Even as women’s hoops keeps getting better and the talent spreads itself wider and wider, a large portion of it still ends up in Storrs, CT. Just like last year, we’re picking UConn to win it all. Just like last year, expect us to be right.
Key Players: Moriah Jefferson, Kia Nurse, Breanna Stewart
The Skinny: Everyone knows Stewart is the WNBA tanking prize, but PG Jefferson is going to be a high pick, too. And sophomore Nurse just led Canada through an impressive international summer, but the main reason UConn ranks as the best of the very good is its depth. Injuries will sting but not wound, and with Geno Auriemma running practices, intensity will not lag.
- Notre Dame
Key Players: Lindsay Allen, Taya Reimer, Brianna Turner
The Skinny: If Muffet McGraw didn’t work in the shadow of Auriemma, she would be considered one of the great basketball coaches, male or female, of this era. And since she’s managed to take down mighty UConn more than once, there’s history to support putting the Irish at No. 1—but Notre Dame turns the ball over a little too much, and the roster just isn’t quite as talented.
Key Players: Nina Davis, Niya Johnson, Alexis Prince
The Skinny: Kim Mulkey can run a game pretty well, too, and with the unorthodox but amazingly effective Davis getting 21 and 8 every night, the Bears have a go-to player. There’s plenty of depth, but Baylor needs someone like Prince to emerge as a consistent double-figure scorer.
Key Players: Ariel Atkins, Imani Boyette (formerly McGee-Stafford), Kelsey Lang
The Skinny: Boyette is 6-7 worth of promise. If she lives up to it, she and the 6-5 Lang are worthy of being called Twin Towers, and watch for Atkins to bust out in her sophomore season.
- South Carolina
Key Players: Alaina Coates, Tiffany Mitchell, A’ja Wilson
The Skinny: Some like the Gamecocks at No. 2, or even ahead of UConn, but it says here they’ll really miss Aleighsa Welch, and inconsistent play off the bench will catch up to Dawn Staley’s crew. If some youngsters develop, though, the potential is clearly there.
- Florida State
Key Players: Adut Bulgak, Leticia Romero, Ivey Slaughter
The Skinny: Bulgak is a very good player (with a very cool name) but 15 assists and 67 turnovers won’t get it done. It wouldn’t hurt if Romero cut down on her turnovers, too, as otherwise the Seminoles seem to have all the pieces.
- Ohio State
Key Players: Ameryst Alston, Alexa Hart, Kelsey Mitchell
The Skinny: If senior point guard Alston can help calm down the rest of this enormously talented but very young roster, Ohio State could be in the Final Four. But the wonderful Mitchell (24.9 ppg as a freshman) turned the ball over 142 times, and that just won’t play at the elite level.
Key Players:: Andraya Carter, Bashaara Graves, Mercedes Russell
The Skinny: If the 6-5 Russell can finally produce in the paint, and if PG Carter can get her the ball, and if power forward Graves can score, the Vols will be impossible to stop. But, they need some perimeter production to avoid seeing nothing but 2-3 zones.
- Mississippi State
Key Players: Dominique Dillingham, Victoria Vivians, Morgan William
The Skinny: Vivians may have averaged only 14.9 ppg as a freshman, but don’t be surprised if she pushes the 20-a-game mark this year. And don’t be surprised if opposing point guards come up with a slight hamstring pull to avoid having to deal with Mississippi State’s in-your-nostrils defense (746 turnovers forced).
- Arizona State
Key Players: Sophie Brunner, Elisha Davis, Katie Hempen
The Skinny: Charli Turner-Thorne substitutes as though she gets paid every time the horn sounds, but the formula has kept ASU in the top half of the Pac-12 for almost all of her 18 years in charge. Turnovers (on the court, not in the lineup) could be an issue, though.
image via Getty