Women's NCAA basketball's Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2024-25

Staley speaks to Gamecocks' 'organic chemistry' that led to title win (3:54)

During South Carolina's celebration for the championship victory, Dawn Staley says "you cannot pay money" for the relationship her team has built. (3:54)

ESPN's initial women's college basketball Way-Too-Early Top 25 for the 2024-25 season came out April 7, minutes after South Carolina won the national championship. The Gamecocks are about the only thing that remains the same a month later.

In early April, Tara VanDerveer was still Stanford's coach. Oregon State's Elite Eight team was still intact. USC was considered an elite team, but one still only built around JuJu Watkins.

The Cardinal and Beavers were top-15 teams. They aren't close to the top 25 anymore. Stanford celebrated VanDerveer's retirement but also lost its best player, Kiki Iriafen, in the process. Seven players left Oregon State. The Trojans benefited from both situations. Iriafen is now at USC, as is Talia von Oelhoffen, the first of the Beavers to leave Corvallis.

Transfers and coaching changes impacted the rankings from coast to coast. Kentucky, which wasn't even on the top-25 radar a month ago, hired Kenny Brooks away from Virginia Tech and added Georgia Amoore. The Wildcats are now ranked. And Ole Miss also changed its Way-Too-Early status with its work in the portal.

The SEC now has seven teams in the top 25. With Oklahoma and Texas, each of which also added big-time transfers, now part of the conference, the SEC not only has the last two teams to win national championships but is once again the deepest league in the country.

The Gamecocks remain No. 1 in our rankings. No team has repeated as national champion since UConn in 2016.

1. South Carolina Gamecocks

Dawn Staley said the 2024 national championship was special because it was unexpected. No success South Carolina has next season will be a surprise. The Gamecocks even proved going undefeated wouldn't be a shock. Kamilla Cardoso's departure is a big loss, but it's the only one from this title team. Cardoso's dominant presence could cover up mistakes and will be missed, but bigger roles for Sania Feagin, Chloe Kitts and Ashlyn Watkins should be a good thing. Listening to Raven Johnson at the Final Four made it clear Staley has her leader, and watching Tessa Johnson play in Cleveland indicated South Carolina might have its latest star. With Bree Hall, Te-Hina Paopao and MiLaysia Fulwiley also in the backcourt -- plus the second-rated recruiting class in the country, led by 6-foot-3 Joyce Edwards from Camden, South Carolina -- Staley has the deepest collection of talent in the country once again. Previous ranking: 1

2. USC Trojans

Getting JuJu Watkins to stay home in Los Angeles and then allowing her to shine as a freshman was Lindsay Gottlieb's first big win at USC. It has hardly been her last. The Trojans won the final Pac-12 tournament and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This was all while toppling the recruiting world by securing the No. 1 class in the country, one that includes three players ranked in the top 20 by HoopGurlz. Then to cap it all off, Gottlieb won the transfer portal with former Pac-12 rivals Iriafen (Stanford) and von Oelhoffen (Oregon State) set to play at USC for their final seasons. Watkins, Iriafen and von Oelhoffen might be the best trio in the country. Throw 6-4 Rayah Marshall into the mix and that freshman class led by 6-1 wing Kennedy Smith, 5-9 guard Kayleigh Heckel and 5-11 guard Avery Howell and the Trojans are the biggest threat to South Carolina repeating as national champions. Previous ranking: 5

3. UConn Huskies

Since Paige Bueckers' freshman year, UConn has been hit by a deluge of major injuries. The Huskies still managed to make two Final Fours in those three seasons. This year, six players suffered season-ending injuries. Bueckers, Aaliyah Edwards and Nika Muhl carried UConn to a 32-win season. If Bueckers (22.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, 53.0 FG%) plays at this level again, and Azzi Fudd, Caroline Ducharme and Aubrey Griffin can stay on the floor, the Huskies could win their first national title since 2016. Princeton grad transfer and former Ivy League player of the year Kaitlyn Chen joins UConn as Muhl's replacement at point guard, and Sarah Strong, the nation's No. 1 recruit, can take the spot, if not the production, of Edwards. Previous ranking: 4

