Seven months after Notre Dame won the 2018 NCAA title, the Fighting Irish unanimously lead things off in our espnW preseason top 25, as voted on by espnW.com’s Charlie Creme, Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel, and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo. But there’s plenty of intrigue about how the rest of the list shakes out.
Creme provides the analysis for each team below.
2017-18: 35-3; national champion
Notable returners: Arike Ogunbowale (20.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG); Jessica Shepard (15.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG); Marina Mabrey (14.4 PPG, 4.4 APG); Brianna Turner (15.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG in 2016-17)
Last season went from miserable to magical, frustrating to fantastic. Just when it looked like injuries would derail a promising season, the Irish — despite no depth and no true point guard — figured it out and won a national championship in the most exciting Final Four the sport has ever seen. Thanks to a pair of game-winning shots, Arike Ogunbowale became a household name. She is back and so, too, is a healthy roster around her. Notre Dame should be even better this season with All-American Brianna Turner, who missed all of 2017-18 recovering from an ACL tear, returning for her final season. Health has consistently been a problem for Turner, but if she is healthy, the Irish have one of the best bigs in the country. Mikalya Vaughn is also back after a knee injury. They join the productive Jessica Shepard, who is a good passer and should be able to take her game to the high post relatively easily. Marina Mabrey performed admirably as the point guard for most of last season, but getting five-star recruit Katlyn Gilbert in the mix would help get Mabrey shooting more 3-pointers. Mabrey, Ogunbowale and junior guard Jackie Young give Muffet McGraw the ability to play small, while Shepard, Turner and Vaughn make a big lineup possible. The combinations seem endless for a coach who knows what buttons to push.
2017-18: 36-1; lost in Final Four
Notable returners: Katie Lou Samuelson (17.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG); Napheesa Collier (16.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG); Crystal Dangerfield (9.5 PPG, 4.1 APG)
For the second straight season, UConn lost on an iconic buzzer-beater in the Final Four. Two losses by a total of four points in two years is all that the Huskies have suffered after winning 111 games in a row. Gabby Williams, Kia Nurse and Azura Stevens are gone. But Katie Lou Samuleson is on the short list of the best players in the country. Her 47.5 3-point percentage led the nation last season, and her overall game has kept getting better. Fellow senior Napheesa Collier is also one of the 10 best players in the game, and Crystal Dangerfield is on the short list of best point guards. The big questions for coach Geno Auriemma are who else logs significant minutes and how good his normally outstanding defense will be — both are mysteries that he hasn’t encountered in a long time. Sophomore Megan Walker looks to be a starter, and her production should go well beyond the 5.8 PPG and 3.3 RPG of a year ago. Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, two of the best freshmen in this year’s class, will play more than most first-year players in Storrs and could shine. Who gets the minutes after those six players will be the question surrounding UConn the entire season.
2017-18: 33-5; lost in Elite Eight
Notable returners: Sabrina Ionescu (19.7 PPG, 7.8 APG); Ruthy Hebard (17.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG); Maite Cazorla (10.9 PPG, 4.8 APG)
The Ducks went from upstart program to win-now expectations in just two years. That’s how good of a job Kelly Graves has done resurrecting the program. It began when he landed Sabrina Ionescu, and now the 5-11 junior point guard is considered one of the best players in the country. With her high IQ and pass-first mentality, Ionescu — who already holds the NCAA record for career triple-doubles (10) — doesn’t have to score to be elite, especially with the talent around her on this team. Ruthy Hebard, a 6-4 forward, made 62 percent of her field goal attempts and averaged 16.3 PPG over her first two seasons. Maite Cazorla is another playmaker and double-digit scorer, and 6-4 Satou Sabally (10.7 PPG) was the highest-scoring freshman in the Pac-12 a year ago and should be even better. Her sister, freshman Nyara, was to join her in the Ducks’ lineup, but a knee injury will keep her sidelined. Graves adds 6-2 Notre Dame transfer Erin Boley to mix. She was the 2016 Gatorade national player of the year. With that many options and a guard who knows exactly how to use them, anything short of the Final Four will be a disappointment.
