UConn women’s basketball’s 2023-24 campaign begins on Wednesday night when welcomes Tamika Williams-Jeter and the Dayton Flyers to the XL Center. The Huskies are coming off their earliest NCAA Tournament exit since 2005, but have one of their best rosters in recent memory.
The big story is the return of Paige Bueckers, but there are plenty of other reasons for excitement surrounding this team. But before it all officially begins, our staff came together to make predictions about the new year, ranging from our expectations for Bueckers to the annual question regarding UConn: Will it win the national championship?
What do you expect from Paige Bueckers’ return?
Daniel Connolly: By the time January rolls around, Bueckers will look like the player who won every award under the sun as a freshman — if not better. Before that, I think it’ll take some time for her to knock the rust off and re-integrate herself on the floor, especially with Geno Auriemma hinting that she’ll be on a minutes restriction early on. But above all else, Bueckers’ return is going to be fun — for her, for the team, and for anyone else watching.
Megan Gauer: It feels unfair to set expectations so high, especially when it has been two years since Bueckers has played a full season. That said, I think we are going to see the freshman-year Paige back this season, and she will clearly be one of, if not the best player in the country.
Ian Bethune: Will the time spent in the weight room help Bueckers stay healthy? If she does, she can definitely return to All-American status. It’s going to be an interesting dynamic at point guard with her and Nika Mühl. Bueckers has always called herself a pass-first player and now that she’ll be sharing the court with Mühl, it could come down to whoever brings the ball up. All in all, I expect her to get 10-15 points a game, 5-9 assists per game, and a few rebounds.
Dan Madigan: I expect Bueckers to reclaim her title as the best player in the country. We haven't been able to see her at the peak of her powers for about two years now, and I think she has a chip on her shoulder to show that she's still got it. I fully expect her to be in the National Player of the Year discussion.
Connolly: It’s going to be Bueckers. Even with her abilities — and willingness — as a distributor, she’ll be UConn’s go-to player. When the team needs a basket, she’ll go get it. When the Huskies are struggling, she’ll put the offense on her back. Even though Bueckers will have more pieces around her than when she averaged 20.0 points per game as a freshman, she’s still the best player on the team by a wide margin.
Megan: Bueckers feels like the obvious answer here, but I think it might be Azzi Fudd. Paige will also be tasked with distributing the ball and running the point at times, leaving Fudd with more opportunities to score playing off the ball. Additionally, Fudd should receive less defensive attention than she did last season now that Bueckers is back in the fold, which should free her up to score more.
Bethune: With so many dynamic players who could lead the team in scoring on any given night, it’s hard to pinpoint who could actually lead the team in scoring. But since y’all are making me choose, I’m going to say Azzi Fudd leads the team in scoring with an average of 19.9 points per game.
Madigan: I’m going with Fudd as well. Bueckers will have the ball in her hands the most, but her return should free up Fudd for some easy looks. It will be close, but Fudd having more open 3-point looks than just about everyone this season makes me think she’ll be the team’s leading scorer. But make no mistake, if UConn needs a bucket late, Bueckers will be taking the shot.
Connolly: KK Arnold is going to be a fan-favorite — and fast. Her speed and quickness are a step above everyone else on the court and her ability to blow things up on the defensive end will lead to plenty of transition baskets. UConn has no shortage of guards, but Arnold should see plenty of time this season. Buy stock now — and lots of it.
Megan: We never saw a healthy Caroline Ducharme last season, and still she delivered some impressive performances, including carrying UConn on her back in the fourth quarter to a win over Creighton in Big East play. She led the team in scoring plenty of times during her freshman season and if she stays healthy this year, I think she’ll be a big contributor for the Huskies.
Bethune: There’s plenty to choose from among the freshmen but I think it’ll be someone who has been with the Huskies for a year already: Ice Brady. While she was hurt all of last year, she spent a lot of time with Bueckers during rehab and on the bench during games. She saw how the team wants to play games and got a different perspective.
The question: Will she be able to regain the form that made her a top recruit? If Auriemma and other players can be trusted, then yes. She can play inside, she can play outside, and has a smooth shot. Can she play defense? We’ll find out. But if she can put it all together, then I think she could be THE breakout player for the Huskies this season and an X-factor as well.
Madigan: I’m hoping a full, healthy season of Caroline Ducharme could help her take her game to the next level. She’s such a unique player who uses her size well and plays bigger than her 6-foot-2 frame. I think she will continue to be a matchup problem off the bench for the Huskies all season and put up some big-time performances that will enable her to take on a bigger role in future years.
X-factor (could be a player, facet of the game, etc)
Connolly: UConn’s backcourt is scary good but its frontcourt depth is scary thin. Edwards is a known quantity, but everyone behind her is unproven. Brady has drawn rave reviews but hasn’t played a collegiate game. Ayanna Patterson has shown flashes but struggles with foul trouble and also has knee troubles. Amari DeBerry hasn’t shown much through two seasons. That’s a lot of question marks without a whole lot of answers.
Megan: I’m going with a player here. I think Aubrey Griffin is going to be an X-factor for this team. She looked great in UConn’s games in Europe and continued to shine in the exhibition against Southern Connecticut this past weekend. With so much emphasis on the depth of UConn’s frontcourt, if Griffin can play at a high level in her minutes off the bench, the Huskies have less to worry about. Despite being undersized, Griffin’s athleticism and defensive versatility allow her to successfully play the four against most of the opponents that the Huskies will see.
