July 15, 2024

The 2022-23 women’s college basketball season ended on a high note as nearly 10 million viewers tuned in to watch LSU and Iowa — two teams on seemingly fate-driven runs — collide in the national championship. The Tigers took home their first title under Kim Mulkey and then turned the offseason into more wins by signing the top two players out of the transfer portal and welcomed the No. 1 high school recruiting class to Baton Rouge.

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But now, it’s a new season. Every team is 0-0. And though the Tigers remain the top team in our preseason projections, several other programs — some perennial powers, some new faces and some programs with chips on their shoulders — look like they could be holding the trophy in Cleveland in April.

As squads rebuilt, reloaded and re-tooled this offseason, The Athletic took notice (and took lots of notes). With teams across the country kicking off practices this week, it’s the perfect time to debut our preseason top 25.

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LSU has an abundance of offensive talent, starting with the 2023 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Angel Reese. Nobody works harder in the paint than Reese, who relentlessly attacks the offensive glass and has a superior second jump that keeps her in every play. The Tigers’ offensive rebound percentage of 45.3 last season was due in large part to Reese rebounding one-fifth of the Tigers’ misses. Reese is also a great rebounder on the other end of the floor and showed the ability to grab-and-go on occasion, giving LSU another way to score in transition.

In addition to Reese, Flau’jae Johnson is guaranteed to get into the paint on drives. Aneesah Morrow scored efficiently at the rim and in the midrange to the tune of 25.7 points per game last year. Hailey Van Lith is another big-game player who averaged 21.1 points during last season’s conference and NCAA tournaments and can consistently get her shot in isolation. Add in super freshman Mikaylah Williams and Kateri Poole’s 38 percent shooting from 3-point range, and there are plenty of sources of scoring on this roster.

The graduations of two veterans could create some holes. Ladazhia Williams was LSU’s best rim protector, and the Tigers’ only true center now is freshman Aalyah Del Rosario, who will need some time to adjust to the speed of the college game. LSU also relied heavily on Alexis Morris to organize the offense, and none of their perimeter stars are true point guards. One will have to shift her game to run the show – likely Van Lith, since that’s the role she’ll have to play at the next level – but it isn’t certain they’ll adapt as well as Morris.

Nevertheless, there’s too much talent on this roster to count out the Tigers, even if they take time to grow into themselves like last season. They should be favorites to once again cut down the nets.

  • +Star power
  • +Championship experience
  • +Paint scoring
  • +Offensive rebounding
  • +Depth

Question Marks

  • Rim protection
  • Point guard play

Hailey Van Lith

Guard

Flau’jae Johnson

Guard

Mikaylah Williams

Guard

Aneesah Morrow

Guard

Angel Reese

Forward

Top Reserves

Aalyah Del Rosario

Center

Last-Tear Poa

Guard

Kateri Poole

Guard

Sa’Myah Smith

Forward

Is this the season when all of the injuries and adversity that hit Storrs over the past two years finally makes sense? As if it was building to something? Think of it this way: The silver lining of injuries to stars — like Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd — is that it forces other players to step up, and step up the Huskies did. Nika Mühl has made a name for herself in a vaunted history of UConn point guards, Aaliyah Edwards expanded her role and has become a top player heading into her senior season, Caroline Ducharme played like a former top-10 recruit who wasn’t just complementary to other top-10 recruits. And if all of those players can come together for the Huskies this season, the end of UConn’s historic Final Four streak could feel like a distant memory if this team is hanging a banner in Gampel Pavilion.

But then comes in the cloud that has hung over UConn the past two years: Can the Huskies stay healthy? Because every time this group seemed as if it were finding momentum, there was an injury. Can that be avoided this season? And specifically, can it be avoided when it comes to Bueckers and Fudd. Even without those two, this is one of the most talented rosters in the country. But it needs those two to be healthy (or heck, even one of them) if the Huskies are going to make a run to the national title.

Edwards, the reigning Big East’s Most Improved Player, will anchor the paint alongside Griffin, but Geno Auriemma will need to fill out depth behind them. Ayanna Patterson and Amari DeBerry got limited minutes last season, and freshman Qadence Samuels got some run with the starting group in Europe when Ducharme was out with injury, but the Huskies will want to be able to run with a deeper rotation in the paint.

  • +Azzi Fudd and Paige Bueckers together
  • +Backcourt play
  • +Talent

Question Marks

  • Remaining healthy
  • Experienced post depth

Nika Mühl

Guard

Azzi Fudd

Guard

Paige Bueckers

Guard

Aubrey Griffin

Guard / Forward

Aaliyah Edwards

Forward

Top Reserves

KK Arnold

Guard

Caroline Ducharme

Guard

Qadence Samuels

Guard

Ice Brady

Forward

Amari DeBerry

Forward

UCLA returns eight players from a rotation that went nine deep last season, headlined by fifth-year guard Charisma Osborne and sophomore Kiki Rice. Between Osborne and Rice, the Bruins have an abundance of shot creation and one of the stouter defensive backcourts in the country. Both guards need to expand their shooting range for UCLA to hit a higher offensive ceiling — Osborne was effective in the midrange and corners but stands to improve above the break, and Rice was paint-bound other than the left elbow.

