It's that time again.
The 2021-22 women's college basketball season is around the corner, which means it's never too early to give my preseason Power 10 rankings. I will continue to update my rankings each week during the season.
Considering many programs — like Arizona, UCLA and Texas A&M — lost key seniors after the 2021 NCAA tournament to either graduation or the WNBA, my Power 10 has a new look from the end of last year. However, teams have revamped their rosters with top-tier transfers and highly touted incoming freshmen.
When making this list, I considered numerous factors such as returning and incoming players, roster depth, tournament success and more. Let's dive in!
1. South Carolina
Alas. Here we are again with South Carolina taking my preseason throne after another successful offseason. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley hit the No. 1 recruiting class jackpot (again), adding three out of the top five recruits according to the 2021 HoopGurlz Recruiting Rankings - espnW 100. Raven Johnson and Saniya Rivers will either start or rotate in to join Zia Cooke, Destanni Henderson and Brea Beal in the backcourt. This brings a lot of depth for Staley to run the face-pace offense she loves.
But the Gamecocks' front court just got scarier with Syracuse 6'7 transfer Kamilla Cardoso. The 2021 ACC Freshman of the Year and co-Defender of the Year will make a great addition alongside Aliyah Boston, who led the nation in rebounds and was one of the top shot-blockers in the country, and Victaria Saxton. That's right. The entire Final Four squad is back. After falling short to national champion Stanford by one point in the Final Four, I like their chances to add a second national title in program history.
The Huskies haven't hoisted the national trophy since 2016, but bringing back their starting five puts this program in a great position to bring the title back to Storrs. The beauty in last year's roster was that its veteran leadership — Christyn Williams, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Evina Westbrook — were only juniors, so they will all return in their last run. Plus, National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers will look to top her impressive freshman season, sweeping the Big East Player and Freshman of the Year awards. Aaliyah Edwards was another star for UConn last season. Her X-factor paired with Bueckers' fire power helped lead the Huskies to the Final Four.
In consecutive years, UConn coach Geno Auriemma is bringing in two top five recruits, including the No. 1 overall recruit — Azzi Fudd, who already has chemistry with Bueckers, and No. 5 Caroline Ducharme. Fudd is Bueckers' long-time best friend and they have played with each other on Team USA. They will make a scary backcourt together.
The Cardinal will enter this season with a target on its back as defending national champion. Stanford is returning 12 of 13 players from last year's roster, all except senior leader Kiana Williams. But 2021 NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player Haley Jones and Lexi Hull will look to take over that role. Anna Wilson also deciding to return for another year gives Stanford more leadership and a lockdown defender. The front court duo Cameron Brink and Fran Belibi will be fun to watch once again as they now have a year under their belt together.
Did I mention we saw Belibi dunk last season? This versatile group is known for their endless depth and skillset in all positions. The road warriors will return to Maples Pavilion after enduring the adversity of not playing on their home court the majority of the season due to COVID-19 protocols. Having some normalcy and consistency could be a game-changer for the Cardinal to run it back.
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The previous No. 1 scoring offense in the nation will return its Sweet 16 core — Ashley Owusu, Diamond Miller, Katie Benzan, Angel Reese, Chloe Bibby and Mimi Collins. Talk about double-figure depth! In fact, Benzan led the nation in 3-point field goal percentage. Maryland's top scorers Owusu and Miller will return as juniors, coming off of a great summer winning a gold medal together on the USA AmeriCup team. Plus, Angel Reese will look to make an impact after missing majority of the regular season due to a foot fracture in December and returning late March.
Texas outplayed the Terps and gave Maryland an early exit in the NCAA tournament, but this dominant squad is well equipped to be unstoppable once again.
