Why Oregon State, not UConn, should be the No. 1 women's college basketball team

Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies are 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in this week's poll, ahead of No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oregon State. AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Oregon was No. 1 for a month. Stanford reigned women's college basketball for three weeks. And now UConn takes over the top spot in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

The Huskies elevated to No. 1 after unranked Texas upset Stanford. UConn is 10-0 and has spent more time at No. 1 than any other women's team.

But UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey isn't sure the Huskies deserve it quite yet.

"I don't know that we're the No. 1 team in the country," Dailey told the AP earlier this week. "I haven't seen enough of a lot of people. But I've known our team when we have been No. 1. This team isn't there yet."

Should UConn be on top? Is another team more deserving? ESPN.com's Charlie Creme and Graham Hays debate it out, as well as which upcoming games they're most looking forward to, which teams they underestimated and whether the women should adopt the international 3-point line.

Who should be No. 1?

Graham Hays: There's no right answer at the moment. Through the first eight weeks of AP polls this season, 32 first-place votes have been cast for teams that didn't end up No. 1. Last season through eight weeks? There was only one such vote. The season before that? None. So we're all still sorting this out. But that uncertainty is part of why Oregon State is my pick.

Without a no-brainer choice, I'm relying on the résumés. And while the Beavers don't yet have a signature win, the cumulative value of wins against DePaul, Miami (on the road) and Missouri State outweighs UConn, which has only its win at DePaul to rely on. If this was last year's UConn team, which had more key players who had been through all of this before, history would matter more. But this group is too new to get credit for the program's past accomplishments.

I don't know which team is the best team in the country. My gut feeling is it's still Oregon, which is No. 2 in the current Top 25. But between quality wins, stifling statistical defense and a track record for many of the key figures, Oregon State (currently ranked third) has done the most to earn the No. 1 ranking for now.

Charlie Creme: Since Oregon lost to Louisville on Nov. 30, I have said Oregon State should be the No. 1 team in the country and I haven't wavered. The Beavers have been dominant every step of the way with the exception of the first half against Missouri State.

This is no slight on UConn; the Huskies' schedule can't be criticized, and they have handled all comers as well. Statistically, the Huskies and Beavers are nearly identical and neither has had a winning margin in single digits. However, at the time of the Oregon loss, the Huskies had not accomplished as much as Oregon State. Since then, the Beavers have done nothing to relinquish that hold on the top spot and UConn hasn't done enough to overtake them.

Which teams did you overestimate and underestimate entering the season?

Creme: Too much basketball is left to write off Maryland. In fact, the start of the Big Ten season gives the Terps a bit of a reset. However, I didn't think they would need one. The 9-2 record is fine, but Maryland looked overmatched in its only true tests -- against South Carolina and NC State. This from a team that was supposed to contend for a No. 1 seed. Senior Kaila Charles was a consensus first-team All-American in the preseason but has scored nearly five points fewer per game than a year ago. The Terps' offense has been inconsistent as a result.

Coming off the best season in program history and returning four starters, including Conference USA Player of the Year Nancy Mulkey, Rice was the runaway choice to win the league again and was in my preseason top 25. Today the Owls have the NCAA's 251st ranked offense, a 5-6 record that includes losses to SMU and Texas Southern and no chance of making the NCAA tournament without winning the Conference USA's automatic bid.

West Virginia also has been a bit of a surprise. In the preseason, the Mountaineers looked like a top-four Big 12 team and bubble-like tournament contender. Instead, coach Mike Carey has assembled a cohesive-looking unit that could now be in contention to host NCAA tournament games. Wins over Mississippi State, Michigan State and Syracuse have highlighted an upgraded schedule. Right now the Mountaineers are far and away the second-best team in the Big 12 behind Baylor.

Hays: I'm inclined to stubbornly keep believing Maryland is bound for New Orleans and the Final Four. The Terrapins do so much well offensively, and freshman point guard Ashley Owusu, who is already darn good, should only be better by March. But James Madison, NC State and South Carolina are the three best teams Maryland has played. The Terrapins lost to NC State and South Carolina and probably should have lost to James Madison. I thought it would be clear by now that Maryland is one of the best teams in the country. Instead the Terps are only going to be able to prove that in the NCAA tournament.

At the other end of the spectrum, I didn't give NC State enough credit in the preseason. Maybe it's Wes Moore's mid-major background, or what he did in his first couple of seasons in Raleigh, but I'm guilty of still attaching an overachiever narrative to the Wolfpack. Kai Crutchfield, Elissa Cunane, Aislinn Konig: These aren't plucky underdogs. They're blue-chip standouts who should, and expect, to contend for ACC titles and Final Four trips. And have for a while now.

Has the first half of the season changed whether you think the women's game should adopt the international 3-point line?