The paint will be more occupied this season with the addition of 6-7 Lauren Betts. The Bruins needed a fulcrum in the paint, as they played mostly without a traditional center, and she should immediately be the team’s most efficient scorer. That will allow Emily Bessoir and Lina Sontag to defend down a position and play on the perimeter on offense. Both players are gifted passers as well, opening up the possibility for high-lows with Betts.

UCLA will be able to shape-shift depending on the matchup given their surfeit of depth. Londynn Jones provides an active point-of-attack defender off the bench who can also hit 3s. Fellow sophomore Gabriela Jaquez has some old-school post moves to bully smaller wings, while veteran Camryn Brown is another potential defensive stopper on bigger guards. But the Bruins need their stars to be among the nation’s best.

  • +Playmaking
  • +Depth
  • +Offensive rebounding
  • +Continuity

Question Marks

  • Shooting
  • Defending without fouling

Kiki Rice

Guard

Charisma Osborne

Guard

Camryn Brown

Guard

Emily Bessoir

Forward

Lauren Betts

Center

Top Reserves

Christeen Iwuala

Forward

Gabriela Jaquez

Forward

Londynn Jones

Guard

Amanda Muse

Forward

Lina Sontag

Forward

It feels fair to say that we’ll never see another class quite like The Freshies (especially with the advent of the transfer portal). Led by Aliyah Boston, South Carolina’s 2019 recruiting class went 129-9 (including 60-1 at home) during their four years. Given the amount of talent and experience with that group, there was obviously a bit of a vacuum when it came to experience for players outside of The Freshies. So, entering 2023-24, Dawn Staley will be going through a transition and rebuild, though she certainly has the kind of roster talent needed for a deep run.

Kamilla Cardoso is one of the country’s most exciting players. At 6-7 (and with a wingspan that can feel like 7-6 to opposing players), Cardoso will anchor both ends of the floor. If Staley can bring out a bit more of an edge in her, there won’t be a team in the country that can contend on every play in the paint against the Gamecocks. Cardoso could simply be that good and that dominant if she takes her game to the next level.

The big remaining question will be the same one that was a downfall for South Carolina last season: lack of consistent outside shooters. There seem to be options, though. Bree Hall was a 36 percent shooter in limited minutes last season, and Te-Hina Paopao should help out in that area — the Oregon transfer shot a career-best 42 percent from long range last season — as will the freshman star MiLaysia Fulwiley, who is dangerous from deep.

  • +Defense
  • +Paint play
  • +Rebounding
  • +Ballhandling

Question Marks

  • Experience
  • Outside shooting

Raven Johnson

Guard

Te-Hina Paopao

Guard

Bree Hall

Guard

Ashlyn Watkins

Forward

Kamilla Cardoso

Center

Top Reserves

Sania Feagin

Forward

MiLaysia Fulwiley

Guard

Chloe Kitts

Forward

Sakima Walker

Center

The Utes came into last season flying under the radar. They were unranked to start the season and didn’t crack the top 15 until Week 5, when they were 7-0. Under coach Lynne Roberts, Utah has built methodically. But with a regular-season Pac-12 title, a run to the Sweet 16 last year, and the return of its starting five this season, there’s no doubt: Utah has arrived. So, what do they do now that they’re here? (And, especially now that everyone knows it.) Handling that pressure will be one of the biggest storylines to watch with this motivated group that played eventual champs LSU the best of any tournament opponent.

On the floor, Gianna Kneepkens, Kennady McQueen and Maty Wilke — the Wisconsin transfer — will stretch the floor with their 3-point shooting while Alissa Pili takes advantage of any space defenders give her. She and Jenna Johnson should be able to contend in the paint with any Pac-12 team, but the big remaining question is what happens when Roberts needs to turn to her bench for some post depth and production. Dasia Young and Samantha Crispe provide college experience, but a major potential difference-maker is Néné Sow, the 6-8 JUCO transfer from Belgium. She redshirted last year, so she has had a chance to get acclimated in the system, and if she’s ready to go, her length and size would be a real change up for a post group that could be the difference between a Final Four run or another second-weekend tournament exit.

  • +Continuity
  • +3-point shooting
  • +Go-to scorers

Question Marks

  • Post depth
  • Being targeted

Isabel Palmer

Guard

Gianna Kneepkens

Guard

Kennady McQueen

Guard

Jenna Johnson

Forward

Alissa Pili

Forward

Top Reserves

Dasia Young

Forward

Inês Vieira

Guard

Maty Wilke

Guard

Last season’s assignment for opponents will be the same this year: Stop (or, at least, slow) Caitlin Clark. This season, there are a few wrinkles. Though Clark is a thrilling scorer and playmaker, part of her efficiency last season was that defenses couldn’t sell out on her entirely. They still had to contend with Monika Czinano in the paint and the established chemistry those two had using one another. Now, Czinano is gone, and Addison O’Grady and Hannah Stuelke — who can both be effective and efficient in their own ways — are not going to be stepping into Czinano’s shoes entirely on their own.

If Gabbie Marshall or Kate Martin become similar complementary scorers to Clark that Czinano was a season ago, that will take some pressure off the paint and off Clark, helping the Hawkeyes find ways to win. But make no bones about it: Iowa will go as Clark goes. If she’s dropping 40-point triple-doubles, watch out. If she’s not, there better be at least two others going for 15-plus.

