College Basketball Is Back, And It’s More Exciting Than Ever

Here are six teams to keep an eye on this season.

By Elisha Gunaratnam

The NCAA College Basketball season is officially underway, and before the chaos of the season takes over, we wanted to highlight some teams to be on the lookout for. Two of these teams will be looking to bounce back in the preseason AP Top 25 rankings, three will be looking to prove that they deserve their preseason ranking, and two will be looking to keep their spots at the top of women’s college basketball.

March Madness seems like it is a long way away, but these teams know that every game between November and March counts if they want a shot at a national championship. Here are six teams that we think you should keep an eye on this year.

Teams Looking To Stay On Top

No. 1: South Carolina (2021 Preseason Ranking: 1)

South Carolina forward Laeticia Amihere runs the offense against East Tennessee State during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Columbia, S.C., Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. South Carolina won 101-31. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Can anyone compete with South Carolina? Coach Staley has 10 returners from last year’s championship squad, including player-of-the-year favorite and perennial All-American Aliyah Boston. Also back are guards Zia Cooke and Brea Beal. Laeticia Amihere returns to South Carolina after a stint with Canada at the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup, and point guard Raven Johnson, who suffered a torn ACL last year as a freshman, will get to play her first full season. All of this likely adds up to more hardware for South Carolina.

The one blemish on South Carolina’s 2022 record was that they let the 2022 SEC tournament title slip away, so this team will be looking to cut down the nets in both March and April this year. However, don’t forget that the Gamecocks are missing their top three-point shooter from last season. With teams like Oregon, UConn, and Nebraska shooting lights-out from behind the arc this season, Coach Staley will need to find players on her roster that are capable of hitting shots from deep.

The team started off their season with a 101–31 win. The depth of their roster was on full display, with a remarkable six players finishing the game in double figures. With the SEC tournament and the regional stage of the NCAA Tournament being in South Carolina this year and the Final Four being in Dallas, where the Gamecocks won their first NCAA title in 2017, this truly does feel like it could be a magical season for what could be one of the greatest teams in the history of college basketball. 

No. 2: Stanford (2021 Preseason Ranking: 3)

Last year’s March Madness tournament did not go according to plan for Stanford. The Cardinal bowed out of the tournament in the Final Four after losing to an injury-riddled UConn squad that they had defeated during their championship run in 2021. For many, especially the “funky four” as Fran Belibi calls her senior class, this loss will motivate the team throughout the year.

The most prominent challenge starting the season will be learning to manage without the departed players. Stanford lost three starting guards from last year in Lacie Hull, her twin—and No. 6 pick in the WNBA draft—Lexie Hull, and 2021 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Anna Wilson. 

Luckily for Stanford, the two starters who are returning from last year are among the country’s best: junior forward Cameron Brink, the 2022 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and co-Pac-12 Player of the Year, as well as senior guard Haley Jones, the other 2022 co-Pac-12 Player of the Year. Noting this, as well as other returning leadership such as Belibi, the Stanford offense will be looking to switch to a more forward-heavy approach.

Despite losing 60% of their starting lineup, the new class of freshmen seems to be making up for this loss. Leading the way is Lauren Betts, the No. 1 overall recruit for this year. It is scary to imagine her 6-foot-8-inch frame battling in the paint alongside Cameron Brink.

The Cardinal are off to a strong start to the season with a 86–48 win over the San Diego State Aztecs on opening day. This team was neck and neck with South Carolina in the national rankings last season, and it will be interesting to see what this comparatively inexperienced team can do against teams with more seasoned rosters.

Teams Looking to Bounce Back

No. 6: UConn (2021 Preseason Ranking: 2)

Most UConn fans can probably remember exactly where they were this offseason when news broke that Paige Bueckers had torn her ACL. With star freshmen Ice Brady and Ayanna Peterson, a healthy Azzi Fudd and Dorka Juhasz, and the return of Caroline Ducharme, Nika Muhl, Aubrey Griffin, and Aaliyah Edwards, it looked like the Huskies were set to get their revenge on the Gamecocks after last year’s loss in the NCAA Championship Game. Then came the injuries: first Bueckers, then Brady. For the first time in 16 years, the UConn women’s basketball team began the season outside the top 10 in the AP Poll. 

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Huskies. Despite only having nine available players to unofficially open the season, UConn defeated Kutztown 115–42 on November 6. Nika Mühl started at point guard on Sunday. Mühl looked in control for the majority of the game, calling out plays and directing the defense. Her signature aggressiveness was also on display as her first points of the game came after she stripped a Kutzdown player of the ball. She finished with a game-high 5 steals on top of 7 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, and 2 blocks. 

Fairfield grad transfer Lou Lopez Senechal started in place of Ducharme for her UConn debut. She and Ayanna Patterson looked like they had no trouble adjusting to the Huskies’ style of play. Lopez Senechal finished the contest with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in 31 minutes. Patterson was easily one of the most physical players all game. She wasn’t afraid to reach in and fight for loose balls, forcing two held ball calls in the second quarter. Patterson finished her collegiate debut with 10 points, 10 rebounds, one block, and one steal in 22 minutes.

Fan favorite Dorka Juhász made her first five shots after returning from a wrist injury that she sustained against NC State during last year’s NCAA Tournament. She finished the matchup with 20 points (7/8 from the field), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in 20 minutes. 

The real star of the game, however, was Azzi Fudd. Fudd, known for her Curry-esque shooting, nailed 9 three-pointers and led all scorers with 29 points. Fudd also finished with 5 assists and proved that she can be a playmaker for the Huskies this season.

