South Carolina was a scary team to face last season and will continue to be intimidating this year as the Gamecocks look to defend their national title. The team that embraces thecertainly has the weapons to repeat, but nothing is guaranteed in college basketball with plenty of competition.
Stanford will be strong with solid returners and the No. 1 freshman in the country. Iowa will continue to be an offensive power house with Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano. Meanwhile, Tennessee will be deep with key returners and talented transfers.
Here is a deep dive at the top four teams that are expected to dominate next season and could win the 2023 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks will miss the leadership of Destanni Henderson -- who is off to the WNBA with the Indiana Fever -- but they return the other four starters that helped South Carolina finish with a 35-2 overall record and go wire-to-wire ranking No. 1 in the nation. The Gamecocks earned the 2022 NCAA championship and are expected to be a force to reckon with again under reigning Naismith Women's Coach of the Year Dawn Staley. Their offense was sometimes inconsistent, but their defense was the best in the nation, holding opponents to just 50.7 points per game and blocking 273 shots. They were also the third-best rebounding team in the country with 47.86 boards per game.
There were a few key contributors but 6-foot-5 forward Aliyah Boston was the versatile star leading South Carolina in scoring, rebounds, blocks and steals. The Naismith Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year averaged 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, while registering a 30 double-doubles through the season. Her return is fantastic news for South Carolina. Zia Cooke, a two-time Final Four All-Tournament Team selection, was also a double-digit scorer at 10.7 points per game. With Henderson gone, the 5-foot-9 senior guard could be taking a bigger role as a point guard. When it comes to leadership, there is no shortage for the Gamecocks. Senior forward Victaria Saxton is also a defensive force for the defending champs, ranking second on the team in blocks and rebounds behind Boston. Staley also has high praise for the veteran, calling her the glue that holds the team together.
Stanford finished last season with a 32-4 record and the program's 15th Final Four appearance. The Cardinal put up a fight against UConn in the national semifinal, but ultimately got eliminated with a 63-58 result and were not able to defend their 2021 national title. They lost some major talent in Lexie and Lacie Hull, and sixth-year player Anna Wilson, but the Cardinal should still be more than alright. They are returning their top two scorers and rebounders in Cameron Brink and Haley Jones – both among the
Brink, a 6-foot-4 forward and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, led her team in scoring, rebounding and blocks. She averaged 13.5 points per game with a 55% field goal accuracy, along with 8.1 rebounds and a total of 91 blocks. Brink was also one of the four finalists for the 2022 Naismith Trophy Women's Defensive Player of the Year award. Jones, the 2021-22 Pac-12 Player of the Year, led the team in assists and averaged 13.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Stanford is also adding the No. 1 freshman in the country, Lauren Betts. The 6-foot-7 forward is a two-time gold medalist with Team USA in under-16 and under-19 play, who will certainly contribute as a solid post player.
Iowa ended last season with a 24-8 record and a loss to Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That loss said more about the Bluejays – a Cinderella team that went on a deep tournament run – than it did about Iowa, but the Hawkeyes get another chance to prove themselves this season with all five starters returning. Their offense was second best in the nation last year with an average of 84.2 points per game. They also had the best shooting percentage at 50.2%. Iowa should still be excellent offensively with junior guard Caitlin Clark back running the show, after a dominant 2021-22 campaign where she led the nation in both scoring and assists per game. The Nancy Lieberman Point Guard of the Year averaged 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 32 games.
Fifth-year forward Monika Czinano will also be a key part of the offense as she led the country in field goal percentage at 67.9% while averaging 21.16 points per game. The expectations are high for Clark and Czinano as both were named to the preseason All-Big Ten team. Clark was unanimously voted Big Ten preseason player of the year, and the Hawkeyes were unanimously voted No. 1 in the conference's preseason poll. Their best 3-point shooter is also returning in McKenna Warnock, who averaged 11.0 points per game and shot 42.3% from beyond the arc. Another push in the right direction for Iowa on offense is the addition of Central Michigan transfer Molly Davis, who led the Chippewas in scoring last year at 18.6 points per game, was named to the All-MAC Second Team last season.
Tennessee Lady Vols
The Lady Vols fell to Louisville in the Sweet 16, but this season's roster will be deep and versatile enough to dance into the second weekend again. Tennessee is returning four starters, including double-digit scorers and leading rebounders Jordan Horston and Tamari Key. Tennessee was one of the top rebounding teams in the nation, averaging 48.2 boards per game, which was slightly better than SEC rival South Carolina. Horston started in 23 games before ending her season early with a dislocation of her left elbow in February. In the games she did play, Horston led her team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. She averaged 16.2 points, scoring in double digits in 19 games, including seven 20+ points games. Key, a Naismith Women's Defensive Player of the Year semifinalist, led the nation with 119 blocks, and was third with 3.5 blocks per game. She was the team's most accurate shooter at 58.4% from the field while averaging 10.5 points per game.
Not only does Tennessee keep some key players, head coach Kellie Harper also added solid talent via the transfer portal. Mississippi State senior transfer Rickea Jackson, a 6-foot-2 forward, was the top scorer in the SEC last season and brings her 20.3 points per game from Stark Vegas to Rocky Top. Minnesota point guard Jasmin Powell and Missouri State graduate transfer Jasmine Franklin are also double digit scorers that made their way to Knoxville. Jillian Hollingshead from Georgia missed some playing time last season due to illness and then swelling in her knee, but the 6-foot-5 forward is expected to bring a lot of talent and versatility to the roster. True freshman Justine Pissott also adds to the depth as the No. 11-ranked recruit in the nation.