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Battle for supremacy: Which women’s hoops conference is the best?

Tennessee guard Jordan Horston has stepped up in Rae Burrell’s absence due to injury this season. (Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The other day I was chatting on the phone with my editor, and she asked me if I still thought the Big Ten was the top conference this season. When your editor questions your thinking, it’s usually a good idea to reevaluate. So, that’s what we are going to do today.

While the Pac-12 currently has three teams in the top 25, there are four conferences that can make a true case for being No. 1: the SEC, the ACC, the Big 12 and the Big Ten. Let’s break it down.

The SEC

Ranked teams: No. 1 South Carolina, No. 7 Tennessee, No. 15 LSU, No. 14 Georgia

Let’s start with the obvious: The No. 1 team in the country being in your conference gives you major points in this competition. I also count Tennessee as part of a small group of teams I think could win it all come March. Rae Burrell’s injury near the beginning of the season only helped the Vols become more well-rounded. When she was out, the rest of the team had to step up. Now that the senior is back, they will be a better, more experienced team than they were when she went down.

LSU gets points for beating Georgia and sticking with South Carolina in a 66-60 loss. The Tigers also have two losses to conference foes Florida and Arkansas that do nothing for them personally, but make the SEC look more well-rounded. Georgia’s resume is similar to that of LSU. The Bulldogs made some non-conference noise by defeating No. 3 NC State, the ACC’s top team, and then made the SEC look tougher by losing to a struggling Kentucky squad, 84-76 on Jan. 6.

Other teams of note: Ole Miss, Missouri

Ole Miss had a brief stint in the top 25 thanks to a win over Georgia, and Missouri is the only team in the country to defeat South Carolina. Not bad, SEC.

The ACC

Ranked teams: No. 3 NC State, No. 4 Louisville, No. 12 Georgia Tech, No. 20 Notre Dame, No. 24 North Carolina

When it comes to body of work, NC State is one of the most consistent teams in the country. The Wolfpack are 10-0 in the conference and have lost only to No. 1 South Carolina and No. 14 Georgia in overtime. Losing to Georgia was an upset of sorts, but going wire-to-wire with a good, ranked opponent doesn’t scream “bad loss” to me. NC State being the ACC’s top team is a great start for the conference, while Louisville continues to trend in a positive direction. The Cardinals have also lost only two games to good teams (N.C. State and No. 8 Arizona). So at the top of the ACC, we have two teams that are performing exactly how they should be, if not a notch or two better.

Now, here’s where things get interesting to me. NC State and Louisville are the conference’s best teams, but the squad who has the best chance to make a deep run this postseason? That’s Georgia Tech. Defensively, the Yellow Jackets play a gritty, intense style that is hard to replicate in practice. That means they can upset virtually anyone, and I would hate for my team to meet them in the postseason. Notre Dame and North Carolina round out the ranked ACC teams and have yet to get upset this season.

Other teams of note: Duke, Virginia Tech

The Blue Devils and Hokies have each spent weeks in the top 25, and the rest of the season at least flirting with the rankings. But Virginia Tech has some bad losses (Liberty to name one), and Duke hasn’t been healthy enough yet to show their full potential. So, we have some pros and cons for the ACC.

The Big 12

Ranked teams: No. 9 Baylor, No. 11 Iowa State, No. 13 Texas, No. 18 Oklahoma, No. 25 Kansas State

To me, the Big 12 isn’t on the same level as these other three conferences, but for the sake of the argument, let’s dissect it all the same. Baylor has played some tough teams this season, but the problem for the Bears is that they haven’t beaten those teams. Maryland, Michigan, Kansas State and Oklahoma have all downed Baylor. Baylor did beat Iowa State, but to be considered among the elite, you need at least one or two more victories over top squads.

Iowa State has been more consistent than Baylor with just three losses, but their high-caliber wins (other than against Iowa) have come over conference opponents, which makes it challenging to judge the Cyclones outside of the Big 12. Texas’ win over No. 2 Stanford early in the season is something the Longhorns hung their hats on. They have suffered two conference losses since then to Texas Tech and Kansas, but other than that, they have been pretty consistent. Oklahoma has two solid wins outside of the conference, having defeated Oregon and BYU, and Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee has essentially played the Wildcats into the top 25.

