Early-Season Observations

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Some great game discussion taking place here, but wanted to create a thread to share early-season thoughts and speculate on awards/championships:

1. South Carolina (at time of writing): Looked sensational in their opener and as bad as I’ve ever seen a Top 5 team look in the NC State loss. I’m a huge fan of Boston but she’s nowhere near playing at an AA or All-SEC level. Henderson, and particularly Cooke, seem to show poor shot selection. Amihere is really impressive, but still developing her on-court understanding. Saxton was sensational in the opener but has been lost in the shuffle of late. This team has far more problems than the one before it, but after what happened to MSST tonight, I would still bet on Carolina to take the SEC.

2. Stanford: Haven’t seen much of them so far given their opponent profile, but expect they will elevate to the top ranking this week. Jones looks terrific coming off injury and the starting Hull has really developed into a far better player than I though her and her sister had the potential to. Brink looks like an impressive freshman and could be in the NFOY conversation if Stanford wins the PAC. I’m a little skeptical of Stanford long-term, but I’m tempering expectations in large part because the team has had a history of bad luck and injuries the last few years. I’m not sure you’d want anyone else on the sidelines with time to prepare for an opponent, though. Stanford’s a title threat.

3. Connecticut: Idle thus far, so little to say. I think this team probably has the best chance of winning a national championship that a Connecticut team has had since the 2017-18 season. Looking forward to Bueckers’ debut.

4. Baylor: Bears have shot the ball dreadfully so far. Not sure what’s up with Smith, but she’s among the best athletes in the college game and will surely turn it around. Egbo performs much better on the stat sheet than it looks on the court, but she’s really grown ultra-productive. I’m surprised Carrington isn’t more of a contributor given she was Stanford’s second or third-best player in 18-19, but I know she’s coming off injury. I fully expect Kim to put together a scary squad come tournament time, and I don’t think the Bears will be seriously threatened in their conference title chase.

5. Louisville: Of all the top teams, Louisville looks the furthest ahead from what I expected. Cochran is physical and efficient and Van Lith is already a star. She was a highly-ranked recruit but still seems like an underdog to me. She’s the Ville’s next great guard, no question. Add in Evans and Balogun and you’ve got the likely ACC favorite (imo). I like Louisville’s bench, defense, and shooting over the strengths of NC State. It would be a pleasant surprise (and heck of a story) to see a team like Louisville return to the Final Four this year. It’s certainly possible, and may be growing probable.

6. Mississippi State: Well, at least South Carolina lost to a ranked team. Jokes aide (USF is no pushover), State has some work to do in figuring out how to put its riches of talent all together. To be fair, this is all fully expected given the new pieces under a new coaching staff. Carter seems to have taken a step forward, Cooks is a question mark, and Jackson has star potential. I like the crew of guards here as well. Taylor, Matharu, Hayes, Mingo-Young, eventually Wiggins. I mean, McCray walked into a great roster. Excited to see what the Bulldogs can do.

7. Arizona: Barnes’ team hasn’t passed the eye test for me, but a win against a solid UCLA team means more than the eye test does. This team has good players across all positions in my opinion, although they appear to use a forward trio in lieu of a true big/center. Have to wonder if PAC-12 bigs like Prince or Prechtel can cause trouble for Arizona. That could be the difference in their title aspirations, but McDonald is a star and PAC-12 POY is hers to lose at this point in the season.

8. NC State: Two diverging thoughts on NC State—they are far better than I thought, but I’m still not convinced they are truly a top-five team. I think SC wins that same matchup 4 times of 5. That said, they didn’t win, and State deserves credit and credence for finding ways to win an otherwise ugly game. Cunane, as we know, is an All-American. She isn’t surrounded by stars, but I’m not sure I’d say Crutchfield, Jones, and Brown-Turner are exactly role players, either. They’re All-ACC threats. If Boyd can return, NC State has high potential, and while the skies aren’t cloudy even without her, I don’t think of the Wolfpack as Final Four bet just yet. Their offensive numbers were high-powered prior to Thursday, so the shooting may be consistently better than we saw.

9. UCLA: Onyenwere is sensational, but needs a little more help (and height, although she outplays her frame). The Bruins are fundamentally sound, but probably less talented than a handful of other P12 schools. I really do like Close as a coach and she has consistently gotten her teams into the Sweet Sixteen, oftentimes exceeding expectations in doing so. I think UCLA tends to play its basketball at the end of the year, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this team in a n E8/regional final with 4-5 losses to its name.

10. Oregon: Far better than most thought they would be already. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Ducks lead the nation in scoring, as the offensive talent is overflowing. If Oregon can present a fierce defense, they have Final Four potential. That’s a big if, though, when you’re integrating players off of multi-year injuries and a freshman class. Regardless of how it plays out, the Ducks are really good and will be a team nobody wants to play come March. Boley seems to have really improved—I thought there was a chance she got buried on the bench this year. I don’t see how this team doesn’t finish second or third in the league.
 

DefenseBB

Snark is always appreciated!
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Great post with some nice perspective. I would offer some humble disagreements such as:
1. #3 SC either had hiccup against an under-rated top 10 team (can you really be under-rated as Top 10?) or is sorely missing Harris and Kiki's leadership. Plus, their shooting is suspect and that has to be a worry. They are a Final Four contender.
2. #1. The Stanford team is scary athletic and can run 10 deep without much worry. Stanford has shooters and depth at all positions. But then again Tara has not won a title since 1992. Brink will not be in the NFOY conversation as she will be a secondary option to Stanford's success. Plus she needs to build some serious bulk. Final Four contender
3. #4 UConn-we have a team?
4. #7 Baylor has some nice players in Smith, Richards and Egbo but the rest of the team needs to solidify if they want to put together a run for Final Four. They showed rust and some shooting woes but at least they held on to win at South Florida. I put them as an Elite 8.
5. #2 Louisville assessment was spot on. Van Lithe is a star and due to her role will be a leading contender for the NFOY as Louisville needs her to do everything. Final Four contender
6. #10 MSU-completely agree on developing Star Jackson and yes, Carter looks much improved. Cooks looks disappointing so far and not in great shape. I am not as optimistic on your view of these guards. They hustle and play great defense but shooting, shot selection was suspect. Plus Mingo-Young was atrocious at the free throw line when they needed her. Team needs to improve to make it past a Sweet 16.
7. #8 Arizona-completely agree with this assessment. Arizona would do well to make the semi's this year of the PAC12 as this conference is brutal. Elite 8 most likely.
8. #5 NC State is underrated and Cunane is a start and did not play great against SC and yet they still won. Not sure I agree they lose 4 of 5. This team is a Final Four contender.
9. Tomorrow is a bounce back test for UCLA and Cori as a coach. To me, she had the better team on the floor against Arizona but yet lost. That can't happen against a younger ASU squad. The actual coaching question will only become bigger if that happens. Definite Sweet 16, probable Elite 8 depending on the 3/4 seeding.
10. #6 Oregon is under-rated and could be great or only very good. Elite 8 and possible Final Four.
 

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