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The college basketball landscape doesn't revolve around Paige Bueckers, but it is certainly better with the Connecticut Huskies sophomore in it. Which is why the sight of her teammates carrying her off the court, the reigning national player of the year clearly in agony, was so dispiriting.
UConn and head coach Geno Auriemma announced Tuesday that Bueckers will miss six-to-eight weeks with a tibial plateau fracture. That timeline would put her return between Jan. 16-30 and means she'll miss nonconference games against UCLA (Saturday), No. 7 Louisville (Dec. 19), Oregon (Jan. 17) and potentially even the rematch with No. 1 South Carolina (Jan. 27) that is circled on everyone's calendars. That alone is a huge blow for fans of the sport.
Bueckers' absence is obviously concerning for No. 3 UConn's prospects, particularly after the news that freshman Azzi Fudd would miss at minimum two weeks with a foot injury and early enrollee Saylor Poffenbarger would transfer. (Poffenbarger, the No. 30 recruit in the class of 2021, has since announced she's going to Arkansas.) Games are going to be tighter, AP poll rankings likely lower and fingernails possibly more chewed. Depth will become the problem for the Huskies.
But it's clear that it already was considering Bueckers was still on the court in the final minute of an 18-point game. There's no need to call in a mathematician to run the numbers — there is nearly no possible way that deficit is being made up. There is, therefore, no reason the No. 1 scoring threat and center of everything UConn does needs to be on the court.
The reasons go beyond potential injury. Injuries can and do happen all the time, and hindsight on that is 20/20. Knowing what he knows now, would Auriemma had pulled her? Surely so. Yet, that no-contact injury could have happened earlier in the game, or in the next one. Bueckers has been on the court for 218 of the 240 minutes UConn has played this year. That's 90% playing time and includes three games in three days at the Women's Battle 4 Atlantis. The season is barely a month old.
In an age where "load management" is common vernacular and WNBA players are finding ways to avoid playing year-round, it feels utterly irresponsible to play the best talent in college basketball that much even if the games are against top-ranked opponents. Of course Bueckers always wants to be on the court. And of course, Auriemma doesn't like the look of the team without her on the court. But there's a time and a place to not only find her rest, but find the other talented players experience.
While no one is celebrating this injury (or at least, certainly shouldn't be), it could be a positive. Auriemma has acknowledged this season and last there needs to be production from players not named Bueckers. She has continuously bailed her team out in big moments, and when opponents can shut her down, it has led to offensive droughts. Someone else needs to step up.
He's also acknowledged, as has his team, that losses in November are better than in March. Struggle now to succeed most when it matters. Work the bench into game situations. Give them experience in close contests, rather than conference ones they're heavily favored to win anyway. With the No. 2-ranked recruiting classes the last two years, per espnW's HoopGurlz, something tells us they can handle it.
The college basketball landscape has spent more than a year looking forward to Bueckers and Fudd crushing it on the court together. So far that dream hasn't transpired, and now it won't for quite a while. Even if it had, it takes more than two players to win a title. The Olympian and Paralympian medalists honored by UConn with a monument earlier Sunday morning would surely agree.
It's time for UConn to focus on the collective for a run at the NCAA title rather than relying on the individual parts. Call it a wake-up call.
Keep up on the chaos
Again, the fall of ranked teams can simultaneously be a footnote on rankings missing the mark and increased parity around the country. Both can be true at the same time.
In defense of those with Associated Press Top 25 ballots, it's a small sample size still a month into the season. And it was harder than ever to rank teams in the preseason poll given the smaller number of nonconference matchups in 2020-21 (due to COVID-19) and the large number of experienced players staying for an additional year in '21-22 (again, COVID-19).
But, anyway, onto the list of upsets as we continue to catalog the chaos. (All rankings are as of the time of the game. The AP released its week 5 rankings on Monday; changes are reflected in parentheses.)
