ESPN.com's preseason Top 25

Originally Published: November 9, 2008
ESPN.com

The expectations keep getting piled on the Connecticut Huskies, who already have been picked as the preseason No. 1 by the coaches (ESPN/USA Today rankings) and media (The Associated Press Top 25). And now, ESPN.com's panel of contributors -- columnists Mechelle Voepel, Graham Hays and Charlie Creme and ESPN play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins -- unanimously tabbed -- you guessed it -- Geno Auriemma's Huskies as the preseason favorite. A look:

Preseason Top 25
Ranking 2007-08
(Hi/low)*
Analysis
1. Connecticut

36-2 (1/1) Elena Delle Donne's summer departure earned headlines for good reason, but it also overshadowed what remains. Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery are all national player of the year candidates, and Kalana Greene was one of the team's best all-around players before sustaining the knee injury from which she looks to return. Add newcomers Tiffany Hayes, Caroline Doty and Heather Buck, and the Huskies are loaded. -- Hays
2. Stanford

35-4 (2/4) Candice Wiggins is gone, but a quality of quantity should keep Stanford in the title chase. Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen, JJ Hones, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and Jillian Harmon all return, along with a deep recruiting class headlined by Nnemkadi Ogwumike and two veteran sleepers slowed by injuries last season in Michelle Harrison and Ashley Cimino. -- Hays
3. Rutgers

27-7 (3/7) Essence Carson and Matee Ajavon have moved on to the WNBA, but Epiphanny Prince, Kia Vaughn and the rest of the returning Scarlet Knights have a quintet of highly touted freshmen to ease the loss of two players who seemed to do the work of four or five. A quick transition at point for freshman Nikki Speed would help keep things rolling. -- Hays
4. Duke

25-10 (3/9) There are a lot of good parts for Joanne P. McCallie to fit together. Underrated post Chante Black is a cornerstone to construct around. And full seasons from Krystal Thomas and Joy Cheek could produce one of the nation's best frontcourts. Another top recruiting class provides the backcourt with abundant depth … and rotation question marks. -- Hays
5. California

27-7 (5/7) A second-round loss in the NCAA tournament will be fuel for the fire of a team that returns 97 percent of its minutes (assuming junior center Rama N'diaye returns from a torn ACL suffered in the Big Dance). Losing a top recruit for the second year in a row hurts -- this time guard Shawna-Lei Kuehu, who decided to remain home in Hawaii -- but the remaining incoming freshmen should provide more depth than in 2007-08. -- Hays
6. Oklahoma

22-9 (3/9) The Paris twins return for their senior season. Courtney should continue her double-double prowess; look for Ashley to be more of a threat from the outside. On the perimeter, sophomore Danielle Robinson and freshman Whitney Hand need to carry a large load. -- Voepel
7. North Carolina

33-3 (4/9) Sylvia Hatchell loves running up and down, but inside-outside is front and center for UNC. In losing Erlana Larkins, LaToya Pringle and transfer Rebecca Gray, the Tar Heels lost frontcourt gravitas and their only consistent shooter. The good news is freshman Chay Shegog helps inside and junior Jessica Breland is an All-American waiting to happen. -- Hays
8. Maryland

33-4 (2/12) For the first time since winning the national championship in 2006, Maryland will have a distinctly different look. Losing Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper hurts, but putting Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman in clear-cut 1A and 1B roles isn't a bad thing. If 6-foot-4 freshman Lynetta Kizer holds down the middle, the forced makeover might shine. -- Hays
9. Tennessee

36-2 (5/11) The Orange Brigade has a new rallying point, which is the belief that everyone now underestimates the two-time defending national champion. Having lost its starting five to graduation, Tennessee will have a new look -- but the same expectations. -- Voepel
10. Vanderbilt

25-9 (6/16) Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper, two of five starters back, lead the Commodores into some unfamiliar ground: They were picked as SEC favorites, not Tennessee. For Vandy to live up to the higher expectations this season, it will have to be stronger on defense. -- Voepel
11. Louisville

26-10 (10/11) Coach Jeff Walz was the right fit in his first season on the job, guiding Angel McCoughtry to new heights and seamlessly easing transfer Candyce Bingham into a co-headlining role. Replacing point guard Patrika Barlow will be a significant challenge for freshman Tiera Stephen or anyone else, and losing Chauntise Wright hurts, but the Cardinals remain a team on the rise. -- Hays
12. Virginia

24-10 (12/15) The Cavaliers have nearly 50 points per game returning just in the trio of Monica Wright, Lyndra Littles and Aisha Mohammed. The only worry is that a lot of those points came off Sharnee Zoll assists. But if junior Paulisha Kellum, freshman Ariana Moorer and others can get the ball to the big three consistently, a top-three ACC finish is possible. -- Hays
13. Texas A&M