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

By season's end, Notre Dame was the ACC's best team, and that was even after injuries had reduced Niele Ivey's rotation to six players. Hannah Hidalgo, Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld were just that good. They get to team up again in 2024-25 and add Olivia Miles, one of the country's best point guards before missing all of this past season with a knee injury. Hidalgo and Miles playing together could be terrifying for opposing defenses if the two point guards are able to share the ball effectively. Citron is quietly one of the country's best all-around players, and Westbeld has never averaged fewer than 11.2 points per game in four seasons with the Irish. Cassandre Prosper and Emma Risch were two highly regarded freshmen who combined to play in 12 games this season. Ivey also brought in a top-five recruit in Long Island's 6-4 Kateryna Koval, who could see solid minutes if Kylee Watson hasn't fully recovered from a late-season knee injury. Previous ranking: 3

5. UCLA Bruins

Next season's Bruins might not look exactly the same, but they'll be familiar to Pac-12 fans since two of the conference's top transfers are headed to Westwood. Charlisse Leger-Walker has been one of the West Coast's best point guards for the past four seasons at Washington State and will step right into the hole left by the graduation of Charisma Osborne. Timea Gardiner, who announced Wednesday she was headed to UCLA, improved to 11.6 points, 7.0 rebounds per game and 39.5% 3-point shooting as a 6-3 sophomore at Oregon State. This is one year after Lauren Betts jumped from Stanford to UCLA and is now the cornerstone of Cori Close's program along with Kiki Rice. Betts (14.9 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 64.3 FG%) was dominant at times this season and is good enough to be the best player on a championship team. Previous ranking: 6

6. Texas Longhorns

A backcourt of Rori Harmon, Madison Booker, Michigan transfer Laila Phelia and Shay Holle is as diverse as it is talented. Harmon is an exceptional defender and facilitator. Booker is a proven scorer with unique mid-range skills. Phelia is a strong rebounder who can score inside and out. Holle plays with maximum effort and is an improved deep shooter. That depth was lacking in the frontcourt until recently when Vic Schaefer secured the services of 6-6 Miami transfer and former McDonald's All-American Kyla Oldacre to join 6-4 Taylor Jones and 6-1 Aaliyah Moore. That came after four Texas forwards, including rising senior DeYona Gaston, entered the transfer portal. Justice Carlton, a 6-2 freshman who is HoopGurlz's No. 12 recruit, could also impact the rotation. Previous ranking: 2

7. LSU Tigers

Even with the losses of Angel Reese and Hailey Van Lith, the Tigers were loaded with talent. Then Kim Mulkey went into the portal and grabbed a bunch more. As if Flau'jae Johnson, Aneesah Morrow and Mikaylah Williams weren't enough, LSU will also have Shayeann Day-Wilson, the 2022 ACC freshman of the year at Duke and Miami's leading scorer this season, Kailyn Gilbert, Arizona's top scorer before leaving the team after 23 games, and Mjracle Sheppard, who led Mississippi State to an upset of LSU in January. Jersey Wolfenbarger, a 6-5 former McDonald's All-American who sat out last season after two years with Arkansas, is also headed to Baton Rouge. This is another LSU team with Final Four potential, and Johnson, who looked like the Tigers' best player at times in the NCAA tournament, might be on the verge of being a star. Previous ranking: 7

8. NC State Wolfpack

The dynamic backcourt that took the Wolfpack to their first Final Four since 1998 returns. Aziaha James (16.8 PPG), Saniya Rivers (12.5 PPG) and Zoe Brooks (9.0 PPG) are enough to keep NC State near the top of a highly competitive ACC. How well a new mix of bigs fits in will determine if the Wolfpack are good enough to win the conference and contend for a trip to Tampa. The experience of River Baldwin and Mimi Collins can't be replaced, so how well 6-5 recruit Lorena Awou adapts to the college game and 6-4 Boston University transfer Caitlin Weimar, the Patriot League player of the year and two-time defensive player of the year, adjusts to the upgrade in competition will have a big impact on NC State's season. Previous ranking: 8

