The 2021 NCAA women's basketball season is almost here. Here's one thing to know about every team in the AP's preseason top 25 poll:
1. South Carolina: The Gamecocks ended the 2019-20 season as the No. 1 team who held the nation's longest winning streak (26 games). Despite losing two key seniors, this team will look to enter the 2020-21 season with a young force. South Carolina's Big 3 — Zia Cooke, Brea Beal and Freshman of the Year Aliyah Boston — are three returning starters who are now equipped with experience as sophomores.
2. Stanford: This is the highest Stanford has been ranked in the preseason since 2009, and that's credit to the Cardinal's immense depth. After being plagued by injuries, the Pac-12 favorites will return nine healthy veterans. The Funky Four — Haley Jones, Hannah Jump, Francesca Belibi and Ashten Prechtel — are now sophomores and are expected to produce a successful season. They will also have their lead scorers Kiana Williams and Lexie Hull in the mix. Add the No. 3 recruit in the country Cameron Brink to the winning formula, and Stanford can make a run to the Final Four.
3. UConn: Paige Bueckers. That's the buzz around UConn this season as the Huskies picked up the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country to go along with five other elite newcomers. There are no seniors on this team, but Bueckers will join an experienced core — Christyn Williams, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Tennessee transfer Evina Westbrook — who know how to win at the highest level.
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4. Baylor: The 2019 reigning national champs are looking to defend the NCAA title. Unfortunately, there's no time table on DiDi Richards' return after she sustained a spinal cord injury after colliding with Moon Ursin during a preseason practice. Baylor will now heavily rely on NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo. Stanford graduate transfer DiJonai Carrington will also look to help down low for the Bears.
5. Louisville: The ACC Player of the Year and Louisville's lead scorer Dana Evans returns. Three starters will be missing from the lineup, but the Cardinals bring in the No. 7 recruit Hailey Van Lith. Van Lith is expected to make an immediate impact and be part of a dangerous duo with Evans. Elizabeth Balogun will also be a key factor in Louisville's destiny to the Final Four.
6. Mississippi State: We're looking at a new Bulldogs team this season. Mississippi State will now be led by head coach Nikki McCray-Penson after replacing Vic Schaefer. In addition to the new leadership on the sidelines, two former starters transferred to Maryland in the offseason. But all isn't lost for the SEC runner-up. The Bulldogs will have their two scoring threats — Rickea Jackson and Jessika Carter, who also led the Bulldogs in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and blocks (1.8 bpg).
7. Arizona: This is the first time the program has been ranked top 10 in the AP Preseason Poll. That's credit to the All-American guard, Aari McDonald returning to the lineup. Not only does Arizona have its top scorer in Evans, the Wildcats bring back one of the best defensive players as the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Finalist. Solid scorers Cate Reese and Sam Thomas will also be a crucial piece to the Wildcats' formula. In addition, Arizona will have help from key transfer Shaina Pellington (Oklahoma) and Trinity Baptiste (Virginia Tech), who was the ACC Sixth Player of the Year.
8. NC State: There's no doubt the ACC Champs could've made a deep run in the NCAA tournament. It helps coming into the season with the momentum of bringing back your core four starters who were a part of this success. The starters are headlined by National Player of the Year candidate Elissa Cunane. Cunane is the Wolfpack's lead scorer and the ACC's top rebounder. Kayla Jones, Jakia Brown-Turner and Kai Crutchfield also create a strong foundation for NC State to get back on track to make a run to the Final Four.
9. UCLA: Five key returners will suit up for the Bruins. National Player of the Year candidate Michaela Onyenwere headlines that group. The junior All-American led the Bruins in scoring and is on track to breaking the 2,000 career points milestone by the end of this season. A huge spotlight will also shine on Charisma Osborne, who had a standout freshman year, especially beyond the arc setting the UCLA freshman record with 59 made 3-pointers.
Another day, another preseason honor for @monyenwere_! 💪— UCLA W. Basketball (@UCLAWBB) November 17, 2020
Michaela has been named to the 2021 watch list for the Naismith Trophy, the award presented annually to the collegiate Player of the Year! 🙌
Story ➡️ https://t.co/rYIlv9gNgP#GoBruins | 🐻💙💛 | #Elite pic.twitter.com/JEEqffWo65
10. Oregon: The future is bright for the Ducks. Oregon brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country bringing in five McDonald All-Americans, who are all ranked in the espnW 100 recruits' Top 25. Oregon's head coach Kelly Graves added Maryland transfer Taylor Mikesell along with four strong returning players. Once chemistry fully develops, the Ducks will be a tough team to beat.
