An early look at 2013-14
It's never too early to take a look at next season. So here's a pre-preseason look at espnW.com's 2013-14 preseason top 25:
1. Connecticut: The program will dearly miss all that Kelly Faris brought to the table -- which was a little bit of everything -- but all the remaining key pieces from the 2013 championship team returns. Breanna Stewart's Final Four most outstanding player award might just be the beginning. Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis could also be All-Americans. The Huskies will be big favorites to win a women's NCAA-record ninth national championship.
2. Duke: Could 2014 finally be the year that Joanne P. McCallie's Blue Devils get over the hump and into a Final Four? A healthy Chelsea Gray would go a long way to helping that cause. More than 93 percent of Duke's scoring returns and McCallie brings in one of the best freshman classes in the country. This will be the nation's deepest team.
3. Tennessee: The Lady Vols will miss the steadiness of Kamiko Williams and Taber Spani but will be even more talented in 2013-14. The healthy return of Andraya Carter from shoulder surgery will be a huge boost. She will join Meighan Simmons and Ariel Massengale in a versatile backcourt. The arrival of Mercedes Russell, the top recruit in the country, adds to an already deep frontline. The Final Four drought has a solid chance at ending.
4. Stanford: The Cardinal will be big favorites for a seventh straight 30-win season and 14th consecutive Pac-12 regular-season title. They lose only Joslyn Tinkle and add a top-10 recruiting class. More importantly, Chiney Ogwumike is back for one last run at a Wade Trophy and a national championship.
5. Maryland: Having a true point guard who is healthy will be a welcome sight for Brenda Frese in 2013-14. Brene Moseley should be back from her knee injury and five-star freshman Lexie Brown, the daughter of former Celtic Dee Brown, arrives. The Terps could go from having no point guard to being deep at the position. No matter who gets the starting job, the quest will be to get the ball in the hands of Alyssa Thomas as much as possible. Of course, Thomas, who along with Stanford's Ogwumike is the top candidate for national player of the year, can handle the ball just fine on her own. Getting Laurin Mincey back from yet another knee injury will really help the offense.
6. Kentucky: A'dia Mathies, a Wildcat mainstay and the foundation upon which Matthew Mitchell's program was built, is now in the WNBA, but much of what surrounded the former SEC player of the year remains. The deep, athletic, relentless core that helped produce consecutive Elite Eight appearances is back, led by Jennifer O'Neil and DeNesha Stallworth.
7. North Carolina: The ACC will look different, but rival Duke remains the mountain to climb in front of the Tar Heels. That quest will begin with replacing Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, which won't be easy. Snagging the best recruiting class in the country is a good start. Jessica Washington and Diamond DeShields get to Chapel Hill and could join rising sophomore Xylina McDaniel as the best young trio in the nation.
8. Louisville: Jeff Walz proved just how talented a coach he is during the NCAA tournament and Shoni Schimmel demonstrated that she can play under control and lead. Antonita Slaughter and Sara Hammond could really break out if the confidence they displayed the past four weeks carries over. Playing in the new American Athletic Conference won't be nearly as tough as the old Big East or the ACC, the Cardinals' destination in 2015.
9. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers will feel the loss of point guard and WNBA first-round pick Lindsey Moore, but Rachel Theriot looks more than capable as the heir apparent. Jordan Hooper and Emily Cady form a frontcourt scoring duo unmatched in the Big Ten.
10. Notre Dame: There is no replacing Skylar Diggins, the best and most important player in school history. But if any portion of Diggins' leadership skills were passed on to Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa and Jewell Loyd, the Irish will survive. A fourth straight Final Four is unlikely, but competing with Duke and North Carolina in their first year in the ACC isn't.
11. California: The Bears should once again rule the backboards with Gennifer Brandon and Reshanda Gray, but Brittany Boyd will absorb plenty of pressure as the go-to perimeter scorer with the graduation of Layshia Clarendon.
12. Baylor: The Lady Bears have relied on the same core players for three years, but they are all gone save All-American point guard Odyssey Sims. Replacing the most dominant force the game has ever seen in Brittney Griner is impossible, but Baylor will still be good -- perhaps, even, still the class of the Big 12 thanks to two strong recruiting classes. Led by Sims, Niya Johnson, and Alexis Prince, Kim Mulkey's team will be much more perimeter-oriented.
