Now that college football is over and done with, it’s become inevitable that I turn my attention to my absolute favorite sport: women’s basketball.
Men’s basketball is great too, I guess, but the Card has been too inconsistent for me to give them much attention. Besides, Pac-12 women’s basketball is really good and, as I’m about to explain, really unpredictable – which just makes it that much more fun to watch.
Looking back at the Pac-12 coaches’ preseason poll, you’d think they got confused about how rankings worked and accidentally placed the top teams on the bottom and vice versa. Seeing the current standings, it’s clear that the poll has been practically inverted. But that’s what I love about college sports. Anyone can win on any given day – that’s why you play the game, and that’s why not much weight should be given to these preseason polls.
First off, if someone had told me that when USC traveled to Stanford, it would be for a game that would determine who sits atop the Pac-12, I wouldn’t have believed her. That kind of game was supposed to happen this Thursday when Cal travels to Maples, not last night against the Trojans – and yet that’s how this season has unraveled.
The Pac-12 has proven to be a strong conference in women’s basketball in the past two years, as opposed to seasons in the past when it was just Stanford at the top and then a huge drop off in talent to second place. This year, though, unlikely teams are providing the Pac-12 with added depth.
The Trojans were predicted to finish sixth in the conference, right in the middle of the Pac-12. Today though they sit in second with a Pac-12 record of 7-2. After not receiving an NCAA tournament bid for the past seven seasons, it was likely that USC would eventually rise to the top, because most programs go through cycles of greatness.
The Trojans have been a pleasant surprise this season and even pulled off a big win against Cal on Friday to move them into second place and garner some attention for the program – and all this under a first-year head coach.
It seems they flip flopped with UCLA, which was the dominant team in Los Angeles last year but is struggling to close out tight games this season and is allowing other teams to snag narrow wins. After making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the past two years, the Bruins might not even make it this year.
At this point in the season, USC has been doing so well that its win over Cal did more to ruin Cal’s standing than boost that of the Trojans. Cal is coming off of its best season in program history after winning a share of its first Pac-12 conference crown and making it to the Final Four for the first time ever, but it seems like it’s falling victim to the same cycle that has brought USC to the top. Cal has had some eyebrow-raising losses – to USC and Arizona State – and narrow wins over lowly Colorado (which was actually supposed to finish third in the conference) and Oregon (one of the few teams to actually be playing according to its last place preseason placement).
While Cal and Colorado have not been playing up to their preseason potential, Arizona State and Washington State have been doing surprisingly well. It’s actually shocking that WSU had an undefeated 5-0 start. However, losing point guard Lia Galdeira for the past few games has proven to be its Achilles’ heel, and WSU won’t be able to continue its strong play without her.
ASU, not given even a slight nod in the preseason poll, has been ranked in the top 25 nationally for five consecutive weeks and sits at third in the conference. Granted, the Card devastated the Sun Devils on its home court last week, but that’s not to say that ASU isn’t a good, solid team – Stanford is just that good this year.
So now that we’ve looked at some of the disappointments and surprises thus far in the Pac-12, we can turn to the one team that has lived up to its ranking and then some: Stanford. Duh.
The depth, all-around talent and consistency of this year’s team is night and day compared to last year’s. Last year’s team was good, but it was essentially all then-junior Chiney Ogwumike and very little support. This year, although Ogwumike continues to dominate, averaging 27 points per game and 12 rebounds per game, she has a strong cast of starters and bench players who are contributing greatly to Stanford’s success.
It seems that no one else in the conference is a legitimate threat to Stanford’s supremacy in the Pac-12, despite the conference’s strength. The only thing that could possibly stand in Stanford’s way of returning to the Final Four after last year’s absence is Stanford.
To tell Ashley Westhem why her columns haven’t lived up to their preseason expectations, contact her at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow her on Twitter @AshWest16.