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NCAA women's basketball previews: Where teams stand as non-conference play begins

The Baylor Lady Bears enter the 2012 season ranked #1 and have to be the heavy favorites to repeat as national champions. But what does the rest of the NCAA women's basketball landscape look like as the season begins?

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18 Total Updates since November 20, 2012
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Interview: Barnes Arico on her path to Michigan

After a tough loss on the road to Utah, the Michigan Wolverines have won four out of their last five under the new leadership of coach Kim Barnes Arico. Knowing how successful she has been on her unconventional path to this point, it shouldn't be all that surprising if she takes Michigan to new heights as well.

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Videos: Stanford players answer fan questions

It's a dark, rainy day in the Bay Area...which means it's a great time to stay inside and check out a few Pac-12 women's basketball videos.

Each class answered a different set of questions, and I just pulled out some of the key basketball questions from each in the headline above.

Naturally, we're start with the juniors.

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Andy Landers going for win #800 vs Savannah State

Tim Blank of SB Nation Atlanta writes that Georgia Bulldogs coach Andy Landers has a chance to win his 800th game today against the Savannah State Tigers.

Georgia Bulldogs women's basketball head coach Andy Landers has a chance to record win No. 800 in Tuesday's game against the Savannah St. Tigers. Landers, who recorded his first win as head coach in 1979 against Piedmont, would become only the eighth major college basketball coach to win 800 games.

For more, visit SB Nation Atlanta.

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Bold prediction & high expectations for Purdue

SB Nation's Purdue site Hammer and Rails has checked in with an in-depth player-by-player preview of the Boilermakers women's basketball team, highlighting the importance of 6-foot-2 sixth year post Drey Mingo to their goal of contending for a Big Ten title.

To my mind, Drey is the key to this season. Her story is by now familiar to most of us, and her recovery is one of the great stories of this season. When healthy, she has the skills to AVERAGE a double-double. She is primarily a center, but she has the polish in passing and shooting to play well away from the basket as well. A 50% shooter from 3, she has all the tools you could ask for. She reminds me of no one more than Pau Gasol, and 2 rings say that's a pretty nice piece for your team. In fact, I'm about to go go into predictions mode a little early. You heard it here first: Drey Mingo will win Big Ten Player of the Year this year.

Lofty comparison, bold predictions, and solid 3-0 start.

How can you not love the preseason?

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Interview: Brenda Frese excited about Big Ten move

Maryland Terrapins women's basketball coach Brenda Frese took some time to chat with Swish Appeal to preview the season, discuss how the team will respond to the loss of sophomore point guard Brene Moseley, and - of course - the school's move to the Big Ten.

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Banham, Minnesota aiming for 20 wins in 2012-13

Marcus R. Fuller of the Pioneer Press reports that the Minnesota Gophers are expecting things this year after winning the 2012 WBI title last year.

Their optimism is buoyed by the promise of sophomore Rachel Banham, who is looking to continue her quest to become the best player in Minnesota Gophers history after spending the offseason recovering from a pulmonary embolism.

For Banham, 19, who eclipsed former Gophers All-American Lindsay Whalen's freshman scoring record, the offseason was supposed to be about setting out to be the best basketball player in program history -- even better than Whalen...If Banham returns to her All-Big Ten form, the team goal of 20 wins is a lot more attainable. So is her individual goal of being the best Gophers player of all time.

As a team that won 15 regular season games last season and returns the top of their rotation, getting to 20 wins this season is certainly a reasonable next step especially assuming Banham improves in her sophomore year after getting herself back into game shape. Taking the next step of making the 2013 NCAA Tournament might require more than that: the Gophers were 6-10 in the Big Ten last season, which didn't help their tournament resume that included a 122 RPI. Finding a few quality wins in conference play would go a long way to keeping their name in the national conversation come tournament time.

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Eastern Michigan enters season with NCAA sanctions

While the beginning of the season tends to be a time for optimism for most teams, for the Eastern Michigan Eagles things are starting on what I suppose you could consider a "bittersweet" note.

On the one hand, the NCAA's announcement of penalties for EMU's practice violations from the AnnMarie Gilbert era brings closure to a saga that's been going on for a few years now. On the other hand, it's a cloud that will continue to hang over the program for a few years.

Matt Sussman of SB Nation's MAC Conference blog Hustle Belt has broken down the NCAA's decision, highlighting what might be the biggest penalty.

