|ESPN.com: NCW Preview 2012||[Print without images]|
Defending NCAA champion Baylor was a unanimous pick to lead off our preseason top 25, as voted by ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays, Charlie Creme and Michelle Smith. The Lady Bears were also No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason rankings. Creme provided the analysis for each team below.
|2011-12: National champion. Notable returners: Brittney Griner (23.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 5.2 bpg); Odyssey Sims (14.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Destiny Williams (10.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg).
The Lady Bears went wire-to-wire as the nation's No. 1 team a season ago en route to a 40-0 finish and a national championship. With no appreciable personnel losses, the expectation in Waco and beyond is that Baylor will be even better this time around. Boasting tons of big-game experience, the country's best and most unique player in Brittney Griner, arguably the game's best point guard in Odyssey Sims and waves of surrounding well-rounded talent, anything less than another title would be a major disappointment. Managing that could be coach Kim Mulkey's greatest challenge.
|2011-12: Lost in the national semifinals. Notable returners: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (15.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Bria Hartley (14.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.7 apg); Stefanie Dolson (10.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.5 bpg).
Geno Auriemma believes this edition of the Huskies is "really, really, really good," and who would disagree? An outstanding recruiting class that is expected to erase the depth problems of the past two seasons enters to supplement the scoring trio of Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and veteran glue players Caroline Doty and Kelly Faris. Not reaching a sixth consecutive Final Four would be a surprise.
|2011-12: Lost in the Elite Eight. Notable returners: Elizabeth Williams (14.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg); Chelsea Gray (12.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 6.1 apg); Tricia Liston (12.0 ppg, 3.96 rpg).
If sophomore center Elizabeth Williams is completely healed from the stress fracture issue that plagued her toward the end of last season, the Blue Devils have the pieces in place to reach their first Final Four since 2006. Williams and point guard Chelsea Gray form what is probably the country's second best post/point guard duo. Ultimately, Duke's success will be measured by its ability to get over the hump against the rest of the nation's elite in March.
|2011-12: Lost in the Elite Eight. Notable returners: Alyssa Thomas (17.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.2 apg); Laurin Mincy (13.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.1 apg); Tianna Hawkins (12.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg).
Led by reigning ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas, the Terps have elite talent. But in a season in which point guard is the deepest, most talent-rich position in the country, Maryland now enters a season of promise without one. Brene Moseley's ACL tear could mean consistent scoring 2-guard Laurin Mincy might have to move to floor director. This instantly becomes one of the season's prominent storylines for a team that still could be a serious Final Four contender.
|2011-12: Lost in the national semifinals. Notable returners: Chiney Ogwumike (15.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg); Toni Kokenis (9.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.6 apg).
With sister Nneka now in the WNBA, this is Chiney Ogwumike's team -- and the Cardinal are in good hands. A summer working on her perimeter game has made the junior All-American even better. Toni Kokenis and Amber Orrange make for a steady, smart backcourt. They already are phenomenal at taking care of the ball. How much they have improved as defenders and scoring threats will determine if Stanford's season ends in New Orleans.
|6. Notre Dame
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA title game. Notable returners: Skylar Diggins (16.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.7 apg); Kayla McBride (11.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg); Natalie Achonwa (7.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg).
Most of Skylar Diggins' key running mates from the past two seasons are gone. That probably means a drop-off, but that is acceptable after two straight appearances in the title game. Diggins is a lock as an All-American and in the conversation for national player of the year. If the Irish are to seriously challenge UConn in the Big East and have a chance at reaching New Orleans, Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride will have to elevate their games.
|2011-12: Lost in the Elite Eight. Notable returners: A'dia Mathies (15.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg); Samarie Walker (8.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg).
Expectations are becoming more the norm in Lexington and 2012-13 brings the highest of all. The Wildcats might be even deeper than last season's regular-season SEC champion club. The Wildcats -- led by conference player of the year A'dia Mathies and Samarie Walker -- should get a boost with the additions of guard Jennifer O'Neill (injured last season) and 6-foot-3 center DeNesha Stallworth (the Cal transfer averaged 13.3 ppg and 6.4 rpg in 2010-11).
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA second round. Notable returners: Monique Reid (15.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg in 2010-11); Shoni Schimmel (14.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.7 apg).
