In The Paint

SI.com's All-American Hoops Blog

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By Tracy Schultz

Think Tennessee is having a tough this season? Rutgers is having some serious growing pains. With what was supposed to be one of the top freshman classes in the country and Final Four veterans Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn, the Scarlet Knights entered the season at No. 5 in the AP poll.

That was about the last bright spot for the rookies. The foursome, loaded with high school All-Americans, is contributing just 8.7 points a game, a far cry from the Lady Vols, who are not only getting significant minutes from their freshmen, but have three in the starting lineup, just two years ago after these two teams met in the national title game. Now, at 15-10, Rutgers isn't looking like much of a tournament threat at all, especially after a 20-point loss to Maryland.

The Scarlet Knights aren't the only ones whose season hasn't turned out as expected so far:

- Oklahoma State was a preseason top 25 too. Wednesday's win at Texas was impressive, but the Cowgirls haven't exactly lit the Big 12 on fire. After tying for third place a year ago, they now sport a 4-7 conference record. Getting back on the winning side, won't be easy as the Cowgirls have to travel to Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

- Funny thing about disappointing seasons. It's all relative. Most teams in the country would be thrilled just being in the top 20. Tennessee, however, is accustomed to the top 5. The Lady Vols are sitting at No. 13, but will likely drop again after Thursday's loss to Kentucky.

- Former perennial powerhouse Louisiana Tech can no longer compete with the power conference teams. The Lady Techsters fired head coach Christ Long after a 12-11 start. Once a Final Four regular, they are facing a third straight season without tournament appearance.

Pleasant Surprises
Of course, the season hasn't been a disappointment for all. There have been some pleasant surprises:

- Summit League leader South Dakota State has spent much of the season in the top 25. In addition to knocking off nearly everyone in conference play, SDSU has quality wins over Minnesota and BYU.

- With a schedule that included Baylor, Florida State, Ole Miss and Wisconsin, Central Florida was pretty beat up during the non-conference schedule and the Knights limped into Conference USA play with a 2-11 record and a four-game losing streak. Their fortunes have changed since then, though, going from worst to near first in the league.

- Oklahoma's place atop the Big 12 standings is no shocker. The fact that the Sooners are running the table in one of the most competitive conferences around is impressive.

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