Baylor Lady Bears lead preseason women's basketball top 10
With its starting lineup in tact, Baylor will enter 2012-13 as the prohibitive favorite
If Duke can return a healthy squad, the Blue Devils should be highly competitive
The experience Louisville's young team gained last season will benefit it in 2012-13
With a swirl of confetti below them and DJ Khaled's megahit "All I Do Is Win" blaring from a loudspeaker above, the Baylor women's basketball team danced on the floor of the Pepsi Center in the moments following its 81-60 title game victory over Notre Dame. The lyrics of the song ("All I do is win, win, win no matter what") were fitting: Baylor is the first college basketball team in NCAA history, male or female, to finish a season 40-0.
The Lady Bears will be a prohibitive favorite next year as well and while we reserve the right to change these picks come next November, here's SI.com's preseason top 10 for 2012-13:
Bad news for the rest of America: Baylor will return its entire starting lineup and six of its top seven scorers. The haul starts with the incomparable Brittney Griner, the 6-foot-8 Wooden Award winner who averaged 23.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and a nation's-leading 5.2 blocks per game. Head coach Kim Mulkey thinks Griner will improve in certain areas as a senior, which should come following a gold medal summer in London as a member of the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team. Says Mulkey: "I would love to see her lead more vocally than she does, and I think offensive rebounding, because she gets blocked out, if she could get in there and really crash the offensive boards more than she does, I think that's an area of her game that really could be scary."
Griner will once again get the ball from junior point guard Odyssey Sims, who averaged 14.9 points and 4.4 assists and is the best on-ball defender in the country. Senior forward Destiny Williams (10.1 points and 9.1 rebounds) cleans up whatever Griner misses and there's athletic depth with senior guard Kimetria Hayden (9.1 points), senior forward Brooklyn Pope (7.3 points) and defensive specialist Jordan Madden, a senior guard. The Lady Bears are often impossible to score against -- opponents shot 31 percent from the field against them in 2011-12 -- because of Griner's size and the length and quickness at all positions. There's also a solid recruiting class led by 2012 McDonald's All-American Game MVP Alexis Prince, a 6-2 forward. Mulkey is already talking about a repeat next year in New Orleans (the site of the Final Four) and another undefeated season is possible. "If we lose two, three, four, five or we go 30-10, I don't care," Mulkey says. "I want to be in New Orleans -- that's my home state. That's what we want, another national championship."
The nation's top defensive team -- they held opponents to just 47 points per game and a 30.3 field-goal percentage -- loses just one starter and gains serious firepower. Senior glue guard Kelly Farris (6.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists), clutch-shooting junior guard Bria Hartley (14.0 points), junior center Stefanie Dolson (10.4 points) and a lights-out shooter in sophomore Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who finished second in the National Freshman of the Year voting, are all back. Along with the returning players, the Huskies welcome two recruits with All-America potential: 6-3 forward Breanna Stewart, the nation's top recruit and an effortless dunker, and 5-7 guard Moriah Jefferson, an electric point guard who is considered the country's No. 2 recruit among some lists. Of Stewart, coach Geno Auriemma told The Hartford Courant: "You are accustomed to seeing guards who can handle and shoot the ball, or big players who can run the floor and block shots. But to see that in the same person is so unusual in women's basketball. I am not predicting that she will come here and be National Player of the Year for four years or have a career like Diana [Taurasi], Tina [Charles] and Maya [Moore] did. No one can predict that. The only thing that's true is, there hasn't been a high school basketball player that encompasses size, speed, agility and the qualities this kid has."
The Blue Devils were gutted by injuries, but they have a deep and talented roster with their top six scorers returning, including do-everything junior point guard Chelsea Gray and freshman All-America center Elizabeth Williams. Junior guard Tricia Liston (12.0 points) and junior forward Haley Peters (10.8 points) also return as starters. If sophomore forward Amber Henson -- the younger sister of North Carolina men's forward John Henson who played only eight games as a freshman before a knee injury ended her season -- and junior guard Richa Jackson, who tore her left ACL in February, can return at full health, Duke is going to win a lot of games. Incoming 5-8 point guard Alexis Jones, the Gatorade Texas Girls Basketball Player of the Year, will be a difference maker in the future.
