October 20, 2023
The Next’s 2023-24 Top 25 preview
LSU leads the pack; key players, early games highlighted
October is the month that we most associate with scary costumes, pumpkin-spiced lattes and pulling out our favorite team hoodies to manage the chill of fall. In the world of college basketball, October is “GO” time – practice is in full-force, film breakdown is in overdrive and the final touches on travel plans for the upcoming season are locked in. Top 25 lists get released. Coaches are pouring over practice plans, telling their teams that last year’s results do not matter, and student-athletes are searching for an extra five minutes of nap time in their day.
The past few months have brought considerable change to the landscape of college athletics, and it gives the upcoming women’s basketball season so many intriguing storylines. Are we truly witnessing the final games of the Pac-12 Conference, a league that has been around for over 100 years? What will become of interstate rivalries that date back almost 50 years when they no longer will compete in the same conference? Who found a new home through the transfer portal and who decided staying put was best? Which new head coaches will have instant success and who is digging in for a rebuild that will take much longer?
This time of year, everyone is full of spice, questions and anticipation about what the upcoming season will bring – and that includes us. Welcome to The Next’s 2023-24 Top 25 Preview – just the beginning of what we know will be a fantastic year of women’s college basketball. A special thanks to colleagues at The Next for their assistance with data and team information.
Add Locked on Women’s Basketball to your daily routine
Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked on Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.
1. LSU: We stand by one simple rule – if you want to be the best, you must beat the best, which means the reigning national champions begin this season in the top spot. A Mardi Gras-like celebration came in April when LSU brought home their first ever women’s basketball national championship to Baton Rouge in head coach Kim Mulkey’s second season. Her ability to blend newcomers, returners and portal transfers was a master class in balancing a roster that produced when it counted the most.
Junior All-American and 2023 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Angel Reese headlines a talented group of returners this season which includes 5’10 sophomore Flau’jae Johnson, the 2023 SEC Freshman of the Year. Winning national titles will make you a destination for top transfer talent and Mulkey scooped up two of the best in the portal – sharpshooting guard Haley Van Lith from Louisville and dynamic scorer and interior force Aneesah Morrow from DePaul. Next you mix in a talented group of freshmen, including two five-star signees in 6’0 guard Mikaylah Williams and 6’6 center Aalyah Del Rosario and Mulkey will earn every bit of her record-breaking new salary blending this talent together. The Tigers no longer are hunting their prey – the national championship hardware in their possession has put the target squarely on their striped backs.
2. UConn: A year ago, UConn was a puzzle without cornerstones at the start of the season because they were missing the 2021 National Player of the Year. But a healthy Paige Bueckers alongside a healthy junior Azzi Fudd gives head coach Geno Auriemma one of the best tandems in the nation back on the floor together. Senior point guard Nika Mühl set the single-season program record for assists last season (284) while leading the depleted Huskies to a 31-6 record and an appearance in the Sweet 16. Yet that is never quite good enough in Storrs.
Not only will UConn need to stay healthy this season, but they will need a show of force from their frontcourt, anchored by 6’3 senior Aaliyah Edwards, one of the most improved post players in the nation last year. Alongside with 6’2 sophomore Ayanna Patterson and heralded redshirt freshman Ice Brady, the Huskies have depth inside and weapons to score. Bueckers return to the lineup for UConn creates a puzzle that is hard to solve for opposing defenses but will be fun for everyone to watch this season.
3. UTAH: Last season, Utah hovered under a lot of radars throughout college basketball, but anonymity will not be in the stars this year for the Utes. The 2023 Pac-12 co-champions return all five starters from a team that was just one possession and a pair of free-throws away from knocking off LSU and advancing to the Elite Eight. Pac-12 Player of the Year Alissa Pili (20.7 points/game) returns for her fifth year alongside three-point sharpshooting juniors Gianna Kneepkens and Kennady McQueen. 6’2 forward Jenna Johnson (11.9 points and 4.9 rebounds/game) is a great compliment to Pili, giving head coach Lynne Roberts multiple weapons that can spread the floor and attack the paint.
