Watch to watch for in the week ahead
Oral Roberts at Oakland: With a 76-74 win against IPFW on Saturday, Oral Roberts completed a season sweep of the third-place Mastodons and improved to 10-0 in the Summit League. That leaves Oakland as the biggest obstacle in the way of a conference title. Yet when the teams met in Tulsa on New Year's Eve, Oral Roberts won by 22 points. Kevi Luper is a prolific shoot-first scoring guard who put up 29 in the last meeting, but Jordan Pyle (25 points, 8 rebounds) and Jaci Bigham (18 points, 11 assists) led the way against IPFW. Oakland, which beat Illinois and lost to Penn State in overtime earlier this season, scored 100 points against Centenary on Saturday without a single player attempting more than eight field goals.
Georgetown at Louisville: The Cardinals secured one important victory Saturday against Rutgers; Tuesday brings an opportunity to add a second of supreme postseason importance. Jeff Walz's team wasn't in Charlie Creme's Jan. 18 Bracketology, but the subsequent win against the Scarlet Knights moved the Cardinals to 5-3 in the Big East. And while there are no guarantees in the league, Louisville has three winnable road games remaining at Villanova, South Florida and Providence, as well as a home game against Seton Hall. It's difficult to imagine a team with 10 Big East victories missing the NCAA tournament, and Tuesday's game could end up being No. 10 when all is said and done.
North Carolina at Florida State: The Tar Heels got well after last week's loss against Maryland with predictable victories at home against Virginia and Virginia Tech. The two games produced six double-digit rebound performances for the Tar Heels. That's worth noting because, well, it's a lot of rebounds, but also because Florida State hammered North Carolina on the boards in an 83-72 win in Chapel Hill last season with Jacinta Monroe. For its part, Florida State was outrebounded by both Boston College and NC State last week, despite winning both games. It was a curious week for Alexa Deluzio, who entered with 34 fouls in her team's first 20 games and then picked up nine against the Eagles and Wolfpack.
Oklahoma at Baylor: If you want evidence as to why Sherri Coale might just be the best coach in college basketball, look at Oklahoma's recent victories against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. In both cases, Coale maneuvered her team to victory despite seeing the Sooners beaten on the boards and struggling to contain opposing offenses. If you want evidence as to why it's still not clear exactly what Oklahoma is this season, well, look at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State beating the Sooners on the boards and shooting 46.8 percent from the field. The Sooners won two of three games against Baylor last season, and hit just seven 3-pointers in 125 minutes in doing it. With Whitney Hand healthy and Aaryn Ellenberg and Morgan Hook around, will they be able to spread Baylor's suffocating defense?
Wyoming at BYU: TCU's penchant for puzzling losses (Air Force joining New Mexico on that list) opens the door for a first-place showdown between two teams that already lost to the Horned Frogs. The Cowgirls still don't have a road win against a team with a winning record, but they're statistically dominant, leading in scoring margin and field goal differential in conference play. Four days should be ample recovery time, but four Wyoming players played at least 38 minutes in Saturday's victory against San Diego State. BYU guard Mindy Bonham is coming off a productive week, totaling 14 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds in a win at San Diego State and 18 points and 10 assists in a home victory against New Mexico.
Auburn at Kentucky: Nell Fortner's team left itself a lot of work to do after understandable early losses against the likes of Florida State and Duke mushroomed into a funk that included neutral-site losses against South Florida and Sacred Heart, but things seem to quietly be coming together. Sunday's victory against South Carolina made it 6-2 in the SEC for an Auburn squad whose field goal offense and field goal defense are both improving in conference play. And with Kentucky riding a six-game winning streak in advance of Tennessee's visit on Feb. 7, might the Wildcats fall into the proverbial trap game? Kentucky loves to harass guards, so the matchup against Morgan Toles (2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio) should be fun to track.
Penn State at Michigan: Both teams beat preseason conference favorite Ohio State within the past week. The problem for Michigan is that it followed up that performance with a loss at cellar-dwelling Minnesota on Sunday. Penn State beat the Buckeyes by following a familiar script: shoot the ball well enough to offset a propensity for turnovers. Freshman sensation Maggie Lucas hit 6 of 8 3-pointers for Penn State against Ohio State. The Lady Lions are running a turnover deficit in conference play after accumulating a significant surplus early in the season, but as long as they shoot 45.9 percent from the 3-point line, they can get away with it.
California at Arizona: It's too early for an elimination game, but this sure feels like something close as both teams begin the second half of Pac-10 play. The Bears play the league's bottom four teams at home down the stretch, and their five toughest games on the road. The Wildcats face the opposite scenario, making this a hinge game for each side. When these two teams met in the Bay Area, Cal nearly doubled up Arizona on the boards in an 80-60 victory. The Wildcats might be the worst rebounding team not currently running in the red in rebound margin. In addition to that game against Cal, they were outrebounded against USC and UCLA over the weekend by 14 and 24, respectively.
Princeton at Harvard: Few teams were more dominant relative to their conference competition last season than Princeton. Friday night will reveal whether a repeat is in order. The Tigers improved to 3-0 in Ivy play with a victory at Yale on Saturday. All three wins came by double digits and all came without star forward Niveen Rasheed, out for the season with a knee injury. Without Rasheed, Addie Micir and Lauren Edwards have taken the scoring lead, and with the exception of the Yale victory, Princeton has relied more heavily on 3-pointers. Harvard point guard (and phenomenally named) Brogan Berry has 14 assists and just two turnovers during Harvard's 3-0 Ivy start.