How Can Oregon And Baylor Bounce Back From Paradise Jam Losses?

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

A new pair of teams graced the top of the AP women’s basketball poll this week after the No. 1 Oregon Ducks and the No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears each fell to a top-10 opponent on November 30 at the Paradise Jam. While one quality loss isn’t a season-killer by any means, what follows these losses for Oregon and Baylor could be if they aren’t careful.

Both the new No. 1 Stanford Cardinal and new No. 2 Louisville Cardinals have ample opportunity to maintain their positions at the top of the table. Stanford’s slate before Pac-12 play begins includes games against Ohio State, No. 17 Tennessee and at Texas. Louisville can bolster its own undefeated record with four straight upcoming road games, including against Ohio State and No. 15 Kentucky, as it prepares for just-outside-the-AP-Poll Syracuse in its ACC opener.

Oregon and Baylor, on the other hand, seemed to have been hoping to use the Paradise Jam as their sticking point. Not that the sentiment differed among the other six teams, all of whom were undefeated entering the tournament. But, playing in separate brackets, the Ducks and Lady Bears could have both finished undefeated — and didn’t.

Now, the start of winter could be especially harsh for both teams; not because of their competition, but because of the relative lack of it. Neither faces a currently AP-ranked team until January 9 (Baylor visits No. 4 Connecticut) and Jan. 12 (Oregon visits No. 20 Arizona). The upcoming lull in their schedules relative to their top counterparts certainly raises questions about whether they can not just come back from their latest losses, but also maintain their intensity as they prepare for conference play. Oregon, especially, is in danger of losing momentum, with a very late exhibition game against the NAIA’s Corban on December 28.

However “good” the Ducks’ and Lady Bears’ losses were at the Paradise Jam, résumé-wise (to top-10 Louisville and South Carolina, respectively), they’ll both have to rely on other teams’ losses in order to creep back to where they started the season — and where their preseason expectations put them — anytime soon.

That said, Oregon only fell two places, to No. 3. With any shakiness on the part of Stanford or Louisville and a clean record of their own, the Ducks will have a case to be back at the top. (That is, unless currently-undefeated No. 4 UConn or No. 5 Oregon State have something to say about that.)

But for No. 7 Baylor, getting back to No. 2 or better at all is a much bigger ask. While Oregon will have the opportunity to face Stanford at least two times in Pac-12 play — as well as a host of other top-25 teams — there are currently no AP-ranked teams in the Big 12. As it stands this week, UConn is Baylor’s only ranked opponent for the rest of the regular season. The prospect of the defending national champion Lady Bears going undefeated in conference play for a third straight year holds much less prestige when their competition is, as far as the possibility of résumé-boosting wins goes, relatively nonexistent.

Any of these résumé-boosters feed into both teams’ goal at the end of the season: a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed, which would be a huge advantage for Oregon and Baylor in particular. The regional sites they’ll have their eyes on are Portland, Oregon (two hours from Oregon’s campus) and Dallas (an hour and a half from Baylor’s campus). Getting the top seed in these regions offers the prospect of essentially four straight home games, two on-campus and two close to home. It certainly played a part in Oregon’s postseason success last season, however significant, as the No. 2-seeded Ducks got past No. 1-seeded Mississippi State to win the Portland region and advance to the Final Four.

For the immediate future, though, the Ducks and Lady Bears will be at the mercy of the teams around them, many of whom will continue to collect games against high-quality opponents. One slow month won’t necessarily hurt their chances to compete for No. 1 in the country once again, especially considering what’s coming for them in 2020. But whether or not they’ll be in the right position to fold back into ultra-competitive games right away (Oregon) or cruise through conference play with enough firepower to prove their worth on a national level (Baylor) remains to be seen.

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A new pair of teams graced the top of the AP women’s basketball poll this week after the No. 1 Oregon Ducks and the No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears each fell to a top-10 opponent on November 30 at the Paradise Jam. While one quality loss isn’t a season-killer by any means, what follows these losses for Oregon and Baylor could be if they aren’t careful.

Both the new No. 1 Stanford Cardinal and new No. 2 Louisville Cardinals have ample opportunity to maintain their positions at the top of the table. Stanford’s slate before Pac-12 play begins includes games against Ohio State, No. 17 Tennessee and at Texas. Louisville can bolster its own undefeated record with four straight upcoming road games, including against Ohio State and No. 15 Kentucky, as it prepares for just-outside-the-AP-Poll Syracuse in its ACC opener.

Oregon and Baylor, on the other hand, seemed to have been hoping to use the Paradise Jam as their sticking point. Not that the sentiment differed among the other six teams, all of whom were undefeated entering the tournament. But, playing in separate brackets, the Ducks and Lady Bears could have both finished undefeated — and didn’t.

Now, the start of winter could be especially harsh for both teams; not because of their competition, but because of the relative lack of it. Neither faces a currently AP-ranked team until January 9 (Baylor visits No. 4 Connecticut) and Jan. 12 (Oregon visits No. 20 Arizona). The upcoming lull in their schedules relative to their top counterparts certainly raises questions about whether they can not just come back from their latest losses, but also maintain their intensity as they prepare for conference play. Oregon, especially, is in danger of losing momentum, with a very late exhibition game against the NAIA’s Corban on December 28.

However “good” the Ducks’ and Lady Bears’ losses were at the Paradise Jam, résumé-wise (to top-10 Louisville and South Carolina, respectively), they’ll both have to rely on other teams’ losses in order to creep back to where they started the season — and where their preseason expectations put them — anytime soon.

That said, Oregon only fell two places, to No. 3. With any shakiness on the part of Stanford or Louisville and a clean record of their own, the Ducks will have a case to be back at the top. (That is, unless currently-undefeated No. 4 UConn or No. 5 Oregon State have something to say about that.)

But for No. 7 Baylor, getting back to No. 2 or better at all is a much bigger ask. While Oregon will have the opportunity to face Stanford at least two times in Pac-12 play — as well as a host of other top-25 teams — there are currently no AP-ranked teams in the Big 12. As it stands this week, UConn is Baylor’s only ranked opponent for the rest of the regular season. The prospect of the defending national champion Lady Bears going undefeated in conference play for a third straight year holds much less prestige when their competition is, as far as the possibility of résumé-boosting wins goes, relatively nonexistent.

Any of these résumé-boosters feed into both teams’ goal at the end of the season: a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed, which would be a huge advantage for Oregon and Baylor in particular. The regional sites they’ll have their eyes on are Portland, Oregon (two hours from Oregon’s campus) and Dallas (an hour and a half from Baylor’s campus). Getting the top seed in these regions offers the prospect of essentially four straight home games, two on-campus and two close to home. It certainly played a part in Oregon’s postseason success last season, however significant, as the No. 2-seeded Ducks got past No. 1-seeded Mississippi State to win the Portland region and advance to the Final Four.

For the immediate future, though, the Ducks and Lady Bears will be at the mercy of the teams around them, many of whom will continue to collect games against high-quality opponents. One slow month won’t necessarily hurt their chances to compete for No. 1 in the country once again, especially considering what’s coming for them in 2020. But whether or not they’ll be in the right position to fold back into ultra-competitive games right away (Oregon) or cruise through conference play with enough firepower to prove their worth on a national level (Baylor) remains to be seen.

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I am a women’s basketball journalist who has covered the WNBA, NCAA (especially the mid-majors), FIBA and USA Basketball. My work has appeared at High Post Hoops, Mic a

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