October 18, 2022
The Next’s preseason Top 25: South Carolina, Stanford lead the way
Mid-majors include South Dakota State, Princeton
The offseason is a time for questions and analysis about college basketball programs across the country, the preseason Top 25 among them. When the calendar turns to October, it becomes “go time,” as coaches like to say. Practice begins and even though some questions get answered, you can bet that they end each day with new ones on their grease boards.
Which player made the most strides in the summer months? Who is coming back stronger and better from injury? Can these transfers help us? Do we change our system now that a player is out with injury? How do we replace experience and veteran leadership? Why did we put together such a difficult non-conference schedule? Is this out-of-bounds play really that difficult? What day is it?
The rigors of the first weeks of practice are hard on everyone, but it is the preparation that all teams need for the true grind of the 2022-23 college basketball season. Everyone starts fresh and teams begin with high expectations. Welcome to The Next’s Top 25 – just the beginning of what we know will be a fantastic year of women’s college basketball.
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1. SOUTH CAROLINA: As the old saying goes, to be the best, you have to beat the best. Until someone can beat the reigning national champions, South Carolina holds the top spot to begin the 2022-23 season. This Gamecock roster is stacked with veteran returners, led by 2022 National Player of the Year, Aliyah Boston. Point guard Destanni Henderson moved onto the WNBA, but with the likes of seniors Zia Cooke and Victaria Saxton as well junior Kamilla Cardoso back, Dawn Staley’s squad is built with toughness, speed, and the ability to score anywhere on the floor.
Redshirt freshman guard Raven Johnson will return after missing most of last season with a knee injury. South Carolina also brings in the No. 6 ranked recruiting class (per ESPN.com) to add to their already deep roster. One veteran to keep an eye on – 6’1 senior Brea Beal. Beal started all 37 games last year and is a defensive stopper who can also get to the rim and score. The Gamecocks have a host of tough non-conference games before SEC play tips at the end of December. Can anyone beat the national champs? We will wait and see.
2. STANFORD: This preseason ranking may surprise some, but the Cardinal have won more games than any team in the country the past two seasons. A repeat trip to the Final Four in 2022 was the curtain call for many on Tara VanDerveer’s roster but coming back is a core group of All-American level talent. Senior guard Haley Jones (13.2 points/game) and junior center Cameron Brink (13.5 points/game) anchor Stanford with veteran players like forward Fran Belibi, guard Hannah Jump and 6’5 forward Ashten Prechtel, who is a match-up problem with her perimeter shooting.
The Cardinal will be the favorite to win yet another Pac-12 title but to do so will need contribution from their No. 5 ranked recruiting class (per ESPN.com). The No. 1 recruit in the class of 2022, 6’7 Lauren Betts from Centennial, CO will be a great frontcourt addition to play alongside Brink. The biggest question is who takes the reigns at point guard. One answer can be having Jones handle the ball more this season with other new faces seeing time running the show out front on The Farm.
3. TENNESSEE: If the Lady Vols can duplicate their start from the 2021-22 season (18-1) fourth-year head coach Kellie Harper can thank both her veterans and newcomers for jelling again at the right time. Tennessee returns four starters and ten letterwinners off a Sweet Sixteen squad that finished 25-9 overall. Guard Jordan Horston returns as their leading scorer from a year ago (16.2 points/game) along with senior center Tamari Key in the paint who registered 119 blocks last season. Harper inked a talented recruiting class, including 6’4 wing Justine Pissott, the No. 11 player in the class of 2022.
The X-factor for the Lady Vols in getting beyond the Sweet Sixteen this year could be the transfer portal windfall that has come to Knoxville. Rickea Jackson (Mississippi State), Jillian Hollingshead (Georgia), Jasmine Powell (Minnesota) and Jasmine Franklin (Missouri State) all will be key contributors on both end of the floor for Tennessee. Experience matters, and the Lady Vols have that from top to bottom in 2022-23.
