Upsets cause shake-up among top 16
Grab the Pepto. The first full week of the new year was chock full of upsets, and if it's any indication of what to expect in 2009, then hold on. This won't be a predictable ride.
Ten of the 25 teams in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll lost in a seven-day span that began Monday. While some of the losses can be chalked up to one ranked team beating another, most were not.
It just wasn't safe to be in the Top 25, especially for Texas, Pittsburgh and Rutgers, all of which lost twice.
Thanks to one dominant team (Connecticut) and another (North Carolina) escaping against an in-state rival, the very top was not disturbed too much. UConn remains immune to the upset bug, and Geno Auriemma's bunch is the clear overall No. 1 seed -- and will likely remain so all season if UConn wins at North Carolina next Monday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).
Speaking of the Tar Heels, their overtime survival in Chapel Hill against NC State on Sunday prevented real upheaval near the top of the S-curve. UNC played from behind nearly the entire second half before finding its groove in the extra five minutes. In other seasons, or even other weeks, that kind of performance might have dropped the Tar Heels, even with the win. But with Texas A&M losing and North Carolina's earlier win over Oklahoma, no one is quite there to wrestle away the No. 2 overall spot from the Tar Heels and Sylvia Hatchell, who is now the proud owner of 800 wins.
The Aggies were poised to move up a notch, but in Monday's loss at Florida State, they showed how their offense can sometimes disappear on the wrong night. It wasn't enough to knock Texas A&M out of a No. 1 seed, but the defeat did expose a chink in the armor.
Oklahoma is the fourth No. 1 seed right now, and has been rolling since being dismantled by UConn. The Huskies-Tar Heels meeting Monday is going to overshadow it, but the Sooners playing host to A&M on Sunday is actually a bigger game in the land of Bracketology. The loser will likely lose that top-seed status.
But Big 12 fans should rest assured because right now, Baylor is probably the team most likely to capitalize. The Lady Bears are one point away (a 59-58 loss to Wisconsin) from being in that No. 1 seed spot already. However, the schedule (Baylor plays Texas A&M a week from Wednesday in what is shaping up as a ridiculously difficult stretch for the Aggies) begs the question: Will the Big 12's elite beat each other up so much as to jeopardize the league's actual chances of having multiple No. 1 seeds? Only time and the rest of the country will provide that answer.
Duke, Stanford and Auburn round out the remainder of the No. 2 seeds. A win over Maryland on Monday gives the Blue Devils the best chance to take advantage of those heavyweight Big 12 matchups because their ACC schedule in the next two weeks is extremely manageable. No one would be surprised if Duke was 17-1 overall and 4-0 in conference play heading to a Jan. 29 visit to Florida State.
Now that Auburn has disposed of Florida, the Tigers should remain unbeaten until they entertain Tennessee on Jan. 25 in what should amount to the biggest game for Auburn this decade.
The Cardinal are already thoroughly dominating the Pac-10 again. The winner of Stanford's visit to Cal on Sunday (another huge game for next weekend) will be the front-runner for the regular-season title.
Here's the top 16 on the S-curve through Sunday's games:
Don't get used to it, though. If Week 1 of 2009 is any indication, no team this side of Storrs, Conn., should feel comfortable.
Charlie Creme can be reached at email@example.com.
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