It’s time to hit the polls in college basketball
As the college season inches closer, so does the impossible task of ranking where teams may fall within individual conferences. A difficult assignment in a normal year becomes even more arduous in what will be a one-of-a-kind pandemic marred season.
We’ll start in Spokane, where Gonzaga sits atop the West Coast Conference according to Christine M. Hopkins. The very deep Bulldog squad is led by 2020 WCC Player of the Year Jill Townsend, but they will need production from their younger role players if they want to withstand the fire power of the teams below them.
The biggest challenger is BYU, who has three preseason all-WCC players. Their most important piece could be the resurgence of junior Shaylee Gonzales. The guard missed all of 2020 with a knee injury, but was top 5 in scoring in the WCC as a freshman the year prior. If Gonzales can even match that output for the Cougars this year, they could have Sweet 16 dreams.
Portland, San Diego, and St. Mary’s round out the top 5, with Portland looking to prove their WCC tournament upset over Gonzaga was not just a fluke.
The bottom-feeder in the preview is San Francisco, which just shows the parity of the league, as they return four starters and will have three players coming back off of redshirts to bolster their bench.
After a historic season in the Summit League for South Dakota, finishing with the conferences highest final ranking ever at 17 in the AP Poll, the Coyotes are the team to beat in 2020-21. South Dakota went undefeated in conference play last year, but lost many key players to graduation.
Their rival South Dakota State is the other main contender for the conference title. The Jackrabbits added Colgate graduate transfer Haley Greer, and head coach Aaron Johnston highlighted the team’s youth and height as reasons for potential success in the upcoming season.
Western Illinois, Oral Roberts, and North Dakota State make up the rest of the top half in the preseason poll.
In an unfortunate practice incident, two Baylor guards were injured in a collision earlier this week. Didi Richards suffered a scary spinal cord injury but has since been released from the hospital. Richards was the National Defensive Player of the Year in 2020, but any spinal injury must be cautiously monitored, thus sidelining her indefinitely.
Her fellow senior Moon Ursin was diagnosed with a concussion and is now in the concussion protocol. It is a big loss for Baylor as they head into the year, but the biggest concern is making sure the players are healthy before returning to action.