What you need to know for the 2022-23 women’s college basketball season

The 2022-23 women’s college basketball season tips off next week and we have everything you need to know, including top players, teams and more.

The women’s college basketball season is back, with real games set to tip off on Monday, Nov. 7.

It’s getting harder and harder to follow college basketball, on both the men’s and women’s side, because the transfer portal has really shaken up rosters around the sport. For example, Texas enters the season ranked No. 3 in the AP poll, and that team is likely going to have transfers playing three key roles.

One thing hasn’t changed, though — defending champions South Carolina are set to be really, really good once again. The Gamecocks won their second title last year, and the first for center Aliyah Boston, the best player in college basketball.

Will South Carolina win a third title? Is there someone else lurking? Let’s look into some various storylines ahead of this season.

Women’s college basketball season preview: Who is the best team?

This is one of those years where there’s a pretty clear No. 1 team, and that team is defending champions South Carolina.

The Gamecocks are led by the best player in the country (more on her later) and have surrounded Aliyah Boston with a ton of complementary talent. Destanni Henderson is gone to the WNBA, but Zia Cooke, Victoria Saxton, Kamilla Cardoso, Brea Beal and Laeticia Amihere are all back, plus Raven Johnson and Sania Feagin were both top five recruits last year according to ESPN’s HoopGurlz. Both should see the floor significantly more this season.

Beyond SC, Stanford’s the other team to beat. Haley Jones is one of the best players in the country and Cameron Brink is poised to break out after averaging 13.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last season. The team also added the No. 1 rated recruit this year, Lauren Betts. Stanford is always a dangerous team, and they ranked in the top 35 last year in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Women’s college basketball season preview: Is Aliyah Boston the best player?

With UConn’s Paige Bueckers set to miss the season, Aliyah Boston enters the 2022-23 campaign with the mantle of “best player in the country,” and it’s hard to imagine her being seriously challenged for it. You can make a case that Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is a pretty close second, though.

Let’s talk about Boston first. She’s the most dominant big in college basketball, averaging 16.8 points on 54.2 percent shooting last season while grabbing 12.5 rebounds per game and adding 2.4 blocks. She was seventh in the country in rebounding rate and 38th in points per possession, per Her Hoop Stats. She set the SEC record for consecutive double-doubles last season and is just incredibly devastating on both ends of the floor.

As for Clark, the Iowa sophomore is one of the best pure scorers that I’ve seen in a long time. She can stop and pull up from literally anywhere on the court.

Like, what even is this?

Clark has unlimited range, but she struggled with efficiency last year, shooting 33.2 percent from three, down from 40.6 percent. She also doesn’t give you the kind of defense that Boston does — hence why Boston is the clear-cut best player.

Stanford’s Haley Jones is also in the conversation here. Jones is expected to run the Stanford offense this year, so it’ll be fun to see what she can do with the ball in her hands more. Jones saw a major drop in efficiency last year, with her effective field goal rate falling from the 93rd percentile nationally down to the 44th percentile. But Jones is a well-rounded player who has been steadily working on expanding her game.

Women’s college basketball season preview: Which teams will surprise?

Looking for a team that’s outside the AP top 10 that could make a big run this year? Here are three possible options.

Oklahoma (No. 15)

The top four of the Big 12 is really, really good. I’d put that top four against any other conference’s top four. I just don’t think the AP voters really showed the Big 12 the respect that I think it deserved.

The Sooners have won of the most underrated players in the country in Madi Williams. ESPN’s top 25 players for this season has Williams at No. 19, but I think you could make an argument that Williams is a borderline top 10 player in the country. She’s an excellent scorer who added the 3-pointer to her arsenal last year, and she’s made Oklahoma into a really good basketball team during her time there.

Baylor (No. 18)

Yep, we’re going back to the Big 12 again. Baylor lost NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo to the WNBA, but they’ve reloaded with one of the best transfer classes in the country, adding Aijha Blackwell from Missouri and Dre’Una Edwards from Kentucky. The team has played a more perimeter-centered game under head coach Nicki Collen, and the Bears have one of the best point guards in the country with Sarah Andrews, plus good backcourt pieces like Jaden Owens and Ja’Mee Asberry, plus an intriguing stretch big in Caitlin Bickle.

