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UConn women’s basketball 2020-21 roundtable predictions

With this being one of the Huskies’ most intriguing teams in recent memory, our staff weighs in on how we think this season will unfold.

Courtesy of UConn Athletics

Most UConn women’s basketball teams usually don’t have this much uncertainty heading into a new season. Though there’s always holes to fill, production to replace and players that need to step up, the Huskies’ roster turned over significantly this offseason with six players departing and six freshmen arriving. UConn doesn’t have a single senior on its roster.

But after a long wait, we’ll finally get a chance to see this Huskies’ team that, so far, has been an enigma with no media access into practice and no exhibition games. UConn tips off on Saturday against UMass Lowell, which means it’s time for our annual staff roundtable predictions!

Also make sure to check out our staff over/under predictions, five bold takes about the team, the latest episode of Chasing Perfection where we forecast the upcoming season and all our other preview coverage of the Huskies.

Leading Scorer

Daniel Connolly: Christyn Williams. Though she had an underwhelming sophomore year, Williams’ talent is undeniable and she’s at the point in her career where good players become great. Auriemma’s mentioned that Williams is more explosive and has the look of a college athlete this year, so it seems like a safe bet that she’ll make that leap.

Ian Bethune: Christyn Williams is poised for a breakout season after having tough sophomore campaign. If she score consistently, there’s no reason why she can’t lead the team in scoring over the entire season.

Megan Gauer: Christyn Williams. Everything both Williams herself and Auriemma have said about her game this offseason has me convinced she’s primed to be one of the best players in the country this season. Despite an underwhelming sophomore campaign, she still averaged over 14 points last season and could be easily be closer to 20 points per game this season.

Dan Madigan: If UConn can get 20 or more games in, I think Paige Bueckers will lead the team in scoring by season’s end. I think she’ll have a slow start but eventually show why she was one of the most coveted women’s basketball recruits of all-time. You don’t get a nickname like Paige Buckets without scoring a ton of points.

Poll

Who’s UConn’s leading scorer?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Christyn Williams
    (90 votes)
  • 26%
    Paige Bueckers
    (48 votes)
  • 10%
    Anna Makurat
    (19 votes)
  • 8%
    Olivia Nelson-Ododa
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    Someone else (comment below!)
    (10 votes)
183 votes total Vote Now

Team MVP

Connolly: Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Though the junior center should have more help this season with the addition of freshmen Aaliyah Edwards and Piath Gabriel, Nelson-Ododa is the Huskies’ only proven big. UConn has enough backcourt depth to ride out any injury to Williams (or anyone else for that matter). But if Nelson-Ododa goes down, the Huskies will be in deep, deep trouble.

Bethune: Christyn Williams. Nine out of 10 times, the MVP of a team comes from its leading scorer. This year will be no different for the Huskies as I expect Williams to lead the team in scoring.

Megan: I think Nelson-Ododa sets the tone for how good this team can be this season. We saw excellence in flashes last season with definite improvement heading into March before the season was cancelled. If Nelson-Ododa can consistently be a strong presence for UConn on both ends of the court, this team will be one of the best in the country. If not, they may struggle against top opponents with too much reliance on the backcourt to get big wins.

Madigan: I’m going with Christyn Williams. For the first time at UConn, she’s likely going to be the primary offensive option for at least a good chunk of the season. If she can be an efficient scorer and get teammates like Bueckers, Anna Makurat and Evina Westbrook going offensively, this Huskies team could be dangerous. The offense will run through Williams and it will constantly be up to her to make the right decision to get this team back to yet another Final Four.

Poll

Who will be UConn’s team MVP?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Olivia Nelson-Ododa
    (54 votes)
  • 39%
    Christyn Williams
    (56 votes)
  • 21%
    Someone else (Comment below!)
    (31 votes)
141 votes total Vote Now

Breakout Player

Connolly: Aaliyah Edwards. Though Bueckers is (understandably) drawing all the attention, Edwards shouldn’t be overlooked. She already has experience with the Canadian Senior National Team (!!!) and will have plenty of opportunities to earn minutes as the top backup to Nelson-Ododa. Edwards’ coaches and teammates have raved about her physicality and toughness — something the team has lacked recently. Most casual women’s basketball fans might not know who Edwards is now, but they will by the end of the season.

