Women's national preview
St. Petersburg Times staff writer Greg Auman previews the women's season:
5 favorite teams to watch
5 favorite players to watch
1. Maya Moore
Jr., F, UConn. Her numbers aren't jaw-dropping — 19.3 points and 8.9 rebounds — but she's the best player on the best team in the country. How many losses will she have when she's finished with the Huskies?
2. Jayne Appel
Sr., C, Stanford. Continues to grow offensively, exploding for 46 points against Iowa State in the region final then getting 26 against Connecticut.
3. Tina Charles
Sr., C, UConn. Her dominance inside is overshadowed by Moore. But her 995 rebounds are in range of Rebecca Lobo's school record of 1,268.
4. Jantel Lavender
Jr. C, Ohio State. Already has two conference Player of the Year awards. Can she improve on 20.8 points and 10.7 rebounds a game?
5. Monica Wright
Sr., G, Virginia. Three years ago, she was the ACC Rookie of the Year. Now she's its preseason player of the year after leading it in scoring last year. Can Virginia make a Maryland-like move into the ACC's elite with a deep NCAA run?
With so much back from a national title team that went 39-0, you could almost end the list here. F Maya Moore is still just a junior. Senior C Tina Charles might be the top pick in the WNBA draft, and there's all-world talent in freshman G Kelly Faris. Are they invincible? Find out Dec. 23 against Stanford.
Perhaps the only team talented enough to line up against UConn. C Jayne Appel is Charles' best challenger for the draft's top pick, and Fs Kayla Pederson and Nneka Ogwunike have improved. PG J.J. Hones is back from an ACL tear, so expect the Cardinal to improve on last season's 33-5 finish.
The ACC is wide open, and the Heels are the preseason pick to emerge from a strong group that includes Duke, Florida State and Virginia. UNC has experienced guards in Cetera DeGraffenreid and Italee Lucas. And watch out for G Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, touted as the ACC's top rookie.
Much of the excitement around the Bears starts with 6-foot-8 freshman center Brittney Griner, a YouTube sensation whose dunk-filled videos have been viewed more than 4 million times. With Oklahoma's Courtney Paris off to the WNBA, the Big 12 is open for the taking.
Can a mid-major reach the Final Four? It hasn't happened since Missouri State in 2001. But Xavier has twin towers in 6-6 Ta-Shia Phillips — 13.9 points and 12.1 rebounds last season — and 6-5 Amber Harris, who missed last season with a knee injury. A stout defense is led by PG Special Jennings.