3) A limitation to seven official recruiting visits for the 2012-13 academic year. (Eastern had limited itself to 10 official visits in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years - maximum allowed is 12. Eastern averaged seven visits annually during the period of 2008-09 through 2011-12.)

That's rather significant in terms of recruiting, and perhaps the biggest additional penalty handed down.

These penalties are certainly not debilitating, but as a program trying to overcome the graduation of dynamic guard Tavelyn James it's not a positive either.

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Who might be able to beat the Baylor Lady Bears?

As part of a preview for the Baylor Lady Bears' 2012-13 season, Jonathan Tjarks of SB Nation Dallas and I had an e-conversation about whether this year's team could be better than last year's undefeated team, how great an accomplishment it would be to go undefeated in consecutive seasons, and who might beat them.

And without saying they'll definitely go undefeated, it's hard to figure out who might stop their run as I told Jonathan.

I would imagine the game that most people have circled in that regard is their December 5 meeting with Notre Dame in South Bend - Skylar Diggins is something of a superstar in the women's basketball world and winning in South Bend is no easy task. But having lost Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters to the WNBA as well as gritty point guard Brittany Mallory it's not clear if they'll have enough to take down Baylor.

Other teams to watch for: Kentucky has the athletes to pressure Baylor, though Odyssey Sims is like a one-woman press break. They play Connecticut in Storrs, which is a test for any team though that would depend a lot on the play of UConn center Stefanie Dolson and - again - UConn's ability to stop Sims. The sleeper team - and maybe not for those that watched closely - is Iowa State. They played Baylor extremely well early in conference play last season simply by spreading the floor with the range that their posts have and hitting a ton of threes. While one would suspect that Baylor is ready for that this season - and given that they won the game, they really found a counter for it in the second half of that very game - the familiarity of Big 12 opponents like Iowa State is probably the most likely formula for an upset.

As Geno Auriemma has said, Baylor is not only a team with all the tools to win but also a team that doesn't have any really obvious vulnerabilities - when you have a 6-foot-8 center in the middle and a dynamic point guard at the top, it can be hard to either stop them or score against them. So I'm not saying Iowa State will definitely be the team to beat them - it would take them putting together two halves of hot 3-point shooting and an off day from Baylor to make that happen.

But the larger point is that as we've seen in the past couple of seasons - with both Baylor and UConn - a conference opponent's familiarity with their tendencies might have the best chance at beating them.

For the full Q&A, visit SBN Dallas.

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Washington St. hoping to move up in the Pac-12

Washington State probably isn't the first program that comes to mind for women's basketball fans when thinking about the Pac-12, but the Cougars turned some heads on the west coast with their run to the 2012 Pac-12 Tournament semifinals where they fell to a talented California Golden Bears squad.

To put that in perspective, the Cougars had never gotten out of the first round of the Pac-10/12 tournament since its inception in 2002 before last year's run.

That's just how things have been in Pullman for the last decade as alluded to by Michael Preston of SB Nation's Coug Center.

June Daugherty's rebuild continues into it's sixth year and it's been longer and more arduous than I think even she thought it would be. The difficulty lies in just how good the top of the conference, especially Stanford, can be. Since the conference started playing varsity women's basketball in 1986-1987, Stanford has won the conference title in all but six seasons. The good news is Daugherty knows how to knock off Stanford as she did just that with her 2000-2001 Washington Huskies squad.

Needless to say, last year's tournament run was like a breath of fresh air for the Cougars and perhaps there's reason to believe that they can at least challenge to move up into the middle of the now-12 team conference this season.

Yet the media poll is less optimistic about a Cougars team that lost athletic guard Jazmine Perkins to graduation: the Cougars finished tenth in the Pac-12 media poll and the voting in that poll reflects what keen observers might see as clear tiers of talent in the conference.

The question for Washington State is how easily they might be able to leapfrog some of those teams that people might consider ahead of them.

For more on the Pac-12 conference, visit the season preview at Pac-12.org with preseason poll results and the preseason All-Pac-12 selections.

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Diggins, Hill headline 2012 Carrier Classic

The second annual Carrier Classic will feature a matchup between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Ohio State Buckeyes women's basketball teams on Friday at 4 p.m. EDT on NBC Sports Network. Not only does the game help raise the profile of women's basketball - while showcasing a couple of top 2013 WNBA draft prospects - but also the critical role of women in the military. For more information on the game, visit the official Carrier Classic website.

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High hopes for frosh PG Thompson at Kentucky

While the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball team struggled in their exhibition game last night, Greg Alan Edwards of SB Nation's A Sea of Blue wrote that the women's basketball team, "...destroyed their exhibition opponent Bellarmine tonight before the men got started."