Other teams of note: None

Here’s where the conference falls off for me. Outside of the top teams, I haven’t seen anything from the bottom half of the Big 12 that tells me one of those teams has a chance of going on a run or earning an upset win.

But don’t fret too much, Big 12. I’ve been wrong before.

The Big Ten

Ranked teams: No. 5 Indiana, No. 6 Michigan, No. 17 Maryland, No. 23 Ohio State, No. 25 Iowa

Hello to my preseason darling, the Big Ten! I wanted to save the Big Ten for last because, up to this point, you’ve essentially been reading the contents of my brain. I didn’t do any prep work for this because I wanted you, the readers, to be able to follow along as I genuinely worked out my thoughts about these conferences. And now that I’m here, I must confess that I loved this conference going into the season, but three of these teams — Maryland, Ohio State and Iowa — have underperformed.

In my preseason rankings, I had Maryland at No. 4, Iowa at No. 5 and Ohio State at No. 13. I still think these are three solid teams, but they aren’t what they had the potential to be, so that is a point in the negative column for the Big Ten. Indiana and Michigan, meanwhile, have been as advertised. Both teams are consistent and mature, with a roster of players who know how to compete together. They are a great one-two punch when it comes to analyzing the strength of the conference.

Other teams of note: Nebraska

Nebraska has been a nice surprise for those of us playing attention to the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers were undefeated until the start of conference play, and they are the only conference team to defeat Michigan so far.

Conclusion

I think this is a two conference race. The Big 12 doesn’t hold up in my book, so it’s the first conference I’ll eliminate. And as much as it pains me to say, neither does the Big Ten, so it’s also got to go. That leaves me with the ACC and SEC. I love the overall consistency and depth of the ACC, but the SEC has two teams at the top that I think have a legitimate chance to win a national title. I think that gives the SEC a slight edge. So for now, it’s won me over. Congrats, SEC, you reign supreme.

Poll talk

I’m going to keep this short this week. Maybe it’s because I just humbled myself with the above process, but I don’t have too many problems with the current AP Poll. I so think it’s time for Tennessee to move into the top 5 — I’ve seen enough from the Vols to vault them over Indiana, Michigan and Louisville. Their recent upset at the hands of Auburn is what dragged them down, but the overall body of work is good enough for me to overlook it.

Other than that, I’m glad to see Oregon, Ohio State and North Carolina back in the poll, and Kansas State has definitely earned its place.

JWS’ Top 25 in Week 13

  1. South Carolina (20-1)
  2. Stanford (16-3)
  3. NC State (19-2)
  4. Tennessee (19-2)
  5. Louisville (18-2)
  6. Indiana (14-3)
  7. Michigan (19-2)
  8. Arizona (15-3)
  9. Iowa State (18-3)
  10. UConn (13-4)
  11. Georgian Tech (17-4)
  12. Baylor (15-4)
  13. Texas (15-4)
  14. BYU (18-1)
  15. Georgia (16-4)
  16. LSU (18-4)
  17. Oklahoma (18-3)
  18. Maryland (15-6)
  19. Iowa (14-5)
  20. Notre Dame (16-4)
  21. Florida Gulf Coast (19-1)
  22. North Carolina (16-4)
  23. Oregon (14-5)
  24. Kansas State (16-5)
  25. Ohio State (16-4)

Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

WNBA All-Star Voting Stars on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

San Diego Wave Hires Ex-KC Current GM Camille Ashton

San Diego Wave FC new General Manager Camille Levin Ashton visits the training grounds and front office during her introductory tour on Tuesday, June 11, 2024 in Del Mar, California.
New Wave GM Camille Ashton toured San Diego's training grounds on Tuesday. (San Diego Wave)

The San Diego Wave introduced Camille Ashton as their new general manager and sporting director yesterday, three weeks after Ashton resigned from her position as GM of the Kansas City Current.

The 34-year-old former NWSL pro will manage San Diego’s coaching staff and on-field budget, as well as lead player scouting and acquisitions. Ashton joins Wave FC president Jill Ellis and head coach Casey Stoney in an effort to lead the team back to their 2023 NWSL Shield-winning success.

"I’ve known Cami from back in her playing days, and her impressive track record and deep understanding as both a General Manager and former player, combined with her passion and energy make her an exceptional fit with this club," Ellis said in a team statement.