2017-18: 36-3; lost in Final Four
Notable returners: Asia Durr (18.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG); Sam Fuehring (9.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG); Jazmine Jones (8.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG)
The overtime loss to Mississippi State in the national semifinals still haunts the Cardinals. This year’s team has plenty of firepower to relieve some of that pain. With Asia Durr paving the way in her senior season, Louisville is a solid bet to return to the Final Four. She might be the best pure scorer in the country and can do it from any spot on the floor. Jazmine Jones on the wing and point guard Arica Carter (4.0 APG) will be her running mates in a deep and talented backcourt. Dana Evans, a five-star recruit two years ago, could also see a big jump in production as a sophomore. Coach Jeff Walz also added Pittsburgh graduate transfer Yacine Diop to the mix. She led the Panthers in both scoring (15.7 PPG) and rebounding (6.4 RPG) last season. The embarrassment of riches in the backcourt, however, doesn’t translate to the frontcourt. Walz still doesn’t appear to have an obvious replacement for program mainstay Myisha Hines-Allen (14.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG). Sam Fuehring, a 6-3 junior, is the only big on the roster with significant experience. If Louisville is going to return to the Final Four, juniors Kylee Shook (4.9 PPG) and Bionca Dunham (4.6 PPG) will have to take their games to the next level.
2017-18: 33-2; lost in Sweet 16
Notable returners: Kalani Brown (20.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG); Lauren Cox (15.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG); Juicy Landrum (7.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG)
How coach Kim Mulkey addresses her point guard position will go a long way to determining if the Lady Bears break through and get to their first Final Four since winning it all in 2012. Kristy Wallace graduated and her obvious replacement, Alexis Morris (3.4 APG in 2017-18), was dismissed from the team in September. Adding LSU graduate transfer Chloe Jackson, who led the Tigers with 18.1 PPG last season, is a huge help, but she is not a true point guard. Neither is junior Juicy Landrum, the other main candidate for the job. They will likely split point guard duties and grow into it as the season progresses. Their job will be made easier by having 6-7 senior All-American Kalani Brown and 6-4 junior Lauren Cox roaming the paint and likely making Baylor’s high-low post game even more devastating. Mulkey also brought in the top recruiting class in the country and one deemed the best in Baylor history. The massively athletic 6-2 Aquira DeCosta is considered the best of the bunch, but 6-3 post player Queen Egbo and point guard Honesty Scott-Grayson could also be contributors by season’s end.
2017-18: 37-2; lost in NCAA title game
Notable returners: Teaira McCowan (18.2 PPG, 13.9 RPG); Jazzmun Holmes (4.2 PPG, 2.7 APG); Chloe Bibby (3.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG)
The winningest senior class in program history — and 60 percent of the scoring — is gone with the graduations of Victoria Vivians, Blair Schaefer, Roshunda Johnson and Morgan William, but a third consecutive trip to the Final Four is still in the cards largely because 6-7 senior Teaira McCowan is back. McCowan has gotten better each season. Another level of improvement and she could become the most dominant force in the game. Coach Vic Schaefer won’t have the same experience to put around McCowan, but he got a big bonus when Anriel Howard (12.1 PPG, 12.2 RPG in 2017-18) transferred to Starkville from Texas A&M for her senior season. McCowan and Howard were second and seventh, respectively, in the country in rebounds per game last season. Senior Jazzmun Holmes is ready to assume the point guard responsibilities full-time, and 6-1 Australian Chloe Bibby should take on a bigger role. Schaefer also expects 6-3 Jessika Carter and fellow freshman wing Xaria Wiggins to play significant minutes once they figure out the nuances of his defense.
