ESPN.com's preseason top 25
25 TEAMS TO WATCH
Baylor was a unanimous pick to lead off our preseason top 25, put together by ESPN.com's panel of contributors -- columnists Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays and Charlie Creme and editor Melanie Jackson. The Lady Bears were also No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today and Associated Press preseason rankings.
|2010-11: Lost in the Elite Eight. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Brittney Griner (23.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.6 bpg); Odyssey Sims (13.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg); Destiny Williams (8.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg).
The Bears have had the right pieces to challenge for an NCAA title the last two years. But this season, it feels like that is even more the case with player-of-the-year candidate Brittney Griner being a junior and having so much experience. Baylor has to fill the leadership gap left by Melissa Jones, but everything else is in place. -- Voepel
|2. Notre Dame
|2010-11: Lost in the NCAA title game. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Skylar Diggins (15.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.8 apg), Natalie Novosel (15.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Devereaux Peters (11.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg).
Natalie Achonwa's knee injury is a concern to start the season, but it's not often a team that played in the championship game returns its three best players. Skylar Diggins, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters should have this team bound for Denver. -- Hays
|2010-11: Lost in the Elite Eight. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Meighan Simmons (13.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.8 apg), Shekinna Stricklen (12.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Glory Johnson (12.0 ppg, 9.7 rpg).
You can't exactly just put aside all the players and coaches will be dealing with emotionally this season. But you can bet Pat Summitt will do everything possible to continually turn the focus toward the talent, speed, experience and skills this group has. They might also have that traditional Tennessee "rebound-you-into-submission" mentality and physicality. -- Voepel
|2010-11: Lost in the national semifinals. Returning starters: 3. Most notable: Nneka Ogwumike (17.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Chiney Ogwumike (11.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
A great deal was on the shoulders of Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen the last four years, so they'll be missed. However, Stanford could be a speedier team overall this season, taking advantage of how fast posts/sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike are. They will be the team leaders in all aspects. But expect the big freshman class to have an immediate impact, too, for the Pac-12 favorites. -- Voepel
|5. Texas A&M
|2010-11: National champion. Returning starters: 3. Most notable: Tyra White (13.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Sydney Carter (10.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.0 apg), Adaora Elonu (8.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg).
Danielle Adams and Sydney Colson were big losses, but the NCAA champs won't have a big drop-off in expectations. Center Kelsey Bone is eligible after sitting out last season (transfer). She is a different kind of player than Adams but should still be very effective. Guard Sydney Carter is back as the key to the A&M defense. -- Voepel
|2010-11: Lost in the national semifinals. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Tiffany Hayes (13.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.7 apg), Bria Hartley (12.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.9 apg), Stefanie Dolson (10.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Kelly Faris (7.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.7 apg).
It's not as if Connecticut stopped recruiting after Maya Moore arrived. Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley looked like stars in some big moments last season, Tiffany Hayes and Kelly Faris would start for anyone and freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis could be special. -- Hays
|2010-11: Lost in the NCAA second round.Returning starters: 5. Most notable: Riquna Williams (21.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.8 apg), Shenise Johnson (19.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.8 apg).
The turnaround at Miami under coach Katie Meier has been remarkable and 2012 shapes up to be the best season in program history. Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams make up the country's best backcourt and everyone else is back, too. Managing expectations might be the Hurricanes' biggest challenge. -- Creme
|2010-11: Lost in the Elite Eight. Returning starters: 2. Most notable: Chelsea Gray (8.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg), Haley Peters (6.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg).
With nine freshmen and sophomores on the roster, the Blue Devils are younger than usual, but no less talented. Chelsea Gray could be the next in line of Duke greats, and with highly regarded post players Elizabeth Williams (6-foot-3) and Amber Henson (6-4) arriving, expect no drop-off in Durham. -- Creme
|2010-11: Lost in the Sweet 16. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Monique Reid (15.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Shoni Schimmel (15.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.9 apg)
Shoni Schimmel returns with a year of experience, Monique Reid returns as a proven scorer and 6-foot-4 Cierra Warren, eligible after transferring from North Carolina, gives coach Jeff Walz the luxury of the kind of skilled size in the post that he has made do without in recent years. -- Hays
|2010-11: Lost in the Sweet 16. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Sugar Rodgers (18.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Monica McNutt (10.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg).
Junior Sugar Rodgers is surrounded by six returning seniors who averaged double-digit minutes last season, so there's no time like the present for a Georgetown team that routed rival Maryland and gave Connecticut a scare in the NCAA tournament. -- Hays
|11. Penn State
|2010-11: Lost in the NCAA second round. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Alex Bentley (14.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.0 apg), Nikki Greene (8.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Maggie Lucas (15.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg).
The Lady Lions will not surprise anyone like they did a year ago, but this is still the Big Ten program on the rise. With Alex Bentley's tenacity and energy and Maggie Lucas' deadly deep shooting range, Penn State has a winning backcourt. -- Creme
|12. Florida State
|2010-11: Lost in the NCAA second round. Returning starters: 3. Most notable: Cierra Bravard (15.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Alexa Deluzio (12.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg), Natasha Howard (10.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg).
The backcourt lacks experience, but the frontcourt could be devastating. If Natasha Howard makes that big leap from freshman to sophomore season that coaches so often look for, then Sue Semrau will have one of the nation's best players for the next three years. -- Creme
|2010-11: Lost in the NCAA second round. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Alyssa Thomas (14.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Lynetta Kizer (13.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg).
