The surprises were few in the NCAA Division I women's basketball committee's initial reveal of its top 16 teams Thursday. But there was one clear message: the importance of strength of schedule.
This is a consistent refrain from last season. Teams with nonconference SOS (strength of schedule) numbers in the triple digits generally are not rewarded. Last season's example was Maryland, which remained a No. 3 seed throughout the reveals and landed on the 3-line on Selection Monday. The same scenario applies to Baylor this season. The Lady Bears were the lone shocker of Thursday's reveal, showing up as the No. 9 team overall.
A closer look at what we learned from Thursday's reveal:
Baylor is a No. 3 seed?
The decision parallels the placement of Maryland last season and is equally head-scratching. The Lady Bears have been dominant, leading the country in margin of victory at 35.7 points per game. Their only loss came on the road at UCLA -- when coach Kim Mulkey was away from the team attending to an urgent family matter, and second-leading scorer Lauren Cox was out with an illness.
Baylor's spot at No. 9 overall appears solely based on the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) and SOS numbers, because there simply are not eight better teams in the country right now than the Lady Bears. While the "eye test" is an overused and far too interpretive term, the Lady Bears are currently playing better than South Carolina or Texas (don't forget the Longhorns lost to TCU just two games prior to challenging UConn), two teams slotted just ahead of them. At this moment, Baylor is likely a better team than No. 6 Notre Dame as the Irish continue to deal with injuries and depth issues.
Baylor has an RPI of 18, an overall SOS of 133 and a nonconference SOS of 164, thanks in large part to having three sub-250 RPI teams on its schedule and a Big 12 that has been weak at the bottom. It's clear the committee went heavy on the numbers and little else, because the Lady Bears, by any measure and against any competition, have one of the best offenses in the country.
Oregon as the fourth No. 1 seed is a fair enough assessment, but the Lady Bears at No. 9 is a tough sell. And this is just bad news for Baylor for the long run. Last season's Maryland team that went 32-2 and won both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles never shook a 140th-ranked nonconference SOS that even included wins over Louisville and Arizona State.
Texas A&M makes the list
The Aggies' inclusion could be categorized as a minor surprise, but it once again illustrates the value the committee has placed on good scheduling.
Texas A&M -- which landed at No. 14 -- has five losses (the most of any team in the top 16) and has looked uneven at times. But the Aggies have also played the fifth-toughest slate in the country and were rewarded with what would be home games in the NCAA tournament if this was March 12.
The Aggies were twice blown out by Oregon and once by West Virginia, but were unlucky in a loss to South Carolina and are the only team to beat Tennessee thus far. Plus they haven't lost to anyone outside the RPI top 40. A case could be made for Duke or Michigan instead, but the Aggies' résumé is solid.
SEC gets six teams
With Georgia not far behind Texas A&M at No. 16, the SEC put six teams on the committee's initial list. This is further proof that teams, not leagues, are evaluated.
The ACC is actually the top-rated RPI league, but as the committee evaluated each team, it just so happened that 38 percent of its list hailed from the SEC.
Of note, LSU is the only other SEC team to make the entire field in the latest Bracketology forecast. That's seven total and six in the top 16. The SEC seems as dominant as ever, but even more top-heavy than usual.