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Five unranked women’s college basketball teams to watch out for

Sophomore transfer Jaz Shelley leads Nebraska in nearly every statistical category so far this season. (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This week, we are talking about teams on the outskirts of the women’s college basketball rankings. These are the kinds of squads that aren’t necessarily getting recognition, but are the ones you don’t want to see as the opponent on your favorite team’s schedule.

Let’s dive into the five unranked programs worth keeping an eye on as the NCAA season ramps up.

Nebraska

The Cornhuskers surprised a lot of people by being one of the last undefeated teams. They started the season 11-0 before losing four of their last five games. Two of those losses came to an Iowa team that has crept back into the top 25, and one was against No. 6 Indiana. No shame in falling to either of those opponents. The one win in the five-game stretch was a double-digit victory over No. 8 Michigan, a team whose only other loss came against No. 3 Louisville. That’s an impressive resume if you ask me.

I’ve been pretty vocal about my appreciation for the Big Ten this year, and I still believe it’s the best conference in college basketball right now. Nebraska is likely to lose at least a couple of other games before the season is done. But the Huskers also have another chance to upset Indiana as well as games against Maryland and Ohio State to showcase their talent. Nebraska is eighth in the country with 81.4 team points per game and is giving up just 62.1 points per game, so the foundation for success is there.

Oregon

I’ll admit this is somewhat of an obvious pick, especially since I doubt Oregon goes another week without being ranked. Regardless, I think the Ducks deserve some recognition. After opening the season ranked in the top 10, Oregon fell out of the top 25 altogether while dealing with injuries to key starters. The Ducks hit a low point on Dec. 1 when they lost to UC Davis, but after beating No. 7 Arizona and No. 9 UConn this past week, Oregon appears to be realizing its potential at last.

Sophomore guard Te-Hina Paopao — who missed nine games earlier in the season with a knee injury — was a notable bright spot during the two-game stretch, scoring 24 points against Arizona in overtime and notching 22 points and eight rebounds against UConn. Coach Kelly Graves has a knack for getting the most out of his players, and I expect Oregon to have a strong finish to the season.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies have had a relatively unremarkable 12-4 season thus far, with the high point being two wins over Duke (ranked 15th and 16th in those contests), but they have the pieces to contend in the ACC and into the postseason. With one of the best posts in the country, Elizabeth Kitley, leading the way with 18.6 points, 7.4 rebounds per game, and the skilled guard duo of Aisha Sheppard and Kayana Traylor, Virginia Tech has the potential to beat some of the ACC’s top teams. The Hokies have ranked teams NC State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Louisville all left on their schedule, so more upsets and an ascension into the top 25 are within reach.

Kansas State

If Kansas State was on your radar before the season started, it was likely because of Ayoka Lee. The junior center has been as good as advertised, averaging 23.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and scoring over 30 points on six occasions. Kansas State as a team, however, has remained relatively under the radar despite having only one bad loss (Texas Tech), a major upset (Baylor) and two other solid wins (West Virginia and Oregon).

The Wildcats were probably four points away from being in a completely different national conversation, but ultimately lost to No. 9 Iowa State 73-70 on Jan. 11. If that game went the other way, Kansas State would have had a chance to vault into the top 20 even with their subsequent loss to Texas Tech on Saturday. As it stands, Kansas State is a sleeper team to keep an eye on.

South Florida

Maybe it’s wishful thinking at this point, but I think South Florida is a solid team that’s capable of making noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulls are currently 12-5 and were ranked as high as 13th this season. Losing to Tennessee by three points and to a full-strength UConn squad by seven are what I would consider “good” losses. Victories over Oregon and Stanford are both good wins. But losing to Ole Miss is bad, and losing to UT Arlington is terrible.

At this point, I think South Florida is the kind of team that can beat almost anyone, but also lose to almost anyone. That kind of inconsistency makes it hard to evaluate the Bulls, but it also means they could be a strong upset candidate in March.

AP Poll talk

As discussed in my last notebook, I’m happy with South Carolina at No. 1, but I still think Louisville should be in the No. 2 spot rather than Stanford. Indiana and Tennessee are a toss-up for the No. 5 spot, and UConn should be out of the top 10 at this point, but the top of the poll is in good shape overall.

I’ve been a Maryland believer for most of the season, but right now the Terrapins are consistently inconsistent, and it’s been tough to get a read on them. Their loss to then-No. 11 Michigan on Sunday can be forgiven, but against ranked opponents generally, Maryland has yet to really impress me. The Terrapins’ best win came against Baylor in November, but the Bears haven’t done much to win favor since then. So, for me, Maryland is out of the top 15. They need to win one of their upcoming rematches against Michigan and Indiana to regain some of the hype they had at the start of the season.

Last time, I argued that South Florida was a top-20 team. The Bulls haven’t lost since then, but my opinion has changed. As I outlined above, I think the Bulls are capable of doing damage in the postseason, but I’ve been overselling them as things stand now.

I’m happy to see both Colorado and Florida Gulf Coast in the rankings this week. The Buffs have been on the outskirts for a while now, but I think they’ve been consistent enough for a low-level ranking. As for FGCU, I thought their lower-level competition in the Atlantic Sun would keep them out of the rankings, but I’m glad to see AP voters no longer holding that against them.

JWS’ Top 25 in Week 11

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

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.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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