At the beginning of the season, we saw a pretty big stretch of non-conference games coming up before Christmas. Here, let's set the stage:
While we're at it, Tennessee doesn't lack for out-of-conference toughness. If they're going anywhere this season, the Lady Vols will know early. The schedule doesn't really get out-and-out difficult until December, but back-to-back-to-back dates against Texas, Baylor, and Stanford will tell us a lot about how good this team is. The first two of those are straight road dates, and while Texas is certainly winnable, school will be in session against Baylor. Of the Ladies' three losses last year, two came to Baylor and Stanford - both of whom are in the preseason top 5 (Baylor has even skimmed a first-place vote from another team whose name I dare not write in this space. But ESPN will tell you all about them.)
Of course, I also wrote off Georgetown one sentence after that, which: oops! That doesn't change this stretch, though - Baylor and Stanford are expected to challenge for #1 seeds this season, and rightfully so. It's that fourth seed that's up for grabs. If the Ladies want to establish themselves as a national title contender, it begins tonight. Expected starters are below:
Yeah, you'll hear a little bit about Griner tonight. Baylor's offense runs through her, but don't mistake that for thinking she's the entire team. With an interior presence like hers, a couple of dominant three-point shooters can really make things difficult for defenses ...and hey, lookit that. Jones and Sims are both above 40% from beyond the arc this season.
For the Ladies, the big thing to note here is that Glory's going to draw the difficult assignment; Kelley Cain will play but early returns are that she's coming off the bench. As a result, I'm tabbing Manning for the start, but I can easily see Taber Spani (or even Vicki Baugh) as the fifth starter. Regardless of who gets that start, the key will be denying supply to Griner on the interior. Ferocious on-ball defense will help this greatly, so look for the defensive stoppers such as Manning to get a lot of action. Bjorklund will need to do her part, and Simmons will have to put her energy to good use.
This is just about as tough as they'll come. Let's see if the Ladies pass.