Depth is always a concern, so it will be key for Roberts to develop new talent to spell her veterans and give defenses new looks. Sophomore transfer additions of 5’10 guard Matyson Wilke (Wisconsin), 6’3 post Samantha Crispe (Boston Univ.) and Alyssa Blanck (BYU) can do just that. The Utes will face two critical non-conference tests before they begin their final season in the loaded Pac-12 – Nov. 14 at Baylor and Dec. 10 in the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase against South Carolina at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
4. OHIO STATE: They say defense wins championships and so it poses an intriguing question out of Columbus – is the Buckeyes’ pressure good enough to get to the Final Four? Ohio State forced 20.1 turnovers/game and averaged a Big Ten best 11.3 steals/game last season with unrelenting full court pressure. This year, head coach Kevin McGuff will have a healthy Jacy Sheldon back out front paired with the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Duke transfer Celeste Taylor, to cause problems for opponents trying to get into their offense.
Opponents are also going to have to find an answer to stop last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year Cotie McMahon. The 6’ forward hit double figures in 26 games last season, including all four NCAA Tournament games, while shooting 51% from the floor. The Buckeyes’ roster is full of veteran talent, many of whom have started and played significant minutes, including junior Taylor Thierry and redshirt senior guards Rikki Harris and Madison Greene. Early non-conference showdowns against USC on Nov. 6 and at Tennessee on Dec. 3 will answer questions about OSU and whether they can get back to the Final Four for the first time in over 30 years.
5. UCLA: The hallowed halls of Pauley Pavilion are filled with rich basketball history at UCLA, but championship banners have been hard to come by for the Bruins’ women’s basketball program in recent decades. Their last regular season Pac-12 championship was in 1999 and the program has never been to the Final Four. Is the 2023-24 season the one to break the streak, their last in the Pac-12? UCLA returns their three top scorers from a season ago, including 5’9 guard Charisma Osborne (15.6 points/game), who returns for her extra year, and sophomore sensation Kiki Rice, who averaged 11.6 points/game and started all but one game in her freshman campaign. 6’4 forward Emily Bessoir extends the defense with her three-point shooting (61 makes last year) giving the Bruins a host of weapons on the perimeter.
But the X-factor this season may be the formidable size that the Bruins will bring to the floor, led by the No. 1 recruit from the class of 2022, Stanford transfer Lauren Betts. At 6’7, Betts not only is a rim protector defensively, but has great hands to finish and step the defense out for mid-range jumpers. Head coach Cori Close will have multiple scoring options in the frontcourt with Betts, but shutting down opponents will be critical again for a team that gave up just 61.7/per game a season ago. November will be a bear for the Bruins which includes three tough games at the Battle 4 Atlantis and a trip to South Carolina on Nov. 29.
6. SOUTH CAROLINA: We promise you are not mistaken when you see South Carolina popping up on the schedule of many of these top teams for 2023-24. The Gamecocks have set the bar in recent years for women’s college basketball and teams want to see how they measure up. Built around versatile 6’7 center Kamilla Cardoso who will rule the paint on both ends of the floor, head coach Dawn Staley re-loaded her backcourt with the addition of Oregon point guard Te-Hina PaoPao from the transfer portal. Sophomore guard Raven Johnson, an All-SEC Freshmen selection last year, is poised to be an even bigger threat this season along with junior Bree Hall, the Gamecocks top returning three-point shooter. Staley also has the No. 2 ranked recruiting class (per ESPN.com), highlighted by 5’10 playmaking guard MiLaysa Fulwiley, a hometown product from Columbia, SC. The Gamecocks’ schedule is loaded, including several ranked SEC foes in conference play, but they will start the season in style, taking their game against Notre Dame to Paris, France on Nov. 6.
Your business can reach over one million women’s sports fans every single month!
