College hoops storylines from A to Z
What better way to take a trip through the upcoming women's college basketball season than an alphabetical one?
A -- A&M: The defending national champion Aggies won the title last season with grit, athleticism and the folksy charm of coach Gary Blair. But the element of pleasant surprise is gone. No more Danielle Adams or Sydney Colson. And the Aggies will wear a big ol' target on their backs as the defending champs. Kelsey Bone, who transferred from South Carolina a year ago, is eligible and will keep A&M near the top of the rankings.
B -- Baylor: The Bears start the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, hardly a shocker considering the profile, size and talent of Brittney Griner. But Griner isn't a one-woman show. Sophomore guard Odyssey Sims will do coach Kim Mulkey's bidding in the backcourt. Baylor is hungry after being denied a second straight Final Four trip with last spring's Elite Eight loss to Texas A&M. You think Mulkey would let 'em forget?
C -- Connecticut: The Huskies have to move on now that the Maya Moore era has ended, and on paper they don't look quite as dominant, even with Bria Hartley, Tiffany Hayes and Caroline Doty back on the floor. The coaches in the Big East agree, picking Connecticut to finish second. Is this really a rebuilding season for Geno Auriemma's team? Yeah, right.
D -- Denver: The site of the 2012 Final Four, the Mile High City is the westernmost city to host the Women's Final Four since San Jose, Calif., way back in 1999. Will the fans come west to watch the game's best?
E -- Elena Delle Donne: Delaware's do-everything star would be the biggest name in the game if she had stayed at UConn. As it is, she is still perhaps No. 2 on the talent scale behind only Griner, it's just that so few people nationally get to see her play.
F -- Freshmen: They look young and sometimes they play young. But there are plenty of teams depending on these whippersnappers to get them where they want to go. The list of impact youngsters includes Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis at Connecticut, Elizabeth Williams at Duke, and Cierra Burdick and Ariel Massengale at Tennessee.
G -- Griner: The 6-foot-8 Baylor star is unlike any other player in women's basketball, and she's still only a junior. She put on 20 pounds and spent time this summer learning from the best with the U.S. national team, doing battle with the likes of Sylvia Fowles. In the college game, she is nearly impossible to defend. The maturation of her game might be enough to lead the Bears to their first title since 2005.
H -- Hitting the new 3-point shot from 20 feet, 9 inches: That is the mandate after the NCAA moved the women's distance back a foot to match the men's. Now we'll wait to see how it affects scoring.
I -- Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly: One of the Twitter-est coaches in the game, he announced he's been diagnosed with cancer on his vocal cords and will be undergoing radiation treatments throughout the upcoming season. He is expected to make a full recovery.
J -- Joanne P. McCallie: In her fifth season as the Duke head coach, she is trying to get the Blue Devils back to the Final Four after two straight trips to the Elite Eight. Duke is picked to finish second in the ACC behind Miami.
K -- Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis: She comes to Connecticut as the nation's No. 1-ranked freshman. No pressure, but it's Final Four or bust for the 6-foot wing from California.
L -- Longhorns: Under head coach Gail Goestenkors, Texas has lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in each of the past three seasons. It's getting to be a "thing." And it's starting to reflect on Goestenkors' legacy as a head coach.
M -- Miami: The up-and-comer has arrived in the elite thanks to the efforts of one of the best backcourts in the country in Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson. They averaged 40 points a game last season as Miami tied for first in the ACC.
N -- Notre Dame: Last season's national runner-up opens the season as the team to beat in the Big East, picked to win the conference ahead of perennial champion Connecticut. Can the Irish handle the No. 1 mantle in the country's toughest conference?
O -- Ogwumike: The sisters rule the West. Nneka is the best athlete in the country, and her game has caught up to her ability to outjump everyone. Chiney is the life of the party and a nightmare to defend in the paint. If the Cardinal advance to a fifth straight Final Four, they will be able to thank the sister act.
P -- Penn State: The Lions are a power in the game once again. Penn State won 25 games last season and returns four starters. The Lions could make a run at the Big Ten championship that has been Ohio State territory over the past few years.
Q -- Quentin Hillsman: The Syracuse head coach has had a difficult year, investigated for a claim of sexual harassment by one of his former players in January. A university investigation failed to produce evidence against him. On the court, the Orange have excelled, reaching the postseason five consecutive years, including consecutive quarterfinal WNIT appearances.
R -- Realignment: Last year's realignment-fest is taking effect this season. Colorado and Utah join the Pac-12, Nebraska is in the Big Ten, BYU joins the West Coast Conference. Will there be new rivalries or rude awakenings?
S -- Skylar Diggins: The Irish point guard became a Twitter sensation after her performance in the Final Four. Can she and Devereaux Peters lead Notre Dame to a Big East title? Or a national title?
T -- Tennessee: Is there any team in the country that will be watched more closely than the Volunteers after Pat Summitt's announcement that she is battling early-onset Alzheimer's-type dementia? It will be the story of the year with an ending nobody is quite sure about.
U -- USC: This experienced, talented team has inexplicably missed the NCAA tournament field two years running, losing a crucial game or two late to dash its hopes. But some of the best players on the West Coast -- Ashley Corral, Briana Gilbreath and Jacki Gemelos -- are on the roster, and this looks like a good time for a breakthrough.
V -- Vivian: C. Vivian Stringer is trying to get Rutgers back into the realm of the elite. It's been a rough few years in Piscataway, N.J., for the Hall of Fame coach, with transfers and depth issues. But with players like Khadijah Rushdan, April Sykes and Nikki Speed, better days may be ahead. The Scarlet Knights are picked to finish fourth in the Big East.
W -- Whitney Hand: The Oklahoma guard is one of the best 3-point shooters in college basketball. The question is can she shoot well enough to boost the Sooners? With the emergence of A&M and Baylor, Oklahoma will have to work hard to be the national power it has been in years past.
X -- Xavier: The Musketeers lost their two stars, Ta'Shia Phillips and Amber Harris, to graduation and coach Kevin McGuff left for the University of Washington. A major rebuilding season is on hand for one of the country's top mid-majors over the past few years.
Y -- Yow: Kay Yow remains one of the defining figures in women's basketball, nearly three years after her death. The WBCA Pink Zone games, which support breast cancer causes in February, have been "rebranded" Play4Kay and will benefit the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.
Z -- Zags: Also known as the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Zags reached the Elite Eight for the first time last season behind the considerable talents of point guard Courtney Vandersloot. But Sloot has moved on to the WNBA. Can Gonzaga uphold the new standard?