W Nation's 2022-23 Preseason NCAAW Top 25
Your favorite W pod is here to catch you up on the who’s who around the college women’s basketball season before action tips off Nov. 8. Let’s take a look at which teams are most likely to make their presence felt early — and be sure to catch our recent episodes for more details on this still-very-early Top 25, interviews with our key players to watch this fall and more!
Championship or Bust
1. South Carolina
Try to avoid betting against coach Dawn Staley and reigning player of the year Aliyah Boston whenever possible. The Gamecocks are expected to comfortably occupy the NCAAW throne for another season, even without March legend Destanni Henderson at guard. Grad transfer Kierra Fletcher (13pts, 5rbs, 3asst last year at Georgia Tech) should fill the gap at PG nicely, and with virtually everyone else responsible for the team’s recent success returning it’s tough to envision SC losing a step.
Returning Cameron Brink and [recent WNBA Nation guest] Haley Jones makes Stanford the very definition of title-or-bust, and that’s before considering the Cardinal’s annual supporting cast of 6’3+ role players, another excellent recruiting class and a recent history of absolutely bodying the Pac-12 (35-2 in the past two seasons). Barring catastrophe, Stanford is a lock for another deep run in March — oh, and they host SC on Nov. 20.
Bueckers’ ACL tear sucks super bad, and though we’re all used to the Huskies reloading with a seemingly endless well of talent there’s no true replacement for one of basketball’s brightest stars. Coach Geno Auriemma fearlessly predicting another UConn title being “just a matter of when” serves as a reminder never to count the Huskies all the way out, but it feels plausible — likely, even — for Geno’s squad to drop a tier or two if things don’t mesh quickly behind Azzi Fudd.
Let’s not overthink this one. Tennessee amassed enough talent this offseason to be mentioned in the same breath as conference foe South Carolina, which is saying something. If any team has the size and roster depth to make those consensus top-tier teams sweat, it’s Kellie Harper’s Vols squad. With so many new transfers expected to contribute this is all still speculative, but don’t be shocked if TN establishes itself as a title-or-bust team by Christmas.
A run to the Elite Eight last spring is enough to credibly consider the Longhorns part of the contender mix again this fall. In fact, Texas is a hot pick for a full-on breakout thanks to loads of potential transfer portal talent — but can they be trusted? The Big 12 finally looks primed for a non-Baylor champion now that Queen Egbo and NaLyssa Smith are off playing professionally, so a conference title and a no. 1 seed in March are certainly on the table. They’ll get an early shot at UConn on Nov. 14.
Hailey Van Lith is back; Emily Engstler is not. This group will have time to figure things out before hosting Ohio State at the end of November — a good test for last season’s most surprising* Final Four team — but for now they sit securely within the Top 10 squads in the nation.
*I mean, they were the Wichita region’s no. 1 seed, so surprising is a relative term.
7. Notre Dame
Everything’s lining up for the Irish right now, even in an ultra-competitive ACC. While several top teams are busy mining the transfer portal for a solution to the South Carolina problem, ND returns four quality starters to take another crack at the Elite Eight and beyond (we won’t talk about last year’s 63-66 Sweet 16 heartbreaker). Get comfortable with the idea of Olivia Miles leading this experienced group to some big wins in March.
The Hawkeyes fell to Creighton’s saucy Cinderella streak last season, but last we checked Caitlin Clark is still the real deal. High-scoring big Monika Czinano also returns to aid what should be the class of the Big Ten in ‘22-23. That said, until this team learns to play some defense it’s tough to consider the Hawkeyes truly title-or-bust — but there’s a universe where Clark goes nuclear in March and we kinda hope that’s the one we’re all living in.
9. NC State
The ACC is stacked, and with Elisa Cunane gone it’s tough to evaluate the next iteration of Wolf Pack hoops without some skepticism. We’ll give this core with proven top-10 ability the benefit of the doubt…for now.
Look, Angel Reese alone could turn this squad into contenders — even if capturing the SEC crown seems like a long shot. There’s virtually zero continuity from last season to now in terms of personnel, but Reese plus a solid supporting cast could have the firepower to take down big dogs TN and SC on the right night.
