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Countdown to college basketball: Top 25 storylines for the new season

Aliyah Boston and South Carolina start their quest for a repeat title. (C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

College basketball is 25 days away. Count down to the new season with 25 storylines – presented in no particular order – that deserve our attention in 2022-23.

1. Aliyah Boston vs. Caitlin Clark, part 2

After leading her team to a national title, Boston will be the front-runner for the gamut of Player of the Year awards once again this season. But Clark does things on the basketball court that no one else can — so if Iowa establishes itself as a legitimate contender, she could challenge Boston for the end-of-year honors. Whatever happens, these two players are worth watching anytime they play.

2. Connecticut without Paige Bueckers

When Bueckers tore her ACL during a pickup game in August, the complexion of UConn’s season changed dramatically. The star guard will miss the entire 2022-23 campaign, which means UConn’s success is up in the air. The Huskies have plenty of returning talent – like Azzi Fudd, Dorka Juhasz, Aaliyah Edwards and Caroline Ducharme – and two top recruits in Ice Brady and Ayanna Patterson, but no one has the talent and experience of Bueckers.

3. Maryland’s star duo transfers

Maryland entered last season with a ton of potential but never quite reached it, eventually losing to Stanford in the Sweet 16. Then, after the season, the Terrapins’ two best players in Ashley Owusu and Angel Reese announced their intentions to transfer.

This season’s team will look vastly different from last year’s. Owusu and Reese are out, and two other top transfers, Lavender Briggs (from Florida) and Abby Meyers (from Princeton) are in. Plus, Diamond Miller returns, so despite a new look, this should still be a talented Terps squad.

4. LSU and controversy around coach Kim Mulkey

The Tigers are chock-full of talent, from Maryland transfer Reese to returner Alexis Morris to newcomer Flau’Jae Johnson. But the major questions surrounding this team are happening off the court. Mulkey’s refusal to speak about her former player Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia has been the subject of headlines and heated debate. How the Tigers deal with the outside noise will be interesting to watch.

LSU basketball coach Kim Mulkey has maintained her silence on Brittney Griner's plight. (Andrew Wevers/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

5. 2021-22 tournament darlings

Who could forget the Lauren Jensen shot for Creighton that knocked Iowa out of the bracket? Then there was Princeton sending Kentucky packing in the first round, and South Dakota using its veteran squad to advance to the Elite Eight. South Dakota will likely be in rebuild mode after graduating their top three scorers and losing their fourth to the transfer portal, but Creighton and Princeton both return several key pieces. How will they fair this season after their tournament success?

6. Ashley Owusu and Elizabeth Kitley at Virginia Tech

The Hokies hung out in the bottom part of the top 25 last season, but with Owusu and her incredible playmaking skills transferring in from Maryland, they should have much more success this time around.

The guard alone is enough to elevate a team, but when coupled with a talented post in 6-foot-6 Kitley, watch out. Virginia Tech now has one of the top guard-and-post combos in the country. Watching them on the court together should be a blast.

7. South Carolina’s quest for a repeat

The Gamecocks graduated Destanni Henderson, who now plays for the Indiana Fever, but return their other four starters – Boston, Victaria Saxton, Brea Beal and Zia Cooke – as well as key bench pieces in Kamilla Cardoso, Laeticia Amihere, Bree Hall and Raven Johnson, who is returning from injury. That’s a lot of talent with a lot of experience, making South Carolina’s quest to repeat as champion more than possible.

8. The Texas backcourt

Texas already had one of the best point guards in the country in rising sophomore Rori Harmon, who led the Longhorns to the Elite Eight. During the offseason they added another elite guard, Shaylee Gonzales. The transfer from BYU averaged 18 points, 4.5 assists and 5.9 rebounds a game for the Cougars during her WCC player of the year campaign. She and Harmon are poised to be one of the best guard duos in the country, and Gonzales is the kind of player that can take Texas to even greater heights.

9. The continued development of Cameron Brink

Brink really hit her stride during the 2020-21 NCAA tournament, helping Stanford on its run to the national title. As a freshman, she averaged 9.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. As a sophomore, those numbers increased to 13.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. Over the last two years Brink has gotten better at staying on the court – foul trouble has been a concern in the past – and now, as a junior, she is ready to take over the college basketball scene.

Cameron Brink will be key to Stanford's success this season. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

10. No. 1 recruit Lauren Betts

Stanford has an embarrassment of riches this season, starting at the post position. The top recruit in the country, 6-foot-7 Betts is already polished enough to play right away. Her strength, post moves and ability to finish around – or through – multiple defenders are skills any team would love to have. She’s ready to play big minutes for Stanford.

The question is, with so much talent, how much time will Betts get? With Brink’s ability to extend the floor, Stanford could play both of them at the same time, which would mean two elite bigs partnering up and intimidating opponents.

11. UCLA’s young talent

The Bruins have four top-50 freshmen on their roster this season: No. 2 Kiki Rice, No. 19 Gabriela Jaquez, No. 22 Londyn Jones and No. 49 Christeen Iwuala. Top scorer Charisma Osborne is returning with her 16.14 points per game, but after her a lot of UCLA’s success this season will depend on how well those youngsters develop throughout the year.

12. Potential rise of HBCUs

The level of competition in college basketball has never been deeper, and players are realizing that they can have success at a variety of schools, not just established programs like UConn or Baylor. HBCUs are already starting to benefit from this.

No. 14 seed Jackson State nearly knocked off LSU in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, and star Ameshya Williams-Holliday became the first HBCU player in 20 years to be selected in the WNBA draft. In the offseason, former five star recruit Angel Jackson transferred from USC to join the Tigers. Jackson State is making a name for itself, and other HBCUs could follow.