No. 18 Oregon 57, UC Davis 64 (Oregon receiving votes)
No. 18 Ohio State 91, Syracuse 97 (Ohio State down 2 spots)
No. 22 Florida Gulf Coast 55, Princeton 58 (FGCU RV)
No. 9 Iowa 64, Duke 79 (Iowa down 3, Duke No. 19)
No. 13 South Florida 56, UT Arlington 61 (USF down 4)
No. 14 Iowa State 60, LSU 69 (Iowa Sate down 1, LSU No. 24)
No. 20 Georgia 54, Georgia Tech 55 (Georgia down 1; GT receiving eight more votes)
Syracuse transfer tree showcase
If it weren't for the transfer portal, 12 players would not have been able to leave Syracuse for better situations, leading coach Quentin Hillsman to resign amid an investigation into abuse and allegations of school negligence.
It's been a tumultuous fall from one of the best teams in the nation to being picked by ACC opponents to finish 13 of 15 teams under acting head coach Vonn Read. And it showed in their start to the season, losing all three games of the Battle 4 Atlantis by 42 combined points.
Understandable since it was a group of individuals who had never played together in any combination. What stood out most in their upset of former No. 18 Ohio State was the melding of each player's already established collegiate playing experience with the cohesion of a team identity.
It was the first time three Syracuse players each scored 20 or more since the 2017 NCAA tournament. They came back from a 12-point deficit, shot 57% from 3-point range in the third quarter and held a 14-point lead with two minutes to play.
Teisha Hyman, one of only three players who stayed from 2020-21, scored a career-high 30 and followed it up with the first points-assists-steals triple-double in program history (27 points, 15 assists, 11 steals).
It's a transfer tree with impact throughout the ACC.
Shayeann Day-Wilson, a top-50 recruit, was initially heading to Syracuse, but flipped her commitment to Duke in August. She led the Blue Devils (8-0), who ended their '20-21 season early because of COVID-19 concerns, to an upset of former No. 9 Iowa with 19 points.
Amaya Finklea-Guity, a Syracuse transfer, brought in four rebounds in five minutes off the bench. Celeste Taylor, a transfer from Texas, had 17 points and 13 rebounds as another key newbie.
It was the first win by an unranked team over a top-10 opponent in 48 tries so far this season and put Duke at No. 19 in the AP poll. It's Duke's first time back in the rankings since Nov. 1, 2018, and the first under head coach Kara Lawson.
Emily Engstler, who improved every season at Syracuse, is No. 7 Louisville's second-leading scorer averaging 10.6 points on 50.7% shooting, including 55.6% behind the arc. She leads the team in rebounds at 8.9 per game.
Digna Strautmane is a core bench player for Georgia Tech, which upset Georgia last week. And this doesn't include Kamilla Cardoso, the biggest transfer name this offseason who is backing up national player of the year contender Aliyah Boston at No. 1 South Carolina.
What to watch this week
Click here for the full NCAA women's college basketball scoreboard and results.
No. 12 Iowa (5-1) at No. 15 Iowa State (8-1), Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU — Iowa sophomore Caitlin Clark is averaging 22 points per game, sixth-best in Division I. Iowa State's Ashley Joens ranks 18th at 20.2 ppg.
No. 3 UConn (5-1) at Georgia Tech (6-2), Thursday, 7 p.m. ESPN2 — The Huskies will face their first test without having Bueckers to bail them out.
No. 16 BYU (8-0) at Oklahoma (7-1), Friday, 7 p.m. ET — BYU has its highest ranking in program history with upsets of FSU and West Virginia. Oklahoma ranks second offensively (88.0 ppg).
UCLA (5-2) at No. 3 UConn (5-1), Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, ABC — The viewership numbers for Bueckers and Fudd on ABC could have been huge. This will still be a good game, but that asterisk should be noted for any TV viewership comments next week.
No. 14 Kentucky (6-1) at No. 7 Louisville (7-1), Jimmy V Women's Classic, Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN — Kentucky's Rhyne Howard is the expected No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft.
No. 8 Maryland (8-2) at No. 1 South Carolina (9-0), Jimmy V Women's Classic, Sunday, 3 p.m., ESPN — South Carolina has a 2-1 edge in the new series. It will be a battle of South Carolina's defense (49.7 ppg, ranks eighth) against Maryland's offense (83.4 ppg, 10th).
No. 10 Indiana (6-2) at No. 20 Ohio State (6-1), Sunday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network — Indiana broke its 15-game losing streak against Ohio State last February and is 20-58 all-time. Ohio State averages 86.9 ppg, fourth in Division I.