Ultimately, more questions linger for Iowa than most teams. But the Hawkeyes have a player no other team has, and the kind of player who can more than make up for a plethora of questions.

  • +Caitlin Clark’s scoring
  • +Perimeter shooting

Question Marks

  • Paint play
  • Scorers outside Clark
  • Depth

Caitlin Clark

Guard

Gabbie Marshall

Guard

Kate Martin

Guard

Hannah Stuelke

Forward

Addison O’Grady

Forward / Center

Top Reserves

Sydney Affolter

Guard

Molly Davis

Guard

Jada Gyamfi

Forward

How does the Ohio State defense that led power conferences in steals per game last season (11.3) come into this season even more terrifying? Just go ahead and add the ACC defensive player of the year to your backcourt, why don’t ya? Celeste Taylor’s pickup was one of the best overall fits for any player coming out of the portal. Coach Kevin McGuff will have the ability to rotate through Taylor, Jacy Sheldon, Taylor Thierry and Rikki Harris — all of whom are absolute ball hawks — as the Buckeyes ramp up their full-court defensive pressure and drive opponents into mistakes and turnovers.

With Taylor Mikesell’s graduation, the Buckeyes’ offensive identity needs to evolve. Mikesell accounted for almost a quarter of Ohio State’s shot attempts over the past two seasons, including more than one-third of its 3-point attempts. In her absence, Cotie McMahon — the reigning Big Ten freshman of the year — should become an even larger offensive centerpiece, especially as the Buckeyes don’t return any long-range shooters who are nearly as consistent as Mikesell.

Though the Buckeyes lack a tall, traditional big who would be able to match up one-on-one with some of the posts on the other top-10 teams, it ultimately might not be as big of an issue for OSU given the potential of its full-court pressure and pestering perimeter defense.

  • +Backcourt play
  • +Full-court press
  • +Perimeter defense
  • +Guard depth

Question Marks

  • 3-point shooting
  • One-on-one post depth

Jacy Sheldon

Guard

Celeste Taylor

Guard

Taylor Thierry

Guard / Forward

Cotie McMahon

Forward

Rebeka Mikulášiková

Forward

Top Reserves

Diana Collins

Guard

Madison Greene

Guard

Rikki Harris

Guard

Taiyier Parks

Forward

Eboni Walker

Forward

The return of Elizabeth Kitley and Cayla King for another season, alongside Georgia Amoore, guaranteed this group would be a preseason top-10 team and the ACC favorites. That trio is well established in Kenny Brooks’ system, and they’ll be able to help this group weather early season bumps that come along with a slew of transfers and young players entering the rotation.

Last season, Virginia Tech relied on its starters more than almost any other team in the country. The five starters played 81 percent of the Hokies’ minutes and accounted for 88 percent of their scoring. And though Amoore, King and Kitley are talented and have an established chemistry, they won’t be able to carry the full load through the full season. But by bringing in so many transfers, it seems to indicate that Brooks might go a bit deeper into his bench if the Hokies can get production and efficiency out of that group. And that’s a fair wager considering Virginia Tech’s recent success with transfers — look no further than Taylor Soule, who came in as a grad transfer and was a bedrock for a team that went to the program’s first Final Four.

  • +Rebounding
  • +Outside shooting
  • +Half-court offense

Question Marks

  • Bench production
  • Rotation

Georgia Amoore

Guard

Cayla King

Guard

Matilda Ekh

Guard / Forward

Carys Baker

Forward

Elizabeth Kitley

Center

Top Reserves

Rose Micheaux

Forward

Samyha Suffren

Guard

Olivia Summiel

Guard / Forward

Indiana played eight games in the middle of the season with this starting five when Grace Berger was hurt, and the Hoosiers finished 7-1 against quality opponents, including tournament teams North Carolina and Illinois. This group knows how to play together and has a dominant offensive unit, even if there is nothing flashy about it. Mackenzie Holmes is one of the best screeners and pick-and-roll finishers in college basketball, and she’s afforded the space to work thanks to shooting threats surrounding her. Sara Scalia, Sydney Parrish and Yarden Garzon all shot at least 38.7 percent from 3-point range last season, and Chloe Moore-McNeil wasn’t too far behind at 36.2 percent.

Defensively, Indiana is solid, if predictable. The Hoosiers execute man coverages well and don’t send extra help on the pick-and-roll, trusting their guards to maneuver through screens and Holmes to navigate the space between the ballhandler and the roller. A healthy Holmes had the mobility to contend with just about everyone the Hoosiers faced last season other than Caitlin Clark.

The formula works, but Indiana will have to introduce some wrinkles to adapt to specific opponents. The Hoosiers don’t have a great answer for teams with deep shooting threats or athletic guards who can muscle their way to the basket. Indiana needs to find some diversity in its blueprint during the regular season to avoid being matchup-dependent in March.

