January 3, 2024 

The Weekly Fast Break: Resolutions and conference battles

Jackpot in StarkVegas; Andersen is MAAC-ceptional

The dictionary defines the word ‘resolution’ as a firm decision to do or not to do something. As we move into 2024 this week, most of us are determined to be better in the new year. For some, resolutions will be eating better and for others it will be getting more sleep. Many will be resolute to check in more with family and friends while others will declare this the year that they really do travel. In the world of college basketball, coaches across the country have a monster list of things that must be done, no questions asked, because we have reached part two of the regular season – conference play.

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Once we flip the calendar to January at The Weekly Fast Break, the road to the Final Four truly starts to take shape. There are hazards, potholes, and speed bumps for most, yet others will find a smooth road ahead. But through it all are the conference battles we have been waiting for that give us rivalry games and epic showdowns that will define the 2023-24 season. The list of resolutions that your coach has written on the white board is not about healthy eating or calling home more – it is about shot selection, blocking out and being in help side defense.

If you can only manage one additional resolution for 2024 on your list (ours is to eat fewer sweets), then make it this – believe that the loose ball you are chasing has your name on it. If you can do that, then that means you have a sense of urgency about the new year and the rest of the season. Each possession of each quarter of each game counts – it can be the difference between a bumpy or smooth road ahead.


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TIP-OFF

Winner Takes All: We love all things college sports here at The Weekly Fast Break. This is the final year as we know it for the four-team College Football Playoff. Next season they will move to an expanded 12-team bracket, which is better than four but has nothing on March Madness and the field of 68. After exciting finishes in the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, Michigan and Washington will compete for the national title on Jan. 8. With school spirit abounding, one school who has an adorable mascot (Dubs at UW) and the other a ferocious carnivore, we shine our spotlights this week on Husky and Wolverine women’s basketball.

Both teams are receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll and combined have just four losses on the season. Washington is 11-1 with their only setback coming on Dec. 20 in an eight-point defeat at #17 Louisville. The Huskies are 1-0 in the stacked Pac-12 and are back in action on Jan. 5 when they head to the Bay Area to take on Cal. Head coach Tina Langley has three players averaging double figures on the season, led by senior forward Lauren Schwartz (12.3 points/game) and 6’4 junior Dalayah Daniels (12.1 points/game). The grind of the Pac-12 is now here, and the Huskies will have to show their teeth to stay in the hunt at the top of the league standings.

Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico talks to her team during a timeout against Oakland on Nov. 14.
Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico and her ferocious Wolverines are receiving votes this week in the AP Top 25 poll.
(Photo credit: Michigan Athletics)

Kim Barnes Arico has built a consistent winner in Ann Arbor in her 12 seasons at the helm of the Wolverine program. In fact, she is the all-time winningest coach in program history. This season, her team sits at 11-3 and is fresh off a 69-60 win over #20 Ohio State. Michigan plays like their mascot – intense, physical, and ferocious on defense and on the glass. Junior guard Laila Phelia is proving why she is one of the best in the Big Ten, averaging 15.1 points/game is tied for the team best in steals. Next up for the Wolverines is a huge road test at #14 Indiana on Jan. 4 – one of those traditional conference battles we cannot wait to watch.


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Poll Watch: #1 South Carolina remains at the top of this week’s AP Top 25 poll, but they are no longer a unanimous choice. #2 UCLA received one vote in this week’s poll after they stayed undefeated at 12-0 with their win over #9 USC on Dec. 30. #6 Baylor is this week’s top mover, up four spots, after the Bears took down now #10 Texas 85-79. #15 Utah, #16 Notre Dame and #20 Ohio State each dropped three places after conference losses last week. #24 West Virginia is up one spot and Syracuse makes its first appearance in the AP Top 25 since 2021 after their 86-81 win over Notre Dame. Fellow ACC member North Carolina had the seventh longest active streak in women’s basketball come to an end as the Tar Heels fell out of the Top 25. UNC (9-4 overall) had been in the poll for 34 consecutive weeks.

UNC head coach Courtney Banghart draws up a play during a timeout at Duke on Feb. 26, 2023. (Mitchell Northam / The Next)
UNC head coach Courtney Banghart finds her team on the outside looking in at the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in 34 weeks. (Photo credit: Mitchell Northam / The Next)

STAR POWER

Big numbers can get you star power here at The Weekly Fast Break, but we also love consistency. Fairfield freshman Meghan Andersen has shown just that, being named the MAAC Rookie of the Week for the sixth time this season. The 6’1 native of Wantagh, New York has had nine double-digit scoring games this year, including a team-high 17 points in the Stags’ win at Stonehill. Andersen is the leading scorer in the MAAC averaging 16.9 points/game and is shooting nearly 56% from the field on the year. Fairfield is currently on an eight-game winning streak, which is tied for the 15th longest in the nation.

