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The biggest questions in women’s college basketball entering the 2021-22 season

The preseason polls are out. Conferences have named their preseason players of the year. But what do we really know about the 2021-22 women’s college basketball season?

Right now, with the season about a week away from tip-off, there are many more questions than answers. Can the Stanford Cardinal repeat as national champions? What’s in store for the South Carolina Gamecocks , UConn Huskies and Arizona Wildcats , the other three Final Four teams from last season?

Can anyone keep up with the high-scoring offenses of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Maryland Terrapins ? How quickly can LSU Tigers coach Kim Mulkey and Duke Blue Devils coach Kara Lawson return their programs into national powers? And what can we expect from some of the country’s best players, such as Baylor Bears senior NaLyssa Smith , Iowa sophomore Caitlin Clark and Stanford’s Haley Jones .

Here are the 10 questions we think will have the biggest impact in the national championship race in 2021-22. We might not have all the answers until March or April, but these are the biggest storylines we’ll be watching early on. How much better can defending champion Stanford be — or will there be some drop-off?

Creme: It’s impossible to replicate a magical season in which the Cardinal overcame being forced to hit the road for over two months due to COVID-19 protocols, and won a pair of one-point nail-biters in the Final Four to capture their first title in 29 years. And even if Stanford can play to that same level, South Carolina and UConn might have jumped ahead of the Cardinal in the national pecking order. The Gamecocks and Huskies are loaded.

That said, so is Stanford, which brings back 10 of the 11 players that saw impactful minutes in the rotation. If junior Haley Jones, the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, and sophomore Cameron Brink take their games to another level, Stanford very well could be better.

But I expect some drop-off, which might merely translate to a couple more losses than last season’s 31-2 campaign. The one player who isn’t returning — Kiana Williams — led the team in points and assists per game and was Stanford’s heart and soul. The Cardinal can possibly compensate for the production, but who replaces the intangibles?

Voepel: This season could be very big in regard to what kind of leader Jones is. She is one of the best players in the game, and she showed that in the NCAA tournament as a whole and Final Four in particular. Great players don’t lose any hunger because they’ve won a championship; if anything, it tends to make them more hungry. Repeating is extremely tough, and I think the general thought is that Stanford won’t do it. But that alone should be major motivation for the Cardinal and Jones. What are the biggest challenges for No. 1 South Carolina? Can anyone challenge the Gamecocks in the SEC?

Creme: South Carolina is far and away the best team in the SEC. The Gamecocks won […]

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