Commentary

A-to-Z rundown of what to expect

Updated: November 4, 2013, 11:32 PM ET
By Michelle Smith | espnW.com

Odyssey SimsKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSenior point guard Odyssey Sims is Baylor's lone returning starter.

The new college basketball season is here and there are plenty of ways to examine it, from coast to coast, from north to south, from the rankings to the standings and from A to Z. Welcome to our annual alphabetical preview of the new season in women's basketball.

A: American Athletic Conference. It will be known someday (soon) as the House that Connecticut Built. SMU, Memphis, Cincinnati, UCF, Temple and Houston face the daunting long-term prospect of competing against the Huskies.

B: Baylor. The Brittney Griner era is over. Odyssey Sims is the anchor for a team that has to find a new identity and try to stay atop the Big 12.

C: Cal. The Bears were a Final Four team for the first time in program history. It's follow-up time for a squad still loaded with talent, and now a new sense of expectation.

D: Dayton. The Flyers, who made their first appearance in the AP preseason poll, are the best mid-major program in the country at the start of the season. Can that translate into a long NCAA tournament run for Jim Jabir's program?

[+] EnlargeJim Jabir
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsJim Jabir and Dayton start out at No. 14 in the preseason AP top 25 poll.

E: Expectations will be high for the four teams hosting regionals in this season's new NCAA tournament format, which moves the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds to campus sites. Stanford, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Louisville will all be hoping to ride a home-court advantage to the Final Four.

F: Florida International. The home of the best scorer in the country that you've probably not heard a lot about. Jerica Coley was the nation's leading scorer as a junior last season, averaging 26.3 points a game. And she's looking to move her team from the WNIT into the NCAA tournament in her senior season.

G: Geno. Can the Connecticut coach pass Pat Summitt by winning his ninth national championship? The Huskies begin the season as the unanimous No. 1 team in the country. His chances look pretty good.

H: The highest preseason ranking since 2005 goes to the Duke Blue Devils, who get Chelsea Gray back on the floor and a No. 2 national ranking to open the season.

I: Irish. Notre Dame is going to play the first four to six weeks of the season without forward Natalie Achonwa, who had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her right knee.

J: Jordan Hooper. The Nebraska forward will lead a team with four returning starters looking to win the Big Ten title.

K: Kevin McGuff had things going in the right direction at Washington, but when Ohio State came calling to this Ohio native, he couldn't resist. His charge is to get the Buckeyes back among the national elite. He has three returning starters, but no established star and no incoming freshmen. It's going to be a challenge.

L: Long memories of a 30-point loss to Connecticut in the regional finals are going to carry Kentucky into a new season. The Wildcats are looking for offense, the thing they believe is standing between them and a Final Four berth. Four returning starters make Kentucky a worthy candidate.

[+] EnlargeMercedes Russell
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhMercedes Russell, Tennessee's 6-foot-6 freshman center, was HoopGurlz's No. 1-rated recruit.

M: Mercedes Russell. The 6-foot-6 freshman center from Oregon -- the Lady Vols' highest-rated recruit since Candace Parker -- has the chance to push them back to the Final Four for the first time since 2008.

N: Nashville. Music City is a first-time Final Four host in one of the most women's basketball-loving states in the union.

O: Ogwumike. Could Chiney become the second Ogwumike in three years to be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft?

P: Pat Summitt Plaza. The statue unveiling and tribute to the Tennessee coaching legend will take place on Nov. 22 in Knoxville.

Q: Quinnipiac. The Bobcats are coming off a 30-win season and their first NCAA tournament appearance. Can they keep the momentum in their first season in the MAAC and become another power from the Nutmeg State?

R: Referees. They will play a big part in games this season, particularly early on, thanks to the new officiating rules that are tightening up the rules on defenders to allow more offensive flow.

S: Shoni Schimmel. Louisville's dynamic, unpredictable guard has had a career so far equal parts brilliant and maddening. Can she lead the Cardinals back to the Final Four in her final season?

T: The Terrapins of Maryland will spend their last season in the ACC looking to become part of the national championship picture again behind star forward Alyssa Thomas.

U: UCLA. The Bruins are expected to have the best recruiting class in the country this year, but they don't show up until next season, little consolation for a program that has already seen two key players -- Kacy Swain and Kari Korver -- lost for the season with ACL injuries.

VanDerveer
VanDerveer

V: VanDerveer. The Stanford coach should be joining the 900-win club in the early weeks of the season, mostly likely at a Thanksgiving tournament in Puerto Vallarta.

W: White Paper. The Val Ackerman-commissioned study about the future of the game has already spurred changes to the NCAA tournament format.

X: Xylina McDaniel, the sophomore forward and daughter of former NBA star Xavier McDaniel, will lead a North Carolina team that starts the season without coach Sylvia Hatchell, who will sit out at least the start of the season while receiving treatment for leukemia.

Y: Yet to come … returning to host sites for the NCAA tournament. But for one more season, the tournament will begin at predetermined sites for the first and second rounds, and we have just a little more time to discuss the injustice of a high seed playing on somebody else's home floor.

Z: Zero. The predicted number of losses for the Connecticut Huskies this season.

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com

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