Non-conference play is basically over, which means it's time for things to start counting. There are eight Division I women's basketball conferences that have at least one team from Texas in it, so let's check in on all eight of those conferences and predict a winner based on what we saw in non-conference play.
Predicted champion: South Florida
Since UConn left the American, South Florida has won both conference titles, and the Bulls look poised to win a third in a row this year.
If you look at non-conference numbers, you might wonder how I got to that conclusion, as the team is just sixth in the conference in net rating. But a big part of that has been that USF has played seven games against Quad 1 opponents. No other team has plahyed more than three, and no other team has a win over a Quad 1 team—South Florida has three of them. This Bulls program operates like a power conference team, and the results show up once AAC play begins.
The trio of Elena Tsineke, Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu and Sammie Puisis have South Florida ready to claim another American title.
Predicted champion: Iowa State
Is this finally the year that Baylor's reign atop the Big 12 ends? It sure looks that way. The Bears are 9-3 on the season, but their 1-3 record against Quad 1 opponents is a pretty glaring concern. Baylor's beaten up on lesser teams like always, but something's been missing against the best teams. And yes, that "something" was their best player, Aijha Blackwell, who's back now from a leg injury, but even with Blackwell back, this team doesn't seem to have the firepower to keep up with Iowa State.
The Cyclones are only fourth in the conference in net rating, but their +26.5 net rating still ranks in the 92nd percentile nationally, and there's a little skewing here because the team's played a tougher schedule than a lot of other teams in the conference. No Big 12 team has played fewer Quad 4 teams than Iowa State, or more Quad 1 teams.
Iowa State also has the best player in the conference in wing Ashley Joens, plus some really talented pieces around her like Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski, as well as 6-6 center Stephanie Soares. This feels like Iowa State's year.
Predicted champion: Rice
Of the eight conferences I'm writing about, I think Conference USA is the toughest to get a read on. Middle Tennessee was the preseason pick to win it in the conference's poll, with Rice picked to finish fourth.
Middle Tennessee has been the conference's best team by the numbers, sporting a +25.7 offensive rating and, most importantly, a head-to-head win over Rice to begin conference play, winning 74-68 in Houston.
So, why am I picking Rice, even though they've already lost to their biggest competitor in the conference? Well...because sometimes, you've just got to go with your gut. And my gut says that this Rice team is going to continue to get better.
Sure, Middle Tennessee is 3-0 against Quad 1 teams. But Rice's only played one Quad 1 team, and that was MTSU, so it's hard to really get a sense of how those numbers compare. What matters to me is that Rice has beat everyone else on their schedule, with wins over multiple power conference teams (Texas A&M and TCU). Middle Tennessee has losses against Mercer and Texas Tech, and their big win over Louisville stands out, but Louisville doesn't feel like Louisville right now.
Middle Tennessee is the favorite right now. But Rice is a really talented squad, and a rematch with MTSU on January 11th will probably tell us who wins the conference.
Predicted champion: South Carolina
In most conferences, you can find a valid argument for why a Texas team can come out on top, even if that argument might be a bit of a stretch (see the American). But Texas A&M won't be winning the SEC. The team sits at 5-5, making them the only SEC team that isn't over .500. Meanwhile, South Carolina is undefeated, with wins over Maryland, Stanford and UCLA already. Let's just keep this one short: the Gamecocks are winning the SEC.
Predicted champion: Southeastern Louisiana
The good news for the state of Texas: two of the three Southland teams with a positive net rating are in the state, with UIW at +2.1 and A&M Corpus at +2.0. The bad news? Southeastern Louisiana has a +12.2 net rating.
I don't think Southeastern has an unassailable lead over the rest of the Southland, and four of the five Texas schools are just a tiny little bit behind the Lions, with only Texas A&M Commerce—in its first year as a Division I school—sitting at the bottom of the Southland. A&M Corpus in particular feels like a team that has the talent to go on a run—the duo of Makinna Serrata and Alecia Westbrook is a really talented duo.
But the Lions were the only team to look good offensively in non-conferene. Their 96.4 offensive rating makes them the only Southland school in the top half of the country in points per 100 possessions, and Alexius Horne has arguably been the Southland's best player this season.
Predicted champion: Jackson State
I wanted to say Prairie View here. I really, really did. The Panthers were second in the conference in net rating in non-conference play and they have Diana Rosenthal, one of the most underrated players in the state.
But Jackson State is Jackson State. The team went 18-0 in conference play last year, and the year before they were 14-1. The SWAC hasn't always been a one-team race, but it's turned into that over the past few years.
And while the Tigers are only third in net rating among SWAC teams, they've also played a much together schedule. No SWAC team has a win over a Quad 1 opponent per CBB Analytics, but Jackson State's record is a little skewed from playing seven Quad 1 teams already. Alcorn, which has four wins, the most in the conference, had played just two Quad 1 teams. Plus, Jackson State is undefeated against teams outside of Quad 1. They have the only Quad 2 AND the only Quad 3 wins in the conference. Prairie View's wins are all against non-Division I opponents.
Predicted champion: James Madison
I think Texas State has a shot here. They have a net rating of +21.0, which ranks third in the conference behind Georgia Southern and James Madison. But over the course of a full conference season, I think the Bobcats fall just short, though they have the experience and talent to make a run in the conference tournament.
As for JMU, they're the only 10-win team in the Sun Belt so far, and they have the only win by a Sun Belt team over a Quad 2 opponent. They only lost by 11 to a really good North Carolina team. Kiki Jefferson is averaging 18.3 points per game for the Dukes.
Predicted champion: Stephen F. Austin
Here's another short section. SFA has the best net rating in the WAC. The best offense in the WAC. The most non-conference wins in the WAC. They have the only Quad 2 win in the conference, and are 3-0 against Quad 3 teams. Only two other WAC schools have a record above .500 against Quad 3 opponents, and that's UT Arlington (2-1) and Sam Houston (1-0).
The roster might have been shaken up this year, but the Ladyjacks remain the WAC's best team, and with Cal Baptist taking a step back, it's tough to see anyone really challenging them beyond (maybe) Grand Canyon.