Here at The Next and The IX, our audience is a collection of the smartest, most passionate women’s sports fans in the world. If your business has a mission to serve these fans, you should reach out to Christie Gray at email@example.com to discuss ways to work together.
7. VIRGINIA TECH: Do we think when head coach Kenny Brooks found out his two-time ACC Player of the Year was returning this season he went and bought a Powerball ticket? Elizbeth Kitley, the 6’6 double-double machine for the Hokies, decided this spring to return to Blacksburg to hunt an ACC title and a repeat trip to the Final Four. She also gets another year to play with senior point guard Georgia Amoore and fifth-year senior sharpshooter Cayla King. Graduation left holes in the lineup, but Brooks tapped into the portal, landing 6’2 Rose Micheaux (13.8 points/game at Minnesota), 6’0 Matilda Ekh (11.8 points/game at Michigan State) and 6’2 Olivia Summiel (7.4 points/game at Wake Forest.) With a Top-20 recruiting class arriving on campus as well, the Hokies have depth to help Kitley and her fellow seniors carry the load with their sights set on dancing at another Final Four.
8. IOWA: One of the many questions we have heading into this season is what can Caitlin Clark possibly do on the court to add to her highlight reel? Everyone will be watching the 2023 National Player of the Year as she tries to lead the Hawkeyes back to the Final Four. Head coach Lisa Bluder will need to find some complimentary players, especially in the frontcourt, following the loss of Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock. 6’2 sophomore Hannah Stuelke, the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year a year ago, is expected to take on a much bigger role. Clark will have familiar faces in the backcourt with her as 6’0 Kate Martin, 5’9 Gabbie Marshall and 5’7 Molly Davis all return. Bluder also gets 6’0 shooter Kylie Feuerbach back in the lineup after missing last season with an ACL injury. Mark Nov. 9 on the calendar – Clark and company square off against Virginia Tech at the Ally Tipoff in Charlotte, NC.
9. INDIANA: Building a program to win a conference regular season title is difficult, but repeating is even tougher. Head Coach Teri Moren may very well have just right the formula at Indiana. The Hoosiers bring back their first-ever first-team All-American in fifth-year senior Mackenzie Holmes, one of the most efficient players in the nation (68% from the field last year) and a host of perimeter players to weather the loss of star Grace Berger. Senior guards Sydney Parrish, Sara Scalia and Chloe Moore-McNeil can all handle the ball and score anywhere on the perimeter. 6’3 sophomore Yarden Garzon, who averaged 11.3 points/game and shot over 48% from behind the arc as a freshman, will cause matchup problems all throughout the Big Ten.
10. TEXAS: If there is one thing Vic Schaefer would like to avoid this season in Austin, it would be the injury bug running rampant in his program. If Texas can stay healthy and fold two top-50 recruits (per ESPN.com) into the mix, it can be a special year for on the Forty Acres. Junior playmaking guard Rori Harmon returns along with leading scorer Shaylee Gonzales (12.7 points/game), the 2023 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Highly touted power forward Aaliyah Moore will be back after missing all but nine games with an injury to pair with 6’2 DeYona Gaston and 6’4 Taylor Jones in the paint. Texas returns over 80% of their scoring from a year ago and with Harmon turning the heat up on defense out front, the Longhorns are looking like the team to beat in the Big 12.
11. TENNESSEE: The 2022-23 season for Tennessee was plagued by inconsistency that followed them from start to finish. But head coach Kellie Harper hit the reset button with new backcourt additions from the portal that can help ease the load that 6’2 Rickea Jackson must carry this season. The fifth-year senior was a top-5 scorer in the SEC a year ago (19.2 points/game) and should continue to be one of the best in the league. Knoxville is now home to All-ACC guard Jewel Spear (Wake Forest) and all-conference playmaker Destinee Wells (Belmont). Harper will also have the services of 6’6 center Tamari Key back after missing most of last year with blood clots. The Lady Vols will have to work to be consistent as a team quickly – they will play at least four Top 25 teams before mid-December.