Shoni Schimmel is a unanimous preseason all-Big East selection and on the Wade Watch list, but the junior point guard might not even be the Cardinals' best player. If Monique Reid can return to her 2010-11 form after suffering a knee injury last season, Louisville can make things difficult on Connecticut and Notre Dame in the Big East.
|9. Penn State
|2011-12: Lost in the Sweet 16. Notable returners: Maggie Lucas (19.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.8 apg); Alex Bentley (14.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.7 apg).
The Lady Lions might have the nation's best backcourt in Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas. Each found her way to various All-America lists when Penn State captured the Big Ten regular-season title last season. The wild card is Dara Taylor, who set the all-time Maryland record for assists by a freshman two seasons ago before transferring to State College.
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA second round. Notable returners: Elena Delle Donne (28.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.3 apg); Lauren Carra (10.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg).
It's easy to say that the Blue Hens are all about Elena Della Donne; for the most part, it's true. But Delaware also returns all five starters and Lauren Carra is a second-team all-CAA pick. With Delle Donne leading the way, the Blue Hens should once again dominate the Colonial and will look to build on last spring's first postseason win.
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA first round. Notable returners: Jasmine Hassell (13.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Anne Marie Armstrong (11.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.0 apg).
This might be Andy Landers' best team in nearly a decade, and with Tennessee and LSU taking steps back, there is a big opportunity in the SEC. Four starters return, led by the versatile Anne Marie Armstrong and leading scorer Jasmine Hassell. How Landers integrates a deep recruiting class with these veterans might be the area to watch in Athens.
|12. St. John's
|2011-12: Lost in the Sweet 16. Notable returners: Shenneika Smith (12.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg); Nadirah McKenith (12.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.8 apg); Eugeneia McPherson (11.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg).
Coach Kim Barnes Arico has left for Michigan, but the program she built couldn't have been left in better shape. Joe Tartamella inherits a veteran team that reached the Sweet 16 for the first time. Seniors Nadirah McKenith, Shenneika Smith and Eugeneia McPherson are all back to complete the most successful stretch in school history.
|13. Texas A&M
|2011-12: Lost in the Sweet 16. Notable returner: Kelsey Bone (11.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
The Aggies not only have left the Big 12 for the SEC, but the roster is almost entirely turned over from the national championship team of just two seasons ago. The 6-4 Kelsey Bone and 6-5 Karla Gilbert give A&M the kind of size few teams can match, but the perimeter will be young and unproven in a league not even the Aggies coaches are all that familiar with.
|14. (tie) Vanderbilt
|2011-12: Lost in the Sweet 16. Notable returners: Christina Foggie (17.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Jasmine Lister (12.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.3 apg); Tiffany Clarke (11.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg); Stephanie Holzer (11.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg1.5 bpg).
Christina Foggie, the SEC's leading scorer from a season ago, is the best of five starters returning in Nashville. That kind of experience should give the Commodores a chance to challenge veteran clubs like Kentucky and Georgia for conference supremacy. Playing better on the road will be the key for Melanie Balcomb's team.
|14. (tie) Oklahoma
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA second round. Notable returners: Aaryn Ellenberg (15.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Whitney Hand (13.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 4.1 apg); Morgan Hook (10.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.6 apg).
The guard-oriented Sooners return all five starters and Jasmine Hartman from a redshirt season. Sherri Coale has tons of experience to lean on with Whitney Hand and Aaryn Ellenberg leading the way. Staying healthy has been an issue in Norman the past few seasons.
|2011-12: Lost in the Elite Eight. Notable returners: Meighan Simmons (11.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Ariel Massengale (7.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 4.9 apg).
While the emphasis early in the season will be on the sideline, where Pat Summitt won't be for the first time in 39 years, the Lady Vols are essentially starting anew on the floor, as well. The five players who were starting at the end of last season are all gone. Holly Warlick will be charged with integrating the experience she has in Meighan Simmons, Taber Spani and Ariel Massengale with some new faces in this new era.
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA second round. Notable returners: Layshia Clarendon (12.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.6 apg); Reshanda Gray (10.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Brittany Boyd (10.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.8 apg).
