The common complaint about women’s college basketball — or more frequently, the excuse for not watching it — is that the same team(s) always win, by a lot. That it’s not competitive, and thus uninteresting. The point of college sports, according to some, is the promise of upsets — because the lack of skill relative to their professional counterparts makes games less predictable.
Anyone who has paid even the most superficial attention to women’s college ball in the past few years would know that this complaint is even more pointless than it has ever been. UConn, the monolith that allegedly makes college hoops boring (as long as you exclude their heated rivalry with Tennessee, I guess), hasn’t won the title since 2016 — though granted, they had won four years in a row before that (h/t Breanna Stewart). There hasn’t been one clear frontrunner in a while, and the Final Fours have reliably generated plenty of heated competition.
This year seemed like it might buck that trend. Oregon looked so powerful at the start of the season, with Sabrina Ionescu returning on the hunt for a ring and a stacked lineup that kicked off the season by handing the U.S. Women’s National Team its first loss to a college team in decades. The Lady Bears — the reigning champs — were eviscerating teams, posting gaudy numbers that made a repeat title look entirely plausible.
But it’s the first week of December, and they’ve both lost. Louisville almost completely contained Oregon’s allegedly high-powered offense with some truly remarkable defense, and South Carolina dismantled Baylor (sorry, Te’a Cooper) thanks in large part to, who else, Aliyah Boston. She had yet another casual double-double.
Not only were No. 1 and No. 2 knocked off, but there wasn’t a clear replacement. Stanford, the next highest-ranked undefeated team, filled the majority of Associated Press voters’ first-place slots. But Louisville got five votes (they made it to No. 2) and UConn got two (they literally did not even play a game), showing there’s plenty of dissent in the ranks. ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme made a compelling argument for Oregon State as the No. 1 overall seed (they’re currently at No. 5 in the poll); South Carolina also would seem to have a reasonable argument to be closer to the top, though they did lose to a surging Indiana team that just last night beat No. 21 Miami.
Creme summed it up thusly: “Often heading into November we already have some forgone conclusions. None of those exist right now.”
What makes these upsets particularly interesting, as Christine Hopkins pointed out at Forbes, is that Stanford and Louisville both face a number of strong opponents before conference play begins. Based on strength of schedule, even Florida State could be vying for a top-five slot — while Oregon and Baylor have to wait until January to see competition up to their level. It is, quite literally, anyone’s game.
So make sure to tell your woefully misinformed friends who think UConn is the only relevant women’s basketball team that it’s as tight a race as it’s ever been — with plenty of great games left to be played.
Three games to watch
No. 9 Maryland at No. 13 NC State (Dec. 5, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN (!))
This is undefeated NC State’s biggest challenge of the season so far, facing a highly touted Maryland team that has yet to totally get their bearings. Read all about how most of the action will be taking place right under the basket from the Washington Post’s Ava Wallace.
No. 19 Michigan State at No. 8 Florida State (Dec. 5, 8 p.m. ET, ACCN)
Gotta love Big Ten/ACC challenge week — this is a crucial proving ground for Florida State as they aim to stake out their spot in the top 10.
South Dakota State at No. 3 Oregon (Dec. 8, 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
This might seem like an easy dub for the Ducks, but the Jackrabbits gave them a lot of trouble at the super-regionals earlier this year. It will be interesting to see if Oregon can re-establish their mojo over a known foe.