9. Baylor Bears

Leading scorer Dre'Una Edwards and leading rebounder Aijha Blackwell are gone, but Nicki Collen might have filled both of those gaps with one player. Aaronette Vonleh (14.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG) joins the Bears from Colorado and gives Collen the formidable post player she hasn't had in her three seasons at Baylor. Playing next to Vonleh might also help forward Darianna Littlepage-Buggs take the next step as a junior. The backcourt will be deep and potent. Sarah Andrews leads the way at the point, but Jada Walker emerged during the NCAA tournament as Andrews' running mate. Bella Fontleroy and Yaya Felder combined to average nearly 17 points per game. Previous ranking: 13

10. Iowa State Cyclones

Playing alongside Audi Crooks is appealing. Point guard Emily Ryan decided to stay for her fifth year to do it one more time, and the Cyclones landed two perfectly suited transfers in Mackenzie Hare from Marquette and Sydney Harris from TCU. Both Hare and Harris shot over 40% from 3-point range this season and should get even more looks with Crooks commanding so much attention in the post. Crooks got better as the season moved along and finished averaging 19.2 points per game on 57.7% shooting. Another freshman, Addy Brown, was Iowa State's leading rebounder (8.2 PPG) and second-leading scorer (13.0 PPG). Kelsey Joens and Arianna Jackson are two more freshmen who are also outstanding shooters. Previous ranking: 10

11. Duke Blue Devils

Kara Lawson put the program in the hands of the Blue Devils' young players and it paid off with their first Sweet 16 since 2018. Six of the top seven players in her rotation were freshmen or sophomores. Reigan Richardson (12.4 PPG) was the best of the bunch, especially in NCAA tournament wins against Richmond and Ohio State, and Taina Mair, Oluchi Okananwa and Ashlon Jackson each averaged more than nine points per game. Forwards 6-2 Toby Fournier and 6-4 Arianna Roberson bring more talented youth and highlight a top-five recruiting class. Lawson also added guard Riley Nelson, a top-20 recruit a year ago, who spent the second half of her freshman year injured at Maryland. Previous ranking: 11

12. Louisville Cardinals

Jeff Walz wasn't as reliant on the portal as he had been the past two offseasons because much of this year's foundation is coming back. Forward Olivia Cochran and guard Merissah Russell decided to stay at Louisville for their fifth seasons. Nyla Harris and Jayda Curry, the fourth- and fifth-leading scorers for the Cardinals, are also staying put. The Cardinals do lose two of their top three scorers in Kiki Jefferson and Sydney Taylor, but Walz has also added a pair of top-25 recruits in 6-0 Mackenly Randolph and 5-10 Tajianna Avant-Roberts. Previous ranking: 15

13. Oklahoma Sooners

The experienced but undersized Sooners surprised many by winning the Big 12 in their final year in the conference. With the return of co-Big 12 player of the year Skylar Vann, second-leading scorer Payton Verhulst, freshmen Sahara Williams, Nevaeh Tot, Aubrey Joens and Lexy Keys, plus a healthy Liz Scott, Oklahoma will again be loaded with experience. And with the addition of 6-4 Raegan Beers, one of the country's best transfer additions, size will no longer be an issue. With the pace and space that the Sooners play, Beers could flourish beyond the 17.5 points and 10.7 rebounds she averaged last season for Oregon State. Williams, who averaged nearly 15 points per game in Oklahoma's four postseason games, could be a breakout star next season. Previous ranking: 19

14. Kansas State Wildcats

The No. 4 seed the Wildcats earned in the NCAA tournament was their best since 2005. With the return of 6-6 Ayoka Lee for her extra COVID-19 season of eligibility, improving on that in 2025 is possible. Mostly healthy after missing all of 2022-23 with a knee injury, Lee produced 19.7 points and 8.6 rebounds and ranked sixth in the country shooting 61.9% from the field. Gabby Gregory and her 9.4 PPG are gone, but the rest of the backcourt is back for their senior seasons. Serena Sundell (12.1 PPG, 5.6 APG), Jaelyn Glenn and Brylee Glenn have combined to start 295 games at Kansas State. The addition of 6-1 Temira Poindexter, who averaged 21.0 PPG this season at Tulsa, makes the offensive attack even more versatile. Previous ranking: 17