4. IOWA: Every coach in the Big Ten, except Lisa Bluder, is wondering when Caitlin Clark is going to run out of eligibility. Luckily for Bluder and the Hawkeyes, Clark begins just her junior campaign leading another team in black and gold that is built for scoring. Iowa averaged 84.2 points/game last year while Clark averaged 27 points/game herself. Fifth-year senior Monika Czinano returns as the national leader in field-goal percentage and a significant inside threat. Iowa is picked by both the coaches and media to win the Big Ten title, but they are going to have to defend at a high level all season to get past the second round of the 2022-23 NCAA Tournament.
Veterans Kate Martin, McKenna Warnock and Gabbie Marshall give the Hawkeyes additional scoring at the guard spots, but they will be without junior Kylie Feuerbach, who played in all 32 games last year. Feuerbach suffered an ACL injury this fall. A new threat on the perimeter comes in Central Michigan transfer Molly Davis, who averaged 18.6 points/game a year ago. The fans in Iowa City are in for another treat this season, one that could have championship celebrations at the end of it.
5. NOTRE DAME: A heartbreaking 3-point loss to NC State in the Sweet 16 ended the 2021-22 season for Notre Dame. The Irish finished 24-9 overall and third in the ACC in head coach Niele Ivey’s second season. Year three under Ivey begins with a roster full of experience, athleticism and scoring firepower. They return four of their top five scorers, including super sophomores Olivia Miles (13.7 points/game) and Sonia Citron, the 2022 ACC Rookie of the Year. Junior Maddy Westbeld is a matchup problem for teams with her inside/outside game and guard Dara Mabrey returns for her fifth year as one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the nation.
The transfer portal landed three key pieces at Notre Dame that should each make an immediate impact for the Irish. Lauren Ebo (Texas) and Kylee Watson (Oregon) add much needed big post play to the Irish frontcourt. Guard Jenna Brown (Stanford) can get to the rim to score and will defend with the intensity Ivey demands on every possession. The lone freshman on this year’s team, combo guard KK Bradford is one to watch this season. The McDonald’s All-American and two-time Ms. Ohio Basketball is a big addition to Notre Dame’s backcourt. Expectations are always high under the golden dome in South Bend and 2022-23 will be no different.
6. IOWA STATE: 2022-23 was one of the best seasons in Iowa State history as the Cyclones went 28-7 and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Bill Fennelly enters his 28th season in Ames with one of the top “super seniors” in the nation leading the way, Big 12 preseason Player of the Year Ashley Joens. Joens averaged 20.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season. Along with juniors Lexi Donarski (2022 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year) and Emily Ryan (almost 9 assists/game), Iowa State will spread the floor and force you to defend screening action and isolations. They have size in the post with 6’3 Morgan Kane, 6’2 Nayamer Diew and 6’6 transfer Stephanie Soares to help control the glass and keep defenses honest. Iowa State is picked to win the Big 12 in the preseason coaches poll which will energize their loyal fan base even more. As Ashley Joens goes, so will the Cyclones season.
7. TEXAS: If you want to play for Vic Schaefer, you better be as tough and gritty as they come. Sophomore Rori Harmon, the 2022 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, is the engine that makes Texas go. She is a dynamic point guard who can score at will and sets the tone for their stifling defense. Schaefer has paired her now with transfers Shaylee Gonzales (BYU) and Sonya Morris (DePaul) so this could become one of the best backcourts in the nation. The Longhorns need to have a solid post presence all year to make their run – 6’4 forward transfers Taylor Jones (Oregon State) and Khadija Faye (Texas Tech) come in to help sure up the frontcourt with junior post DeYona Gaston, who led the team in blocks last season. After two consecutive losses in the Elite Eight, 2022-23 could be the year the ‘Horns get the monkey off their backs
8. LOUISVILLE: Jeff Walz has become the master of the “right fit” when it comes to the transfer portal and there is no better example than the team that took the Cardinals to the 2022 Final Four. Replacing the likes of Chelsie Hall and Emily Engstler is never easy, but Walz found scoring guards that compliment his backcourt, led by last year’s top scorer, junior Haley Van Lith (14.4 points/game.) Transfers Morgan Jones (Florida State) and Chrislyn Carr (Syracuse) will give Louisville more options to go with experience in the paint. 6’5 graduate student Liz Dixon and 6’3 junior Olivia Cochran will be counted on to control the glass and produce. New faces will also be in the mix as the Cardinals bring in a top-15 recruiting class (per ESPN.com) led by 6’2 power forward Nyla Harris. Uber competitive practices and production will earn you playing time at Louisville in 2022-23.
