So much time has passed since games stopped in this strangest of years that even familiar faces will take time to remember when the 2020-21 women’s college basketball season begins.
But recalling how things looked when the sports world paused last spring is only part of the challenge. College basketball never stands still. The teams that never had a chance to play for a title in an NCAA tournament aren’t the teams that begin anew next month. Not exactly.
From incoming freshmen to transfers (both those who sat out the 2019-20 season and their peers who received more recent waivers), newcomers will help shape the season.
These rankings aren’t intended as an absolute measure of ability. It’s not who is most talented or who has the most pro potential. This is an attempt to guess how the new faces will impact 2020-21. On a lesser team, for instance, either of Oregon’s highly touted Sydney Parrish or Maddie Scherr might be a lock to play 30 minutes a game. In a backcourt as deep as Oregon’s, everyone will fight for minutes and influence in the short term.
Additional transfer waivers could also alter these rankings, with potential difference-makers such as Texas A&M’s Zaay Green still awaiting word on their status for this season.
But for now, here’s a look at the newcomers poised to make the most of basketball’s return.
1. Paige Bueckers, UConn: Sure, Geno Auriemma sarcastically calls the social media star “Paige Kardashian,” but more important is that he also noted how teammates love her because they get the ball if they’re open — and they get assists if they give it to her when she’s open.
2. Destiny Slocum, Arkansas: After reaching the Sweet 16 with a Big Ten team (Maryland) and a Pac-12 team (Oregon State), she moves to the SEC for her final act. Coach Mike Neighbors’ up-tempo system should be a perfect fit for someone who is among active leaders in career assists and 3-pointers.
3. Evina Westbrook, UConn: There has been more talk out of Storrs about Bueckers’ arrival and Christyn Williams’ breakthrough potential, but adding someone who ranked sixth and third in the SEC in assists in her two seasons at Tennessee is no small help.
4. DiJonai Carrington, Baylor: Yes, there will be physical questions after an unfortunate run of injuries that began in high school continued a season ago at Stanford. But just about every major program wanted her as a transfer, which is its own answer about the veteran guard.
5. Destiny Pitts, Texas A&M: The NCAA granting Pitts’ transfer waiver is a potential season-changer for the SEC. As irreplaceable as Chennedy Carter might be, Pitts provides a scoring instinct and 3-point efficiency that should complement rather than overshadow Kayla Wells and N’Dea Jones.
6. Angel Reese, Maryland: The Terrapins not only hope they have someone special in the 6-foot-3 freshman wing from Baltimore, they need her to be special after losing Shakira Austin, Kaila Charles, Stephanie Jones, Taylor Mikesell, Olivia Owens and Blair Watson to transfer or graduation.
7. Kamilla Cardoso, Syracuse: This marks the second time in three years that coach Quentin Hillsman landed a pair of top-10 recruits, with the 6-foot-7 Brazilian-born Cardoso quite literally the new centerpiece alongside similarly well-regarded guard Priscilla Williams.
8. Vivian Gray, Texas Tech: The rest of the Big 12 didn’t figure out a way to stop the 6-foot-1 guard at Oklahoma State, so there’s little reason to imagine they’ll be more successful as the senior moves south to Texas Tech. For new coach Krista Gerlich, Gray, Chrislyn Carr and Lexi Gordon should be a good way to emerge from the program’s tumultuous offseason.
9. Taylor Mikesell, Oregon: The Ducks ranked fourth nationally in 3-point field goals a season ago. Mikesell ranks fourth among active players in career 3-pointers per game. It’s not difficult to see why the experienced guard’s transfer waiver is a huge boon for Oregon’s renovations.
10. Treasure Hunt, Kentucky: Assuming Kentucky has to wait for recent transfers Robyn Benton and Jazmine Massengill, Hunt, a 6-1 freshman, fills an immediate rotation need in the backcourt. And it won’t take Rhyne Howard’s friend and fellow Chattanooga product long to find chemistry with the star.
11. Sedona Prince, Oregon: It’s a fresh start for the former top-10 recruit who left Texas amid reports she felt medical staff didn’t have her best interests in mind. At 6-7, she gives the Ducks a new look, one that coach Kelly Graves has compared to versatile NBA big man Nikola Jokic.
12. Cameron Brink, Stanford: She is the sixth top-15 recruit on the current roster (although Maya Dodson will not play), more than even UConn. But that’s the only measure by which the 6-4 freshman forward with the well-chronicled family friendship with Steph Curry could be considered ordinary.
13. Hannah Gusters, Baylor: Either the freshman is going to play a lot of minutes for Baylor or Kim Mulkey’s team is going to play a lot of small ball. The frontcourt is basically Caitlin Bickle, Queen Egbo, NaLyssa Smith and the 6-5 Gusters, ranked the nation’s 16th-best recruit.
14. Caitlin Clark, Iowa: From Sam Logic to Kathleen Doyle, Iowa hasn’t spent much time in recent years without an answer at point guard. The Hawkeyes believe Clark can extend that run. So do most recruiting analysts.
