Just about every outlet that covers women’s basketball releases a Top 25 for the next season just minutes after the national title game is complete. Last year, Arizona (7-0) wasn’t in ESPN's “way too early” Top 25 despite having just fallen a point short of a national championship.
That disrespect continued into the 2021-22 preseason when the Associated Press voters considered the Wildcats to be a fringe Top 25 team, at best. A month into the season, all that has changed. The team now stands in the Top 10 in the AP poll, NET rankings, and ESPN bracketology.
Week 5 of the Associated Press poll is historic
Arizona has been climbing the AP rankings all season. The ‘Cats debuted at No. 22 but broke into the Top 20 in the second week after defeating then-No. 6 Louisville. They have now taken that No. 6 spot once held by their early-season foe.
Moving into sixth ties the highest AP ranking in program history. Last season, the Wildcats ended the WBCA poll ranked second after the NCAA Tournament, but the AP does not have a postseason poll.
Arizona was ranked No. 6 by the media voters for four weeks last season beginning Dec. 7. The team dropped to No. 7 again in week seven on Jan. 4, 2021.
POLL ALERT: Tennessee into top 10 in women’s AP Top 25 for first time in nearly 3 years as South Carolina remains unanimous No. 1; LSU, Duke, Colorado in, Oregon out.— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) December 6, 2021
Full poll: https://t.co/MZqivAnlm1 pic.twitter.com/h9JwIrKTG5
The AP voters are not as impressed by the Pac-12 as they have been in recent years. Many of the teams in the league are giving them good reasons for that loss of confidence. Multiple losses, some against unranked opponents, are one reason, but even some of the conference’s wins have not been impressive.
Stanford (5-2) is still the top-ranked team in the league at No. 4. Turnovers are the Cardinal’s albatross, but they have put an end to the early-season losses. The too-close-for-comfort wins need to be corrected, as well.
After Arizona at No. 6, there isn’t another Pac-12 team in the poll until Oregon State makes its appearance at No. 23. This week, Colorado joins the group at No. 25 to give the conference four teams.
The debut of the Buffaloes was important for the league’s reputation because of what happened to Oregon. The Ducks started the season ranked No. 10. Both the league’s coaches and media projected them to finish second in conference play. Neither of those things seems remotely possible without a big turnaround.
Oregon just lost its third game of the season to a not-that-great UC Davis team. Even worse, the Ducks lost that game by seven points on their home court and now stand at 4-3 on the season.
Yes, Nyara Sabally, Endyia Rogers, and Te-Hina Paopao were still out with injuries, but this is a program that had five McDonald’s All-Americans enter their program last season and regularly have highly-ranked recruiting classes. They have nabbed highly-sought transfers like Sedona Prince and Rogers the past two years. They should have the depth and talent to defeat UC Davis at home even if they have injuries. If they don’t, the question is why so many players are transferring out and why they have been struck by so many injuries the past few years, leaving them without the depth they need.
The NET is for women, too
It’s not just the human voters who think highly of the Wildcats, either. The first NET rankings of the season were released by the NCAA on Monday. The Wildcats are ranked sixth there, as well. That’s higher than any other Pac-12 team.
The NET was introduced to the women’s game last season. Arizona State head coach Charli Turner Thorne was not thrilled with it at the time, believing that it does not consider defense enough and will hurt programs like hers.
It does not seem to be hurting the Wildcats, though.
Early bracketology isn’t great for the Pac-12, but Arizona is doing just fine
How much difference a month of games makes. Charlie Creme, who does women’s bracketology for ESPN, is currently projecting that Arizona will nab the first top seed in program history. The Wildcats have moved onto the No. 1 line in Creme’s latest bracket, which was released on Dec. 3. They join No. 1 overall seed South Carolina, as well as
Like the “way too early” rankings, early bracketology must be taken with a grain of salt, but there is a significant difference. Rankings are based on guesses. Before the season, those guesses are based on significant unknowns. Prognosticators try, but they are bound to simply because there are so many of those unknown to account for. Which players might return? Who is going to improve? Which freshmen will make an impact?
The early brackets don’t have those weaknesses. Creme is evaluating based on at least seven games played over a month. That’s just under 25 percent of the season. There are still a lot of games to be played, but the early returns look good for Arizona.
“The No. 1 seeds get a makeover once again, and Arizona is now the biggest mover in the women’s Bracketology history,” Creme wrote. “Unranked in April’s Way-Too-Early Top 25, the Wildcats have ascended to a No. 1 seed. Adding some key transfers after last season’s Final Four run was step one. Finding immediate chemistry and winning seven in a row to open the season was a big step two.”
Creme has seven of the league’s 12 teams gaining entry into the 68-team event with Oregon (7), Oregon State (8), UCLA (8), Colorado (9), and Washington State (10) joining Arizona (1) and Stanford (2). That would mean that only two Pac-12 courts would see play in the early rounds. He also has four teams playing in Tempe, but none of them are Arizona State or Grand Canyon.
Creme also puts Utah on the bubble as one of the “next four out.”