Despite four straight national titles and an undefeated season last year, UConn is no longer the top dog coming into 2016-17. Check out SLAM’s Top 10 teams for the 2016-17 women’s college basketball season below.
1. Notre Dame Key players: Lindsay Allen, Brianna Turner, Arike Ogunbowale
The skinny: Last year, the Irish lost twice: to UConn by 10 and an NCAA Tournament upset at the hands of hot-shooting Stanford. But Coach Muffet McGraw returns three starters and adds two elite recruits, so the train will keep rolling. The fact that Lindsay Allen is a senior point guard who averaged 5.8 assists per game last season gives Notre Dame an edge that other title contenders can’t match.
2. Baylor Key players: Nina Davis, Alexis Jones
The skinny: The Bears have four starters back, but the missing piece is current WNBA player and former Baylor PG Niya Johnson. Alexis Jones will likely slide over from the 2, but even with Nina Davis’ scoring and rebounding, and plenty of elite talent, it’s unlikely the offense will run as smoothly as it did last year. Then again, if one (or more) of Baylor’s top-shelf recruits blossoms, Kim Mulkey may simply have too many weapons for even Notre Dame to handle
3. Ohio State Key players: Kelsey Mitchell, Shayla Cooper, Alexa Hart
The skinny: To paraphrase Geno Auriemma, Ohio State has Kelsey Mitchell and you don’t. The spectacular Mitchell averaged a B1G-best 26.1 ppg as a sophomore on 45.2 percent shooting (39.7 percent from beyond the arc), and though she is turnover-prone, she’s the most dynamic player in the country. Two other starters return, plus some big-time transfers, so look for Kevin McGuff’s team to make a serious run at the Final Four.
4. Maryland Key players: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Brionna Jones
The skinny: At the start of this season, Coach Brenda Frese’s suffering on the sidelines will be hard to miss. But by the time this crop of five-star recruits figures things out—February, say—smiles will outnumber frowns by a significant margin. And with seniors Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones on hand from day one, even a flood of freshman mistakes can be dealt with.
5. Louisville Key players: Myisha Hines-Allen, Mariya Moore
The skinny: Five of The Ville’s eight losses last year came before December 11, and the other three were by a total of 11 points, so down the stretch, the Cardinals were as good as anyone. And with Hines-Allen and Moore to go along with plenty of returning firepower and some solid recruits, look for Louisville to resemble the team that went 23-3 to finish last season a lot more than the one that stumbled to a 3-5 start.
6. Connecticut Key players: Kia Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson
The skinny: Hey, the Huskies’ cupboard isn’t exactly bare—and Auriemma is still the best coach in the game. But for the first time in four years, there’s uncertainty in Storrs. Unfamiliar faces will have to quickly establish themselves as high-caliber players and household names. UConn can count on Samuelson and Nurse, but after that, there are more questions than answers.
7. South Carolina Key players: A’ja Wilson, Alaina Coates
The skinny: Everyone knows three-pointers rule, and South Carolina lost almost all its firepower. Coach Dawn Staley, one of the steadiest PGs in women’s history, is going to have to mold Bianca Cuevas-Moore (who had more turnovers than assists as a junior) into a floor general. It could happen, but a step back is more likely.
8. Mississippi St. Key players: Victoria Vivians, Chinwe Okorie
The skinny: First, forget the 98-38 tourney hammering by UConn, replace it with the name Victoria Vivians and recall that Mississippi State’s top seven players are returning. Vivians is a 6-1 scorer with Olympic dreams, but the Bulldogs have to cut down on TOs if they want to leap into the top five.
9. Stanford Key players: Erica McCall, Karlie Samuelson
The skinny: Lili Thompson’s decision not to play her senior year was a blow, and perimeter defense and uncertainty at the point could be issues all season. But if forward Erica McCall continues improving and three-pointers continue to fall, Stanford will be the class of the Pac-12.
10. South Dakota St. Key players: Macy Miller, Ellie Thompson
The skinny: South Dakota State has been knocking on the door the past few years, and with five starters back and the superb coaching of Aaron Johnston, they are a team few Power Five conference schools would even consider playing.