While an exhibition game is far from what UConn’s normal level of competition will be like during non-conference and Big East games, this UConn team still looks like it could be dangerous on both ends of the floor this season. The Big East Conference title certainly seems feasible, but can this group of Huskies keep UConn’s Final Four streak alive?

No. 20: Oregon (2021 Preseason Ranking: 10)

Oregon women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves summarized the Ducks’ 2021-22 season, which ended with a loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, as having “inconsistencies” in effort, production, leadership, and coaching and a void of an alpha personality. What’s worse for Coach Graves is that Oregon has since lost its best player, three of its top five scorers, its two best rebounders and rim protectors, its best interior and perimeter defenders, four of its top five three-point shooters, and one of its best distributors. Sedona Prince’s season-ending injury was just another blow for Oregon fans who are likely already nervous about how this season will turn out for their team.

The No. 20 Ducks return five players from last year’s team and have added five newcomers, including four freshmen. The good news for Oregon is that freshman Greta VanSlooten should be able to make an immediate impact this season as well, and the fact that she had 20 points in her first game is a positive sign for the Ducks. In other good news, Oregon sophomore Phillipina Kyei got playing time with Canada’s Senior Women’s team at the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball Women’s World Cup and had an impressive showing with Canada’s U-23 Women’s Basketball Team this summer at the inaugural GLOBL JAM tournament. Fellow Canadian and grad transfer student Taya Hanson was also featured at both tournaments, and Hanson also won a gold medal in 3×3 Basketball at the Commonwealth Games this summer. 

Coach Graves will rely heavily on guards Endyia Rogers and Te-Hina Paopao, both preseason All-Pac-12 selections, to produce in the box score and in intangibles. Though they’ve spent less time on the court together during preseason practices and last week’s exhibition against Carroll College, Rogers and Paopao are “the engine,” as Graves put it, and Rogers has taken on a more prominent role.

Oregon started off its 2022-2023 campaign on a good note with a 100–57 win over Northwestern. Monday’s win was an indication that the young stars of Oregon could be up for the task of being major contributors to a team that is looking to rebuild and make a deep run at the NCAA Tournament in March.

Teams Looking to Prove They Belong

No. 9: Notre Dame (2021 Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked)

The Notre Dame bench reacts to a three-point shot by guard KK Bransford (14) during NCAA Women’s Basketball game action between the Northern Illinois Huskies and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Northern Illinois 88-48. John Mersits/CSM. (Credit Image: © John Mersits/CSM via ZUMA Press Wire) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

Olivia Miles is special. The first-team All-ACC point guard led the Irish with 13.7 points a game last season and was No. 4 in the nation with 7.3 assists per game. She became the first freshman, male or female, to have a triple-double in an NCAA Tournament game when she did it in the first round against UMass.

Miles is joined by ACC Freshman of the Year Sonia Citron, who was the team’s second-leading scorer (11.8 PPG) and rebounder (6.6 RPG), grad student guard Dara Mabrey (10.3 PPG), who hit 73 three-pointers last season, and Maddy Westbeld (11.3 PPG). Transfers Kylee Watson (Oregon) and Lauren Ebo (Texas) will also give the Irish good front court depth after losing last year’s leading rebounder and shot blocker Maya Dodson. Notre Dame will also be looking for freshman KK Bransford to make a splash right away.

It’s not far-fetched to imagine that this team could finish atop the ACC this season. The team nearly upset NC State in the Sweet 16 with a rookie point guard and is looking to prove that they can do more. The Fighting Irish started off their season with an 88–48 win over their coach’s alma mater, and with Miles recording a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) in the win, this team is certainly one to keep an eye on as the season unfolds.

No. 22: Nebraska (2021 Preseason Ranking: Not Ranked)

The Huskers put together a strong campaign last year, finishing 24–9 and reaching the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. They reached the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2018, and did so as a No. 8 seed before losing in the first round to Gonzaga. Despite their strong campaign, the Huskers were never ranked during the 2021-2022 season, so they will be trying to keep themselves in the AP Top 25 throughout the year. 

The Huskers return with much of the same roster from last season with eleven players coming back including all five starters. The most notable returners for the Huskers are sophomore center Alexis Markowski and junior guard Jaz Shelley. The 6-foot-3 Markowski is coming off of a very impressive freshman year that earned her a spot on this season’s preseason All-Big Ten first team. Last year, Markowski averaged 12.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Markowski started 20 of the 33 games she played last year and the Huskers will need her to continue to control the paint at Pinnacle Bank Arena this season.

Shelley was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2021-22 and returns as Nebraska’s leading scorer after starting in all 32 games she played in. Shelley, a former Oregon transfer, led the Huskers in scoring, assists, steals, and blocks last year, averaging 13.1 points, 5.0 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game. She was also among the best three-point shooters on the team last year, shooting an impressive 40% from beyond the arc. 

The Huskers started off their season with a 100–36 win over the Omaha Mavericks on November 7. For the first time in Nebraska women’s basketball history, every player that saw time made a three-pointer. On the defensive end of the floor, the Huskers forced 19 turnovers and held their opponents to 21.2% shooting from the field. If Nebraska can keep up their lights-out shooting and their defensive intensity, they could even find themselves rising a few spots in the AP Top 25 rankings this season.

NCAA women’s basketball continues throughout this week. UConn opens up its season against Northeastern on November 10 at 7:00 PM ET, and South Carolina takes on Maryland on Friday at 6:00 PM on ESPN2. Stay tuned for more NCAA coverage throughout the season, and check out She Plays on Instagram and Twitter for daily updates on which teams are in action, and where you can watch their games!

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