Crowded airports and busy roads notwithstanding, Thanksgiving offers most of us a chance to put our feet up for a couple of days. Not so much in college basketball. Not even March matches the scheduling craziness that finds many teams playing back-to-back days -- and often back-to-back-to-back days -- for the only time until conference tournaments. With Oregon's place atop the polls still about the only thing we know for sure, here's what espnW's Charlie Creme, Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel are thinking as the holiday arrives.
1. Baylor is without Lauren Cox for an indefinite amount of time. Stanford struggled at home against Gonzaga. Texas A&M left it until late at Rice. So who's really the No. 2 team in the country right now?
Graham Hays: I wouldn't have guessed this three weeks ago, but give me South Carolina. Not only does South Carolina have the best win of the bunch at Maryland, but doing that so early in the season with such a young team looks all the more impressive in light of everyone else. Zia Cooke and Aliyah Boston are delivering, and Dawn Staley is thriving with the fresh energy at her disposal. Some results (Stanford against Gonzaga, Texas A&M against Rice, Oregon State against Missouri State) say as much about a particularly strong class of mid-major teams as about weakness at the top of the polls. But with that said, South Carolina is doing everything right so far.
Charlie Creme: Even without Lauren Cox and even with Oregon State's impressive run to the Preseason WNIT title, I still think Baylor is No. 2. That was a really good South Florida team the Lady Bears beat on Tuesday, and they did it without a good shooting night (35.6% from the field), only one 3-pointer (and that came in the game's final two minutes), and while getting outrebounded. Baylor had mauled three underqualified opponents to start the season with a barrage of points, but it beat the Bulls with length and aggressiveness on defense. That is award-winning adaptability this early in the season and should travel well to the Virgin Islands over Thanksgiving for games against Washington State, Indiana and especially South Carolina.
Mechelle Voepel: I am sticking with Baylor, too. For the team to reach its long-term goals, of course, it has to have Lauren Cox back. But NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo did a solid job in the post against South Florida, the only team the Lady Bears have faced thus far with any chance of pushing them. And the guard play is very experienced for Baylor, which can count on players such as DiDi Richards, Juicy Landrum and Te'a Cooper to get the job done and play a lot of minutes. Baylor doesn't have a star without Cox, but you can't underestimate how good her supporting cast is as a whole -- even if they don't stand out as much individually.
2. Teams across the country are hitting the road for Thanksgiving tournaments, including some of the season's marquee nonconference games. What's at stake, and what might we learn from some of the week's best matchups?
Records are through Thursday night's games.
No. 18 Indiana (3-0) vs. No. 5 South Carolina (5-0)
When: 8 p.m. ET on Nov. 28
Where: Paradise Jam: Reef Division (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands)
Indiana at least gets a game at Florida to prepare before departing for the U.S. Virgin Islands. But this is still sort of like going from the sauna to the polar bear plunge for the Hoosiers, whose climb in the polls has come courtesy, shall we say, friendly scheduling. Beginning with this game, they'll play South Carolina and Baylor in the span of 24 hours. It's an opportunity for a big, young and talented team and fifth-year, do-everything guard Ali Patberg. If the Hoosiers can just compete and have enough left for Washington State on Saturday, the Big Ten will be on notice. -- Hays
No. 7 Oregon State (5-0) at No. 16 Miami (3-0)
When: 2 p.m. ET on Nov. 29 (ACC+)
Where: Miami Thanksgiving Classic (Coral Gables, Florida)
Oregon State loves to make this window count. It played at Duke over Thanksgiving two years ago. It played South Carolina and Notre Dame in Canada a year ago. Now it's a road trip to Miami, where it will also play Liberty the following day. The Beavers faced good competition en route to winning the Preseason WNIT, but they didn't face a post presence like Beatrice Mompremier. That makes Oregon State freshman Taylor Jones one of the most interesting players to watch next week. The 6-foot-4 star recruit has been as good as advertised so far, averaging 16 points, 7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. -- Hays
No. 22 South Florida (4-1) vs. Notre Dame (3-2)
When: 11 a.m. ET on Nov. 30
Where: Cancun Challenge: Mayan Tournament (Cancun, Mexico)
The expectations were modest for both teams coming into the season, but it has turned into the rare occurrence of Notre Dame being unranked and facing a ranked opponent. The Bulls have exceeded expectations with an impressive win over Texas and by taking Baylor to the fourth quarter on the road. Notre Dame -- with already enough to overcome with a revamped roster -- has had to navigate a couple of more speed bumps, and it hasn't been smooth amid inexperience and too few able bodies.
South Florida coach Jose Fernandez has done an amazing job, putting together the pieces of his largely international roster into a quickly cohesive unit. The Bulls zipped into the AP Top 25 just as the Irish fell out for the first time in 12 years. USF likes to shoot the 3-pointer, and Notre Dame's young players are still figuring out all of their rotations. But the Irish will get plenty of practice finding shooters in their first two games in Cancun, against Florida Gulf Coast and South Dakota State. -- Creme
No. 1 Oregon (3-0) vs. No. 8 Louisville (4-0)
When: 3:15 p.m. ET on Nov. 30
Where: Paradise Jam: Island Division (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands)
Without Asia Durr, Louisville coach Jeff Walz believes he has four or five players capable of scoring 15 to 20 points on a given night -- and it's up to him to know the hot hand in the fourth quarter. In this case, the challenge will be making the fourth quarter matter. But more than any team Oregon will face before Pac-12 play (not including, you know, Team USA), Louisville has the depth to test the top-ranked team's bench. So far, Oregon's subs haven't needed to play many high-pressure, high-leverage minutes. Here's their chance. -- Hays
No. 5 South Carolina (5-0) vs. No. 2 Baylor (5-0)
When: 8 p.m. ET on Nov. 30
Where: Paradise Jam: Reef Division (St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands)
When the field for this event in St. Thomas was announced, this was the game everyone circled. How about a possible Elite Eight/Final Four-quality matchup in November? This one is strength on strength, length on length. Neither team will beat the other shooting jump shots. It could be a battle of attrition inside of 15 feet. Even without Lauren Cox, Baylor will be a huge challenge -- think 6-2 NaLyssa Smith, 6-6 Erin DeGrate and 6-3 Queen Egbo attacking the glass -- for 6-4 freshman Aliyah Boston, who has quickly become an anchor for Dawn Staley.
Baylor point guard Te'a Cooper playing against the team she laced them up for just last season is, of course, the intriguing side story. Cooper might be tasked with slowing down another big-time South Carolina freshman, guard Zia Cooke, who has gotten better with each game. -- Creme
No. 6 Texas A&M (3-0) vs. No. 12 Florida State (4-0)
When: 8:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 1
Where: Maggie Dixon Classic (Fort Worth, Texas)
Can guards who have been so good offensively -- such as Florida State's Nausia Woolfolk and Nicki Ekhomu -- be just as effective at that end of the floor when also having to chase Texas A&M's Chennedy Carter around at the other? The Seminoles passed one SEC test at LSU behind the aforementioned guards combining for 37 points, but Carter and the Aggies raise the stakes. Texas A&M has been challenged far more with games against Duke, Rice and an exhibition game against the U.S. women's national team. We might look back on this game in March as the chief reason why one of these teams is a No. 2 seed and the other a No. 3. -- Creme