5. NC State
The back-to-back ACC champs secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament by knocking off two No. 1 teams in the regular season. Unfortunately, Indiana stood in its way of a national title run, giving the Wolfpack an early exit in the Sweet 16. The good news is this team did not lose their key ingredients. NC State's go-to star Elissa Cunane returns as a senior. Cunane's athleticism and effort goes beyond the paint. She can also stretch the floor and knock down a 3, giving NC State a strong inside-and-outside scoring threat. The Wolfpack also return Jada Boyd and Jakia Brown-Turner as juniors, plus graduate students Kai Crutchfield and floor general Raina Perez. Like Maryland, the Wolfpack had an unexpected ending to their season, but I believe there will be no drop off to make a title run.
The Cardinals lost their scoring threat Dana Evans to the WNBA. Her ability to score at will and to have clutch performances will be missed, but coach Jeff Walz added more depth to revamp his backcourt. Syracuse transfer Emily Engstler and Vanderbilt transfer Chelsea Hall are two elite scorers that will be expected to add more offensive production in Evans' absence.
Louisville will also be without Elizabeth Balogun, who transferred to Duke, but all is not lost. Redshirt senior Kianna Smith will return as Louisville's second leading scorer behind Evans. Plus, Hailey Van Lith and Olivia Cochran will look to continue their momentum with a year of experience in their sophomore campaigns. Van Lith effortlessly showed that she can take over an offense, while putting in the extra effort to grab crucial rebounds as a guard. The future still looks bright with Louisville's remaining stars.
The main priority for Oregon last season was all about gaining chemistry and learning a new system, considering this program lost its big three to the WNBA and gained nine new Ducks. Te-Hina Paopao — who was expected to fill big shoes as the floor general after Sabrina Ionescu — did a phenomenal job creating for her team. Paopao will return healthy after sitting out the last month of the season due to a right foot injury. The Ducks were still able to make a great run to the Sweet 16 without their point guard by stunning Georgia.
Oregon also has dangerous front court duo Sedona Prince and Nyara Sabally. Although this squad is losing Erin Boley and Lydia Giomi to graduation and Taylor Chavez to Arizona, the Ducks will add All-Pac-12 Endyia Rogers and Top-30 recruit Taylor Bigby to the backcourt. Keep the Ducks high on your radar heading into this season.
The Hoosiers made a lot of noise in the NCAA tournament, recording their most successful season in program history. Indiana's historic run to the Elite Eight included knocking off the No. 1 seed NC State. Its elite pressure defense, plus the offensive spark from veteran guard Ali Patberg was a huge factor in stopping the Wolfpack. With Patberg's decision to return, we can expect for Indiana's balanced scoring attack to not skip a beat.
Indiana coach Teri Moren is also bringing back the same core — Mackenzie Holmes, Grace Berger and Aleksa Gulbe — to run it back. With this group, Indiana will give its opponents problems as the second-best defensive team in the Big Ten. Watch out for Indiana's powerful ammunition to continue to make history.
The spotlight was on Bueckers, but there was also a quiet storm in Iowa with freshman sensation Caitlin Clark, who lead the nation in points per game and assists. Clark's unlimited range gives her defenders a tough task to guard her at all areas on the floor. Her duo with Monika Czinano will also return to the front court, creating a chemistry between the two that is unmatched, especially with Clark's elite passing ability to find Czinano inside (while sometimes...not even looking).
When Iowa's supporting cast around this duo is clicking offensively, Iowa is unstoppable. They showed exactly that when ousting Kentucky early in the tournament by double digits. They were the No. 2 scoring offense in the country for a reason!
Baylor took a major hit losing their key pieces who made an impact on both ends of the floor. DiDi Richards and DiJonai Carrington went to the WNBA, and Moon Ursin transferred to LSU. Speaking of LSU, legendary Kim Mulkey is starting a new chapter as their head coach. The Atlanta Dream's former head coach Nicki Collen will now take over to start a new era in Waco, Texas.
NaLyssa Smith be a great contributor to their success. Queen Egbo will accompany her in the paint. Plus, there's still depth at the point guard position with either Jaden Owens or Sarah Andrews, and Oklahoma State transfer Ja'Mee Asberry will add more offensive fire-power as an elite three-point shooter. Baylor will be in a rebuilding phase, but I expect this group to mesh together quickly under Collen in hopes to stay on top of the Big 12.