As he held court for a small group of reporters last month inside a midtown Manhattan restaurant, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma allowed himself a moment to reminisce about the past. "You know, Tina Charles could be a real pain in the ass," said Auriemma, smiling broadly as he reflected on his now-graduated All-America center. "But, now, all of a sudden, I can't believe how much I miss her. It's like, Come back, Shane! Come back, Tina Charles. I need you."
Charles, of course, is no longer in charge of UConn's paint -- she now does her work down the road from Auriemma for the WNBA's Connecticut Sun -- and her graduation opens up the possibility for something that hasn't happened in two years: Beating UConn. "I'm sure they will figure out a way to cover it up and get productivity in other places, but a player like Tina Charles does not come around every year," said Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie. "The story is nobody replaces Tina Charles. You evolve to some other place."
Evolution is in the air in women's basketball, especially at Baylor where the game's most revolutionary force -- 6-foot-8 sophomore center Brittney Griner -- begins her second year after setting an NCAA record for blocked shots with 223. The Lady Bears are atop SI.com's initial women's power rankings not for where they are today but where we imagine they will be come next April. UConn is still a championship contender, but the Huskies' vulnerability opens up what will be one of the more exciting years in the sport. Stanford, Xavier and Tennessee are also in the mix.
NCAA Basketball Power Rankings