Villanova (NR)

With Paige Bueckers and Ice Brady out for the year, could we see some non-UConn team make a run in the Big East? Maybe. And while there are some good options for who that team would be, like No. 21 Creighton, I think people should keep an eye on Villanova. Maddy Siegrist is a top-20 player in the country and won Big East Player of the Year last season. She’s an incredible scorer who should keep the Wildcats in every single game they play.

Women’s college basketball season preview: Who fills the shoes of WNBA draft picks like Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin?

Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard, Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith and Ole Miss’s Shakira Austin were the first three picks in this year’s WNBA Draft, and they quickly showed why, with all three having a lot of success early on in their professional careers.

But now, their college programs have to approach the difficult task of replacing them. I mentioned Baylor above, but what about Kentucky and Ole Miss?

Kentucky…well, with Rhyne Howard gone, the team’s chances of contending might be gone as well. The team lost its three best players in Howard, Jazmine Massengill and Dre’una Edwards. Massengill is now at Florida State, while Edwards is at Baylor. The team added some upside players like South Carolina’s Eniya Russell and Oregon’s Maddie Scherr, but it will likely be a long season for the Wildcats.

As for Ole Miss, the team also starts this season unranked, but they did receive some votes in the AP poll, unlike Kentucky. With Austin gone, the team will need forward Madison Scott to take a step forward if they want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. Scott was second on the team in minutes last year and shot 48.6 percent from the floor, but that was on just 7.6 attempts per game. If she can keep that efficiency with scaled-up volume, she should have a big year.

Women’s college basketball season preview: Top freshmen to watch

Last season, DePaul’s Aneesah Morrow wo the USBWA and the WBCA’s Freshman of the Year awards and was named second-team All-American after averaging 21.9 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 1.8 blocks per game. Morrow, who wasn’t even a top 100 recruit in ESPN’s HoopGurlz rankings, helped DePaul win 22 games, an eight-game increase from the previous season.

Other than Morrow and a few other players like Texas guard Rori Harmon and Notre Dame guard Olivia Miles, last year’s freshman class didn’t really grab the same headlines that past freshman classes have.

Will that change this year?

Among the key freshman to watch this season are Stanford post Lauren Betts, UCLA guard Kiki Rice, Texas A&M forward Janiah Baker, and UConn wing Ayanna Patterson. Another UConn freshman, Ice Brady, would be on that list, but she’ll miss the season with a torn patella.

The Pac-12 is the place to be if you want to watch freshman, though. Of ESPN’s top 10 in their recruiting rankings, seven will play at Pac-12 schools, and since Brady is in that top 10 list, that means seven of the top nine freshman are on the west coast. Get ready to stay up late and watch a lot of ball.

Women’s college basketball season preview: Projected WNBA Draft lottery picks

Let’s just keep this section short. If you’re a WNBA fan, here are some of the players you should keep an eye on this season, listed roughly in the order I would consider them if I were the GM of a team that didn’t have any singular, particular need:

Aliyah Boston, C, South Carolina
Haley Jones, G, Stanford
Diamond Miller, F, Maryland
Ashley Owusu, G, Virginia Tech
Ashley Joens, F, Iowa State
Elizabeth Kitley, C, Virginia Tech

There are more, but that’s a good six-name list to start with if you’re planning to watch women’s college basketball through a WNBA lens this year.

Women’s college basketball season preview: Final Four predictions

Last year’s Final Four looked a lot like your normal Final Four in women’s college basketball: three one-seeds and then a two-seed, which just so happened to be the traditional powerhouse of UConn. The other teams were South Carolina, Louisville and Stanford.

When it comes to making predictions about who the last four teams standing will be, it’s usually a good idea to go with the chalk. But, could this be the year that something changes?

South Carolina and Stanford are No. 1 and No. 2 in the preseason AP poll, and it’s a safe bet to pencil them in for the Final Four. But behind them, things get a little odd. Texas is No. 3 and Iowa is No. 4, two teams that have been on the rise lately. Tennessee, a traditional power that hasn’t been playing at that level for a while, is No. 5, and then you get a banged-up UConn team that’s without its best player. Louisville, Iowa State, Notre Dame and NC State round out the top 10.

This could be the year that things get a little weird. My Final Four prediction is South Carolina and Stanford, then I have Iowa and Iowa State. That’s right: double Iowa teams. And I’m not just saying that because I moved to Iowa this year — the Hawkeyes have one of the two best players in the country, while the Cyclones return a whole bunch of players from last year, including star forward Ashley Joens.

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