We’re less than 100 days from the start of the 2022–23 women’s college basketball season, and while fall practices are still a ways away, much of the offseason madness has shaken out.
A multitude of high-profile transfers and some major coaching changes seem poised to add even more intrigue to the upcoming campaign, plus perennial powerhouse UConn suffered a major setback last week. So with the calendar in August, here are 11 burning questions that seem poised to shape the upcoming season.
1. Can the addition of Shaylee Gonzales help Texas get back to the Final Four?
In each of Vic Schaefer’s first two seasons in Austin, the Longhorns have fallen into the Elite Eight. Last year, behind the stellar play of freshman sensation Rori Harmon, Texas entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed, and it came within one half of topping their region’s top seed, Stanford. Now in her second season with the program, Harmon, a legitimate All-American candidate, is all but guaranteed to improve. Similar growth can be expected from sophomore forwards Aaliyah Moore and DeYona Gaston. Plus, guard Aliyah Matharu, the team’s leading scorer from last season, is also back for her senior year.
But perhaps no addition around the country could prove to be more consequential than Texas adding Gonzales. A three-time All-WCC first-team selection, Gonzales averaged 18.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game last season. She helped BYU get ranked as high as No. 15 in the AP poll, and eventually carried the Cougars to a 26–4 record and NCAA tournament berth. How exactly she fits into Texas’s backcourt remains to be seen, but Gonzales’s dynamic playmaking could very well be the difference if the Longhorns make their first Final Four since 2003.
2. What’s UConn’s ceiling without Paige Bueckers?
The Huskies learned to play without their star guard last season. Bueckers missed 19 games after tearing her anterior tibial plateau and lateral meniscus in early December. With her out of the lineup for nearly 12 weeks, UConn went 15–4. However, after Bueckers sustained a season-ending ACL tear last week, the group that will be forced to jell without her this time around looks differently than the one that overcame her absence last year. Center Olivia Nelson-Ododa, guard Christyn Williams and wing Evina Westbrook have all entered the professional ranks, which should put even more pressure on juniors Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Mühl, and sophomores Caroline Ducharme and Azzi Fudd to produce.
How Fudd performs will be especially important to UConn’s possible success. The No. 1 recruit in the class of 2021, Fudd flashed her offensive potential last year, most notably in her team’s Elite Eight win over NC State in which she scored 19 points. With Bueckers out of the lineup she will routinely be the team’s top playmaker. UConn still is likely a top-10 team nationally, but its overall outlook takes a hit due to the injury of the ’21 consensus National Player of the Year.
3. After a busy offseason, can LSU replicate its success from 2021–22?
Despite the Tigers winning only nine games in 2020–21, Hall of Fame coach Kim Mulkey led the Tigers to 26 victories in her first season with the program. However, a number of key contributors, including Sports Illustrated second-team All-American guard Khayla Pointer, have departed, leaving the roster in some flux. In Mulkey’s first full offseason, though, LSU has appeared to retool, adding four players in the transfer portal including AP third-team All-American Angel Reese. Reese, a 6’3″ wing, averaged 17.8 points and 10.6 rebounds as a sophomore at Maryland and will immediately become the focal point of Mulkey’s attack. If she produces similarly to how Pointer did last year, and much as how players like NaLyssa Smith , DiDi Richards and Lauren Cox did during their recent Baylor tenures, then LSU should remain fully a part of the national conversation.
4. Speaking of Reese, where does Maryland sit in the Big Ten hierarchy?
Not since the 2009–10 season have Brenda Frese and the Terrapins missed out on an NCAA tournament. And while they made the tournament again last season, it was the program’s first in three years that included neither a conference regular-season nor conference tournament title. Maryland then lost Reese, star guard Ashley Owusu (to Virginia Tech) and forward Mimi Collins (to NC State) to the transfer portal and appeared set for a rebuild. Former Princeton star Abby Meyers and experienced USF guard Elisa Pinzan were among the program’s biggest pickups in the portal and both could, in theory, launch Maryland back to conference title contention. Plus, guard Lavender Briggs, who arrived in the middle of last season from Florida but did not play because of injury, also provides an offense pop, having averaged 16.7 points and 6.3 in 47 games with the Gators.