  • +Offensive flow
  • +Pick-and-roll scoring
  • +Ball control

Question Marks

  • Depth
  • Athleticism
  • Paint defense

Chloe Moore-McNeil

Guard

Sara Scalia

Guard

Sydney Parrish

Guard

Yarden Garzon

Guard

Mackenzie Holmes

Forward

Top Reserves

Lexus Bargesser

Guard

Julianna LaMendola

Guard

Lilly Meister

Forward

Rori Harmon will be the focal point on both ends of the floor — the defensive stalwart and first point of attack in full-court pressure, and the offensive catalyst that makes Texas run. As a junior and three-year starter, she’s an obvious name in the small circle of the most elite point guards in the country, and Vic Shaefer should rest easy that Harmon is his coach on the floor.

While every Shaefer team is known for its defense (and this year’s iteration will be no different), the reigning Big 12 champs were also one of the country’s most balanced offensive teams last season. But without a single focal point, Texas struggled to close out tight games when it needed a scorer to step up. Case in point: The Longhorns didn’t lose a single regular-season game by more than 10 points last season. The other side of that coin? In games decided by 10 or fewer points, Texas went 4-9.

One puzzle piece that could help there: Aaliyah Moore, a player who seemed like she would have grown into that last year. But the junior suffered a season-ending ACL tear nine games into the 2022-23 season. Her status hasn’t been made public yet but her return would be key. If she’s not ready right away, Texas won’t need to fret — Shaylee Gonzales, Taylor Jones, DeYona Gaston and Harmon can carry the load while working freshman Madison Booker into the mix.

  • +Defensive pressure
  • +Transition offense
  • +Point guard play

Question Marks

  • Free-throw shooting
  • Avoiding fouling
  • Closing out games

Rori Harmon

Guard

Shay Holle

Guard

Shaylee Gonzales

Guard

Taylor Jones

Forward

DeYona Gaston

Forward

Top Reserves

Madison Booker

Forward

Aaliyah Moore

Forward

Amina Muhammad

Forward

Notre Dame had an outside chance at national title contention before two knee injuries derailed last season, and the injury to Olivia Miles is the biggest cloud hovering over this year.

Even without Miles available at the start, this is one of the best guard groups in the country. Sonia Citron is an elite shooting guard who made 51 percent of her 2-pointers and 40 percent of her 3-pointers as a sophomore while routinely guarding opponents’ best players. The Irish should be able to leverage her off the ball even more as KK Bransford and Cassandre
Prosper grow as ballhandlers and with the addition of super freshman Hannah Hidalgo. Hidalgo’s rampage through the U19 World Cup over the summer showcased her advanced playmaking on both ends of the court — a team that struggled to create turnovers last season now has a ball hawk at the point of attack.

The path to victory will be pushing the pace and letting the guards get downhill early and often because the Irish are a little small, and beyond Citron, a little light on shooting. Transfer Anna DeWolfe made 35 percent of her 3-pointers at Fordham, and Maddy Westbeld was at 34.4 percent, but neither is the long-range shooter that defenses have to stay glued to. The Irish will be at their best leaning into their speed by being disruptive on defense and playing in transition offense as much as possible. When Miles returns, she’ll fit in seamlessly to that style.

  • +Playmaking
  • +Pace
  • +Paint scoring

Question Marks

  • Olivia Miles’ knee
  • Jump shooting
  • Post depth

Hannah Hidalgo

Guard

KK Bransford

Guard

Sonia Citron

Guard

Maddy Westbeld

Forward

Kylee Watson

Forward

Top Reserves

Anna DeWolfe

Guard

Becky Obinma

Forward

Cassandre Prosper

Guard

Emma Risch

Guard

The potential scoring trifecta that Jewel Spear, Rickea Jackson and Tamari Key could be this season is really something, giving the Lady Vols a “pick your poison” type offense for opponents to try to stop. The addition of Wells — the Belmont transfer who dropped 22 on Tennessee during the 2022 NCAA Tournament — gives the Lady Vols a fourth double-digit scorer in the form of a point guard who can be both a pass-first player and a shot hunter (she shot 46 percent from beyond the arc last season).

Even with all that offensive potential, this is Tennessee after all, so defense will be prioritized. And even without Key for the full season, the Lady Vols’ interior defense performed well, holding opponents to 47 percent shooting at the rim, per Pivot Analysis. Having Key (6-6), Jillian Hollingshead (6-5) and Jackson (6-2) gives them defensive length, versatility and shot adjusting potential in the paint that could take this defense into pretty terrifying territory. Tennessee lost its leading rebounder in Jordan Horston, but this trio should be able to clean up the glass.

Tennessee hasn’t won the regular-season conference title in nearly a decade, but there are some promising indicators that this season in Knoxville could be special (which is something we’ve said before to no avail). But with the returners as well as the personnel turnover on other SEC teams, could this be the year that Kellie Harper gets Tennessee over the hump and brings her first banner to Rocky Top?

  • +Rebounding
  • +Scoring potential
  • +Half-court defense
  • +Late shot-clock defense

Question Marks

  • Bench production
  • Transition defense

Destinee Wells

Guard

Jewel Spear

Guard

Jillian Hollingshead

Forward

Rickea Jackson

Forward

Tamari Key

Center

Top Reserves

Tess Darby

Guard / Forward

Jasmine Powell

Guard

Sara Puckett

Guard / Forward

Karoline Striplin

Forward

Coach Courtney Banghart’s first recruiting class has reached its senior season, and this should be the best North Carolina team yet of her tenure.
The Tar Heels needed to add some offensive firepower this offseason, and they did so in two distinct and important ways. Lexi Donarski helps fill the role of Eva Hodgson as a designated spacer, but the former Big 12 defensive player of the year also has some teeth at the other end as a perimeter stopper. Maria Gakdeng is an offensive hub in the post as a rim protector and by providing efficient scoring, which North Carolina sorely missed last year.