2017-18: 26-8; lost in Elite Eight
Notable returners: Kat Tudor (12.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG); Mikayla Pivec (11.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG; Katie McWilliams (8.1 PPG, 3.8 APG)
Scott Rueck has built a culture of winning and excitement. Despite losing centerpiece players to the WNBA in consecutive seasons (Sydney Wiese in 2017 and Marie Gulich in 2018), his team is still expected to make a Final Four push. This year’s edition of the Beavers won’t be as one-player focused; expect major contributions from up and down the roster. All of the chief shooters that made Oregon State the most accurate 3-point team in the country a season ago are back. Kat Tudor, who made 89 3-pointers on 41.2 percent shooting, leads the way, with Katie McWilliams (53 3-pointers), Mikayla Pivec (23), Taya Corosdale (36) and Aleah Goodman (49) still in the rotation. McWilliams also adds a 2.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio to go with her 43.8 percent accuracy from downtown. The addition of point guard and Oregon native Destiny Slocum, the WBCA national freshman of the year in 2017 while at Maryland, should make the offense run even smoother. Even with the departure of the 6-5 Gulich, Rueck still has size to balance the shooting: 6-8 senior Joanna Grymek returns and top-10 recruit, 6-9 Andrea Aquino, could be a program game-changer.
2017-18: 24-11; lost in Sweet 16
Notable returners: Alanna Smith (13.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG); Kiana Williams (10.4 PPG, 1.9 APG); Marta Sniezek (5.5 PPG, 4.3 APG)
How well senior Alanna Smith handles becoming the centerpiece of the offense might determine Stanford’s success this season. The 6-4 Smith has been on the verge of stardom throughout her career, and her experience playing on the Australian national team this summer might help her break through. Smith is most effective in the post, but has also proved herself a capable jump shooter, which creates matchup problems. Sophomore Kiana Williams showed glimpses of her shooting ability and could be set for a breakout season, and 6-3 junior Nadia Fingall should also have an expanded role. The Cardinal are deep with eight players who saw meaningful minutes a year ago, and they get another boost with three incoming impact freshmen. Twins Lexie and Lacie Hull could both see significant time on the wing and perhaps even push for starting roles. Jenna Brown should push Marta Sniezek at the point. Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer has options. Stanford might look like a different team in March than it does to start the season, but expect a much better start to the campaign than the 6-6 beginning of a year ago.
2017-18: 26-8; lost in NCAA tournament second round
Notable returners: Kaila Charles (17.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG); Stephanie Jones (10.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG); Channise Lewis (5.4 PPG, 4.7 APG)
For the first time since joining the Big Ten in 2014, the Terrapins failed to win at least a share of the conference title. That is likely to be just a one-year interruption. With four of its top five scorers back from a season ago, Maryland is the big favorite to win the conference and is a legitimate Final Four contender. Kaila Charles should reach All-America status, and if fellow wing Blair Watson (13.8 PPG in 17 games) can return healthy from an ACL tear suffered in January, coach Brenda Frese has one of the country’s top scoring duos. Stephanie Jones and Brianna Fraser also give Frese two answers in the post, but 6-5 freshman Shakira Austin, the No. 4 prospect in the country, could become Maryland’s most dominant inside force by season’s end. Frese added junior college transfer Sara Vujacic for her catch-and-shoot ability to replace Kristen Confroy. Point guard Channise Lewis won’t look to shoot much, but her assist totals should be a good indicator of the Terps’ success.
2017-18: 25-8; lost in NCAA tournament second round
Notable returners: Rennia Davis (12.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG); Evina Westbrook (8.4 PPG, 4.3 APG); Meme Jackson (8.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG)
Getting back to the Final Four for the first time in more than a decade remains the goal in Knoxville. But can the Lady Vols do it with so many new, albeit talented faces? With the graduations of Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared, and the August dismissal of Anastasia Hayes — departures that account for more than 40 points of offense — the Tennessee lineup will look different again. Rennia Davis and Evina Westbrook, the remaining gems of the top-rated 2017 recruiting class, are now the faces of the program. Both can score, but neither is a lights-out 3-point shooter, an area where the Lady Vols need to improve (30.7 percent last season). Tennessee also ranked 12th in the SEC in turnovers last season. Coach Holly Warlick is counting on guards Zaay Green and Jazmine Massengill, the two best players from another top-five recruiting class, to make a big difference in both areas. Seven of the 11 players on the roster are freshmen or sophomores. A big season from senior Meme Jackson would mean plenty to the Lady Vols’ success in March.
