louisville-women.jpg
USATSI

A few teams have truly separated themselves as we enter into February, while many others have shown signs of trying to break into that elite group. South Carolina, Baylor and Oregon have become the consensus top-three teams in the country in one order or another, while there is a tier of teams just beneath them, and a third tier of teams looking to break through.


At the moment South Carolina, Baylor and Oregon make up the top tier of teams in the country, and just behind them are the likes of Louisville, UConn and Stanford, who have all shown the ability and have garnered the results, to join that elite tier.


While there are a number of teams in the top-10 that have shown the ability to win it all, there have been a large number of teams who have proven that they could make some noise and embark on a serious run in March. There is a lot of parity this season, which has been shown by the number of ranked teams falling to previously unranked teams.


Whether it be Oregon State, UCLA, Mississippi State, Gonzaga, Arizona, Princeton, South Dakota or Maryland, I believe that third tier is currently anywhere from 10-15 teams deep. 


It has already been a fun, exciting, and historic season in women's college basketball, and the best is yet to come.
Women's Top 25 Power Rankings

1. South Carolina (21-1)

Dawn Staley has helped guide the Gamecocks to 15-straight wins, since their only defeat of the season to Indiana at the Paradise Jam. Also, it isn't like they aren't beating good teams. Wins over the likes of Kentucky, South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Baylor have highlighted the Gamecocks' streak. While South Carolina has some tremendous veteran leadership with the likes of Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Tyasha Harris, the youth movement is simultaneously in full effect, as freshmen Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke are both freshmen of the year candidates and lead the team in scoring. Staley has done a remarkable job with this team. A team that many expected to improve throughout the season. Admittedly, I thought it would take much more time than it actually did. In a season where three teams have risen to the top, South Carolina remains the team to catch. Previous: 1

2. Baylor (19-1)

Baylor is another team that has run off a long winning streak since their only loss of the season to South Carolina at the Paradise Jam. The Bears' winning streak is at 12, including a big 74-58 win over UConn on the road. The likelihood of that winning streak reaching 22 going into the Big 12 Tournament and 25 entering the NCAA Tournament is extremely high. The Bears are head-and-shoulders above the other teams in their conference, and with only conference games remaining, they should run the table. Led by Lauren Cox, they are loaded with talent and currently have four other players averaging double figures in scoring in Te'a Cooper, NaLyssa Smith, Queen Egbo and Juicy Landrum. Their defense -- a Kim Mulkey staple -- is also relentless. Smith, who is averaging 14.7 ppg and 7.5 rpg, may be the most underrated player in the country. What she has done for this team, particularly when Cox was out with an injury, is immeasurable. Previous: 2

3. Oregon (20-2)

We saw how good Oregon is Monday when the Ducks slaughtered UConn. We knew they had terrific talent offensively and pros all over the court, but what has been most impressive has been their defense. They are giving up just 57.0 ppg, and while they may not be an elite-level defense like Baylor or Princeton, they are extremely opportunistic and convert on other teams' mistakes. The Ducks also have the most impressive resume over their last ten games. Despite their loss to Arizona State, they've recorded two wins over Oregon State, and have also beaten UConn, Stanford and Arizona. Sabrina Ionescu is the best player in the country and Satou Sabally has developed into a player that could be a top-two pick in this summer's WNBA Draft, if she decides to leave school early. Another thing I enjoy about this team, is not only are they on a mission to return to the Final Four and win, but they seem to have a blast playing together. Coach Kelly Graves has his team playing at an elite level and could enter the NCAA Tournament as the favorite to win it, despite likely not being the overall No. 1 seed. Previous: 4

4. Louisville (21-1)

Despite its remarkable overall record, Louisville has been a difficult team to figure out. The Cardinals are a very good team and it isn't their loss to Ohio State on the road, it's their double overtime win against UT-Martin that is the head-scratcher. Their win over Oregon on a neutral floor at the Paradise Jam, combined with their win on the road at Kentucky, is enough to see past that performance vs. the Skyhawks for now. Their big ACC tests come this week and next, as they get set to host Florida State Thursday and travel to NC State next Thursday. In the middle of those two games, the Cardinals travel to Syracuse, and play a game that some could consider a trap game, although I'm sure Jeff Walz will have his team ready. If Louisville can get through the next two weeks unscathed, it could lock up that fourth No. 1 seed, and be that team that makes the jump into the elite tier. Previous: 8

5. Stanford (20-2)

If any coach in the country is able to refocus a young team after a tough loss, it's certainly Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. The Cardinal got smoked by Oregon 87-55 on Jan.16, but followed that up with a terrific road win at Oregon State just a few days later, winning 61-58. Stanford is led by Lexie Hull and Kiana Williams, who are averaging 13.5 and 12.7 ppg respectively. Williams, a junior and their floor leader, is their most important player, as they often times go as she goes. Their four freshmen, Haley Jones, Hannah Jump, Francesca Belibi and Ashten Precthel have truly come into their own as this season has progressed, but for Stanford to reach the Final Four, it will need its young stars to shine in March. Jones, who was the nation's top recruit last year, is the freshman that's most likely to answer that challenge. The Cardinal have a big Pac-12 series this weekend, as they play host to UCLA and USC, but when looking at the Pac-12, isn't every weekend a big weekend? Previous: 5

