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Women’s college basketball Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2022-23


7:15 AM ET

Charlie CremeESPN.com

CloseCharlie Creme projects the women’s NCAA tournament bracket for ESPN.com.

Remember the good old days when a top-25 list, even a Way-Too-Early list, had some staying power? When rankings could be relied on to cover the women’s college basketball landscape for a few months? No longer. The transfer portal has changed all of that. So, just a month after our first look at the 2022-23 women’s college basketball season’s top teams, we have a rewrite.

Two teams in this Way-Too-Early Top 25 edition were not here last month. LSU, which now checks in at No. 22, wasn’t even close to making it onto the list then. Maryland meanwhile has had something of a journey on this list, going from top five to nearly out of the top 20, to finally landing in the top 16.

The top of the list remains intact. The top four teams have not changed, and barring any major surprises from the transfer portal in the coming weeks, South Carolina, UConn, Stanford and Texas will remain in their places when practice begins in October.

The rest? Who knows?

Most of the top transfers have chosen a destination, but several potentially impactful players remain undecided. The choice Angel Reese makes for her next school could greatly alter someone’s preseason outlook. Saniya Rivers, Greta Kampschroeder and Sonya Morris are still out there too.

Let this be your snapshot in time during one of the wildest offseasons in women’s college basketball history. The fun is far from finished.

Since the first 2022-23 Way-Too-Early Top 25, the national champions have lost some young talent — Eniya Russell and Saniya Rivers — to the transfer portal. But what Dawn Staley has gained in that same month might be more valuable to defending the title. Kierra Fletcher comes over from Georgia Tech after missing last season with a knee injury, giving South Carolina the one element it lost — an experienced point guard — after Destanni Henderson left for the WNBA.

Every other main contributor, most notably national Player of the Year Aliyah Boston, returns for another attempt at a second straight wire-to-wire No. 1 ranking and national championship.

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Not much has changed for the Huskies since their national championship game loss. Next year’s team likely will be built around a backcourt of Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd with Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz anchoring the interior. Key contributors Nika Muhl and Caroline Ducharme, who plans to be ready after offseason hip surgery, are also returning. A pair of top-five recruits in 6-foot-3 Isuneh Brady and 6-2 Ayanna Patterson arrive. MAAC Player of the Year Lou Lopez-Senechal (19.5 PPG) arrives as a graduate transfer.

The same depth and interchangeable lineups that the Cardinal have had the past two seasons won’t likely exist in 2023. That might not matter. Tara VanDerveer’s rotation shrunk in this year’s NCAA tournament and Stanford still made the Final Four. The toughness and experience of Lexie Hull, Lacie Hull and Anna Wilson will be missed, but in Haley Jones and Cameron Brink Stanford has two of the best 10 players in the country. Plus, seniors Fran Belibi, Hannah Jump and Ashten Prechtel, talented rising sophomores Kiki Iriafen and Brooke Demetre and 6-7 Lauren Betts, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, are plenty enough to make the Cardinal a favorite for a third consecutive Final Four.

Coming off their most wins in a season (29) since 2016 and consecutive trips to the Elite Eight, the Longhorns seem primed to take the next step and get to the Final Four. They will have a big part of the core back to do just that. Point guard Rori Harmon, a potential All-American, and forwards Aaliyah Moore and DeYona Gaston will be more experienced as sophomores, while leading scorer Aliyah Matharu is back for her senior season.

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With Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano, the Hawkeyes will have the ability to outscore just about anyone. They should enter 2022-23 as the favorites in a competitive Big Ten. The key to a deeper NCAA tournament run might be how much players like Addison O’Grady, McKenna Warnock and Kate Martin further develop during the offseason.

