Big games on tap this week
Will the week ahead offer as much excitement as the weekend just concluded? Not likely, but there are plenty of intriguing games on tap.
Texas (11-4, 0-1 Big 12) at Nebraska (14-0, 1-0 Big 12): It's a busy week in the Big 12. Andrea Riley scored more points in her last game than Kansas did in its last game, so you know Oklahoma State's trip to Lawrence on Tuesday will be interesting. Even in January, Colorado's trip to Texas Tech the same night is all but an NCAA tournament elimination game for two teams facing long odds in a stacked conference. But the game of the night is in Lincoln, especially after Baylor's loss over the weekend throws Big 12 speculation wide open.
It's a little strange to say about an undefeated team that already has wins at Miami and Iowa State and at home against LSU, but this is the kind of game Nebraska needs to win if it wants to make a run at not only a conference title but a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
For its part, Texas has yet to really show up for a game against a top-tier opponent. At halftime, the Longhorns trailed Connecticut by 21 points, Tennessee by 17 points and Texas A&M by 25 points. One bit of good news for the Longhorns is the last time they played a Nebraska team that had the services of Kelsey Griffin, she shot just 3 of 13 from the field. The bad news is the Huskers still won that game in Lincoln during the 2007-08 season.
Other key games Tuesday: Oklahoma State at Kansas; Villanova at West Virginia; Texas at Nebraska; New Mexico at Utah; Colorado at Texas Tech
Eastern Michigan (12-2, 2-0 MAC) at Toledo (12-3, 2-0 MAC): It's a significant early showdown in the MAC's West Division between a pair of teams that built up a lot of momentum entering conference play. It's also a great matchup between unheralded point guards. Eastern Michigan's Cassie Schrock leads the conference at 7.2 assists per game and is second with a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. She's also a native of Wadsworth, Ohio, only a couple of hours east of Toledo. But the Rockets had to go a little farther afield to find their point guard. A native of Israel, Toledo's Naama Shafir is second in the MAC in assists per game at 6.5 assists per game (as of Jan. 7, Schrock ranked seventh nationally in assists; Shafir ranked tenth).
Both guards also benefit from having scorers to throw the ball to regularly. In Shafir's case, senior Tanika Mays averages 13.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. At Eastern Michigan, Tavelyn James is thus far avoiding a sophomore slump after ranking fourth nationally among freshmen in scoring last season.
Other key games Wednesday: Oklahoma at Baylor; Rutgers at Syracuse; Duquesne at St. Bonaventure; Navy at Lehigh; Iowa State at Texas A&M; Nevada at Utah State; TCU at Wyoming; Fresno State at New Mexico State
Duke (14-2, 2-0 ACC) at Miami (13-2 overall, 1-0 ACC): The Blue Devils have some work to do if they want to hold their ground in the top 10 entering next week's showdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium against No. 1 Connecticut.
Miami lost the two meaningful games it had on an otherwise pillow-soft early schedule (although credit to the Hurricanes for playing at Miami of Ohio, if only for the amusement of those of us with warped senses of humor), losing at home against Nebraska and Texas. But the Hurricanes took a step toward shifting the needle from suspect to sleeper by beating Florida State to open ACC play. In Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson, they might have the two best scorers on the floor in the game against Duke. Adding Swedish freshman Stefanie Yderstrom to the mix after six games has helped extend Miami coach (and Duke alum) Katie Meier's rotation.
The Blue Devils are a more puzzling offensive mix. Their two leading scorers, Jasmine Thomas and Joy Cheek, are shooting 40.2 percent from the floor. The rest of the team is shooting a healthier 46.8 percent.
Other key games Thursday: Eastern Illinois at Eastern Kentucky; Tennessee at Florida; Wake Forest at Georgia Tech; Michigan at Indiana; Wisconsin at Michigan State; North Carolina at Virginia Tech; Kentucky at South Carolina; Purdue at Minnesota; Georgia at Vanderbilt; Oregon at Arizona State; Washington at California
East Carolina (14-2, 3-0 Conference USA) at Houston (8-7, 2-0 Conference USA) Houston had some puzzling losses entering conference play, including a 29-point setback at Delaware (more a surprise of scale than outcome) and a five-point loss at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. But the schedule that produced a losing record out of conference was also legitimately taxing, including games at Gardner-Webb, LSU and Miami, as well as against Oregon State, Princeton, Kansas and TCU. It might not be Tennessee's schedule, but for a Conference USA contender, it was loaded. And perhaps it's paying dividends for a team that went on the road and scored two impressive victories, at Tulane and at UTEP, to open league play.
Now all the Cougars have to do is defend their home court against an East Carolina team with the best overall record in the league and which outscored its first three conference opponents by better than 20 points per game. All-conference selection Courtney Taylor missed two games this month with an injury, but returned in time to average 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the wins against Tulane and UTEP, matching the double-double she averaged overall last season.