13. Texas A&M: If Kelsey Bone had stuck around for her last year of eligibility, the Aggies might have been Final Four contenders. Alas, Bone is off to the New York Liberty, but the cupboard is far from bare for Gary Blair. Courtney Walker and Courtney Williams, two players from last year's outstanding recruiting class, will take on bigger roles as sophomores, and Karla Gilbert will have to emerge as a threat in the post. The graduation of Adrienne Pratcher at the point also leaves a hole.
14. Dayton: The Flyers surprised nearly everyone with their 28-3 season. With four of its top five scorers back, Dayton will again be the big favorite to win the Atlantic 10. If Andrea Hoover and Ally Mallot continue their ascent, Jim Jabir, fresh off a contract extension, could see his team with something higher than the No. 7 seed it received this past season.
15. Oklahoma: Perhaps only Maryland and DePaul could compete with the Sooners' injury issues of the past two seasons. Yet Oklahoma has managed three NCAA tournament wins in that time. Keeping Aaryn Ellenberg on the court has been key, and the sharp-shooting combo guard is back for her senior season. The graduation of Joanna McFarland, who played inspired basketball in March, means Nicole Griffin will have to take her game to the next level to give Sherri Coale an inside presence.
16. LSU: The Lady Tigers fought off injury and a lack of depth to get to the Sweet 16. The depth issue might not get any better, but if Theresa Plaisance and Danielle Ballard each take another step forward, getting back to the regional semifinals is a solid possibility.
17. Michigan State: The offense in East Lansing will have to be much better than No. 8 in the Big Ten, but most of the group that also made up the conference's best defense returns. Kiana Johnson and Klarissa Bell are most likely to become bigger scorers in what should be a very competitive Big Ten.
18. Colorado: Chucky Jeffery was the centerpiece for the Buffs' ascent, but now she is gone. If Arielle Roberson is ready to assume the leadership and go-to role, Colorado will be back in the NCAA tournament. Three other starters also return.
19. Penn State: Plenty will be riding on the shoulders of Maggie Lucas as the Lady Lions go for a third straight Big Ten crown. Backcourt running mate Alex Bentley is gone, as are frontcourt stalwarts Nikki Greene and Mia Nickson. Dara Taylor will take over at the point to help free up Lucas, who will show up on a number of preseason All-American lists.
20. Iowa State: Bill Fennelly runs as steady a program as there is in the Big 12, and there is no reason to believe the Cyclones will deviate from that in 2013-14. Leading scorer Hallie Christofferson returns, along with point guard Nikki Moody, who was third in the country in assists. The race in the Big 12 is no longer just for second place, and Iowa State could be in the mix for the title.
21. Oklahoma State: Stat-stuffing machine Toni Young is gone, but steady Liz Donohoe and Tiffany Bias are not. Brittney Martin should be better coming off a good freshman season and Jim Littell's team is now one of the most experienced in the Big 12.
22. Vanderbilt: If Christina Foggie can shake the injury bug and return to her sophomore form, when she led the SEC in scoring, the Commodores should make their 15th straight NCAA tournament. Jasmine Lister, the SEC leader in assists, also returns to not only run the show, but also mentor top recruit Rebekah Dahlman, the best prospect in a good recruiting class for Melanie Balcomb.
23. Georgia Tech: A young Yellow Jackets team took a big step back in 2013, but they should be back in the NCAA tournament this coming season. Rising senior Tyaunna Marshall is poised to be in the All-America discussion, coming off a season of 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, particularly if she improves her perimeter shooting and gets a little more help.
24. Purdue: Sophomore-to-be Taylor Manuel will have to play like the Missouri Miss Basketball winner she was two years ago to help compensate for the losses of Drey Mingo and Sam Ostarello. Most of the Boilermakers' rebounding left with those two program veterans. The backcourt will be fine with KK Houser and Courtney Moses each back for their senior seasons.
25. West Virginia: Christal Caldwell and Taylor Palmer are a talented, if inconsistent, scoring guard tandem that should be better as seniors. Mike Carey's teams always play top-level defense, and a more open Big 12 should only help the Mountaineers.
Also considered: Gonzaga, UCLA, Minnesota, St. John's, Marist, Virginia
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