Every conversation about college basketball these days includes at least a mention of the transfer portal. It has skewed perceptions and timelines.
Thursday’s news that Hailey Van Lith is joining LSU after leaving Louisville feels almost as big as the Tigers winning the national title last month. The sport moves much more quickly.
And so we update ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 before spring turns into summer — and exactly one month after LSU was crowned NCAA champion.
Van Lith’s move to Baton Rouge necessitated a change at the top. The defending champs are now No. 1 again. Ironically, Louisville made the biggest move upward despite losing Van Lith. Jeff Walz remains one of the most aggressive coaches when it comes to the portal, even when it takes away his best player, and the Cardinals added six new players, including three who made all-conference teams.
UCLA, Ohio State and Virginia Tech are the three other notable risers since our top 25 on the final night of the 2022-23 season. All three plucked talented players from the portal, and the Bruins and Hokies also benefited from veterans like Charisma Osborne and Elizabeth Kitley using the extra year of eligibility from the NCAA’s COVID-19 waiver. Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and Paige Bueckers won’t be the only players making an impact on the championship race; fifth-year seniors across the country will have a major say.
And with impact transfers such as Aneesah Morrow, Endyia Rogers and Kennedy Fauntleroy still searching for 2023-24 destinations, this top 25 is bound to change again … and again. Still, enough transfer portal dust has settled for another look at the rankings.
1. LSU Tigers
The defending champs begin next season where they ended this one: at No. 1. The recent addition of Van Lith, the top acquisition from the transfer portal, pushes the Tigers past UConn for the top spot. The production and leadership that left with Alexis Morris is potentially back with Van Lith, and she pairs with Angel Reese to give LSU two All-Americans. How Reese and Van Lith mesh will be watched with a microscope throughout the season and is already one of 2023-24’s top storylines. The backcourt of Van Lith, Flau’jae Johnson, Kateri Poole and Mikaylah Williams, the No. 2 recruit in the country, has the potential to carry any team, and the Tigers still have Reese at their foundation. She is the top contender to Clark’s national player of the year crown. Coach Kim Mulkey has another supremely talented group, and she might be the perfect coach to make all the pieces fit. Previous rank: 2
The talent in Storrs is equal to that in Baton Rouge. Whether they can stay healthy is the biggest question with the Huskies. As much as Van Lith elevates LSU, UConn’s backcourt of Bueckers and Azzi Fudd is still the best in the country if both can play a full season. That neither has been able to stay on the court full-time in the past two years can’t be dismissed, however. Throw in forward Aaliyah Edwards and UConn has three of the nation’s 10 best players. Nika Mühl was good enough to set the single-season school record for assists; Aubrey Griffin and Caroline Ducharme should slide into more well-defined roles; and 6-foot-2 Ayanna Patterson, 6-5 Jana El Alfy and 6-3 Ice Brady, who also missed last season with an injury, could give the Huskies the kind of frontcourt depth they haven’t had in years. Previous rank: 1
Caitlin Clark: It’s ‘a huge honor’ to win Wooden Award
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark reacts to winning the John R. Wooden Award as the women’s player of the year.
With Clark running the show again, every Hawkeyes game next season will be an event. The attention she garners might reach levels never seen before. Clark alone puts Iowa in the national picture, but having glue players like Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin back for their fifth years is an enormous help to the Hawkeyes’ title chances. Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock will be missed, but if 6-2 Hannah Stuelke and 6-5 Addison O’Grady continue to develop, Clark will have enough help for a return trip to the Final Four. Previous rank: 4
4. UCLA Bruins
A year ago the Bruins welcomed the nation’s top recruiting class, and many of those freshmen thrived as UCLA reached the Sweet 16. Coach Cori Close also added the No. 1 player in last year’s recruiting cycle when 6-7 Lauren Betts decided to leave Stanford for Westwood. Throw in Charisma Osborne’s decision to forgo the WNBA for one more season, and UCLA might have its best team ever. Kiki Rice lived up to her billing as a freshman and was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Osborne. Rice’s classmates Londynn Jones and Gabriela Jaquez should also get better as sophomores. Emily Bessoir has all-conference potential, and Betts could be a dominant force with more consistent minutes and a season of college basketball experience. Previous rank: 6
The best of Lauren Betts in her lone season at Stanford
Check out highlights of for No. 1 recruit Lauren Betts as she announces her intention to transfer from Stanford.