If a team or a program has a chance to challenge Stanford in the Pac-12 these days, it's Cal. The Golden Bears got their feet wet with coach Lindsay Gottlieb last season by finishing second in the conference and reaching the NCAA tournament's second round. With all the key pieces back, led by Layshia Clarendon, Brittany Boyd and Reshanda Gray, a deeper run in March is the goal.
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA first round. Notable returners: Jordan Hooper (18.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg); Lindsey Moore (15.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.1 apg).
A streaky season ended in disappointment for the Cornhuskers, who lost their NCAA tournament opener. But having four starters back gives this core group another chance. Jordan Hooper established herself as one of the Big Ten's best players a season ago, and Lindsey Moore is among the country's top point guards.
|19. West Virginia
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA second round. Notable returners: Christal Caldwell (10.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Taylor Palmer (10.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg).
The Mountaineers' transition to the Big 12 got much more difficult with the loss of center Asya Bussie (12.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg in 2011-12) to a knee injury. Christal Caldwell and Taylor Palmer, double-figure scorers from a season ago, and point guard Brooke Hampton (4.3 apg) are back. Perhaps more importantly, coach Mike Carey is still steering the ship, which usually means West Virginia is good for an unexpected win or two each season.
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA second round. Notable returners: Anna Martin (19.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg); Jasmine Penny (11.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg); Brittany Hrynko (10.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.9 apg); Katherine Harry (9.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg).
Just being able to scrimmage five-on-five is a big deal at DePaul this season. Injuries ravaged Doug Bruno's roster last season. Playing the better part of 2011-12 with just seven players, the Blue Demons still managed a second-round NCAA tournament appearance. Six of those seven players are back, including high-scoring guard Anna Martin, and 11 players should earn time in Bruno's up-tempo style.
|21. Georgia Tech
|2011-12: Lost in the Sweet 16. Notable returner: Tyaunna Marshall (14.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg).
Coming off the best season in school history, the Yellow Jackets will be leaning heavily on Tyaunna Marshall. The junior guard is the only proven scorer on a team that still relies on its defense and its ability to force tempo.
|2011-12: Lost in the Sweet 16. Notable returners: Carolyn Davis (16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Angel Goodrich (14.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 7.4 apg).
Knee injuries have derailed Carolyn Davis and Angel Goodrich at different points in their careers, but both appear healthy heading into their senior seasons (Davis is back after missing the final 20 games of 2011-12). That would give the Jayhawks two All-American candidates and a good opportunity to build on their surprising Sweet 16 run last March.
|23. Middle Tennessee
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA first round. Notable returners: Kortni Jones (16.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.6 apg); Ebony Rowe (16.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg); Icelyn Elie (13.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg); Shanice Cason (7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.0 apg).
With the high-scoring trio of Icelyn Elie, Ebony Rowe and Kortni Jones all back, it would be a big surprise if the Blue Raiders failed to make a fifth straight NCAA tournament. They will have to wipe clean the bad feeling of losing their final two games last season (Sun Belt tournament final and NCAA tournament opener) following a 20-game winning streak.
|24. (tie) Purdue
|2011-12: Lost in the NCAA second round. Notable returners: Drey Mingo (12.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg in 2010-11); Courtney Moses (10.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.1 apg); KK Houser (9.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.7 apg).
The injury- and illness-stricken career of forward Drey Mingo concludes with a sixth season of college basketball. If Mingo stays healthy and is fully recovered from last season's knee injury, she forms a solid nucleus with guards Courtney Moses and KK Houser and forward Sam Ostarello as Purdue moves on after the loss of mainstay Brittany Rayburn.
|24. (tie) Oklahoma State
|2011-12: WNIT champion. Notable returners: Liz Donohoe (13.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg); Tiffany Bias (13.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 6.7 apg); Toni Young (12.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
No team in the country played a more emotional season than the Cowgirls after coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna died in a plane crash. And no team forged such an incredible story when Oklahoma State emerged from the tragedy as WNIT champions. With Big 12 Freshman of the Year Liz Donohoe and assist-machine Tiffany Bias back, the Cowgirls hope to ride that momentum back to the NCAA tournament.
BYU, Green Bay, Iowa State, LSU, Ohio State, Rutgers, Texas and UCLA each received at least one vote.
* Refers to the highest and lowest votes a team received from ESPN.com's contributors; NR indicates the team was "not ranked" by at least one contributor; first-place votes were worth 25 points, second place 24 points, etc.