The Vibes Are Good
11. Iowa State
Who doesn’t love Ashley Joens? The reigning gold standard of small forwards is tasked with captaining a team of familiar faces to Big 12 glory this season over conference foes Baylor and Texas — and the super-senior is certainly capable of doing so. Key dates include a clash with Iowa on the road Dec. 7 and a home game against Texas on Jan. 15. Curiously, the Cyclones won’t take on Baylor until February.
Why no, I don’t plan to love the Hoosiers any less this season even after several major player departures. 3-point ace Sara Scalia brings nearly 18ppg over from Minnesota to support the dynamic Berger-Holmes duo on the offensive end. We’ll first see if it’s enough to crack the upper-echelon of the college landscape when the Hoosiers travel to Tennessee Nov. 14.
13. Ohio State
Sure seems like a team set to compete for the Big Ten title (again) should be getting more press. We’d be hearing more about the Buckeyes if not for a narrow Sweet 16 loss to Texas last spring, but let’s not forget about the time Taylor Mikesell and Jacy Sheldon poured 41 on LSU in a convincing second-round upset. Don’t sleep on them just yet.
14. North Carolina
The rules are simple: Bring back 4 of 5 starters responsible for a second weekend March Madness appearance and voila you’re in the preseason Top 15. Playing host to Oregon on Nov. 24 looks like a sneaky must-watch, as does the Tar Heels’ road tilt with Indiana Dec. 1.
A funny thing happens the longer you stare at your initial preseason rankings. Nikki Collen’s Baylor Bears, the undeniable class of the Big 12 for 12 straight seasons, might (somehow) be getting a little bit overlooked. No, Egbo and Smith aren’t walking through that door — but incoming transfers Aijha Blackwell and Dre'Una Edwards will endear themselves to fans in no time. The Bears have proven themselves worth betting on until otherwise noted.
If you had to pick just one team to watch for an entire season, aren’t the Sooners kind of the optimal choice? You’d catch tons of games against talented Big 12 opponents and see a super disruptive Oklahoma team put up something like 90 points almost every night. Putting the ball through the net is fun. Taylor Robertson is fun. Everything we like about Iowa might also apply to Oklahoma this fall if things click early.
Good, but with Question Marks
Will Diamond Miller sustain a career year as she returns from injury? One of the Big Ten’s finest athletes (and a recently featured member of our Top Seniors to Watch list), Miller is the centerpiece of a team in flux. Nine new faces in the locker room could mean early growing pains — or an explosive start, depending on big-game opportunities against South Carolina, Baylor and Notre Dame.
18. Virginia Tech
Can Ashley Owusu be a big-game player? The former Terp makes a strong addition to a Hokies team on the right trajectory — but that 4pt, 4rb game against Stanford in the tourney last year makes it hard to really believe in Tech’s bid to play like a true ACC power.
Will coach Adia Barnes recapture that March magic? The Wildcats were a bit bland on offense last season, but if anyone can fire up a good mix of vets and incoming role players for a surprise run, it’s Barnes.
Will the Ducks’ highly-touted recruiting class live up to its billing? Oregon’s strong interior presence continues in the towering form of Sedona Prince, but those days of competing for the Pac-12 title feel eerily distant. Can this new group re-infuse the program with title aspirations in a post-Sabrina world?
Was it only just a dream? Or are the Bluejays actually primed for a full season of success following everyone’s favorite ‘22 tourney storyline? Ejecting the 2, 3 and 7-seeds from the Greensboro region before ultimately falling to South Carolina was more than enough to get junior guard Lauren Jensen and Co. on the map — let’s all hope it’s not the last we’ll see of them in the postseason.
Could Be in Danger
Will Sam Haiby’s injury derail an otherwise promising Cornhuskers season?
How much of Princeton’s ‘22 success was thanks to Abby Meyers?
24. South Dakota State
Will Paige Meyer’s return get the Jackrabbits the respect (and tourney love) they deserve?
Is Utah’s maturing core prepared to take on the upper-crust of the Pac-12?
Oregon State, UCLA, Georgia