12. BAYLOR: For the first time in 12 years, Baylor did not win a conference regular season title in 2023, but head coach Nicki Collen has a lot to work with that can put them back on top of the new-look Big 12. Senior guard Sara Andrews returns as the Bears top scorer (14.7 points/game) along with Big 12 Freshman of the Year Darianna Littlepage-Buggs (10.6 points and 9.2 rebounds/game). Collen gets forwards Aijha Blackwell (injury) and Dre’Una Edwards (Kentucky transfer) back in the lineup along with guard depth from the portal. Jada Walker (Kentucky), Denae Fritz (Iowa State) and Yaya Felder (Ohio) all will bring experience to the floor. The Bears averaged just over 70 points/game a year ago – consistent scoring at a high level will be a key to their success.
13. MISSISSIPPI: Coaches always say that building a foundation of winning takes time and you must strike when the iron is hot. In Oxford, coming off a Sweet 16 appearance in the 2023 NCAA Tournament by knocking off the No. 1 seed Stanford, Mississippi seems to be firing on all cylinders. Head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin brings back three of her top four scorers in forwards Madison Scott and Snudda Collins along with guard Marquesha Davis. The portal was a spinning with three experienced scorers landing in Oxford – 6’0 Kennedy Todd-Williams (UNC), 5’8 KK Deans (Florida) and 6’2 Kharyssa Richardson (Auburn). Coach Yo added two Top-100-ranked freshmen (per ESPN.com) to give her more depth. This team is no longer a secret – and it seems las though they prefer it that way.
14. NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels are coming off a season where their defense gave up just 59.8 points/game and so if you want to see floor time for head coach Courtney Banghart, you better be ready to get in a stance. UNC added two key transfers that can not only be big contributors defensively but give Banghart more options to score the ball. 6’ Lexi Donarski (Iowa State) and 6’3 Maria Gakdeng (Boston College) will compliment what returns to Chapel Hill. All-ACC picks Deja Kelly (16.5 points/game) and Alyssa Ustby (13.2 points/game) return for their senior season along with 6’2 forward Anya Poole and 6’4 post Teonni Key. Banghart will be without the services of 6’4 freshman Ciera Toomey, No. 4 player in the class of 2023 who was set to be an impact newcomer in the ACC. She will miss the season due to a knee injury. The Tar Heels will be tested long before ACC play begins with marque matchups against South Carolina and UConn.
15. STANFORD: The Cardinal will look quite different this season as graduation and the portal took a toll on the roster, but quality pieces return as a solid foundation. 6’4 senior Cameron Brink (15.1 points and 9.6 rebounds/game) will anchor the team inside, while fifth-year senior Hannah Jump (11.2 points/game) extends every defense with her range from the perimeter. Head coach Tara VanDerveer will look for young players to have a bigger impact this season, including point guard Talana Lepolo, who played almost 26 minutes/game and dished out 3.7 assists/game last year as a freshman. 6’3 juniors Kiki Iriafen and Brooke Demetre will also be counted on for more production as will a talented freshmen class, all of which are top-50 recruits (per ESPN.com). 6’1 forward Courtrey Ogden comes to The Farm as the No. 10 overall recruit in the class of 2023, bringing a skill set that lets her handle the ball when needed or score on the block. Stanford will have their work cut out for them in the final year of the Pac-12 and questions will be answered on Nov. 12 when they host Indiana.
The Next and The Equalizer are teaming up
The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribers to The Next now receive 50% off their subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.
16. NOTRE DAME: One of the biggest questions looming in women’s college basketball right now is what is the status of All-American junior guard Olivia Miles? Her injury in the ACC Tournament derailed what could have been a fantastic finish for Notre Dame a year ago. But no matter if or when head coach Niele Ivey gets Miles back, she has a lot to work with on the floor. 6’1 junior Sonia Citron returns as the Irish’s leading scorer (14.7 points/game) along with versatile wing 6’3 senior Maddy Westbeld. Look for sophomore guards KK Bransford and Cassandre Prosper to be even bigger factors than they were a year ago. Ivey’s No. 5-ranked recruiting class (per ESPN.com) is led by 5’6 point guard Hannah Hidalgo, who is next up until Miles is healthy. The Fighting Irish will be challenged early and often, starting with stamping their passports to open the season in Paris, France on Nov. 6 against South Carolina.