15. Keyen Green, Tennessee: The former Big South Player of the Year looked no worse for wear after returning from an injury redshirt to average 13.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for Liberty a season ago. The senior at least eases the departure of starter Lou Brown — and probably much more.
16. Tiana England, Florida State: The 5-7 fifth-year senior has more assists than anyone currently playing Division I basketball. And it’s not like she played small-time basketball at St. John’s. Florida State has to replace scorers. It’s good to have someone to get people the ball.
17. Hailey Van Lith, Louisville: Louisville’s previous top-10 recruits under coach Jeff Walz were Shoni Schimmel, Bria Smith, Asia Durr and Dana Evans. That’s a track record that suggests taking Van Lith, a 5-7 freshman guard from the Pacific Northwest, seriously as Evans’ new running mate.
18. Sarah Andrews, Baylor: With DiDi Richards still around, Andrews doesn’t need to be the sole playmaker. With Carrington in the fold, the freshman doesn’t need to be the primary backcourt scoring option. But with little other experienced depth beyond senior guard Moon Ursin, Andrews should have space to show her skills on both fronts.
19. Te-Hina Paopao, Oregon: History and probability suggest some members of Oregon’s massive freshman class will thrive and some will need more time, but Graves sure sounded like he places Paopao in the former camp. “She’s got a chance to be a real star for us,” he said.
20. Aaliyah Edwards, UConn: Auriemma has already said the 6-3 freshman forward is going to play a lot. The Huskies need frontcourt depth, but it’s also because in addition to following in Kia Nurse’s Canadian footsteps, Edwards draws comparisons to Napheesa Collier.
21. Kylee Watson, Oregon: You know how Oregon’s backcourt depth chart is novel-sized? The picture isn’t much clearer up front. Erin Boley, Prince and Nyara Sabally could limit minutes for either Watson, a 6-4 forward, or classmate Angela Dugalic — or both. But Watson’s passing and stretch-four capabilities will be difficult to keep off the court.
22. Priscilla Williams, Syracuse: No team is happier about having a potentially crowded backcourt this season with Tiana Mangakahia’s comeback added to returnees Emily Engstler and all-ACC pick Kiara Lewis. But with a Rhyne Howard-like game, the 6-2 Williams will get minutes.
23. Dara Mabrey, Notre Dame: After a two-season stopover at Virginia Tech, the Mabrey lineage continues for the Fighting Irish. Last among ACC teams in both total 3-pointers and 3-point accuracy a season ago, Notre Dame will be thrilled Mabrey received a transfer waiver.
24. Diamond Johnson, Rutgers: She wasn’t a McDonald’s All American, her omission memorably drawing even Dawn Staley’s ire, but the 5-5 freshman guard (who averaged 5.8 rebounds as a high school senior) accomplished just about everything that was in her control.
25. Sydney Parrish, Oregon: By ranking, the Indiana high school player of the year is the biggest prize of Oregon’s loaded class. But Mikesell’s waiver, along with the presence of returnees Taylor Chavez and Jaz Shelley and similarly highly touted signee Maddie Scherr, means the Ducks have enough guards for two Pac-12 backcourts. Now or later, Parrish’s time will come.
26. Lexi Donarski, Iowa State: The 6-foot guard and consensus top-20 recruit was ticketed for Iowa State since middle school. Even with incumbent backcourt depth, the prospect of pairing the freshman with all-conference junior stalwart Ashley Joens should have the Cyclones thinking about Sweet 16.
27. Maddy Westbeld, Notre Dame: Junior Danielle Cosgrove’s decision to step away means sophomore Sam Brunelle and senior Mikayla Vaughn are the extent of Notre Dame’s returnees taller than 6 feet. That opens the door for a familiar surname, as 6-2 Maddy follows former Irish standout Kathryn Westbeld.
28. Sidney Cooks, Mississippi State: New coach Nikki McCray-Penson wants the Bulldogs to get out and run, and the 6-foot-4 Cooks is a good fit for that “3s and keys” mentality to scoring points from the 3-point line and the paint. McCray-Penson even wants the junior forward/center bringing the ball up at times.
29. Raina Perez, NC State: Adding the former Big West Player of the Year should help NC State continue moving forward despite losing standout point guard Aislinn Konig to graduation. Perez, a graduate student, and senior Kai Crutchfield can share point guard duties without either sacrificing scoring instincts.
30. Dalayah Daniels, Cal: The biggest win of Charmin Smith’s first year as coach didn’t happen on the court but when Daniels committed. The second coming of Kristine Anigwe might be a bit too much pressure to put on the 6-3 freshman guard/forward, but there could be a lot of double-doubles forthcoming.
31. Emily Bessoir, UCLA: Another Pac-12 team had some success with a versatile player from Germany. Whether or not Bessoir is another Satou Sabally, the 6-4 freshman forward has an all-court game that should slide in nicely alongside All-American Michaela Onyenwere.
32. Deja Kelly, North Carolina: The Tar Heels must replace three double-digit scorers in their backcourt, making the star signee in second-year coach Courtney Banghart’s first recruiting class all the more important alongside transfers Petra Holesinska and Stephanie Watts.
