October 31, 2016

Preseason rankings

espnW's Charlie Creme, Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel, and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo place five Pac-12 teams in the top 25 with these evaluations:

9. UCLA Bruins
Is this the season that sixth-year coach Cori Close -- who brought in the nation's top-rated recruiting class two years ago -- has been building toward? The Bruins advanced to their first Sweet 16 in 17 years last spring and were voted the preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 for the first time since 1999-2000. Canada is one of the best point guards in the country, and Billings is a two-time All-Pac-12 honorable mention pick. Someone will have to replace Nirra Fields' production (15.3 PPG), so keep an eye on junior Lajahna Drummer (6.2 PPG). Oklahoma transfer Nicole Kornet gives UCLA another 3-point threat -- Korver shot 36 percent from beyond the arc last season -- to further open the floor for Canada.

11. Stanford Cardinal
After winning 14 straight regular-season Pac-12 championships, the Cardinal have gone consecutive seasons without one. Still, Stanford reached its 10th Elite Eight in the past 13 years and is a strong contender to get there again, especially if McCall continues her ascension. The 6-3 senior averaged just over three points and rebounds per game as a freshman but tallied nearly a double-double on average a year ago. The 6-3 Johnson gives McCall a solid running mate in the inside, and Samuelson is deadeye from the perimeter. The 6-foot senior made 47 percent of her 3-point attempts last season, third best in the country. An even bigger role awaits sophomore point guard Marta Sniezek since last season's second-leading scorer, Lili Thompson, decided not to return for her senior season. Sniezek posted a nearly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the final 15 games of 2016. Freshmen Dijonai Carrington and Anna Wilson, sister of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, should get plenty of opportunity in the backcourt as well.

14. (tie with Tennessee) Arizona State Sun Devils
With 55 wins, an Elite Eight appearance, a share of a Pac-12 title and a program-best No. 2 NCAA tournament seed, the Sun Devils of the past two seasons have returned to the level of consistent success that has defined the career of coach Charli Turner-Thorne. Three starters return from last season's 26-win Sun Devils, whose only disappointment was an earlier-than-expected second-round tournament loss to Tennessee. Brunner once again anchors the frontcourt, but the scoring load will be spread throughout the rotation that typically goes nine or 10 players deep. Turner-Thorne has some work to do to replenish the backcourt, but the 20-year coach brought in a top-10 rated, five-player recruiting class that includes four guards. Reili Richardson might be the best of the bunch.

19. Washington Huskies
The Huskies were good -- not great -- from November through mid-March last season. Then the NCAA tournament began and the season became historic. The seventh-seeded Huskies beat Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds to reach their first Final Four. All hopes of an encore begin with Plum, who will leave Seattle as the best player in program history. She controls everything Washington does offensively and plays in perpetual attack mode. Osahor's unique combination of size, long-distance shooting and quirky release earned plenty of attention during the Final Four run, but was also a key to it. Washington will badly miss the perimeter game and experience of Talia Walton, but if Brianna Ruiz can come back from her second knee injury -- and if the NCAA grants immediate eligibility to Nebraska transfer Natalie Romeo -- the loss won't be as great.

20. (tie with DePaul) Oregon State Beavers
Early in the season, the Beavers will be relying heavily on Wiese and Hanson as they get used to life without Jamie Weisner and Ruth Hamblin, the two players, along with Wiese, who were the catalysts behind Scott Rueck's program rejuvenation. With those three leading the way, Oregon State won 83 games and two Pac-12 titles in the last three years. The nonconference schedule is manageable. By the time conference play begins, players like Gulich, who is trying to replace Hamblin's at center, sophomore guard Katie McWilliams and five freshmen should have a better grasp of their expanded roles. Combo guard Mikayla Pivec is the prize of the recruiting class and could ease the ballhandling responsibilities on Wiese.

Here is espnW's entire Top 25: UConn maintains hold on top spot in espnW preseason rankings

The AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches pretty much agree:

    AP Top 25   USA Today Coaches
UCLA 9 9
Stanford 11 10
Washington 17 15
Arizona State 18 16
Oregon State 25 17

The espnW gurus have also picked the top 25 players and are unveiling them week by week: Counting down the top 25 women's basketball players for 2016-17

Bird made the cut as No. 23:

McCall really came into her own last season, turning herself into one of the top seniors to watch for 2016-17. The promise was there her first two years. But the opportunity and execution arrived her junior season, as she proved to be a threat offensively and a force on defense. Her career-high scoring performance -- 27 points -- came in one of the biggest games of the season for Stanford: a 90-84 Sweet 16 upset over No. 1 seed Notre Dame.

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