Bethune: Aaliyah Edwards comes to UConn with experience with Canadian Senior National Team which is now ranked fourth in world and led by another former Husky, Kia Nurse. Plus we’ve heard nothing but great things about her all through this jumbo sized preseason having drawn comparisons to another Husky great, Napheesa Collier.

Megan: Anna Makurat. Makurat was already a staple in UConn’s starting lineup by the end of last season but she’s not getting any national attention (yet). She’s a great shooter and an excellent passer. Makurat saw the floor last season better than probably any freshman in the country and once her confidence caught up, she excelled at driving in the lane as well. I expect big things for her sophomore season.

Madigan: I love Anna Makurat’s game. She’s got a great feel for the game and excels as a passer and a shooter. She seems to be in better shape now, and if she can rebound and play even a little bit of defense, she’s going to be key cog for this UConn team. We kind of know that Williams, Nelson-Ododa, and likely Bueckers will be really good this year, but if Makurat can join them as an efficient scorer, this team can easily win the national championship.

Poll

Who will be UConn’s breakout player?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Aaliyah Edwards
    (37 votes)
  • 50%
    Anna Makurat
    (70 votes)
  • 22%
    Someone else (Comment below!)
    (31 votes)
138 votes total Vote Now

What do you expect out of Paige Bueckers?

Connolly: Ever since she arrived on campus, I’ve tried to keep my expectations for Bueckers in check. Freshman year at UConn is never easy and Bueckers shouldn’t have the pressure to be a “program savior” (even though it doesn’t need saving) before she’s even played in a college game. Having said that, Bueckers’ attitude, mindset and maturity has been remarkable and it seems like she’s ready to face whatever gets thrown at her. I fully believe that Bueckers will have one of the best freshman season we’ve ever seen at UConn start to finish. Not Maya Moore level — but not far off, either.

Bethune: I expect Paige Bueckers to be the same type of player she’s been touted as. The good thing for her is she won’t be expected to shoulder the load and can be a facilitator to make the rest of the players around her better.

Megan: I’m still trying to taper my expectations here. Buckers hasn’t played a college game yet and it’s always an adjustment — maybe even more so this year with everything else going on. This team’s four veterans can carry a lot of the load, which should take some pressure of Bueckers — not that she ever seems phased by the pressure or the hype. I expect it to take a bit for her to get going or have her hit that traditional mid-season freshman slump, but by postseason time I think she’ll be one of the top contributors on this team.

Madigan: I think Bueckers is going to have a stretch — maybe two games, maybe a week or two — where she probably sucks. We’ve seen it with almost every other highly touted freshman and there’s no doubt that this weird year will probably factor in to it happening again. It’s hard to be a freshman, let alone a highly-hyped one, for the greatest dynasty in college basketball. Auriemma will probably get on her in practice and in public, and slowly but surely, things will start to click. I really think that by March/April/whenever this season ends, we will be talking about Bueckers as one of the top players in the country this season. I just think her talent is too great not to shine through, even if there are some bumps along the way.

How many regular season games do they lose (if any)?

Connolly: Zero. I don’t think the non-conference games against Baylor, Tennessee and South Carolina happen because of the virus and UConn won’t face many tough tests in the Big East. Even if those non-conference matchups do happen, none of those teams have looked particularly impressive so far.

Bethune: They lose at most two games this season. They’ll lose one conference game and one non-conference game (Baylor or South Carolina).

Megan: None. Like Daniel said, I’m skeptical that the non-conference matchups will happen. They’ll run the table in the Big East, and even if Baylor or South Carolina stays on the schedule, from what I’ve seen so far I think the Huskies can take home that win.

Madigan: Zero. Don’t think they’re playing any non-conference games, especially those on the road.

Poll

How many games does UConn lose?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    0
    (55 votes)
  • 40%
    1
    (58 votes)
  • 14%
    2
    (20 votes)
  • 6%
    3+
    (9 votes)
142 votes total Vote Now

What’s the most common starting lineup?

Connolly: It seems like the four returners — Aubrey Griffin, Anna Makurat, Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Christyn Williams — will all start. The fifth spot is a lot more difficult to figure out. Though I’m not very confident in Evina Westbrook’s health, I have a hard time believing that Auriemma will start a freshman over a team captain, especially since they play a similar position.

