Commentary

Underestimated Duke heads to UConn

No. 3 Blue Devils (20-0) might have edge over Huskies in depth, interior game

Originally Published: January 28, 2011
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

DURHAM, N.C. -- It's kind of strange. There's a team from a major conference in women's basketball that is undefeated at the end of January, and yet … it's not ranked No. 1. Or even No. 2.

Instead, 20-0 Duke is third in the polls behind Baylor and Connecticut, which each have one loss. The Blue Devils are getting two first-place votes in the coaches' poll, one in the media rankings. But at least as far as voters are concerned, Baylor and UConn are clearly in front.

All this just might get shaken up by the time the coaches' poll is released again Tuesday. By then, Baylor will have played before a raucous crowd at No. 5 Texas A&M (1 p.m. ET Sunday) and Duke will have done the same at UConn's Gampel Pavilion (7 p.m. ET Monday).

It's the first of two regular-season meetings for Baylor and A&M; they'll meet again in Waco, Texas, on Feb. 14, and also could face off in the Big 12 tournament in March, too. For Duke and UConn, this meeting interrupts their ACC and Big East schedules; the Huskies also have one more nonconference meeting, with Oklahoma on Feb. 14 in Hartford.

The Duke-UConn matchup might have important NCAA tournament seeding implications. Especially if they both end up winning their leagues' regular-season and tournament titles.

Of course, we should also mention No. 4 Stanford, which is getting one first-place vote in the media poll, and No. 6 Tennessee. Thursday, Stanford moved to 8-0 in the Pac-10 by crushing Oregon, while Tennessee elevated to 8-0 in the SEC after coming alive in the second half against Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs have never defeated Tennessee, and their 37-35 halftime lead was, indeed, an illusion. Tennessee roared back for an 81-55 victory. Stanford faces Oregon State on Saturday; Tennessee travels to Arkansas on Sunday.

Upsets seem rather unlikely in those games, which puts all the more focus on Baylor-A&M and Duke-UConn.

The Blue Devils have a 3-5 series record against the Huskies, losing in an 81-48 pasting last season in Durham. That was a UConn team, though, that had Tina Charles, Kalana Greene and Caroline Doty. The current version -- starring Maya Moore and Tiffany Hayes but left without much post depth after the transfer of Samarie Walker -- goes against 8-11 Cincinnati on Saturday.

At least in terms of personnel, the Blue Devils would appear to have a depth advantage. But Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie sort of shrugged at the suggestion that depth could be a major factor.

"We don't know," she said. "That's a 'focus' game -- the crowd, the noise. If everybody can be focused, then our depth can be helpful. We'll see. I've coached in Gampel before; it's loud. It will be about who can keep their poise.

"If you take a bunch of quick shots against Connecticut, that's about the worst thing you can do. Because they do make you pay quickly. They're a pretty well-oiled group, depth or no depth."

But Duke at least has an edge on the interior, right?

"It seems that way on paper, but I can't get over this Dolson thing," McCallie said, referring to UConn freshman post player Stefanie Dolson, who is averaging 7.6 points and 5.0 rebounds. "You're saying, 'Freshman, starting,' and yet she holds her own. Tina Charles is a very special player, and there's nobody like her out there. But you have to give credit to Dolson."

On Jan. 17, UConn faced Duke's ACC rival, North Carolina, and soundly defeated the Tar Heels 83-57. Duke senior guard Jasmine Thomas said she didn't watch that matchup on television.

"I saw the Stanford game," Thomas said of UConn's streak-busting loss to the Cardinal on Dec. 30. "I'd say that's pretty uncharacteristic of them. I know they'll be ready to play at home."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.