My early predictions for each of the six major races
Posted: Friday January 12, 2007 3:39PM; Updated: Sunday January 14, 2007 2:36AM
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The first few games of conference play have already produced several close calls for contenders. There's the near win by Washington against Arizona State and Ohio State's nail-biter with Penn State.
We've also seen a couple of major upsets. Last weekend in the SEC, Mississippi knocked off Vanderbilt and the Rebels pulled off another shocker on Thursday night with a 77-74 win over LSU. When the season winds down, though, will the Mississippis still be hanging in there with the favorites? Unlikely.
Here's a look at who will come out on top in the six major conference races. Once again, the usual suspects are at the top of each list.
Who will win: Maryland
Why: With six players averaging figures, the Terps are as balanced as ever. They're even deeper in the backcourt now that Tennessee transfer Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood is eligible. The guard will come in handy against the defensive pressure of North Carolina and Duke.
Biggest challengers: North Carolina and Duke. Watching those two battle it out for runner-up should be fun. I'll admit, the Blue Devils are further along than I thought they'd be this season, but I'm giving the edge to the Tar Heels and their trio of player of the year candidates.
Worth watching: North Carolina fan or not, you can't help but enjoy watching point guard Ivory Latta. Her enthusiasm is contagious -- and her game is pretty good, too.
Who will win: Oklahoma
Why: Uh... Courtney Paris. The race is for No. 2 in this conference. The only question about the top team is whether or not Oklahoma can go unbeaten in conference play a second straight season. As long as they have Paris in the paint, there's no reason to think the Sooners can't run the table again.
Biggest challengers: This could actually turn into a logjam with Baylor, Texas and Texas A&M. Look for the Bears to take it, though. They're better than expected with the emergence of transfer Bernice Mosby, who has eased the loss of All-America Sophia Young. Mosby had an All-America performance against the Sooners on Tuesday with 26 points and 11 rebounds.
Worth watching: How will Texas respond to yet another key injury? Sophomore guard Erika Arriaran, the team's second-leading scorer and top three-point shooter, tore her left ACL in Sunday's win over Purdue. Knee injuries kept guard Carla Cortijo and forward Earnesia Williams on the sidelines. Arriaran's injury was the second for the Longhorns in recent weeks. Sophomore guard Crystal Boyd broke her left foot in a Jan. 30 win over San Diego.
Who will win: Connecticut
Why: The Huskies are the most talented team in the conference. True, talent alone doesn't mean you're going to win. But Charde Houston is playing well and Connecticut's young players are stepping up.
Biggest challengers: Notre Dame hasn't received much attention this season, but has quietly put together a solid start. The Irish have wins over two ranked teams, Bowling Green and Purdue. Marquette and Louisville aren't exactly powerhouses, but the two comes made quite an impression during non-conference play. Both made their way into the national rankings and should make the conference race interesting.
Worth watching: Rutgers has had to adjust to the absence of leading scorer Cappie Pondexter, but the Scarlet Knights seem to be gaining steam. Don't count them out. Rutgers is as talented and athletic as anyone.