Normally (and as my last post, with little subtlety, suggests) an upset suffered by a strong team should in most cases be taken with a grain of salt. Teams, no matter how talented, have off games: sometimes this is due to game times, sometimes to injuries, or sometimes just a strange collective of brain farts that leave befuddled fans wondering, what just happened?
Big, powerful squads like Windsor, Saskatchewan, Western and Regina have all suffered losses -- in fact, not a single team in the league has managed to remain winless through to this point (although many have had long stretches). The UVic Vikes should be, I think one would generally insist, similarly categorized (in fact, our top 20 preseason rankings put them at # 3). But what's this? A new top 10 list has come out, and the Vikes are nowhere near the top. In fact, the Vikes are nowhere to be seen -- they were swept by previously-unranked Winnipeg this past weekend, 86-65 on Friday and 62-53 the following night.
This, however, was not their first fall from grace: they split with Regina early in the year; they were swept by (then #9) Alberta a few weeks before the winter break (a flub that dropped them from second place to 4th); and, most recently, barely scraped by 1-15 Trinity Western by a measly four points on January 8th. All in all, with the recent string of upsets and splits among the rest of the upper near-dozen, it's less than shocking that Vic -- a team that has tripped, scraped and stumbled their way through the last couple months of games -- has finally slipped over the edge of the cliff and now is unranked altogether.
On paper, though, Vic is the bigger, better team (than most): four players in last year's Top-100, including senior (and previous league MVP) Kayla Dykstra, lead a powerful offense that has beaten, battered, and often broken a myriad of other strong squads. Perhaps their defense, then, is the cause of their issue: in each of their five losses, Vic has allowed more than sixty points to the winning team, while averaging a mere 60.8 themselves (at one point, tallying a paltry 49). The most likely issue, though? Dykstra, a team leader in both scoring and rebounds, blew her knee in the Vikes' final game of 2010 and will be sidelined for the rest of her final season (and she didn't earn those three letters for nothing).
What is truly strange, though, is that Vic -- with all of their, albeit reduced, remaining experience in hand -- hasn't seemed to be able to pull themselves out of their 'funk'. Do they still have a shot at a top-four playoff seed? Maybe, if they pick things up: they've got a handful of other powerful players, and they've won games from outside the arc as often as they have from inside the key. But then again, of their final 8 games, Vic's first 3 double-headers are against unranked Lethbridge (4-12), Brandon (0-14) and Thompson Rivers (7-9), respectively -- matchups that won't do them any help in re-ascending the Top 10 ladder. Their final two games against UBC (11-5), contrastingly, should give them more of a challenge -- but despite their relative strength, even UBC is without an 'official number', and so it looks like the Islanders are going to flounder before they (perhaps) fly once again.
Ultimately, though, I think the rankings are an arbitrary marking system at best (as I believe I mentioned before). Saskatchewan, Windsor, Western, and Regina round out my top 4 (as they do officially), although Regina may be a bit more fluidly positioned with their smaller (i.e. Reid-less) roster; UNB and Carleton can stay where they are; and I do like spunky Alberta somewhere in the mix (though definitely no higher than 7th). Toronto and Winnipeg, though? Eh... I'd need to see more proof. Personally, I wouldn't have dropped Vic out (though I'd stick them at one of the bottom two spots). And for 8 and 9/10? Laval's a contender, but not for consistency; Cape Breton's still strong, but less so against bigger squads; and I still like the look of Saint Mary's and Acadia, not for their records necessarily but simply for their likelihood of tossing in an extra upset. Other than that? We'll just have to wait and see (or maybe keep waiting, if the games are postponed again).