An early look at the preseason 1-64
Many of the usual suspects will litter the top of the 2010-11 preseason rankings in November. Baylor and Stanford are heavy favorites to find themselves in the Final Four again and appear to be the best threats to wrestle away the crown from two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut. Stanford is already used to playing in April, and the Lady Bears should get accustomed to it as well.
But who else should we keep an eye on? Xavier and Kentucky might be the clubs to watch to break through and get all the way to Indianapolis. And while UCLA, St. John's and Georgetown might not be quite ready to reach the Final Four, each program appears to be on the rise and should have an even greater impact next March. This also could be a make-or-break season at Ohio State and perhaps Notre Dame's best chance to win big in Skylar Diggins' career.
The ACC should have a bounce-back season, especially if North Carolina and Maryland return to form. There's no question both should be better in 2010-11.
The SEC, however, might not be as strong. Look for Tennessee and Kentucky to dominate the league.
Through it all, UConn remains at the top heading into next season. The Huskies, with Maya Moore going for a third title, still have to be knocked from the perch. Until that happens, the rest of the country is chasing them.
1. Connecticut: Yes, Tina Charles and Kalana Greene are gone. Yes, the streak probably will end at some point next season. Yes, there will be some drop-off. But no, the Huskies are not going away, and they still will be a favorite to reach the Final Four.
2. Baylor: Only Tennessee loses fewer players among the top teams. And if players really do most of their improvement between their freshman and sophomore seasons, Brittney Griner and classmates Jordan Madden and Kimetria Hayden could be scary good in 2010-11.
3. Stanford: Jayne Appel has been the centerpiece of the program since Candice Wiggins departed, and now Appel is gone, too. But as the Final Four showcased, Nneka Ogwumike is ready to assume the mantle as Stanford's next big thing -- and she'll have help from little sister Chiney Ogwumike.
4. Tennessee: The Lady Vols have experienced nothing but disappointment in the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. This is Angie Bjorklund's last chance to recapture the feeling she felt as a freshman.
5. Duke: The returns of Jasmine Thomas, Krystal Thomas and Karima Christmas, plus a top recruiting class, keep the Blue Devils a big favorite in the ACC and a Final Four contender.
6. Xavier: Amber Harris' announcement that she will return for her redshirt senior season to go along with Ta'Shia Phillips and Special Jennings makes the Musketeers a contender to reach the national semifinals once again.
7. Ohio State: Jantel Lavender has done nearly everything in Columbus except have NCAA tournament success. This is her last chance. The Buckeyes sorely need to do something significant in the postseason.
8. Texas A&M: The offseason will be very important for Danielle Adams, who could be dominant in the Big 12 if she gets in better condition.
9. Notre Dame: She'll have plenty of help on another deep Irish team, but with a year under her belt, this becomes Skylar Diggins' team even more -- and that's a good thing.
10. Kentucky: With SEC player of the year Victoria Dunlap and A'dia Mathies and Amber Smith returning, Matthew Mitchell's toughest job might be managing a program with expectations. The Wildcats will sneak up on no one in 2010-11.
11. West Virginia: Liz Repella and Sarah Miles return for a team that doesn't lose anyone and is coming off a school-record 29-win season.
12. Georgetown: Sugar Rodgers, Monica McNutt and the rest of the Hoyas should be right back where they were in 2009-10.
13. UCLA: The Bruins will be deep and versatile again next season, and appear to be a program on the rise.
14. St. John's: The Red Storm are young and talented on the perimeter with Da'Shena Stevens, Shenneika Smith and Nadirah McKenith.
15. Oklahoma: Sherri Coale has to replace three starters (Amanda Thompson, Nyeshia Stevenson and Abi Olajuwon) this time around, but the Sooners' coach proved this past season she knows how to find new personnel to win. With Danielle Robinson and a healthy Whitney Hand back, the winning should continue.