11. Kentucky: Kentucky still has the National Player of the Year candidate and country's second leading scorer, Rhyne Howard. The junior guard led the Wildcats in scoring, rebounding and steals. Despite losing five seniors, Howard will find plenty of production in Utah transfer and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Dre'una Edwards, plus Maryland transfer Olivia Owens.
12. Maryland: Four seniors are gone and two transfers took place in the offseason, but the Terps will still remain dominant with a young group. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ashley Owusu led the Terps to their fourth Big Ten title in six years. Maryland also has the No. 2 recruit in the country in Angel Reese, who brings a ton of athleticism to this program. The future looks bright for the Terps.
13: Texas A&M: Experience and depth won't be an issue for the Aggies. They will return four starters — N'dea Jones, Ciera Johnson, Kayla Wells and Aaliyah Wilson. Plus this team will have Minnesota transfer Destiny Pitts, Notre Dame transfer Jordan Nixon and Rutgers transfer Alexis Morris. There are many combinations head coach Gary Blair can use for a lethal lineup.
14. Arkansas: Arkansas will return four of its five starters from last season. Plus Oregon State transfer Destiny Slocum joins with Chelsea Dungee and Amber Ramirez. Dungee is 530 points away from breaking the program's all-time scoring record and only 51 free throws away from breaking the program's all-time free throws made record.
15. Iowa State: The Cyclones went from unranked to now the highest ranking since 2000-01. Iowa State ended last season with an exclamation point after a huge upset against Baylor before COVID-19 ended the season. The Cyclones will return their four leading scorers — All-American Ashley Joens, Kristin Scott, Rae Johnson and Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw — in hopes to pick up where they left off.
16. Indiana: The Hoosiers enter 2020-21 coming off of their most successful season in program history finishing with 24 wins. Indiana hopes to continue this momentum with its four returning starters.
17. Northwestern: There's unfinished business for Northwestern. After finishing No. 2 in the Big Ten, there's no doubt that the Wildcats could have made a run in the NCAA tournament after a five-year absence. However, they will return Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Lindsey Pulliam and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Veronica Burton for another opportunity.
18. Oregon State: The Beavers took a major hit after losing key seniors and big-time transfers. Despite the losses, the Beavers are still in great shape with their top scorers Aleah Goodman and Taylor Jones. Kennedy Brown will also return as a key piece to Oregon's winning formula after an ACL injury cut her freshman year short.
19. DePaul: Scoring won't be an issue for the Blue Demons. DePaul will be led by three starters: Deja Church, Lexi Held and Sonya Morris, who all played a key role to help DePaul finish second in the nation in scoring. However, the biggest challenge that stands between the Blue Demons and the Big East title is UConn returning to the conference.
20. Ohio State: All eyes are on Big Ten's leader in rebounds Dorka Juhasz, who is extremely dominant in the paint. The 6-foot-4 junior is the first Buckeye in program history to led Ohio State in both scoring in rebounding her freshman and sophomore seasons.
21. Gonzaga: Double the trouble will come from the Zags this season. By that, I mean twin guards Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong, plus Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth in the paint. The Zags will also return the West Coast Conference Player of the Year Jill Townsend. This is the second time in program history the Zags are in preseason Top 25. The first time was in 2013.
22. Notre Dame: The Ivey Era has started. Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw retired and has passed the torch to Niele Ivey, who played and coached under McGraw. This will be a rebuilding process for Ivey after the Irish finished with a 13-18 record last season. Ivey will build off of top scorers Destinee Walker, Sam Brunelle and Katlyn Gilbert.
23. Syracuse: Tiana Mangakahia is back. After battling breast cancer, Syracuse's all-time assist leader will suit up. Having Mangakahia will take some pressure off of lead scorer Kiara Lewis. In addition, Syracuse adds to their depth by bringing in the No. 4 recruiting class in the country.
24. Missouri State: When you have Brice Calip, the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and Jasmine Franklin, the MVC's lead rebounder, there's no doubt of why the Lady Bears enter the season as the conference favorites. They might have lost their lead scorer in Alexa Willard, but four starters return for the Lady Bears to remain competitive.
25. Michigan: The Wolverines are coming off of a 21-11 record, which makes the ninth straight season that the program has reached 20 wins. Michigan will return four starters: Naz Hillmon, Akienreh Johnson, Amy Dilk and Hailey Brown. They are expected to keep the momentum going as Big Ten contenders.