6. UConn (19-2)

UConn is coming off of a difficult home loss to Oregon on Monday, but will have another tremendous opportunity next week, as the Huskies travel to take on South Carolina. I have yet to rank UConn higher that 5th all season, despite their No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 oll. The Huskies are very good, but they just aren't at the level of the top teams in the country this year. Despite that, this team is capable of making a deep run and another Final Four in March. They have been extremely good defensively. The Huskies are 13th in the country in scoring defense and have surrendered under 60 points in seven of their past eight games. As predicted earlier this season, depth has become an issue for the Huskies, which has been shown against the likes of Baylor and Oregon. Aubrey Griffin has stepped up to be a key player off the bench and while she was terrific in UConn's win over Tennessee, she scored just three points against Oregon. The Huskies need her to give them really strong minutes, which the freshman has proven she is more than capable of doing. UConn's starting five of Megan Walker, Crystal Dangerfield, Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Cristyn Williams and Anna Makurat have been very good and will need to be even better if UConn wants to get a huge road win vs. the Gamecocks. Previous: 7

7. Mississippi State (20-3)

Mississippi State has only three losses on the season, falling to South Carolina, West Virginia and Stanford. Those aren't bad losses to have, but it's difficult to figure out what the Bulldogs' best win is, as they have yet to beat a ranked team this season. That will be tested over the next two weeks, as the Bulldogs get set for three straight games against ranked opponents. Thursday, they travel to Tennessee, before hosting Texas A&M on Sunday. A week from Sunday, they will travel to Kentucky to take on the Wildcats. We are going to learn a lot about Vic Schaefer's team in the next two weeks, but one thing that we have learned this season is that the Bulldogs have a freshman sensation of their own in Rickea Jackson. Jackson leads the team in scoring at 13.9 ppg, just above Jessika Carter and Jordan Danberry. She has scored in double figures in four of her last five games, including back-to-back 20+ point scoring efforts against Auburn and Georgia. Previous: 9

8. NC State (21-1)

Following a midseason defeat to rival North Carolina, the Wolfpack have righted the ship quickly, as they've put together a seven-game winning streak. Their big win came back on Dec. 9, a 66-59 win over Maryland. They will have many more opportunities to impress voters and the tournament committee, starting with a trip to Virginia Tech this Thursday to take on the Hokies. Next week, they will welcome Louisville to Raleigh for a big-time top-10 match-up. Elissa Cunane has been a walking double-double for the Wolfpack and that shows in her season averages, as she's averaging 16.5 ppg to go along with 10.4 rpg. Aislinn Konig and Kayla Jones have also led the scoring charge, while all three players are currently shooting above 37% from the 3-point line as well. They are 14th in the country in scoring defense allowing just 54.7 ppg and Wes Moore's group is in great position to make a run at the ACC championship and a top seed in March. Previous: 11

9. Gonzaga (22-1)

The Zags comes in at their highest ranking in our poll this week. Gonzaga is for real. Lisa Fortier's team hasn't lost a game since Nov. 17, which marks the only loss of the season for the Bulldogs, a 76-70 overtime loss at Stanford. Since that loss, Gonzaga has run off 20 straight victories, including a win over Missouri State. The knock on this Gonzaga team is that they don't play a difficult schedule. Compared to the other nine teams in the top-10, Gonzaga's schedule doesn't compare. That said, playing Stanford to overtime on the road does say a lot about this team, as does winning the games you are supposed to win. Jill Townsend and Jenn Wirth are terrific players and Townsend, Katie Campbell and Jessie Loera are all over 40% from 3-point range. As a team, the Bulldogs shoot 3-pointers at over a 40% clip as well. Defensively, Fortier's squad is 5th in the country in scoring defense. They should get a top-four seed come March and are a Final Four sleeper despite their top-10 ranking. Previous: 10

10. Oregon State (18-4)

It has been a difficult stretch for Scott Reuck's team, dropping four of its last seven games, including back-to-back losses to Oregon. Prior to dropping consecutive games to the Ducks, the Beavers suffered a difficult home loss to Stanford. Despite this difficult stretch, Oregon State will have plenty of opportunities to right the ship and pick up some good wins. The first opportunities come this weekend, as Arizona State and Arizona make the trip to Corvallis, Oregon. Mikayla Pivec and Destiny Slocum continue to pace the Beavers offensively, while Pivec has also turned into not just one of the best rebounding guards in the country, but one of the best rebounders in the country at any position. She leads the team averaging 9.5 rpg. The Beavers are 18th in the country in scoring defense, and while their offense is ranked in the top-50, they tend to hit lulls offensively. That is something that has hurt them in their losses against some of the country's best. In three of their four losses, they recorded single-digit points in one of the four quarters in each of those games. They held the Sun Devils to 55 points, but scored just 47. This is a team that held the No. 1 spot here for three weeks, and they have a great chance to get to the Final Four, however, they need to be just a bit better and more consistent on the offensive end. Previous: 6

Team Record Previous
11. Arizona 18-3 20
12. UCLA 19-2 3
13. Maryland 18-4 19
14. DePaul 20-3 18
15. Northwestern 19-3 UR
16. South Dakota 21-2 23
17. Kentucky 17-4 13
18. Iowa 18-4 21
19. Florida State 18-4 12
20. Princeton 15-1 22
21. Indiana 18-5 14
22. Texas A&M 18-4 15
23. Arizona State 16-6 17
24. Missouri State 18-3 16
25. Florida Gulf Coast 22-2 UR

Just out: Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, and TCU