Last season, just after Arizona lost the national championship game to Stanford by one point, ESPN released its “Way-Too-Early Top 25.” The Wildcats were not on it. The team would climb as high as No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 during the season before COVID-19, injuries, and poor offense led to several losses down the stretch.
South Carolina just put the finishing touches on its championship run and it’s time for those lists to come out yet again. What does ESPN project for the 2022-23 season?
Charlie Creme certainly expects more from Arizona than he did last year at this time. This year, ESPN has the Wildcats projected at No. 12, writing, “Coach Adia Barnes has vowed to hit the transfer portal hard. If she has any success, the Wildcats might be better than they were this season. Cate Reese and Shaina Pellington, the two top scorers, will be back for fifth seasons, and Barnes has already added a top-10 recruiting class, featuring 6-4 Maya Nnaji from Minnesota.”
Arizona will be a very different team next season. Reese should be back from the surgery that repaired her right shoulder. All of Arizona’s starters except for Sam Thomas will return, but the bench will look very different and whether all of the starters retain their starting spots is open for question.
Last season, the Wildcats brought in a class that was ranked No. 16 by ESPN even before the addition of Gisela Sanchez. All four members of that class are in the transfer portal along with sophomore Derin Erdogan and junior Koi Love. Love was one of the portal additions from last offseason.
Arizona is set to add not only Nnaji, but also fellow McDonald’s All-American Paris Clark, high-scoring guard Kailyn Gilbert, and Canadian guard Lemyah Hylton. It’s the highest-ranked class that Arizona has ever had, but the Wildcats need it to turn out better than their previous best-ever.
The previous highest-ranked class (the No. 14 class of 2018) only produced one contributor. That class was headlined by Reese, the Wildcats’ first female McDonald’s All-American. The other four members of the class either never showed up, transferred relatively quickly, or rarely played over the course of her career.
The Wildcats have the potential to be right back in the Top 10 next year—and even stay there—but there are a lot of questions. Will Reese return at the top of her game? Will Pellington get stronger at running the team? Can Barnes find a backcourt that is able to reliably score and distribute? Will the high school recruits stick around and develop? Will the portal additions fit into Arizona’s system better than this year’s group did?
The offseason is here. Time to see how it plays out.