Catching up with each SEC women’s basketball team on the eve of the conference season (RPI by rpiratings.com).
Notable wins: Kansas, Georgetown, Temple, Nebraska
Notable losses: Jacksonville State, Quinnipiac, Mercer
Strength of schedule: 298
The skinny: About what was expected after a surprising first year under coach Kristy Curry. The Crimson Tide lost their top two scorers but Ashley Williams (14.5 ppg) is playing very well. They’ll do good to reach the postseason.
Notable wins: Middle Tennessee, Iowa, Oklahoma
Notable losses: South Dakota State
Strength of schedule: 108
The skinny: A very strong start under first-year coach Jimmy Dykes, featuring a short-lived stay in the Top 25 and some strong wins. The only two losses are to good teams (in overtime to South Dakota State, Rutgers) and the Razorbacks are looking tough. Probably a little too early to say that everything will continue to be rosy, due to the Razorbacks only having nine players. Still, if they can avoid injury and keep Kelsey Brooks and Jessica Jackson at their current paces, perhaps they’ll pull a few upsets.
Notable wins: Marquette
Notable losses: Winthrop, Hampton
Strength of schedule: 147
The skinny: A good start, but Auburn hasn’t beaten anybody of note. The Tigers have won all their home games and lost two on the road, going 2-2 on a neutral court. A good defensive team, but may have problems scoring against some of the height it’s about to face.
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Notable wins: Georgetown
Notable losses: Savannah State, Eastern Washington
Strength of schedule: 270
The skinny: Perhaps it’s just finding the right rotations? Florida is struggling against a very weak schedule and hasn’t seemed to take advantage of the full roster it surely didn’t have last year. Gators are really going to have to scrap to keep their string of postseason appearances intact.
NO. 19 GEORGIA
Notable wins: Ohio State, Michigan State
Notable losses: Seton Hall
Strength of schedule: 225
The skinny: Things certainly seem to be back to normal in Athens, after an off season where the Bulldogs were competitive but couldn’t score. Georgia is averaging around 66 points per game, and hasn’t played a lot of great teams, though, so it may be too early to declare that the Bulldogs are fixed (especially with the first SEC game at surprising Mississippi State). They were cruising right along but then lost their first game, at Seton Hall.
NO. 11 KENTUCKY
Notable wins: Baylor, Central Michigan, Louisville, Middle Tennessee
Notable losses: Illinois, Duke
Strength of schedule: 26
The skinny: The Wildcats lost on the road to Duke, so it’s really not that notable – except it was the first game for Kentucky without Bria Goss, who broke her left thumb during shootaround in the previous game. The Blue Devils took advantage of the loss of Kentucky’s best on-the-ball defender and other teams will doubtless try to do the same. Kentucky is also reeling with injuries to Jennifer O’Neill and Jelleah Sidney. The Wildcats are still very talented, and shouldn’t have a problem with their first three conference games – but the fourth is at No. 1 South Carolina, and Goss isn’t expected back by then. She should return by the second half of the SEC season.
Notable wins: Louisiana Tech
Notable losses: Arkansas-Little Rock, Tulane, Santa Clara, Long Beach State
Strength of schedule: 215
The skinny: Ooof. Nobody’s having a rougher start of the season than LSU. The Tigers knew they were going to be adjusting after losing three seniors from a Sweet 16 squad, but then they indefinitely suspended leading returning scorer Danielle Ballard. Ballard has yet to play but is still on the roster, so who knows if she’ll ever get out from whatever she did to get suspended. LSU could certainly use her but it seems clear that coach Nikki Caldwell isn’t going to back off of discipline, even when her team is losing.
NO. 17 MISSISSIPPI STATE
Notable wins: West Virginia, Louisiana Tech
Notable losses: None
Strength of schedule: 213
The skinny: The preseason sleeper pick is living up to the hype, enjoying life in the Top 25 and notching a school record for the most wins to start a season. The problem is, the Bulldogs haven’t been challenged that much and it’s hard to say they’re for real at this point. They are on a roll, and if they can top Georgia in the SEC opener, that could spur them on to a really terrific season.
Notable wins: Colorado
Notable losses: California, Bradley, Missouri State
Strength of schedule: 261
The skinny: The Tigers are playing OK despite the circumstances, although they lost their last game before league to Missouri State. They lost Lianna Doty (Lisfranc) before the season and Kayla McDowell tore her left ACL in December. Carrie Shephard is playing through stress fractures but only for about 10 minutes per game. Morgan Eye has returned from sprained knee ligaments and is playing well, but Missouri has played a very soft schedule. It may get ugly in the SEC.
Notable wins: Nevada
Notable losses: Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky
Strength of schedule: 306
The skinny: Matt Insell lined up a cakewalk schedule (except for Middle Tennessee and Baylor) so he could give his young team some confidence. So far, it’s working. The Rebels are playing well at home and learning Insell’s run-at-all-costs tempo. The SEC schedule, though, is brutal for any team, and doubly so for Ole Miss. Kentucky, Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, South Carolina in just the first half. Then Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi State again.
NO. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA
Notable wins: Southern Cal, Syracuse, Duke, Central Michigan
Notable losses: None
Strength of schedule: 133
The skinny: The Gamecocks leaped to No. 1 when UConn lost to Stanford and have remained there, rarely challenged but answering when they have been. USC rallied in the final four minutes to beat the Orange and topped Duke on a last-second stick-back; other than those, they haven’t been that tested. USC is supremely talented, young and can come at teams in a variety of ways, but also has the target. I don’t think the league will be as easy as USC made it look last year.
NO. 8 TENNESSEE
Notable wins: Rutgers, Stanford, Oregon State
Notable losses: Chattanooga, Texas
Strength of schedule: 23
The skinny: Hey, Tennessee is extremely good. News at 11. The Lady Vols lost on the road to Chattanooga but whipped Stanford (who beat UConn) at home. Shaping up to be a USC-UT-UK-A&M battle for the SEC championship.
NO. 5 TEXAS A&M
Notable wins: DePaul, Duke
Notable losses: Texas, Washington
Strength of schedule: 161
The skinny: The first loss was to the Longhorns, who were ranked third at the time, and it was on a neutral court by two points, but then A&M went on the road to Washington and was popped 70-49 (to be fair, the Huskies have the nation’s leading scorer). Despite the loss, this team is loaded. Third game of the SEC schedule is at Tennessee – I will be watching.
Notable wins: Wisconsin, Green Bay, Minnesota
Notable losses: Arizona State, Marquette, Dayton
Strength of schedule: 53
The skinny: Everything was looking good in Nashville until the last two games before the break, when Vanderbilt lost to Marquette and Dayton back-to-back, Dayton at home. The Commodores deserve credit for scheduling very aggressively (they played UConn in Florida over Thanksgiving) and it should pay off during the SEC schedule. At least, Vanderbilt is hoping it will –Texas A&M, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Georgia are among Vandy’s first five SEC opponents.
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