NCAAW: How do the conferences stack up so far? Beware of the Big Ten

Cassandra Negley
Yahoo Sports Contributor
Head coach Scott Rueck, Destiny Slocum and Mikayla Pivec have Oregon State into the top 5 and are a threat to favorites Stanford and Oregon. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

In the latest week of upsets in women’s basketball — a welcome addition that ESPN analyst and former UConn star Rebecca Lobo said she hadn’t seen the likes of before — it was the annual Big Ten/ACC challenge and Big 12/SEC challenge that provided the excitement.

The Big Ten impressed by winning the battle, 9-5, for the first time in its 13-year history and nearly tying the winning record of 10-4 set by the ACC in 2017. These head-to-head match-ups within conferences gives a clearer picture of where teams stand right now, plus offer a glimpse into what is in store.

Conference play is already underway in the ACC with an expanded 18-game slate and will begin in a few weeks for others. Here’s a look at the five power conferences from top to bottom with their win percentage as of Tuesday morning, the number of teams at .500 or above and how many teams are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll this week.

Pac-12 has 3 of the top 5 teams

Conference win percentage: .826 (81-17)

Teams .500 or above: 11 of 12

Ranked teams in the AP poll: No. 1 Stanford | No. 3 Oregon | No. 4 Oregon State | No. 10 UCLA | No. 18 Arizona | Receiving votes: Colorado, ASU

The Pac-12’s success this season is far from a surprise. The conference was viewed to be the most competitive in the preseason and has lived up to that hype, with then No. 1 Oregon upending the U.S. national team in an exhibition and Stanford taking its competitor’s spot atop the field after the Ducks upset loss.

For Oregon (7-1), triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu broke the school record this weekend for double-figure scoring games. She also became the leader in 3-pointers with 285.

Often overlooked in that elite group is Oregon State (8-0), which has been dominant so far in its historic rise up the AP poll rankings. They’ve won by an average 23.8 points, and that includes three wins over top 25 ranked squads. It’s all paced by Mikayla Pivec, who is in the top 11 Beavers in career points and rebounds.

UCLA (8-0) hasn’t been faced with a particularly tough schedule so far, so the Bruins’ finish 2019 with Georgia and Indiana will come with a critical eye. It’s the best start since going 12-0 in 1980-81 and forward Michaela Onyenwere has at least 20 points in four straight match-ups.

Arizona (9-0), as with a handful of others in the rankings, is off to its best start in 20 years. The Wildcats have a school-record 15 consecutive wins dating back to their run last postseason to win the WNIT championship. A win Thursday against Tennessee State would give this squad its best starting record in program history.

Big Ten starting to take over

Conference win percentage: .786 (96-26)

Teams .500 or above: 14 of 14

Ranked teams in AP poll: No. 12 Indiana | No. 13 Maryland | No. 19 Michigan State | No. 24 Michigan | TV: Minnesota, Ohio State, Rutgers

The Big Ten is second to the Pac-12 in collective conference win percentage and ESPN’s Charlie Creme has 11 of them in his most recent Bracketology for the tournament. These schools may not be the best of the best — yet — but there are a lot of them gutting it out to get there.

Indiana (8-1) is the team to keep an eye on in the Big Ten, with the Hoosiers steadily climbing in the rankings after losing to Oregon in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. Freshman Mackenzie Holmes is shooting 69.1 percent (47 of 68), one of the best in the nation, for an average 12.0 points in 19.1 minutes per game. The team returned four starters.

But they weren’t even in the top two favorites in the preseason poll. Maryland (8-2) was picked to win its fifth conference title since joining the conference in 2014-15. The Terps were exposed against South Carolina and had to storm back to beat James Madison the ensuing game.

Ohio State (6-3) isn’t ranked, but has knocked off Louisville, ranked second at the time, by shooting 48.8 percent from the field and an improved tick from the free throw line. The Buckeyes kept it close against UConn and will have another shot at a top-ranked opponent in No. 1 Stanford on Sunday.

Minnesota (7-1) lost its season opener, which at first seemed somewhat of a disappointment for the Lindsay Whalen-led squad, but the Gophers have stormed back with a tough opening schedule. That was necessary given the depth of teams they’ll be playing in conference play to hold a solid record and a good NCAA tournament seed.

ACC moves 3 teams into top 10

Win percentage: .664 (91-46)

Teams .500 or above: 11 of 15

Ranked teams in the AP poll: No. 7 Louisville | No. 8 Florida State | No. 9 N.C. State | No. 25 Miami | RV: North Carolina

The ACC has three of the top 10 teams in the AP Top 25 poll, but it lacks a team with punch thus far into the season. Louisville rose to No. 2 with an upset, but dropped due to one, too.

N.C. State (9-0) is back in the top 10 after 16 weeks there last season. The Wolfpack defeated Maryland late last week in the Big Ten/ACC challenge by dominating the boards, an aspect that has been the core of their game this year. Elissa Cunane is averaging 14.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

Florida State, meanwhile, knocked off two ranked teams in a row: Texas A&M and Michigan State.

Most notably for the ACC is the team that’s not there: Notre Dame (5-6). The Irish were crushed by UConn over the weekend and are under .500 this deep into a season for the first time since 1992-93. The last time they missed the tournament was 1995. The Irish could be down another player as freshman Sam Brunelle is being evaluated with a knee injury.

SEC with 6 in top 25, most of any

Winning percentage: .719 (92-36)

Teams .500 or above: 12 of 14

Ranked teams in AP poll: No. 5 South Carolina | No. 11 Texas A&M | No. 14 Kentucky | No. 15 Mississippi State | No. 21 Arkansas | No. 23 Tennessee

The SEC is well represented in the polls, though a few teams dropped this week, and will make waves when the NCAA tournament comes. The conference slate will also separate these six between contenders and those with easy opening schedules.

South Carolina (9-1) escaped Temple with a seven-point victory behind senior Tyasha Harris’ season-high 21 points. It was her second consecutive 20-plus game and freshman block sensation Aliyah Boston chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds.

The Gamecocks will host No. 14 Kentucky to begin SEC play on Jan. 2. Kentucky (9-0) has flown somewhat under the radar while keeping opponents to a third-best 46.7 points per game. The Wildcats schedule isn’t strong and they’ll face their first ranked opponent on Dec. 15 by hosting Louisville.

Chennedy Carter has been chugging along for Texas A&M (7-1) while Mississippi State (8-2) lost its first non-SEC home game since 2014 to West Virginia. The Bulldogs had another rough game on the boards and struggled at the free throw line.

Big 12 led by Baylor

Winning percentage: .772 (61-18)

Teams .500 or above: 10 of 10

Ranked teams: No. 6 Baylor | No. 22 West Virginia | Receiving votes: Texas, TCU

Baylor is still in full control of the Big 12. The reigning national champion has been without Lauren Cox, who has been out “indefinitely” for a month with a foot injury, and has crushed lesser competition in its non-conference schedule. The Bears have faced three ranked opponents, falling only to South Carolina at the Paradise Jam, with strong post play from Queen Egbo.

West Virginia broke into the rankings with an upset win over Mississippi State that aided the conference’s 8-2 victory in the SEC challenge. It was the first time a conference won eight games, and three of them were over ranked opponents. Oklahoma defeated LSU and Texas pulled an upset of Tennessee.

TCU will play at No. 11 Texas A&M on Wednesday to try and bolster their resume.

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