In the new world of player defections and quick roster reconstruction, the defending Pac-12 co-champs are a rarity: The Utes will return all five starters. The group is led by Pac-12 Player of the Year Alissa Pili, who should start 2023-24 as a preseason first-team All-American. Gianna Kneepkens and Jenna Johnson, sophomores who combined to average over 27 points per game, have become the backbone of the program’s resurgence under coach Lynne Roberts. Only Kneepkens made more 3-pointers for the Utes than Kennady McQueen. Australian point guard Isabel Palmer, back for her senior season, ties it all together. Previous rank: 2
6. Ohio State Buckeyes
Adding ACC Defensive Player in the Year in Duke transfer Celeste Taylor makes an already dominant press even better. Taylor Mikesell’s shooting will still be missed, but with Jacy Sheldon back for a fifth year to run the show and Cotie McMahon, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, on the verge of being one of the game’s next stars, the Buckeyes could be even better. Taylor Thierry and Rikki Harris should also continue to thrive in Ohio State’s up-tempo attack. The Buckeyes will battle Iowa and Indiana for Big Ten supremacy and are a Final Four contender. Previous rank: 8
The loss of Grace Berger can’t be understated. She was so important to the program and made so many big plays. But coach Teri Moren has built one of the best teams in the Big Ten, especially with Mackenzie Holmes to build around in 2023-24. Holmes will be on every first-team All-American preseason ballot. The 6-3 post will be surrounded by veteran shooters Sara Scalia, Chloe Moore-McNeil and Sydney Parrish. Yarden Garzon was Indiana’s best 3-point shooter as a freshman and made clutch shots all season. If she makes a big leap as a sophomore, the Hoosiers will have another bona fide go-to offensive player. Previous rank: 5
The new era in Columbia just got an enhancement with the addition of Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao. She can play either guard spot and could pair nicely next to Raven Johnson. Paopao, who shot 42.7% from 3-point range, fills the biggest weakness of the Gamecocks over the past two seasons. With Aliyah Boston in the WNBA, Kamilla Cardoso could put up huge rebounding and shot-block numbers with the additional minutes. Bree Hall, who was part of the heralded 2021 recruiting class along with Johnson, also looks ready for a bigger role alongside her classmate in the backcourt. Coach Dawn Staley once again added a big-time class of newcomers, headlined by Milaysia Fulwiley, a point guard from Columbia’s Keenan High School. Previous rank: 7
9. Virginia Tech Hokies
Elizabeth Kitley’s decision to return for her bonus year and play alongside good friend and point guard Georgia Amoore instantly made the Hokies one of the ACC’s top teams once again. When 6-2 Minnesota transfer Alanna Micheaux decided to head to Blacksburg, Virginia Tech was back in Final Four contention. Micheaux, with her 13.8 PPG and 7.9 RPG, helps replace the interior production of Taylor Soule. The chemistry that was so vital to the best season in program history took a hit with the losses of Soule and Kayana Traylor, but got a big boost when sharpshooter Cayla King, another close friend and high school teammate of Kitley’s, also elected for a fifth season. With Amoore leading the way, coach Kenny Brooks will again have plenty of perimeter options, including freshman Carys Baker, who headlines a top-20 recruiting class. Previous rank: 14
So much of the Irish outlook hinges on a healthy Olivia Miles. If she is fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in the regular-season finale, Notre Dame will battle Virginia Tech for ACC supremacy. Miles, Sonia Citron and Maddy Westbeld are among the best and most versatile trios in the country. The further development of freshmen Cassandre Prosper and KK Bransford will be another key, as will incorporating incoming guard Hannah Hidalgo, the co-MVP of the McDonald’s All American Game. Anna DeWolfe, a four-year starter who averaged 17.4 career PPG at Fordham, is an interesting addition from the transfer portal. Previous rank: 10
Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin has leaned into the transfer portal as well as any coach this side of Mulkey. Shakira Austin and Angel Baker were key transfers of the past two seasons who helped resurrect the program. Now Coach Yo has added three potential starters for next season. Kennedy Todd-Williams was North Carolina’s second-leading scorer. Florida’s KK Deans averaged 14.7 PPG to pace the Gators (and led West Virginia in 2021-22). Kharyssa Richardson started 27 games for Auburn. With Madison Scott, Snudda Collins and Marquesha Davis, another one-time transfer, returning, Ole Miss has the depth and versatility for at least another Sweet 16 run. Previous rank: 15
The top plays of Tennessee’s season
