Five Things We've Learned So Far: Rice is still dominating and is A&M the best team in Texas?

Photo by Russell Wilburn

This is normally where you'd be reading this week's WBB Watch Guide, but we don't have a full week of college basketball coming up, as the three-day break around Christmas interrupts the schedule. So, here's a quick look at the schedule, followed by an overarching look at five things that I've learned so far during the first month of the women's college basketball season.

Tuesday, December 22

Houston at Memphis at Noon
ESPN+

Oral Roberts at TCU at 1 p.m.

Oklahoma State at North Texas at 5 p.m.
ESPN+

 

Monday, December 28

Our Lady of the Lake at Sam Houston State at 6:30 p.m.
Bearkat Sports Network

So, not a ton to watch! But hey, let's take this break as a chance to reflect on some things.

 

Baylor has figured things out

Baylor got off to a rough-enough start — a loss to Arkansas and a near-loss to South Florida — that I wrote about those struggles, but the Lady Bears have sorted their issues out.

They've posted record-breaking numbers during their past couple of games, and concerns about their shooting have been assuaged by the emergence of freshman Sarah Andrews. UCLA transfer Jaden Owens is now eligible after the NCAA blanket-approved all waivers, adding depth to a backcourt that had been in some real need for depth.

This team is still a little uneven, but there's enough shooting now to open things up on the inside for NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo. Baylor is back to its dominant ways, and are one of the best teams in the country.

 

The Aggies may be the state's best team

But, uhh, is Baylor the best team in Texas?

The Aggies are making a great case for that title. Plenty of people were concerned about this team faltering some now that Chennedy Carter is in the WNBA, but A&M's depth has helped them play arguably better basketball than they were playing last year.

A&M is 8-0, with wins over DePaul, Texas, and Rice, plus victories over two of the top Southland teams in Abilene Christian and Sam Houston State.

N'dea Jones has been a key piece on the interior, averaging 13.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.  Kayla Wells is providing some great leadership in the backcourt. Destiny Pitts is draining threes. Aaliyah Wilson, Jordan Nixon, Ciera Johnson, Alexis Morris...the depth here is just astounding, and that's without Zaay Green playing yet. 

 

Charli Collier makes a name for herself

Those of us in Texas already knew that Charli Collier was a great basketball player, but the rest of the basketball world woke up to that too after she put up 44 points and 16 rebounds against North Texas.

Suddenly, I'm not alone in thinking that Collier — should she forego her senior season — should be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft.

But even if Collier sticks around in Austin for a while longer, she should stay in the national conversation due to her ability to be a stretch five. She can score on the interior, but can also stop at the 3-point line and drill a long-range shot. She can get inside on defense and block some shots. Even if the Longhorns aren't a championship contender in Vic Schaefer's first season, Collier's dominance will have plenty of people watching this team.

 

Rice isn't missing a beat

Erica Ogwumike graduated, so you might have thought that the Owls would take a step back? But instead, they're 4-1, with that loss coming in a close one against Texas A&M.

How is Rice still so good? The easy answer is to say that Nancy Mulkey deserves the credit, and that wouldn't be wrong, as the 6-foot-9 center is averaging 14.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. But one player doesn't make a team, and the Owls are getting some strong contributions elsewhere on the roster.

Haylee Swayze is shooting 70.6 percent from 3-point so far off of the Rice bench. Jasmine Smith and Sydne Wiggins are both shooting over 50 percent from the field. This is optimizing Mulkey's talent by starting her with four shooters and so far it's working.

 

The Southland and WAC are going to look really different soon

Perhaps the biggest news of the season so far isn't something that happened on the court: realignment.

As reported by Matt Brown and confirmed by our Shehan Jeyarajah, four teams are planning to leave the Southland and join the WAC in the near future: Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Abilene Christian, and Lamar.

You might recognize that as three of the best women's basketball programs in the Southland. The only three Southland teams over .500 at the time of writing are ACU, SFA, and SHSU. Lamar is 1-6, but are still a feisty team.

This move is going to fundamentally change the landscape of women's basketball in Texas. The three dominant Southland schools should be able to find instant success in the WAC, where they'll join in-state teams UTRGV and Tarleton. teams like Grand Canyon and California Baptist will provide some strong competition, though, making this one of the most fun mid-major conferences in America.

But what about the Southland? As currently constructed, a young team like Incarnate Word could have a real chance to build a winning program. The Cardinals have recruited the San Antonio area well, adding local products Myra Bell, Brenna Perez, and Zaya Price this year. With a power vacuum atop the conference, there's a real chance for this team to contend for NCAA Tournament bids in the near future.

Of course, the Southland might expand too. What if they get some top D-II teams to move up? What if they can court someone like Texas Southern? Lots of questions here, but what we do know is that we're a year or two away from basketball looking very, very different in Texas.

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