No one has a bigger win this season than Louisville, which upset then-No. 1 Oregon last month. But after climbing to No. 2 in the polls, the Cardinals lost to unranked Ohio State.
So what happens when one of the most passionate rivalries in basketball resumes? No. 14 Kentucky is 9-0 and looking to end a three-game skid against seventh-ranked Louisville in perhaps the top game of the week.
ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel and Charlie Creme break down the matchup, look at why Mississippi State has fallen out of the top 10 and dissect Stanford, which returns to the court as the nation's No. 1-ranked team for the first time after a two-week break.
What should we expect from Louisville-Kentucky on Sunday (ESPN/ESPN App, 1 p.m. ET)?
Charlie Creme: The Wildcats have more to gain in this one. They are off to a good start but haven't really been tested by a schedule that ranks 173rd in the country. This game at Rupp Arena starts a tough stretch in which Kentucky has to go to Cal and South Carolina in its next two games before returning to Lexington to play Tennessee. Getting a win over their rival would set up the Wildcats nicely in their pursuit of a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament.
The offense has begun to click a bit more but has struggled against better opposition such as Middle Tennessee and Virginia. How Kentucky's offense fares against the defensive scheme of Louisville coach Jeff Walz might be the key when the two meet on Sunday. The Wildcats might have the best player on the floor in sophomore Rhyne Howard, and she will likely have to be for Kentucky to win. Dana Evans and Jazmine Jones have also been outstanding for the Cardinals and could be too much firepower for Kentucky.
Mechelle Voepel: It's always cool when these two in-state rivals are both ranked when they meet; the Cardinals are No. 7 and the Wildcats No. 14. As Charlie noted, it will be an interesting matchup of guards. This series has gone back and forth over the last 15 years. Louisville won five in a row from 2004 to 2008. Then Kentucky won six of the next seven. And Louisville has won the last three.
The Cardinals have the most high-profile win this season, with their victory over then-No. 1 Oregon on Nov. 30. They came back down to Earth in the next game, a loss to unranked Ohio State on Dec. 5. And maybe that was the best thing for Walz as a teaching tool for his team, in terms of staying in the moment.
Besides Notre Dame, what Power 5 teams have been hit the hardest by graduation?
Creme: Mississippi State has fallen out of the top 10 in the rankings for the first time since the end of the 2016 season and is struggling a bit to find an offensive identity. Last season the trio of Teaira McCowan, Anriel Howard and Jazzmun Holmes accounted for 42.8 points, 24.3 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game. That isn't easy to replace in six weeks.
With McCowan and Howard leading the way, the Bulldogs led the country in offensive rebound rate, per Her Hoops Stats. This year they are 22nd. While that ranking is far from disappointing, those easy baskets aren't there as readily. Yet for as valuable and unstoppable as McCowan was and how important Howard's rebounding and mid-range game were, coach Vic Schaefer might miss Holmes the most. The point guard led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio last season (4.81). While sophomore Myah Taylor also is excelling in that area (2.5), she hasn't been the assertive lead guard that Holmes became. Sunday's loss to West Virginia illustrated just how much responsibility senior guard Jordan Danberry has to carry.
Voepel: I'll stick to the SEC and say Missouri. The Tigers knew it would be tough, losing all-time leading scorer Sophie Cunningham, along with post player Cierra Porter and guard Lauren Aldridge, to graduation. Missouri made the NCAA tournament the last four years in a row, but now sits at the bottom of the SEC at 3-7. That includes a 59-56 loss Sunday at UMKC, the first time Mizzou has fallen to the Kangaroos since 1991. UMKC is now 2-13 in that series. And there's another in-state game coming up for Missouri on Sunday, as the Tigers travel to No. 20 Missouri State. And if you think there's nothing Missouri State fans love more than beating Mizzou (in any sport), you'd be right. The key for Missouri will be the continued development of the freshmen; Hayley Frank (14.0) and Aijha Blackwell (10.7) are the Tigers' second- and third-leading scorers. But overall, it's going to be a very challenging season for Missouri.
No. 1 Stanford hasn't played since Nov. 30. What are we most interested in seeing from the Cardinal when they return to the court (Sunday vs. Ohio State and Wednesday vs. Tennessee)?