Hays: Moving to the international line is inevitable, so it might as well come sooner rather than later. As is the case across the sport, the 3-pointer is more and more a part of women's college basketball. Division I teams set records last season for both 3-pointers attempted (19.13) and made (6.05) per game. It was the fourth consecutive record breaking season on both counts, and there is little in the numbers to suggest the record won't fall again this season.

More 3-point shooting isn't automatically a bad thing. As programs like DePaul, Florida Gulf Coast and South Dakota prove, it can be an agent of parity for programs that might not be able to sign classes full of five-star recruits but can sign (and develop) 3-point shooters. And it's fun to watch someone like Louisville's Dana Evans hit a dagger from 25 feet against Oregon. But Division I teams also set a record last season for the fewest free throws attempted per game. And while free throws aren't thrilling entertainment, they are often a byproduct of play that is entertaining -- drives, interior passing, etc. -- and makes basketball a more complete product.

For most of the seasons in the past decade, 3-pointers accounted for about 28% of the average field goals attempted in a game. That spiked the past three seasons, as the sport-wide trend took full hold in the women's college game. It shows no signs of slowing. Move the line now, and it's still a proactive decision that shapes the way the game evolves. Wait and it becomes a reaction to try and change what the game has already become.

Creme: From a competitive standpoint I don't see a reason to move the line back from its current 20 feet, 9 inches to the international distance of 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches like the men have done. Even though attempts and makes from 3-point range set an all-time record in 2018-19, the percentage was still just 31.6%. It still isn't an easy shot. And I don't see any overwhelming evidence on the men's side that increasing the 3-point distance has opened up the court and made player and ball movement better.

Other rule changes, like bringing back the 1-and-1 free throw, would be more appealing than pushing back the 3-point line.

Which remaining game are you most looking forward to?

Creme: This is a tough call with so many important games still to come. Any of these three games on UConn's schedule -- Baylor, Oregon and South Carolina -- could qualify. But my choice are two games that will played almost exactly a month from now, within three days and separated by a mere 49 miles: Oregon and Oregon State face off on Jan. 24 and Jan. 26. While Stanford and possibly UCLA and Arizona will still have a say in the Pac-12 race, these two games will steer where it's going. The same could be said about the No. 1 ranking and which Pac-12 team ultimately ends up playing its NCAA regional games in Portland.

Hays: As the resident mid-major lobbyist, I'm contractually obligated to advocate for both ends of the South Dakota derby, beginning with South Dakota State's trip to South Dakota on Jan. 18.

But as for the broader canvas, Oregon at Oregon State on Jan. 26 stands out for me, too. It comes a week after each team plays Stanford. It is also the second game in the home-and-home Civil War series between the Ducks and Beavers, with the two teams playing two days earlier at Oregon. That means either Sabrina Ionescu and Oregon will go for a road win in Corvallis to sweep the series and reestablish itself as the team to beat this season or Mikayla Pivec and Oregon State will try to follow a huge road win with a sweep that would have ripple effects throughout the sport.

Which conference is better from top to bottom: Pac-12 or SEC?

Hays: The Pac-12 has the edge in headliners at the moment. That's true objectively -- the league has four teams ranked in the top 10. But it's also a compelling case subjectively. With the in-state rivalry in Oregon, Ionescu's general star power and Stanford's history, the interplay between the teams at the top, with UCLA as spoiler, is some of the season's best narrative drama. The Pac-12 is just more interesting at the top. But even if Mississippi State is slightly off its stride -- and that final verdict remains out -- the SEC top tier of South Carolina, Texas A&M, Kentucky and the Bulldogs isn't light years away in quality of Q-rating.

The question is how good are Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado? Because right now those three teams are 32-2 and only No. 18 Arizona is ranked. The SEC middle class, by contrast, includes No. 21 Arkansas and No. 23 Tennessee. I'm not sure about the Buffaloes, who pulled this trick a year ago before going 2-16 in the league, but the Arizona schools -- especially the Wildcats -- tip the scales already loaded with the top four teams in favor of the Pac-12.

Creme: The Pac-12 is better at the top with three top-five teams, but in these discussions the winner of the debate is typically the league with the most depth and the conference that has better teams at the bottom. Most years that is the SEC. However, this season the Pac-12 wins that one-on-one matchup as well. Schedules aside, everyone in the Pac-12 is at least two games above .500.

On the SEC side, Auburn is a disappointing 5-5 and Missouri has fallen on really hard times in the post-Sophie Cunningham era at 3-10. Washington State, which sits last in the Pac-12 at 7-5, was reasonably competitive with the SEC's best in South Carolina and had a fourth-quarter lead on Miami right before Christmas. And if it even means anything, the Pac-12 holds a 5-4 advantage in games featuring teams from both leagues.