As of Jan. 2, there are six Division I women’s hoops teams that haven’t lost yet: UConn, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Auburn, Kansas State and Wake Forest.
Of course, nobody is surprised about the Huskies … rather, it’s going to a jolt if they lose.
How about the Tar Heels? They lost Erlana Larkins and LaToya Pringle from last season. So if they had fallen at Oklahoma in the Preseason WNIT title game – going against the Sooners’ powerful inside game – that wouldn’t have been any shock.
However, the Heels won that game 80-79. They subsequently have had a four-point win against Oregon State in the Junkanoo Jam, a 9-point win at Ohio State and a closer-than-expected 9-point win against Illinois.
The Heels open ACC play at Clemson on Jan. 8, and then have a three-game homestand against N.C. State, Virginia and UConn.
Here is who the Huskies have between now and Jan. 19, when they’ll play at Chapel Hill: home vs. LSU, at South Florida, at West Virginia, DePaul and Syracuse.
So the Big Monday meeting between the Huskies and Heels could be No. 1 vs. No. 2 and a battle of unbeatens.
Virginia seems the most likely to prevent that; the Cavs have Lyndra Littles back after sitting out first semester because of academic suspension. Littles had 23 points – including a critical 3-point play in the final minute – in U.Va.’s 62-60 victory over Georgia on Friday.
The Heels have never been known for playing a particularly compelling non-conference schedule. But with OU and UConn on the slate this year, that’s about as good as you’re going to see for the Heels.
As for Texas A&M, it lost of point guard Aquonesia Franklin after an Elite Eight season. The Aggies have passed all their tests so far: in the Tipoff Classic vs. Pitt, at Michigan (which Wolverines coach Kevin Borseth is turning into a tough place to play), against Penn State at Pepperdine’s tournament and at home against TCU and New Mexico.
A trip to Florida State on Jan. 5 could be a little dangerous for A&M, which starts Big 12 season Jan. 10 at Missouri.
Overall, even though UConn, UNC and TAMU haven’t played great non-conference schedules, they’ve been good enough that we can take their undefeated marks quite seriously.
That’s less the case with Auburn, and even less with Kansas State and Wake Forest.
The Tigers’ strength of schedule is just 116, but they do have a win against a team in the RPI’s top 25: Ohio State. But that was at home, in overtime, in November. We’ll know a little more about Auburn when it hosts Florida on Jan. 11. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Tigers stay unbeaten until Jan. 25, when they are host to Tennessee. And that game also could be when Pat Summitt is going for her 1,000th career victory.
K-State’s strength of schedule is 198, and the Wildcats have played only two teams with an RPI better than 110: Arkansas and Washington. K-State is a good, veteran team, but the schedule has done very little to show just how good. The Wildcats start Big 12 season at home Jan. 10 against Kansas, which has not won in Manhattan since 2001 – and has beaten K-State just once overall (in Lawrence in 2007) during that stretch.
Then there’s Wake Forest, which has a strength of schedule of 263. The Demon Deacons would appear to be the biggest “imposter” among the unbeatens _ but they do have more victories against teams in the top 100 in the RPI (four) than K-State (one) does.
Wake has made the NCAA tournament field just once, in 1988. And with the ACC schedule stretching ahead of the Deacons, there’s still a lot of difficult ground to navigate before we can talk about a second appearance. But at least we can bring up the topic now.