- With Sabrina Ionescu back, Oregon leads the pack in our early look at next season's contenders in women's college basketball. Who else cracked our top 10?
The WNBA draft is over and my sunburn from Tampa is fading, which can only mean one thing: It’s time for our way-too-early women’s basketball rankings. Notre Dame lost all of its starters, Baylor and UConn lost major contributors and Stanford has a fresh crop of talent ready to take the college ranks by storm. So who will succeed and who was left out? You’ll just have to read and find out.
It’s time for the Sabrina Ionescu Revenge Tour. After the Triple Double Queen made her decision to return to college for her senior season, it all but cemented the Ducks’ place at the top of these rankings. There’s simply no answer for Ionescu and it took all that national champion Baylor could provide to knock Oregon out in the Final Four. Now the Bears have lost one of their most important players in Kalani Brown while the Ducks have managed to retain theirs for one last run.
The loss of Maite Cazorla, who was a fixture in Oregon’s starting lineup and is the all-time leader in games played, will certainly hurt, but reinforcements are on the way to Eugene. Australian point guard Jazmin Shelley could have an instant impact in the backcourt, as well as returnee Taylor Chavez. How those two play with Ionescu and the Ducks’ growing stable of wings will be fascinating. Satou Sabally and Erin Boley figure to have a large role in the offense again, but Satou’s younger sister Nyara could also be one to watch.
Coach Kelly Graves and the coaching staff seem to have plenty of faith in Nyara Sabally’s ability, which means this team just got even deeper. Throw in international prospects Lucy Cochrane and Holly Winterburn and you can all but sharpie the Ducks into the No. 1 spot in the country—and a potential spot in New Orleans—already.
The Pac-12 will be just as deep this year as it was last, meaning Oregon has plenty of chances to refine its game against quality competition and show us what it’s got. And with Ionescu looking to put an exclamation point on her career in Eugene, here’s betting the Ducks put on a show every time their exclusive Nikes touch the court.
Your defending champion Baylor Lady Bears narrowly come in No. 2 in the way-too-early rankings due to the departure of Final Four hero Chloe Jackson and Kalani Brown and the return of Oregon's Ionescu, but don’t be fooled—this team is still just as lethal as its 2018–19 version.
The Lady Bears received incredible news when Lauren Cox was told she wouldn’t need surgery after being diagnosed with an MCL sprain with bone bruising instead of something much more serious. We don’t know when Cox will be back, but it should certainly be before the season kicks off. And a healthy Cox is bad news for the rest of college basketball.
Brown may have racked up the numbers in Waco, but Cox’s game could be what we see from most bigs in the future. She passes incredibly well from the elbow, she’s a merciless defender who will send your shots into the stands, she deters drives just by standing in the paint and can score with abandon, as she proved against the Ducks in Tampa.
Add that to the skills of returnees DiDi Richards and Juicy Landrum, expanded roles for Queen Egbo and NaLyssa Smith and recruit Jordyn Oliver coming into the fold and Kim Mulkey has a squad that isn’t to be trifled with. The Lady Bears have won a national championship once every seven years since Mulkey’s first in 2005, but with a strong returning core and a group of recruits with enough sauce to be dubbed the “Fierce Five”, it might not take another seven years for Baylor to win it all again.
It feels a bit strange to have the Huskies outside the top two, but suffering major offseason losses in Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier will do that. But enough about who’s no longer in Storrs—let’s focus on the future. Christyn Williams showed plenty during her freshman season with UConn, fitting almost seamlessly into Geno Auriemma’s system and looking to make good on her comments before she arrived to deliver another championship to the Huskies. Look for her to step up offensively with more shots available this season. Ditto goes for Crystal Dangerfield and Megan Walker, experienced players who have been solid role players the past couple seasons but will need to take another step forward for this team to reach its potential.
Another thing to look forward to? More minutes for Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who was the only person outside of the five starters last season that Auriemma seemed to trust consistently to take the court. Nelson-Ododa's pure size and ability on both ends of the floor should be on full display. Also keep an eye on Aubrey Griffin, one of the few recruits of note set to join the Huskies. The names on the scoresheet may not be as flashy as those in year’s past, but it’s always dangerous to underestimate UConn. The AAC surely won’t test it, but when it takes the court in non-conference competition, you’re sure to see something exciting.
