by Christian Mordi / @mordi_thecomeup
With the “3 to See” having moved on to the WNBA, there are plenty of new kids on the block and teams ready to emerge as elite powers in college basketball. UNC boasts a recruiting class with four top-25 players coming in. Maryland is led by Alyssa Thomas, who may be the most complete player in college basketball. UConn are the defending champs and will start the season atop the rankings, as they return most of their rotation.
The defending champs start out the season with a rigorous schedule, consisting of matchups against Stanford, Maryland, Penn State and Ohio State. Their first matchup is against Stanford. This game will be a rumble in the paint as Stefanie Dolson and Chiney Ogwumike will slug it out down low.
Games this week: November 9 vs Hartford, November 11 vs Stanford
The Blue Devils have made it to three straight Elite Eights and will be looking to get over the hump with this year’s team. Duke returns floor general Chelsea Gray, whose season ended early due to an injury. The team bought in four top 50-ranked freshmen to an already deep rotation. This team may take some lumps early, but come tourney time, will be a serious title contender. The Blue Devils look to show off their depth early in a matchup against Pac 12 titan California.
Games this week: November 8 vs Long Beach State, November 10 at California
The Lady Vols have one of the most physical teams in the nation, and will look to impose their will on teams from the door. Standout forward Bashaara Graves is joined by the nation’s No. 1-ranked freshman Mercedes Russell. This team may be young, but come tourney time will be a hard out due to their sheer size and ability to dominate the paint. The Lady Vols will get an early test as they take their talents on the road against North Carolina.
Games this week: November 8 at Middle Tennessee State , November 11 at North Carolina
Maryland has one of the most intriguing rosters in the nation. They have a nice blend of upperclass players and talented freshmen. The Terps are led by back-to-back ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas. The Pennsylvania native is one of the most versatile players in the nation, averaging 19 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists last year. The only issue with the Terps is that they have been plagued with huge injuries. If Laurin Mincy and Brene Moseley can stay healthy, the Terps may have a team that can go all of the way.
Games this week: November 8 at USF, November 10 vs Loyola MD
The Cardinal were the darlings of last year NCAA Tournament, knocking off defending champs Baylor en route to the championship game. The Schimmel sisters return alongside former Christ The King standout Bria Smith looking to press teams the second they step on the floor. With their ability to knock down shots from deep and get teams to turn over the ball at a high rate no game is out of range for the Cardinal.
Games this week: November 9 at Loyola Illinois
6. Notre Dame
Skylar Diggins isn’t going to walk through the doors of South Bend and suit up again for Notre Dame, but with an emerging star in Kayla McBride, the Irish may be OK with that. Alongside McBride are former McDonald’s All-Americans Michaela Mabrey and Jewell Loyd. The Irish just got a bit of bad news as forward Natalie Achonwa just went down with a injury which will hold her out for 4-6 weeks. The Irish will receive their first challenge this week as they play Michigan State.
Games this week: November 9 UNC Wilmington, November 11 vs Michigan State
The season is the beginning of the last ride for Chiney Ogwumike. The Cardinal can defend and can take care of the ball, but when they struggle when facing teams that force them to play at a faster pace. Ogwumike is a force in the paint, but can only do so much against teams that want to play games in the high 70s. The Cardinal have added more depth in top-20 recruits Erica McCall and Kailee Johnson. How quickly they adjust to the speed of the college game will be a huge factor in how far this team goes.
Games this week: November 9 at Boston College, November 11 at UConn
The Wildcats lose back to back SEC player of the year and SLAM diarist A’dia Mathies, but may have their most talented team in a decade. Kentucky brings in a top-five recruit at point guard in Linnae Harper, who is an absolute bulldog on the court. The team’s balance at all positions will make it a hard to guard. DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker are two transfers seniors primed for a breakout this year.
Games this week: November 8 at Marist, November 10 at Wagner, November 13 vs Georgia Southern
California broke out last year with steady wing play and an anchor in the post with Gennifer Brandon. They lost a big contributor to the NBA in Layshia Clarendon, but Brittany Boyd seems poised for a breakout year for the Bears. The electric wing is expected to fill up the box scores this year, and should challenge Ogwumike for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Games this week: November 10 vs Duke
10. North Carolina
The Tar Heels had one of the nation’s top-five recruiting classes which includes four top-25 players led by No. 3-ranked player in Diamond DeShields. They may be without their head coach who is currently battling leukemia and is on leave until further notice, but expect spirited play from the Tar Heels in her absence. With WNBA All-Star Ivory Latta as an assistant coach, the team has someone who has great in-game feel and will help this team make proper adjustments. Expect Latta’s presence to help the learning curve of these players speed up and for them to be a force come tourney time.
Games this week: November 8 vs Air Force, November 11 vs Tennessee
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kayla McBride, Notre Dame: K-Mac has been Robin to Skylar Diggins’ Batman for the past three years. With Diggins out of South Bend and in the WNBA, it’s time for McBride to step into the limelight as the leader of the Irish. The PA native has all the tools to be the best shooting guard in the nation, and McBride has great range on her jumper and is fearless attacking the rim. With a good season, McBride can push herself into the top five of the WNBA Draft next year.
Bria Hartley, Connecticut: The UConn senior has battled an assortment of injuries in the past couple years, but was still a force for the Huskies. A healthy Hartley with all the weapons around her is poised for a breakout year.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Stanford at UConn
The Huskies are a year older and more experienced. Wings Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and sensational sophomore Breanna Stewart will lead a relentless UConn offense that will look to get up and down the floor. Stanford will look to play a ball control offense, keep the score low lock in on defense. When in need of a bucket the Cardinal will call on All-American forward Ogwumike. The contrast of styles make this game must-see TV in week one.