Stop the presses! University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, whose team has won 78 consecutive games and back-to-back national titles, recently told reporters that he suspects his team might lose some games this season. Can you imagine? UConn losing games? It has been a while.
The reason for his shocking disclosure is that the roster includes five freshmen, and he doesn't want to burden them with the remarkable streak without former Huskies star Tina Charles and guard Caroline Doty, who will miss the season with a knee injury.
Of course, the five freshmen of whom Auriemma spoke are among the best newcomers in the nation, so a three-peat is not out of the question -- especially considering that All-World senior forward Maya Moore is back. The Huskies will get tested right away with a nationally televised game Nov. 16 against No. 2 Baylor, which has 11 players back from its Final Four team last season. The most notable returnee is 6-8 center Brittney Griner, who set an NCAA record as a freshman last year with 223 blocked shots.
North Carolina figures to benefit from the return of forward Jessica Breland, who was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma 1 1/2 years ago. Breland missed all of last season, and the Tar Heels missed her. They went 19-12, were under .500 in league play for the first time since 2001 and lost in the first round of the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
"Jessica not being on the floor was hard," UNC coach coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "But just every day, when a team goes through a kid having cancer, taking chemotherapy and all -- no matter what you do to try to have the sun come out, the black cloud is still there. But, you know what? The sun's out. It's probably shining brighter than it's ever shined before, and I think it's going to continue to get brighter and brighter."
Which teams are likely to make the Sweet 16?
1. UConn: Who else? When you win 78 consecutive games, you deserve the No. 1 ranking.
2. Baylor: Four starters are back from its Final Four team, including the 6-8 Griner, a weapon with great size.
3. Stanford: The Cardinal went 36-2 last year, with both losses to UConn. Nnemkadi Ogwumike is joined by younger sister Chiney.
4. Duke: The men's team is ranked No. 1, and the women's team isn't far behind, with Jasmine Thomas and Krystal Thomas leading the way.
5. Tennessee: The Vols won 32 games last season, and Pat Summitt is still the coach, so a national title is within reach.
6. Xavier: Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips are back from an Elite 8 team that went 30-4.
7. Ohio State: The Buckeyes won 31 games last year, and have great three-point shooters and a high-octane offense.
8. Oklahoma: Senior guard Danielle Robinson led the team to two Final Fours. Can she make it three?
9. Texas A&M: Point guard Sydney Colson is a rare four-year captain, and her leadership is a key to the team's success.
10. Kentucky: Forward Victoria Dunlap was the defending Southeastern Conference Player of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds.
11. Georgetown: The Hoyas won a school-record 26 games last year.
12. West Virginia: The Hokies went 17-0 at home last year and their stingy defense allowed 51.9 points per game.
13. UCLA: Jasmine Dixon is among four returning players from a team that could make a deep run.
14. Georgia: Can last year's Sweet 16 run be matched?
15. Gonzaga: Courtney Vandersloot is a two-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year. With her, another Sweet 16 run is possible.
16. Florida State: The top two scorers are gone from last season's 29-6 team, but newcomers could fill in.
Glory Johnson (Tennessee), Sugar Rodgers (Georgetown), Pepper Wilson (Pitt), Porsha Phillips (Georgia), Italee Lucas and Cetera DeGrafenreid (North Carolina).