College basketball is back, and the state of Texas features some of the most exciting storylines and teams in women's college basketball. There's preseason No. 3 Texas, which is trying to use a host of transfers to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 2003. There's Texas A&M-Commerce, which is making its Division I debut. There's...whatever's happening in terms of re-alignment, with the WAC and the Southland shifting around on what seems like a yearly basis at this point.
There's too much happening for us to talk about it all, but let's take a specific look at five storylines that I'm invested in before this season begins.
Could Baylor's Big 12 Reign End?
The last time Baylor didn't win the Big 12 regular season title was in 2010. Lots of things have changed since then. There wasn't a Dave Campbell's Texas Basketball at that point, for instance. That Baylor team ended the season sixth in the Big 12 standings, but was still ranked No. 14 at the end of the season.
But this might be the year that Baylor doesn't get there. While I personally picked the Bears to win the conference again in my preview for the magazine, the top four is really tight, and Texas, Iowa State and Oklahoma all open the season ranked higher in the AP poll.
And look, I get it. Baylor's won by having dominant bigs over the years, from Brittney Griner to Lauren Cox to NaLyssa Smith, and now they don't necessarily have that. But the team also grabbed the best rebounding wing in the country out of the transfer portal in Aijha Blackwell, plus added Kentucky big Dre'una Edwards. There are some good players returning in the backcourt. Baylor will be good.
But you can argue Texas added better transfers in Shaylee Gonzales, Sonya Morris and Taylor Jones, plus the team has Rori Harmon running the point. Oklahoma has Madi Williams, one of the most underrated players in the country. And then there's Iowa State, led by Ashley Joens, a top-five player in college basketball and returning a lot of its talent.
It's going to be tough. I'd take the field over Baylor if I were betting on this, but I'd likely still take Baylor over each individual team heads-up.
The UTA and SFA Battle in the WAC
This wouldn't have been worth mentioning if Stephanie Visscher hadn't transferred to Michigan State, but with the WAC's best player gone to the Big Ten now, the WAC's a lot more open. Could UT-Arlington win it in their first year as a WAC team?
Maybe. UTA made a run in the Sun Belt tournament last year and ultimately ended up in the NCAA Tournament, where they came close to taking down Iowa State.
The Mavs instantly have the new best player in the WAC in Starr Jacobs, who was dominant last year, averaging 21.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. She had the best season in program history, and now the team moves to a conference that should be more winnable.
But don't count SFA out. Remember, there was a point a couple of years ago where you could put Visscher and her teammate Aiyana Johnson on the same level. Johnson's a really good player who could excel as the focal point of this team. Really, the concern for SFA is one that hasn't really been a concern in recent years: depth. The team will need Johnson and Zya Nugent to take a step up.
Texas A&M-Commerce Comes to Division I
It's always fun when a new team comes to Division I, and fans in Texas have gotten a good bit of that lately, with Tarleton joining in 2020 and now Texas A&M-Commerce entering now.
Tarleton went 21-8 in its last season in Division II, then followed that up by going 9-16 in its first year in Division I. TAMUC went 27-5 last year in Division II, and they join a conference that should be easier than the one Tarleton joined was.
This is a talented team, led by Dyani Robinson, who was a WBCA First Team All-American last season and the Lone Star Conference Player of the Year. But I'll be honest here: I don't really watch any Division II, so I think I've maybe watched Robinson play two or three times before. I'm fascinated to see if she can be as good against Division II
Can Joni Taylor Get A&M Back in Contention?
There probably wasn't a team that was more disappointing than Texas A&M last year. In Gary Blair's final season, the Aggies went 14-15 and were 4-12 in SEC play. It was the first time A&M had finished under .500 in conference play since Blair's second season, 2004-2005.
But A&M got a big coup this offseason, signing head coach Joni Taylor away from Georgia, where she won 21 games last season and has made the second round of the NCAA Tournament three times.
Don't expect immediate success for Taylor, though. Last year's big issue—the frontcourt—is still a question mark, though the addition of Janiah Barker, a 6-2 forward who was ESPN's No. 3 ranked recruit in this class, should help shore that up.
But the team suffered a big loss in September, when guard Jordan Nixon walked away from the sport. Now, the backcourt becomes an issue. It was the strength of the team last year with Nixon plus Kayla Wells, Qadashah Hoppie and Destiny Pitts, with the Aggies playing four guards with Wells at PF a lot. But now, none of those players are on this Aggies team. The rebuild should be short, but this year will probably feel like a rebuild.
UTSA is Building Towards a Moment
Two years ago, UTSA went 2-18, and was 0-14 in conference play. The team was in the Conference USA cellar. They were miles away from contention.
And then they hired Karen Aston.
Aston spent almost a decade coaching Texas. For her to take the UTSA job was...really, really interesting, and it signaled that the administration wanted this team to be competitive.
Last year, the team improved to 7-23, and was 3-14 in conference play. Things were better, but the team was still a long way off, and the regular season ending with an 86-48 loss to Rice really highlights that.
But then UTSA went out this offseason and did a surprising thing: they added USC's—yeah, the Pac-12 team USC— best player in the transfer portal, Jordyn Jenkins. Last year, Jenkins led USC with 14.8 points per game, and now she's coming to play in Conference USA. The Roadrunners also added a second Southern Cal player in Kyra White.
Suddenly, UTSA looks like a team that could beat anyone in the conference. They were only picked to finish ninth in the conference preseason poll, but there's a lot of talent here now.