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64 teams to watch in 2009-10

What might the NCAA tournament field look like next March? A quick look ahead to the 2009-10 season.

1. Connecticut: After winning 39 consecutive games to notch the fifth perfect season in women's Division I history, the question might be: When will the Huskies finally lose? Point guard Renee Montgomery will be gone and can't be replaced, but remember, Diana Taurasi won two titles after Sue Bird graduated. Maya Moore has a chance to do the same.

2. Stanford: Jillian Harmon is the only significant loss from a corps that has made two straight Final Four appearances. Jayne Appel will be a serious threat to win the Wade Trophy.

3. Ohio State: Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis will have a year of experience together to work from and will be an elite inside-outside duo. Alongside two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Shavelle Little, they could make the Buckeyes one of the nation's best teams.

4. North Carolina: Italee Lucas, Cetera DeGraffenreid and Jessica Breland will be surrounded by a top recruiting class that could make the Tar Heels the front-runner in the ACC.

5. Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have the potential to be very good. It might come down to how coach Muffet McGraw can mesh the arrival of high school star Skylar Diggins and the return from injuries of Devereaux Peters and Brittany Mallory with an already well-established roster. Chemistry will be the area to watch most.

6. Baylor: All eyes will be on 6-foot-8 freshman Brittney Griner, but coach Kim Mulkey also returns a host of key contributors, including Kelli Griffin, Danielle Wilson (if her knee recovers) and Morghan Medlock. They will have a bigger impact on keeping the Lady Bears among the elite.

7. Duke: Jasmine Thomas, Krystal Thomas and Karima Christmas will become the focal point of a team that might be developing the personnel better-suited to coach Joanne P. McCallie's system. Jasmine Thomas was beginning to play like the point guard the Blue Devils needed late last season.

8. Rutgers: C. Vivian Stringer will have to replace starters Kia Vaughn and Heather Zurich, but Epiphanny Prince is back for her senior season. She will continue to be the focal point of the Scarlet Knights. This season's freshmen should grow up plenty.

9. Tennessee: Coming off perhaps the most disappointing season in school history, the Lady Vols have plenty of offseason questions. If the freshmen learned some lessons in 2008-09, then Tennessee could be back to its usual perch. If not, 2009-10 could be yet another transition season. No program will have more eyes on it this summer.

10. Xavier: Amber Harris is back and healthy, and she and Ta'Shia Phillips might form the best frontcourt tandem this side of UConn's Tina Charles and Maya Moore.

11. Michigan State: Mia Johnson is the only loss from a team that came within a jump shot of the Elite Eight. Another year of experience should help eliminate some of 2008-09's consistency issues.

12. Oklahoma: Norman will seem strange without the Paris twins around, but coach Sherri Coale brings back the rest of her Final Four team, most notably the backcourt of Danielle Robinson and Whitney Hand, a duo primed to be one of the best in the country.

13. Virginia: Monica Wright returns for a run at first team All-America status, but getting a healthy Paulisha Kellum back at the point after her season-ending knee injury might be just as big.

14. Arizona State: Coach Charli Turner Thorne loses plenty, including heart-and-soul Briann January. But the Sun Devils should have the usual depth, led by Dymond Simon and Danielle Orsillo, to be back in the hunt as the Pac-10's second-best team.

15. Florida State: Jacinta Monroe and Courtney Ward will be asked to continue what the Seminoles began in 2008-09 with a share of the ACC regular-season title.

16. LSU: Everyone except Kristen Morris is back for the Lady Tigers, a team that improved dramatically from beginning to end in 2008-09. Allison Hightower will make an All-American run and coach Van Chancellor is still Van Chancellor.

17. DePaul: Deirdre Naughton and Sam Quigley are back to run Doug Bruno's up-tempo offense.

18. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets need to become a better offensive team to go along with their outstanding full-court defense. MaChelle Joseph has nearly everyone back to make it happen.

19. Texas: The Nash sisters will be back, along with Brittainey Raven, trying to get the bad taste of a poor 2008-09 finish out of their mouths.