29-8 (11/18) A'Quonesia Franklin is gone at point guard, but Gary Blair really likes the depth of his team and expects it to be just as annoyingly pesky (and successful) as ever on defense. Senior guard Takia Starks looks to have her best season yet offensively. -- Voepel
14. Texas

22-13 (12/16) In her second season in Austin, Gail Goestenkors has more pieces to work with, including actual depth at point guard. It will be very good for Texas to have guard Erika Arriaran back from a knee injury. The Horns might not be as "beefy" inside as they'd like, but they should run and defend well. -- Voepel
15. Baylor

25-7 (11/20) Point guard Angela Tisdale has graduated, but the other four starters return and there's improved depth. It might take a little while for the freshmen to get up to speed, but Baylor should be a team on the rise at the right time. -- Voepel
16. Ohio State

22-9 (13/24) Solving the postseason riddle remains another matter, but the Buckeyes still look like a regular-season heavyweight. Jantel Lavender is back for her, gulp, second season (have fun trying to stop her until 2011). Replacing sharpshooter Marscilla Packer will be tough, but freshman point guard Samantha Prahalis adds a new dimension to the team's transition game. -- Hays
17. Auburn

20-12 (16/23) Seniors DeWanna Bonner, Whitney Boddie and Sherell Hobbs hope to elevate the Tigers back to the "real" national status that the program hasn't had now in several years. They'll have to do better than last season's 7-7 league record to achieve that. -- Voepel
18. Arizona State

22-11 (14/NR) Arizona State went 0-5 against Stanford and California last season and 22-6 against the rest of the country (including 15-0 against the rest of the Pac-10). Jill Noe and Reagan Pariseau are gone, but the Sun Devils still have the depth to run their familiar hockey-shift system -- especially if guard Danielle Orsillo returns from injury at full strength. -- Hays
19. Purdue

19-15 (15/NR) Given the injuries and tough start, the Boilermakers pieced together an amazing season in 2008. The return of all-Big Ten talent Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton from a knee injury should transform the Purdue offense. Jodi Howell and her deep shooting skills also come off a medical redshirt year. Danielle Campbell and Lakisha Freeman established themselves with the additional opportunities and now the Boilermakers go from paper-thin to deep and versatile. -- Creme
20. Oklahoma State

27-8 (13/NR) Guard Andrea Riley was the Big 12's leading scorer and the Cowgirls were the top-scoring offense in the league in 2007-08. But for Oklahoma State to match or exceed last season's Sweet 16 performance, it will need to adequately replace Danielle Green, who is a big loss. -- Voepel
21. Notre Dame

25-9 (17/NR) Ashley Barlow steps into the go-to role held by Charel Allen last season, and the playmaking of Tulyah Gaines will be missed. The key for Notre Dame will be the healthy return of Devereaux Peters. The freshman was starting to become a force inside for Muffet McGraw's club until suffering a left knee injury in mid-February. If she can return the way guard Lindsay Schrader did from a similar injury last season, then the Irish will be just fine, settling in behind Connecticut, Rutgers and Louisville in the Big East. -- Creme
22. Iowa State

21-13 (14/NR) The Cyclones made the NCAA tournament last season against all odds after losing two starters to ACL injuries. Nicky Wieben and Toccara Ross are back, and it's the deepest team Bill Fennelly has had in a while. The Cyclones should be the top squad in the Big 12 North. -- Voepel
23. Florida State

19-14 (17/NR) The Seminoles have as much experience as anyone in the ACC, and last season's NCAA tournament performance (upset of Ohio State, taking Oklahoma State to overtime) should restore some confidence that seemed missing much of 2007-08. Tanae Davis-Cain is tough to contain on the perimeter and Jacinta Moore presents a unique matchup in the post. -- Creme
24. Marist

32-3 (20/NR) The Red Foxes lost two starters from the team that won 32 games and earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament last season, but talent remains around program cornerstone Rachele Fitz. Marist is still a team that takes care of the ball and shoots it well, and it could begin reaping the benefits of its recent success with a talented freshman class.
25. Marquette

21-14 (21/NR) A WNIT championship helped minimize the disappointment of not making the NCAA tournament, but the Golden Eagles should be back this season. Krystal Ellis has a chance to be one of the top three players in the Big East, and Angel Robinson now has a whole season under her belt at the point. -- Creme

* Refers to the highest and lowest votes a team received from the various experts; NR indicates the team was "not ranked" by at least one contributor