By Jeffrey Newholm
If you ask this writer what the preseason top 25 means in college basketball, I’d say: a whole lot! Of nothing. Surely coaches have more admirable goals than how their youth stack up against others in a completely subjective measure by an arbitrarily chosen group. But it’s sure fun for the fans! Who wouldn’t want to be #1, or beat the #1 team? With the season tipping off in just a week, then, it’s officially time for the NBS preseason top 25. Our writer was up all night agonizing over these choices (maybe) so no argument allowed!
Primary Title Contenders
1. Notre Dame
Certainly no debate here, even by the most casual of women’s hoops fans. Despite a rather unlucky run of injuries the Irish lucked out all the same, behind Arike Ogunbowale’s two Final Four winning shots. With those injured players now back ND has a legitimate chance to be the first non-Uconn repeat champ since Tennessee in 2008.
The Ducks should have broken through to the semifinals last year. However, they had a too cavalier attitude with a halftime lead over Notre Dame and watched in horror as the determined Irish stormed back. Junior Sabrina Ionescu is a leading player of the year candidate and will continue a pond’s full of triple-double strikes.
Geno griped that his team isn’t good enough to be #2 so, um…they’re sentenced to third. Granted, the Huskies lost three of their six players to the WNBA and two new starters will have virtually no college playing experience. Still, the three returning starters have too strong a pedigree of past success for Uconn not to be Final Four favorites again.
Secondary Title Contenders
The Cardinals had by far their best season in 2018. However, a poorly timed three and swallowed whistle resulted in a bummer of a loss in Columbus. (Thankfully completely forgotten after Ogunbowale’s heroics three hours later). However, Louisville reminds me too much of Maryland’s run of success earlier this decade: a very talented team, but lacking a big star to make the key difference.
Three years in a row I’ve picked the supposedly loaded Bears to break through the regionals, and each time they’ve fallen short. On paper, the Bears are more talented than Louisville, but the team seems to be psyched out over the postseason. At this point, I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt.
6. Mississippi State
The most famous team never to win a title (seemingly contrary to popular belief in 2017) loses most of its best players. However, determined coach Vic Schaefer brings a defensive intensity that could mold a tournament contender. If, that is, they make it through the equally rugged SEC.
Can Push To Final Weekend
7. Oregon State
Despite having an extremely inappropriate nickname OSU returns four starters from the team that collapsed to Louisville in the Elite Eight. With a 116-23 record the last four years, the previously unknown program is starting to gain momentum. Can they return to the finals and get better luck than 2016, when they met a historically great Uconn team?
8. South Carolina
Dawn Staley established herself as one of her sport’s best coaches by reviving an awful program, winning a national championship, and winning the World Cup for team USA. She faces a tough task this year with A’ja Wilson graduated, by far the most talented player of the slightly down 2018 team. However, the other four starters return with more experience.
If writers are blindly going to give Uconn a legacy vote, it’s only fair to give one to the Vols as well. Although put in a bad spot last year when Diamond DeShields left school, three starters will seek to reclaim the Final Four mountaintop, last scaled in 2008. More importantly, a common sense contract extension and vote of confidence in Pat Summitt successor Holly Warlick ensures the team will remain in national conversations.
The Cardinal has reached 11 Sweet 16s in a row, the second longest active streak. However, the team has fallen in its last nine Final Four appearances. With eight upperclasswomen returning to replace captains Brittney McPhee and Kaylee Johnson, past success may well continue. At this point, however, it’s reasonable to question if the program has a semifinal ceiling.
20. South Florida
21. Texas A&M
25. West Virginia