As November turns into December and the 2020-21 women’s college basketball season is just beginning, no one can say exactly what March and April will be like. The season has less than a week, but scheduling games will be a constant challenge this season.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many games have already been “canceled” or “postponed”, words that used to be reserved for baseball, but are now common in our favorite indoor sport.
The NCAA women’s tournament can look the same as always or it can be played in one place.
But if there is any certainty it is that choosing the teams for the field, sowing and putting in the key will still have this basic premise: “Who did you play and who did you defeat?”
This brings us back to the schedule and how it will affect the decision making of the NCAA women’s tournament selection committee. As always, schedules are not created equal, but this season especially, this is not meant to judge how well a coach or program has done with its schedule. Different areas of the country have different rules regarding travel, testing and quarantine. And as we’ve seen this season, no one can control or predict when a game is canceled.
We are looking at which games in the coming weeks could impact the hopes, seeds and clashes of the NCAA tournament the most. So, which schools will be helped the most and which can be hurt by the non-conference schedules they were able to set up?
Best non-conference schedules
South Carolina Gamecocks: Gamecocks are widely considered the best team in the country. With possibly the largest non-conference schedule in the country, they may be able to prove it. Like most teams in the “best” category, South Carolina has benefited greatly from being able to compete successfully in a multi-team and game event. The Gamecocks won two quality midfielders in South Dakota and No. 21 Gonzaga on consecutive days at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, over the weekend. This week, Gamecocks are scheduled to play a pair of the top 20 teams: at home against No. 8 NC State on Thursday (ESPN2, 7 pm ET) and at No. 15 Iowa State on Sunday (ESPNU, mid- ET day). Temple completes the pre-SEC part of the schedule. A break from the conference on February 8 brings a trip to Storrs, Connecticut, to play against No. 3 UConn in what will be one of the highlight games of the season. If Gamecocks are the No. 1 seed overall in the NCAA tournament, it’s time they deserve it.
UConn Huskies: Despite a positive COVID-19 test within the program that placed the Huskies in a 14-day quarantine and forced the cancellation of the entire pre-Big East part of their schedule, UConn still has one of the best non-conference schedules in the country . The Huskies will not play in Mississippi State or Louisville as scheduled – two of the games were canceled last week – but in January they have trips scheduled to Baylor and Tennessee before receiving South Carolina in early February. There are three likely opponents of the NCAA tournament and two potential No. 1 seeds in Gamecocks and Lady Bears. It is not the challenge of non-conference opponents that Geno Auriemma normally aligns with, but if these three games are played, the UConn roster is as difficult as any other this season.
Maryland Terrapins: Saturday’s loss to 24th at Missouri State at the Beach Bubble event in Fort Myers, Florida, testified that all the new faces of the Terps still need some time to graduate. The explosion of Arkansas’s number 14 on Sunday showed that growth can occur quickly. The fact that Maryland has two main opponents in its non-conference schedule can also pay big dividends during the selection process. With conference games being such a high percentage of a team’s rating this season, any small difference can help. If the Big Ten are grouped at the top, the Terps will have an advantage over teams like Ohio State, Northwestern and even Indiana in whatever schedule metric strength the committee uses.
Arkansas Razorbacks: The Razorbacks may have done nothing for their profile in the 115-96 loss to Maryland on Sunday, but they also defeated Wake Forest (which was good enough to topple the state of Missouri) and a dangerous midfielder on the Gulf Coast of Florida, who was playing on his court. Arkansas also got the best possible race for curriculum building at the SEC / Big 12 Challenge, with a home game against No. 4 Baylor on Sunday (ESPN2, 6 pm ET). Coach Mike Neighbors also managed to schedule the maximum number of games outside the SEC. Street games at SMU and Little Rock certainly won’t hurt, and the more the committee has to evaluate, the better.
Worst non-conference schedules
Oregon State Beavers: In many ways, almost any Pac-12 team could be on this list. The conference’s decision to go to 22 league games does not leave much space on the calendar when 25 games is the maximum. Add to that the late pivot of the Pac-12, from initially not having basketball until early January and then agreeing with the NCAA’s decision to open on November 25, and the coaches were a little handcuffed trying to build any kind of programming. not conference.
The Beavers were injured again when the games against Eastern Washington and Idaho were canceled. Scott Rueck was only able to replace them with exhibitions against the NAIA Montana-Western and Carroll College schools. At this point, Oregon State has no other non-conference games scheduled, so the Beavers’ full assessment for the NCAA tournament will come from Pac-12 games, starting with home disputes against Utah and Colorado this weekend. In a battle to align with other schools that have played a few non-conference games, this will hurt Oregon State’s chances in comparison. Even if it’s not your own fault.
Syracuse Orange: Even though Orange had managed to play its initial game schedule, there was not much to impress the committee. With most of those games – disputes against Binghamton, Morgan State and Penn State – eliminated, all that remains is Sunday’s victory over Stony Brook, in which powerful Orange fought to score and defeat the Seawolves, and a game against Division II Lincoln (Pa.) University. This is also not much preparation for an ACC season that should now be much better than last season’s 9-9 result.
North Carolina tar heels: The Tar Heels non-conference schedule last season ranked 329th in the country. With Radford, UNC Greensboro, High Point, South Carolina State and Charlotte as opponents this year, it doesn’t look much better. As Courtney Banghart reinstates the program, North Carolina must be improved, breaking a record of 16-14 in its first season at Chapel Hill. Tar Heels still projects itself as a bubble team, however, and none of those games should help the curriculum. The good news is that North Carolina won the first three of those games, scoring more than 90 points in each. If the offense can produce so in the ACC, the Tar Heels may not have to worry about their non-conference strength at the time of selection.
Northwest Wildcats: The Wildcats do not open their season until this Sunday against Bradley. (Maryland, the Northwestern team tied for the Big Ten title a year ago, will have played five games by then.) They continue with just two more games at home non-conference, against Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky, two Conference programs of Ohio Valley that ended 2020 out of the top 200 at the RPI. Like Syracuse and North Carolina above, Wildcats were hampered by the cancellation of the ACC / Big Ten Challenge. Even a game against a quality ACC opponent may have changed that perspective.
Northwestern is experienced and talented enough to compete for the top four, but without non-conference games for curriculum building, it may be necessary to double something close to the winning percentage of last season’s Top Ten.