2017-18: 29-7; lost in Elite Eight
Notable returners: Alexis Jennings (11.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG); Tyasha Harris (10.4 PPG, 6.1 APG); Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (7.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG)
Dawn Staley has the impossible task of replacing A’ja Wilson, the greatest player in program history. Staley’s plan is to recreate the Gamecocks, who are no longer built around a star but rather a collection of talent. Junior point guard Tyasha Harris and top-10 recruit Destanni Henderson will lead the faster pace Staley wants to play at will. The backcourt is loaded with depth and talent: Tennessee transfer Te’a Cooper, 3-point ace Bianca Jackson, senior Bianca Cuevas-Moore (who returns from a knee injury that kept her on the sidelines last season), top defender Doniyah Cliney and Clemson transfer Nelly Perry (12.7 PPG in 2016-17). Alexis Jennings, a 6-3 forward, was the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder in 2017-18 and should get more opportunity this season. The difference-maker in the frontcourt — and perhaps the No. 1 key to South Carolina getting back to the Final Four — is Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, a long, athletic forward who could have a breakout season.
2017-18: 28-7; lost in Sweet 16
Notable returners: Lashann Higgs (12.8 PPG, 2.7 APG); Jatarie White (10.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG); Joyner Holmes (6.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG)
The talent Karen Aston is accumulating in Austin gets better each season, and the addition of top-five recruits 6-5 Charli Collier and 6-7 Sedona Prince just adds to the résumé. Throw in 6-4 senior Jatarie White and 6-3 Joyner Holmes, both also former McDonald’s All Americans, and the Longhorns are loaded in the frontcourt. Collier is a favorite for national freshman of the year and has the potential to dominate immediately. White is solid and experienced. But Holmes, coming off a lost sophomore season that began with a first semester suspension, is an X factor. Her talent and versatility could make her one of the best players in the Big 12. A bounce-back season from Holmes, who played 25 games last season, would help balance the graduation losses of Ariel Atkins (14.9 PPG) and Brooke McCarty (13.6 PPG), a guard duo that was the Longhorns’ foundation the past two seasons. Even more will be expected of Lashann Higgs, while Texas A&M graduate transfer Danni Williams (14.7 PPG with the Aggies last season) should provide much-needed perimeter shooting. Still, the biggest question for Aston will be how well junior Sug Sutton performs as McCarty’s replacement at point guard.
2017-18: 26-7; lost in NCAA tournament second round
Notable returners: Caliya Robinson (12.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG); Taja Cole (7.8 PPG, 4.1 APG); Que Morrison (8.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG)
Under coach Joni Taylor, Georgia continues to climb closer to the glory days of Andy Landers. Earning a top-16 seed in the NCAA tournament and a second-place finish in the SEC a year ago was a big step forward. To continue the ascent, Taylor will rely heavily on 6-3 senior post Caliya Robinson, junior point guard Taja Cole and junior guard Que Morrison. The Bulldogs are built around an outstanding defense that led the SEC in field goal percentage defense last season (35.1 percent), but they will have to produce more points and shoot better from the outside if they are to threaten Mississippi State, Tennessee and South Carolina for conference supremacy. Georgia’s 29.8 percent 3-point field goal percentage ranked 248th in the country in 2017-18. The addition of Jenna Staiti , a 6-6 Maryland transfer and former Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year, potentially helps the defense get even better and could free up more room for Robinson in the paint.
