Women's college basketball preview: Predictions for the 2022-23 season, including South Carolina taking a jump

Women’s college basketball preview: Predictions for the 2022-23 season, including South Carolina taking a jump

As the 2022-23 women’s college basketball season approaches, some teams and players will carry on momentum from last year, some will improve significantly, and others will have to get back to the drawing board.

With star player Aliyah Boston returning, it’s almost a given South Carolina will be strong again. However, the Gamecocks have areas they can improve on to be even more dominant than last year. UCLA was left with a lot of “what ifs” last season, but the Bruins have a chance to make a comeback this year. Michigan, meanwhile, is coming off a terrific 2021-22 season, but it might not be able to continue that success without Naz Hillmon, who now plays for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream.

The season tips off on Nov. 7. Here are our predictions:

South Carolina will crack the top 25 offensively

The Gamecocks were a defensive powerhouse last season, but their offense left a lot to be desired. They had 11 games with 65 points or less, including three under 60 points. Their season low came in an ugly 49-33 victory against Miami in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina averaged 70.9 points per game last season while shooting at 42.6% from the field and 30.6% from 3-point range.

A new point guard could take the Gamecocks in the right direction this year. With Destanni Henderson gone to the WNBA, Dawn Staley must look for someone to fill her role at the point. Laeticia Amihere, listed as a forward, took over when Henderson was injured last season. There is also redshirt freshman Raven Johnson, who ended her debut year early with a torn ACL. South Carolina added Georgia Tech’s Kierra Fletcher to the roster, a solid grad transfer who sat out last season with a foot injury. There is one option who has played point guard and had a significant role with the team in the 2021-22 campaign. Staley said late September that Zia Cooke wants more responsibility at the point. The 5-foot-9 senior was the No. 4 recruit in the Class of 2019 and the top point guard in that class. Cooke averaged 10.7 points per game last season, third best on the team, while shooting 34.2% from the field. That was the worst shooting year of her college career, but previous years show she can contribute more. She shot 39.0% as a sophomore and 38.6% as a freshman. Her total assists have remained more or less consistent around 60 for the season, but they would likely increase if she plays point guard. With Cooke’s experience and some other healthy options, Staley can make the Gamecocks even stronger than last year.

UCLA will be ranked and make the Sweet 16

Last year, UCLA women’s basketball took the No. 20 spot in the preseason AP Poll, the third consecutive year in which the Bruins entered the season in the Top 25. However, the Bruins were not able to show their true potential through their 2021-22 campaign as they dealt with a lot of injuries. Fortunately for them, key players who missed significant time should be able to contribute this season. Some of those players include Gina Conti, a graduate student and former starter at Wake Forest who registered 494 career assists — good for second all-time for the Demon Deacons. She missed all of last season with a foot injury. Emily Bessoir also didn’t play all year due to a torn ACL. Bessoir averaged 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in 22 games last season, including seven double-digit games.

Leading scorer Charisma Osborne, who averaged 16.4 points per game in 2021-22, will be back and have more help than before with healthy teammates along with the top freshman class in the nation. The Bruins’ incoming class is headlined by No. 2 overall recruit Kiki Rice. The last time UCLA had a No. 1 recruiting class was in 2014 with Monique Billings and Jordin Canada, who were part of rosters that reached the Sweet 16 three times and also had an Elite Eight appearance.

Creighton will prove last year was not a fluke

The Bluejays return all but three of the players from last year’s roster that reached the program’s first ever Elite Eight by taking down Colorado, Iowa and Iowa State. The only team that was able to stop them was the eventual champion South Carolina. Creighton finished last season with a 23-10 record, a significant jump from 10-12 in 2020-21. The Bluejays have what it takes to register another 20+ wins season and make it to the program’s second ever Sweet 16 round, maybe even better.

Creighton relied heavily on sophomores, including three double-digit scorers in Emma Ronsiek, Lauren Jensen and Morgan Maly, who are all back this year. Ronksiek led the team in 2021-22 with averages of 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds. Jensen, the team’s second-leading scorer with 12.5 points per game, was the Big East’s Co-Most Improved Player. Maly, who appeared in 32 games but only started one, was named the conference’s Sixth Woman of the Year with 12.3 points per game from the bench. Jim Flanery’s team will have a chance to prove itself early in the season with a non-conference schedule that includes games against South Dakota, South Dakota State, Nebraska and Stanford.

Michigan will finish outside the top five in the Big Ten

The Wolverines had a tremendous 2021-22 season and reached their highest ranking ever in the AP Poll at No. 4 in December. They also earned their first ever win over a top-five team after taking down No. 5 Baylor 74–68 in overtime on Dec. 19. However, the success of Michigan’s 25-7 season that ended in the Elite Eight was largely thanks to senior forward Naz Hillmon, who now plays for the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. She left the team as the leading scorer and rebounder with 21 points and 9.6 rebounds per game a season ago.

Leigha Brown and Emily Kiser, the team’s other top scorers, elected to use a fifth year of eligibility for the upcoming season. Brown is the only other double-digit scorer returning with 14 points per game. She also led the team in assists with 8.1 per game. Kiser was close with 9.3 points per contest and almost averaged a double-double with 8.1 rebounds per game. Brown and Kiser’s veteran talent can’t be denied, but Hillmon’s productivity will be hard to replace. Michigan was predicted to finish fifth in the Big Ten in the coaches poll, but that seems difficult based on the competition the Wolverines will have to face. Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana, Nebraska, Maryland are likely to take the top five spots.

Serena Sundell will take the leap for Kansas State

Kansas State will not have their star player Ayoka Lee in 2022-23, as she underwent knee surgery during the offseason and won’t return until the 2023-24 campaign. This will greatly affect the Wildcats as she led the team in scoring, shooting percentage, rebounds and blocks a season ago. Kansas State will struggle, but it will see rising star Sundell develop greatly.

As a freshman in 2021-22, the 6-foot-1 guard averaged 10.6 points per game and led the team in assists at 5.3 per game. She registered double-digits in scoring 19 times, including four 20-plus point games. Sundell has already started putting her name in the Kansas State’s record books, as she became the first freshman in program history with 350 or more points. She also impressed in the conference, earning an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention and an unanimous selection to the All-Freshman Team. It’s not crazy to think Sundell can go from honorable mention to First-Team selection given the amount of valuable experience she got last season. Sundell started all 33 games and averaged a team-high 32.3 minutes per game. It only took one season for her to become second in program history in assist-turnover ratio (1.85).

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