UNC’s women high in way-too-early rankings; Heels best combined men, women ESPN rank

By R.L. Bynum

After a breakout season that ended by giving eventual national champion South Carolina its toughest NCAA tournament game, expectations are high for North Carolina’s women’s basketball team next season.

The Tar Heels peaked in the AP Top 25 at No. 16 on Feb. 28 but are higher than that in two “way-too-early” preseason rankings that came out this week. The only ACC team picked higher than Carolina on both lists is Notre Dame.

Chantel Jennings of The Athletic has the Irish No. 7 and the Tar Heels No. 10 and ESPN’s Charlie Creme puts Notre Dame No. 9 and UNC No. 11.

Carolina, which finished Coach Courtney Banghart’s third season 25–7, hasn’t been ranked in the top 10 since the 2014–15 season when it was No. 6 in three consecutive early-December AP polls, No. 9 on Dec. 22 and Dec. 29 and No. 8 on Jan. 5.

In the two ESPN lists, UNC has the best combined rank (No. 11 women and No. 5). The next-highest are Texas (No. 4 women, No. 22 men), Tennessee (No. 8 women, No. 14 men), Arizona (No. 12 women, No. 10 men) and Indiana (No. 17 women and No. 21 men). In the two lists from The Athletic, Carolina (No. 10 women and No. 4 men) is tied with UCLA (No. 13 women, No. 1 men) for the best combined rank.

Ten schools made both lists put out by ESPN and The Athletic but UNC was the only ACC school.

The Gamecocks’ closest game during their run to the national title was when UNC led by one after one quarter in the Sweet 16 before South Carolina won 69–61. South Carolina’s second-closest game was its 72–59 victory over Louisville in a national semifinal.

The Tar Heels return the core of the team with starters Deja Kelly, Kennedy Todd-Williams, Alyssa Ustby and Anya Poole as rising juniors. Joining them will be two highly touted players who missed their freshman seasons because of injuries in 6–3 forward Teonni Key and 5–7 guard Kayla McPherson. Guard Eva Hodgson, who was an outstanding sixth player last season, is also back.

Both way-too-early rankings have the Gamecocks No. 1 and include ACC teams Louisville, Virginia Tech and N.C. State.

Way-too-early preseason rankings

Here are who two writers put as No. 1 and the ACC teams listed in their way-too-early preseason ranking:
Chantel Jennings of The Athletic:
No. 1 South Carolina
No. 7 Notre Dame
No. 10 North Carolina
No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 14 Louisville
No. 15 N.C. State
Charlie Creme of ESPN:
No. 1 South Carolina
No. 9 Notre Dame
No. 11 North Carolina
No. 14 Louisville
No. 15 Virginia Tech
No. 16 N.C. State

Photo courtesy of the ACC

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