20. Vanderbilt: The heart-and-soul combination of Jennifer Risper and Christina Wirth are gone, but talent remains, and Melanie Balcomb hasn't lost her ability to teach offense.

21. Maryland: It might take fans as much as half the season to get used to watching Terrapins basketball without Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman. Lynetta Kizer and Demauria Liles should make this a tournament team, but it's a new era in College Park.

22. Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders return everyone -- including third team All-American Alysha Clark, the nation's leading scorer last season -- from a team that went 28-6 and nearly won at Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

23. San Diego State: Beth Burns has four of five starters back, including 6-4 center Paris Johnson, who could be 2009-10's breakout star.

24. South Dakota State: The backbone of the program as it made the jump to full-time Division I status, Jennifer Warkenthien departs after the heartbreaking loss to Baylor in the NCAA tournament. But coach Aaron Johnson laid the foundation, and the Jackrabbits are here to stay for a while.

25. Florida: Coach Amanda Butler has plenty to replace after the departure of Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson. However, with Jennifer Mosser (due back from a midseason injury), sharpshooter Steffi Sorensen and Jordan Jones (South Carolina's leading scorer in 2007-08) forming a solid backcourt, the Gators should be in the SEC mix.

26. Pittsburgh: Can Agnus Berenato maintain Pitt as a top-25 power despite losing mainstay Shavonte Zellous as well as Xenia Stewart? Pepper Wilson, Taneisha Harrison and Sophronia Sallard form the new foundation.

27. California: With Devanei Hampton and Ashley Walker gone, the Bears will largely be relying on Alexis Gray-Lawson and a top-five recruiting class to stay near the top of the Pac-10.

28. Texas A&M: Much more will be expected (and needed) from Tyra White and Sydney Colson to balance the big losses of Danielle Gant and Takia Starks.

29. Boston College: Stefanie Murphy and Carolyn Swords are back and the WNIT shouldn't be part of the conversation.

30. Kansas: If prize recruit Angel Goodrich hadn't hurt her knee before this season, this might be about a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Instead, the Jayhawks, without Goodrich, made a run to the WNIT finals and Danielle McCray developed even further. Now, Kansas is even more equipped for a better 2009-10.

31. Mississippi State: Top scorers Alexis Rack, Armelie Lumanu and Chanel Mokango are all back and all also happen to be excellent defenders, which should again be the strength of the Lady Bulldogs.

32. Louisville: Jeff Walz has his work cut out for him with the departures of Angel McCoughtry and Candyce Bingham, but he brings back his starting backcourt and some underclassmen who gained some invaluable experience making it all the way to St. Louis.

33. Iowa State: Alison Lacey and Kelsey Bolte will be the holdover leaders on a Cyclones team that graduated a bunch of them.

34. Purdue: The Boilermakers lose their entire frontline and should become more guard-oriented with Brittany Rayburn and FahKara Malone. Rayburn could be a breakout star.

35. Georgia: Andy Landers has just about everyone back from a team that shouldn't need to just sneak into the 2009-10 tournament.

36. UCLA: Nikki Caldwell is already recruiting nationally and loses a little off a Bruins team that showed signs of improvement as the season wore on.

37. Minnesota: Emily Fox will be tough to replace, but everyone else returns to the Gophers, who survived some late-season inconsistency to win a game at Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

38. Temple: Kristen McCarthy and coach Tonya Cardoza are both entering their sophomore years with the Owls and both hope for a big jump forward.

39. TCU: Helena Sverrisdottir and TK LaFleur anchor a solid group of returnees who should get the Lady Frogs their ninth tournament berth in 10 years.

40. Georgetown: Only one key player is lost from a club that reached the WNIT quarterfinals.

41. Illinois: If the recruiting class lives up to its hype and can surround All-Big Ten center Jenna Smith with some help, the Illini might make it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.

42. Bowling Green: The Falcons are coming off a 29-win season, the second-best in school history, and a third-round WNIT appearance. Nearly every key player, including All-American Tracy Pontius, returns.

