Only eight days into the season, there are a variety of storylines throughout the country. Mid-majors are making waves throughout the country, taking down extensive programs one by one. Yet they are not getting enough respect, Florida Gulf Coast just beat LSU, and they are still unranked. Missouri State has made three consecutive appearances in the sweet sixteen and only received 14 votes in the rankings. This piece will focus on six teams, three early surprises in women’s basketball, and three off to shockingly slow starts despite immense talent.
Early Season Surprises and Sluggish Starts in Women’s College Basketball
Princeton University Tigers
The Tigers have started the season with three convincing victories, including a dominating performance on Villanova’s home floor. Despite missing the entire season last year because of COVID and losing several players to transfer, the Tigers look like the powerhouse everyone remembers. However, some forget that this team was undefeated behind the leadership of Bella Alarie before the pandemic stole their incredible season. This year, they have many weapons, including Abby Meyers, Julia Cunningham, and Grace Stone. Meyers is one of the few left from that incredible 2019 team. She had 21 points in their win over Villanova and has had at least 15 in all three games. I am so high on Princeton because they have a tremendously challenging schedule, including FGCU, Seton Hall, Buffalo, Villanova, Texas, and Central Florida. Just scheduling these opponents emphasizes the faith that coach Carla Berube has in her team.
I look forward to these games coming up and believe that the Tigers have a chance to win at least three more of them. These wins will create an excellent resume for an at-large bid to the tournament.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Irish are off to a flying start this season with three convincing wins of their own. First, they took down an Ohio team with a ton of talent on day one by 36. Then they crushed conference rival Syracuse by 26 in the Carrier Dome. The Irish are playing this well because they have a new weapon named Maya Dodson. This Stanford transfer put on a show against the Bobcats, scoring 25 points and shooting 11 for 16 from the field. Her post-play affords them with a new dimension that was not present in the last few years. Notre Dame has an experienced team led by Dara Mabrey, Maddy Westbeld, and Sam Brunelle; This leadership will give them an edge in conference play. The Irish also play an intense schedule, including Georgia, Oregon State, Michigan State, Uconn, and Depaul. This Demanding slate will prepare them to return to relevancy once again. The country needs to be on notice that this team is back and must not be underestimated.
Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats have not been challenged; no team has managed to score 50 points against them yet. This stifling defense is led by 6 foot 6 Ayoka Lee; her presence on the floor forces other teams to think about their shots and change the release. Lee also has three 30-point games already this year. She is a beast down low that other teams have to gameplan for. Recently, Kansas State was not at the top of their game last year; they were 3-15 in the big 12. However, the Wildcats look much improved this year and have a chance to prove it on Friday when they play 5th ranked NC State. Kansas State will also play number one South Carolina and 9th ranked Oregon. These games will prepare them for an excellent big 12 season and give them a chance to dance.
These three excellent teams are early surprises in Women’s basketball
Despite the immense talent of star Maddy Siegrist, the Wildcats are off to a sluggish start. The losses to Maryland and Princeton hurt because they only have one more big opportunity on their non-conference schedule against Oregon State. I was expecting this team to be near the top of the Big East this season because of Siegrist’s leadership and the shooting of Brianna Herlihy, but it seems the rest of the team is too young for them to succeed. Villanova does not have any other seniors on their roster, and that inexperience is showing. Only managing 42 points against Princeton is embarrassing, and their defense has not been good enough. So far, The Wildcats are averaging 18 turnovers per game; this statistic includes 20 turnovers in the Princeton game. With few remaining opportunities on their schedule, they will need an outstanding record in conference play with big wins to make the tournament. It would be a shame to waste so much talent. I hope they can turn it around before it all falls apart.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Usually a tournament team, the Sun Devils are 1-2 with losses to Minnesota and BYU and a win over Northern Colorado. ASU is struggling from the perimeter averaging just five three-point makes a game to start the year. This poor shooting has made it challenging for them to score; they only had 44 today in their loss to BYU. Despite having five seniors on their roster, this team is not displaying leadership averaging almost 15 turnovers a game. Unlike Villanova, ASU still has opportunities on their schedule to help them recover from this tough start. Some games to watch are Baylor, Houston, Marist, and Creighton. The Sun Devils need to win three of these four games and beat the other underwhelming opponents on their non-conference schedule to suit the committee in March. Without significant improvements in ball handling and three-point shooting, they will not return to the tournament this year.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Although they have faced tough competition in Purdue and Kansas State, the Hilltoppers also lost to UT Martin. That third loss is difficult to explain. WKU did not manage 50 points in either of their last two games. WKU is averaging 24 turnovers in their first four games of the season. This statistic includes a shocking 33 turnovers in their only win over North Carolina A & T. The Hilltoppers have wasted their chances against tough opponents this season and only have a game against Belmont left. I watched the Purdue game; they had a chance to win but blew it towards the end with too many turnovers. The Hilltoppers have talent on their roster Meral Abdelgawad is a big-time player who had 20 in the Purdue game but has not scored more than 12 since that game. Overall, this team is inexperienced Abdelgawad is their only senior; that may explain some of their struggles, but 33 turnovers are hard to overlook. Without significant improvement, the Toppers are in for a challenging season that will end with a miserable record. Historically, WKU is a midmajor to watch out for with multiple final four and tournament appearances, but those days are behind us.
The season is just beginning; even the teams that make the sluggish start list can succeed if they get it together. I am anxious to see more early-season surprises in women’s basketball, and I hope these three teams prove me wrong the rest of the season. They all have the talent to make the tournament, but none look like a tournament team right now. I will update this list throughout the year to depict an up-to-date report of Women’s basketball storylines.
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