The 2022-23 season ended with the most-viewed women’s college basketball game on record as the national championship returned to network television for the first time since 1995. Broadcast on ABC and ESPN2, 9.9 million viewers tuned in as LSU beat Iowa 102-85.
What has happened since then? Glad you asked.
We head into 2023-24 with LSU ranked No. 1 in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25. For the second straight offseason, coach Kim Mulkey cleaned up in the transfer portal to make the Tigers — who have Final Four Most Outstanding Player Angel Reese back — the favorites on the road to Cleveland, where the national semifinals and title game will be played April 5-7 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Despite big personnel losses, led by WNBA Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston, South Carolina — which spent all last season at No. 1 before losing in the Final Four — will still be in the hunt. With Paige Bueckers, who missed last season because of an ACL injury, and Azzi Fudd, who was limited to 15 games by knee issues, back and healthy, UConn is another front-runner as the Huskies pursue a 12th national championship.
But while some things remain the same … along comes conference realignment. Stanford seeks one more Pac-12 title before the conference as we know it dissolves. Stanford’s next stop, incongruous as this is, is the ACC. UCLA, expected to be Stanford’s biggest Pac-12 challenger, is headed to the Big Ten next season. But more on that in a minute.
Iowa senior Caitlin Clark, the NCAA tournament supernova and reigning national player of the year, is back — maybe for more than this season. Clark’s incoming freshman class of 2020-21 is the last that can use the COVID-19 waiver to return for a fifth year, so WNBA teams likely will have to wait until the end of the college season to find out exactly which players — such as Bueckers, Clark, Reese and Stanford’s Cameron Brink — are in the draft pool and potential lottery picks.
But before we tip off the new season on Nov. 6, ESPN’s Michael Voepel, Alexa Philippou and Charlie Creme look at what has gone on since LSU hoisted the NCAA trophy, and how it impacts the coming season.
LSU faces many challenges in quest to go back-to-back
On “The Paul Finebaum Show,” Carolyn Peck explains why the talented Gamecocks and a gritty Tennessee will be stiff competition for the reigning national champs.
LSU gets even better
The transfer portal has been kind of like free agency in college, and more than 1,000 players entered the portal this past offseason. LSU bringing in Hailey Van Lith from Louisville and Aneesah Morrow from DePaul gave the Tigers the “portal championship” a year after they did the same with Reese from Maryland in summer 2022. More on the other biggest transfers below.
UConn back to full strength?
While UConn’s absurd streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances came to an end, the Huskies seem due for better luck after two seasons of multiple injuries.
Bueckers was national player of the year as a freshman and then battled through injuries to get UConn to the NCAA championship game as a sophomore. The Huskies missed her last season, but she seems to have gone through rehab well, is cleared to play and is ready to regain her status as one of the college game’s biggest stars.
So long, Pac-12
We should have seen it coming when UCLA and USC announced in summer 2022 that they were headed to the Big Ten. The Pac-12 was crumbling, with the walls officially tumbling in summer 2023. With four teams headed to the Big Ten, four to the Big 12, two to the ACC and two others with an uncertain future, the Pac-12’s swan song in 2023-24 is an ode to how football and television revenue have rendered geographic ties in college almost irrelevant.
Well-played, Big 12
In summer 2010, the Big 12 appeared on the verge of collapse. It survived with 10 teams, and now will be adding Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah next season, putting the league at 16 teams after Texas and Oklahoma depart for the SEC. From a women’s hoops perspective, the league will miss the Longhorns and Sooners, but the Utes (No. 5 in ESPN rankings) and Buffaloes (No. 22) are having program resurgences. And Arizona is just a few years removed from its appearance in the 2021 NCAA final.
The college world has changed with Name, Image and Likeness opportunities, especially for the bigger stars in women’s sports. Players such as Reese and Clark have spent time since the national championship game shooting television commercials and being paid for appearing at events. — Voepel
The best of Lauren Betts in her lone season at Stanford
Check out highlights from No. 1 recruit Lauren Betts as she announces her intention to transfer from Stanford.