The Cardinals lost two starters (junior guard Tia Gibbs and senior forward Monique Reid) to season-ending injuries after just eight games but rallied behind a young squad that nearly knocked off Maryland in the second round. Next year they'll benefit from the experience, plus a loaded roster led by flashy junior point guard Shoni Schimmel (14.3 points, 4.7 assists, and 2.4 steals per game) and sophomore Bria Smith, who started 33 games as a freshman and averaged 9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds. Gibbs is expected back from a torn labrum and if Reid gains a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA this team has scary potential. Keep in mind Reid led Louisville in scoring and rebounding as a sophomore and junior.
The Terps have one of the nation's best players with junior All-America forward Alyssa Thomas, a do-everything, inside-outside force (17.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists). Junior point guard Lauren Mincy (13.1 points) and senior forward Tianna Hawkins (12.0 and a nation best 62.8 field goal percentage) also join Thomas back in College Park. The Terps will also add 6-3 forward Malina Howard, the top-rated post player in the 2012 class, and Xavier transfer Katie Rutan, a terrific long-range shooter who averaged 8.8 points two seasons ago as a freshman. "Our offseason will be motivated by our last loss," said coach Brenda Frese, to the Maryland student newspaper The Diamondback, following its blowout loss to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight. "We were punished in that last game. If that doesn't put a fire in your belly in terms of preparing for next season, what would?"
John Calipari isn't the only Kentucky coach with a loaded roster. Senior guard A'dia Mathies, the SEC player of the year, became just the second Kentucky player to be selected to the USBWA Women's All-America Team after leading the Wildcats in scoring (15.0), assists (2.7 per game), steals (2.6 per game) and three-point field goal percentage (37.8 percent). Coach Matt Mitchell gets six of his top seven scorers back but newcomers could vault the Wildcats into the top five. Sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill sat out last season due to injury after averaging five points as a freshman and junior 6-3 center DeNesha Stallworth arrives from Cal after sitting out the 2011-12 season due to transfer regulations. As a sophomore, Stallworth led Cal in scoring at 13.3 points and pulled down 6.4 rebounds. The top incoming player is Janee Thompson, the sixth-rated point guard in the class of 2012, according to ESPN's HoopGurlz.
The Big Ten champs -- who advanced to the Sweet 16 before running into UConn -- have a fantastic backcourt with junior Maggie Lucas (19.5 points and 4.7 assists) and Alex Bentley (14.1 points, 4.7 assists and 3.0 steals). The duo are part of a deep team -- Penn State returns nine of its top 10 scorers -- that's led by up-and-coming coach Coquese Washington. Scoring isn't an issue for the Lady Lions (they averaged 74.8 points per game last season) but rebounding (Penn State had just a +1.2 rebounding margin) must improve heading forward. "I'd rather be where we are now than where we were five years ago, but I'm still not satisfied," Washington recently told the AP. "I think we can be better than a Sweet 16 team."
Life goes on without All-America forward Nneka Ogwumike, a three-time All-America and arguably the most talented player in Stanford history. But there is plenty of talent back at The Farm including junior forward Chiney Ogwumike (15.0 and 10.1 rebounds), the younger sister of Nneka and a budding star on both ends of the floor. The starting backcourt of junior shooting guard Toni Kokenis (9.5) and sophomore Amber Orrange has talent and 6-3 forward Joslyn Tinkle (8.7 points) can be an effective scorer. Sophomores Jasmine Camp and Alex Green, both highly touted recruits last season, are expected back from early season-ending injuries. The Cardinal has advanced to five consecutive Final Fours but are likely at least a year away from another return.
Given the departed players -- starting guards Brittany Mallory, Natalie Novosel and forward Devereaux Peters -- and a top assistant (Jonathan Tsipis, who is now the coach at George Washington University), it's easy to dismiss Notre Dame for the 2012-13 season. But don't make that mistake. Skylar Diggins (16.8 points and a Big East-best 2.17 assist-to-turnover ratio) is an All-America at point guard and junior guard Kayla McBride (11.6 points) and junior center Natalie Achonwa (7.6 points) will emerge as consistent scorers. The Irish also have an excellent recruit in guard Jewell Loyd, one of the top prep guards in the country and the MVP of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-American Game in Denver.
The Blue Hens just completed their best season in school history, but more success could still be ahead with all five starters returning to Newark including All-America forward Elena Delle Donne, who led the nation in scoring with 28.1 points per game. Junior Lauren Carra is a quality point guard with size (5-9) and the ability to shoot the three (she was second behind Delle Donne with 51 three-pointers). While being honored by the WBCA Coaches' All-America team in Denver, Delle Donne told SI.com that she expects Delaware to be a top 10 team in 2012-13. "We have to work hard in the offseason but we do have all of our starters returning and I think we can make a long run," Delle Donne said.