UNC resorted to one-on-one basketball too often last season — its assist percentage was in the 19th percentile of Division I, per CBB analytics. Deja Kelly turning into more of a distributor will help, but having more capable ballhandlers on the floor should improve the overall flow on offense. Paulina Paris at least took care of the ball as a freshman; now she has to figure out how to move it. Transfer Indya Nivar didn’t get much time on the ball at Stanford but should get a chance to show off what made the Apex, N.C., product one of the nation’s top guard recruits.

North Carolina has depth in the frontcourt, too, with returning starters Alyssa Ustby and Anya Poole complemented by Gakdeng and incoming freshman Cierra Toomey, who was No. 4 in ESPN’s rankings of the class of 2023. Rotating in more bodies is a necessity considering how physically the Tar Heels play.

  • +Rim pressure
  • +Transition defense

Question Marks

  • Outside shooting
  • Rebounding
  • Ball movement

Deja Kelly

Guard

Paulina Paris

Guard

Lexi Donarski

Guard

Alyssa Ustby

Guard / Forward

Maria Gakdeng

Forward / Center

Top Reserves

Indya Nivar

Guard

Anya Poole

Forward

Kayla McPherson

Guard

Ciera Toomey

Forward

A year ago, no one was talking about Ole Miss. Heck, heading into the NCAA Tournament last season, no one was talking about Ole Miss. The Rebels didn’t appear in a single AP Top 25 last season. Even though they played LSU and South Carolina well in mid-February, few outside of Oxford took notice. Then they held perennial mid-major power Gonzaga to 48 points in the first round and knocked off No. 1 seed Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. People across the country took notice of Yolett McPhee-McCuin’s vaunted defensive team.

Now, as a top-15 team with a lot of hype coming into this season — and in the SEC that feels a bit more up-for-grabs this year — how do the Rebels respond … especially with so many new faces on this roster?

Ole Miss added transfers Kennedy Todd-Williams (North Carolina), KK Deans (Florida) and Kharyssa Richardson (Auburn). As she predicted, McPhee-McCuin did “damage in the portal,” complementing an already-established Davis-Collins-Scott starting core. So, the talent is there and the fits — on defense, especially — seem obvious.

Offensively, considering the Rebels lost five games last season by single digits, this side of the ball could see some growth. One big area: the 3-point line. Though Ole Miss’ offensive system isn’t predicated on a ton of long-range shots, the Rebels shot worse than 30 percent from deep last season (and their highest-volume 3-point shooter only 28 percent). That’s not a great recipe for success even if the 3 ball isn’t the highest priority. But McPhee-McCuin might’ve started to answer part of this question with two transfers — Deans shot 38 percent while Todd-Williams hit 32 percent on 3s last season.

  • +Defensive execution
  • +Paint protection
  • +Rebounding
  • +Transition defense

Question Marks

  • 3-point shooting
  • Handling increased expectations

KK Deans

Guard

Marquesha Davis

Guard

Kennedy Todd-Williams

Guard

Snudda Collins

Forward

Madison Scott

Forward

Top Reserves

Kharyssa Richardson

Forward

Tyia Singleton

Forward

Zakiya Stephenson

Guard

No matter how much continuity Maryland has, Brenda Freese manages to consistently construct one of the country’s best offenses. The Terrapins play fast and have pristine spacing. Abby Meyers may be gone, but Maryland still has three players who shot at least 39 percent from 3-point range last season (Lavender Briggs, Brinae Alexander and Bri McDaniel), plus Jakia Brown-Turner, who made nearly 42 percent of her 3s in four seasons at NC State.

The problem for the Terrapins is lack of playmaking. Shyanne Sellers returns as the point guard, but she’ll have to score more with the graduations of Meyers and Diamond Miller, and there isn’t as much ballhandling in the starting lineup. Perhaps Maryland won’t have to worry about half-court execution if it can get out in transition and rain 3-pointers, but defenses that can slow the pace may find success against the Terrapins.

Maryland’s depth could be an issue. Three of last season’s freshmen transferred, leaving five returnees and two incoming transfers. The good news is that the Terrapins brought in the No. 7 freshman class in the country, led by McDonald’s All-American wing Riley Nelson. Hawa Doumbouya also adds some needed size in the middle – at 6-7, she’s the only player on the roster taller than 6-2. They could be called upon to contribute right away.

  • +Coaching
  • +Offensive spacing
  • +Transition

Question Marks

  • Frontcourt rotation
  • Isolation scoring
  • Depth

Shyanne Sellers

Guard

Lavender Briggs

Guard

Brinae Alexander

Guard / Forward

Faith Masonius

Guard / Forward

Hawa Doumbouya

Center

Top Reserves

Jakia Brown-Turner

Guard

Bri McDaniel

Guard

Riley Nelson

Guard

The Seminoles return their three top scorers while adding multiple players who should bolster their offensive potential. Alexis Tucker, the UCSB transfer, averaged 14 points a game last season while Sakyia White averaged 18. Throw into the mix Carla Viegas, the Spanish sharpshooter who shot 45 percent from beyond the arc at the FIBA U18 European Championship. She and Amaya Bonner will bring a one-two scoring punch off the bench.

