Thanks to the amazing length and talent of Brittney Griner, the Associated Press ranked the Baylor Lady Bears No. 1 in the preseason women’s basketball top 25 for the first time.
The 6-foot-8 Griner and her team ranked No. 2 last preseason before reaching the top spot for the first time in school history last season. They ended the season No. 3 with a loss to eventual champion Texas A&M in the Final Four.
“Regardless of where you’re ranked at the beginning of the season, it’s a positive for your university,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. “We’ll embrace it in such a way and understand that it doesn’t win basketball games.”
Like men’s college basketball, the top spots are rearranged periodically but the well known teams usually hang around year after year. This year isn’t much different but thanks to Skylar Diggins at Notre Dame there is at least one new face in the top five.
Baylor – The Lady Bears’ top player, Griner is only a junior and she’s already freakishly good thanks to her height and defensive prowess. However, she wasn’t the lone reason Baylor was awarded the top preseason ranking. They are returning four starters from a team that went 34-3 and made it to the Final Four. The experience and continuity will be an added benefit as the Lady Bears try to capture its second NCAA championship.
Notre Dame – Everyone is abuzz about junior Skylar Diggins (South Bend, Ind.). After Notre Dame’s remarkable run through last year’s NCAA tournament where they lost in the title game to Texas A&M, Skylar has become the face of women’s college basketball. Sure, she’s attractive but so is her game and the talent around her. The Irish also return four starters including Natalie Novosel and Devereauz Peters who join Diggins on the John R. Wooden Awards preseason list.
Tennessee – The Lady Volunteers are a staple on this list. They return the bulk of a team that swept the SEC last year for the conference title. They also have a couple personal matters tied to the upcoming season. One is the loss to Notre Dame in the regional final, which knocked them out of the Final Four for the third year in a row. Another is legendary coach Pat Summitt who revealed she is battling dementia. The team, she said, is even more determined to win its 9th NCAA championship.
Connecticut – Maya Moore may have taken her talent to Minnesota (and won the team its first WNBA championship this season) but the Lady Huskies are still swollen with talent. Connecticut also returns four starters and a talented incoming freshman class, which coach Geno Auriemma always seems to have in his back pocket.
Stanford – The Lady Cardinals are entering the season with sisters who are also on the John R. Wooden Awards preseason list: Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike. They also have a coach, Tara VanDerveer who was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame this year alongside Chris Mullen, Dennis Rodman and Artis Gilmore and are vying to reach the Final Four for the fifth consecutive. The difference between the Cardinals and the others on this list is that they are without a championship.
“We’re trying to change that this year,” said VanDerveer.