9. NC STATE: A heartbreaking double overtime loss to UCONN in the Elite 8 brought a great 2021-22 season to an end for NC State (32-4). Replacing key veterans is never easy but Wes Moore and his staff found talented transfers who can soften the blow. 6’5 River Baldwin (Florida State) and 6’3 Mimi Collins (Maryland) will be impact players inside to go with a returning backcourt that is poised for another big season. Junior Diamond Johnson is NC State’s top returning scorer (10.8 points/game), and senior Jakia Brown-Turner is a three-point threat as well as a penetrator. The biggest transfer name coming in is North Carolina native Saniya Rivers. The 2021 National Gatorade Player of the Year played sparingly at South Carolina last season and finds a new beginning in Raleigh. Rivers is athletic and can score on three levels – when her game takes shape will be a key to how the season can go for the Wolfpack.
10. INDIANA: Building a consistent winner is never easy but Teri Moren is doing just that as she starts her ninth season at Indiana. Graduation took a toll on a talented team that was 24-9 in 2021-22 and advanced to the Sweet 16. But it helps to have your two best players return in guard Grace Berger, Indiana’s leading scorer at 16.2 points/game and 6’3 Mackenzie Holmes, their top rebounder a year ago. Added scoring punch and experience will come with three key transfers. 6’4 Alyssa Geary started all 30 games at Providence last season and gives them a compliment frontcourt presence to Holmes. The backcourt gets a boost from Minnesota transfer Sara Scalia who led the Gophers in scoring last season and is one of the best 3-point shooters in the Big Ten. Indiana native Sydney Parrish returns to her home state after time at Oregon and adds another 3-point threat to the rotation. The Hoosiers are poised for another successful season – the model of Moren’s blueprint for consistency.
11. OKLAHOMA: Even with a coaching change in April 2021 it did not take long for the Sooners to start firing on all cylinders last season. Jennie Baranczyk took over the OU program and immediately implemented her fast paced, free-flowing offensive system. The result? Her team averaging 82.6 points/game and finishing the year 25-9. They also returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2018. This season, the Sooners gladly welcome back three “super seniors” – top returning scorers forward Madi Williams and guard Taylor Robertson, the Big 12’s career 3-point record holder. 5’11 guard Ana Llanusa also returns after suffering a knee injury last season and will be a huge lift on both ends of the floor. The Sooners need more from their frontcourt and will look to 6’2 senior Liz Scott for more production along with freshmen posts to contribute. 6’4 Kiersten Johnson and 6’3 Beatrice Culliton should step in to give the OU offensive system another wrinkle which will put more questions on opponents’ scouting reports.
12. NORTH CAROLINA: Head coach Courtney Banghart enters her fourth season in Chapel Hill and looks to keep building on the tradition of UNC basketball. The Tar Heels finished 25-7 overall, 13-5 in the ACC and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015. The sweet part for Banghart is she returns eight of her top nine in the rotation and four starters from a year ago. Her top three scorers are back – Deja Kennedy, Kennedy Todd-Williams, and Alyssa Ustby. Defense sets the tone for the Tar Heels as they led the ACC in field goal percentage defense in 2021-22. This season they get three players back from injury to add depth at every position. Guards Ariel Young and Kayla McPherson return along with 6’4 redshirt freshman Teoni Key. McPherson was a 2021 top-20 recruit (per ESPN.com) but missed last season with the Tar Heels rehabbing a knee injury. Key was a McDonald’s All-American in high school out of Cary, NC but never saw the floor last season, going down with an ACL tear in a preseason scrimmage. Talent, athleticism, and experience – it could be the sweetest recipe North Carolina needs for 2022-23.
13. VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies finished the 2021-22 season 23-10 and made their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Seventh year head coach Kenny Brooks returns the 2022 ACC Player of the Year, 6’6 center Elizbeth Kitley as well as point guard Georgia Amoore who was second in the ACC in assists and added 11.2 points/game. The transfer portal brought in game-changing talent this spring with the addition of guards Ashley Owusu and Taylor Soule. Owusu was a three-time All-Big Ten selection coming from Maryland whose game is so versatile that she can play multiple positions, including point guard. Soule comes from Boston College where she had a highly decorated career and averaged 16 points/game a year ago. Teams can simply no longer just defend Kitley and dare others to beat them. You will need a whole new gameplan when going to Blacksburg this season.
14. LSU: Year one of the Kim Mulkey era was a success on almost every level. The Tigers went 26-6 and 15-3 at home with their re-energized fan base, earning them host duties for the first and second rounds of the 2022 NCAA Tournament. With a team of primarily seniors that bought into Mulkey’s culture and on-court system, the 2022-23 Tigers will look quite different. Fifth-year senior guard Alexis Morris, the lone returning starter, will lead a group of highly talented transfers and a top-20 recruiting class (per ESPN.com) into the teeth of the SEC. Guard Flau’jae Johnson, the No. 26 player in the class of 2022, was the MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic after she dropped 27 points. The gamechanger in Baton Rouge is 6’3 forward Angel Reese. The Maryland transfer averaged 17.8 points/game last season and can be a dominate force on both ends. If the new pieces of the LSU puzzle can come together, Mardi Gras may not be the only celebration on the bayous in early spring.
15. OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes seemed to have flown under the radar most of the 2021-22 season but that may be just how head coach Kevin McGuff likes it. His team finished 25-7 overall, 14-4 in the Big Ten and captured a share of the regular season conference title with Iowa. Ohio State brings back one of the best and most experienced backcourts in the country in senior Jacy Sheldon (19.7 points/game) and “super senior” Taylor Mikesell (18.6 points/game). 5’8 guard Madison Greene is set return from a knee injury that kept her out all last season and can add more scoring punch to the stacked perimeter game. But it will be the inside presence that has to produce for the Buckeyes if they want to hoist more hardware in 2022-23.
16. ARIZONA: Last season was a bit of a rollercoaster in Tucson, but the Wildcats did finish 21-8 with another NCAA berth for head coach Adia Barnes’ program. The transfer portal spun quickly as players left but Arizona lured top talent in as well. Big 12 athletes Lauren Fields (Oklahoma State) and Esmery Martinez (West Virginia) bring their play-making ability along with Arizona State’s top scorer from a year ago, guard Jade Loville (16.6 points/game). Barnes will be able to rely on her veterans, Cate Reese, Lauren Ware, and point guard Shania Pellington, to help mold these new faces and their top-10 recruiting class (per ESPN.com) into a Pac 12 contender. Keep your eye on 6’4 forward Maya Nnaji, the No. 9 player from the class of 2022 (per ESPN.com). She is an athletic scorer that can play inside/outside and will pound the glass. She left her home state of Minnesota for the warmth of Arizona. The Wildcats hope the 2022-23 season is bright and sunny.