It was an SEC awards haul in Starkville this week as two Mississippi State players were honored for their efforts. Senior guard Darrione Rogers was named SEC Player of the Week after she posted the first triple-double by a Mississippi State women’s basketball player since Dec. 2000, and just the second overall in program history. She had 14 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in 34 minutes in a 99-35 win over Mississippi Valley State Dec. 29. It was the first triple-double by a SEC women’s basketball player since LSU’s Khayla Pointer recorded one on Feb. 7, 2021, and is only the 40th triple-double in the history of SEC women’s basketball. Bulldog freshman Quanirah Montague was tapped as SEC Co-Freshman of the Week after she finished with her first career double-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds along with six blocks in her team’s win over Mississippi Valley State. The 6’6 center from Atlantic City, New Jersey surpassed career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks, and minutes played in the game. *Montague was Co-Freshman of the Week with Vanderbilt’s Khamil Pierre.


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Baylor junior Jada Walker was named Big 12 Player of the Week after leading the #6 Bears to their second top-five win of the season, and their 14th consecutive win in Austin, defeating then-No. 5 Texas 85-79. The 5’7 transfer from Kentucky had a team-high 19 points, adding three rebounds, three assists and four steals while going 8-of-13 from the field. The junior was called upon to handle the ball on many occasions in the game for the Bears at point guard, maintaining the team’s wire-to-wire lead. Walker is the first Baylor player this season to be recognized with this honor.

UC Irvine guard Déja Lee led her team to a fourth-straight 2-0 start in conference to claim the Big West Player of the Week for the first time in her career. The junior from Surrey, B.C, Canada averaged a team-best 17.5 points/game on 54% from the field in wins over UC Riverside and Cal State Bakersfield. Lee put up 17 (6-of-9 from the floor) of a game-high 22 points in the final 20 minutes of UCI’s 71-48 victory over Cal State Bakersfield on Dec. 30.

FILM SESSION

The 2023-24 Iowa State Cyclones looked very different coming into this season from what was on the floor in Kansas City winning the 2023 Big 12 Postseason Tournament last March. Heading into his 29th season as the head coach in Ames, Bill Fennelly knew he would have one of the youngest rosters ever in his tenure and one of the youngest in the nation this year. Then the injury bug emerged and bit not just anyone, but the Cyclones’ experienced floor general, senior guard Emily Ryan. Fast forward to Dec. 30 and Iowa State started Big 12 play on the road at Oklahoma State sitting at 7-4 overall and having Ryan for only two games thus far.

But just as they have the previous six seasons, Fennelly and his team opened conference play with a confidence-boosting win over the Cowgirls 76-68. Ryan only logged 21 minutes but every time she checked into the game, the Cyclones were that much better. Her ability to direct traffic in the half court, see open teammates in transition and dictate pace when needed was on display as the young Cyclones who have turned heads already continued to do so. Freshmen Audi Crooks and Addy Brown scored 21 and 20 points respectively. Brown played 38 minutes and led the team with nine rebounds. She and fellow freshmen Arianna Jackson knocked down four three-point shots a piece, many times coming off the penetration by Ryan and others from ball screens, relocating on the perimeter, and hard cuts which left OSU scrambling.

While the Cyclone defense held OSU to just 38% from the field and outscored them 19-9 in the third quarter, it was by no means a perfect game. The Cyclones overcame 18 turnovers but when needed, hustled for loose balls, corralled important offensive rebounds, and made shots down the stretch. Ryan finished the game with six assists and showed once again how a veteran can lead a group of newbies to grab a road win in conference play. *Audi Crooks was named Big 12 Freshman of the Week on Jan. 2 and is shooting 67% from the field, best amongst Division I freshmen.


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FULL COURT PRESS

While we as fans love the nonstop conference action that starts up this time of year, it will get exhausting for players, coaches, and support staffs. As teams hustle from home to road games and back, team managers can sometimes look dazed and confused. It is our hope that their resolutions in 2024 are to get a little more sleep and try to remember what city they last washed the practice gear in. So, check to be sure your favorite team sweatshirt is clean and ring in 2024 with a great week of basketball ahead (check your local listings and broadcast schedule for times):

Jan. 3

#12 UConn at #21 Creighton

Cincinnati at #24 West Virginia

Kansas at Iowa State

Maryland at Minnesota

#23 TCU at #6 Baylor

Jan. 4

Fairfield at Niagara

#25 Syracuse at R/V UNC

#22 Florida State at #3 NC State

R/V Texas A&M at Georgia

#18 Gonzaga at Portland

Nebraska at Wisconsin

Jan. 5

#4 Iowa at Rutgers

Green Bay at N. Kentucky

Oregon at #2 UCLA

R/V Oregon State at #9 USC

R/V Washington at Cal

Jan. 6

Illinois State at Murray State

R/V UNLV at Colorado State

Oklahoma State at #23 TCU

Houston at #6 Baylor

Jan. 7

#3 NC State at #13 Virginia Tech

R/V Mississippi State at #1 South Carolina

#5 Colorado at Arizona State

#15 Utah at Arizona

#7 LSU at Ole Miss

UNC at #16 Notre Dame

Boston College at #25 Syracuse

Jan. 9

Maryland at Michigan State

Minnesota at R/V Michigan

Saint Joseph’s at Saint Louis

Written by Missy Heidrick

I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!

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