Ashton left a Kansas City team that remains undefeated this season — a significant leap from last year’s 11th-place finish. While at the Current, Ashton inked top offseason free agent Debinha followed by international forwards Temwa Chawinga (Malawi) and Bia Zaneratto (Brazil).

However, not all of Ashton’s roster moves were as well received. High-profile players like Lynn WilliamsCece Kizer, and Alex Loera posted about the mishandling of their abrupt trades, while the parent of a waived 2023 NWSL draftee claimed her daughter was mistreated by Ashton and the club (a subsequent investigation did not result in any public consequences).

When asked about the criticism surrounding the trades, Ashton commented, "There could be a lot of debate… but at the end of the day, that’s the mechanism that we work with right now in the league." 

A Southern California native, Ashton will make the transition to the Wave in the coming weeks.

Riot Fest Forces Red Stars to Move Scheduled NWSL Game

Apr 27, 2024; Bridgeview, Illinois, USA; at SeatGeek Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Red Stars are scrambling to find a solution for a September 21st home game after it was revealed that a music festival would be taking over the team's usual stadium. 

Riot Fest announced on Wednesday that SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois will host the three-day concert event from September 20th through the 22nd. The Red Stars — who were scheduled to play the San Diego Wave on September 21st — have played at SeatGeek since 2016, and recently set an all-time NWSL attendance record during a one-off game at Wrigley Field

As for solutions, those hoping for a return to Wrigley could be out of luck: The Chicago Cubs are set to play the Washington Nationals at home on September 21st.

"It is unfair and unfortunate to have our club put in this situation, shining a light on the vast discrepancies in the treatment of women's professional sports versus men's sports," Red Stars president Karen Leetzow said in tweeted response to the double-booking.

"We are committed to ensuring our players and fans have a first-rate experience on and off pitch, and we are working diligently to find a solution that will ensure our September 21st game is a success."

Since purchasing the Red Stars last year, majority owner Laura Ricketts — a co-owner of the Cubs — has been vocal about finding a more appropriate long-term home for the team. 

"We knew right from the beginning — like, rewind back almost a year and a half ago when we started considering acquiring the Red Stars — we knew that the current [stadium] situation was not the ultimate long-term solution," Ricketts told ESPN in February. "And really, the key to unlocking the door for this organization would be to solve that."

More broadly, Ricketts has been pushing for increased public funding for sports stadiums around Chicago, with both the NFL’s Bears and MLB’s White Sox looking to build new facilities. 

The situation in Bridgeview is the most recent scheduling mishap for the NWSL. Angel City had to reschedule their 2024 season opener weeks before it was to be played due to an "unforeseen scheduling conflict." Additionally, San Diego's new MLS team will reportedly have priority over NWSL side San Diego Wave FC when it comes to scheduling home games at the shared Snapdragon Stadium. 

"It frustrates me again that we’re the established team in the market and a men’s team comes in and gets first picks on the schedule," Wave coach Casey Stoney said last October. "Shame that it continues to happen."

Watch more: "Chicago Forced to Move Match Due to Music Festival" on TikTok

Sam Kerr Announces New Chelsea Contract in Prank Videos

Sam Kerr celebrates a Chelsea win with a backflip
Sam Kerr first signed with Chelsea in 2019. (Eddie Keogh/The FA via Getty Images)

Sam Kerr has signed a new two-year contract with Chelsea. 

The Australian forward teased fans in the announcement, after speculation regarding her future with the club had been swirling for months — particularly with the departure of head coach Emma Hayes. 

In a video posted Thursday morning, Kerr thanked fans for the memories before saying she will "always be Chelsea" in a tone that suggested she was leaving the London club. But 20 minutes later, the team took to social media to announce the striker had actually signed a new two-year deal. 

"Did you guys really think I was gonna end on 99 goals?" asked Kerr in a followup video.

BBC Sport reported that the contract extension fake-out was Kerr’s idea.

"It’s really exciting and a very proud moment for me," Kerr said in a statement. "Having the opportunity to stay at a club like Chelsea means a lot to me. I’m really excited to continue to push and to try to win trophies."

The 30-year-old is currently recovering from an ACL tear sustained in January. The injury will keep her out of the Paris Olympics

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