College basketball season preview: six burning questions

As the court comes alive with the echoes of sneakers squeaking and basketballs bouncing, anticipation reaches a fever pitch for the 2023-2024 women’s college basketball season. This year promises to be a thrilling chapter in the history of the sport, as the nation’s top teams gear up to write their own storylines. 

From returning champions defending their titles to rising stars looking to make a name for themselves, the upcoming season is poised to deliver a breathtaking display of talent, dedication, and fierce competition. 

What are some of the most compelling storylines taking shape this year? We take a look:

Caitlin Clark. AP photo.

What can we expect from Caitlin Clark in her senior season, as her popularity has hit an all-time high?

Never has a female collegian received as much coverage and hype as this Iowa superstar is getting now. Her exceptional skills, scoring ability, and charisma on the court have made her the most popular player in the women’s game. 

Clark’s dynamic playing style and uncanny ability to make three-pointers from almost anywhere on the court have drawn comparisons to NBA legends like Stephen Curry. 

Her remarkable performances have not only captivated the attention of basketball enthusiasts but have also garnered significant media coverage, elevating her to a level of recognition rarely seen in the world of female college athletes. Her impact on the sport has been nothing short of historic. 

Want proof?

Last month the Hawkeyes played DePaul in an exhibition game at Kinnick Stadium in front of 55,646 fans. It was the first ever women’s basketball game to be played outdoors in a football stadium, and the matchup set a NCAA single-game attendance record.

Oh yeah, and Clark casually dropped a 34 point, 11 rebound, 10 assist triple-double in the 94-72 win.

So what can we expect from this generational talent? Most likely around 28 points per game, triples from 35 feet out, packed arenas everywhere she goes, and maybe, just maybe, a national championship to finish her storied collegiate career.

Angel Reese. AP photo.

Will LSU repeat, with Angel Reese and transfer stars Hailey Van Lith and Aneesah Morrow leading the way?

There is a great chance the Tigers could go back-to-back this year. To the surprise of no one, the 2023 national champions are the top ranked team in America entering the season, receiving nearly every first place vote in the AP preseason poll.

Superstar forward Angel Reese is back, and coach Kim Mulkey added two high-profile transfers to the roster in Hailey Van Lith (Louisville) and Aneesah Morrow (DePaul). Van Lith hustles at all times, handles the ball, and has the ability to take and make clutch shots. She plays with passion and isn’t afraid to share a word or two with opponents on court.

Morrow, who averaged 23.5 points and 13.0 rebounds last season for DePaul, is arguably the most dominant post player in the country. She is tough and plays physical on both ends, pairing perfectly with Reese up front. They will be a nightmare for opponents to handle.

Among the talent joining Van Lith in the backcourt include SEC Freshman of the Year Flau’jae Johnson, Mikayla Williams, the second-ranked recruit in the country, and veteran Kateri Poole.

No questions asked, LSU is the best team in the country. Now the pressure is on to deliver another title to Baton Rouge. While anything can happen, odds are, they’ll be the last team standing come season’s end.

Kiki Rice and Charisma Osborne. AP photo.

With a loaded roster and one of the nation’s best coaches in Cori Close, will UCLA break through and make the Final Four?

It seems like a very good bet. Star point guard and leading scorer Charisma Osborne decided to bypass the WNBA Draft and bring her years of NCAA Tournament experience back to Westwood for a fifth go-round. Her leadership, coupled with her playmaking ability, gives the Bruins stability at the most important position.

Kiki Rice ranked second on the team in scoring last season as a freshman (11.6 PPG). She is smart, consistent, and plays well beyond her years. Stanford transfer Lauren Betts, at 6-7, gives the team some star power in the post. While still raw, she is oozing with potential on both ends of the floor.

Forward Emily Bessoir led the team in three-point percentage as a sophomore (35.7 percent), and will be even better this season. The Bruins have everything they need to go all the way this season. Will it happen? Only time will tell.

Mackenzie Holmes. Indiana Hoosiers photo.

Can Indiana repeat as Big Ten champions and compete for a national title?

Yes. While the loss of Grace Berger to the WNBA is big, coach Teri Moren has a talented roster as usual, led by Mackenzie Holmes. 

The 6-foot-3 fifth-year senior and 2022 first-team All-American is one of the most efficient post players we’ve ever seen, connecting on at least 60 percent of her shots every year of her career. She is also an excellent leader.

Chloe Moore-McNeil will be key in the backcourt. The senior had a better than 4-to-1 assist to turnover ratio last season and will take over most of Berger’s ball handling duties.

Sara Scalia, Sydney Parrish, and Yarden Garzon are other perimeter players that will step up game in and game out. Also, keep an eye on UT-Martin transfer Sharneece Currie-Jelks – a good scorer who will provide depth.

How will South Carolina fare after losing five WNBA draft picks?

Despite losing five WNBA Draft picks, including 2023 Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston, the Gamecocks are still ranked sixth entering the season. 

While they are not expected to be the dominant superteam of the last few years, coach Dawn Staley’s squad absolutely has the potential to win the SEC and make another Final Four appearance.

Kamilla Cardoso will command the middle, and is expected to put up bigger numbers with the loss of Boston. Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao will pair with Raven Johnson in the backcourt, creating an exciting one-two punch on the perimeter. Bree Hall will be a factor there, as well.

Throw in youngsters Milaysia Fulwiley, Chloe Kitts and Ashlynn Watkins, and you have a darn good team in Columbia. Look out for these Gamecocks.

What will Paige Bueckers look like for UConn coming off her ACL injury? Can the rest of the team stay healthy?

Since her historic freshman campaign in 2020, we have not seen much of Paige Bueckers on the basketball court. She missed 19 games as a sophomore due to a tibial plateau fracture, and missed the entirety of last season due to a left ACL tear.

Even though she is now fully healthy with no restrictions, expect Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma to tread lightly with his superstar in the early going. 

When Bueckers returned from her first knee injury, she played under 20 minutes in her first five games back, slowly but surely finding more minutes in the NCAA tournament. Just like her minutes, her statistical impact may seem small in the beginning. But once she finds her groove, watch out.

Like Bueckers, the rest of the team has struggled with health over the last few years. Azzi Fudd has battled foot and ankle injuries. Caroline Ducharme has suffered multiple concussions. The list goes on and on. But this season the UConn bench runs deeper, as redshirt freshman Ice Brady and newcomer KK Arnold made noise in their preseason debuts.

It goes without saying that for the Huskies to have any chance of achieving their goal of winning a 12th national championship, they must stay healthy. Expect the unexpected in Storrs, Connecticut.