Top 10 games to watch

Updated: November 12, 2003, 5:09 PM ET
By Melanie Jackson | Special to ESPN.com

Two days into the 2003-04 season, the second-ranked team (Duke) clashes with No. 3 (Texas). Then No. 5 (Kansas State) battles the ninth-ranked team (Purdue) a couples hours later to cap the State Farm Tip-Off Classic doubleheader.

In the WNIT semifinals, Texas Tech could end up playing either Utah or UC Santa Barbara, with Rutgers possibly waiting on the other side of the bracket. And that's just the first nine days of the season.

Then, of course, we'll also get the usual blockbusters between Tennessee-UConn (Feb. 5), UConn-Duke (Jan. 3) and Duke-Tennessee (Jan. 24).

A look at 10 of the top games to watch this season:

Nov. 16: State Farm Tip-Off Classic (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Duke-Texas (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
Kansas State-Purdue (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
An early glimpse at the Final Four field? We'd pay just to see the 3 vs. 3 matchup of Texas' Stacy Stephens, Heather Schreiber and Jamie Carey vs. Duke's Alana Beard, Iciss Tillis and Monique Currie. But we also can't wait to get a first glimpse at highly touted freshmen Tiffany Jackson (Texas) and Brittany Hunter (Duke).

Same goes for the Wildcat rookies, who will finally offer K-State's talented starters some depth. When they're on, the Wildcats' starting five is about as good as it gets, though the Purdue senior foursome of Shereka Wright, Erika Valek, Lindsey Hicks and Beth Jones have been largely underrated this preseason and have plenty of motivation -- and the luxury of playing on their homecourt. Now, they beat a top-five team for the first time since 2000?

A week later, on Nov. 23, Duke and Purdue clash in the Jimmy V Classic (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), which should be another great game. Nobody's left from the Blue Devil and Boilermaker teams that clashed in the 1999 NCAA title game. But while the faces have come and gone, these programs have remained among the nation's best.

Also, K-State could end up clashing with Penn State on Nov. 29 in a tournament in the Bahamas.

NOV. 21: LSU AT PENN STATE
7 p.m. ET
Some (not us) believe that LSU shouldn't be a top-10 team because its inside game is suspect after the Lady Tigers' top posts graduated. But the backcourt matchup alone makes this game intriguing.

LSU's perimeter is fantastic, and might just have the quickness it takes to contain high-scoring Lady Lion Kelly Mazzante, who has one of the quickest releases in the game. The senior class' heir apparent, LSU's Seimone Augustus, and Tiger teammates Temeka Johnson and Doneeka Hodges, need to continue playing like they did last season when they reached the Elite Eight. Johnson's matchup with Penn State point guard Jess Strom also should be thrilling.

The Lady Lions get another tough test on Dec. 7 when Texas comes to Happy Valley for another blockbuster, while LSU hosts Rutgers on Dec. 2.

DEC. 14: TENNESSEE AT STANFORD
3 p.m. ET, Fox
Before a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Minnesota last March ended Stanford's 26-game home winning streak, Stanford hadn't been defeated at Maples Pavilion since Dec. 16, 2001 -- by Tennessee.

Revenge storylines aside, don't forget that these two programs combined for six NCAA titles in the 1990s and eight national championships overall. And the success isn't just a thing of the past. Also consider that two of the winningest female coaches will clash, and that most fans will use the outcome to get a good gauge on both programs, especially since Stanford still hasn't quite lived up to its promise of returning to the elite level and Tennessee is waiting to see who will step up and be this season's star.

The Cardinal also host Georgia, another SEC powerhouse, on Nov. 30, and travels to Texas Tech on Dec. 21.

DEC. 20: GEORGIA AT TEXAS
Big 12/SEC Challenge, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
One of the top frontcourts in the Big 12 takes on one of the best post games in the SEC when the Lady Dogs and Longhorns clash. Senior Jamie Carey probably has the edge in the backcourt, however, but don't underestimate Georgia's Sherill Baker and Alexis Kendrick, who have been compared to Saudia Roundtree and Teresa Edwards.

The next day, Tennessee and Oklahoma play for just the second time (the Lady Vols routed OU in their season opener last season) as the Big 12/SEC Challenge continues. Pat Summitt is the most decorated female coach in the game, but some say younger coaches such as OU's Sherri Coale could be headed down the same road. Either way, they're two of the most charismatic and respected women in the game, and their teams always come prepared (3 p.m. Dec. 21, ESPN2).

DEC. 28: TEXAS AT TENNESSEE
3 p.m. ET
Entering the season, the Lady Vols have won 18 consecutive home games, dating back to a loss on Feb. 12, 2002 -- against Texas.

At the time, the Longhorns' win snapped their 13-game losing streak to Tennessee. Since, Texas has added another win to the series, thanks to a nothing-but-net 3-pointer with 1 second left by then-freshman Nina Norman to lift the 'Horns to a 63-62 victory.

