South Carolina, Stanford, UConn highlight top women’s basketball games
The women’s college basketball season is almost here, and an offseason that was filled with chatter about the transfer portal, coaching changes and recruiting has subsided. The quest to see who will compete for a national title in Dallas begins Nov. 7, with South Carolina and Stanford entering the season No. 1 and No. 2 in the opening AP poll. But before the ball gets tipped for real, let’s run through 10 of the games we’re most excited to watch, and that you should circle on your calendar.
Nov. 11: Villanova at Princeton
Is this a matchup of two Final Four favorites? No. But it does feature a pair of schools that could cause fits for others that might be. The Tigers were one of the bracket busters last March, taking out Kentucky and future No. 1 pick Rhyne Howard in the first round. While reigning Ivy League Player Abby Meyers transferred to Maryland, Princeton still brought back its next two leading scorers, in guards Julia Cunningham and Kaitlyn Chen. The Tigers’ backcourt could wreak havoc for Villanova in this game, against Texas on Nov. 27 and vs. UConn on Dec. 5. On the other side, Villanova senior forward Maddy Siegrist is poised to have yet another prolific season, having taken home Big East Player of the Year honors last winter. A versatile scorer, she anchors a talented Wildcats team that is looking to become the first team to top UConn for a conference regular-season title since 2006.
Nov. 20: South Carolina at Stanford
The defending champion Gamecocks certainly aren’t taking the easy way out in the regular season. In their nonconference slate they have matchups with Maryland, UCLA, South Dakota State and UConn, among others, plus this potential title game preview. For the Cardinal, two-time All-American Haley Jones is now their lead ballhandler, and her ability to create opportunities for herself and her teammates will be put to an early test against the Gamecocks. How South Carolina elects to defend Jones and Stanford’s size is among the other intriguing parts of this matchup. The previous two meetings between these teams came down to the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, so expect another thrilling affair in mid-November.
Dec. 1: NC State at Iowa
The Hawkeyes and Wolfpack have had lofty March aspirations in recent years, making this early-season matchup a solid marker of where each program is at, and where each needs to grow. Iowa, led by star guard Caitlin Clark, enters this season as the favorite to win the Big Ten. If it performs as it did last year, it will repeat as conference champs for the first time since 1992–93. North Carolina State, meanwhile, has been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons but lost four of its starters to graduation. Still, junior guard Diamond Johnson, senior wing Jakia Brown-Turner and senior center Camille Hobby return. And the addition of transfer guard Saniya Rivers, the No. 3 player in the class of 2021, gives NC State a talented, and intriguing, roster.
Dec. 4: Notre Dame at UConn
Two of the country’s best sophomores—and players—meet Dec. 4, as all eyes should be focused on the backcourt battle between UConn’s Azzi Fudd and Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles. Both were outstanding in their debut collegiate campaigns, especially during the NCAA tournament, when Miles became the first freshman in college basketball history to record a triple double. UConn has made 14 consecutive Final Four appearances, but guard Paige Bueckers’s season-ending knee injury could put that streak in jeopardy. The Fighting Irish feature one of the country’s most dangerous rosters, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them solidify their case as a title contender in this one.
Jan. 8: Oregon at Arizona
Both the Ducks and Wildcats enter this season looking to be at, or near, the top of the Pac-12 title race. Oregon features an experienced backcourt of all-conference guards Te-Hina Paopao and Endyia Rogers, and has redshirt senior Sedona Prince patrolling the lane as well as any other big in the nation. Freshman guard Chance Gray should also be a factor—she was the No. 7 recruit in the 2022 class by espnW, the second-highest-ranked recruit in program history behind guard Sabrina Ionescu. The Ducks enter this season with the second-best class of freshmen in the nation, but Arizona also has potential difference-making debutantes coming to Tucson. Look for forward Maya Nnaji—the younger sister of Nuggets center Zeke Nnaji—to play a key role, and help bolster a team that is led by fifth-year seniors Shaina Pellington and Cate Reese.
Jan. 15: Iowa State at Texas
In each of Texas coach Vic Schaefer’s first two seasons with the program, the Longhorns have fallen in the Elite Eight. Now, having added BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales via the transfer portal, they will try to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2003. Gonzales and sophomore guard Rori Harmon could be one of the country’s best duos and make a team that was No. 9 in defensive rating last season even more dangerous. The Cyclones are a perennial NCAA tournament team themselves, and their strong core of Ashley Joens, Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski would make a possible Big 12 title unsurprising.
Feb. 2: Maryland at Iowa
This year’s Maryland team will look a bit different as the Terrapins lost five players to the transfer portal. But coach Brenda Frese was active bringing in new players, as Meyers’s arrival from Princeton and forward Brinae Alexander’s arrival from Vanderbilt highlight a group of incoming key contributors. Add in guard Lavender Briggs, who transferred in the middle of last season from Florida but did not play with the Terps due to injury, and Maryland seems poised to extend its more than decade-long NCAA tournament streak. Frese has won six Big Ten titles in the last decade and Iowa, last year’s conference champion, represents their biggest test in terms of bringing another banner back to College Park.
Feb. 5: South Carolina at UConn
Two Hall of Fame coaches with contrasting styles. Two of the most talented teams in the country, each of which enters every season with national championship aspirations. Does much more need to be said? Plus, the timing of this matchup provides a great break from conference play.
Feb. 16: Louisville at Notre Dame
The Cardinals might have lost star forward Emily Engstler to the WNBA, but first-team All-ACC guard Hailey Van Lith will look to build on her stellar sophomore season and lead Louisville back to the Final Four. Key to doing just that will be putting together another stout defensive performance—Louisville was No. 6 in defensive rating last season—and this late-season contest vs. Notre Dame provides a tough test as conference tournament week nears.
Feb. 27: Baylor at Texas
In their second-to-last game of the season, the Bears head on the road to play the Longhorns. Coach Nicki Collen led Baylor to a 28–7 record in her first year in Waco, but this year’s roster will be without bigs NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, both of whom were top-five picks in the WNBA draft, as well as guard Jordan Lewis. Expect big things, however, from Stanford transfer Jana Van Gytenbeek, Missouri transfer Aijha Blackwell (who was second-team All-SEC last season), and Kentucky transfer Dre’Una Edwards. It wouldn’t be shocking to see this matchup have large implications for the conference title.
More College Basketball Coverage:
• South Carolina, Stanford Top Preseason Women’s AP Top 25
• SI’s Men’s ACC Preseason Basketball Rankings
• Five Breakthrough Men’s Team Candidates for 2022–23