Commentary

Pre-preseason Top 25

Originally Published: April 21, 2014
By Charlie Creme | espnW.com

UConn, South Carolina, TennesseeGetty, AP, APUConn, South Carolina and Tennessee check in at Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in our Top 25.

The 2014-15 women's college basketball season won't tip off for more than six months. But it's never too early to start looking ahead, right?

1. Connecticut: Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley were the latest program anchors and will be difficult to replace for tangible and intangible reasons. But Breanna Stewart, who will be favored to win every player of the year award, is back and her pursuit of four titles gets really serious now. A full season of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis means the Huskies should have two first-team All Americans. Moriah Jefferson should be even better at the point, and healthy Brianna Banks and Morgan Tuck will mean a little more depth. A big key will be the continued development of Kiah Stokes, who will have much more thrown at her as UConn's top post player.

2. South Carolina: Tiffany Mitchell, Aleighsa Welch and Alaina Coates form the core of a team that surprised most with its regular-season SEC championship and will head into next season as the league favorite. Jatarie White is a top-10 recruit, and when A'ja Wilson, the top high school senior in the country, chose the Gamecocks last week, it means that South Carolina will also be the favorite to do more than just win the SEC.

3. Tennessee: Meighan Simmons' graduation leaves a scoring void, but the Lady Vols have a frontline few can match. Bashaara Graves, Isabelle Harrison and Mercedes Russell will have to be better, but Tennessee should be in position to end a Final Four drought that has stretched to six years.

4. Texas A&M: The Courtneys -- Walker and Williams -- are both among the top 10 players returning in the SEC. Jordan Jones has emerged as a top point guard. The conference season will be a grind with so many good teams in the SEC, but if the Aggies can fill the hole in the post left by the graduation of Karla Gilbert, they should have a legitimate chance to reach a Final Four.

5. Notre Dame: For the second straight year, Muffet McGraw will have to replace program institutions. Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa will move on, but Jewell Loyd, a national player of the year candidate, and Lindsay Allen, who will be asked to score more, form one of the country's best backcourts. Madison Cable and Michaela Mabrey add depth, and Taya Reimer's development in the frontcourt will determine whether Note Dame can get to a fifth straight Final Four.

6. Kentucky: The Wildcats will likely go back to being more guard-oriented after the departures of Samarie Walker and DeNesha Stallworth. The good news is in Jennifer O'Neill, Bria Goss, Janae Thompson and Linnae Harper, coach Matthew Mitchell has plenty of talented options in the backcourt.

7. Duke: The return of a healthy Alexis Jones is a big key in Durham. With her, the Blue Devils have an inside-outside duo in Jones and Elizabeth Williams to compete with anyone. Without Jones, who suffered an ACL tear late this past season, Duke has no one with experience to play the point.

8. Michigan State: Two of the Big Ten's best freshmen -- Aerial Powers and Tori Jankoska -- will be sophomores. The Spartans will be a conference frontrunner for the next few seasons.

9. Texas: The Longhorns made solid strides in 2013-14 and that should continue next season with the return of every key piece except Chassidy Fussell. Nneka Enemkpali, who is a double-double possibility every game, and 6-foot-7 Imani McGee-Stafford form a productive post duo. Brady Sanders and Empress Davenport will have to provide more perimeter scoring with Fussell's departure.

10. North Carolina: The Tar Heels were likely a Final Four favorite before national freshman of the year Diamond DeShields decided to leave the program and transfer. With young talents Allisha Gray, Jessica Washington and Stephanie Mavunga, plus Xylina McDaniel as a junior, and the probable return of Hall of Fame coach Sylvia Hatchell, North Carolina remains an upper echelon ACC club. A national championship run without DeShields is much less likely, however.

11. California: Brittany Boyd at the point and Reshanda Gray in the post will be the backbone of a Bears team that might be ready to unseat Stanford atop the Pac-12.

12. Iowa: Samantha Logic, Bethany Doolittle, Melissa Dixon and Ally Disterhoft -- each of whom are double-figure scorers -- are back from the top offensive team in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes should be even better than their fourth-place finish in the conference in 2014.