Enough votes are now in, and Kellie Harper has won the offseason so far. Early in the transfer process, probable starters Rickea Jackson (Mississippi State) and Jasmine Powell (Minnesota) committed to the Lady Vols. Then Harper was able to add Jasmine Franklin (Missouri State), who was the nation’s second-leading rebounder before a December knee injury cost her the rest of the 2021-22 season. Then on Monday, 6-5 Jillian Hollingshead, a 2021 McDonald’s All-American, landed in Knoxville after leaving Georgia following her freshman year. With Franklin, Hollingshead and 6-5 Tamari Key (8.1 RPG), Tennessee might be an even better rebounding team than last year’s edition that was second in the country. With Powell sliding in at the point, top scorer Jordan Horston will have even more freedom off the ball.

The talent is there in Knoxville. It will just look different from last season. Transfers Rickea Jackson (Mississippi State) and Jasmine Powell (Minnesota) should be instant starters. Kellie Harper also has just added Jasmine Franklin (Missouri State),

The perimeter duo of Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey will have some help from Notre Dame’s newest crop of transfers. Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The transfer portal has taken in South Bend. It also has given back. At the time of the first edition of this list, the Fighting Irish had lost much of their depth. But with recent additions Lauren Ebo (Texas), Kylee Watson (Oregon) and Jenna Brown (Stanford), the losses of Sam Brunelle, Anaya Peoples, Abby Prohaska and Maya Dodson (denied her extra year of eligibility by the NCAA) don’t seem as problematic. Notre Dame’s place in the top 10 is even more solidified.

The 6-4 Ebo will give the Irish a physical inside presence and screener to free up the perimeter talent of Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey, who will now have Brown as a backup. Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld are the last two ACC Rookies of the Year, giving coach Niele Ivey numerous offensive options.

This group has all the makings of the best Cyclones team ever. Last season’s 28 wins was a school record, and all five starters return, including All-American Ashley Joens, who chose to take her extra season granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19. Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski might be the Big 12’s best backcourt. And now they’ve added size in 6-6 two-time NAIA Player of the Year Stephanie Soares, who should pair well with 6-3 senior Morgan Kane.

After seeing success with transfers Emily Engstler, Chelsie Hall and Kianna Smith in the past two seasons, coach Jeff Walz has scored again in the transfer portal, and the Cardinals have climbed the rankings. Morgan Jones (Florida State) and Chrislyn Carr (Syracuse) give the Cardinals two big-time wing scorers to go with rising junior and All-American candidate Hailey Van Lith. With the further development of Olivia Cochran in the post and the decisions of Liz Dixon and Mykasa Robinson to return for their super-senior seasons, Louisville has a group capable of another Final Four run.

With the NCAA’s decision not to grant former and current Ivy League players the year they lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, former Princeton star and last year’s UNC point guard Carlie Littlefield will not be back. North Carolina could still exceed last season’s 25-win total. Deja Kelly, Kennedy Todd-Williams and Alyssa Ustby will form the club’s backbone and Kelly will be a candidate for ACC Player of the Year. Paulina Paris, a top 30 recruit, could be a possible replacement for Littlefield.

It would be hard to duplicate their chemistry of the past two seasons, but the Hoosiers might have a more balanced offensive attack this upcoming season thanks to the transfer portal. Losing Nicole Cardano-Hillary, Ali Patberg and Aleksa Gulbe won’t be easy, but the additions of Sydney Parrish (Oregon) and Sara Scalia (Minnesota) give coach Teri Moren two 3-point shooters to pair with the midrange game of Grace Berger and the post play of Mackenzie Holmes. Scalia led the Gophers with 17.9 points per game this season and is the biggest reason Indiana jumped six spots in the rankings and could now be Iowa’s biggest challenger in the Big Ten.

Jada Boyd (L) and Diamond Johnson are part of NC State’s returning core. Elsa/Getty Images

Replacing a program icon like Elissa Cunane won’t be easy, but with the 6-1 senior Camille Hobby and 6-5 Florida State transfer River Baldwin, Wes Moore has a potentially productive post combination. Another transfer, Mimi Collins from Maryland, helps with the graduation of Kayla Jones. Returning point guard Diamond Johnson, wing Jakia Brown-Turner and forward Jada Boyd make up the rest of the core. Together they might not make the Wolfpack a Final Four contender like the past two years, but they should keep it in the mix near the top of a highly competitive ACC.