The Terps had their adjustment season in 2011 and still reached the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed. With a core that includes a potential big-time scorer (Alyssa Thomas), a physical presence in the middle (Lynetta Kizer) and an experienced, unselfish point guard (Anjale Barrett), the elements present for bigger gains in 2011-12. -- Creme
|2010-11: Lost in the Sweet 16. Returning starters: 3. Most notable: Whitney Hand (12.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Aaryn Ellenberg (16.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg).
Point guard Danielle Robinson has graduated, but Oklahoma has proved it is a reloading kind of program. Guards Whitney Hand and Aaryn Ellenberg will be the team's leaders, but the Sooners' inside game will be bigger and stronger than it was the past two seasons. OU can win playing different types of styles based on personnel. -- Voepel
|15. Southern California
|2010-11: Lost in the WNIT. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Briana Gilbreath (14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.8 apg), Ashley Corral (12.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.7 apg), Jacki Gemelos (12.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
The Trojans were disappointed to not be in the NCAA tournament last season but did benefit from their WNIT run. They made the title game, losing at Toledo. With four starters returning -- including seniors Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath -- USC could be Stanford's chief challenger in the Pac-12 and make it back into the NCAA field for the first time since 2006. -- Voepel
|2010-11: Lost in the NCAA second round. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Brittany Rayburn (14.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Courtney Moses (11.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
An injury-marred 2010-11 still produced a solid conclusion with a second-round NCAA tournament berth. Unfortunately, the Boilermakers might have to work around those issues again with word that second-leading scorer and top rebounder Drey Mingo might miss the season with an ACL tear. Brittany Rayburn will need a big year. -- Creme
|2010-11: Lost in the NCAA second round. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: A'dia Mathies (12.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Amber Smith (9.2 ppg, 4.5 apg in 2009-10).
The Wildcats have reached the point where they're expected to be NCAA tournament participants and one of the contenders in the SEC. Those were big steps forward. As coach Matthew Mitchell keeps building the program, we should see a greater emphasis on the offensive skills needed for NCAA title aspirations. -- Voepel
|2010-11: Lost in the Sweet 16. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Jasmine James (12.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.6 apg), Jasmine Hassell (9.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg).
Star guard Jasmine James is now a junior, and her experience is one of the factors that made Georgia the pick to finish second in the SEC. In his 33rd season as Georgia coach, Andy Landers has four starters back on a junior-dominated team. Look for Anne Marie Armstrong, in particular, to help fill the big shoes left by graduating post Porsha Phillips. -- Voepel
|2010-11: Lost in the Sweet 16. Returning starters: 3. Most notable: Keisha Hampton (16.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Anna Martin (10.8 ppg, 2.6 apg).
The Blue Demons suffered a bigger graduation hit than Big East teams ahead of them in the polls, but they do return Keisha Hampton, one of three consensus preseason all-conference picks in the Big East, along with starters Anna Martin and Katherine Harry. -- Hays
|2010-11: Lost in the NCAA first round. Returning starters: 4. Most notable: Chassidy Fussell (16.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Yvonne Anderson (11.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Ashleigh Fontenette (11.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
Having post player Cokie Reed back -- she missed last season after foot surgery -- helps the Longhorns in many ways. Her presence makes fellow inside players like Ashley Gayle more effective, and it takes some pressure off the guards, too. Texas has the experience and athleticism to be one of the top teams in the Big 12. -- Voepel
|2010-11: Did not reach the NCAA tournament. Returning starters: 3. Most notable: LaSondra Barrett (12.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Adrienne Webb
(12.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg).
Coach Nikki Caldwell is new to LSU, but back in the familiar SEC. After three seasons at UCLA, she hopes to lift LSU again to the elite level it reached during five consecutive Final Four trips (2004-08). A fresh start was needed after LSU didn't make the NCAA tournament last season. Caldwell's up-tempo style meshes well with senior star LaSondra Barrett. -- Voepel
|2010-11: Lost in the NCAA second round. Returning starters: 3. Most notable: April Sykes (14.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Khadijah Rushdan (11.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Monique Oliver (10.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg).
The Scarlet Knights got back to double-digit Big East wins last season for the first time since the days of Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson, and they could build on that behind April Sykes and Khadijah Rushdan. Losing Chelsey Lee to a shoulder injury leaves them small. -- Hays
|2010-11: Lost in the Elite Eight. Returning starters: 3. Most notable: Katelan Redmon (16.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Kayla Standish (17.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg).
Courtney Vandersloot is gone, but the Bulldogs still have two legitimate stars in seniors Katelan Redmon and Kayla Standish, fresh off USA Basketball experiences, and the kind of depth in the paint that would serve them well in any conference. -- Hays
|24. Green Bay
|2010-11: Lost in the Sweet 16. Returning starters: 5. Most notable: Julie Wojta (13.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Adrian Ritchie (9.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg).
Celeste Hoewisch and Kayla Tetschlag were two of the greatest players in program history, but the reason the program has so much history is it finds a way to replace people. Keeping coach Matt Bollant was as big a win as the one that sent the Phoenix to the Sweet 16. -- Hays
|25. North Carolina
|2010-11: Lost in the Sweet 16.Returning starters: 2. Most notable: Chay Shegog (8.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Coach Sylvia Hatchell brings back plenty of size in 6-foot-5 Chay Shegog and 6-6 Waltiea Rolle, but this Tar Heels team will have a different look with a new batch of veteran players needing to take on more prominent roles. Most notably, the performances of Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and She'la White will determine if UNC can challenge Duke and Miami in the ACC. -- Creme
California, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Temple, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt 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.
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