2017-18: 27-8; lost in NCAA tournament second round
Notable returners: Mart’e Grays (14.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG); Ashton Millender (13.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG); Kelly Campbell (10.6 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 5.7 APG)
DePaul is deep and loaded with shooters, the perfect ingredients for Doug Bruno’s fast-paced, spread-the-floor, get-the-ball-into-space offense. The Blue Demons were sixth in the nation in scoring and second in 3-pointers made in 2017-18 — and should be even better this season. Junior Kelly Campbell is back at the point to make it all go. Campbell is a good shooter, but her chief job is getting the ball into the hands of two even better shooters in Ashton Millender (41.4 percent 3-point shooter) and Mart’e Grays (37 percent 3-point shooter). Chante Stonewall (10.7 PPG) is one of four starters back, and senior Tanita Allen (9.3 PPG) should have a more prominent role after starting 12 games last season. DePaul’s X factor could be Rebekah Dahlman, a former McDonald’s All-American whose career at Vanderbilt was slowed by injuries. She missed all but one game with DePaul last season because of a knee injury. If healthy, Dahlman gives Bruno yet another perimeter scorer with experience.
2017-18: 24-10; lost in NCAA tournament second round
Notable returners: Allazia Blockton (19.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG); Natisha Hiedeman (13.4 PPG, 3.0 APG); Erika Davenport (11.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG)
It’s 2019 or bust for the Golden Eagles. All five starters are back for their senior seasons. All five are legitimate scoring threats. And all five have had a taste of winning with last year’s Big East title — but haven’t seen much NCAA tournament success. Getting to at least a Sweet 16 would be the finishing touch for a class that re-established the program on the national scene. Allazia Blockton, last season’s Big East Player of the Year, is the catalyst and an All-American candidate. Natisha Hiedeman is the biggest outside shooting threat. Erika Davenport is an undersized but effective post player. Danielle King and Amani Wilborn force the action in the Golden Eagles’ up-tempo style. The addition of Amanda Maqueia, a 6-4 junior college transfer, should provide some post defense that was lacking last season and was the biggest hole coach Carolyn Kieger needed to fill.
2017-18: 24-8; lost in NCAA tournament first round
Notable returners: Sophie Cunningham (18.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG); Amber Smith (9.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG); Lauren Aldridge (6.7 PPG, 3.5 APG)
The Tigers went 10 years without making the NCAA tournament prior to the arrival of Sophie Cunningham. They haven’t missed since. The hometown All-American could be the best and most important player in program history. Now she has one more chance to get the Tigers to the next level, a Sweet 16 or better. The key is finding Cunningham a bona fide running mate. Junior guard Amber Smith is the most likely candidate and appears ready to be a more assertive leader and scorer. Senior point guard Lauren Aldridge is responsible for getting the ball to those two, but she might also need to score more because the frontcourt is largely unproven. If 6-4 Brittany Garner can become in impact freshman, it would go a long way to getting Missouri past the NCAA tournament’s second round for the first time since 2001.
2017-18: 24-8; lost in NCAA tournament first round
Notable returners: Megan Gustafson (25.7 PPG, 12.8 RPG); Kathleen Doyle (11.1 PPG, 6.6 APG); Makenzie Meyer (10.8 PPG, 4.3 APG)
After leading the country in scoring and field goal percentage (67.1 percent) and ranking fifth in rebounding last season, 6-3 Megan Gustafson is back for her senior season and is a candidate for every major player of the year award. With three other starters back, Gustafson could anchor the best Hawkeyes team in coach Lisa Bluder’s 19 years — especially if guard Kathleen Doyle can return to form after suffering a broken hand in the preseason. Doyle is expected back before the start of Big Ten play, but will likely miss key games against Notre Dame (Nov. 29) and West Virginia (Nov. 23). Gustafson will have to rely on junior Makenzie Meyer as her chief scoring sidekick until Doyle returns. If sophomore Alexis Sevillian, who led the team in 3-pointers made last season (59), can duplicate her rookie season, and point guard Tania Davis can come back from yet another knee surgery, Iowa should be able to overcome Doyle’s absence and compete for a Big Ten championship.