5. Following the same line of questioning, can Owusu push Virginia Tech to the top of the ACC?
NC State, winner of the ACC last year, could find itself taking a step back in the conference following the departures of Elissa Cunane, Kai Crutchfield, Kayla Jones and Raina Perez. And Louisville, which made the Final Four after another stellar season, could regress due to Emily Engstler heading to the WNBA. That would leave the door open for Virginia Tech to try to claim its first ACC crown. Coach Kenny Brooks’s group has made the NCAA tournament in each of the past two years, and two-time first-team All-ACC center Elizabeth Kitley is back for her senior season. Add in Owusu, who averaged as many as 17.9 points and 5.6 rebounds a season at Maryland, and the Hokies have a one-two punch that could make them one of the most difficult teams to play in the conference.
6. What will Baylor look like following numerous big-name departures?
Nicki Collen’s first season coaching Baylor ended abruptly, with the Bears losing, at home, to South Dakota, by double digits in the second round of the Big Dance. Now, NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo are both starring for the Fever, while guard Jordan Lewis also graduated and headed off to the pro ranks. Collen does have three top-75 high school players coming into her program, and Aijha Blackwell (the nation’s second-leading rebounder last season) and Dre’una Edwards (16.8 ppg scorer and double-double threat for Kentucky) highlight the program’s new addition . How the new group jells together, though, remains a question.
7. Will continuity lift Iowa State to its best year in program history?
Bill Fennelly has coached the Cyclones for more than two decades, but only twice in his tenure has the program reached the Elite Eight. It wouldn’t be absurd to see this year’s group become the third team to reach that juncture—and perhaps the first in school history to surpass it. Guards Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski, the latter of whom was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2022, could be the conference’s most impactful backcourt (on both ends). Plus, the return of star wing Ashley Joens—who weighed turning pro—gives ISU a legitimate All-American candidate. The trio is among the top in the entire nation and could help this season in Ames be especially memorable.
8. Will Tennessee be South Carolina’s biggest SEC challenger?
While the Lady Vols will miss wing Rae Burrell, who is now playing for the Sparks, the program took advantage of a stored transfer portal. Top-scorer Jordan Horston is looking to build on a breakout junior season that saw her nearly double her scoring average (from 8.6 to 16.2), and it’s possible the team’s other four starters are all transfer additions. Among the ones to watch are forward Jasmine Franklin, who averaged 14.9 points and 12.1 rebounds for Missouri State in 2021–22; forward Jillian Hollingshead, who at times struggled as a freshman at Georgia but was a McDonald’s All-American in 2021; and train Minnesota guard Jasmine Powell. Veteran talent was, at times, able to push the Gamecocks during last year’s campaign. Perhaps Tennessee will prove to be South Carolina’s biggest test this winter.
9. Is there any reason South Carolina shouldn’t be favored to repeat?
Speaking of the reigning national champions, the short answer to the aforementioned question is no. Replacing star guard Destanni Henderson certainly is among the program’s top priorities, but much of the Gamecocks’ roster remains otherwise intact, and it’s more than fair to assume that last year’s Naismith Player of the Year Aliyah Boston will put up yet another dominant season. While there are certainly other schools that enter the season with continuity, South Carolina should enter the 2022–23 campaign as the team to beat.
10. What’s in store for Texas A&M in the post–Gary Blair era?
In 32 years as a college head coach, Blair endured only two losing seasons, with last year’s 14–15 campaign being one of them. Blair had been the Aggies’ coach since 2003 and had made the tournament in every season since ’05 before his final one on the sideline. Following his retirement, the school poached Joni Taylor, last year’s SEC Coach of the Year, from Georgia to take over. Taylor led the Lady Bulldogs to four NCAA tournaments in six tries and compiled a 140–75 record with the school. Just last week, she was named as an assistant coach on the US women’s national team for the ’22 World Cup, another sign of her renown amongst her peers. What style of play Taylor will implement remains to be seen, but after a down year, the arrow is again pointing up in College Station.
11. What will Rutgers look like with the C. Vivian Stringer era officially over?
On the last day of April, the Scarlet Knights announced that Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer was officially retiring after amassing 1,055 wins and making four Final Fours and 28 NCAA tournaments in 50 years of coaching. Stringer had been with Rutgers since 1995, and while she did not coach the team last season, she was the first Black coach in NCAA history to win more than 1,000 games and has long had her imprint on the program.
New this season, former Penn State coach Coquese Washington will lead the Scarlet Knights inside Jersey Mike’s Arena, where the court is newly named in her predecessor’s honor. Washington was a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year award winner and led the Lady Lions to four NCAA tournaments during her 12 seasons with the university. Rutgers has made the Big Dance only three times in the last decade, meaning a once dynastic program has a ways to go to regain such billing. But nevertheless, how Washington follows up a Hall of Famer remains something to monitor.
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