3. North Carolina
3. Ohio State
5. Notre Dame
10. Michigan State
14. Arizona State
16. Florida State
19. Georgia Tech
22. Middle Tennessee
23. San Diego State
24. South Dakota State
*Details – Continue
1. Connecticut: 39 consecutive wins. A fifth perfect season. Two questions: How long will the streak last?, who can possibly beat the Huskies? 78 in a row and another National Championship? Never say never. Point guard Renee Montgomery is gone. Don’t forget, this season’s WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi won two titles after Sue Bird graduated. Maya Moore has a chance to do the same.
2. Stanford: Back-to-Back trips to the Final Four with only Jillian Harmon missing from the regular rotation. Jayne Appel is a versatile force and may have something to say about who is voted the Nation’s best player when it is all said and done. Stanford – UConn final?
3. North Carolina: Italee Lucas, Cetera DeGraffenreid and Jessica Breland will be surrounded by the Nation’s #2 recruiting class. That should make the Tar Heels the preseason favorite in the ACC and in contention for the National title. Athletically they have the best chance to hang with UConn.
3. Ohio State: Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis will have a year of experience together. Add two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Shavelle Little to the mix and you have one of the Nation’s best teams.
5. Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have a chance to be very, very good. How does Skylar Diggins fit into the mix is the first big priority. Returning from injuries are Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory. Staying injury free is a key. This is a well-established roster; chemistry early on will be something to watch.
6. Duke: Jasmine Thomas, Krystal Thomas and Karima Christmas are the unquestionable leaders of a team. This might be the first full season where the personnel are most indicative of Coach Joanne P. McCallie’s system. Jasmine Thomas has really evolved into a lead guard who can play like a point, but score like a wing.
7. Baylor: Is there anyone who doesn’t know who 6-foot-8 freshman Brittney Griner is? Coach Kim Mulkey returns a very good roster, which includes Danielle Wilson (if her knee recovers) and Morghan Medlock. That core will play a larger role in keeping the Lady Bears among the Nation’s best teams.
8. Tennessee: For nearly any other school the ’08-’09 season would have been a good year. In Knoxville, it was one of the worst ever. If Coach Summit’s freshmen learned some lessons, then Tennessee could be back to its usual position with the elite of women’s college basketball.
9. Xavier: Amber Harris is healthy. Combined with Ta’Shia Phillips, they might form the best frontcourt tandem this side of UConn’s Tina Charles and Maya Moore. If XU’s guard play excels, look for the Musketeers to be playing in very late March.
10. Michigan State: The 2008 – 09 Spartans were within one shot of the Elite Eight. From that team only Mia Johnson is not on the roster. They weren’t consistent last year, but those lessons learned should pay dividends in 2009 – 10.
11. Oklahoma: Coach Sherri Coale will have to do a double take when she takes the floor. Not having the Paris sisters there will seem very strange. The Sooners bring back the rest of their Final Four team. Danielle Robinson and Whitney Hand lead that group and could be one of the best backcourt combinations in the country.
12. Virginia: This is most talented Cavaliers team since Dawn and the Burge twins walked on Grounds. Monica Wright leads a solid core. Paulisha Kellum returns after a season-ending knee injury in ’08-’09 to stabilize the backcourt. The departure of Lyndra Littles, Ashia Mohammed and Kelly Hartig inside will need to be solved quickly. Potential ACC Rookie of the Year China Crosby, returning PTG Arianna Moorer and wing Lexie Gerson will play a huge role in the backcourt.
14. Arizona State: Coach Turner-Thorne loses plenty, including WNBA back-up extraordinaire Briann January. The Sun Devils should have a solid nucleolus, led by Dymond Simon and Danielle Orsillo. Look for the Sun Devils to be back in the hunt for the Pac-10 title.
15. Rutgers: Coach Vivian Stringer will have to replace starters Kia Vaughn, Heather Zurich and Epiphanny Prince. The loss of Prince is huge and puts pressure on the freshmen to grow up quickly. Rutgers will guard the daylights out of you… questions will rise about who will score and who will lead.
16. Florida State: Wade and Wooden watch candidate Jacinta Monroe and Courtney Ward will continue what the Seminoles started in 2008-09, sharing the ACC regular-season title. An off-season trip to South Africa surely allowed Coach Sue Semrau and her staff an opportunity to fine-tune the next step for the Seminoles.
17. LSU: Everyone returns except Kristen Morris for the Lady Tigers. This team has improved substantially throughout the 2008-09 season. Allison Hightower is a legit All-American candidate and they have Coach Van Chancellor. This could be one of the surprise teams come March.
18. DePaul: Deirdre Naughton and Sam Quigley return to direct Coach Doug Bruno’s offense in Chicago. How that plays out in the brutal Big East Conference is yet to be seen. Look for a great deal of runnin’ and gunnin’ by the Blue Demons.
19. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets are perhaps the most physical team in the country. Few teams guard you like GT. They need to become a better offensive team and take some of the pressure off that defense. Coach MaChelle Joseph has nearly everyone back to make it happen. Iasia Hemingway transferring to Syracuse is a loss, but not one that is insurmountable.
20. Texas: Returning are the Nash sisters, along with Brittainey Raven. This group will be driven to get the memory of a poor 2008-09 finish out of their mouths. Talented and hungry, the Longhorns will be a dangerous team.
21. Vanderbilt: Jennifer Risper and Christina Wirth are gone – those are huge loses, but significant talent remains. Coach Melanie Balcomb has a tremendous ability to teach offense and has always put teams on the floor who over achieve. Two Sweet Sixteen’s in the last three years and two SEC Championships… we might be looking at #3 of each in 2009 – 10.
22. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders return everyone. Third team All-American Alysha Clark, the nation’s leading scorer last season, leads a team that went 28-6 and nearly won at Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This team will make noise in March. The middle of the BCS bunch will be holding their breath on Selection Monday to hope they are NOT playing MTSU.
23. San Diego State: Coach Beth Burns returns four of five starters, including 6-4 center Paris Johnson from a 24-8 team. Johnson, emerged as one of the best rebounders in the country last year and has SDSU a team to watch in the Mountain West.
24. South Dakota State: Jennifer Warkenthien departs after a tremendous career and devastating loss to Baylor in the NCAA tournament. Coach Aaron Johnson’s teams transition to full-time Division I status is over – the Jackrabbits are for real and here to stay.
25. Florida: The departure of Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson is substantial, but Coach Amanda Butler’s cupboard is not bare. Jennifer Mosser (due back injury), sharpshooters Steffi Sorensen and Jordan Jones (South Carolina’s leading scorer in 2007-08) form a solid backcourt. The Gators should be in the SEC title hunt right to the end.
On the Bubble: The next six teams you could see cracking the ABR Top 25:
California: The Bears will largely be relying on Alexis Gray-Lawson and a top-five recruiting class to stay near the top of the Pac-10.
Pittsburgh: Can Coach Agnus Berenato maintain Pitt as a top-25 power without Shavonte Zellous?
Texas A&M: Tyra White and Sydney Colson have to step up with Danielle Gant and Takia Starks gone.
Boston College: Stefanie Murphy and Carolyn Swords are back. This might very well be the ACC’s surprise team.
Kansas: Angel Goodrich hurt her knee it was very difficult for the Jayhawks to make a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. The WNIT finals run helped them grow and develop. Is Kansas primed for a better 2009-10? I think so.
Louisville: Coach Jeff Walz will prove he can coach, if anyone wondered, without Angel McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham. The roster is “sneaky” good, look out.