Jeff Linder of The Gazette and KCRG has served on the Associated Press women’s basketball panel for the past four seasons.
If he is on the committee for the 2013-14 season, his preseason ballot will look something like this:
1. CONNECTICUT (35-4, NCAA national champion in 2013) — Are we about to see the next multi-title run for the Huskies? It’s very possible. UConn returns 83 percent of its scoring from a team that blazed through the tournament the past three weeks, including Most Outstanding Player Breanna Stewart.
2. DUKE (33-3, NCAA regional finalist) — Among the contenders, Duke returns the most. The Blue Devils bring back 96 percent of its scoring, including All-Americans Chelsea Gray and Elizabeth Williams. Probably a step below UConn, but Duke is the most legitimate threat.
3. STANFORD (33-3, NCAA regional semifinalist) — The Cardinal’s 2013 run ended prematurely at the hands of Georgia in the Sweet Sixteen, but Tara VanDerveer brings back a bundle of talent, led by All-American Chiney Ogwumike. Pac-12 supremacy is no longer a given though, with challengers California and Colorado rising.
4. NOTRE DAME (35-2, NCAA Final Four) — Final Four qualifiers the last three years, the Fighting Irish take their act to a now-loaded ACC. Skylar “Scoreboard” Diggins departs, but nearly everybody else is back, including Natalie Achonwa and Jewell Loyd.
5. LOUISVILLE (29-9, NCAA runner-up) — Pulled perhaps the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history with a regional-semifinal shocker over Baylor, then followed that with wins over Tennessee and Cal to reach the final before UConn was far too much. With 88 percent of its scoring back, the ‘Ville should be better in 2013-14.
6. KENTUCKY (30-6, NCAA regional finalist) — The Wildcats now stand on even footing with Tennessee in the SEC, and though A’dia Mathies departs, double-digit scorers DeNesha Stallworth and Jennifer O’Neill return to make UK a slight favorite over the Lady Vols.
7. TENNESSEE (27-8, NCAA regional finalist) — Admit it, you thought the Lady Vols would plunge this year. I did, leaving Tennessee out of the preseason top 25. I won’t do it again. The Lady Vols bring back their top two scorers in Meighan Simmons and Bashaara Graves.
8. MARYLAND (26-8, NCAA regional semifinalist) — In her final year in the ACC before bringing her outfit to the Big Ten, Cedar Rapids native Brenda Frese will have another strong squad. Alyssa Thomas is a two-time second-team All-American and returns for her senior year.
9. CALIFORNIA (32-4, NCAA Final Four) – Earned a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title, then the Bears made their first Final Four. Leading scorer Layshia Carendon departs, but the next two players (Brittany Boyd and Gennifer Brandon) are back. Brandon averaged a double-double.
10. COLORADO (25-7, NCAA qualifier) — A first-round NCAA exit didn’t erase the progress Linda Lappe (another Iowan) has made with the Lady Buffs. Leading scorer Chucky Jeffery will be gone, but CU brings back its next 10 best players.
11. Oklahoma (24-11, NCAA regional semifinalist)
12. Nebraska (25-9, NCAA regional semifinalist)
13. Dayton (28-3, NCAA second round)
14. Texas A&M (24-10, NCAA second round)
15. Michigan State (25-9, NCAA second round)
16. Creighton (25-8, NCAA second round)
17. Gonzaga (27-6, NCAA qualifier)
18. UCLA (26-8, NCAA second round)
19. Oklahoma State (22-11, NCAA second round)
20. South Carolina (25-8, NCAA second round)
21. Purdue (25-9, NCAA second round)
22. Georgia (28-7, NCAA regional finalist)
23. Iowa State (24-9, NCAA second round)
24. LSU (22-12, NCAA regional semifinalist)
25. Baylor (34-2, NCAA regional semifinalist)
Picking the local Division-I conferences:
Big Ten — 1. Nebraska, 2. Michigan State, 3. Purdue, 4. Penn State, 5. Minnesota, 6. Iowa, 7. Wisconsin, 8. Illinois, 9. Ohio State, 10. Northwestern, 11. Michigan, 12. Indiana.
Big 12 — 1. Oklahoma, 2. Oklahoma State, 3. Iowa State, 4. Baylor, 5. West Virginia, 6. Texas, 7. Texas Tech, 8. Kansas State, 9. Kansas, 10. TCU.
Missouri Valley — 1. Indiana State, 2, Loyola (Ill.), 3. Bradley, 4. Illinois State, 5. Wichita State, 6. Drake, 7. Missouri State, 8. Northern Iowa, 9. Southern Illinois, 10. Evansville.