13. Is Iowa legit?

Iowa started last season ranked in the top 10 before some unexpected losses dropped them to the bottom of the poll. Eventually the Hawkeyes battled back, only to be upset by No. 10 seed Creighton in the second round of the tournament. With Monika Czinano coming back for another season and Clark at the point, Iowa has all the tools to make a deep tournament run. But after last season’s disappointment, it’s fair to wonder if the Hawkeyes will underperform again.

14. One more year of Ashley Joens

Joens surprised many when she announced her intention to come back for a fifth year. The two-time Cheryl Miller Award winner and Iowa State’s all-time leading scorer, Joens was a projected first-round draft pick, and she’s going to be just as good this time around. With her near double-double average of 20.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, Cyclones supporters and college basketball fans alike are lucky to watch Joens play one more season for Iowa State.

Ashley Joens (center) has started in every game for Iowa State since her freshman year. (Nirmalendu Majumdar/USA TODAY NETWORK)

15. Arizona’s recruiting prowess

After Arizona’s run to the championship game two seasons ago, the question was whether or not the Wildcats had staying power as a program. Adia Barnes has proven herself as a skilled coach and recruiter, and the players she’s landed recently prove that Arizona has cemented itself on the national scene.

This year she signed the No. 9 freshman in the country in Maya Nnaji, No. 21 recruit Paris Clark, No. 31 Kailyn Gilbert and No. 85 Lemyah Hylton. Next season’s recruiting class is even more impressive, with four five stars committing to play for Barnes and the Wildcats.

16. UNC-Duke rivalry

Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby led North Carolina to the Sweet 16 last year, where the Tar Heels challenged eventual champion South Carolina, losing by eight points. They are both back for their junior seasons, giving UNC a great base for another solid season.

Meanwhile, Duke coach Kara Lawson continues to hit the transfer market hard, signing Kennedy Brown and Taya Corosdale from Oregon State, Mia Heide from Tulane and Reigan Richardson from Georgia. The Blue Devils also return top scorers Shayeann Day-Wilson and Celeste Taylor.

Both these teams should be competitive this season, meaning the Tar Heel-Blue Devil rivalry will be in full force.

17. Tennessee on the rise

The Vols had a plethora of talent last season but never quite put it all together, falling to Louisville in the Sweet 16. During the offseason, coach Kellie Harper shopped the transfer portal and landed three of the country’s top transfers in Rickea Jackson (Mississippi State), Jasmine Franklin (Missouri State) and Jasmine Powell (Minnesota). Now the question is: How will those new additions mesh with returning talent like Tamari Key and Jordan Horston?

18. Hailey Van Lith and Olivia Cochran’s junior seasons

Point guard Van Lith and forward Cochran are entering their junior years after successful sophomore campaigns at Louisville, including a run to the Final Four. With Emily Engstler and Kianna Smith graduating, it will be up to Van Lith and Cochran to lead the Cardinals.

Van Lith led the team in scoring last season with 14.4 points per game, and Cochran averaged 8.6 points and 5.1 rebounds. She’s poised for a breakout season, and with Van Lith at her side, the duo have the potential to be one of the top guard-post combinations in the country.

19. Oregon after underperforming

After a long season of not living up to its potential, Oregon was upset in the first-round of the NCAA tournament, losing to No. 12 seed Belmont 73-70. The Ducks return two key pieces in 6-foot-7 Sedona Prince and point guard Te-Hina Paopao. Coach Kelly Graves also added two five-star recruits in Chance Gray and Grace VanSlooten. The Ducks have talent once again, and fans in Eugene will be expecting success after last season’s disappointment.

20. Niele Ivey in her third season

In Ivey’s second season at the helm, the Fighting Irish narrowly missed the Elite Eight after losing by just three points to NC State. Notre Dame finished third in the ACC with a 24-9 record, building on Ivey’s first season where the Fighting Irish went 10-10 in a shortened season, finishing sixth. Ivey clearly knows what she’s doing, and with guards Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron entering their sophomore seasons and leading the way, Notre Dame should be even better this year.

21. Ayoka Lee’s future

Kansas State’s star post had knee surgery back in August, meaning she will be out for the entire 2022-23 season. Lee made headlines last season when she scored an NCAA-record 61 points against Oklahoma. Lee won’t be back for the Wildcats this year, but we will find out whether or not she will return for another season or choose to enter the WNBA draft.

Ayoka Lee must decide whether she will head to the WNBA draft. (Scott Taetsch/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

22. Fringe teams looking to break out

Last season teams like Gonzaga, Nebraska and UNLV spent most of the year fighting to break into the top 25 and then the NCAA tournament. These are three of my favorites to break into the top half of the rankings this year, as they all have experience and talent — but as the season progresses, other surprise candidates will emerge, which is always a super fun part of the college basketball season.

23. Madness gets madder

March Madness lived up to its name last year, with eight double-digit seeds winning in the first round, and No. 10 Creighton and No. 12 South Dakota making the Elite Eight. It was the most chaotic tournament in history, and with the increased levels of competition year after year, this season’s tournament should be even better. It’s months away, but I’m already excited.

24. Awesome nonconference matchups

If you normally wait until March to tune into college basketball, it’s time to change your ways. This season some of the best matchups of the season will take place during nonconference play in November. So, which game is at the top of the list? South Carolina takes on Stanford on Nov. 20, which has the potential to be the best pre-tournament game of the season.

25. Title game on ABC

This may not be the most interesting storyline, but it’s definitely important to know. After years of being broadcast on ESPN, ABC will show the national championship game this season. So when it’s time to watch all these storylines officially come to an end, tune into ABC for the final game of what should be a thrilling season.