Those additional scorers should make life slightly less difficult for Ta’Niya Latson, the reigning ACC freshman of the year who was an absolute matchup nightmare last season. Though FSU should have scoring threats across the board, make no bones about it, Latson will be the No. 1 option. Despite missing the postseason with an injury, she has been 100 percent since the spring and will come into this season with a similar offensive propensity, but with a focus on becoming a more disciplined defender.

Post depth and paint presence will be the real question marks for the Seminoles, who have only three players 6-2 or taller. Makayla Timpson was one of 11 power conference players to average more than two blocks per game last season (she averaged 2.6), and the Seminoles’ overall rim protection was quite good (per Pivot Analysis, FSU’s opponents shot just 44 percent at the rim). But developing depth in the paint will be key to fight Virginia Tech and Notre Dame for control of the ACC.

  • +Transition offense
  • +Pace
  • +Latson’s injury recovery

Question Marks

  • Rebounding
  • Post depth

Ta’Niya Latson

Guard

Sara Bejedi

Guard

O’Mariah Gordon

Guard

Alexis Tucker

Guard

Makayla Timpson

Forward

Top Reserves

Amaya Bonner

Guard

Brianna Turnage

Guard

Carla Viegas

Guard

Sakyia White

Forward

Fresh off its first Sweet 16 appearance in 21 years, Colorado returns six of its top seven players in total minutes and is in prime position to contend for a Pac-12 title in the conference’s swan song.

The Buffaloes are once again led by Quay Miller and Jaylyn Sherrod. Miller’s versatility as a forward shines, especially in her ability to operate in the midrange and beyond the arc as a scorer and passer. Sherrod’s game is a little more paint-bound than ideal for a 5-7 guard, but her ability to turn the corner, get to the basket and spray out to the 3-point line is useful when she’s surrounded by shooters. Miller has upped her 3-point percentage every year at Colorado, getting to 33 percent in 2022-23, and she’s joined by some veritable scorers in Frida Formann, Kindyll Wetta and incoming players Maddie Nolan and Kennedy Sanders.

With a frontcourt of Miller and Aaronette Vonleh each standing at 6-3, the Buffaloes can get outmatched inside. They shot just above league-average in the paint and weren’t very good at getting second-chance opportunities or blocking shots last season. The defense holds up due to its speed and activity, especially on the perimeter. However, bigger opposing posts like Rayah Marshall and Cameron Brink, along with guards who put pressure on the rim, could present a problem.

  • +Continuity
  • +Forcing turnovers
  • +Transition offense

Question Marks

  • Fouling on defense
  • Drawing fouls
  • Interior size

Jaylyn Sherrod

Guard

Maddie Nolan

Guard

Frida Formann

Guard

Quay Miller

Forward

Aaronette Vonleh

Center

Top Reserves

Tameiya Sadler

Guard

Kennedy Sanders

Guard

Shelomi Sanders

Guard

Kindyll Wetta

Guard

Outside of Cameron Brink, Hannah Jump and Haley Jones, rotations for the Cardinal last season seemed to vary wildly. That might not be as much of an issue this season given the shorter roster for Tara VanDerveer. And though that lack of depth could be a downfall (especially if particular players get into foul trouble — cough, Cam Brink, cough), fewer players might also end up being a good thing as Stanford potentially settles on — by necessity — a core group more quickly.

With that smaller rotation, every player will need to expand her game. While Brink will anchor both ends of the floor, she’ll need to make sure she plays within herself and the system so her minutes aren’t limited by fouls. Stanford will be significantly worse off anytime Brink needs to be on the bench. If Talana Lepolo makes a jump similar to Kiana Williams from her freshman to sophomore seasons, the Cardinal could be in good hands as she becomes more consistent and gets more involved as a scorer. Jump has been an excellent 3-point shooter, but if she can at least threaten more as a three-level scorer and distributor, Stanford will be much better off.

Kiki Iriafen could raise the ceiling. Her potential on offense and defense could help separate this group. Her free-throw shooting needs to improve, especially as she gets more involved in the paint on offense, but the possibilities for Iriafen and Brink playing in tandem and off one another could give the Cardinal a dynamic unit to build around.

  • +Rebounding
  • +3-point shooting

Question Marks

  • Depth
  • Multiple distributors

Talana Lepolo

Guard

Hannah Jump

Guard

Brooke Demetre

Forward

Kiki Iriafen

Forward

Cameron Brink

Forward

Top Reserves

Elena Bosgana

Forward

Courtney Ogden

Forward

Jeff Walz is well aware of the new reality of college basketball. As he said during the NCAA Tournament: There’s Selection Sunday, then Portal Monday. And even though the Cardinals lost one of the country’s best players (Hailey Van Lith) as a transfer, Walz reloaded in impressive fashion.

