Women’s college basketball power rankings: South Carolina rises, UConn defies expectations

the athleteThe power rankings are back for the 2022-23 women’s college basketball season, and to start with, not much has changed since late last year.

Our ranking debut with last year’s national finalists in the top two spots. Defending champions South Carolina maintained their No.

Aside from the top two, not everything is that clean and tidy. It’s been a rough start to the season with seven top 10 losses this week. The madness started early, so expect plenty of movement in these top 25 rankings as we move through the season. That’s what it says in this year’s first power ranking.

Almost famous: Duke, Gonzaga, South Dakota State, Marquette

Notes on voting

• South Carolina (4-0) cannot be praised enough at the start of the year. Sure, the Gamecocks’ first ranked win came against a Maryland team that missed Diamond Miller, but the defending champions proved their mettle — and more — by coming from behind on the road against Stanford. In a game that saw Aliyah Boston sit out the entire second quarter in dire trouble, it’s a testament to the toughness and depth of his roster that South Carolina picked up points against the Cardinal during that time.

And then to see Boston find their rhythm pretty seamlessly in the second half, shutting down the paint, setting up a double-double and scoring the winning shot en route to victory in overtime was a reminder of just how special the reigning international was the year is If anything, the Gamecocks seem more complete than last season considering all of their guns were taken off the bench. This is still the team to beat.

• Azzi Fudd has made a special start to the season. She’s the owner of the best looking jumper in college basketball, and UConn (3-0) is having a lot of success with it. It was easy to wonder where the Huskies would get their offensive production from given the players they lost to graduation and injury, but Fudd has taken a bigger role and rode it. She shoots 70 percent on 2s and 38 percent on 3s while averaging 30 points per game. Those are video game numbers.

UConn still have some ball handling issues, even though Nika Mühl’s style of play has been a real highlight so far and the post defense could use some work, but the overall defense has been so active that the ball doesn’t color in most plays. For those who expect the Huskies to have a bad year, it doesn’t look like it just yet.

• The Hoosiers (5-0) play with such composure. Put any opponent in front of them and they just get the job done. Their ball movements are precise, and they’re constantly looking for great shots instead of good ones without turning the ball over (6th nationally in assists per game and 14th in turnovers). Sara Scalia fills the role of Nicole Cardaño-Hillary skillfully as a defender but with extra size around the edges, while Yarden Garzon added a nice 3-point shooting element. Returnees Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes are as excellent as ever. There’s something very reassuring about watching a competent basketball team who know exactly how they want to play.

• So far we haven’t learned anything about Virginia Tech (3-0). The Hokies sit in the middle of the top 25 and – like their ranked neighbors the LSU Tigers – have yet to face truly significant opponents. They have won their three competitions with a total of 137 points against opponents who have otherwise achieved a win together. Racking up wins against cupcakes is one way to start the season, but we’ll have to wait at least another week before Virginia Tech takes on another ranked team.

The Hokies, at least, will get a competitive boost when they travel to the Bahamas this week to take on currently undefeated Kentucky and Missouri. The good news is that Elizabeth Kitley is absolutely eating so far, justifying her preseason All-America selection. She’s averaging 17.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game while making 62 percent of her shots, which matches the numbers that earned ACC Player of the Year last season.

• Texas (1-3) just had one of the toughest weeks we’ve seen from a top-10 team, losing three games to UConn, Marquette and Louisville. The Huskies and Cardinals are also top-10 teams and the Golden Eagles won 23 games last year, but Rori Harmon can’t come back soon enough. Thanks to Aaliyah Moore for her good game but she needs help. Shaylee Gonzales is overwhelmed, Ndjakalenga Mwenentanda is only a rookie and there is a dwindling success in putting the ball against the post for Taylor Jones, no matter how determined she is. After Princeton this week, the schedule is calming down for Texas at least, and thank goodness the Longhorns are really pulling it off.

• Could Utah (4-0) be a Pac-12 challenger? The conference remains up for grabs for Stanford for now, but it’s been off to a good start for the Utes. They comfortably dealt with all of their unranked opponents and then blasted the doors of Oklahoma No. 16, admittedly on the second night of a domestic back-to-back for the Sooners. Utah leads the country in points per game and has five double-digit goals per game, according to HerHoopStats.com. The Utes’ offense was already stellar last season, and the new reinforcements fit right in, including USC transfer Alissa Pili and freshman Teya Sidberry, the top scorer in Utah high school history.

• Speaking of West Coast basketball, say hello to UCLA (5-0) in the rankings. The Bruins have had a fine time at Atlantis so far, defeating last year’s WNIT champion South Dakota State and Tennessee. As a team, nothing really jumps out statistically for UCLA, but Charisma Osborne is averaging 22.4 points per game, and that’s eye candy after injuries limited their efficiency last season. The Bruins have a couple of big matchups on the horizon to really prove themselves – first things first, they attempt to capture the Battle 4 Atlantis against Marquette on Monday, then head to South Carolina next week to meet the Gamecocks.

• To wrap up this week, a little love for Duke, which sits just below my top 25. The Blue Devils are 5-0 for the second straight season and the defense has been absolutely menacing. Credit goes to Celeste Taylor and Reigan Richardson for each forced stealing of nearly five percent of opponents’ possessions, and Mia Heide for blocking 10.4 percent of attempted 2-pointers.

There’s a natural ceiling for this team as long as they continue to shoot badly from long range (21.2 percent in five games), but at least the Blue Devils are defending. Their biggest defensive test yet comes this week in the form of Fudd and UConn.

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(Illustration: John Bradford / the athlete; Photo: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)