Some of the top teams in women’s college basketball are on display over the next few days as No. 3 Maryland hosts No. 8 South Carolina on Sunday (ESPN, 3 p.m. ET) and Tennessee travels to No. 16 Notre Dame on Monday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).
So with the five-month countdown to the Women’s Final Four in New Orleans underway, ESPN.com’s experts make their predictions, whether it’s picking their Final Four or identifying which freshmen or transfers will have the most impact. (And be sure to check out the season’s biggest storylines.) No. 1 Oregon is not the unanimous favorite to win it all in April.
Make one bold prediction for 2019-20
Charlie Creme: We wrote last month that the Pac-12 could make history as the first league to have three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. It won’t happen — but the conference will put four teams into the Elite Eight.
Graham Hays: Rice will have one of the three best seasons in Texas. If the Owls can find some 3-point shooting to balance Erica Ogwumike, Nancy Mulkey and a stifling defense, they will have a longer run in March than Texas, ranked 15th in the preseason AP Top 25, or No. 6 Texas A&M.
Mechelle Voepel: Oregon might have better odds at winning the national championship than the Pac-12 regular-season championship. This league is projected to be the best in the nation, and the Ducks have to face the likes of Oregon State and Stanford twice, with their lone matchup against UCLA on the road. And Oregon travels to UConn for a nonconference game Feb. 3, right in the heart of Pac-12 season. Emerging on top of the league after all that might be tougher than the Ducks winning six in a row in the Big Dance.
Which unranked team is worth watching?
Creme: St. John’s. A perfect storm could await the Red Storm. Marquette suffered significant personnel losses from a year ago, and UConn is still one season away from rejoining the Big East. All the while, St. John’s is loaded in the backcourt with returners Qadashah Hoppie and Tiana England and the addition of highly regarded transfers Leilani Correa (West Virginia) and Alissa Alston (Ole Miss). DePaul remains the conference favorite, but St. John’s might also be good enough to win it.
Hays: Arizona. It was only a few years ago that UCLA used a WNIT championship as a springboard to a third-place finish in the Pac-12 and a Sweet 16 appearance the following season. With Aari McDonald and Cate Reese the biggest prizes among a good returning core at Arizona, the reigning WNIT champions are poised for a similar jump.
Voepel: Drake. The Bulldogs have lost just one game in Missouri Valley Conference regular-season play the past three seasons. Last season, they also had a big nonconference victory over South Carolina. Seniors Becca Hittner and Sara Rhine return to lead Drake, which lost in overtime to Missouri in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Maybe the Bulldogs can make a run to the Sweet 16 this season.
Which teams will reach the Final Four?
Creme: Oregon*, Baylor, Stanford, UConn
Hays: Oregon*, Baylor, Oregon State, Maryland
Voepel: Baylor, Oregon, Stanford*, Maryland
* National champion
Who is your preseason player of the year?
Creme: Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
Hays: Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
Voepel: Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon
Who is your preseason freshman of the year?
Creme: Sam Brunelle, Notre Dame
Hays: Haley Jones, Stanford
Voepel: Fran Belibi, Stanford
Which transfer will have the most impact on her new team?
Creme: Te’a Cooper, Baylor
Hays: Anastasia Hayes, Middle Tennessee
Voepel: Elizabeth Balogun, Louisville
Which are the 10 best conferences this season?
4. Big Ten
5. Big 12
6. Big East
8. Missouri Valley
9. West Coast
4. Big 12
5. Big Ten
7. Big East
8. Conference USA
9. Atlantic 10
4. Big Ten
5. Big 12
7. Conference USA
8. Big East
9. Missouri Valley
10. Mountain West