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Arizona women’s basketball in Top 10 in ESPN’s way-too-early 2020-21 rankings

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 5 Women’s North Dakota at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Expectations for next season’s Arizona women’s basketball team are already sky high.

ESPN released a way-too-early top 25 on Wednesday that has the Wildcats as the No. 7 team in the country heading into the 2020-21 season. The ranking comes with the anticipation of All-American guard Aari McDonald returning for her senior season.

The Wildcats are the second-highest Pac-12 team in the rankings, trailing only No. 2 Stanford.

Here’s what ESPN’s Charlie Creme has to say in determining the Wildcats’ spot:

The return of Aari McDonald (20.6 PPG) and Cate Reese (13.6 PPG) gives the Wildcats the best one-two scoring duo in the Pac-12 and a chance to continue the rapid evolution of the program ignited by fourth-year head coach Adia Barnes. The Wildcats went from 14-16 in her first season to WNIT champs last year to what was certain to be Arizona’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2005 this season. The expectations for next season: contending for a Pac-12 title and a No. 2 seed. Steady guard Amari Carter is gone but will be replaced by Oklahoma transfer Shaina Pellington, who scored 13.1 points per game as a sophomore in Norman, Oklahoma. Five-foot-6 McDonald is the catalyst, though. She will be near the top of every All-American and player of the year list. Arizona’s success largely rests on her shoulders.

Arizona could arguably boast the top player in the nation next season in McDonald. Adia Barnes may have tipped her hand Monday on whether she expects McDonald to return.

Along with the aforementioned players mentioned by Creme, Arizona also returns some key contributors from this year’s team including Pac-12 All-Defensive member Sam Thomas, Helena Pueyo and Semaj Smith. The Wildcats, as of now, are also adding three freshmen and Indiana transfer Bendu Yeaney, though it is unclear when she will be eligible.

Sophomore guard Bryce Nixon also recently announced her intention to transfer, meaning Barnes and company can still add another piece to the roster.

Other Pac-12 teams included in ESPN’s rankings are: UCLA (No. 9), Oregon (No. 11) and Oregon State (No. 13).