Despite some key injuries in 2021-22, the Sooners still managed to average the third-most points in the country, win 25 games and exceed all expectations in Jennie Baranczyk’s first season as coach. With the decisions of Madi Williams and Taylor Robertson to come back for an extra season, the pieces are in place to challenge Texas and Iowa State for Big 12 supremacy once again. If Ana Llanusa is healthy again after a knee injury forced her to miss all but 10 games last season, Oklahoma will have three top-flight scorers. Rising junior Skylar Vann, who averaged 11.8 PPG off the bench, will also be back.

The Hokies have their one-two punch back. The departure of Aisha Sheppard meant an even greater burden was to be put on 6-4 center Elizabeth Kitley for the Hokies to continue their recent success. Not anymore. Help arrived over the weekend when Maryland transfer and northern Virginia native Ashley Owusu chose Blacksburg as her next destination. With an established point guard in Georgia Amoore already in place, Owusu will be able to play off the ball more with the Hokies and her power scoring game and passing abilities will limit the double teams on Kitley.

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With Taylor Mikesell’s decision to take her super-senior season in Columbus and the returns of Madison Greene from a knee injury that kept her out all last season, All-American candidate Jacy Sheldon and Rikki Harris, the Buckeyes will have one of the best and most experienced backcourts in the country. Still a little thin in the frontcourt, Ohio State will need a big season from 6-4 Rebeka Mikulasikova, who averaged 9.4 point and 5.0 rebounds in 2021-22.

After the 2019-20 season, Brenda Frese lost Shakira Austin and Taylor Mikesell to the transfer portal and Kaila Charles and Stephanie Jones to graduation. She replaced them with Chloe Bibby, Mimi Collins and Katie Benzan from the portal. The result was a Big Ten regular season and tournament title in 2021.

The same kind of overhaul is happening this offseason. Bibby and Benzan used up their eligibility. Top scorers Angel Reese and Ashley Owusu, along with Collins, are transferring.

Frese has turned to the portal again for reinforcements and added Lavender Briggs (Florida), Abby Meyers (Princeton), Elisa Pinzan (South Florida) and Brinae Alexander (Vanderbilt). Briggs was a 19.5 PPG scorer for the Gators in 2021. Meyers was the Ivy League’s Player of the Year this season, Alexander led the Commodores at 15.2 PPG, and Pinzan has averaged 5.8 assists over the past two seasons. A full, healthy season for senior-to-be Diamond Miller (17.3 PPG in 2021) and continued improvement from rising sophomore Shyanne Sellers should provide plenty of offense once again in College Park.

The Wildcats lost seven transfers, but Adia Barnes just got the one player from the portal she most coveted: Oklahoma State’s leading scorer, 5-9 Lauren Fields, heads to Tucson to join Arizona’s top point producers Cate Reese and Shaina Pellington in establishing a potent foundation. Improved production from 6-5 Lauren Ware and guard Madison Conner would also go a long way to growing the Wildcats’ offense into a unit that can compete with Stanford at the top of the Pac-12. A top-10 recruiting class highlighted by 6-4 Maya Nnaji from Minnesota and recent signee New York Player of the Year Paris Clark should also make significant contributions.

The addition of Arizona State transfer Taya Hanson and one of the best recruiting classes in the country, with point guard Chance Gray and versatile 6-3 forward Grace VanSlooten leading the way, help mitigate the damage of losing five players to the portal. Only one player from the vaunted 2020 class remains, but Te-Hina Paopao is the best of that bunch. She and Endyia Rogers can form one of the best backcourts in the Pac-12 if they stay healthy. Sedona Prince will also be back for her senior season to anchor the Ducks in the post.

