Preseason top ten
1. Connecticut ... Here is the bad news for the rest of the country: The Huskies were supposed to be a year away last season, but they won the national championship. They return the bulk of their team, led by seniors Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley and junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
2. Tennessee ... Pat Summitt retired, but the Lady Vols didn't miss a beat last year under Holly Warlick. Four starters return, led by senior Meighan Simmons, and added a big -- literally -- presence in the middle in prep All-American freshman Mercedes Russell, who is 6-foot-6.
3. Duke ... Once again, the Blue Devils are as talented as anybody and return five seniors who made up the core of team last year. As always, the question is whether they are tough enough to grind with the Connecticuts' and Stanfords of the world.
4. Stanford ... The Cardinal is always a Final Four threat, though last year it lost in the Sweet 16, which was a bit out of character. But with national player of the year candidate Chiney Ogwumike (22.4 ppg, 12.9 rpg) and junior guard Amber Orrange (10.8 ppg) returning, it figures to be one of the last teams standing.
5. Kentucky ... The Wildcats have become a national power over the past five years and this year they are on the short list of teams which could knock off Connecticut. That's mostly because they are the most experienced team in the country. They have 10 returning players, including five seniors from a team that won 30 games and made it to the Elite Eight.
6. Louisville ... Jeff Walz may be the best coach in the country not named Geno, and he has built the Cardinals into a legitimate powerhouse. Last year, despite key injuries and being a bit shorthanded, he willed the Cardinals to the Final Four. Five seniors return, including star guards Antonita Slaughter and Shoni Schimmel. This could be another year when Louisville finishes second to Connecticut in the conference regular season, conference tournament and national tournament.
7. California ... The Bears are coming off their first Final Four and have three returning starters, so they should again contend with Stanford in the Pac-12. The key will be developing depth early. There are a lot of returning players who got experience last year to choose from.
8. Maryland ... The Terrapins made it to the Sweet 16 last year and feature one of the best players in the country in forward Alyssa Thomas (18.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg). If guard Lauren Mincy returns strong from a knee injury that made her miss all but five games, they will be a Final Four contender.
9. Notre Dame ... The Irish no longer have superstar point guard Skylar Diggins, who graduated after last season, but that doesn't mean the cupboard is empty. Kayla McBride and Jewell Lloyd are two excellent players for Muffet McGraw to rebuild around.
10. Nebraska ... What? This isn't football! Actually, the Cornhuskers women's basketball program has been a lot more successful than the football program lately, and this could be their best year yet. The Huskers return four starters from a Sweet 16 team, and the list includes one of the top players in the Big 12, senior Jordan Hooper (17.9 ppg).
Players to watch
Odyssey Sims ... G, Baylor, Sr., 5-foot-8 ... Sims is not only one of the best players in the nation, she is also the most exciting. And she plays the most important position, point guard. She is second on Baylor's all-time list in assists (469) and last season was a consensus All-American.
Meighan Simmons ... G, Tennessee, Sr., 5-9 ... Was the Lady Vols leading scorer last season, averaging 16.8 points to go along with 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. She was a third-team Associated Press All American last season.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis ... F, Connecticut, Jr., 6-0 ... Mosqueda-Lewis is the ultimate matchup nightmare because of her size and ability to score in the post and from the 3-point line. Last season, she set a school record with 118 3-pointers while averaging 17.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg.
Breanna Stewart ... F, Connecticut, So., 6-4 ... Stewart was the Gatorade high school player of the year two years ago. As a freshman last season, she was named the most outstanding player of the Final Four. She averaged 20.8 points and 6.2 rebounds and shot 58.3 percent from the field in the tournament -- numbers she figures to at least duplicate now that she has a year of college basketball under her belt.
Chiney Ogwumike ... F, Stanford, Sr., 6-4 ... Ogwumike is a nightmare to deal with on both ends of the court. She was named the Pac-12 player of the year last season and was the conference's defensive player of the year. She averaged 23.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game and blocked 35 shots and had 24 steals. Her presence alone makes Stanford a threat to get to the Final Four.