A season full of surprises -- so far

Aston's Focus Making Major Impact At Texas (3:26)

In less than three seasons, coach Karen Aston has not only changed the culture but brought Texas women's basketball back in the national spotlight. (3:26)

A little taste of the unexpected can be refreshing, and this women's basketball season has already had its share of surprises. Here is a list of the most unexpected developments over the first month of 2014-15:

Who's on top?

Someone other than Connecticut is occupying the No. 1 spot in the national rankings. More than a month has passed since Stanford knocked off the Huskies at Maples Pavilion, stunning the country and turning everything we thought we knew about this season on its ear in the first week.

South Carolina was the biggest beneficiary of Connecticut's early-season stumble, ascending to the No. 1 spot for the first time in program history. The Gamecocks have managed to hang in quite well under the pressure of being the country's top-ranked team. They've held on to the No. 1 spot four straight weeks, even after Connecticut made a case with a convincing road win over then-No. 2 Notre Dame a week ago. In Monday's Associated Press Top 25, South Carolina got 25 first-place votes to six for No. 2 UConn.

With veteran stars such as Tiffany Mitchell and young ones such as Alaina Coates and freshman A'ja Wilson, the Gamecocks have played a relatively light schedule with one exception -- a 51-50 road win against Duke on Dec. 7.

Who's the best?

The best player in the country so far is not named Breanna Stewart. Notre Dame junior guard Jewell Loyd has been the shining star of this young season so far, as Stewart appears to be adjusting to her role as a leader for Connecticut and adapting to being the heavy focus of defensive game plans.

Loyd, meanwhile, has been stellar as the Irish have pushed to a 10-1 start, averaging 23.2 points per game. Led by Loyd, Notre Dame has once again proved that no matter how many key players graduate, the Irish can always find a way to pick up where they left off.

Stewart, meanwhile, was the preseason player of the year pick, but she's not even the leading scorer on her own team. The junior forward ranks second at 16.4 points per game, behind shooter Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. That's not to say that Stewie can't quickly begin to make up ground, but the adjustment to a new world without Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley providing defensive cover has been more significant than many people probably anticipated.

How about them Horns?

The Longhorns are legit. Texas was going to be good, everybody knew that. But when Imani McGee-Stafford was sidelined with a leg injury, maybe they weren't going to be quite this good. Turns out, there's enough talent in Austin to overcome an injury to the team's best returning player.

Texas beat Stanford at Maples two days after the Cardinal beat Connecticut. The Longhorns won at UCLA and beat Tennessee 72-59 in Austin on Nov. 30. Through Wednesday, Karen Aston's balanced, deep team is 8-0 (the program's best start since the 2008-09 season) and No. 3 in the country, and McGee-Stafford was just cleared to rejoin the team.

The Longhorns just wrapped up a stretch of six consecutive games at home, but now hit the road for a big challenge Saturday against Texas A&M in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. But nobody is doubting that Texas is solidly back in the national conversation.

And then there were seven

Being unbeaten in the nonconference portion of the season is tougher than it looks. Just ask a team like Cal, which stumbled twice in a week to unranked teams Kansas and Long Beach State to ruin its unblemished record; or Tennessee, which lost to Chattanooga; or North Carolina, which fell to Oregon State.

This time last year, nine unbeaten teams were ranked among the Top 25; there are but seven now.

Some are better than others

Happy surprises: Green Bay (8-2, including wins over Marquette, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Arizona State and Wisconsin); Washington State (7-2, including wins over Dayton, Maryland and Gonzaga); Rutgers (8-2, including wins over LSU and Arkansas, and a double-overtime loss to North Carolina); Chattanooga (7-3, including wins over then-No. 4 Tennessee and No. 7 Stanford); Mississippi State (12-0).

Lauren Hill made four appearances and five layups for Mount St. Joseph before ending her career Wednesday.

Sad surprises: Minnesota guard Rachel Banham's season-ending knee injury.