Posted: Friday January 12, 2007 3:39PM; Updated: Sunday January 14, 2007 2:36AM
Who will win: Ohio State
Why: With Jessica Davenport anchoring the inside game and Marscilla Packer and Brandie Hoskins controlling the perimeter, the Buckeyes are clearly the class of the conference.
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Biggest challenger: After winning the Preseason WNIT, Purdue looked poised to challenge Ohio State. The Buckeyes will likely be too much to handle, but Purdue's defense can make life difficult for any team.
Worth watching: Michigan State freshman Allyssa DeHaan is already a factor inside. The 6-9 center may end Davenport's run as top blocker in the conference. DeHaan has already swatted 74 shots in 16 games. Davenport, who led the league in blocked shots each of the last three seasons, has 45 through 15 games.
Who will win: Stanford
Why: I know. I know. It's boring to go with the favorites. But until someone else wins the Pac-10, you have to pick the Cardinal. Stanford has two player of the year candidates in Candice Wiggins and Brooke Smith. Freshman Jayne Appel has adjusted nicely to the college level, too.
Biggest challenger: This one is just as easy. Emily Westerberg, Aubree Johnson and the rest of the Arizona State lineup have the experience and talent to hold off of the rest of the Pac.
Worth watching: Washington has come on strong this season, nearly knocking off Arizona State. The Huskies might have come up short against the Sun Devils and Stanford, but there's no doubt they'll win their share of conference games.
Who will win: Tennessee
Why: The SEC title is Tennessee's to lose. The Lady Vols are just too good. And with a non-conference schedule that would scare off most teams, they're ready for anything. Sure, teams may play them well; everyone puts forth their best effort against the Lady Vols. Unfortunately for them, it won't be enough. Tennessee is just too talented.
Biggest challengers: This one may be more up in the air than any, especially with Mississippi throwing a kink into things. Of course, you can't count out LSU and Vanderbilt. Vandy has a pretty balanced offense with Carla Thomas anchoring the inside. Sylvia Fowles will keep LSU in the hunt. With a talented backcourt and All-America Tasha Humphrey in the paint, Georgia is sure to be in it as well.
Worth watching: Armintie Price is an outstanding player who few outside the SEC have a chance to see. She's likely to get her due now that Mississippi has knocked off a pair of conference contenders.
Question of the week
Nils McConnell of Lincoln, Neb., asks, "Nebraska beats Texas at Texas, has a better record, outplays Oklahoma in a loss, but Texas enters the rankings and Nebraska doesn't?
First off, I'm not so sure you're outplaying anyone when you lost the game and have your worst shooting night of the season while allowing your opponent to shoot almost 50 percent. Anyway, the AP rankings are done through voting in different parts of the country. I do not vote in that poll, but as with any rankings, you have people voting on teams they might not be as familiar with. Unfortunately, in women's basketball, that's a lot of teams.
It's human nature to stick with things you know. And Texas is one of those things. The Longhorns also keep themselves in the national picture by playing some pretty tough teams, including Tennessee and Duke. And when it comes down to it, voters are going to give the nod to a team with the tougher schedule. Also, Texas started the season in the rankings, and has received votes ever since. Once they're getting votes, it seems teams have to play pretty badly for a while to get knocked out of the picture. For those not in the polls, it seems to take quite a few big wins to get in the mix.
It doesn't hurt that the Longhorns have a ton of talent on the roster. That's not to say that Nebraska doesn't. But with a roster full of nationally-recognized recruits, you expect a team to be ranked.