17. MARYLAND: Brenda Frese is no stranger to the transfer portal, both the outgoing and the incoming flow of traffic. Big-time talent left Maryland this spring, but Frese and her staff have reloaded to compliment a core of returners and new freshmen. Senior Diamond Miller, a versatile 6’3 guard/forward, averaged 13.1 points/game in just 22 appearances last year. Miller staying healthy and avoiding injury will be key for the Terrapins as they blend in their new talent. 6’ Abby Meyers (Princeton) was the 2022 Ivy League Player of the Year and 6’1 guard/forward Brinae Alexander (Vanderbilt) led the Commodores in scoring at 15.2 points/game last season. Additional transfer guards Lavender Biggs (Florida) and Elisa Pinzan (South Florida) add depth to Maryland’s backcourt. Look for the Terrapins to play fast and spread the floor to force opponents to scramble and cover their scoring firepower.
18. BAYLOR: Head coach Nikki Collen had a huge task in front of her when she took the Baylor job in 2021. She had a roster loaded with talent, but the outside chatter was loud – what would she do with it? Collen’s Bears responded by securing the program’s 12th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and there is no sign of a letup in Waco. Returning guards Sara Andrews and Ja’Mee Asberry along with senior Catlin Bickle give Baylor a solid nucleus to go with transfers and the No. 9 recruiting class of 2022 (per ESPN.com.) Aijha Blackwell (Missouri) had 20 double-doubles last year for Mizzou and at 5’11 is one of the best rebounders in the country. Guard Jana Van Gytenbeek (Stanford) is a three-point threat and Dre’Una Edwards (Kentucky) can score inside and out and will battle anyone on the glass. Staying healthy and molding talent together will be the recipe for the Bears if they are hunting titles in 2022-23.
19. CONNECTICUT: It is hard to place the Huskies outside the Top 10 of a pre-season poll, but UCONN begins the 2022-23 season with too many questions on the grease board. Their season outlook changed dramatically when All-American guard Paige Bueckers went down in August with a season-ending ACL injury. Add that to the graduation of veteran scorers Evina Westbrook, Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, and there are huge holes to fill. Sophomore guard Azzi Fudd must stay healthy and become the go-to scorer UCONN needs. Returning forwards Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz must elevate their games to contribute more this season. Big things will be expected early from 6’2 freshman Ayanna Patterson, the No. 4 recruit in the class of 2022 (per ESPN.com) if UCONN wants to return to the Final Four in 2023.
20. NEBRASKA: Head coaches relish in looking at their roster for the upcoming season and seeing familiar names. Amy Williams gets to do exactly that for the 2022-23 campaign in Lincoln. Nebraska returns their top three scorers as they set their sights on a 3rd straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Guard Jazz Shelley led the team in scoring (13.1 points/game) and assists a year ago. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Alexis Markowski (12.8 points/game) is one to watch in making significant strides from year one to year two at Nebraska. 6’2 forward Isabelle Bourne will need to be a rebounding force as well as a scorer again this season. Graduate student Sam Haiby returns to give the backcourt veteran leadership along with 5’9 transfer Maddie Krull (South Dakota) who is a fierce defender. The Huskers are poised to make noise in the Big Ten and look to surpass their 24 wins from a year ago.
21. OREGON: There are not as many familiar names on the Oregon roster this season, but the ones that do return for the Ducks are impact players from the jump. All-Pac 12 junior Te-Hina Paopao must stay healthy, so her playmaking ability is available to head coach Kelly Graves every night. Oregon needs 6’7 center Sedona Prince to be more productive in the lane and will count on senior guard Endyia Rogers, second on the team in scoring a year ago, to do that and more this year. The Ducks do have the No. 2 recruiting class (per ESPN.com) in Eugene. Chance Gray, a top-10 player in the class of 2022, is a dynamic guard with 3-point range. 6’3 Grace VanSlooten, a top-20 recruit, is a versatile wing with perimeter skills and 5’11 sharpshooter Jennah Isai is a threat anywhere on the floor. Youth and experience coming together – it could be the winning combination for Oregon.