Jenna Johnson, Utah’s best scorer of the past 13 years, returns to the Utes next season. Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire

Lynne Roberts now has the talents of two Pac-12 Freshman of the Year winners to call upon. Gianna Kneepkens won the honor in 2022, and 2020 winner Alissa Pili recently joined the Utes as a transfer from USC. Pili has dealt with injuries over the past two seasons after scoring 16.3 points per game two years ago. If she’s healthy, her skills as an interior scorer will complement the perimeter games of Kneepkens and fellow Pac-12 All-Freshman Jenna Johnson, Utah’s leading scorer this season and the program’s best in the last 13 years.

Nicki Collen lost plenty of star power when NaLyssa Smith, Jordan Lewis and Queen Egbo were all selected in the WNBA draft. The cupboard filled back up rather quickly, however, when the nation’s second-leading rebounder, Aijha Blackwell (Missouri), the hero of the SEC tournament, Dre’Una Edwards (Kentucky), and a national champion, Jana Van Gytenbeek (Stanford), all chose Baylor as their next destination. At just 6-0, Blackwell averaged 13.0 RPG and earned All-SEC honors in all three of her seasons at Missouri. Edwards scored nearly 17 points per game and scored 27 against South Carolina in the SEC title game. Van Gytenbeek is a 37.8% 3-point shooter.

If Collen can mold the three with the returning Sarah Andrews, Ja’Mee Asberry and Caitlin Bickle, the Bears are right back in the mix for a 13th straight Big 12 regular season championship.

The WNIT champions were already the heavy favorites to win the Summit League next season before adding the Pac-12 leader in assists, Dru Gylten, as a grad transfer. Gylten was a four-year starter at Utah, and joins a Jackrabbits team with four starters returning. That list includes 2021 Summit League Player of the Year Myah Selland, who led South Dakota State in scoring this season despite working back from injury. If Paige Meyer is fully recovered from a late-season leg injury, then the Jackrabbits will also have three players that shot better than 40% from 3-point distance, the perfect spot for Gylten, who has never averaged fewer than five assists per game for a season.

In the first edition of this top 25, the Tigers weren’t even close to making the cut. Four of the five starters that dominated the scoring and the minutes were departing. Guards Alexis Morris and Ryann Payne, each using their super-senior season, and 6-5 Hannah Gusters were the only contributors left. The recruiting class was good, but there wasn’t much proven production.

Now there is. Kim Mulkey has snagged four players out of the portal that all might be starters next season: 6-2 Esmery Martinez and 5-10 Jasmine Carson (both from West Virginia), LaDazhia Williams (Missouri) and point guard Kateri Poole (Ohio State) have a combined 11 seasons of college basketball experience. For good measure, Mulkey also added long-time SEC assistant and defensive guru Bob Starkey to her coaching staff.

With the addition of top-50 recruits 6-4 Tabitha Amanze and 5-10 Madison St. Rose to go with four returning starters, the Tigers should continue to dominate the Ivy League. That’s despite losing league Player of the Year Abby Meyers. Julia Cunningham (13.4 PPG) and Kaitlyn Chen (10.5 PPG) are back to lead the offense. Princeton hasn’t lost an Ivy League game in two years, and this team might be the best of the bunch.

The Cornhuskers reached their first NCAA tournament since 2018 last season, and the top four scorers from that team are back. If 6-3 Alexis Markowski continues the growth that she showed in the second half of last season, Nebraska might also have a blossoming star. The experienced backcourt of Jaz Shelley and Sam Haiby will be joined by South Dakota transfer and Omaha native Maddie Krull, while 6-2 Isabelle Bourne has averaged 12.0 points over her last two seasons.

The Bluejays’ run to the Elite Eight might have been improbable, but their status among the country’s best teams shouldn’t be. And it might stay that way for a couple of seasons. The core consists of Emma Ronsiek, Morgan Maly, Lauren Jensen and Molly Mogensen, all sophomores. With Carly Bachelor also back for her senior year, five of Creighton’s top-six scorers return, making Jim Flanery’s team the biggest threat to UConn in the Big East.

Also considered: UCLA, Arkansas, South Florida, Kansas

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