Why shouldn’t Michigan be ignored? Answering women’s college basketball questions

Another week of women’s college basketball action, another round of storylines and questions. South Carolina remains no. 1 in the AP Top 25, with Stanford, Ohio State, Indiana other Notre-Dame following. As for the rest of the field, UConn may or may not be without Azzi Fudd, UCLA looks primed and ready for Pac-12 play, and Iowa may need more than Caitlin Clark to get to the Final Four.

Let’s get into all of that and more.

1. How will Azzi Fudd’s potential absence impact UConn?

Fudd suffered a knee injury late in the first quarter Sunday against Notre Dame, and she sat out the entire second half. Her absence against the Irish was evident, as UConn struggled to find its offensive rhythm. Fudd was averaging 20.6 points per game while shooting 53.3 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from 3 and 92.3 percent from the free-throw line. She led the Huskies in scoring, usage percentage and points per play. She was also the clear leader on the floor and hit key shots in big moments.

UConn has plenty of players who can step up. Aaliyah Edwards, Dorka Juhasz, Aubrey Griffin other Lou Lopez Senechal are averaging double digits. Still, the Huskies are going to need more from junior Nika Muehl (5.4 ppg) and Caroline Ducharme (5.5 ppg) to remain competitive, potentially without Fudd.

2. Why is Ta’Niya Latson the frontrunner for freshman of the year?

I ranked Florida State‘s Latson as the No. 13 most impactful freshman heading into the season. The Seminoles recruited the top-ranked guard to help fill a scoring void, and Latson has delivered from the jump. With her ability to get to the rim, force turnovers and create shots, she’s leading Florida State in scoring (24.6 ppg), usage (33.9 percent), and player efficiency rating (38.5). She leads all freshmen in points, field goal attempts, and perhaps most importantly, win shares (3.5). The Seminoles are 9-1, and Latson is a big part of the reason why.

3. How has UCLA been able to climb back into the top of the Pac-12?

While Pac-12 play has yet to begin, UCLA (8-1) is right in the mix with Stanford, Arizona other Utah. the no 13 Bruins have stacked up wins against top-60 RPI ranked MarquetteTennessee and South Dakota State — teams that were all ranked when they played. They also gave no. 1 South Carolina a good fight, leading at the half before ultimately losing. Credit coach Cori Close for her recruiting prowess and putting together a backcourt with quickness and savvy on offense and defense. Senior Charisma Osborne is off to her best start with the Bruins, leading them with 20.4 points and 6.8 rebounds, while top freshman Kiki Rice adds 12.1 ppg. The Bruins finished 8-8 and seventh overall in the conference last season, but conference play could end up looking different this time around.

Will LSU exceed expectations again this season? (Jonathan Mailhes/Cal Sport Media via Associated Press)

4. Is LSU a legitimate title contender?

The Tigers are rolling. At 9-0, they are second in the nation in scoring (96.8 points per game) and field-goal percentage (52.6), and they rank first in scoring margin at of 45.7 points. transfer Angel Reese (Maryland) leads the SEC in scoring (23.1) and rebounding (14.2), and is thriving in the post for Kim Mulkey. Freshman Fla’jae Johnson is playing like anything but a rookie, averaging 13.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. By all accounts, LSU looks like a title-contending squad. But since LSU has the 231st toughest schedule in Division I, it’s hard to gauge just how good the Tigers really are. They have yet to face a ranked team and have largely beaten up on softer competition. As things currently stand, LSU won’t face a Top 25 team until February when it goes up against South Carolina. Conference play will provide more insight, but the game against the Gamecocks will be the litmus test.

5. Will Iowa’s lack of scoring depth prevent its Final Four chances?

In Iowa’s three losses so far this season — against Kansas State, UConn and NC State — Caitlin Clark averaged 32.3 points and 5.6 assists. In other words, Clark did what Clark does. The issue for Iowa is the lack of scoring consistency from its supporting players.

The Hawkeyes have three players averaging double digits, including Clark. Her overall win shares (4.1) and offensive win shares (3.6) are significantly higher than anyone else on the team. Yes, Clark’s talents speak to that, and she averages the most field-goal attempts per game (19). But if the Hawkeyes want to make it to the Final Four – which they failed to do last season despite high expectations – other players have to step up. Monica Czinano (16 ppg) is a big part of the equation. But Clark and Czinano cannot carry the full offensive load all season, especially in close games, and games against teams with a tough inside presence. Iowa’s offensive rebounding and scoring defense also need to get better.

