Women’s College Basketball Preview: Predictions for the 2022-23 season, including South Carolina taking a leap

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

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

The season begins on November 7. These are our predictions:

South Carolina will break into 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 under 65 points, including three under 60 points. His low point of the season came in an ugly 49-33 win against Miami in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina averaged 70.9 points per game last season and shot 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 out of the WNBA, Dawn Staley must find someone to fill her role at the time. Laeticia Amihere, listed as forward, took over when Henderson was injured last season. There’s also redshirt freshman Raven Johnson, who ended her debut year early with a torn ACL. South Carolina added to the roster Kierra Fletcher from Georgia Tech, a solid graduate transfer who sat out last season with a foot injury. There is an option who played as a point guard and had an important role with the team in the 2021-22 campaign. Staley said in 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. He shot 39.0% in his second year and 38.6% in his first year. His assist totals have remained more or less constant at around 60 on the season, but are likely to increase if he plays point guard. With Cooke’s experience and a few other healthy options, Staley can make the Gamecocks even stronger than they were last year.

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UCLA will qualify and make the Sweet 16

Last year, UCLA women’s basketball was ranked No. 20 in the AP preseason poll, the third straight year the Bruins entered the season in the Top 25. However, the The Bruins failed to show their true potential during their 2021-22 campaign as they dealt with many injuries. Fortunately for them, the 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 Wake Forest starter who posted a career-high 494 assists herself, good for second all-time for the Demon Deacons. She missed all of last season with a foot injury. Emily Bessoir also missed the entire 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 return and have more help than before with healthy teammates along with the best freshman class in the nation. The Bruins’ incoming class is led by No. 2 overall pick Kiki Rice. The last time UCLA had a No. 1 draft class was in 2014 with Monique Billings and Jordin Canada, who were part of the rosters that made the Sweet 16 three times and also had an appearance in the Elite Eight.

Creighton will prove that last year was no fluke

The Bluejays return all but three of the players from last year’s roster who reached the program’s first Elite Eight by defeating Colorado, Iowa and Iowa State. The only team that could stop them was 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 post another 20-plus win season and make it to the second round of the program’s Sweet 16, maybe even better.

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Creighton relied heavily on sophomores, including three double-digit scorers in Emma Ronsiek, Lauren Jensen and Morgan Maly, who returned 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 at 12.5 points per game, was the Big East’s 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 off the bench. Jim Flanery’s team will get a chance to prove themselves 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 in the AP Poll at No. 4 in December. They also earned their first victory over a top-five team after defeating No. 5 Baylor 74–68 in overtime on December 19. However, Michigan’s 25-7 season success ending in the Elite Eight was largely due 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 leading scorers, have elected to use a fifth year of eligibility for next season. Brown is the only other double-digit scorer to return with 14 points per game. She also led the team in assists with 8.1 per game. Kiser came close with 9.3 points per game and averaged a near double-double with 8.1 rebounds per game. There’s no denying the veteran talent of Brown and Kiser, 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 tough based on the competition the Wolverines will have to face. Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana, Nebraska and Maryland are likely to make the top five.

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Serena Sundell will make the jump to Kansas State

Kansas State will be without star player Ayoka Lee in 2022-23, as she had 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, rebounding and blocks a season ago. Kansas State will struggle, but 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 with 5.3 per game. He posted double figures in scoring 19 times, including four 20+ point games. Sundell has already begun putting her name in the Kansas state record books, as she became the first freshman in program history with 350 points or higher. She also impressed in the conference, earning an All-Big 12 honorable mention and a unanimous selection to the All-Freshman team. It’s not crazy to think that Sundell can go from honorable mention to first-team selection given the valuable experience she gained last season. Sundell started all 33 games and averaged a team-high 32.3 minutes per game. It only took him one season to become second in program history in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.85).