Take a look at some of the best plays this season from the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
Some questions remain for the Lady Vols, but the right pieces are there to compete with LSU and South Carolina in the SEC. Rickea Jackson’s decision to stay for one more year was the best news of the offseason in Knoxville. She will be the centerpiece. After missing most of this season with blood clots in her lungs, 6-6 center Tamari Key is also giving it another go. With 6-5 Jillian Hollingshead back, size will again be strength for Tennessee. Belmont transfer Destinee Wells is responsible for getting the bigs the ball and providing some much-needed backcourt scoring. She averaged career highs with 19.5 points, 4.9 assists and 45.5% 3-point shooting this season with the Bruins. She should pair with fifth-year senior Jasmine Powell to form an experienced backcourt. Previous rank: 11
For the first time since 2007, the Bears didn’t have a conference regular-season championship, a conference tournament title or a Sweet 16 appearance. With a foundation of Sarah Andrews, Darianna Littlepage-Buggs, Bella Fontleroy and Aijha Blackwell, Baylor is hoping that won’t repeat in 2023-24. Andrews was the team’s leading scorer and an All-Big 12 second-team honoree. She will pair with Kentucky transfer Jada Walker, a 12.9 PPG scorer as a sophomore. Littlepage-Buggs was the conference’s Freshman of the Year and might have just scratched the surface of her talent this past season. Blackwell missed all but eight games in 2022-23 but was an All-SEC performer at Missouri before transferring to Baylor. The addition of 6-3 Belmont transfer Madison Bartley, who averaged 14.1 PPG in the MVC, helps mitigate the graduation of Caitlin Bickle. Previous rank: 17
No. 14 Louisville Cardinals
Walz lost Van Lith to the transfer portal, but he hasn’t been shy about using it himself to quickly rebuild the Cardinals. Walz nearly snagged himself another starting lineup from the portal. Jayda Curry from Cal will take Van Lith’s place as the top offensive option in the backcourt. But she will get plenty of help from Sydney Taylor, who averaged over 15 points per game in each of the past three seasons at UMass, and Florida transfer Nina Rickards, who scored 12.1 PPG this season. If 6-1 Kiki Jefferson, the Sun Belt Player of the Year, can bring her mid-major star power to the ACC, the Cardinals will once again be contenders in the conference. Even more production from senior-to-be post Olivia Cochran would also boost Louisville’s chances at a sixth straight Elite Eight appearance. Previous rank: 22
After leading the ACC in scoring, Ta’Niya Latson won nearly every national freshman of the year award. Her late-season injury derailed what had been a promising season, and the Seminoles fell in their first games in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. Coach Brooke Wyckoff will also welcome back 6-2 Makayla Timpson and guard Sara Bejedi, Florida State’s second- and third-leading scorers. The addition of grad transfer Alexis Tucker, a 14.9 PPG scorer at UC Santa Barbara, should also ease the burden on Latson. An 11th straight trip to the NCAA tournament seems certain. Previous rank: 19
With Haley Jones off to the WNBA, the graduations of Ashten Prechtel and Fran Belibi, and the transfer departures of Betts, Indya Nivar and Agnes Emma-Nnopu, the Cardinal are dealing with an unprecedented amount of turnover. Perhaps the thinner roster will help solidify roles and minutes distribution. Aside from foul trouble, Cameron Brink won’t ever have to worry about minutes. Back for her senior year, she once again will be one of the country’s best players next season. The further development of sophomore-to-be Talana Lepolo at the point will be a key. Brooke Demetre and Kiki Iriafen should get much more consistent opportunity, and the return of sharpshooter Hannah Jump for her fifth year will provide some stability. Three top-40 recruits are also arriving, led by 5-11 wing Courtney Ogden. Previous rank: 9
No coach has restocked better over the past few years than Brenda Frese. This offseason has already brought in NC State transfer Jakia Brown-Turner. The 6-0 Brown-Turner gives the Terps a wing scorer to help offset the loss of Diamond Miller. This is now Shyanne Sellers’ team, however, and she will be the No. 1 option. The return of Faith Masonius, Lavender Briggs and Brinae Alexander as graduate students gives Frese a more substantial foundation than she had at this time last year. Riley Nelson, a 6-0 guard and local product, heads a solid recruiting class, and the Terps still have three scholarships available. Expect more additions from the transfer portal. Previous rank: 12