While there were a few standout performances for the Wildcats in that game, one player to keep an eye on is freshman McDonald's High School All-American Janee Thompson who had 9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and no turnovers off the bench for Kentucky last night. Edwards has previously highlighted Thompson as part of his player preview series:

...any time you can add a McDonald's AA to the team, you dang sure better do it. Thompson is the next phase in UK recruiting. She personifies what Matthew Mitchell wants for UK at the point. She's blindingly fast, smart with the ball, and can pass as well as blow by you for a drive. Her skills will be second to none in the NCAA, and she is definitely WNBA material...You folks are going to love Thompson, because she is a Brandon Knight/Rajon Rondo type guard. Smart, fast, and afraid of nothing.

While a Knight/Rondo combination sounds like it can't be anything more than a wild Wildcats fan fantasy, if Thompson shows any part of that in her freshman year - minus Knight's college turnovers - she'll be in the starting lineup in no time.

For more on the Kentucky Wildcats, visit Edwards' work at A Sea of Blue.

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Cal has lots of talent, high expectations

This season could probably be seen as a major moment for the California Golden Bears women's basketball program: it's the final season for that highly touted freshman class from 2009 that won the WNIT their freshman year, failed to make the NCAA tournament their second year, and made a splash against Stanford last season.

And a large part of taking the next step to getting to the tournament last year was due to the play of dynamic guard Brittany Boyd.

Maybe for the first time in three years, there's a lot less uncertainty about Cal's roster and how far they can go: Boyd is the star of the program, they still have a rugged frontline, and Layshia Clarendon has emerged as one of the Pac-12's top scorer without the pressure of point guard duties.

But norcalnick of SB Nation's California Golden Blogs highlighted the toughest player to project in his Cal women's basketball preview.

That leaves Justine Hartman, who is easily the toughest player to project. She's immensely talented, but saw only limited action last year as she was still getting used to playing on her surgically repaired knees. On other teams she almost certainly would have seen major minutes, but Cal had the luxury of bringing her along slowly. If she's fully recovered and ready to burst on the scene then Cal has an even stronger bench. The coaches praised the work she's done to get ready for this season, so hopefully she's ready to play more minutes.

And how do you find more minutes for Hartman without taking away minutes you need for Caldwell, Brandon and Gray? You play a lineup with three post players.

Obviously, this is a "problem" most programs would love to have: an abundance of talent. And while every player on their roster could stand to prove in one way or another, they really are in position to make some noise on a national stage.

For more on the California Golden Bears, visit California Golden Blogs.

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Iowa St. hoping for big year from Chelsea Poppens

The Iowa State Cyclones enter the 2012-13 season just outside the top 25 rankings.

If they want to move up, senior forward Chelsea Poppens will be a large part of that.

Cody Westerlund of the Ames Tribune put together a great feature article on the 6-foot-2 senior over the weekend, highlighting both her biggest strength and the weakness she'll have to overcome in order to be even more productive for the Cyclones.

Notably, Poppens accomplished all her work in just 26.8 minutes per game, a paltry number for a star player on a team that didn't rout opponents, because she was often in foul trouble. That she so often drew the ire of the referee's whistle isn't pleasing to Fennelly...Flanigan, the Aplington-Parkersburg coach, can’t say he didn’t see it coming either, considering how she went about practice all her life.

"I remember doing rebounding drills, and she would just be killing people," says Flanigan, who follows Poppens and the Cyclones closely. "She’d get every rebound. I’d have to do some drills without her included, for her safety and everybody else’s. Not because she was out of control but because she was, ‘I’m going to get the ball at any cost.’"

Ask most anyone, and that willpower is the one trait that’s allowed Poppens to be successful throughout her Iowa State career, during which she’s played in 96 of a possible 97 games, starting 83 of them. She’s a quality athlete, strong and fundamentally sound at 6-foot-2, but in no way is she remarkably athletic.

It's an in-depth article with plenty of great information to digest, but that section in particular really stood out because it pretty much sums up Poppens' profile as a 2013 WNBA draft prospect - a relentless rebounder, which bodes well for a WNBA draft prospect but isn't remarkably athletic and has some concerns about foul trouble and turnovers that she could probably stand to improve upon if she wants to be successful at the next level.

While the article addresses Poppens and her role in the team's success - which reflects their experience on the frontline - their guard situation is a little shakier, as alluded to earlier today on the @CycloneWBB twitter account.