17. MARYLAND: Year after year, Brenda Frese has weathered the roster turnover storm that comes with graduation and the transfer portal. Standouts Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers graduated, but the Terps return all-Big Ten junior playmaker Shyanne Sellers (13.9 points/game) and graduate seniors Lavender Briggs and Brinae Alexander. With less than 50% of Frese’s offense returning, the addition of NC State transfer Jakia Brown-Turner can be a big lift on the perimeter, giving Maryland another shooter with range. Keep an eye on 6’2 freshman Riley Nelson, who leads a Top-20 recruiting class into College Park – the Clarksburg, MD native was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Maryland twice and can contribute on both ends of the floor. The Terps have a big week in early November to learn a lot about themselves with road trips to South Carolina (Nov. 12) and UConn (Nov. 16).
18. LOUISVILLE: Every year we seem to hit repeat with this statement – head coach Jeff Walz is a wizard when it comes to managing the craziness of the transfer portal. The 2023-24 season will be yet another season of putting new pieces together to find a way to win in the ACC. The Cardinals add 5’6 junior guard Jayda Curry, the 2022 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, who will become their top offensive threat in the backcourt. 6’1 guard Kiki Jefferson averaged 18.3 points/game last season at James Madison and joins guards Sydney Taylor (UMass) and Nina Rickards (Florida) as new scoring threats. 6’3 senior Olivia Cochran (8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds/game) will anchor the inside but depth in the post could be an issue. Early tests for the Cardinals will be on the road against Gonzaga (neutral site), at Mississippi and at UConn, all before Christmas break.
19. USC: The Trojans were back in the Big Dance for the first time since 2014 last year, losing an overtime battle as the No. 8 seed to South Dakota State. That momentum and a recruiting haul has head coach Lindsey Gottlieb and her program trending in the right direction. USC will build around 6’4 returning junior Rayah Marshall (12.7 points/game), a pre-season All-Pac 12 selection and rim protector in the paint. Gottlieb went hard into the portal to snag multiple scoring guards, including Ivy League transfers Kayla Padilla (17.6 points/game at Penn) and McKenzie Forbes (13.7 points/game at Harvard). Everyone will be watching to see what 6’2 freshman JuJu Watkins, the 2023 National Gatorade Player of the Year, can do for the Trojans in her first season. Watkins, a prolific scorer, headlines the No. 10-ranked recruiting class (per ESPN.com) for USC and each freshman will be asked to contribute early and often. Tune in on Nov. 6 – the Trojans face off with Ohio State in Las Vegas.
20. COLORADO: Now in her eighth season as Colorado’s head coach, JR Payne has climbed many mountains to get the Buffaloes back on the national map. The 2022-23 season saw her program back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 and the goal is to go even farther this year. Payne brings back her top four scorers, including fifth-year seniors Quay Miller (13.1 points/game) and Jaylyn Sherrod (11.3 points/game), who also led the team in assists a season ago. 5’11 senior Frida Forman of Denmark returns as the Buffs top three-point shooter and will now be paired with Michigan transfer and sharpshooter Maddie Nolan on the perimeter (career 36% behind the arc.). Defense has been a staple of Payne’s program the past few seasons and that will be their calling card again in the program’s final season in the Pac-12. CU’s “primetime” show begins Nov. 6 against LSU in Las Vegas.