43. Marist: The MAAC powerhouse Red Foxes will have to get along without the steady Julianne Viani, but All-American Rachele Fitz is back for her senior season. Fitz is already the school's all-time leading scorer.

44. Utah: The Utes lose a bunch just with Morgan Warburton's graduation, but Kalee Whipple is back and it's hard to bet against Elaine Elliott's club.

45. Oklahoma State: Andrea Riley will need more help or must allow herself to get more help if the Cowgirls are to make it back to the NCAA tournament.

46. Gonzaga: West Coast Conference Player of the Year Courtney Vandersloot, just the the third Zag ever to earn All-American recognition, is back for her junior year and joined by Gonzaga's top scorer, Heather Bowman. The Zags will be huge favorites in the WCC.

47. Drexel: With CAA Player of the Year Gabriela Marginean and her 24 points per game back, and with VCU losing its top scorers, the Dragons have the edge in the competitive CAA.

48. Wisconsin-Green Bay: Yes, the Phoenix graduate the winningest senior class in program history, but players have moved on before and UW-Green Bay has still won 11 consecutive regular-season conference titles. Celeste Hoewisch will be charged with leading the next phase of tradition.

49. UTEP: Jareica Hughes will be in the discussion as the nation's best point guard and the Miners get the nod in the always wide-open C-USA. SMU, Houston and Southern Mississippi should also be in the mix.

50. Hartford: Diana Delva and Erica Beverly return as the Hawks try to get back to the top of the America East.

51. Creighton: The Jays return their top three scorers, while Missouri Valley rival and mainstay Illinois State has to replace its all-time best player, Kristi Cirone.

52. Liberty: Yes, Megan Frazee and her sisters, along with three other seniors, are gone, but coach Carey Green has built a Big South power in Lynchburg. The Lady Flames have won 12 of the last 13 conference titles, so it would be hard to bet against them in 2009-10.

53. Portland State: While the Vikings say goodbye to perhaps the school's all-time best player in Kelsey Kahle, they do return two of their top three scorers to make a run at the top spot in the Big Sky.

54. Chattanooga: SoCon Player of the Year Shanara Hollinquest and Jenaya Wade-Fray are back as the Lady Mocs go for an 11th straight regular-season title.

55. East Tennessee State: The Lady Bucs will look for a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament with the return of top scorers Siarre Evans, TaRonda Wiles and Latisha Belcher.

56. Fresno State: The two-time defending WAC champion Bulldogs return leading scorer Jaleesa Ross and all five starters who helped make the team the nation's leader in 3-pointers made per game.

57. Sacred Heart: Kaitlin Sowinski is gone, but NEC player of the year Alisa Apo returns for the Pioneers, who went unbeaten and won the NEC regular season by six games.

58. Cal Poly: With top scorer Kristina Santiago back for her junior season and UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside losing so much to graduation, the Mustangs have an opportunity to keep climbing to the top of the Big West.

59. Austin Peay: Perhaps the Lady Govs, who lose only one senior, can build on their improbable OVC tournament championship and NCAA tournament berth. Point guard Emily Pollock could be the key returnee, even though she averaged just 3.5 points per game in 2008-09.

60. UT-San Antonio: The Roadrunners have three double-figure scorers back and should battle UT-Arlington again for Southland supremacy.

61. Lehigh: With guards Erica Prosser, the Patriot League Player of the Year, and Alex Ross back, the Mountain Hawks should be the favorite to repeat as conference champ.

62. North Carolina A&T: Despite losing all-time greats Amber Bland and Brittany Taylor-James, the Aggies should be the favorite once again in the MEAC, with Ta'Wuana Cook and Lamona Smalley leading the way.

63. Dartmouth: Brittney Smith has been Ivy Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year and still has two years remaining in Hanover.

64. Prairie View: Sophomores Candice Thomas and Gaati Werema will be back, trying to get the Panthers a second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

Charlie Creme can be reached at cwcreme@yahoo.com.