So will Texas end another Lady Vol home winning streak, or will Tennessee finally tame Texas again? Either way, this rivalry is an oldie but a goodie. Texas and Tennessee first played in 1978 and have played every year since 1982. And oh yeah -- Tennessee's Pat Summitt and Texas' Jody Conradt both joined the 800-win club last season and are the fifth and sixth all-time winningest Division I coaches, respectively, in men's and women's basketball.

JAN. 3: DUKE AT CONNECTICUT
2 p.m. ET, CBS, Hartford Civic Center
If last season's game is any indication, this matchup -- presumably between No. 1 and No. 2 -- will be a battle.

In front of 9,314 fans, the first sellout at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Duke women, the Blue Devils started cold and trailed by 19 points at halftime after going scoreless over the final 7 minutes, 15 seconds of the first half. A furious second-half rally pulled the Blue Devils within six points with less than a minute remaining, but UConn clinched the win at the foul line.

The victory also ended up giving the unbeaten Huskies the No. 1 ranking as Duke fell to 20-1.

This time around, though, Duke should have Monique Currie on the court, which is always a bonus.

JAN. 18: HOUSTON AT TCU
3 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Two words: Chandi Jones. Our experts named her one of the country's top five wings. Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor calls her the "real deal."

Now's your chance (and they've been few and far between over the years) to catch the senior, who led the nation in scoring last season.

TCU also is an up-and-coming program that has reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons.

JAN. 19: RUTGERS AT CONNECTICUT
2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Tune in to see the Huskies' best competition in the Big East.

And if you haven't seen Scarlet Knights point guard Cappie Pondexter play yet, now is the time.

A win here could be the difference down the line as Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer closes in on her 700th win (she has 674 wins to start the season). They play again on Feb. 14.

JAN. 24: TENNESSEE AT DUKE
6 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Last season, the Cameron Crazies came out in full force when their Blue Devils hosted UConn. Expect more of the same when the Orange Nation comes to town.

The young, all-time series was tied 2-2 after Duke dismantled Tennessee 76-55 last year in the inaugural women's Jimmy V Classic. Alana Beard had 22 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and five steals in the win. But then Tennessee took a 3-2 lead after beating Duke in the Final Four.

FEB. 5: CONNECTICUT AT TENNESSEE
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols have lost four straight -- and five of the last six -- matchups against their archrival since Diana Taurasi entered the picture.

Tennessee-killer Taurasi averages 23 points against the Lady Vols and has never scored less than 12 points against Summitt's crew.

THE ONE-AND-DONE CLUB
Every conference game counts -- especially when some of the top teams in the nation's most competitive leagues play just once. Here are a few of the one-and-done matchups:

Jan. 25: LSU at Georgia: The Lady Tigers got the best of the Lady Dogs' last season, winning 68-64 in Baton Rouge. But that was before LSU graduated the bulk of its inside game, and against Georgia's Christi Thomas and Kara Braxton, that could mean trouble.

Jan. 13: Connecticut at Notre Dame: Since beating UConn in the 2001 national semifinals, the Irish have lost their last three meetings with the Huskies by a combined 70 points. But now Notre Dame says its ready to return to national prominence. Here's your chance to prove it.

Feb. 29: Kansas State at Texas: The Longhorns and Wildcats finished 1-2 in the league last season, and both were ranked in the top five of nearly every preseason poll. But while Texas won the Big 12 title, keep in mind that Texas' only league loss was against K-State, which has won four in a row against the 'Horns. In fact, as ESPN.com columnist Mechelle Voepel recently pointed out, K-State had only two conference victories in 2001, and one was against Texas.

Feb. 28: Connecticut at Villanova: The Wildcats were the only team to beat the Huskies last season, and the loss snapped UConn's NCAA Division I women's record of 70 consecutive victories. Then, after the media picked up on the budding friendship between Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and Villanova coach Harry Perretta, UConn coach Geno Auriemma referred to the friendship as "nauseating" and humorously accused Perretta of "dumping me for the 'evil empire.' None of it will matter, UConn will likely win this game and most of you reading this probably feel a little nauseated that we even brought it up. But we couldn't resist. Plus, no way is Diana Taurasi going to let a loss to 'Nova happen again.

Feb. 29: LSU at Tennessee: Who beat the Lady Vols in last season's SEC title game? That would be the Lady Tigers, courtesy of Temeka Johnson's 24 points, nine rebounds (remember, she's 5-foot-3!) and seven assists. Johnson scored most of her baskets on easy layups as she beat her defender to the basket. "Everybody likes to play us in a zone and I guess Tennessee being stubborn likes to play us in a man," Johnson said. The win gave LSU its first league tournament title since 1991 and snapped Tennessee's 19-game winning streak. After the game, Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said, "Johnson is the difference-maker for them. We didn't have an answer for her."

Melanie Jackson coordinates ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail the Dish at Melanie.J.Jackson.-ND@espn3.com.

Melanie Jackson | email

Women's Basketball
Melanie Jackson is ESPN.com's women's basketball editor.

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