With the turn of the calendar to 2015, women’s basketball gets into full swing with conference play. Sure, the usual top teams like Connecticut, Notre Dame and Baylor have looked strong in non-conference play.
But there are plenty of less heralded schools poised to win the conference crowns.
Here’s a look at the power five conferences and how they may shape up.
PAC-12: This might be the strongest the conference has been in many years. Arizona State, Washington and Oregon State all sit with one loss apiece.
Conference favorites Stanford and California had a rough start to the season, combining for seven losses. The Cardinal have won 14 straight regular season titles, while the Sun Devils and the Cougars shared one in 2000-01. The Beavers have never won the regular season championship.
“This might be the toughest I can remember this conference being in a long while,” Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “There are really no easy weekends.”
ACC: Notre Dame has looked strong this season despite losing two stars to graduation. Jewell Loyd is putting an early claim for player of the year honors in helping the Irish to a 12-1 record. The fourth-ranked Irish will need a strong effort from other players if they hope to run through the conference unbeaten for a second straight year. North Carolina, Louisville, Duke and Syracuse have looked good early on this season.
The surprise so far is Florida State at 12-1. Leticia Romero, a transfer from Kansas State, just became eligible for the Seminoles.
“This is a pretty strong group top to bottom and the schedule we’ve had I hope will prepare us for it,” said Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie, who has already played No. 1 South Carolina, No. 2 UConn and No. 5 Texas A&M.
BIG TEN: Rutgers and Maryland were added to the conference this past year. The two women’s basketball powers have gotten off to a solid start in non-conference play. Northwestern coach Joe McKeown has the Wildcats at 11-1 with a victory over Michigan State. The win in East Lansing was the first for the school since 1993.
SEC: South Carolina was expected to be among the best teams in the country, returning nearly all its players and adding consensus high school player of the year A’ja Wilson. So far, the Gamecocks haven’t disappointed. They’re undefeated and sit atop the AP poll. Coach Dawn Staley may have a tough time staying unbeaten with the depth of the conference this season. Eight different teams already have been in the Top 25.
Texas A&M, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky were expected to challenge the Gamecocks. The surprise has been Mississippi State, which hasn’t lost in 14 games this season.
The Lady Bulldogs will face a stiff test in their conference opener when they host Georgia.
BIG 12: Coach Karen Aston has Texas back to the top of the conference and near the top of the poll for the first time since 2008. The Longhorns, who haven’t lost a game yet, return a strong nucleus that’s poised to make a deep run in both the Big 12 and NCAA tournament.
Kim Mulkey keeps graduating stars and keeps winning games at Baylor. Nina Davis has stepped up as the next big-time player for Mulkey, who says this might be the deepest team she’s had while coaching at the school.
Mulkey has 10 players averaging double figures in minutes this season. The last time that happened was 2010-11 when Odyssey Sims was a freshman and Brittney Griner was a sophomore.
The next year, they finished 40-0 en route to the national championship.
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