2017-18: 26-9; lost in Sweet 16
Notable returners: Kiara Leslie (12.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG); Aislinn Konig (10.3 PPG, 3.1 APG); Kaila Ealey (8.9 PPG, 4.2 APG)
Forward Chelsea Nelson, last season’s leading scorer and rebounder, is gone, so the emphasis in Raleigh shifts to the backcourt. That’s likely great news for coach Wes Moore, who has one of the best collection of guards in the country. Kiara Leslie and Kaila Ealey are a pair of fearless fifth-year seniors. Leslie is the Wolfpack’s leading returning scorer and rebounder and Ealey is an attacking point guard who got to the line 175 times last season. Junior Aislinn Konig has a chance to become the school’s top all-time 3-point shooter. Guard Grace Hunter, a transfer from Charlotte who redshirted last season, joins that trio. She averaged 17.2 points and 8.6 rebounders in 2016-17 in Conference USA. The frontcourt is light on proven production and experience. Much will be expected of freshmen Elissa Cunane, a 6-5 center, and Jada Rice, a 6-4 forward.
2017-18: 26-8; lost in NCAA tournament first round
Notable returners: Kitija Laksa (21.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG); Laura Ferreira (10.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG); Tamara Henshaw (6.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
Graduation has left some holes to fill for coach Jose Fernandez, but senior Kitija Laksa should be enough to get the Bulls back to the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight year. Laksa is the best player in the American outside of Storrs, Connecticut. The All-America candidate needs improved scoring production from senior wing Laura Ferreira and junior post Tamara Henshaw. A full season from 6-2 Alyssa Rader, who played just 25 games last season, should also help. The biggest wild card will be at the point, where five-star freshman Elisa Pinzan is expected to take over. A native of Italy, Pinzan is part of a six-player recruiting class, four of whom are from Europe.
2017-18: 25-12; lost in WNIT semifinals
Notable returners: Naomi Davenport (16.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG); Katrina Pardee (12.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG); Tynice Martin (18.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG in 2016-17)
Mountaineers coach Mike Carey brought in a solid and deep recruiting class, but no addition matches the return of Tynice Martin. A foot injury kept the 2017 honorable mention All-American guard on the sideline last season as West Virginia failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015. Martin will pair with Michigan transfer Kysre Gondrezick (14.9 PPG in 2016-17) to form what could be the most explosive backcourt in the Big 12. NC State transfer Lucky Rudd, the daughter of former Wake Forest standout Delaney Rudd, joins the team at midseason and will battle freshman guard Madisen Smith for additional playing time. Much will be expected of senior Naomi Davenport, who steps into the role of primary wing scorer vacated by the graduation of Teana Muldrow (18.9 PPG). Carey will likely need significant production from 6-1 forward Kari Niblack, the top recruit in this year’s freshmen class.
2017-18: 22-9; lost in NCAA tournament first round
Notable returners: Tiana Mangakahia (17.5 PPG, 9.8 APG); Miranda Drummond (14.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG); Gabrielle Cooper (10.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG)
Last season, point guard Tiana Mangakahia led the nation in assists. This season, the junior from Australia has even more talent to feed. Syracuse brings back every major contributor and adds Ohio State transfer Kiara Lewis and top-20 recruit Emily Engstler. Mangakahia, who also led Syracuse in scoring in 2017-18, is not flashy, but she has an uncanny ability to deliver the ball to the right teammate in the proper place. Can the Orange put it to good use on the perimeter? Under coach Quentin Hillsman, Syracuse is built on volume shooting, but last season’s 31.5 percent accuracy on 3-pointers must be better if the Orange hope to end a stretch of back-to-back first-round NCAA tournament losses or find success in a nonconference schedule that includes games against Oregon (Nov. 10), Texas A&M (Nov. 14), Kansas State (Nov. 22) and DePaul (Nov. 24).
