LSU Tigers: A Year of Promise
Photo Cred: On3.com
Head coach Kim Mulkey’s tenure at LSU has been spectacular. With a national championship under her belt, she secured two top-tier players from the transfer portal: Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow. Mulkey also has secured the No. 1 high school recruiting class. Moreover, she now holds the title of the highest-paid coach in women’s college basketball, with a lucrative 10-year, $36 million contract. It doesn’t stop there, as the LSU Tigers’ prospects for the upcoming season look incredibly promising!
Even if they were just returning the likes of Angel Reese, SEC Freshman of the Year Flau’jae Johnson, Kateri Poole, and Sa’Myah Smith, they would still be strong contenders for a Final Four appearance. However, when you factor in the talented additions from the transfer portal, both of whom have the potential to become All-Americans, LSU emerges as the clear preseason No. 1. Mulkey will also have the luxury of incorporating gifted freshman Mikaylah Williams, the second-ranked recruit in the nation, and the towering 6-foot-5 Aalyah Del Rosario into a rotation that is deeper than in previous seasons.
UConn Huskies: A Tale of Talent and Uncertainty
Photo Cred: UConn
In Storrs, the UConn Huskies boast a roster that rivals the best in the nation. Star players like Paige Bueckers, Azzi Fudd, and Aaliyah Edwards are undeniably among the top 10 or 15 players. Nika Muhl, who set a single-season school record for assists last season, adds a valuable dimension to the team. Aubrey Griffin and Caroline Ducharme, both former high school All-Americans, have proven their worth as highly productive contributors for UConn. However, a key question mark for the Huskies is how effectively head coach Geno Auriemma can get all these remarkable talents on the court together. Injuries have plagued the program for the past two years, and the concern remains.
Bueckers, who also missed a huge portion of the 2021-22 season due to knee injuries, recently injured her thumb in preseason practice. She and Fudd, two of the nation’s most highly touted recruits in 2020 and 2021, have played only nine games together due to various injuries. Edwards, who has been the most dependable of the group, exhibited tremendous growth last season and often carried the team on her shoulders. Although the Huskies’ remarkable streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances ended in the spring, a healthy UConn team would be the favorites to start a new one.
UCLA Bruins: A New Era of Excellence
Photo Cred: SI
The UCLA Bruins, under the guidance of Coach Cori Close, are poised for greatness in the upcoming season. This could very well be her best team to date. The top two recruits from the 2022 class, Lauren Betts and Kiki Rice, have chosen to wear the Bruins’ colors. They possess the potential to form one of the most formidable inside-outside duos for the next three seasons. Rice impressed with 11.6 points per game, along with her classmate Londynn Jones, and earned a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team.
Betts, a Stanford transfer, stands tall at 6-7 and provides Close with a coveted rim protector and post presence by lightening the load on her talented perimeter players. Charisma Osborne, who decided to return rather than enter the WNBA draft, shines the brightest with an average of 15.6 points per game. Emily Bessoir, a 6-4 junior, displayed remarkable improvement across the board last season and is the Bruins’ most accurate 3-point shooter (35.7%). With the potential for Jones and Gabriela Jaquez to elevate their game as sophomores, Close could well oversee the Pac-12’s most versatile rotation.
Ohio State Buckeyes: Defensive Dominance
Photo Cred: Land-Grant Holy Land
The Ohio State Buckeyes have been a defensive force, culminating in the second-highest number of turnovers in the Big Ten last season. With the addition of Duke transfer Celeste Taylor, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, the Buckeyes’ defense is better. Taylor joins Jacy Sheldon, who averaged 3.5 steals in the 13 games she played. That backcourt is poised to wreak havoc, particularly in coach Kevin McGuff’s full-court press strategy. The team might miss the scoring prowess of Taylor Mikesell, last season’s leading scorer, but the return of Cotie McMahon is a reason for optimism.
McMahon is the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, displayed remarkable potential, and was often the Buckeyes’ standout player on the court. She is a potential All-American for the next three years and perfectly suits Ohio State’s up-tempo style of play. The same holds true for Taylor Thierry, who significantly improved her scoring average from 2.9 PPG as a freshman to 13.5 in her second season. The return of 6-4 Rebeka Mikulasikova, who averaged 10.1 PPG, provides the Buckeyes with a proven inside scoring option.
Utah Utes: A Team on the Rise
Photo Cred: KSL Sports
The Utah Utes are ready to embark on a new season and have an advantage of all five starters returning. With the guidance of Coach Lynne Roberts, the team is in a great position to build upon their success, having finished just behind Stanford in the Pac-12 and reaching their first Sweet 16 since 2006. Alissa Pili, the reigning Conference Player of the Year, leads the returners with her dominant and efficient inside presence. She will be complementing her team with an impressive 42.6% shooting from beyond the arc.
The junior guard duo of Gianna Kneepkens and Jenna Johnson, who have a combined 110 starts in their first two seasons, averaged over 27 points per game last season. Kneepkens and Kennady McQueen are two three-point threats on the team, while senior point guard Isabel Palmer is the glue that holds everything together. The addition of Maty Wilke, a 5-10 guard who averaged 11.8 points per game as a freshman at Wisconsin, adds further intrigue to an already promising roster.