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Pac-12 women’s basketball: Ranking the teams ahead of conference play, Part 2

A look at teams No. 7-12 as we head into the first full weekend of Pac-12 play

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 20 Women’s - Jerry Colangelo’s 2023 Hall of Fame Series - Gonzaga vs Arizona Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Part one of this ran yesterday. The top six teams, in order, were UCLA, Stanford, Colorado, USC, Utah, and Washington. Now, it’s time to see how the bottom half of the league stacks up.

As explained in the first part of this piece, rankings are from Her Hoop Stats and the NET. RPI strength of schedule is from NET strength of schedule is from the NCAA’s stats database. Several teams played non-DI opponents, in some cases more than one. Those games are not counted when calculating records or rankings.

While women’s basketball doesn’t officially use quadrants like the men do, it’s a helpful concept for comparing teams, so quad breakdowns are used. Note that if a team does not have any Quad 1 wins, its best Quad 2 win is listed as “best out-of-conference win by NET.” Also, if a team only has a few losses or has only played teams in the upper quads, its “worst” loss may be one that doesn’t actually hurt it.

No. 7 Washington State Cougars (11-3, 0-1 Pac-12)

Best OOC wins by NET: Gonzaga (15), Maryland (38)

Worst OOC loss by NET: Auburn (62)

Average NET of wins: 156

Average NET of losses: 42

Overall NET ranking: 22

HHS rankings: 25 (overall), 27 (offense), 25 (defense)

OOC SOS: 86 (NET), 78 (RPI)

OOC Quad results: Quad 1 (2-2), Quad 2 (2-0), Quad 3 (2-0), Quad 4 (5-0)

Charlisse Leger-Walker has been the engine that makes the Cougars go since she arrived as a freshman in 2020-21. This season, that engine has sputtered on occasion, especially from 3-point distance. Leger-Walker is only hitting 18.7 percent of her 3-point shots. That’s a career low by quite a wide margin. In the team’s three losses, she has gone a combined 3 for 20 from beyond the arc. Two of those losses came outside league play as Wazzu dropped games to Wisconsin-Green Bay and Auburn. The third loss was in their rivalry game. That game suggested that the balance of power in the state may be shifting west again as Washington handled WSU fairly easily.

Wazzu dropped its first game on Nov. 25 when it faced Wisconsin-Green Bay in Cancun, Mexico. Since then, it is 4-3. In addition to the three losses, it has a close road win over South Dakota State during that period.

Last year, the Cougars were able to get hot when they needed to as they marched to the Pac-12 Tournament championship as the No. 7 seed, so seventh might be a comfortable spot for them, anyway.

No. 8 Arizona Wildcats

Best OOC wins by NET: South Dakota (112)

Worst OOC loss by NET: Ole Miss (63)

Average NET of wins: 184

Average NET of losses: 28

Overall NET ranking: 45

HHS rankings: 39 (overall), 45 (offensive), 35 (defensive)

OOC SOS: 58 (NET), 101 (RPI)

OOC Quad results: Quad 1 (0-3), Quad 2 (0-1), Quad 3 (5-0), Quad 4 (4-0)

As of Dec. 29, the Arizona Wildcats had the toughest nonconference schedule in the Pac-12 according to both the NET and RPI. The Wildcats still have the second toughest out-of-conference schedule in the Pac-12 according to NET, coming in just behind UCLA, but there are threats to its position. That threat has already shown up in the RPI. Most of the reasons for that drop have nothing to do with Arizona or how tough its schedule has been.

The one reason that was under Arizona’s control was playing Seattle, which is No. 316 in NET and No. 347 in RPI. That combined with things going on with past opponents didn’t help the Wildcats last weekend. Even before the dramatic drop in their strength of schedule, ESPN’s Charlie Creme had them on the outside looking in for the tournament.

The Wildcats played four games that were Q1 at the time they were held, but one of those has since dropped to Q2. Arizona lost all three of the games that are still considered Q1 as well as the fourth one that fell to Q2. The team has plenty of opportunities to pick up quality wins in the Pac-12, but it will have to fix some issues if it wants to continue its NCAA Tournament run.

One thing that could hurt Arizona in its quest to get back to the tournament is something it has no control over and doesn’t actually change the difficulty of the games Arizona played. Significant injuries on two of Arizona’s past opponents could ultimately hurt the Wildcats.

Arizona played both Ole Miss and Texas when both teams were healthy and ranked. Since then, both have lost their starting point guards for the season. Texas is still hanging onto to some fairly lofty rankings for now, but Ole Miss has taken a nosedive. At this point, Arizona has a significantly better NET than the Rebels do.

Rori Harmon of Texas was injured on Wednesday, Dec. 20 against UTRGV. On Dec. 29, UT announced that she had torn her right ACL and would not return this season. When Harmon went out, she had already put together three double-doubles with points and assists, including in the game at Arizona.

The Longhorns have also been playing without forward Taylor Jones due to a hip injury. She has not taken the court since UT visited Tucson, and she spent chunks of the second and fourth quarters on the bench during the game against the Wildcats.

Texas has been ranked highly in both the NET and the polls all season. It is still ranked third in the NET, but as it gets further into Big 12 play, it could drop and diminish one of Arizona’s significant games. The Longhorns lost the only game they’ve played without Harmon and Taylor—a 14-point defeat by Baylor at home.

As for Ole Miss, KK Deans has not played since the day after the Rebels defeated Arizona. She played just five minutes against Michigan in the Battle4Atlantis championship game. The team is now 10-3 and 63rd in the NET.

The Wildcats could end up in the first edition of the NCAA’s new secondary tournament for the women, the Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament. While the field of 68 should always be the goal, UA learned in 2019 that sometimes playing a lot of games in the secondary tournament can be superior to a one-and-done tour in the Big Dance. That’s especially true when a team is growing. With Arizona’s youth, it might not be the worst thing in the world to play some games at home and potentially make a title run that sets it up for next season.