6. Why is Louisville struggling this season?

The Cardinals had only five losses in 2021-2022, and they already have four. Louisville has built a reputation as a stout defensive team. Last season, the Cardinals were 23rd in steals, 39th in blocks and 17th in scoring defense, holding opponents to 55.6 points per game. This season, they are 89th in steals, 86th in blocks and allow 67.4 points per game. Emily Engstler is obviously missed, as she led the team in steals, blocks and rebounds. But the Cardinals also have issues on offense. Hailey Van Lith averages nearly 20 points on almost 40 minutes per game, but Chrislyn Carr (a Syracuse transfer) is the only other player in double figures. Louisville needs to reclaim its defensive identity and figure out how to mesh better offensively. Shooting a dismal 27.7 percent in a recent 67-49 loss to Middle Tennessee isn’t going to cut it.

7. How good has Mackenzie Holmes been for Indiana?

On an offensive powerhouse team that has six players averaging 10 points or more, Holmes is having her best year with the Hoosiers, scoring 20.9 points per game on 69.6 percent shooting. Her overall play in the paint has been exceptional. She’s third overall in 2-pointers made (8.9) per game and shoots 72.1 percent. Holmes is involved in 31.6 percent of Indiana’s plays and has a 69.6 effective field goal percentage. She’s been a reliable and consistent presence for the Hoosiers throughout her career. But there’s no doubt Holmes has raised her game to another level this season. She’s fully healthy, quicker, and more efficient and decisive with the ball than ever before.

8. How has Kansas State been able to thrive without Ayoka Lee?

The biggest question for Jeff Mittie and the Wildcats heading into this season was how they’d account for the absence of their best player, Ayoka Lee. The entire offense was built around Lee’s size and ability in the post, to score or kick the ball out to the perimeter for an open 3. She led the team with 22 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. But Kansas State (8-1) has figured it out by using a guard-heavy lineup. sophomores Serena Sundelland Jaelyn and Brylee Glenn average the most minutes per game alongside senior transfer Gabby Gregory (Oklahoma). Gregory has been a valuable veteran asset to the Wildcats lineup, leading the team in scoring (21.1 ppg) and usage (30.4 percent). Kansas State not only takes a lot of 3s, it can also get to the free-throw line by driving to the rim.

9. Why shouldn’t Michigan be overlooked?

Playing in the Big Ten isn’t easy. It’s one of the toughest conferences in women’s college basketball, especially with Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State and Nebraska in the mix. But despite losing Naz Hillmon to the WNBA, no. 14 Michigan (9-0) has picked up right where it left off last season after making it to the Elite Eight. Fifth year senior Emily Kiser has stepped up, and her numbers have exploded across the board. She’s averaging nearly 20 points a game and has become a focal point of the offense along with sophomore Laila Phelia. As a team, Michigan is shooting 49.3 percent from the field. the Wolverines also rebound well, particularly on the offensive glass, and they make those necessary hustle plays. Indiana and Ohio State may be the current hot topics of discussion, but things are going to get interesting when Big Ten play begins.

Reader Questions

10. How many teams can the Big East get in the NCAA Tournament this year?

It’s up in the air at this point, but the competition in the Big East has definitely been on the rise. UConn is still the measuring stick and the team to beat. Creighton has also carried its momentum from last year’s Elite Eight appearance, and Villanova, DePaul, Seton Hall and Marquette are playing well. St. John’s (8-0) has been a pleasant surprise, and it has key wins over Big East opponents Butler and Creighton. The Big East had four teams make the tournament field last season. It could potentially get five, depending on the strength of schedules, but I expect four again this season.

11. Illinois almost upset no. 4 Indiana recently. What do you make of the Fighting Illini team showing some signs of life under new coach Shauna Green?

Illinois (7-2) has already tied its win total from last season. The Illini haven’t had a winning season since 2012, when they went 19-14. But under Green, this team has taken on a new identity. Illinois is currently 10th nationally in offensive rating (114.3) and in the top 30 in defensive rating, holding opponents to 56.4 points per game. Behind former Dayton guard Makira Cook (17.2 ppg), sophomore guard Adalia McKenzie (15.6 ppg), and former NC State guard Genesis Bryant (13 ppg), Illinois has a strong backcourt that can score. Playing in the Big Ten, the Illini have a tough stretch of conference play ahead. But they were able to hang with No. 4 Indiana recently in a 65-61 loss, holding the Hoosiers to their lowest point total of the season.

12. What are your thoughts on Minnesota freshman Mara Brown?

the no 8 ranked point guard in her high school class, Braun has made an immediate impact. Braun is leading Minnesota in scoring (20.6 ppg) and player efficiency rating (26). Overall, she’s the second leading freshman in scoring and field goal attempts (16.4). Braun is clearly comfortable and confident with the ball, and she’s highly involved in the flow of the Gophers’ offense. Her evolution is going to be fun to watch.

(Top photo of Laila Phelia: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

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