WNBA

NCAAW Teams to Keep an Eye on in 2021-22

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It’s that time of year again. The air is cooler, the leaves have changed, and college basketball is back. As we shift our coverage to be more NCAA-focused, we have a week full of top teams and players to check out as they tip off in the coming week. First up are our top teams, starting with the reigning national champion.

1. Stanford Cardinal

Stanford had a difficult season due to COVID-19 and Santa Clara County orders that prohibited all contact sports until December 21st. They spent 63 days total on the road. The Cardinal were undefeated until losing back-to-back games to Colorado and UCLA in January. They returned home February 5th. Stanford secured the #1 seed going into the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal were not picked by many as the casual fans and mainstream media hardly talked about them.

The Cardinal went on to win an all-time classic Final Four game against South Carolina, and then beat Arizona in the championship game. Returning junior guard Haley Jones is coming off the Most Outstanding Player and playing on the USA Americup team that won gold. Sophomore Cameron Brink returns after a tremendous postseason. Upperclassmen Anna Wilson, Fran Belibi, Ashten Prechtel and sisters Lacie and Lexie Hull all return as well. Incoming freshman Brooke Demetre, 6’2 forward, (#11 recruit) joins an ultra-talented team looking to repeat as champions.

2. UConn Huskies

UConn is coming off another great season, but a disappointing ending with a Final Four loss to Arizona. After winning the national championship in 2016, they’ve dealt with some heartbreaking losses, all in the Final Four. In 2017, they lost to Mississippi State on a buzzer beater. In 2018, they lost to Notre Dame on a last second shot, and lost again to them in 2019.

A team with standout sophomore and reigning National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers will always be a favorite. Seniors Christyn Williams, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Evina Westbrook return with sophomores Nika Mühl and Aaliyah Edwards. The scary part? Azzi Fudd, the number one ranked recruit in the nation, joins her best friend Bueckers in Storrs. That isn’t all – Caroline Ducharme (#5 recruit), Amari DeBerry (#15 recruit) and early enrollee Saylor Poffenbarger (#30 recruit) all join a loaded team looking to take back the crown.

3. South Carolina Gamecocks

After losing a heartbreaker to Stanford in the Final Four and being a layup away from the national championship game, eyes immediately went to the next season and the stacked recruiting talent head coach Dawn Staley was bringing in. Junior standout Aaliyah Boston, a Player of the Year finalist who was also on Americup team, should have another stellar season. Zia Cooke and Brea Beal also return for their junior seasons, and are expected to make jumps in production on both sides of the ball. Senior Destanni Henderson, also on the Americup team, returns for her senior season.

The Gamecocks added 6’7 Kamilla Cardoso, a transfer from Syracuse, who was the 2021 ACC Freshman of the Year and co-Defender of the Year. A stellar recruiting class of Raven Johnson (#2 recruit), Saniya Rivers (#3 recruit), Sania Feagin (#4 recruit) and Aubryanna Hall (#14 recruit) all look to be big pieces to a championship run and a revenge tour of sorts. 

4. Oregon Ducks

Oregon shocked many by beating three-seeded Georgia as the six seed in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. They went on to lose to two seed Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen. It wasn’t a great season for the Ducks record-wise, going just 10-10, but they are sneaky talented. Although they lost six players, they have young players who will improve.

Te-Hina Paopao, an all Pac-12 point guard, got hurt in the conference tournament and was unable to return. Paopao started at point guard for the U19 Women’s National Team, and did a fantastic job of controlling the pace and getting others involved. Sedona Prince, a 6’7 forward will be key to the team’s success. Although, sophomores Maddie Scherr, Kylee Watson, Sydney Parrish and junior Nyara Sabally could be the most important pieces to this team.

If those players can take leaps on the court, this team will be in the hunt for a PAC-12 championship and a run in March. Paopao could be one of, if not the best point guard in the country before she graduates, and Prince could be a dominant force and change the outlook of the team to the public. 

5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

It was a down year to the standards of the last decade and a half for Notre Dame, but do not expect that to continue this coming season. Second year coach Niele Ivey has a roster full of young talent. Maddy Westbeld, ACC Rookie of the Year, had a tremendous freshman season. Dara Mabrey had a good first season after transferring from Virginia Tech. Sophomores Anaya Peoples and Sam Brunelle were also key contributors. They get 6’5 forward Natalija Marshall back after she redshirted her freshman season because of an ACL injury. Leaps should be taken by every player.

Early enrollees Olivia Miles (#8 recruit) and Sonia Citron (#16 recruit) are expected to be contributors as well. Citron competed with the U19 Women’s National Team and won a gold medal where she was named one of the five best players in the tournament. This seems to be one of the deepest teams not only in their conference but in the country. The chemistry seems to be there, so expect them to be better and in the tournament this year. 

6. Louisville Cardinals

Louisville had a great year before losing in the Elite Eight to Stanford. They lost their best player Dana Evans to the WNBA. The keys will be handed to sophomore guard Hailey Van Lith, who has star potential, and is expected to have a huge season with more opportunities to have the ball in her hands. With seniors Mykasa Robinson and Ahlana Smith adding experience to go with sophomore Olivia Cochran and junior Norika Konno, they will be a top team in the ACC.

Payton Verhulst (#12 recruit) will likely contribute in her freshman season. Verhulst played with the U19 Women’s National Team as well, and played big minutes and led the team in scoring a few games. The Cardinals may not be as great as last year, but they still have a chance of making a run in the postseason.

7. Maryland Terrapins

A very talented Maryland team had high hopes as a two seed in the NCAA Tournament, but lost in the Sweet 16 to six seed Texas. As sophomores, Diamond Miller and Ashley Owusu racked up individual awards. Their junior seasons should be even better.

Angel Reese missed 14 games as a freshman with a foot injury, if she can stay healthy she will be a great player. Grad student transfer Chloe Bibby and junior Faith Masonius are also keys to this team’s success. There are high expectations for this team with the roster they have, so it will be interesting to see if they can live up to them.

8. Duke Blue Devils

Duke cancelled their season due to the pandemic and safety concerns in January. Kara Lawson didn’t wait long to get more talent in Durham. She added six transfers to her team in April. Celeste Taylor (Texas), Lexi Gordon (Texas Tech), Jordyn Oliver (Baylor), Elizabeth Balogun (Louisville), Amaya Finklea-Guity (Syracuse) and Imani Lewis (Wisconsin). They are expected to be huge pieces right away. Another team that will look to challenge for the stop spot in the ACC.

 

About Tariq McDowell

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