Key transfers, recruiting and coaching movement
Any discussion of the biggest player and coach news this offseason must start with LSU. Not only did Mulkey get the two best players in the transfer portal, she signed the No. 1 recruiting class, including two — Mikaylah Williams and Aalyah Del Rosario — of the top seven players in the 2023 class. Then early last month, the four-time national championship coach got a 10-year, $36 million contract extension, making her the highest paid coach in women’s basketball.
Out west, meanwhile, Lauren Betts‘ decision to leave Stanford for UCLA could signal a power shift in the Pac-12. The 6-foot-7 center was the top recruit in 2022 (and No. 3 in our transfer rankings) and had a promising showing for Team USA at the AmeriCup.
Aside from LSU, a handful of SEC schools did everything they could to keep up in the transfer portal:
Aggies’ Taylor discusses competitive nature of SEC
Joni Taylor joins “The Paul Finebaum Show” and reflects on Texas A&M’s expectations, while emphasizing the spirit of coaching among the best in the SEC.
Outside the SEC, TCU underwent the biggest shake-up from the end of the regular season until now. Of the more than four dozen Division I coaching changes this offseason, Mark Campbell from Sacramento State to the Horned Frogs has had the biggest impact so far.
After seven years as an assistant at Oregon in which he spearheaded the recruitment of Sabrina Ionescu, Ruthy Hebard and Satou Sabally, and then two seasons with Hornets, which included the program’s only NCAA tournament appearance, Campbell has already reformed TCU without even coaching a game. He plucked Jaden Owens (Baylor), Madison Conner (Arizona), Agnes Emma-Nnopu (Stanford) and Sedona Prince (Oregon) out of the portal, significantly improving a roster that went 1-17 in the Big 12 a year ago. — Creme
After South Carolina’s Boston, Laeticia Amihere, Zia Cooke, Brea Beal and Victaria Saxton were all selected in the 2023 WNBA draft, a changing of the guard is headed to Columbia this fall. Dawn Staley has plenty of reinforcements ready to take the mantle, such as center Kamilla Cardoso and point guard Raven Johnson, but she also brings in the nation’s No. 2-ranked recruiting class and was active in the transfer portal, signing Te-Hina Paopao from Oregon as well as Sakima Walker, the 2023 NJCAA player of the year.
In the Pac-12, USC returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 and will look for its first appearance in the Associated Press preseason poll since 2011. Now the legendary program adds No. 1 overall recruit Juju Watkins and several experienced players from the portal. It is unclear if/when Aaliyah Gayles will make her college debut after recovering from being shot 10 times at a party in April 2022, but social media indicates she has been practicing. — Philippou
Bracketology’s biggest risers and fallers
How different did our projections look between our April 18 update shortly after LSU hoisted the NCAA trophy to our latest field of 68 on Sept. 19? These were the biggest women’s Bracketology movers.
Biggest riser: TCU
NR to No. 41/projected Last Four Byes
As mentioned above, Campbell has reshaped the Horned Frogs into a veteran, NCAA tournament-worthy team. Once he finished all his work in the transfer portal, TCU was a No. 11 seed in last month’s projection.
Mississippi State: No. 37/projected Last Four Byes to No. 21/projected No. 6 seed
After two wins in the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs upgraded their talent, too. Lauren Park-Lane (Seton Hall), Darrione Rogers (DePaul) and Erynn Barnum (Arkansas) will give the offense more punch. The Bulldogs were already a tournament team, but Sam Purcell pushed his Bulldogs more safely into the field.
Texas A&M: No. 44/projected Last Four In to No. 28/projected No. 7 seed
The Aggies were too young a year ago and finished 9-20. So Joni Taylor made it a priority to bring in some experience. Graduate student Endyia Rogers (Oregon), senior Aicha Coulibaly (Auburn) and redshirt junior Lauren Ware (Arizona) give Taylor some veterans to put around ultra-talented sophomore Janiah Barker.
Biggest faller: Arkansas
From No. 26/projected No. 7 seed to No. 44/projected Last Four In
When Barnum left the Razorbacks for Mississippi State, she helped elevate the Bulldogs and left Arkansas without a proven go-to scorer.
NC State: From No. 25/projected No. 7 seed to No. 33/projected No. 9 seed
The Wolfpack got passed by a few teams because of portal inactivity. After losing Jakia Brown-Turner to Maryland, NC State didn’t add anyone of impact. — Creme