Bethune: Geno has always brought full-court defensive pressure at the beginning of the game and it’s usually what ends up separating UConn from its opponents by the end of most games. However, the Huskies couldn’t do that because he had to use most of his players for 35-40 minutes per game. Now that the team is healthy (knock on wood) and deep, I am fully expecting them to press the opponent on a far more frequent basis.
Madigan: As good as the backcourt is, the frontcourt behind Aaliyah Edwards is a little shaky on paper. That could change if Brady, who impressed last season in practice before her season-ending injury, lives up to the hype. She could bring more physicality to the frontcourt, which would make her a nightmare for opponents who have to deal with her and Edwards on the boards. With Dorka Juhász gone, someone will have to fill her shoes to get UConn back to the Final Four, and Brady seems to be the most likely option.
Most common starting lineup
Connolly: Bueckers, Mühl, Fudd, Ducharme, Edwards — It’s the lineup that started the exhibition and makes the most sense. Brady should spell Edwards, especially with Patterson still not back from an offseason knee procedure, and Griffin’s minutes are going to be limited to 3-4 minute spurts to keep her healthy, according to Auriemma. That leaves Ducharme as the best option.
Megan: I think we’re mostly going to see the lineup we saw in the exhibition game on Saturday — Mühl, Bueckers, Fudd, Ducharme, and Edwards. With Auriemma’s comments about trying to limit Griffin’s playing time to 3-4 minute bursts to help keep her back healthy, I think we’ll mostly see Griffin off the bench which paves the way for Ducharme to keep the final starting spot.
If UConn’s frontcourt depth starts to show signs of development, we may see Brady slide into a starting spot, especially against opponents with more frontcourt talent. That said, I still think the four-guard lineup with Ducharme will be the most common.
Bethune: Bueckers, Mühl, Fudd, Griffin, Edwards
Madigan: Bueckers, Mühl, Fudd, Brady, Edwards
Connolly: Themselves. UConn has plenty of tough opponents on the slate — Maryland, UCLA, Texas, UNC, Notre Dame, South Carolina — but the only thing that can stop this team at full strength is itself.
Megan: When the Huskies meet UCLA in the Cayman Islands over Thanksgiving, it will be a tough test. This is expected to be a top-5 matchup, and the Bruins’ duo of Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice in the backcourt will be a tough defensive assignment for UConn. Additionally, in UCLA's opening-day win over Purdue, the frontcourt (particularly Stanford transfer Lauren Betts) excelled. On paper, UCLA may be the best and deepest opponent UConn will face until the Final Four, should they reach it.
Bethune: Last year, UConn had the second-strongest schedule in the country thanks to its non-conference schedule. I don’t think that changes again this year since eight of the teams on their non-con schedule played in the NCAA Tournament. I could go South Carolina (away) or UCLA (neutral) but I actually think UConn’s toughest game will be vs. Texas on Dec. 3 in Austin, TX. Don’t ask me why, it’s just a gut feeling.
Madigan: That neutral-site tilt with UCLA in the Cayman Islands Classic could be one of the most fun games of the whole season. We are going to get a very good look early on at how the Huskies handle themselves against elite competition. Watch out for DePaul too!
Does UConn finally win its 12th national championship?
Connolly: I’ve covered UConn full-time since 2016-17 — the first year of the title drought. In that time, I’ve probably picked the Huskies to win it all every season. So I’ll say no, they aren’t going to take home their 12th national championship, in hopes of reverse-jinxing it.
Megan: It feels like I say yes to this question every year, and then recently the floor just falls out from underneath this team. That said, if the Huskies stay healthy, they absolutely have the talent to raise the trophy in Cleveland this year. A backcourt of Muhl, Bueckers and Fudd is going to be nearly impossible for most teams to defend. UConn could easily have three All-Americans among their starters (Bueckers, Fudd, Edwards), making them one of the most talented teams in the country.
Bethune: If they can stay healthy (knock on wood), I fully expect UConn to play for their 12th national championship against LSU (yes that LSU!) in the beautiful late winter/early spring destination city of Cleveland, OH.
Madigan: If UConn gets a full, healthy season out of Bueckers and Fudd, the Huskies are making it back to the Final Four after dipping out early last season. Whether UConn can win it all or not will depend on the development of the group around these two star guards, but I believe Auriemma and the staff have what it takes to help the Huskies get back to the mountaintop.
Wildcard/hot take/anything you want to say
Connolly: Paige sets the program’s single-game scoring record — currently 46 by Nykesha Sales in 1997 — this season.
Megan: While I do think the Huskies win it all this season, I don’t think they’ll go through the season undefeated. They’ll likely drop a game along the way somewhere, especially given the strength of their non-conference slate. UCLA, Texas or South Carolina feel like the most obvious times when that could happen. That said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Huskies to lose a game in the regular season. Given the strength of the top Power Five leagues this season — and top teams like LSU and Ohio State having already lost on opening day — I doubt we’ll see any of the top teams make it through the regular season unscathed. UConn could still earn the top overall seed with a loss on their resume.
Bethune: UConn does in fact stay healthy and goes undefeated and wins its 12th national championship.
Madigan: Bueckers and Fudd go for 30-plus points each in the same game at least once this season.