignominious exit in the opening round of the NCAA tournament last March. The Lady Vols win on Monday over LSU reinforced how deep and athletic this team is; they share the ball, play defense (center Kelly Cain had 12 blocked shots against LSU) and can score inside with multiple players. Plus, they have size on the wings and in the post. Summitt says she thinks she has the most imposing post game in the country with Cain and Alyssia Brewer. You have more than a fair argument to argue that Nebraska should be in this spot. But on a neutral court, I say Tennessee wins.

Quotable: "Cain and Brewer are just outstanding. Then you got [Glory] Johnson, who's 6-3, and a guard who's 6-2 [Shekinna Stricklen] and a shooter [junior Angie Bjorklund] to go with it. They got a shot. They got a legitimate shot. I think [Pat] needs to go in before she plays other teams and say 'Guys, we're playing LSU'.
-- LSU coach Van Chancellor

Next up: Mississippi (Feb. 28), SEC Tournament (Mar. 4-7).
4Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last Rankings: 5
Nebraska Cornhuskers (26-0, 13-0)
Nebraska rolled No. 11 Oklahoma 80-64 on Wednesday for its most impressive win of the season, finishing the game on an 18-1 run after things got a little tight in the second half. Kelsey Griffin (19.5 points and 10.2 rebounds) is on the short list for national player of the year and coach Connie Yori has three seniors in Griffin, forward Cory Montgomery (12.8) and guard Yvonne Turner (12.6 points) that she can count on in big moments. Those who claim Nebraska should be ahead of Tennessee here obviously have plenty of ammunition. Wins over Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State should clinch a No. 1 seed, no matter what happens in the Big 12 Tournament. One to thing watch: Nebraska's margin of victory slimmed in February and Yori said the team must step up again defensively.

Quotable: "They're both very gritty teams. They're both very physical teams. They're both balanced and score inside-out. And I think dominant post play is consistent through both. They're really good teams."
-- Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale on UConn and Nebraska.

Next up: Missouri (Feb. 27), Kansas (March 3), at Kansas State (Mar. 6), Big 12 Tournament (March 11-14).
5Duke Blue Devils
Last Rankings: 8
Duke Blue Devils (23-4, 11-1)
They're coming off a terrific win over Maryland on Feb. 21 in which junior forward/guard Karima Christmas scored a career-high 25 points. Junior guard Jasmine Thomas remains the only player who averages double digits (15.7 per game), but this is a team with balance and experience, with senior forward Joy Cheek (9.9 points), Christmas (9.4), senior forward Bridgette Mitchell (8.7), and junior center Krystal Thomas (8.1). Duke is holding teams to 35 percent shooting.

Quotable: They're a very confident group. I think KJ [Keturah Jackson] said it in the locker room. She said, 'Our huddles are tight,' she was sort of joking about it because I think they might have knocked heads or something. But what I mean by that is I think this team is very focused, they're all looking in the same direction, and they're excited by the challenge at hand. We all know it's not going to be easy. You can't get thinking at all that lopsided scores are the way things go. You can have some lopsided games, but those are really not at all what it boils down to especially in the NCAA tournament. The bottom line is that you've got to love a fight, and I think this team keeps the huddles tight and loves the fight."
-- Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie

Next up: Virginia (tonight), North Carolina (Feb. 28), ACC Tournament (Mar. 4-7).
6Ohio State Buckeyes
Last Rankings: 6
Ohio State Buckeyes (27-4, 15-3)
Don't put too much stock into the overtime loss last Sunday to Michigan State, given that the Buckeyes had already clinched the Big Ten title. (Plus, the Spartans really needed the game and Ohio State had an awful shooting night. All-America point sophomore guard Samantha Prahalis finished 4-for-11 from the line; she's normally an 80 percent free-throw shooter.) Prahalis (16.5 points) and junior center Jantel Lavender (20.9 points and 18 double-doubles) are as good as it gets for an inside-outside combination. One thing that should concern Jim Foster is interior defense: You'd like to see Ohio State's rebounding margin a little higher than +6.0 per game, especially given Lavender is averaging 10.4 rebounds.