16. North Carolina: Yes, this past season was a disappointment, but the Tar Heels have talent and all the significant pieces back. Plus, Jessica Breland likely will return from her battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma. And regardless of Carolina's success, that would be the best story of the season.
17. Iowa State: Alison Lacey's departure will hurt and might mean the Cyclones are more post-play oriented with sophomores-to-be Chelsea Poppens and Anna Prins leading the way. Kelsey Bolte is back to provide perimeter scoring.
18. Michigan State: The key for the Spartans will be Courtney Schiffauer's return from a knee injury that knocked her out during the 2009-10 season.
19. Florida State: The Seminoles will have a different look without Jacinta Monroe and Alysha Harvin, but this is now Courtney Ward's team and the drop-off in Tallahassee shouldn't be huge.
20. TCU: Starr Crawford and Helena Sverrisdottir are back, and looking for a more consistent season and deeper NCAA tournament run.
21. Georgia: It'll take some time to get used to seeing the Lady Bulldogs without Ashley Houts on the court, but sophomore Jasmine James might be ready to assume the mantle of the next great Georgia player.
22. Georgia Tech: Brigitte Ardossi, the only Yellow Jacket to start every game this past season, will be gone, but everyone else of significance returns -- most notably Alex Montgomery and Deja Foster -- for a team that should be ready to make more noise.
23. Texas: Youngsters Ashleigh Fontenette and Cokie Reed will need to grow up a bit more quickly than they did this season to help replace a number of veteran losses in Austin.
24. Vanderbilt: The question in Nashville is where the perimeter shooting will come from with the departures of Merideth Marsh and Lauren Lueders. The answer: Melanie Balcomb always finds a way to stay in the hunt.
25. NC State: This past season was about transition and replacing Kay Yow. Will Year 2 under Kellie Harper be more difficult with heightened expectations?
26. Dayton: With three sophomore starters, including leading scorer Justine Raterman, Jim Jabir has the foundation for a solid couple of seasons.
27. Iowa: Kachine Alexander, Jaime Printy and Kamille Wahlin quickly formed the core of the Hawkeyes and are all back.
28. Maryland: The Terps and their youth underwent a season of transition. If the freshmen have sufficiently grown up, an NCAA tournament berth should return to College Park.
29. Temple: Three starters return for a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Kristen McCarthy will aim for a second straight All-Atlantic 10 selection.
30. DePaul: The Blue Demons return all the key elements from this past season's tournament team and could have Deirdre Naughton back from her knee injury if the NCAA grants her a sixth year of eligibility.
31. Rutgers: With the graduation of Brittany Ray, someone from that group of highly regarded sophomores will have to assume the role of go-to offensive player.
32. USC: Michael Cooper's Women of Troy should be back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.
33. Green Bay: Every key piece who contributed to the Phoenix's at-large NCAA tournament bid and first-round upset of Virginia returns. Three Horizon League losses this time around would be the surprise.
34. Michigan: With Veronica Hicks and Dayeesha Hollins back, Kevin Borseth should be able to build on a WNIT semifinal finish.
35. LSU: The loss of Allison Hightower means Van Chancellor will have to remake this team, but he has a talented sophomore class and Lady Tigers who are willing to defend.
36. Miami: The Hurricanes have the momentum of a WNIT championship game appearance and two big-time scorers in Riquna Williams and Shenise Johnson.
37. California: A WNIT championship will give a young team a ton of confidence that should offset the loss of program mainstay Alexis Gray-Lawson.
38. Virginia: The Cavaliers will be young and will have to learn how to play differently without Monica Wright, but there is talent both in Charlottesville and on the way.
39. Gonzaga: Courtney Vandersloot and Katelan Redmon are back, but coach Kelly Graves must find a way to replace the scoring and leadership of Heather Bowman and Vivian Frieson, who were vital to the program's ascension.
40. James Madison: Sarah Williams is the only senior leaving a team that won the CAA tournament. Dawn Evans being one of the returnees is the key to the Dukes finding a way back to the NCAA tournament.
