When women’s college basketball left off in April, nearly 10 million people were tuned in as the confetti fell on Kim Mulkey’s upstart LSU.
In a sport that’s never had a deeper field of credible contenders — 13 different teams have title odds of 25/1 or better — who will be cutting down the nets at the 2024 Final Four in Cleveland?
Here’s a look at the top women’s teams:
LSU: Trying to become the first team to repeat as national champion since 2016. Got a sweetheart draw through last season’s tournament and at least acknowledged it, putting together a team that looks much better on paper. The question is fit, and not of Mulkey’s outrageous outfits: How will returning star Angel Reese mesh with top transfers Hailey Van Lith and Aneesha Morrow and an elite recruiting class?
UConn: The Huskies are approaching Yankees levels of “where’s our banner?” hand-wringing — it’s been a whole seven years since Breanna Stewart finished her four-peat in Storrs. Paige Bueckers, the 2021 national player of the year, returns from injury to run the show alongside Azzi Fudd (the best shooter in the sport), electric forward Aaliyah Edwards and a deeper cast than Geno Auriemma has had in years.
South Carolina: The best program in the country under Dawn Staley defaults to contender status, though they lost all five starters from last season’s Final Four team, including the irreplaceable Aliyah Boston. Kamilla Cardoso, a 6-foot-7 center, takes on the leading role with transfer Te-Hina Paopao and freshman MiLaysa Fulwiley in the backcourt.
Iowa: Not buying it, actually. The Hawkeyes are in this tier in deference to the otherworldly abilities of Caitlin Clark. But this is a team that was roughly fifth-best in the country last season, lost its second- and third-best players, and can’t stand to be without Clark for more than a minute.
Ohio State: My hipster pick for the natty. The Buckeyes boast a stealth superstar in Cotie McMahon, ballhawking guard Jacy Sheldon (she checks a lot of boxes in the WNBA draft for the Liberty — you heard it here first!) and a signature pressing style.
UCLA: Here’s the pyramid of success: tough super-senior scorer (Charisma Osborne), high-IQ point guard (Kiki Rice), immense center with upside (Stanford transfer Lauren Betts), great coach (Cori Close).
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have arguably the best inside-out combo in the country in center Elizabeth Kitley and point guard Georgia Amoore. Kenny Brooks is the best coach you don’t know about.
Utah: The favorites in the zombie Pac-12 have the most continuity of any of the top teams, led by center Alissa Pili. Don’t forget they absolutely had LSU on the ropes in last season’s Sweet 16.
Texas: Rori Harmon, pound-for-pound maybe the country’s most fun player at 5-foot-6, makes them go.
USC: If a freshman can change the trajectory of a program, there’s no more likely candidate than JuJu Watkins, the nation’s No. 1 recruit.
Indiana: Try this on: Bobby Knight dies shortly before the season begins, and a complete Hoosiers women’s team brings glory back to Bloomington.
Honorable mentions: Ole Miss, Baylor
Notre Dame: Not buying until they come clean about star point guard Olivia Miles’ knee injury (which sounds suspiciously like a damaged ACL).
Stanford: Bad signs for coaching legend Tara Vanderveer’s run near the top of the sport. Could be a lost year for Cameron Brink.
Honorable mentions: Tennessee, Maryland
This story originally appeared on NYPost