There isn’t much uncertainty heading into UConn women’s basketball’s 2021-22 season. Geno Auriemma already revealed who will start in the opener, we know which players will make up the rotation and almost everybody on the roster returned from last year.
That doesn’t make it any easier to forecast how the season will play out, though. With the Huskies set to kick off the new campaign on Sunday against Arkansas, we gathered our staff — myself, Megan Gauer, Dan Madigan and Ian Bethune — for our annual roundtable predictions.
Daniel Connolly: Even though she’ll have more talent around her, I think it’ll be Paige Bueckers once against. Although Christyn Williams will have her best season at UConn, Bueckers is unstoppable and she’ll continue to score at a high clip — maybe not 20 points per game, but still best on the Huskies.
Megan Gauer: I’m expecting a big year from Williams, building on what we saw from her in the postseason last year. Combining that with Bueckers’ preference for passing and the fact that she will draw the other team’s best defender each game, I think Williams leads the team in scoring this year.
Dan Madigan: This year’s team will be more balanced than last year’s but I’d be shocked if this year’s leading scorer was anyone other than Buckers. She’ll still have the ball in her hands a ton and is one of the most gifted scorers to ever come through the program.
Ian Bethune: With Paige Bueckers no longer having to shoulder the scoring burden, I think we’ll see Christyn Williams lead the team in scoring for the season. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll see Buckets get her baskets but Williams is on a mission. It’s been a long time since two incoming classes haven’t won a national title at UConn.
Connolly: As good as Dorka Juhász looked in the exhibition, I still expect Olivia Nelson-Ododa to get the most playing time of the three bigs and with that, the most rebounds. It’ll be close, though.
Megan: I think this will depend on how the frontcourt minutes eventually shake out, but for now I still think this is Nelson-Ododa. Nelson-Ododa’s rebounding rate was is the top five percent of the country last season and I expect her to continue leading this team on the glass.
Madigan: Aaliyah Edwards’ tenacity last season was so impressive to me — I just loved the way she crashed the boards on both ends. With her strength and athleticism, I think she’ll lead the team in rebounds this year, even if Dorka Juhasz may eat into some of her minutes.
Ian: Nelson-Ododa should lead the team in rebounds this season. But if she gets into foul trouble on a nightly basis, Edwards will be right there with her. I see both of them right around the top of the team in rebounds this season.
What to do you expect from Azzi Fudd?
Connolly: I don’t think anyone will ever replicate Bueckers’ freshman season — at least not anytime soon. Even though Fudd might eventually be better than her best friend and now-teammate, I think she’ll have more ups and downs in her first year. That doesn’t mean she won’t be really good, though. Fudd’s 3-point shooting is a weapon, her willingness to defend will get her plenty of minutes and we’ll see her overall game emerge as she gets more comfortable on the court. I think she’ll win the national freshman of the year awards and be a fringe All-American.
Megan: I expect Fudd’s freshman season to follow a similar arc to Breanna Stewart’s. She’ll play substantial minutes from the start and be important in big games, but won’t be immune to the traditional freshman struggles and mid-season slump like Bueckers was last year. However, come March I think Fudd, alongside Bueckers and Williams in the backcourt, will be one of the main reasons this team makes it to another Final Four and maybe wins it all.
Madigan: I expect Fudd to be an impact player from day one. Her ability to shoot the ball is a dire need for this year’s team and the chemistry with Bueckers is already apparent — the two are great friends off the court. Like Bueckers last year, I expect Fudd to slot right into the starting lineup and carry this team for stretches. I truly think the backcourt of Fudd and Bueckers may be the best UConn has ever seen.
Ian: Fudd has one of the quickest shot releases I’ve ever seen and if she hits at a 40-50% clip from beyond 3-point arc, she’s going to become one of the best players on the court. That being said, I agree with Megan that at some point, she’ll hit that freshman wall and struggle. For most, it usually comes in January but she’s too good of talent to let it last.
Most frequent starting lineup
Connolly: Bueckers, Fudd, Nelson-Ododa, Westbrook, Williams. I didn’t have Bueckers in my starting lineup prediction last year, so there’s no way I’m leaving Fudd out this season. I also can’t see Auriemma dropping Nelson-Ododa from the starting five as a senior.
