The college basketball season appears to be right around the corner barring any COVID-19 postponements to the start of it.
There are 24 Division I programs in the state of Texas, which means there are 24 teams who'll enter the 2020-21 season with high hopes. Some of those hopes are for national championships (Baylor). Some are for major improvement under new coaching staffs (Texas, Texas Tech). Some are for mid-major schools to win their conference and make some noise in March (Rice, Stephen F. Austin).
Let's look at one reason for excitement from each school in the state.
Abilene Christian: While a good bit of last year's production is gone, the Wildcats should still be competitive in the Southland thanks to Makayla Mabry, who ranked 50th in the country in 3-point shooting percentage among 2,069 qualified players last season. The Senior sharpshooter will try to keep a strong shooting team from last season -- they were ninth in the country in three-point field goal percentage and 10th in overall field goal percentage — rolling along.
Baylor: The Lady Bears are in a weird place for a Baylor team: the land of uncertainity. With Lauren Cox, Juicy Landrum, and Te'a Cooper gone, this team was expecting to be led by the combination of guard DiDi Richards and forward NaLyssa Smith. But a spinal injury has put Richards's season in jeopardy, complicating things in Waco. Still, the Lady Bears have Smith, arguably the Big 12's best player, which is a huge reason for optimism.
Houston: Last year, Tatyana Hill's 11.4 offensive rebounding rate ranked 12th in the AAC. She was also top 25 in the conference in steal rate and block rate, as well as usage rate. The advanced stats suggest Hill could be in line for some big numbers in her Junior season.
Houston Baptist: Considering four of the projected starters on this team are sophomores, I'll shy away from using stats here when it comes to pinpointing something to watch and instead say to watch for improvement from the Huskies and their trio of former Mansfield Timberview players: N'Denasija Collins, Timia Jefferson, and Kennedy Wilson.
Incarnate Word: The Cardinals graduated a lot of talent, but I'm excited to see if Kara Speer can take the next step offensively. Already one of the best rebounding guards in the country, Speer will be asked to take on an increased offensive load on a young team that features eight freshmen. The future is bright in San Antonio, even if 2020-21 is a rebuilding season.
Lamar: The Cardinals had a rough 2019-20 season, but Jadyn Pimental's 3.2 steals per game ranked 11th in the country. She's back for her senior season and should continue to cause problems for opposing ball-handlers.
North Texas: The Mean Green will feel the pain of not having Anisha George in the middle, but last year's No. 2 scorer, N'Yah Boyd, will get her chance to lead this team.While she struggled to shoot the ball, she did rank in the 90th percentile nationally in assists per game last season. If she can improve on her 31.3 percent mark from the floor, Boyd can help UNT make some noise. The team also brings in highly touted freshman Tommisha Lampin, who'll look to make an immediate impact in the middle.
Prairie View A&M: Florida International transfer TaMiracle Taylor is a bit of a mystery, but she leads a team full of newcomers. She had 26.1 usage rate in the 2018-19 season at FIU.
Rice: Nancy Mulkey! The 6-foot-9 center was sixth in Division I in blocks per game last year and recorded four games with at least five blocks, including a monster game against SMU when she had a points/rebounds/blocks triple-double. Mulkey has the tools to lead the nation in blocks this season, provided opposing teams are willing to even try scoring over her.
Sam Houston State: Amber Leggett. One of the Southland's top players, Leggett averaged 16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.7 steals per game last year. That steal mark ranked 26th in the country. The junior is SHSU's best player and a key reason why the team will again compete for a Southland title.
SMU: There are plenty of things to be excited about with the Mustangs, but I'm especially excited about freshman Rhyle McKinney, a three-time state champion at Argyle and one of the best basketball players I've seen in person.
Stephen F. Austin: The duo of Stephanie Visscher and Aiyana Johnson has the Ladyjacks favorites to win the Southland. Visscher was 18th in the nation in 2-point field goal percentage last year while also being an above-average 3-point shooter. Johnson was second in the Southland in rebounding rate and 12th in block rate.
Tarleton: Welcome to Division I! The Texans make the transition to the WAC and won't be playoff eligible yet, but we'll see if one of the best programs in the Lone Star Conference is able to smoothly make the move up. Keep an eye on sophomore forward Callie Boyles.
TCU: This might end up being a bit of a rebuilding year for Raegan Pebley's squad, but they still have one of the state's best players in former Denton Guyer guard Lauren Heard. An All-Big 12 First Team selection last year, Heard will try to recapture some of the magic that led the Horned Frogs to a 22-7 record last season.
Texas: How will Charli Collier develop in her third college season? Already getting draft hype for the 2021 WNBA Draft, Collier's role as a stretch five on offense makes her one of the most dangerous players in the country on that end of the floor. And with new head coach Vic Schaefer in Austin, we'll see if Collier can take a huge step on defense to help the Longhorns contend for the Big 12 title.
Texas A&M: Obviously, this team will miss Chennedy Carter. The No. 4 pick in this year's WNBA Draft, Carter's ability to hit big shots would have made the Aggies a sleeper pick to win it all this year. But guess what: they're still a sleeper pick to win it all, because Junior Destiny Pitts was granted immediate eligibility after transferring from Minnesota. We'll be watching to see if Pitts can be the offensive engine for this team and keep them right in the thick of the battle for the SEC.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi: The Islanders lost a ton of production to the point where they're likely to be closer to the bottom of the Southland than they are to repeat last year's regular season title. Alexandria Pollard joins the team from Bossier Parish CC, where she averaged 8.2 points and 8.0 rebounds across two seasons and blokced 3.6 shots per game last year.
Texas Southern: This is a team on the rise with Cynthia Cooper-Dyke at head coach. Their chances of winning the SWAC took a big leap this year when Niya Mitchell was awarded another year of eligibility. She was fifth in the nation in offensive rebounds per game last year, plus 14th in steals per game. Mitchell's an early favorite for SWAC Player of the Year.
Texas State: Avionne Alexander had a 1.68 assist to turnover ratio last season. With more playing time, we'll see if she can up her assists while keeping up her low-turnover ways. Fresno State transfer and former Argyle star Gabby Standifer will also be huge in helping this team compete in the Sun Belt.
Texas Tech: It was a tumultuous offseason in Lubbock and it ended with a new head coach in former Lady Raiders star Krista Gerlich. They also added a key transfer: Vivian Gray, who comes to Texas Tech by way of Oklahoma State. Gray was 22nd in the country in points per game and also added 3.7 assists and 1.6 steals per contest. On paper, this team should take a step back with Brittany Brewer graduated and a handful of players transfering out, but it's hard to bet against Gerlich and Gray.
UT Arlington: Katie Ferrell only averaged 3.4 points per game last year, but she did everything else for the Mavericks. 6.8 rebounds. 4.1 assists. 1.7 steals. She was among the Sun Belt's best in all of those categories. Now, can she step up as a scorer if the team needs her to?
UTEP: Katia Gallegos is just a sophomore, but that doesn't mean she isn't one of the best point guards in Texas and, potentially, the nation. 33rd in the nation in assists per game last year, expect Gallegos to contend for a Top 10 spot in this year's assist rankings.
UTRGV: Amara Graham averaged 11.3 points per game and shot 45.3 percent from three last season. The best offensive player on this Vaqueros team, the senior will look to close her college career on a high note.
UTSA: An extremely young team last year, the now-sophomore trio of Mikayla Woods, Karley Larson, and Adryana Quezada should see the most minutes of the program's nine sophomores. UTSA struggled to win games last season, but this program is building towards respectability in Conference USA, and they should take a key step towards that this year.