November 07, 2017

Preseason rankings

Charlie Creme's first bracket of the 2017-18 season includes six Pac-12 teams.

Albany Region
5 Arizona State
7 Oregon State
Lexington Region
4 Oregon
Kansas City Region
Spokane Region
1 Stanford
6 California
Here's the complete bracket.

espnW's Charlie Creme, Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel place the same six Pac-12 teams in their top 25 with these evaluations:

6. Stanford Cardinal

The Cardinal reached their 13th Final Four a year ago because of senior leadership and a few underclassmen raising their level of play when it mattered most. Opening the season with Ohio State and UConn will immediately tell us if McPhee, a senior, and Smith, a junior, can be the leaders Stanford needs. McPhee broke out in the NCAA tournament, averaging better than 17 PPG, including 27 points in an Elite Eight comeback against Notre Dame. The 6-3 Smith has a chance to become one of the top post players in the country. Nadia Fingall, a 6-3 sophomore, also figures to be improved, and Johnson, a senior, rebounds, defends and does all the little things. Freshman forward Maya Dodson figures to be a major contributor by the time Pac-12 play rolls around. Marta Sniezek (4.4 APG in 2016-17) is back at the point but will get help from top-10 recruit Kiana Williams.

8. Oregon Ducks

Reaching the Elite Eight last March might have accelerated Kelly Graves' rebuilding plan by a year or two. Now come the expectations. His two best players -- Hebard and Ionescu -- are still only sophomores, and the top seven scorers from a year ago are back. Bando and Maite Cazorla are more than just 3-point shooters, but that is their biggest strength. Along with Ionescu, they made the Ducks the most accurate long-range team in the Pac-12 (the Ducks averaged 6.1 3-pointers per game and shot 39.2 percent from beyond the arc). Hebard, already a calm, steady force in the post, led the conference in field goal percentage. The Ducks might have gotten even more versatile with the addition of athletic 6-4 freshman wing Satou Sabally of Germany. With a nonconference schedule that includes games against Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and possible matchups with Louisville and Michigan in the Preseason WNIT, Graves' talented bunch will be even better prepared for a deep tournament run.

12. UCLA Bruins

The Bruins are coming off back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances for the first time in school history. Merely reaching a third straight would be a disappointment. Much of what Cori Close has done to rebuild the program was pointed to this season, Canada's senior year. The ultra-quick, All-American point guard directs much of what the Bruins do on offense but also has plenty of veteran help around her. The 6-4 Billings is one of the best and most versatile post players in the country, while Burke gives UCLA a third double-figure, veteran scorer. Close brought in a top-notch recruiting class headlined by athletic 5-11 forward Michaela Onyenwere, but none of the newcomers address the Bruins' biggest weakness: They shot just 30.5 percent from 3-point range a year ago, and the two shooters who combined for 125 of UCLA's 216 made 3-pointers last season are gone.

22. Oregon State Beavers

No one single player was as important to her team last season as Sydney Wiese was to the Beavers. She led the team in minutes, scoring, assists, 3-point shooting and free throw percentage. Wiese dictated everything Oregon State did -- and now she's gone. That opens the door for the next wave of talent in the program coach Scott Rueck has built from scratch. Sophomore guard Pivec looks like the player ready to take the mantel from Wiese. Pivec's aggressiveness coupled with added opportunity should translate to more production. Gulich, a 6-5 senior, will have to dominate for longer stretches but could have some help inside from 6-3 freshman Taya Corosdale.

23. California Golden Bears

With a roster full of returning veterans and Anigwe, a junior forward, primed to ascend to the top players in the game, the Bears should have an easier time reaching the NCAA tournament than they last season, when they were among the last four in. Much of that will depend on the guard play and perimeter shooting that lacked consistency a year ago. Point guard Thomas should get more help if sophomores Mi'Cole Cayton and Jaelyn Brown are improved, and freshman Kianna Smith plays like the top-20 recruit she was. Cowling, a senior wing, was Cal's leader in assists, steals, free throw percentage and minutes a year ago and is the glue.

25. Arizona State Sun Devils

During South Carolina's run to its first national championship, the toughest game the Gamecocks faced in the tournament was against Charli Turner Thorne's Sun Devils. Arizona State always seems to be a tough out. That shouldn't change in 2018 even though Turner Thorne will have to orchestrate a transition from a post-oriented offense to one dominated by the backcourt. Hard-nosed and highly regarded guards Richardson and Ryan move into their sophomore years and will have all-time ASU great Briann January to help them in her first season as an assistant coach. The duo, along with junior guard Haines, will have to score more to compensate for the nearly 29 PPG lost with the graduations of the reliable frontcourt trio of Sophie Brunner, Quinn Dornstauder and Kelsey Moos. The healthy return of 6-1 sophomore Jamie Ruden and the early development of 6-5 freshman Eva Rubin will determine how guard-heavy the Sun Devils will have to be.

Here is espnW's entire Top 25: UConn returns to top spot in espnW preseason rankings

And, finally, here are the national polls, which place Stanford at 10/9.

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