Which women’s college basketball games, teams and conferences will have the most impact over the remainder of 2021-22?

We’ve arrived at the unofficial start of phase two of the 2021-22 women’s college basketball season. January always marks the start of conference games and a sense of urgency begins to set in. Yes, a few leagues have dispersed some games in November and December, but as of then the schedule is almost exclusively conference games. A team can survive a few bad weekends around Thanksgiving. But a bad two-week spell in mid-January or early February could doom a team’s top ranking or even a chance at the NCAA tournament.

The college basketball schedule is predictable this way. Teams, conferences and fans depend on it, and coaches prepare for it. But COVID-19 continues to bring uncertainty, and the rest of the season could look a lot like last year. So whatever programs most used as a master plan in 2021, let’s hope they’ve saved up for 2022.

With the omicron variant causing a surge in positive tests across the country, the games are being canceled or postponed at an alarming rate. Thankfully, most conferences have recently chosen to change their policies on matches affected by COVID-19, and the plan is to reschedule rather than award forfeits for the league competition. This good news, however, is tempered by the fact that time is running out. Each deferral means one day less to complete a full program.

The NCAA requires each team to play 25 games to be eligible for the tournament. Last year that number was changed to 13 to account for a truncated season. As of yet, there is no indication that a change will be made for 2021-2022. But it’s worth watching as teams that have had to cancel multiple non-conference games will need to play almost their entire conference schedule to reach 25.

At this point, neither team should be in danger, but it will be important to monitor the number of games that continue to be postponed. UConn, for example, has only played nine games, and Arizona’s No.4, Kentucky No.21, and Iowa’s No.22 have each played 10.

The challenge for the league offices to do all this reprogramming work is enormous and like anything that has the virus nothing is guaranteed. Nor, of course, everything that happens on the ground. So many questions still remain in a season that has seen some surprises and a further increase in competitive parity. We take a look at some of the bigger ones.

Which league race will have the most ripple effect on women’s basketball

The Big Ten is top heavy, but the top is very good. Depending on how a champion is crowned, the title chase could also mean a No.1 seed. Indiana, Maryland and Michigan are all top 10 teams that have done their fair share of impressive things over the course of time. of the season outside the conference. Six of the 12 teams have already established themselves as strong contenders for the NCAA tournament, and Northwestern is hovering around the bubble. While the Hoosiers, Terps, and Wolverines make the race so intriguing, Iowa, Ohio State, and Nebraska could deliver the kind of quality wins that swell the resume of a top-seeded team. n ° 1. At least two places on line n ° 1 seem wide open.

If, for example, Indiana emerges as the champion with just one or two losses, the Hoosiers would be in a good position to claim a seed. The Hoosiers are the league favorites after their overtime victory over the Terrapins on Sunday and an earlier victory over Ohio State. However, Maryland has yet another crack in Indiana, plus two games against Michigan and the Buckeyes. The Wolverines also play twice in Iowa, in addition to a home game against the Hoosiers at the end of the month.

If no favorites emerge and multiple teams lose against each other, the Big Ten might not get a No.1 seed, but have a chance to dominate lines 2, 3 and 4.

An honorable mention in that category should go to the Big 12. Baylor’s loss to Kansas State on Sunday indicated that the Bears’ long-standing dominance has waned. Texas and Oklahoma are much better than expected, and the state of Iowa is stronger than ever. There haven’t been multiple teams in the Big 12 race for a long time.

Which teams most need the fresh start that the conference game brings?

For two months, injuries decimated Oregon’s rotation. Over the past two weeks, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the Oregon calendar. On Sunday, the Ducks played their first game since Dec. 18, albeit against Division II Carroll, but it was a way to get some action before delaying the start of the Pac-12 season. The result, a 31-point victory, is not at all notable – it does not count towards NCAA tournament consideration – but which players helped to produce this result is.

For the first time this season, Te-Hina Paopao, Endyia Rogers and Nyara Sabally were on the pitch together. Sunday only scored Rogers’ second game (hand injury). Paopao has missed every minute of the season except three with a knee injury. Rogers, a transfer from USC, and Paopao, a selection for the Pac-12 freshman squad last season, were to be Oregon’s starting backcourt.

Sabally was to partner with Sedona Prince to form a dynamic two-role presence. Instead, she missed seven of the Ducks’ first nine games with a knee injury. Oregon managed to go 6-4 and maintained a NET rating in the top 20. This keeps the Ducks alive in the NCAA tournament race, and the roster becomes complete just in time for the Pac-12 game. They are hitting the reset button in the New Year harder than any team in the country. The four losses will be a distant memory, and not so heavily weighed by the committee, if a healthy Oregon competes for a Pac-12 championship, as it did for the preseason.

Which teams benefited the most from non-conference play?

No team has had better November and December than South Carolina. Wins against NC State, Oregon, UConn, Maryland, Stanford, Duke and Kansas State made the Gamecocks the No.1 seed.

Which teams exceeded expectations? While neither played such a competitive schedule as South Carolina, North Carolina and Nebraska came out of the first two months much better than expected. Thanks to high-level offense, the Tar Heels and Cornhuskers achieved a combined 21-0 record in non-conference games, and both are now in the NET’s top 10.

Schedules aside, that puts the Tar Heels and Cornhuskers – neither of whom were in the top five in either the ACC or Big Ten preseason polls – in the top spot in NCAA tournaments. A pair of transfers paved the way for both. Jaz Shelley, who joined Nebraska after a year in Oregon, is the Cornhuskers’ top scorer (13.8 PPG). Princeton transfer and graduate student Carlie Littlefield dominate North Carolina in assists and helped elevate the game for the talented sophomore line of Deja Kelly, Alyssa Ustby and Kennedy Todd-Williams.

How will COVID-19 continue to impact women’s college basketball?

According to the Associated Press, at least 260 Division I women’s basketball games this season have been canceled or postponed until Sunday due to the coronavirus, the majority of which took place after mid-December.

The bottom line is that programs will need to be agile both in planning and with their staff.

South Carolina and the State of Mississippi decided on 24 hours’ notice to move their game from February 6 to Sunday because their respective two opponents, Ole Miss and Kentucky, were unable to play due to COVID- issues. 19. The SEC saw an opportunity to be part of a game and offer scheduling flexibility later in the season. These types of movements can really help overall, but also create real-time adjustments in planning and scouting. Just like last year, the teams will have to adapt.

There have also been numerous occasions where teams have played without much of their roster due to COVID-19. Sometimes this leaves teams at a competitive disadvantage. Yet, it is simply too early to say how this will affect the decision making of the committee. Each situation must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

But just like last year, with complications from COVID-19 so prevalent and so many teams impacted differently by staff losses, the playing field generally remains level. For example, it’s far from ideal that West Virginia had to face Iowa State on Sunday without two of its best players, but the Mountaineers could gain an advantage later in the season from a roster issue. other opponent. And let’s not forget that Missouri, with just eight players available and without their top player, Aijha Blackwell, beat No.1 South Carolina in the standings.

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