Jayda Curry is the new jitterbug scoring guard running the show, and her hot shooting stretch (48 percent on 2-pointers and 3-pointers in the last five games) to end the season for Cal provides excitement for playing off the ball with more help. She’ll get that in the form of Sydney Taylor, who averaged at least 15.6 points each of the last three seasons while improving her 3-point percentage every year, and Kiki Jefferson, who put up at least 16.2 points per game the last three seasons. Combined with Olivia Cochran inside, scoring shouldn’t be an issue. Curry and Jefferson will need a crash course in defending the Louisville way, however, because neither came from programs that emphasized that end of the floor.

The Cardinals have grown accustomed to integrating hordes of transfers over the past few years. But Walz doesn’t have a veteran floor general or even a natural point guard this year with the departures of Van Lith and Mykasa Robinson. Still, expect Louisville to once again coalesce by March, even if there are growing pains.

  • +Coaching
  • +Shot creation
  • +Perimeter scoring

Question Marks

  • Post depth
  • Point guard play
  • Chemistry

Jayda Curry

Guard

Sydney Taylor

Guard

Merissah Russell

Guard

Kiki Jefferson

Guard

Olivia Cochran

Forward

Top Reserves

Nyla Harris

Forward

Alexia Mobley

Forward

Nina Rickards

Guard

In coach Nicki Collen’s third season, Baylor has a serious chance to put up massive offensive numbers despite losing two of its top-three scorers. Andrews returns as the Bears’ leading scorer (15 points per game last season), and she has around her five others who scored in double digits in their most recent full seasons — Darianna Littlepage-Buggs (11 PPG, Baylor), Aijha Blackwell (15 PPG, Missouri 2021-22), Jada Walker (13 PPG, Kentucky), Dre’Una Edwards (17 PPG, Kentucky 2021-22) and Madison Bartley (14 PPG, Belmont). Balancing expectations and shot distribution with so many scorers is ultimately a good problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

Add to that core scoring group Yaya Felder, the Ohio transfer who can attack the paint and put pressure on defenses, as well as 6-7 freshman Lety Vasconcelos, a solid passer with good touch around the rim who gives Baylor a lob option deep. Each brings a unique skillset, allowing the Bears to go through different players as Collen throws out versatile lineups without many redundancies at each position.

The flip side? Players will need to adjust to working in Baylor’s schemes with teammates who attack the game in distinct manners. Building cohesion while maintaining that versatility will be Collen’s priority through camp and in early games.

  • +Scoring potential
  • +Ball movement
  • +Depth
  • +Pick-and-roll action

Question Marks

  • Cohesion
  • Shot distribution

Sarah Andrews

Guard

Bella Fontleroy

Guard / Forward

Aijha Blackwell

Guard / Forward

Darianna Littlepage-Buggs

Guard / Forward

Dre’Una Edwards

Forward

Top Reserves

Madison Bartley

Forward

Yaya Felder

Guard

Denae Fritz

Guard

Jana Van Gytenbeek

Guard

Jada Walker

Guard

In Shauna Green’s first year, Illinois put together one of the most impressive year-over-year turnarounds in women’s college hoops. Now in Year 2, with all five starters returning, the Illini are a dangerous top-25 team in a conference that could prepare them for a deeper postseason run.

Last year, lack of depth hurt the Illini, especially as the season wore on, but with another full season of recruiting (and transfer portal recruiting), Illinois could prove to be a deeper team. Illinois’ top six will look the same but the two key additions — Camille Hobby and Gretchen Dolan — could be big difference makers.

Hobby comes to Illinois from NC State, where she averaged eight points and four rebounds a game as a senior. As a 6-3 center, she gives the Illini more depth in the paint alongside Kendall Bostic and Brynn Shoup-Hill. Dolan, a freshman, averaged 39 points a game as a senior and ended her high school career with 2,622 points. To bring Hobby, Jada Peebles and Dolan off the bench should give Green the kind of depth and fresh legs she didn’t have last season.

  • +Experience
  • +Half-court offense
  • +3-point shooting

Question Marks

  • Defensive consistency
  • Rebounding

Makira Cook

Guard

Adalia McKenzie

Guard

Genesis Bryant

Guard

Kendall Bostic

Forward

Brynn Shoup-Hill

Forward

Top Reserves

Gretchen Dolan

Guard

Jada Peebles

Guard

Camille Hobby

Center

Last season, USC played in the muck. The Trojans worked so hard to slow the pace and be disruptive on defense to break opponents’ offensive flow. It was tough to execute, and tough to watch for long stretches, but it was how they had to play to account for their offensive deficiencies.

Now, the Trojans have 3-point shooters by raiding the Ivy League for McKenzie Forbes (Harvard) and Kayla Padilla (Penn) and adding an off-the-bounce scorer and creator in JuJu Watkins. If Watkins is as dynamic as advertised, she’ll be an offense unto herself. She and Rayah Marshall, who was already one of the nation’s finest defensive centers as a sophomore, are the foundations for USC on both ends. For the Trojans to take a meaningful step forward, however, Marshall has to become a passable scorer — her true shooting percentage of 42.4 was in the bottom fifth for centers last year.

This is the second straight season that Gottlieb must weave together a patchwork roster, as only three rotation players (plus Clarice Akunwafo) remain from last year’s roster. The hope is that Watkins can provide some structure on offense while the defensive integrity from 2022-23 remains.