No. 9 Oregon State Beavers (12-0, 1-0 Pac-12)

Best OOC wins by NET: 157

Worst OOC loss by NET: N/A

Average NET of wins: 157

Average NET of losses: N/A

Overall NET ranking: 28

HHS rankings: 36 (overall), 39 (offense), 39 (defense)

OOC SOS: 299 (NET), 291 (RPI)

OOC Quad results: Quad 1 (0-0), Quad 2 (3-0), Quad 3 (5-0), Quad 4 (4-0)

The Beavers have a very attractive record, as long as no one looks too closely. Oregon State has played two games away from Gill Coliseum this season. Both were neutral site games. The teams coming to Corvallis haven’t exactly been world-beaters, either. The Beavers were good enough to beat what has been a bad Oregon team at home. It amounts to a perfect record against a schedule that is the worst in the Pac-12.

They finally have to play someone next week, though, and there’s nothing in their out-of-conference performance that suggests they’re ready to deal with the likes of UCLA and USC on the road. They could still finish as high as sixth, which is where I voted them in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. They just have a lot to prove. At this point, that perfect record is not impressive in the slightest.

No. 10 California Golden Bears (10-2, 0-1 Pac-12)

Best OOC wins by NET: Eastern Washington (48), Santa Clara (61), Auburn (62)

Worst OOC loss by NET: Texas A&M (24)

Average NET of losses: 13

Overall NET ranking: 50

HHS rankings: 59 (overall), 57 (offensive), 61 (defensive)

OOC SOS: 127 (NET), 33 (RPI)

OOC Quad results: Quad 1 (1-2), Quad 2 (2-0), Quad 3 (2-0), Quad 4 (5-0)

Some of Cal’s most impressive wins right now may drop as the conference seasons play out. Teams like Eastern Washington and Santa Clara, both of which qualify as solid Q2 wins right now because of where they were played, are likely to slip as they play teams within their own league and have few opportunities for NET-building games. It’s the nature of mid-majors. They tend to play their toughest opponents in the first half of the season.

California still needs to prove that it can consistently win on the road. The team only played two games away from Berkeley. To its credit, it won both of those games including the one at Auburn that counts as a Q1 victory. It will not play another road game until Jan. 12 when it goes to Boulder.

The Golden Bears land here because of history as much as the current team. They have been unable to sustain any success in the Pac-12 under Charmin Smith. Even when Smith has brought in quality recruits, the program has struggled to move forward. It’s a “show me” situation at this point.

On the positive side, it is promising to see Cal do so well in nonconference after losing the high-scoring Jayda Curry after last season. It’s a more balanced team now.

In Curry’s first year at Cal, she scored 18.6 points per game but no one else scored in double digits. In her second year, she scored 15.5, Kemery Martin scored 10.6, and everyone else averaged less than 10. This year, there are three Golden Bears averaging 11.8 or more per game.

No. 11 Oregon Ducks (9-5, 0-1 Pac-12)

Best OOC wins by NET: Oklahoma State (71)

Worst OOC loss by NET: Portland (99), Utah Tech (215)

Average NET of wins: 155

Average NET of losses: 82

Overall NET ranking: 91

HHS rankings: 68 (overall), 72 (offensive), 64 (defensive)

OOC SOS: 179 (NET), 102 (RPI)

OOC Quad results: Quad 1 (0-1), Quad 2 (2-2), Quad 3 (4-1), Quad 4 (3-0)

It’s been a tough season for the Ducks. Head coach Kelly Graves went with an easier nonconference schedule this year hoping to avoid the problems the team ran into last year when losses to a bunch of tough teams kept them out of the tournament. They haven’t been able to overcome the loss of their starting backcourt, though.

Outside of conference, eight of the Ducks’ 12 games fell into Q3 and Q4. They played just one Q1 game and they lost it by 20 points. Then, they opened Pac-12 play against their rivals with their second Q1 game of the season. They lost to the Beavers by 21. They scored 51 and 41 points in those two games, a far cry from the offensive juggernaut the Ducks used to run out onto the court.

Oregon has some incredible young talent in sophomores Grace VanSlooten and Chance Gray. It added more talent with freshmen Sofia Bell and Sammie Wagner. Still, the Ducks are young and it shows.

As long as they can keep their young talent intact, they will be good in the future. It’s just getting there that’s the problem. A high major simply cannot lose to Santa Clara, Portland, and Utah Tech and still get to the tournament. An Oregon team cannot have the 73rd-best offense and succeed considering the way it plays.

No. 12 Arizona State Sun Devils

Best OOC wins by NET: South Florida (109)

Worst OOC loss by NET: Grand Canyon (104), Grambling State (230)

Average NET of wins: 183

Average NET of losses: 88

Overall NET ranking: 140

HHS rankings: 131 (overall), 110 (offensive), 155 (defensive)

OOC SOS: 220 (NET), 105 (RPI)

OOC Quad results: Quad 1 (0-1), Quad 2 (0-2), Quad 3 (3-2), Quad 4 (5-0)

The thing that stands out about the last two teams in my midseason rankings is that they lost at least one Q3 game. The other 10 teams in the league are undefeated in the bottom two quadrants.

There’s not much to be said about ASU. It lost last year’s top scorer Tyi Skinner before the season, but the question is how much difference she would have made. Like former California Golden Bear Jayda Curry, Skinner put up a lot of points for her team last season but it didn’t affect the W/L record. With a new athletic director, a time not too long ago when Charli Turner Thorne had the team in the tournament every year, and a lack of West Coast ties for head coach Natasha Adair, she’s going to have to fight to get the time to enact her vision.