Bethune: A core four of Bueckers, Williams, Makurat, and Nelson-Ododa is a definite. Whomever steps up out of Westbrook, Griffin and Edwards will round out the last spot.

Megan: Echoing Daniel, the four returners will definitely get the start. I go back and forth on the final spot, but given Auriemma’s comments on Westbrook’s health and (rare) positive statements about Paige Bueckers, I think Bueckers gets the final spot.

Madigan: By the end of the year, I think Williams, Bueckers, Makurat, Griffin and Nelson-Ododa round out the starting lineup. I think Westbrook will start the season in the starting five before Bueckers forces her way into more minutes as the seasons goes on.

Do they lose a conference game?

Connolly: Definitely not. The Big East is better than the AAC but it’s still a mid-major conference. Nobody is good enough to consistently compete with them.

Bethune: I think they lose a conference game this year. The Big East is definitely a stronger conference then the last one the Huskies were in. DePaul could surprise them or maybe even a Seton Hall or Marquette.

Megan: Nope. I don’t expect them to never lose a Big East game like their seven year run in the AAC, but it’s going to take a few years for another team in the conference to rise to a level to beat the Huskies.

Madigan: Nope. The undefeated conference streak continues. Always have to keep an eye out for DePaul, though.

How far do they go?

Connolly: UConn will reach the Final Four — that much is nearly certain. It feels bold to predict the Huskies will win the national championship with how many question marks they have but the talent is there. As long as they play enough games to develop the way they need to, I’m not sure how many teams will stand in the way of banner No. 12.

Bethune: They’ll reach their 13th straight Final Four. If they stay healthy, there’s no reason why they can’t win it all this season.

Megan: Making it a dozen could definitely be in the cards this season (assuming we get to a normal post season). The top of NCAA women’s basketball feels like it has more parity than usual, but with the talent on this roster I expect UConn to easily be among the top four teams in the country come March. Most of the top teams in the country have a lot of question marks, and as long as UConn can answer theirs, they could be the favorite to win it all.

Madigan: I think the Final Four is the floor for this team — a lofty expectation, but one that’s deserved when you make 12 of them in a row. After that, it’s really a toss up — who knows how this NCAA Tournament will shake out with a likely bubble format and COVID-19 forcing so many pauses and cancellations — but I think the backcourt of Williams and Bueckers is enough to give the Huskies a legit shot at title No. 12.

Poll

How far will UConn go?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    National champions
    (62 votes)
  • 48%
    Final Four
    (65 votes)
  • 2%
    Elite Eight
    (4 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (comment below!)
    (3 votes)
134 votes total Vote Now

Craziest thing Geno Auriemma says/does this year

Connolly: If Auriemma keeps wearing a gaiter like he has in practice, he’ll definitely start pulling it over his eyes in disgust when his team does something he doesn’t like.

Bethune: I think at some point he’s going to whip out one of his favorite lines but this time with a different player (“We’ve got Paige Bueckers and they don’t”).

Megan: I’m just looking forward to more quotes about how wine is getting Geno through everything going on in the world.

Madigan: I have a weird feeling Geno makes an appearance on Paige Buecker’s Tik Tok this year after a big win.

Wildcard/hot take/anything you want to say

Connolly: We really shouldn’t be playing this season.

Bethune: I have to agree with Connolly as well but I think the season probably shouldn’t have started until February. Keep an eye on Aaliyah Edwards. While we haven’t had a chance to see her at practice this season, she’s been compared to former UConn All-American Napheesa Collier. That’s high praise for a freshman but also puts some expectations on her. I think she’ll be able to handle it, though, and can talk to fellow Canadian and former Husky Kia Nurse if she needs some advice.

Megan: What Connolly said. Also, I think Aubrey Griffin will lead the team in rebounding. Nelson-Ododa seems like the obvious choice to do so, but I think Griffin’s presence on the offensive glass thanks to her speed and athleticism will give her the edge. She ranked in the 99th percentile for offensive rebounding rate last year, and she’s just getting started.

Madigan: Ditto to Connolly and Megan, but it’s here, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts and hope everyone stays safe this season.

I really hope Evina Westbrook is healthy and has a good season. She’s been bitten by the injury bug during her time at UConn and now she’s easing her way back onto the court. If the Huskies do play Tennessee this season, here’s hoping Westbrook is healthy enough for a good old fashioned revenge game. Who doesn’t love that?