- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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The amount of basketball available online is pretty remarkable (I'm still kicking myself for steering away from the feed of Oklahoma State's and Michigan State's epic duel this weekend). And with too few hours in the day and dollars in the budget to see every team live, there are a number of quick starts I'm eager to check in on from the comfort of the couch.
No. 16 Vanderbilt (6-0): It wasn't a short list when it came to preseason ranking conundrums, but Vanderbilt had a strong claim to above-the-fold representation. The Commodores lost a lot in Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper, then lost prized recruit Stephanie Holzer to an ankle injury that could delay her collegiate debut until next season. So, do you bank on a good returning core in players such as Merideth Marsh, Lauren Lueders, Jessica Mooney, Jence Rhoads and Hannah Tuomi, or do you bail on a small team possibly stuck between rebuilding and reloading?
So far, albeit it against a cranberry-sauce-soft schedule, the former is winning out. The Commodores knocked off NC State this weekend in their toughest test so far, overcoming both a rebounding deficit (expected) and high turnover total (not as expected). It's difficult to see them shooting 41.8 percent from the 3-point line all season, but so far, so good. Next streamed game: Wednesday vs. Wright State (from Horizon League site, free).
No. 19 Pittsburgh (5-0): Speaking of teams with uncertain futures, the Panthers are still a mystery without Shavonte Zellous, not to mention Xenia Stewart. They took out Florida by 23 points but weren't nearly as dominant on the scoreboard in wins against St. Francis (75-70) and Appalachian State (63-56).
You could say junior Taneisha Harrison is doing a fair Zellous impersonation so far, but the former All-American never had an assist-to-turnover ratio like Harrison's 24 assists and nine turnovers (to be fair, Harrison is also well off Zellous' scoring pace, despite a pair of 25-point games). There were times in last season's Big East tournament when I thought Shawnice "Pepper" Wilson eventually could dominate games. So far, that's still a work in progress. Next streamed game: Wednesday at Youngstown State (from Horizon League site, free).
Oregon (5-1): We knew the stat sheet was going to get more crowded when Paul Westhead arrived, but that didn't necessarily guarantee bigger numbers in the win column. Given the early schedule and its relative lack of tests, that's pretty much still how things rest with the Ducks, but they aren't disappointing on the intrigue front. Three players -- Nicole Canepa, Taylor Lilley and Amanda Johnson -- are averaging at least 14.3 points so far, and Micaela Cocks makes it four in double digits.
The bad news in Eugene is that Wisconsin, also off to a 5-1 start, slowed the game down this weekend and came away with a 58-57 win. Oregon also escaped a trip to rebuilding Montana with just a five-point win in its only road game. The big test before Pac-10 play will come with a three-game road trip to Georgia Tech, Utah and Wyoming before Christmas. Next streamed game: Wednesday vs. Portland (from Oregon's site, appears to require fee).
Wisconsin-Green Bay (5-0): I got a mildly angry e-mail from a Phoenix fan upset they didn't make the cut in the last mid-major top 10. He might be right, but I was reserving judgment on a team that lost a lot from last season's roster (although I have the Twitter proof for a good spot on the Celeste Hoewisch bandwagon). The Phoenix have opened against a slate befitting a team looking to figure out some new roles, but they did knock off Wisconsin in Madison as part of a 5-0 start.
Hoewisch and Kayla Tetschlag appear ready to torment both opponents and spell-checkers, and, in typical UWGB form, just about everyone who plays averages about three assists per game. The Horizon League does a great job getting its games out there for consumption, so it's easy to catch most of the league's teams. Next streamed game: Wednesday vs. DePaul (in this case, from UWGB site, which appears to require a fee).