A look at some of the major story lines entering the 2008-09 season:
Summitt seeks 1,000 wins
Pat Summitt has already won more games (983) than any coach in NCAA history, men's or women's. This season, she will attempt to become the first collegiate coach to reach 1,000 career victories. Summitt needs 17 wins to reach the mark, which should place the milestone game sometime in late January or early February, depending on the play of the young Lady Vols, who are replacing their entire starting lineup from last season's NCAA championship team.
Tennessee has reached 17 wins in 20 or fewer games each of the past five seasons, but another brutal nonconference schedule could delay Summitt's celebration.
Will UConn return to the top?
Four seasons have passed since the Huskies captured a third consecutive national championship and their fourth title in five years. But after a Final Four appearance last season, Geno Auriemma returns perhaps his most talented squad since 2001-02 when the Huskies returned Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash, and Sue Bird, as well as Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams. The trio of Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery should stand out among a depleted crop of top performers in the women's game.
Entering the 2001-02 season, Taurasi, Cash and Bird combined to average 34 points. Last season, Moore, Charles and Montgomery combined for 46.1 ppg.
Replacing Ace, Ice and everyone nice
On April 8, Tennessee defeated Stanford in a national championship game featuring perhaps the greatest players in the programs' histories, Candace Parker and Candice Wiggins (or "Ace" and "Ice" to one another, playing off their similar first name). The next day, the first four picks in the WNBA draft came from Final Four teams (Parker and Tennessee teammate Alexis Hornbuckle, LSU's Sylvia Fowles and Stanford's Wiggins), and the next three came from Rutgers (Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson) and Maryland (Crystal Langhorne), which both were Elite Eight teams.
With so many elite programs looking to replace significant pieces, the door is open for lesser-known players and teams to make an impact. The two returning members of the AP All-American first team, Connecticut forward Maya Moore and Oklahoma center Courtney Paris, should remain dominant, but we should see some new faces raising their profiles in this open field.
Paris courting history
As a freshman, Courtney Paris became the first player in NCAA history to record 700 points, 500 rebounds, and 100 blocks in a season. Then she did it again as a sophomore. Along the way, she has strung together an NCAA-record 92 consecutive double-doubles (still active) and became the leading rebounder in Oklahoma history. Now, she stands within striking distance of several other school and NCAA records. Those marks might fall early and often, so keep an eye on the women's game's answer to Tyler Hansbrough.
Which conference will rule St. Louis?
In each of the past five seasons -- and seven of nine overall -- a conference has sent multiple teams to the Final Four. The men's game has failed to do that since 2005. Each of the last three seasons, the conference that sent multiple teams ultimately took home the title. While the SEC and ACC remain dangerous, the Pac-10, Big East and Big 12 all have multiple teams ranked in the preseason top 10.
2007-08: SEC (Tennessee*, LSU)
2006-07: SEC (Tennessee*, LSU)
2005-06: ACC (Maryland*, North Carolina, Duke)
2004-05: SEC (Tennessee, LSU)
2003-04: SEC (Tennessee, LSU)
* Denotes national champion
While the men's 3-point line moved back a foot to 20 feet, 9 inches, the women's line remains at 19 feet, 9 inches. While the change would seemingly have no effect on the women's game, there is the issue of confusion. The courts will now feature two lines just a foot apart, which could create issues during the flow of a game. It might end up being insignificant, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
Best matchups to keep an eye on
The titans will be clashing early and often. This season's schedule offers 11 matchups of preseason top-10 teams outside of conference play.
Nov. 21: No. 3 Rutgers at No. 9 California, 11 a.m. ET
Nov. 23: No. 3 Rutgers at No. 2 Stanford, 1 p.m. ET
Nov. 30: No. 7 Oklahoma at No. 1 Connecticut, 8:15 p.m. ET
Dec. 13: No. 7 Oklahoma at No. 9 California, 9 p.m. ET
Dec. 16: No. 2 Stanford at No. 8 Duke, 7:30 p.m. ET
Dec. 21: No. 2 Stanford at No. 6 Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET (rematch of 2008 national championship game)
Jan. 3: No. 6 Tennessee at No. 2 Rutgers, 2 p.m. ET (rematch of 2007 national championship game)
Jan. 19: No. 6 Tennessee at No. 4 North Carolina, 7 p.m. ET
Feb. 2: No. 6 Tennessee at No. 7 Oklahoma, 7:30 p.m. ET
Feb. 15: No. 3 Rutgers at No. 5 Maryland, 1 p.m. ET
Feb. 16: No. 8 Duke at No. 6 Tennessee, 7:30 p.m. ET