By Richard Deitsch
April 06, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS -- The defending champion is Texas A&M, and Maya Moore is soon to be a member of the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. Indeed, we're entering a new era in women's college basketball. While we reserve the right to change these picks come next November, here's's way-too-early preseason Top 10 for 2011-12 ...

Starters Returning: Four Key Players: Brittney Griner, Odyssey Sims and Destiny Williams The Skinny: Look for point guard Sims -- the freshman of the year -- to make a huge leap as a sophomore. Remember, she was expected to back up Kelli Griffin this year before Griffin shockingly left the Lady Bears before the opening game. The junior-to-be Griner will use the loss to Texas A&M in the Dallas Regional final as motivation to get stronger. Quotable: "I harp on this, but truthfully, when you look out on that floor, I have one senior and a bunch of sophomores and one freshman who get the majority of the minutes." -- Baylor coach Kim Mulkey on her inexperience this season.

Starters Returning: Four Key Players: Skylar Diggins, Natalie Novosel and Devereaux Peters The Skinny: The deepest team in the country (they lost only one player) will be led by Diggins and Novosel. Redshirt senior guard Brittany Mallory has one more year of eligibility and will make her decision on whether she's coming back later in the summer. Most expected Notre Dame to make its big run in 2012, and they exceeded expectations by losing in a tight championship game. The Irish are the co-favorites with the Lady Bears. Quotable: "I think there's definitely a little carry over, but you're just not guaranteed anything. Getting here this year doesn't mean that because we have everybody back but Becca (Bruszewski) that we're going to be back here next year. And that's something we'll have to guard against after the season. We can't get complacent. We know how hard we worked to get here. This was an unbelievable effort by everybody to get here."-- Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw.

Starters Returning: Four Key Players: Meighan Simmons, Shekinna Stricklen and Glory Johnson The Skinny: Pat Summitt has a deep and athletic team returning, but the best news of all is incoming point guard Ariel Massengale, a big-time talent who will likely start as a freshman. That means Simmons moves to the wing, where she'll be even more deadly. Tennessee also adds another major recruit in forward Cierra Burdick. Quotable: "I am very disappointed in our basketball team. I don't think we came here with the focus and don't ask me why. I look at this junior class and Angie [Bjorklund] as a senior and I am kind of lost for words as to why they wouldn't come in and already know what they were going to do. I hate this for our program, our administration. I hope our players will learn from it because we have a way to go. We were exposed today." -- Summitt, following her team's loss to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight.

Starters Returning: Four Key Players: Bria Hartley, Stefanie Dolson, Tiffany Hayes, Kelly Farris and Caroline Doty The Skinny: Moore is gone, but UConn isn't going away from the national stage with the core above and a great freshman class led by wing player Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, the WBCA national high school player of the year. The 6-foot-3 forward-center recruit Kiah Stokes also has promise. Quotable: "What Maya and Lorin [Dixon] experienced in the two years between their loss in the Final Four and the loss against Notre Dame, that's what I'm going to choose to focus on when I think about those two, especially Maya. I'm going to think more about the best player in the history of the Big East and maybe the best student-athlete in the history of college basketball." -- Coach Geno Auriemma, after the loss to Notre Dame in the national semifinals.

Starters Returning: Five Key Players: Shoni Schimmel, Monique Reid, Tia Gibbs The Skinny: Schimmel (15.1 points), a Magic Johnson-like point guard who ranked second in the Big East with 4.9 assists per game, had a fantastic freshman year. If not for Reid suffering a right groin strain early against Gonzaga, Louisville might have faced Stanford in the Elite Eight. This team has every starter back, and the Cardinal also add a big-time recruit in forward Sarah Hammond. Quotable: "We have to have some kids that want to put in some time to become better basketball players. We need children that didn't play as much to be hungry and want to be in the gym. I'm excited about the future of this program, but we can't stop working." -- Louisville coach Jeff Waltz, to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The Skinny: The Ogumwike sisters (All-America senior forward Necka and sophomore forward Chinay) are back, but Stanford will have trouble replacing the scoring from graduating seniors Melanie Murphy, Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen. Incoming point guard Amber Orrange has plenty of promise.

The Skinny: The champs lose leading scoring Danielle Adams and inspirational point guard Sydney Colson, but senior guard Sydney Carter and senior forward and NCAA hero Tyra White can fill it up. Coach Gary Blair gets an impact transfer in center Kelsey Bone, who has star potential.

The Skinny: The vaunted freshman class -- led by Chelsea Gray -- now takes ownership of this team with the departures of Jasmine Thomas, Krystal Thomas and Karima Christmas. Incoming post Elizabeth Williams and forward Amber Hanson (sister of North Carolina's John) will be impact recruits.

The Skinny: The Hoyas have a fabulous point guard in Sugar Rogers and return four starters (sans Monica McNutt). Their defense will keep them in every game.

The Skinny: New coach Nicki Caldwell built up UCLA very quickly and now heads to LSU where she has returning talent (senior forward LaSondra Barrett and junior guard Adrienne Webb) and a major recruit in 6-foot-4 forward Krystal Forthan. Watch out for this program the next two years.

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