Women's Hoops Must-Watch Games
LSU at Tennessee
Tennessee was the media's unanimous preseason choice to win the SEC and likely won't face much conference adversity. But the rivalry with SEC foe LSU experienced a renewed vigor when the Tigers hired former UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell in April. Caldwell won a championship as a player and two more as an assistant to Pat Summitt at Tennessee. LSU is back in the top 25 after a 19-13 season last year, so what better way for Caldwell to make her mark in the SEC than to stick it to her former mentor?
Miami at UNC/UNC at Miami
Last season's historic campaign for Miami peaked with the program's first ACC regular-season championship, but coach Katie Meier's squad was denied an appearance in its first conference title game with an 83-57 blowout to UNC in the March 5 ACC tournament semifinals. "They dismantled us," Meier said afterward. Returning its entire roster from a year ago, the Hurricanes' shot at consecutive ACC titles will mean keeping the Tar Heels at bay.
Georgetown at UConn
Connecticut dominated Big East rival Georgetown last season in all three meetings, including a 16-point drubbing on March 6 for the Huskies' 30th win of the season. But the Hoyas are likely still smarting from a 68-63 Sweet Sixteen loss to Connecticut in which Georgetown held a seven-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play. This could be the Hoyas' chance to strike back.
UNC @ Duke/Duke at UNC
Duke took two of three games from North Carolina last season in the Battle of Tobacco Road, including an 81-66 ACC tournament victory on March 6 for the Blue Devils' second-straight conference tournament title. The Tar Heels' one victory in that stretch stood as only Duke's second loss of the season. Picked sixth in this year's ACC preseason standings, the Tar Heels will want to prove a conference championship isn't far-fetched.
UConn at Duke
The Blue Devils faced the Huskies twice last season and lost both matchups by a combined 71 points. UConn handed Duke its first lost on Jan. 31 before Connecticut's Maya Moore scored 28 points against the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils to surpass 3,000 career points in the March 29 Philadelphia Regional. With the All-American Moore now gone, Geno Auriemma's squad will have to face a Duke team that returns only two starters but will be in contention for a third-straight ACC title.
Miami at Duke
The Blue Devils are accustomed to the fanfare of ACC stardom, but with familiar rival North Carolina less of a factor this season, league-favorite Miami is likely another daunting ACC challenge, especially with preseason ACC Player of the Year Shenise Johnson in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes are looking to build off a season just short of a Sweet Sixteen berth.
Tennessee at Stanford
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer was denied her 800th career victory last December when Tennessee survived the second-ranked Cardinal in overtime in Knoxville. VanDerveer now sits at 826 career victories and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in August. Sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike headline nine returnees for Stanford, which has fallen in four straight Final Fours, while All-America selection Shekinna Stricklen highlights Tennessee's five-member senior class.
Tennessee at Notre Dame
Before last season's Elite Eight matchup in Dayton, Notre Dame lamented a fruitless 0-20 record against Tennessee. The Irish managed to brush off that mark by kicking the top-seeded Lady Vols out of the NCAA tournament with a dominating 73-59 victory in March. Notre Dame and All-America selection Skylar Diggins look to notch the program's first win streak against Tennessee when it welcomes Pat Summitt's defending SEC champions to South Bend in January.
UConn at Notre Dame/Notre Dame at UConn
How much effect does the loss of Maya Moore have on Connecticut? The Huskies were picked second in this year's Big East preseason poll -- behind last year's national title runner-up, Notre Dame, which reached the championship game by knocking the Huskies out of the Final Four. The Irish were picked preseason No. 2 nationally, two spots ahead of the Huskies, so conference bragging rights will be on the line in this Big East battle.
Baylor at Tennessee
Tennessee has experienced little success against Baylor during the last two seasons. As an No. 8-seed in the 2010 NCAA tournament, the Bears sent the top-seeded Lady Vols packing from the Sweet Sixteen before dominating UT in a regular-season meeting the following Dec. 14 behind Brittney Griner's 21 points and nine blocks. Pat Summitt's Lady Vols bring back almost their entire roster from last season for another shot at the Bears.
Texas A&M at UConn
Texas A&M returns from the program's first national championship as a freshman member of women's basketball's elite. With the return of three starters and 10 letter winners, the Aggies will have to prove their worth with a Dec. 6 meeting with a UConn team originally favored to win A&M's title. "That little crystal ball right there is not big enough compared to the bull's eye that's going to be on us," said A&M coach Gary Blair.
UConn at Baylor
Baylor finished last season with a 35-3 record and an NCAA tournament loss to eventual national champion Texas A&M. The Bears experienced few speed bumps last season, but a 65-64 loss to UConn in November was a thorn in the side of coach Kim Mulkey. With unanimous All-America selection Brittney Griner returning down low, the top-ranked Bears are hungry. A Big 12 title might be first on Baylor's priorities, but near the top is a win against the Huskies, who have never lost to Baylor.
Texas A&M at Baylor/Baylor at Texas A&M
Some extra fire ignited the rivalry between Baylor and Texas A&M in October when Bears coach Kim Mulkey, peeved at the Aggies' exit from the Big 12 in favor of the SEC, nixed future-non-conference games against A&M. "If a man wants to divorce me and says our relationship has no value to him," Mulkey said, "and then he asks me if he can sleep with me, the answer is, 'No!'" Baylor beat Texas A&M three times and won the Big 12 last season, but the Bears lost to the eventual champions in the NCAA regional final before A&M claimed the title.