Big East on top, K-State surprise, battle for Big Ten
Posted: Friday February 15, 2008 2:36PM; Updated: Friday February 15, 2008 2:36PM
It's hard to believe, but we're already nearing the final stretch of the season. With a few weeks left, here's who and what to watch for, from the best rivalry games to the tightest conference race.
The Big Beast
The Big East has overtaken the SEC and ACC as the the top conference this season, thanks to five teams ranked in the Top 25 this week.
At the top is No. 2 UConn, a strong the favorite to win its sixth national championship. Rutgers, the only team to beat UConn this season, is ranked No. 5, West Virginia is 11th and has just one conference loss; Notre Dame is No. 16 and Pittsburgh is No. 18. The only other conference with five teams in the Top 25 is the Big 12, but its highest ranked team is No. 8 Baylor. The ACC and SEC each have three ranked teams.
As for talent, the ballots for player of the year are loaded with Big East stars; eight are up for the Naismith and six for the most coveted award, the Wooden. Notre Dame guard Charel Allen is not only an offensive threat (13.8 ppg), but also a force on the defensive end. Connecticut center Tina Charles is one of the most accurate shooters in the nation (61.4 percent) and Maya Moore is the favorite for Freshman of the Year. Louisville's Angel McCoughtry ranks fourth in the country in scoring with 24.1 points per game.
Rutgers sophomore Epiphanny Prince, who scored a career-high 33 points against UConn and had 21 in the controversial loss to Tennessee -- is leading the Scarlet Knights with 14.3 points and 2.7 steals a game.
DePaul's Allie Quigley is among the most productive offensive players in the league with 18.9 points per game. Pittsburgh's Mercedes Walker is averages a double-double (13.8 points, 10.3 rebounds a game). With a team-high 19.3 points a game, Shavonte Zellous has led Pittsburgh to an 18-6 record
After being picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 in preseason polls, Kansas State has been one of the biggest surprises of the season. The Wildcats have used a balanced attack that includes four players averaging in double figures -- including Marlies Gibson, who missed much of last season with a knee injury.
Gibson, a 6-0 forward who ranks fourth in the league in rebounds (8.3) and blocks (2.4), has her squad at the top of the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats' 9-1 conference record gives them a slim lead over Baylor (9-2), Oklahoma (8-2) and Oklahoma State (8-2).
K-State also has an easier road the rest of the way than the teams in the chase. Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have to navigate the way through the southern part of the conference schedule, which includes games against each other. Oklahoma is the only team from the south, clearly the stronger half of the conference, remaining on Kansas State's schedule.
The Wildcats, who are 4-1 against the south, face the Sooners on Wednesday.
Up for Grabs
The race is on in the Big Ten and the title could go to Iowa, who grabbed a half-game lead over Purdue with a win at Penn State on Sunday. If the Hawkeyes, led by a solid group of juniors including Kristi Smith (13 ppg) and Wendy Ausdemore (11.4 ppg), can hang on it would mark their first Big Ten championship in 10 years.