The program’s continued climb under Lindsay Gottlieb hit another level when she landed the country’s top recruit, 6-0 guard Juju Watkins from Sierra Canyon High School in Los Angeles. With her skill set and approach to the game, scouts have tabbed Watkins a surefire future pro. She’ll team up with 6-4 sophomore Rayah Marshall, one of the country’s best defenders, to form the backbone of USC’s immediate future. Gottlieb, who played at Brown, also went back to her Ivy League roots and grabbed grad transfers Kayla Padilla from Penn and McKenzie Forbes from Harvard. Padilla was the Ivy’s second-leading scorer at 17.5 PPG and Forbes played for Gottlieb in her freshman season at Cal. They should help replace three of the Trojans’ top four scorers, including Kadi Sissoko (15.4 PPG) and Destiny Littleton (14.0 PPG). Previous rank: 21
The transfer portal giveth and the transfer portal taketh away. Courtney Banghart essentially made a two-for-two swap and improved the Tar Heels’ defense in the process. She lost Kennedy Todd-Williams to Ole Miss and Destiny Adams to Rutgers, but added Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Lexi Donarski from Iowa State and Boston College’s Maria Gakdeng, the ACC’s third-leading shot-blocker. With first-team All-ACC selections Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby back for their senior seasons, North Carolina should have plenty of offense, too. Full seasons from 6-4 Teonni Key and 5-8 Kayla McPherson will also help. A big jump from freshman guard Paulina Paris and immediate contributions from 6-3 post Ciera Toomey, the No. 4-rated recruit according to HoopGurlz, would put the Tar Heels in the mix in what should once again be another highly competitive ACC race. Previous rank: 24
Most of the core is back in Austin; it just needs to stay healthy. Getting a full season from 6-1 sophomore Aaliyah Moore, who was lost after nine games to a knee injury, will be key. Shaylee Gonzales is using her extra year, and with one season together behind them, the backcourt chemistry with All-American point guard candidate Rori Harmon should be better. The addition of Madison Booker, a top-15 incoming freshman wing, should also bolster an offense that struggled at the end of the season. DeYona Gaston, who’s 6-2, and 6-4 Taylor Jones combined to average over 21 points and 10 rebounds per game. Previous rank: 13
After the Buffaloes’ first Sweet 16 appearance in 20 years, coach JR Payne was rewarded with a five-year contract extension. She will also have her veteran team back for another run, with the team’s top four scorers — Quay Miller, Aaronette Vonleh, Frida Formann and Jaylyn Sherrod — all returning. Plus, sharpshooter Maddie Nolan is heading west from Michigan as a grad transfer. This season marked just the second time in 27 years Colorado had won as many as 25 games, and the third-place finish in the Pac-12 was the program’s best since joining the conference in 2011. Previous rank: 20
The Bluejays’ core group of Emma Ronsiek, Morgan Maly, Lauren Jensen and Molly Mogensen will be seniors. That’s four of the team’s top five scorers back. These are the same players who took Creighton to the Elite Eight in 2022 and combined to make the Bluejays one of the nation’s most accurate 3-point shooting teams this season. With Villanova likely taking a step back, the Bluejays should be the second-best team in the Big East, chasing UConn. Previous rank: 23
The elation of winning their first Pac-12 tournament title was muted by a disappointing first-round NCAA tournament loss. It marked a third consecutive first-round exit, but this is also a program that had appeared in only one tournament prior to 2021. With nearly every key player set to return next season, that first March Madness win for coach Kamie Ethridge might come soon. Charlisse Leger-Walker will be one of the favorites for Pac-12 Player of the Year and will drive Washington State’s hopes to reach the top half of the conference. Previous rank: 25
With guard Gabby Gregory and her 18.5 PPG returning for her bonus year, and personnel losses for Duke and Oregon, the Wildcats move into the rankings. Gregory leads a deep and talented backcourt along with Serena Sundell, Jaelyn Glenn and Brylee Glenn. If 6-6 center Ayoka Lee, who missed this season following knee surgery, is healthy and returns to her 2022 form in which she averaged a double-double, the Wildcats could even challenge for a Big 12 title. Previous rank: NR
Missing the NCAA tournament this season was a disappointment after a late-season collapse, but it shouldn’t happen again next season in Lincoln. Top three scorers Jaz Shelley, Isabelle Bourne and Alexis Markowski are back to help the Cornhuskers break through in a top-heavy Big Ten. Shelley was first-team all-conference and Markowski led the Big Ten in rebounding (9.8 RPG). Getting guard Darian White, one of the best players in Big Sky Conference history, from Montana State should be a big boost to an offense that lacked consistency. White also twice was the Big Sky’s Defensive Player of the Year. Previous rank: NR
Fell out: Duke (No. 16), Oregon (No. 18)
Also considered: Illinois, Washington, Kansas