13. Baylor: Replacing Odyssey Sims will likely prove more difficult than the loss of Brittney Griner last year. The team now falls into the hands of Niya Johnson and Nina Davis -- and that isn't a bad place to start. Big leaps forward by rising sophomores Ieshia Small and Imani Wright, plus a healthy Alexis Prince, could elevate the Lady Bears right back into the top 10.

14. Maryland: The move to the Big Ten comes after graduating one of the best Terrapins of all time in Alyssa Thomas. But three other key players return and will be sophomores: Lexie Brown, Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. Now they also have big-game experience after the Final Four run.

15. Nebraska: Jordan Hooper's graduation will likely cause a drop off in Lincoln, but there is enough returning to keep it minimal. Point guard Rachel Theriot averaged 14 points and seven assists per game and still has Emily Cady, Tear'a Laudermill and Hailie Sample around her.

16. Louisville: The sight of the Cardinals taking the court next season without Shoni Schimmel will seem strange at first, but the likes of Sara Hammond, Bria Smith and Shoni's sister, Jude, will have to get used to it quickly with the move to the ACC.

17. LSU: A Sweet 16 appearance put a positive capper on what was an otherwise disappointing second half of the season in Baton Rouge. After an outstanding NCAA tournament, Danielle Ballard might be ready to break out as a star. DaShawn Harden and Raigyne Moncrief, if she is healthy, will also have to provide more scoring.

18. West Virginia: If Bria Holmes emerges into the star she looks destined to become, the Mountaineers will again be near the top of the Big 12. Coach Mike Carey's biggest issue will be finding a way to replace the post production of Asya Bussie.

19. Dayton: It was not the beginning or the end of the season the Flyers wanted, but the in between was good for the Atlantic 10 champions. Cassie Saint and her 10.7 points per game are the only significant loss. Andrea Hoover and Ally Malott will be seniors and two of the A-10's top scorers.

20. Stanford: With the Nneka/Chiney Ogwumike era now over, the Cardinal will be without a bona fide superstar for the first time in a decade. Much more will be needed from the backcourt of Amber Orrange and Lili Thompson, but the key to winning a 15th straight Pac-12 title might depend on the kind of leap 6-3 sophomore-to-be Erica McCall makes.

21. Syracuse: Leading scorer Brittney Sykes suffered a knee injury in the Orange's first-round NCAA tournament win over Chattanooga, and her healthy return is paramount. Sykes and Brianna Butler form one of the country's top backcourt tandems.

22. DePaul: Jasmine Penny's absence will be felt, but a backcourt of Brittany Hrynko, Megan Rogowski and Chanise Jenkins will still score a ton of points. The Blue Demons will be favored to repeat as Big East champions.

23. Arkansas: The pieces are in place for new coach Jimmy Dykes. The Razorbacks, who beat NCAA tournament teams Florida and LSU, were the stingiest defense in the SEC last season and led the conference in turnover margin. Dykes now needs to build a more reliable offense around 6-3 Jessica Jackson, who averaged 16.2 points per game as a freshman this season.

24. Oregon: Paul Westhead, the architect of the nation's highest-scoring offense, is out as coach in Eugene, but a number of the players who scored 93.2 points per game return for new coach Kelly Graves. Chrishae Rowe and Jillian Alleyne each scored more than 21 points per game, and while Graves will likely slow the Ducks' pace, he has weapons at his disposal.

25. Purdue: Guards KK Houser and Courtney Moses, the backbone of the program for the last couple of seasons, are gone, but April Wilson is more than capable of handling more responsibility in the backcourt. Whitney Bays proved to be one of the Big Ten's more productive frontcourt players and should be even better than her 12 points and eight rebounds per game.

Also considered: Georgia, James Madison, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Rutgers, St. John's.

Charlie Creme | email

Women's College Basketball
Charlie Creme projects the women's NCAA Tournament bracket for ESPN.com.

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