As the defending NCAA champion, Baylor didn't lose very often last season. Since winning their first title last April, however, the Lady Bears have lost their point guard as well as their second- and third-leading scorers.
Stephanie Blackmon, who combined with Sophia Young to form the best inside tandem in the country last season, averaged 15.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game as a senior last season. Chelsea Whitaker, Baylor's point guard and quarterback of the team, averaged a team-high 5.2 assists. And Emily Niemann, the team's top 3-pointer shooter, who provided instant offense off the bench but has since transferred to UC Santa Barbara, hit 67 treys and shot 46.7 percent from beyond the arc, leading the team in both categories. Not easy losses to overcome.
So why is Baylor ranked so high? Because the Lady Bears have one of the top returning players in the country in Young. She is the best power forward in the nation and won Most Outstanding Player honors at April's Final Four. She is a proven go-to scorer and inside threat, and one of a handful of players who could prevent LSU's Seimone Augustus from repeating as the consensus national player of year.
Abiola Wabara, a key substitute last season, will try to take some of the pressure off of Young. Wabara steps into the starting lineup this season attempting to fill Blackmon's role. Chameka Scott will be the starting shooting guard and likely the team's second-leading scorer. She will assume Niemann's role as the top 3-pointer shooter. Angela Tisdale will open the season as the starting point guard, but it'll be tough to replace Whitaker, who helped the Lady Bears lead the nation in assists last season.
Depth is a major concern with 11 players on the roster. The team, and especially Young, will need to stay injury free. True freshmen Jessica Morrow, the Texas Class 5A player of the year, and Jhasmin Player, the Texas Class 4A player of the year, will bolster the bench a bit.
Baylor is pretty good defensively, holding 19 of its 36 opponents below 60 points last season. But the real strength of the team is coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson. She is a proven winner. In 1999-00, the season before she was hired, Baylor went 7-20. Since then, the Lady Bears are 131-38, which translates into a .775 winning percentage.
In addition, the Lady Bears rank No. 6 in victories (131) over that same time span, trailing only perennial national powers Connecticut, Duke, Tennessee, Stanford and Louisiana Tech. Mulkey-Robertson's .775 career head coaching percentage ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 and sixth nationally.
Peter Newmann is the college basketball researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.