For more on the Cyclones, check out Westerlund's article here. Click here for more on Poppens from Swish Appeal's Jessica Lantz during last season.

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ACC preview: How far can Thomas take Maryland?

AP Preseason All-American Alyssa Thomas took the Maryland Terrapins to the ACC championship last season as a sophomore and picked up a number of accolades in the process. With the expectations for her even higher individually, can she help the Terps win consecutive ACC titles?

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Michigan's leadership, talent excites Barnes Arico

The University of Michigan is coming off its first tournament appearance in 11 years last season and new coach Kim Barnes Arico is looking forward to making a return trip to the tournament with the Wolverines after her St. John's Red Storm ended their tournament hopes in the 2012 NCAA Tournament.

Having lost guard Courtney Boylan to graduation, the Wolverines are hoping that a nucleus that includes strong leadership, seasoned talent, and a quick adjustment from a top recruit helps them take the next step as a program, as reported by David Goricki of The Detroit News.

The Wolverines should have a strong nucleus. The team's top recruit is Madison Ristovski, who was named Miss Basketball last season for Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett. Senior guard Jenny Ryan (6.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4 assists last season) joins Ristovski in the backcourt with 6-foot-1 senior Rachel Sheffer (12.8 points) up front.

"Madison Ristovski has come in and really been tremendous," Barnes Arico said. "I think she can really be a special player for us. She's really come in and adjusted to college basketball pretty smoothly."

One thing Michigan might have to improve upon this season is its rebounding: although they have some height on the roster, Michigan's tallest players weren't their best rebounders in the 2011-12 season. Instead they got by with outshooting their opponents and being an extremely efficient ball handling team (in fact, their Four Factors differential profile is extremely similar to what the San Antonio Silver Stars have done over the past few years in the WNBA).

For more on the Victors Wolverines, check out Goricki's full article.

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The Tennessee Lady Vols are built to run

While the Tennessee Lady Vols recently got some major recruiting commitments for next season, this season will feature a bit of uncertainty compared to recent years.

With five players leaving the program and getting drafted by the WNBA over the past two years, the team will be looking for others to step up and form a new identity. And while two exhibition games are hardly enough to say for sure what that identity will be, David Hooper of SB Nation's Rocky Top Talk wrote that their identity might be defending and getting out in transition.

Short story: this team looks absolutely nothing like the Baby Vols era of huge, lumbering trees on the floor. They defend voraciously, force turnovers, transition quickly, and flat-out run.

The biggest difference is in the post, where Tennessee's new interior players and Isabelle Harrison just spent two exhibition games running up and down the court all game long. All of them are fast enough to lead transition fast breaks, and Harrison in particular has decided that she loves to steal the pass from the wing to the top of the key and run uncontested layups. It comes at the cost of some height: Tennessee's tallest players are 6'-3", a bit shorter than the usual group of 6'-4" - 6'-6" gals they've had in the past. But for schools not named Baylor, they're plenty tall enough, and the extra speed will against small, fast teams like Kentucky.

For more on the Lady Vols' exhibition games and their prospects for the upcoming season, head over to Rocky Top Talk.

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Virgina enters 2012 season facing challenges

Brian J. Leung of SB Nation's Streaking the Lawn writes that despite receiving votes in the 2012 NCAA women's basketball preseason polls the Virginia Cavaliers face some significant challenges entering the season.

In addition to Erinn Thompson's career having to come to an end due to injury, the Cavaliers have lost senior Lexie Gerson to season-ending hip surgery in early September.

Noticeably missing from the returning seniors is Lexie Gerson, who underwent hip surgery in early September and will miss the entire season. She was named to last year's ACC All-Defensive team, ranked No. 15 in the country in steals.

"The loss of Lexie was quite a shocking blow," said head coach Joanne Boyle in a released statement. "She has been a tremendous defensive spark for us on the court. We are all wishing her a speedy recovery and know that she will be back next season with that same energy and enthusiasm."

Those losses due to injury only compound what is already a tough schedule that features #16 Vanderbilt and #17 West Virginia in addition to the rigors of the ACC schedule.

For more on Virginia women's basketball, visit Streaking the Lawn.

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2012 Atlantic Sun women's hoops preview

The Atlantic Sun Conference doesn't have a representative in James Bowman's Top 100 programs list, but Florida Gulf Coast has been a program on the rise as we described after the 2012 A-Sun Tournament. Can they repeat as conference champions in 2013? Or will a new champion emerge? Below are our preseason picks for the conference.

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