Quotable: "We need to work on becoming a 40-minute team. We didn't take care of things in the first half and we can't continue to put ourselves in a situation where it's hard for the team to win."
-- Lavender

Next up: The Big Ten Tournament (Mar. 4-7).
7Xavier Musketeers
Last Rankings: --
Xavier Musketeers (23-3, 13-0)
Xavier cruised to another Atlantic 10 title behind junior center Ta'Shia Phillips, a double-double every night and the conference's inevitable player of the year. Phillips is averaging 13.6 points and 10.7 rebounds and shooting 60 percent from the field. Frontcourtmate Amber Harris has also had a terrific year (15.3 points and 8.6 rebounds) and gives Xavier two big-time scorers. It's an excellent rebounding team; Xavier averages about 11 more boards per game than its opponents. Heading forward, you wonder how the Musketeers do against the major powers; they struggled to beat Dayton in overtime this month and lost to Michigan State (by 13) and LSU (9).

Quotable: "Rankings don't help you win games. We are focusing on playing our game to help us get as far as we can go. We worry about the game that is coming up next and how we are going to win that one."
-- Xavier coach Kevin McGuff

Next up: at Fordham (Feb. 27), Atlantic 10 Tournament (Mar. 5-8).
8Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last Rankings: 4
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-3, 11-3)
The ranking is based on future faith (perhaps appropriate that it's Notre Dame) because the Irish have had a brutal 10 days, including losses at St. John's and Georgetown. But its resume includes wins over Oklahoma, West Virginia and Michigan State and there's a ton of experience on the roster, including seniors Ashley Barlow (11.7) and Lindsay Schrader (11.4), who missed both the St. John's and Georgetown games with a left ankle injury. (She returned Wednesday for a win over Marquette.) Freshman point guard Skylar Diggins (14.1 points) has lived up to the hype. She leads the team in scoring and assists.

Quotable: "I feel I have the nation's best freshman. This is what I expected from Skylar. Nothing she does will surprise me. She can get 10 rebounds and have a double-double, and it won't surprise me at all. She has such unlimited potential. She works so hard to get better, you almost expect to see something new every game."
-- Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw on Diggins

Next up: at Seton Hall (Feb. 27), Connecticut (Mar. 1), Big East Tournament (Mar. 5-9).
9West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Rankings: --
West Virginia Mountaineers (25-3, 12-2)
Coach Mike Carey gives heavy minutes to six players, but his scoring is balanced (four players average more than 10 points; top scorer Liz Repella scores only 14 per game). The resume is solid: The Lady Mountaineers have lost three games to highly ranked opponents -- UConn, Notre Dame and Ohio State -- and each of those games were on the road. Keep this in mind: The Mountaineers lead the Big East with a 7-0 record in games decided by five points or less this season.

Quotable: "She's quick with the basketball. A lot of people are quick, but not with the ball."
-- West Virginia coach Mike Carey on junior point guard Sarah Miles.

Next up: Marquette (Feb. 27), at Syracuse (Mar. 1), Big East Tournament (Mar. 5-9).
10Georgetown Hoyas
Last Rankings: --
Georgetown Hoyas (24-4, 12-2)
They announced themselves on the national stage Feb. 20 with a 76-66 win over then-No. 4 Notre Dame. Freshman point guard Sugar Rogers has a game as sweet as her name. She leads the team in scoring with 18.7 points, and had 24 against the Irish. The Hoyas are very young -- sophomore forwards Adria Crawford and Latia Magee start along with Rogers -- and you wonder how deep they can really go in the NCAA tournament. But this is a team to watch in the future and don't dismiss them even though UConn will wax them Saturday in Hartford.

Quotable: "She's an unbelievable freshman. The numbers she puts up are incredible. The way she can score so explosively makes it easier for our other kids. It's not new for us (to see that)."
-- Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy on Rogers

Next up: at Connecticut (Saturday), Seton Hall (Mar. 1), Big East Tournament (Mar. 5-9).

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