The Cardinal lost Alanna Smith to the WNBA, but the rest of their starters are back to mount a serious challenge this season. Kiana Williams and DiJonai Carrington lead the way, but watch out for Lacie and Lexie Hull to have solid seasons as well. And we couldn’t talk about the Cardinal without mentioning their vaunted recruiting class. Many fans will be familiar with dunking sensation Fran Belibi, but Stanford also picked up the No. 1 recruit in the class, Haley Jones, who should wreak havoc on college basketball. Alongside Ashten Prechtel, Hannah Jump and Belibi in the class, Jones will keep Tara VanDerveer’s squad in the thick of a strong group of Pac-12 teams this season.
The Terrapins won the Big Ten regular-season title last season and would have won the Big Ten tournament title as well if it weren’t for someone named Megan Gustafson standing in their way. Now that Gustafson is off to the WNBA, look for Maryland to run roughshod over the conference and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Kaila Charles showed everyone what she was about last year with 17 points and six rebounds per game, and she will be joined by nearly everyone from last year’s squad. And with recruits like Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller coming to campus, this team should be plenty dangerous all year long.
6. Texas A&M
Two words: Chennedy Carter. No one player can change the entire atmosphere of a game, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s bothered telling Carter that. She’s an unabashed gunner and showwoman who requires your full attention whenever the ball is in her hands. The sneers, the ridiculous pull-ups, the outrageous amount of sauce dripping from her at all times? Yeah, we get another season of that. She averaged 30.7 points during last year’s NCAA tournament, if you’re wondering what someone of her caliber does when the lights are on. And dropping 35 points and getting all in Marina Mabrey’s grill about it during the Aggies’ loss to the Fighting Irish is part of the charm. With just about everyone returning to College Station for another ride, this could be a very fun year for Texas A&M.
7. South Carolina
Are all the players transferring out of South Carolina a problem? Yes and no. It’s tough to talk about a situation we don’t have a ton of knowledge on but it’s never a good look when four players leave within a 24-hour period, especially when you’re losing players like Te’a Cooper and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan.
But don’t expect coach Dawn Staley to sweat it too much. She has an incredible recruiting class on the way, including top-three recruit Aliyah Boston, and will return Tyasha Harris and a few veterans as well. It was always going to be hard to retool this team after the departure of A’ja Wilson, but if any coach can steer her team to victories, it’s Staley.
8. Oregon State
Destiny Slocum is the truth. The point guard averaged 15.4 points after a much-publicized transfer from Maryland. Add her production to that of Mikayla Pivec, Kat Tudor and Aleah Goodman and the Beavers have a recipe for success in the crucible that has become the Pac-12. But where this team goes seems like it will ultimately come down to Slocum, and she’s proven time and again that she’s ready for the hype.
9. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish are going to look completely different from a year ago. The team lost all five starters after Jackie Young declared for the draft early and was taken No. 1 by the Aces. So what should we expect from Muffet McGraw this season? A year of retooling with new faces and plenty of talent. We got a small taste of Abby Prohaska during 2018–19, and she should see a good amount of time next season. Mikayla Vaughn stands to get more minutes with a frontcourt bereft of Jessica Shephard and Brianna Turner, and Katlyn Gilbert and Jordan Nix should hold it down for the guards. Add top-25 recruits Samantha Brunelle and Anaya Peoples to the mix and Notre Dame has an exciting team to watch develop into something great.
Remember when last year was supposed to be a “rebuilding season” for the Bruins? Neither do they. A slow start to the season gave way to a torrid run to end the season and a trip to the Sweet 16, where they competed dutifully with UConn before being knocked out. The team lost Kennedy Burke but returns top scorer Michaela Onyenwere and standout Japreece Dean. The Pac-12 isn’t getting any easier for teams not named Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford, but the Bruins could make some noise and cause a few headaches for those perceived to be ahead of them. Onyenwere proved how much of a problem she can be in the NCAA tournament last year; look for her to show out again.