15. Ohio State Buckeyes

A month ago, the Buckeyes looked like Cotie McMahon and a collection of youngsters. Then Kevin McGuff hit the transfer portal. Oregon's Chance Gray gives the Buckeyes the two-way guard they needed to replaced Jacy Sheldon and to mentor the No. 2 recruit in the country, point guard Jaloni Cambridge. Ajae Petty -- who blossomed at Kentucky last season averaging 14.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game on 50.7% shooting -- is the inside force Ohio State didn't have in 2023-24. But if the Buckeyes are to repeat as Big Ten champions, McMahon will be leading the way. Her numbers (14.7 PPG, 46.3 FG%) dipped this season, but the 6-0 rising junior remains one of the most powerful players in the game. Previous ranking: 22

16. West Virginia Mountaineers

Defense is the Mountaineers' calling card. They ranked fifth in the country in points allowed per play and held Iowa to a season-low 64 points in the NCAA tournament. Mark Kellogg put his stamp on the program immediately in his first year. Now he gets to run it back with his two best scorers, JJ Quinerly (19.8 PPG) and Jordan Harrison (13.5 PPG), as West Virginia looks to build on its fourth-place Big 12 finish. Auburn transfer Sydney Shaw should relieve Quinerly of some ballhandling responsibility, and Kellogg would love to get more production from Tirzah Moore, who came over from Oral Roberts before this season. Jordan Thomas, a 6-4 top-100 recruit from the state of Texas, will bring some much-needed length. Previous ranking: 16

17. North Carolina Tar Heels

Deja Kelly remains in the transfer portal, but the return of Lexi Donarski and Alyssa Ustby for their fifth seasons means Courtney Banghart has veterans to guide a talented roster. The Tar Heels have experienced some offseason turnover, with five other players exiting via the transfer portal, but they added 5-5 point guard Grace Townsend (13.4 PPG, 5.2 APG) as a grad transfer from Richmond, and another point guard, 5-10 Lanie Grant, the Virginia player of the year who reclassified from the Class of 2025 to join the Tar Heels next season. Banghart also has five-star recruits in 6-5 Blanca Thomas and 6-4 Ciera Toomey, who redshirted this season. They are ready to join 6-3 Maria Gakdeng along a deep frontline. Previous ranking: 14

18. Florida State Seminoles

Despite making 11 consecutive NCAA tournaments, the Seminoles haven't won a tournament game since 2019. With nearly the entire core returning, Florida State might be able to end that March drought. Ta'Niya Latson will enter the 2024-25 season on many All-America teams and is one of the country's best scorers. Her 21.4 PPG ranked 14th in the country. O'Mariah Gordon (3.4 APG) is back to run the point, and Makayla Timpson (14.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.5 BPG) returns to anchor the middle. More production from 6-1 Brianna Turnage and backcourt contributions from JUCO transfer Raiane Dias Dos Santos will be key. Previous ranking: 18

19. Creighton Bluejays

For the first time in program history, Creighton reached the NCAA tournament in three consecutive years. A fourth straight looks likely. Emma Ronsiek is the lone senior to move on (transferring to Colorado State). The rest of the core that brought the Bluejays recent success is returning for its fifth season. Leading scorer Lauren Jensen (17.4 PPG) leads the way, along with Morgan Maly, Molly Mogensen, Mallory Brake and Jayme Horan. Creighton was second in the country in assist-to-turnover rate and ranked 21st in effective field goal percentage. That shouldn't change. Expect only UConn to be better in the Big East. Previous ranking: 20

20. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Amy Williams will have to figure out how to replace the production and leadership of Jaz Shelley (picked 29th in the WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury), but the pieces are in place for an even better 2024-25 and a third trip to the NCAA tournament in four seasons. Natalie Potts was the Big Ten freshman of the year and was joined on the all-freshman team by Logan Nissley. That the top-30 recruit from Omaha, point guard Britt Prince, chose to stay home was a huge win for Williams. Now she has a core of talented youth to build around 6-3 Alexis Markowski, who has been a centerpiece for three years and could be an All-American as a senior. Previous ranking: 21

21. Alabama Crimson Tide

When Aaliyah Nye withdrew her name from the transfer portal and elected to return to Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide's chances of making a second straight NCAA tournament increased dramatically. Alabama's second-leading scorer (14.1 PPG) and the second-most accurate shooter in the SEC this season (41.7%), Nye partnered with Sarah Ashlee Barker gives the Crimson Tide the 1-2 punch they will need to compete in the deeper SEC. Essence Cody, who made the SEC's all-freshman team, and key contributors Jessica Timmons and Karly Weathers are also back. Zaay Green, who began her career at Tennessee and Texas A&M before playing the 2021-22 and 2023-24 seasons at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, is back in the SEC for her final season and will lengthen Kristy Curry's bench. Previous ranking: 23

22. Utah Utes

Injuries, particularly to Gianna Kneepkens six games into the season, derailed the Utes' high expectations. Now Utah will have to adjust to life without Alissa Pili, another first-round WNBA draft pick. The healthy return of Kneepkens will be paramount. She has averaged 14.6 points per game for her career and will be the Utes' top scoring option. Jenna Johnson, Ines Vieira and Kennady McQueen have played a combined 10 seasons in Salt Lake, giving Lynne Roberts an experienced group to deal with the change to the Big 12. Matyson Wilke became a key reserve late in the season in her first year after transferring from Wisconsin and should have a bigger role. The additions of transfers 6-2 Chyra Evans from Michigan and 6-2 Maye Toure, a two-year starter at Rhode Island, will provide much-needed size. Previous ranking: 24

23. Ole Miss Rebels

For the second straight offseason, coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin hit the transfer portal hard. The additions of DeeDee Hagemann (Michigan State), Starr Jacobs (Arkansas-Pine Bluff/UT-Arlington/Houston) and Christeen Iwuala complement a veteran group led by four-year starter and top returning scorer (12.8 PPG) Madison Scott. Last year, Coach Yo added KK Deans, Kennedy Todd-Williams and Kharyssa Richardson from the portal; they will all be back next season. Deans was lost six games into the season, costing Ole Miss its one true point guard. Hagemann provides insurance, but if both are healthy, the Rebels will have two top-flight scorers and shooters. Previous ranking: NR

24. Illinois Fighting Illini

After taking a big step backward with a 14-14 regular season, Illinois found something in the inaugural WBIT and won the championship. That momentum continued when the top four scorers Makira Cook, Genesis Bryant, Kendall Bostic and Adalia McKenzie all elected to return. The addition of Jasmine Brown-Hagger, a former four-star recruit from Mississippi State, gives Shauna Green more backcourt depth. Five-star recruit Berry Wallace, a 6-1 wing, could contribute immediately. Previous ranking: 25

25. Kentucky Wildcats

The entire program has been revamped with the hiring of Brooks as head coach, nine transfers leaving and three more coming in. Having Georgia Amoore along with him from Virginia Tech gives Brooks the opportunity to compete in his first year in the SEC. Clara Strack also followed Brooks, and the addition of 6-4 Teonni Key from North Carolina gives Kentucky necessary size. Strack and Key, who have only started a combined three games in their careers, will be forced to progress quickly, however. Lexi Blue is a top-50 recruit, and 6-3 Australian Amelia Hassett is a JUCO transfer; both originally committed to the Hokies and are now in Lexington, as well. Previous ranking: NR

Fell out: Stanford Cardinal (No. 9), Oregon State Beavers (No. 12)

Also considered: Arizona Wildcats, Michigan State Spartans, Maryland Terrapins, Auburn Tigers