UConn women’s basketball is in a familiar spot. Just this time last year, the Huskies were coming off a heartbreaking Final Four loss and were gearing up for another run at their next national championship.
They’re also in uncharted territory. They lost three key players and have two new members of the starting lineup and nothing but question marks off the bench. There’s as much variability with how the season can go as any in recent memory. We gathered our staff to forecast how this year will end up.
Non-Megan Walker Breakout Player
Ian Bethune: Christyn Williams would be the obvious answer here. But my Monopoly money’s on Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Having a different view (sitting down on the court) than most here, you see things that some might not. In their only exhibition, she showed flashes of brilliance in the post and seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on. She’ll make freshman mistakes, but by the time conference play rolls around and they get into the meat of their schedule, she won’t be playing like one anymore.
Megan Gauer: I think Batouly Camara has the potential to be a breakout player off the bench for UConn this year. In her freshman season at Kentucky and limited minutes last year, Camara has shown that she can be a great rebounder and aggressive defender. Both of those areas are weaker on this UConn team, leaving space for her to help fill that gap.
Dan Madigan: I think Mikayla Coombs is a really intriguing piece and should be an asset this season. Although she played sparingly last year, she had moments where she showed her talent and looked comfortable on the court. Auriemma seems to think that if she can be more confident, she can really be a force on the offensive end.
Daniel Connolly: Christyn Williams. The exhibition against Vanguard really soured me on the bench’s potential, which I thought could contribute a decent amount this year and limits the number of potential breakout players. Christyn Williams is going to be a great player from the first tip and will have one of the best freshmen seasons at UConn in recent memory (More on her later).
Ian Bethune: Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson. Simply put, without those two, this team goes nowhere this season. They’ll be relied on like they were seniors in high school but this time around, it’s their last season in college before they become rookies again.
Megan Gauer: Napheesa Collier. With the departure of Gabby Williams and Azura Stevens, Collier will definitely have a stronger presence in the paint this year. That sets her up to return to, if not exceed, her sophomore level of dominance where she led the team in scoring and led the country in scoring efficiency.
Madigan: Katie Lou Samuelson. Collier will definitely be important, but Samuelson is the heart and soul of this team. She constantly brings intensity and tenacity night in and night out and will likely be one of the most prolific and efficient scorers in the country. On top of being the best 3-point shooter in the country, Samuelson has really diversified her offensive game to be a weapon in the paint and has made significant strides as a defender during her time in Storrs. She’s primed for another monster year.
Connolly: Crystal Dangerfield. Yes, Samuelson and Collier are two of the best players in the country but Dangerfield is more valuable as the floor general. For the most part, we know what Samuelson and Collier are going to bring to the table every night (Which isn’t a bad thing). If the bench contributes this season, something this team desperately needs, it’ll be because of Dangerfield’s ability to run the offense.
Potential Trap Game
Ian Bethune: I honestly don’t think there’s a trap game on their schedule because of the fact they play one of the toughest, if not toughest, non-conference schedules.
Madigan: DePaul on Nov. 28. This one has trap game written all over. The Huskies play the Blue Demons the day before Thanksgiving and four days before a Final Four rematch against defending national champion Notre Dame. DePaul head coach Doug Bruno knows Auriemma well and has given the Huskies trouble in the past, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this game is a lot closer than it probably should be.
Megan Gauer: I’d also say DePaul here. The Huskies will be returning from Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, and have the Notre Dame game looming the following weekend. The team will be a little distracted heading into this one, which could cause them to struggle against a good DePaul team.
Connolly: Is it bad I don’t see one? I think Notre Dame, Baylor and Louisville have a chance to beat UConn. The rest are going to be blowouts, like always. Even if everything that can go wrong does go wrong, I still have a hard time seeing them losing to someone outside those three.
Does UConn win the national championship?
Ian Bethune: No, they don’t win it all. They simply lack the depth to get there. If someone doesn’t emerge from the bench, they might be lucky to get out of Albany Regional.
Megan Gauer: Yes. This team is not very deep, but most of the contenders either also lack depth or have pretty young teams. Also, I refuse to believe that Katie Lou Samuelson will graduate without playing in a national championship game.
Madigan: The fact that we’re even asking this question speaks to how incredible this program is. I think this team makes a 12th-straight Final Four but again falls short of another title. This Notre Dame team is back and even better than last year.
Connolly: On paper, this is an easy no. Notre Dame is totally loaded this year and in theory should torch everyone in their way to a second-straight title (Like the Huskies in the Stewie Erea). But being around this UConn team early on, they just feel different. It’s nothing tangible I can point to, it’s just a hunch they’ll get past their Final Four struggles this year.
UConn can overachieve this season if...
Ian Bethune: They win the national championship. With that being said, if someone emerges from the bench (see my breakout player), this team could be unstoppable. And we all know if they can get themselves to the title game, Geno Auriemma will get them the W and title No. 12.
Madigan: Megan Walker actually breaks out. There’s a lot of hype that Walker will blossom this season, and UConn needs it to happen to win another national title. Walker’s size and offensive repertoire could go a long way to replacing Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse. Her ability to drive to the hoop could create a lot more open 3-point looks for Samuelson and Crystal Dangerfield, too. If Walker becomes the player so many expect her to be, the road to title No. 12 becomes a lot easier.
Megan Gauer: The freshman adapt quickly. Auriemma has already said that Christyn Williams has come in and not acted like a freshman. If Olivia Nelson-Ododa can step up and do the same as the season goes on, the Huskies will have some more scoring options to help them make a championship run in March.
Connolly: A second big behind Napheesa Collier emerges. It doesn’t matter how good Collier is, she can’t do it alone. One of Nelson-Ododa, Batouly Camara or Kyla Irwin needs to step up and contribute major minutes to boost the Huskies front court.
UConn will disappoint this season if...
Ian Bethune: The normal answer to this would normally be if they don’t win the national championship. But as I said above, they lack the depth to do that. With that being said, they’ll disappoint if they can’t get out of the Albany Regional due to the parity in women’s college basketball.
Madigan: Any injuries to one of the starters could cause this season to get interesting quickly. Like Ian said, this team is thin depth-wise even by UConn’s standards. If the Huskies can’t stay healthy, it will be hard to make another deep NCAA tournament run.
Megan Gauer: No one steps up off the bench. If the Huskies don’t consistently get quality minutes from at least one or two players other than the starting five, it will be difficult for them to reach a 12th consecutive Final Four.
Connolly: I agree with everyone else. I’m not confident anyone from the bench can contribute. If it’s only 5 players doing anything meaningful, it’s going to be an ugly season for UConn’s standards.
Wildcard (Anything you feel like saying)
Ian Bethune: UConn has not lost a regular season game since the Stanford loss during the 2014-15 season with this years’ senior class only having lost two games overall. The regular season winning streak ends this year.
Megan Gauer: Megan Walker is going to lead the team in rebounds.
Madigan: Megan Walker leads the team in scoring in at least three games this year.
Connolly: Just wanted to say I think Christyn Williams will be a transcendent player for the Huskies. She’s really special.
Craziest thing Geno will say this season
Ian Bethune: I feel as though this could change from game to game based on the results. But I’m going to say “Losing a game will be the best thing to happen to this team. It will wake their asses up!”
Madigan: Geno mentions that he already has more wins than the football team before his team takes on DePaul.
Megan Gauer: Geno returns to Twitter for the first time since last March, to subtweet the first person to claim that this year’s UConn team is bad for women’s basketball.
Connolly: If the bench still isn’t doing much by conference play, I think he’ll play an entire game without the starters to see what happens. Yeah, it’s not something he’s going to say but it’s still crazy.