33. Madison Scott, Mississippi: Perhaps not since the days of Armintie Price has there been this much excitement about a player at what has become the other basketball program in the state. Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin hasn’t been short of praise for the 6-1 wing, who arrives with almost as many recruiting stars (five) as her new team had wins last season (seven).
34. Jordan Nixon, Texas A&M: The Aggies await word on several transfer waivers for this season, but they know they will have Nixon after the former Notre Dame guard sat out last season in College Station. That’s big for a team looking to replace Shambria Washington’s assists (5.1 per game in 2019-20).
35. Ellie Mack, Oregon State: As a 6-3 forward, the Patriot League’s reigning player of the year has a physical profile that is hardly out of place in the Power 5. Oregon State has frontcourt depth, but Mack’s rebounding and 3-point shooting show a versatility that will merit minutes.
36. Destiny Littleton, South Carolina: Rehabbing from double ankle surgery amid the limitations of a pandemic can’t have been easy. But a healthy Littleton would be a valuable backcourt asset for the Gamecocks (who could use the 3-point shooting) by the time the postseason arrives.
37. Mikayla Coombs, Georgia: Life after UConn extends beyond Elena Delle Donne’s unique case. Natalie Butler, Courtney Ekmark and Lexi Gordon are among those who found their best fit elsewhere. After sitting out last season, Coombs could be next in Georgia’s backcourt.
38. Madison Hayes, Mississippi State: McCray-Penson worked hard to keep Hayes in the fold after Vic Schaefer left for Texas, and it wasn’t to keep the 6-foot wing on the bench. With Chloe Bibby and Jordan Danberry gone and McCray-Penson looking to push tempo, shots should be plentiful.
39. Sasha Goforth, Oregon State: Scott Rueck lost a rather important guard to the state of Arkansas, but he already had one coming the other way in Goforth. The 6-1 freshman’s versatility should blend well with incumbent point guard Aleah Goodman’s playmaking.
40. Eniya Russell, South Carolina: Although the 6-1 guard was a McDonald’s All American, she wasn’t a top-10 recruit (she checked in at No. 43). It’s worth noting that Tyasha Harris didn’t arrive with a top-10 ranking, either, and no one will forget her stay in Columbia.
41. Olivia Owens, Kentucky: Granted a transfer waiver to play this season for the Wildcats, who had rebounding and shot-blocking deficits a season ago, the 6-4 Owens doesn’t need to be an immediate star to be valuable as coach Matthew Mitchell builds around Rhyne Howard.
42. Abi Jackson, Missouri State: The mid-major power got a boost with confirmation that Jackson will be eligible for the entire season. The 6-3 senior forward by way of Auburn joins a frontline alongside Jasmine Franklin, Emily Gartner and Abby Hipp that would hold its own in any league.
43. Bendu Yeaney, Arizona: The moves didn’t grab headlines, but Arizona emerged an offseason winner adding Yeaney and senior forward Trinity Baptiste as complementary pieces around Aari McDonald, Cate Reese and Sam Thomas. Yeaney’s waiver gives Arizona a big-time perimeter defender.
44. Danielle Patterson, Indiana: The in-state transfer route from South Bend to Bloomington worked with Ali Patberg, and now the Hoosiers try again with the 6-2 former Notre Dame forward. Patterson could be key in replacing Brenna Wise, one of Indiana’s few personnel losses.
45. Trinity Baptiste, Arizona: While the Wildcats were one of the Pac-12’s stingiest defenses a season ago, they ran a rebounding deficit. Baptiste averaged 6.4 rebounds in just 23 minutes per game for Virginia Tech and did so while still showing 3-point range as a versatile forward.
46. Bianca Jackson, Florida State: Jackson earned SEC all-freshman honors in the 2017-18 season, starting 25 games and scoring 264 points for a team that reached the Elite Eight. Florida State has no returning players who scored even 200 points. This is a good match.
47. Kateri Poole, Ohio State: Even after transfer departures, Ohio State has compelling pieces — from sensational stretch-four Dorka Juhasz to redshirt freshman Rikki Harris. The Buckeyes need someone to knit it together. The 5-8 Poole might have the skill and confidence to do it.
48. Kianna Smith, Louisville: It’s nice to have a new addition who has more than 60 starts in the Pac-12. Smith sat out 2019-20 after playing two seasons at Cal, and she is now part of the deep backcourt mix at Louisville that had coach Jeff Walz pondering four-guard lineups at one point in the offseason.
49. Stephanie Watts, North Carolina: Injuries limited her to 31 games over the past three seasons, but most of those were as an effective starter for the Tar Heels in 2018-19 (before her lone season at USC). The sixth-year transfer has value for 3-point shooting and experience alone. If fully healthy, she offers much more.
50. Ahlana Smith, Louisville: Smith was a rotation player at UCLA as a freshman and the junior college national player of the year a season ago, so she takes the court for the Cardinals with a wealth of experience. But like Oregon, Louisville’s backcourt depth should temper expectations.