  • +Interior defense
  • +Athleticism
  • +3-point shooting

Question Marks

  • Passing
  • Experience
  • Paint scoring

JuJu Watkins

Guard

Kayla Williams

Guard

McKenzie Forbes

Guard

Taylor Bigby

Guard

Rayah Marshall

Forward

Top Reserves

Dominique Onu

Guard

Kayla Padilla

Guard

Malia Samuels

Guard

Clarice Akunwafo

Center

It’s not out of the question to think Wes Moore might have four freshmen in his main rotation, as the Wolfpack welcome four top-100 recruits, including ninth-ranked Zoe Brooks, who famously won the 2022 WNBA All-Star skills challenge alongside Sabrina Ionescu. But at the start of the season, expect Moore to lean on whatever continuity and veteran presence NC State does have, as well as the Wolfpack’s pace.

Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers are two of the nation’s fastest players with the ball, each dynamite at getting into the paint, and together create a devastating open floor attack. The two guards had the best plus-minuses on the team last season, suggesting the Wolfpack are better off when they lean on that athleticism. Neither is a pure point guard, but their ability to turn the corner on defenders allows them to make plays. Brooks has this same burst to keep the tempo going when she comes off the bench.

Katie Peneueta arrives from Sacramento State having canned 46 percent of her 3-pointers over two seasons, and River Baldwin likes to spot up from distance and hit trail jumpers in transition. But if the frontcourt needs shaking up, reigning WAC defensive player of the year Lizzy Williamson is ready to step in for Baldwin, and Madison Hayes provides a small-ball spacing element that Mimi Collins doesn’t.

  • +Speed
  • +Athleticism
  • +Dribble penetration

Question Marks

  • Youth
  • Chemistry
  • Ball movement

Aziaha James

Guard

Saniya Rivers

Guard

Katie Peneueta

Guard

Mimi Collins

Forward

River Baldwin

Center

Top Reserves

Zoe Brooks

Guard

Maddie Cox

Forward

Madison Hayes

Guard

Lizzy Williamson

Center

Creighton is a model of consistency in an otherwise chaotic college basketball landscape. Jim Flanery has been a part of the program for more than 30 years, the last 20 as head coach, and his offensive system has remained relatively unchanged the past few seasons. It helps that the core four Bluejays (Lauren Jensen, Morgan Maly, Molly Mogensen and Emma Ronsiek) are all entering at least their third year at Creighton. The Bluejays will get into their offense deliberately and methodically, using east-west ball movement and screening actions to get layups and 3s. Their shot chart is an analytics dream.

The only problem on offense is when jumpers don’t fall. Opponents can’t really take them out of what the Bluejays do — the movement generally works, but there is volatility in relying on such a high percentage of outside shots.
Defense is another story. Creighton still doesn’t have the size inside to effectively protect the rim, and teams with more strength and athleticism can blow by its perimeter defense. Creighton should try more switching this year considering the players’ familiarity with one another and the like-sized rotation, or even throw out some junk defenses to keep opponents out of the paint. Flanery needs to take advantage of team chemistry on defense as well.

  • +Offensive system
  • +Continuity
  • +Efficiency

Question Marks

  • Size
  • Interior Defense
  • Athleticism

Lauren Jensen

Guard

Molly Mogensen

Guard

Jayme Horan

Guard

Morgan Maly

Guard / Forward

Emma Ronsiek

Forward

Top Reserves

Mallory Brake

Forward

Kiani Lockett

Guard

Kennedy Townsend

Guard

The only team on this list that didn’t make the tournament last year, Texas A&M is in line to be one of the most improved programs in the country. Fortunately, there’s nowhere to go but up after finishing 9-20 overall and 2-14 in the SEC last season.

The main source for optimism is second-year forward Janiah Barker, who was an absolute force in the 19 games she was available during her freshman year. Barker is excellent driving to her right and is an awesome play finisher on cuts, as a spot-up shooter, and in transition. The less creating she has to do, the better, which makes it important that the Aggies cleaned up in the transfer portal, starting with point guard Endyia Rogers.

Rogers has been a disciplined distributor at two stops before College Station and has oodles of talent to work with between Barker, Sydney Bowles, and transfers Lauren Ware and Aicha Coulibaly. Texas A&M also brings in three top-100 perimeter recruits in Kylie Marshall, Solè Williams and Erica Moon, allowing Joni Taylor to use multiple ballhandlers when necessary.

Coulibaly and Ware add paint protection to a team that has struggled defensively. Ware can play next to Barker in the frontcourt in smaller lineups, or the Aggies have enough depth with Jada Malone off the bench to play units with three bigs. Things didn’t come together for Texas A&M in Year 1 of the Taylor era, but Gary Blair went 2-14 in the SEC in his first year with the Aggies, too. There’s reason to have hope with this new roster.

  • +Point guard play
  • +Offensive versatility
  • +Frontcourt depth

Question Marks

  • Continuity
  • Shooting

Sydney Bowles

Guard

Endyia Rogers

Guard

Aicha Coulibaly

Guard

Janiah Barker

Forward

Lauren Ware

Forward

Top Reserves

Kay Kay Green

Guard

Sahara Jones

Guard

Jada Malone

Forward

Kylie Marshall

Guard

Also considered: Arizona, Duke, Kansas State, Miami

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos, from left, of Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and Paige Bueckers: Maddie Meyer, Justin Tofoya, G Fiume / Getty Images)

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