Irish, Eagles, Knights chasing Huskies

Favorite: Connecticut

Yes, the Huskies lost Diana Taurasi, one of the greatest players in college basketball history. But you can't ever count out UConn. The Huskies return too much talent -- how many high school All-Americans were on the bench last season?! -- and more importantly, coach Geno Auriemma, who always seems to get his athletes to play a little bit better than they thought they could.

UConn has won at least a share of the last 11 regular-season titles. This season, juniors Barb Turner (shot a Big East-best 53.6 percent from the field last season) and Ann Strother (11.0 ppg, 61 3-pointers) will try to make it an even dozen, and both are ready to take their games to an All-American level.

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  • Senior center Jessica Moore (9.5 ppg, team-high 7.1 rpg) is expected to have a big season, despite the short turnaround from tearing her right ACL in April's NCAA title game, and should combine with Turner for one of the country's elite post tandems. As of Nov. 3, however, Moore hadn't been cleared to participate in full scrimmages, so look for junior center Willnett Crockett to see more playing time.

    Ashley Battle will continue to complement UConn's backcourt, ideally as the Huskies' "sixth man" (a role Auriemma prefers for her). The Huskies should also get a boost from Nicole Wolff, who's finally healthy, Charde Houston, the Big East preseason freshman of the year, and juco transfer Rashidat Sadiq, a forward who competed for Nigeria in the Athens Olympics.

    Despite UConn's established résumé, a few big questions remain. First, who's going to take over the point guard duties? Freshman Mel Thomas was expected to be the frontrunner, but is battling a stress reaction in her left foot. Ashley Valley got the start in UConn's first exhibition game.

    And of course, who will step up and take over a game when needed now that Taurasi is gone? And for as much as Dee will be missed, don't think for a second the Huskies won't miss Maria Conlon, too. The often-underrated guard consistently and calmly got the ball to the right people and hit the clutch 3-pointer when needed.

    Contenders: Notre Dame, Rutgers, Boston College

    Notre Dame has been inconsistent at times since winning the 2001 title, but the Irish are always competitive and always play hard down the stretch.

    There's no question that Notre Dame's success this season hinges on Jacqueline Batteast (16.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 45 percent from field). She's incredibly gifted -- and consistent: she has reached double figures in scoring in 72 of her 90 career games, with 32 double-doubles.

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