The Great Eight

The teams that have what it takes to win the national championship

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Oct. 12, 2007

By Jeff Lippman


Jeff Lippman

Jeff is's lead women's basketball writer.
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Welcome to the 2007 Women's Basketball Preview. Over the next several weeks we will be taking a closer look at the top conferences in the country, featuring the teams and talking about the players who highlight the upcoming season.


While we here at encourage parity in the game and live for the upsets, the fact remains that women's basketball still isn't as level a playing field as the men's equivalent. We will, however, be highlighting those programs who are beginning to change that thinking, though they are not there yet.


The reality is, in my estimation, that only eight teams have what it takes to advance through the NCAA Tournament and cut the nets down in Tampa in April. I dare another program prove me wrong, as that would be great for the game.




The Great Eight: 


Tennessee Lady Vols, SEC

Give me one good reason why Tennessee can't repeat? OK, I am going to give you seven reasons -- the rest of the Great Eight -- but Tennessee has to be the preseason favorite going in. If the Lady Vols sported a lineup of three La-Z-Boy recliners, a water cooler and Candace Parker, they'd be considered one of the better teams.


But the fact that they bring back a group of experienced skill players at every important position (Shannon Bobbitt at point guard, Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike at forward) to go with a stellar young freshman class means the Road To Tampa will once again go through Knoxville, Tenn., on Pat Summitt's trip to winning an unprecedented eighth national title.


Maryland Terrapins, ACC

Depth and more depth characterize a Maryland team that is largely the same from the one that won the national championship two years ago. Losing team leader Shay Doron will hurt but bringing back Wade Watch candidates Kristi Toliver, Marissa Coleman and Crystal Langhorne, 2006 Final Four MOP Laura Harper and five ridiculously talented freshmen -- all ranked inside the top 60 by multiple recruiting publications -- means the Terps shouldn't miss a beat.


If anything, after another year of gelling and getting the kinks out of a team that was upset in last year's NCAA Tournament early by an upstart Ole Miss squad, the Terps will be even better. Especially since former Tennessee transfer Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood has now had a whole year to learn the team's style of play.


In fact, the only thing that could hurt Maryland's chances of getting back to the Final Four is how they deal with Brenda Frese's absence right before March begins when she gives birth to twins, her first children.


Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Big East

If depth and experience are reasons that Maryland returns to the Final Four, it goes double for Rutgers. Although the Scarlet Knights went into last season a young and unproven team that flew under the radar, they grew up in a big way under coach C. Vivian Stringer and by their NCAA Finals loss to Tennessee were absolutely one of the best teams in the nation.


Rutgers brings back everyone from that team and with their fearsome-threesome of junior center Kia Vaughn and seniors Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson -- all Wade Watch candidates -- this is officially an experienced bunch. Add a top freshman recruit in guard Khadijah Rushdan to a supporting group that would be the stars almost any place else -- Heather Zurich, Epiphanny Prince, Myia McCurdy, Brittany Ray, Rashidat Junaid -- and this team can go nine or 10 deep without missing a beat. 


Connecticut Huskies, Big East

I'm getting excited just writing this. The fact that we've already gone over three teams and none of them were the Huskies means next year is going to be extremely competitive. And UConn will not disappoint. You can bet Geno Auriemma isn't satisfied with his team's showing last season, especially the loss to hated Rutgers at the Big East Tournament, and he'll do everything in his power to change that outcome this year.


Returning talent is the theme of the Great Eight as out of the first three mentioned teams, only two players were lost to graduation. That number won't get any higher with UConn. The Huskies bring back sophomore center Tina Charles, the Big East's Freshman of the Year last season, who is primed to explode into the national Player of the Year talks.


And with a plethora of great guards to feed her the ball - Wade Watch candidate Renee Montgomery, the favorite to win the Big East Freshman of the Year Award this season Maya Moore, three-point specialist Mel Thomas and talented backup Ketia Swanier - the Huskies are a scary good team on a mission.


Oklahoma Sooners, Big 12

For Oklahoma, the Road to Tampa has to go through Paris. Courtney Paris will once again be the most dominant big-bodied offensive and rebounding force in the country next season, just her junior campaign. And while they are unlike the aforementioned teams due to the graduation of two of their leading scorers from last year, they have more than enough talent to fill all the gaps, and even improve in many areas.


With sophomores forward Amanda Thompson and point guard Jenna Plumley having a year in Norman under their belts, both are primed to have break-out years. The Native American Plumley will enjoy feeding Paris all day long down low and Thompson being able to grab any stray board that somehow escapes Paris' black hole-like reach.


With the exception of the question mark in Austin, Texas, the Big 12 is Oklahoma's for the taking, but the true test for the Sooners will be how to compete with the depth that the teams listed above all showcase. One thing Oklahoma does possess is size, with the 6-foot-4 Paris joining her sister 6-foot-3 Ashley and 6-foot-4 Abi Olajuwon -- yes, that Olajuwon -- making up a revolving door of giants.


Louisiana State Tigers, SEC

They might as well call it the Final Three, because if history tells us anything, LSU already has booked its Final Four ticket. The Tigers have gone to four consecutive national semis and without losing a single starter or major contributing member, there is no reason to believe the Tigers won't make it again.


Except, of course, if you call having Pokey Chatman resign due to allegations that she had an inappropriate sexual relationship with one of her former players a reason to believe otherwise. Personally, I don't, because all LSU did without Chatman in the NCAA Tournament was, obviously, go to the Final Four. And now Hall of Fame coach Van Chancellor takes the reins and his eyes are bugging out of his head at the opportunity to coach 6-foot-6 freak athlete Sylvia Fowles as a senior.


Now, with the starting lineup featuring nothing but senior leadership and a coach who will surely know how to use it, LSU will finally be ready to take the only step they've failed to reach in the past four seasons, actually winning a national championship.


Stanford Cardinal, Pac-10

Coach Tara VanDerveer knows the time is now for her Cardinal. Candice Wiggins is a senior, and she's finally completely healthy after dominating international competition all summer long with U.S. national teams. Stanford's happy-go-lucky point guard is ready to own the Pac-10 like few players ever have.


While Stanford lost center Brooke Smith, they trade finesse for power with 6-foot-4 Jayne Appel, who, entering her sophomore year, will become a force to be reckoned with on the inside. And if Appel can't handle the entire load, the Cardinal bring in freshman 6-foot-4 forward Kayla Pedersen, who has great quickness for a player with her height.


Like most of the teams on this list, Stanford combines senior leadership and young talent, but what sets the Cardinal apart is Wiggins. Although maybe not the most talented player from the teams on this list, Wiggins is certainly hands down the best leader.   


California Golden Bears, Pac-10

Cal is young yet for a team with a national title shot among the programs on this list, but that didn't stop Maryland in 2006 with its team full of possible All-Americans, and coach Joanne Boyle and Cal hopes youth won't stop them either.


If anything, the Bears feed off their youth and play a fun, loose style of basketball conducive to their environment in Berkeley, Calif. And with the returning Pac-10 Player of the Year (junior Devanei Hampton), a player who didn't even lead her own team in scoring or rebounding -- those honors go to junior forward Ashley Walker -- and an ex-Pac-10 Freshman of the Year who is returning to full strength after missing most of last year with an injury (guard Alexis Gray-Lawson), Cal is stocked and fully loaded to challenge Stanford for Pac-10 supremacy.


*If you think I've left any title contenders off this list, or disagree with any of my choices, please send your comments to