22. SOUTH DAKOTA STATE: Aaron Johnston enters his 23rd season as head coach at South Dakota State with one of his most veteran rosters in recent years. His top four scorers from 2021-22 return for the Jackrabbits, including redshirt senior Myah Selland, an All-Summit League performer who battled through injuries last year. Guard Paige Meyer returns from injury after being a big-time contributor as a freshman, leading the team in assists and third in scoring. Other veteran scorers, forwards Tori Nelson and Paiton Burckhard, are also back to give SDSU quality depth. South Dakota native Dru Gylten (Utah) transfers back to her home state and can be a key piece to the backcourt. Gylten led the Pac-12 in assists last year and can help move Meyer off the ball to more of a true 3-point threat. The Jackrabbits desperately want to get back to the NCAA Tournament in 2023 but will need to keep everyone healthy and on the floor to be dancing in March.
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23. MICHIGAN: There will be a lot of polls where Michigan is on the outside of Top-25 preseason rankings, but it is hard to find a reason not to have them in this poll for 2022-23. There is no Naz Hillmon, the 2022 Big Ten Player of the Year, or hard-nosed veteran guard Danielle Rauch on the roster. But head coach Kim Barnes Arico was not left an empty cupboard, rather one that is full of veteran scoring and new talent in Ann Arbor. Her team finished 25-7 with an Elite Eight appearance a year ago, holding opponents to just 60.4 points/game. Redshirt seniors Leigha Brown and Emily Kiser return, as well as senior guard Maddie Nolan and 6’ sophomore Laila Phelia, a 2022 All-Big Ten Freshmen selection. Michigan brought in transfer guard Greta Kampschroeder (Oregon State), a top-10 recruit out of high school to go with their No. 22 recruiting class (per ESPN.com). 6’2 forward Alyssa Crockett (No. 48 recruit overall) headlines the group, along with guard Kate Clark and forward Chyra Evans from Australia. This class can make an immediate impact as all three can score and distribute, causing match-up problems for opponents. Never count out the Wolverines – they will scratch and claw all season long. (Editor’s note: All-time Bergen County, New Jersey leading scorer Michelle Sidor returns as well.)
24. GEORGIA: There will be new faces on the floor and on the sidelines, but the same expectations for winning are in Athens this season. A former Lady Bulldog herself, head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson takes over a program that was 21-10 a year ago and advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. The transfer portal brought three University of Central Florida veterans north, following their coach to Georgia – guards Diamond Battles and Alisha Lewis and 6’3 forward Brittney Smith, a tenacious rebounder. Recruits also moved in the wake of the coaching change, bringing in 6’3 guard Savannah Henderson (following her mother), 6’2 Amiya Evans (top 100 per ESPN.com) and top international prospect 6’5 Fatima Diakhate. The addition of two of the Big 12’s toughest players from the portal — Kari Niblack (West Virginia) and Audrey Warren (Texas) — can be a big lift to Georgia’s frontcourt. They both will bring experience, rebounding and the never-give-in attitude you need to win in the SEC.
25. PRINCETON: The Ivy League is just one of two mid-major conferences represented in this pre-season Top 25. The reigning regular-season and tournament champions deserve this spot to start the 2022-23 season. Princeton was 25-4 overall last year, was undefeated in Ivy League play, and advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. Ivy League Player of the Year Abby Meyers transferred after exhausting her Ivy League eligibility last season, but head coach Carla Berube brings back significant scoring with senior Julia Cunningham (13.4 points/game) and junior guard Kaitlyn Chen (10.5 points/game). A top-ranked recruiting class can help fill the gaps with athleticism and scoring ability in the open floor. The Tigers welcome forward Tabitha Amanze, the No. 43 player in the 2022 class (per ESPN.com) along with forward Taylor Charles and the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, guard Madison St. Rose. The Tigers are on the prowl for another Ivy League title and some P5 upsets along the way.
Written by Missy Heidrick
I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!