41. Fresno State: Three of the top four players who helped produce the best season in school history are back, including WAC defensive player of the year Jaleesa Ross, who also averaged 17.4 points.
42. UALR: Chastity Reed is back for a senior season and run at the national scoring title. She averaged 24.8 points per game in 2009-10.
43. Old Dominion: Given that the Lady Monarchs have lost only two CAA tournament games in 19 years, are coming off another regular-season championship and have their top three scorers back, they should be a favorite to be at or near the top of the league again.
44. Wisconsin: Alyssa Karel will be asked to do a lot in her senior season in Madison.
45. Purdue: This is in now Brittany Rayburn's team. If she breaks out big, the Boilermakers should be back in the NCAA tournament.
46. Bowling Green: Curt Miller has built a dominant MAC program that should remain on top in 2010-11 with Lauren Prochaska and Tracy Pontius back for their senior seasons.
47. Boston College: With bigs Carolyn Swords and Stefanie Murphy back for their senior seasons, the time is now for the Eagles.
48. Boston University: All three of the Terriers' top scorers from this past season were underclassmen, which means 2010-11 could be an opportunity in Beantown.
49. Tulane: Despite losing Chassity Brown, the Green Wave return a senior-laden team to defend their C-USA regular-season and tournament titles. However, keep an eye on Memphis, a WBI finalist with big scorer Brittany Carter coming back.
50. Princeton: Niveen Rasheed will be just a sophomore and Lauren Edwards a junior, so the Tigers easily could become an Ivy mainstay over the next few years. The question next season will be whether they can go unbeaten in the league again.
51. Marist: Rachele Fitz is finally gone, but all-around guard Erica Allenspach and second-team All-MAAC honoree Corielle Yarde are not.
52. Missouri State: WNIT participants Illinois State and Creighton graduate a bunch, and a young Lady Bears squad that finished third in the MVC gets a little bit older in 2010-11.
53. Liberty: Top scorers Devon Brown and Avery Warley are still underclassmen, so the tradition of the Flames atop the Big South should continue.
54. Lehigh: Coming off their best season ever and second straight Patriot League championship, the Mountain Hawks return 2009 league player of the year Erica Prosser and good size up front.
55. Florida Gulf Coast: Karl Smesko has built a winning program that is finally NCAA tournament eligible after serving a probationary period in the Atlantic Sun.
56. Chattanooga: Yes, two-time Southern Conference player of the year Shanara Hollinquest and second-leading scorer Jenaya Wade-Fray will be gone, but the Lady Mocs have won 12 straight regular-season titles and eight of the past 10 tournament crowns. It's hard to pick against them.
57. Oral Roberts: Top scorers and backcourt mates Kevi Luper (24.4 points per game) and Jaci Bigham (17.1 ppg) were only freshmen on a Golden Eagles team that was just an overtime period against South Dakota State away from making the NCAA tournament.
58. Sacred Heart: Four starters, including leading scorer Alisa Apo, are back to try to erase a late-season swoon and get the Pioneers back to the top of the NEC.
59. Lamar: Jenna Plumley was among the nation's top 10 in assists and 3-pointers on her way to Southland Conference player of the year. She'll be back for her senior season.
60. Cal Poly: The Mustangs return Big West player of the year Kristina Santiago, the league's leading scorer, and their second-leading scorer in guard Rachel Clancy. But the conference should once again be ultra-competitive.
61. Eastern Washington: The Eagles surprised most by winning the Big Sky regular-season title but shouldn't be much of a surprise in 2010-11 with their top three scorers returning.
62. Eastern Illinois: The Panthers do lose a successful senior class but return Ta'Kenya Nixon, who as a freshman led the team in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals, and was voted the OVC freshman and defensive player of the year.
63. North Carolina A&T: The Aggies will be going for a fourth straight regular-season MEAC championship behind returnees Jaleesa Sams and Amber Calvin.
64. Southern: Defense is what won the Jaguars the SWAC this season, and with three of their top four players back, it should be again.
Charlie Creme can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
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