Megan: Bueckers, Fudd, Nelson-Ododa, Westbrook and Williams. It’ll take a little while for Fudd to work her way into the starting lineup, but we’ll see her there consistently later in the season.
Madigan: I still think Fudd starts and plays major minutes from day one, but other than that I think Megan’s right here. Juhasz and Edwards will be breathing down Nelson-Ododa’s neck for starts all season. For the first time in a while, UConn’s frontcourt has size and depth.
Ian: Bueckers, Edwards, Nelson-Ododa, Westbrook, Williams. I still think some of the lineups will be matchup-dependent, especially given the size of some of UConn’s non-conference opponents. That will make it hard for Edwards to be knocked out.
Most dangerous non-South Carolina opponent
Connolly: I have a weird feeling about the Oregon game. UConn will need to make a difficult cross-country trip and play with just one day of rest between games. The Ducks are also criminally underrated at No. 10 in the AP Poll and will be ranked much, much higher by the time the Huskies come to town. I think UConn will be on upset watch in this one.
Megan: I would have said UCLA but given the uncertainty of some of its early season injuries, I’ll go with Oregon. The Huskies have to play the Ducks on the road and I expect the crowd at MKA to be a sell out. Nyara Sabally and Sedona Prince will be a tough test in the frontcourt and Te-Hina Paopao is a really dynamic guard that will challenge UConn’s backcourt.
DePaul. Louisville on Dec. 19. Jeff Walz is a heck of a coach, and Hailey Van Lith and Olivia Cochran could cause some problems for the Huskies when they meet at Mohegan Sun.
Ian: With both UCLA and Oregon’s early season injuries, Geno’s favorite waiter’s team, Louisville, could give them all they can handle in front of a partisan UConn crowd at Mohegan Sun.
Does UConn win the national championship?
Connolly: I’ve probably said yes every time we’ve done roundtable predictions, so why break the streak? In all seriousness, one of UConn, South Carolina and Stanford will win it all and the Huskies are the only one with Paige Bueckers. I think that’ll be the difference.
Megan: I think so. South Carolina and Stanford are also really talented, but I think by March a backcourt of Paige Bueckers, Christyn Williams and Azzi Fudd will be nearly impossible to beat.
Madigan: I really have no idea. Women’s college basketball is getting deeper and deeper by the year. It’s a lot harder to win now than it was even five years ago. But having Bueckers and Fudd changes the math. I wouldn’t guarantee title No. 12, but the Huskies have as good of a shot as anyone.
Ian: As I said above, it’s been a long while since two incoming classes at UConn haven’t won a national title. Returning six players who played in the Final Four last year plus a savvy veteran in Dorka Juhász and some young pups, a 12th title is there for the taking.
Craziest thing Geno Auriemma says/does this year
Connolly: There’s nothing Geno loves more than making jokes about Nika Mühl’s constant fouling and I think at one point, he’ll make a similar joke — but in Croatian. Broken, Google Translate Croatian, but Croatian nonetheless.
Madigan: Auriemma lets Bueckers coach the fourth quarter of late season conference game — my pick is the home game against Georgetown.
Ian: That changes with each press conference. We know he likes to needle the team during media availabilities. I think the biggest/craziest thing will be complimenting Bueckers on her defensive prowess.
Wildcard/hot take/anything you want to say
Connolly: I remember during the 2017-18 season (the Azura Stevens year), I felt like there was never anything interesting to write about because the same 6-7 players won UConn every game the same way and nothing ever changed. But this season? There’s never going to be a shortage of interesting storylines and topics to talk about.
Megan: Evina Westbrook will be a top six WNBA Draft pick in April. Her ability to do a little bit of everything on the court will stand out to teams at the next level.
Madigan: Despite this team being praised for depth, only eight players, maybe less, will average over 15 minutes per game this season. Auriemma loves using a smaller rotation, especially when games start to matter more come March and April.
Ian: Paige Bueckers gets at least two triple-doubles this year.