Creme: Finals at Stanford might be more rigorous than what the Cardinal have faced on the basketball court thus far, and that says plenty given that they have played the 20th toughest schedule in the country to date. It gets even more difficult with games against Ohio State, Tennessee and Texas in an eight-day stretch beginning Sunday.
Coach Tara VanDerveer has played around with lineups with her deep roster, but seems to have settled on a starting lineup of Haley Jones, Kiana Williams and Lexie Hull in the backcourt, and Alyssa Jerome and Nadia Fingall up front. Those starters have also slowly begun to get the bulk of the minutes. I'm curious how much of that depth VanDerveer uses in this next week. Freshmen post player Fran Belibi and Ashten Pretchel saw their playing time shrink against Syracuse and Mississippi State in Vancouver. Will they get back in the mix more, especially with the size of the Lady Vols and Longhorns? Or is this the tighter rotation Stanford will take into Pac-12 play?
Voepel: Can you have too many pieces to a puzzle? Stanford might be facing that this year -- although it beats the alternative, right? Along with watching how the minutes will continue to be distributed, we'll see how Kiana Williams and DiJonai Carrington are feeling. Williams went to the floor late in Stanford's victory over Mississippi on Nov. 30 and left the game limping, but it was reported as nothing serious. Carrington had knee surgery in the offseason and is still trying to get to full health; she didn't play in the Greater Victoria Invitational over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The Big Ten and Big 12 won their "challenges" with the ACC and SEC, respectively. How good is the depth in both conferences?
Creme: The Big Ten is very deep and showcased how it could easily be considered the second-best conference in the country with its "win" over the ACC. The Big Ten placed 11 teams in this week's Bracketolgy; that won't last, but eight teams in March's bracket could be realistic. This from a conference that has put six teams in the field each of the last two years and four each in 2016 and 2017. That's the kind of depth for which any league looks. The key going forward will be teams like Ohio State being more the version that beat Louisville and less the one that lost to Ohio. Or can Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue keep playing at this level? Early conference play might answer those types of questions quickly.
I'm not as convinced with the Big 12. Two of its biggest wins in the Big 12/SEC challenge were by Texas (over Tennessee) and Oklahoma (over LSU), two teams that have otherwise struggled against the best competition on their schedules and are just barely above .500. I need to see more from them over the next two weeks. Iowa State beating Alabama and Kansas over Florida aren't necessarily indicators that the Big 12 has NCAA tournament teams in the waiting. West Virginia was really impressive winning at Mississippi State, but a sizable gap still exists between Baylor and the rest of the Big 12.
Voepel: The Big 12 has a pretty bad case of Baylor fatigue, and has had it for a while. That's why the conference needs to celebrate its victories in things like the Big 12/SEC challenge, even if, as Charlie rightly points out, some of those wins weren't all that notable RPI-wise. Make no mistake: Baylor is great for the Big 12 from the standpoint of having a conference school that is a perennial national championship contender. But for the last nine seasons, Baylor has finished first in the Big 12 or tied for it, and won eight of nine league tournament titles.
The big question with Baylor this season remains when senior Lauren Cox will return from the stress reaction that has limited her to two games. Without her, the Lady Bears still easily won their Big 12/SEC Challenge game, 72-38 over Georgia. West Virginia, the one team that has beaten Baylor in the Big 12 tournament in the last nine years, got the biggest Big 12/SEC challenge victory by knocking off Mississippi State.
Kansas, TCU and Texas Tech are still undefeated, but we'll see how they stand when the competition gets a little more difficult. For TCU, that comes quickly with Texas A&M on Wednesday.
Maryland, of course, became the boss of the Big Ten as soon as the Terps left the ACC to join in 2014-15. The rest of the league has had to adjust to that, and maybe we're seeing the positive impact of that on the conference as a whole. New coaching blood in the Big Ten has changed things, too.
Despite the Terps' loss to NC State in their ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, Maryland is still the league favorite. But it has to be a little concerning that in their two losses this season, the Terps have been held below 60 points. They have an offense that really should be hard to shut down like that, but the Wolfpack and South Carolina did it. So that's what Maryland's Big Ten foes will try to do. Through Monday, there were eight Big Ten teams (including Maryland) holding their opponents to below 60 points per game.