21. MISSISSIPPI STATE: The music was on high volume in March in Starkville as the Bulldogs danced their way to two wins in the 2023 NCAA Tournament and there is no turning it down now. Second year head coach Sam Purcell is building a contender and doing it with a core group of returners, led by 6’5 center Jessika Carter (14.8 points/game) and 5’9 guard JerKaila Jordan (11.9 points/game). Pairing those top returning scorers with a Top-25 recruiting class (per ESPN.com) and several impact transfers will have opponents on high alert. Three all-conference picks a year ago – 5’3 guard Lauren Park-Lane from Seaton Hall, 5’11 guard Darrione Rogers from DePaul and 6’2 forward Erynn Barnum from Arkansas – gives Purcell and the Bulldogs depth and experience to battle in the SEC.
In the WNBA’s 27th season, save 27% on your subscription!
The WNBA Finals may be over, but our staff of writers is working hard to bring you everything you need to know about the WNBA, women’s college basketball and much more. Get started with a paid subscription, which helps support all of our writers, editors and photographers who work tirelessly to bring you this coverage, and save 27%!
22. NC STATE: If the Wolfpack are going make a splash in the ACC this season, it may very well be with a group of newcomers diving into the deep end from the opening tip. Head coach Wes Moore brings back less than 50% of his scoring from a team that was 20-12 a year ago and bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round. Junior guards Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers must be more assertive scorers along with 6’3 center Mimi Collins and 6’5 center River Baldwin. 6’5 center Lizzie Williamson (Southern Utah) and 6’0 guard Katie Peneueta (Sacramento State) arrive in Raleigh via the portal giving NC State veterans to pair with the freshmen. The Wolfpack will rely heavily on their Top-10 recruiting class (per ESPN.com), led by the No. 9 overall player in the class of 2023, 5’10 guard Zoe Brooks.
23. CREIGHTON: Consistency has been the name of the game for Creighton for many seasons under head coach Jim Flanery, who enters his 22nd year at the helm of the Bluejay program. Flanery’s top four scorers return from last year’s 22-9 squad, all of whom are seniors this season, giving Creighton a load of experience in running their three-point focused spread offense. The Bluejays shot 271 more three-pointers than their opponents last year, led by 5’10 guard Lauren Jensen (68 makes) and 6’1 forward Morgan Maly (69 makes). Creighton will again be undersized, which creates problems against many opponents, especially Big East rival UConn. This veteran squad needs to find wins in November and December against top mid-major opponents before conference play begins.
24. GONZAGA: For many years, the top spot of the WCC was a battle between Gonzaga and BYU. With the Cougars departing to the Big 12, the Bulldogs are set to be the top dog in their league and have a spot in the national conversation. Head coach Lisa Fortier may have one of the most experienced rosters in the country this season with over 90% of their scoring and rebounding returning from a year ago. 6’1 senior Yvonne Ejim shot over 53% from the field last season, averaging 16.8 points/game. Twin guards Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong have returned to Spokane for their fifth year of eligibility as has all-conference forward Brynna Maxwell. The Bulldogs are set to take on a host of top non-conference opponents before WCC play begins, including Louisville in November and a much-anticipated match-up at home against Stanford on Dec. 3.
25. KANSAS: Two years ago, Kansas returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013, but disappointing losses pushed the Jayhawks off the bubble this past March. Head coach Brandon Schneider rallied his team to run off six wins and capture the 2023 postseason WNIT title, a foundation he hopes will mean even bigger things this year. KU will be led by four “super seniors” including unanimous All-Big 12 First Team selection Taiyanna Jackson. The 6’3 post is a dominant defender and has developed into a consistent scorer to pair with guards Holly Kersgieter, Zakiyah Franklin and Wyvette Mayberry. Look for 6’0 freshman guard S’Mya Nichols, the No. 22 player in the class of 2023, to break into the lineup and fill up a stat sheet. North Alabama transfer Skylar Gill arrives in Lawrence as the two-time ASUN Defensive Player of the Year to bolster the defensive effort this season. Fun in the sun in November for the veteran Jayhawks will be early tests at the Cayman Islands Classic against Virginia Tech and UConn.
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!