2017-18: 24-9; lost in Sweet 16
Notable returners: Leaonna Odom (9.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG); Haley Gorecki (11.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG); Jade Williams (4.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG)
The Blue Devils just can’t escape injures and are again starting the season short-handed. Redshirt junior Kyra Lambert, who missed all of last season after suffering a torn ACL in her left knee in March 2017, was supposed to assume point guard duties from departed All-American Lexie Brown. But Lambert reinjured the knee late last month and will miss all of 2018-19. Mikayla Boykin, who missed all but 10 games last season, might be the answer at the point, but Lambert’s injury also likely means freshmen guards Miela Goodchild and Rayah Craig are thrust into bigger roles than expected. Getting the ball into the hands of Leaonna Odom is the priority. The 6-2 junior blossomed at the end of last season and excelled in the NCAA tournament (21.0 PPG in three games). Odom and Haley Gorecki, who will be expected to assume the shooting and scoring role held by Rebecca Greenwell for the last four seasons, will have to anchor the offense.
2017-18: 22-13; lost in NCAA tournament second round
Notable returners: Kianna Ibis (12.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG); Robbi Ryan (10.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG); Courtney Ekmark (9.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG)
Under Charli Turner Thorne, the Sun Devils have been one of the game’s most consistent programs. With four starters returning, the veteran coach — now in her 22nd season in Tempe — should have Arizona State in a school-record sixth straight NCAA tournament. Kianna Ibis, a 6-1 senior forward, is the best of the bunch after leading ASU in scoring last season. Point guard Reili Richardson (4.7 APG in 2017-18) was fourth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio and exemplifies the Arizona State calling cards: toughness, smarts, defense and fundamentals. As is typical, nine Sun Devils averaged more than 10 minutes per game a year ago. Freshman wing Taya Hanson should join that group and give senior Courtney Ekmark some perimeter shooting help. A healthy season for 6-2 junior Jamie Ruden would help balance the scoring load. She is ASU’s toughest individual matchup, but foot and back issues have limited her the past two seasons.
2017-18: 30-5; lost in Sweet 16
Notable returners: Presley Hudson (18.3 PPG, 5.3 APG); Reyna Frost (13.7 PPG, 11.9 RPG); Micaela Kelly (11.5 PPG, 3.5 APG)
Duplicating the magic in Mount Pleasant last season won’t be easy, but the Chippewas just might pull it off. Central Michigan carried the MAC flag, along with conference-mate Buffalo, all the way to the Sweet 16 with a school-record 30 wins — and has three starters back. The backcourt that led the way for coach Sue Guevara’s fast-paced offense (82.3 PPG) should be the catalyst once again. Senior Presley Hudson will likely finish her career as the program’s all-time leading scorer and was seventh in the country in 3-point field goals a season ago. Michaela Kelly, one of the best freshmen in the MAC last season, was the missing piece that helped CMU ascend to the best season in program history. Guevara will probably have to get even more scoring out of senior post Reyna Frost to offset the loss of conference player of the year Tinara Moore (19.1 PPG), but Frost (10th in the nation) is already a rebounding machine. Nonconference games against Louisville, Miami and Virginia should have the Chippewas plenty prepared for March once again.
2017-18: 21-11; lost in NCAA tournament first round
Notable returners: Kristine Anigwe (16.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG); Asha Thomas (12.8 PPG, 3.5 APG); Kianna Smith (8.6 PPG, 4.8 APG)
With Kristine Anigwe entering her senior season and a solid collection of experienced guards surrounding the All-America candidate, the Bears might be primed for a top-four Pac-12 finish and Sweet 16 run. Anigwe’s overall productivity fell off a bit last season, but she remains one of the best low-post players in the game. Preventing her from being double-teamed will be a key for Cal, and that responsibility falls to senior Asha Thomas and sophomore Kianna Smith, who was the Bears’ best player in their first-round NCAA tournament loss to Virginia. Texas Tech graduate transfer Receé Caldwell, who averaged 14.5 PPG two seasons ago in Lubbock, and high school All-American McKenzie Forbes, an outstanding shooter, help upgrade an offense that averaged 69 PPG a season ago. If redshirt sophomore Mi’Cole Cayton can return from a torn ACL, coach Lindsay Gottlieb will have the most versatile and deep backcourt she has had in her eight seasons in Berkeley.