UNC women in preseason Top 25 for first time in seven years

By R.L. Bynum

The ascension of the Carolina women’s basketball program to national prominence reached another level Tuesday when the Tar Heels made the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time in seven years.

The Tar Heels are No. 12 as one of five ranked ACC teams, the highest ranking for UNC since earning that same rank on Jan. 19, 2015, in a season that they advanced to the Sweet 16.

When Coach Courtney Banghart’s Tar Heels made their poll debut poll on Dec. 13 last season at No. 25, that was the program’s first ranking since it last made a preseason AP poll before the 2015–16 season at No. 22.

It’s the first time since that 2015–16 preseason poll came out that UNC’s men’s basketball, women’s basketball and football teams have been ranked at the same time. Like this season, the men were the preseason No. 1 team and the football team was coming off a win over Duke. That 66–31 home victory pushed Coach Larry Fedora’s No. 17 team to 8–1.

It’s UNC’s highest ranking in the preseason poll since also being voted No. 12 before the start of the 2013–14 season. The Tar Heels finished No. 12 but got as high as No. 6 on Jan. 27, 2014.

The only other schools currently ranked in all three sports are Tennessee, Texas, Oregon and Michigan. Carolina is the only ACC school and one of only nine in the country that has its men’s and women’s basketball teams ranked.

Carolina finished No. 17 in the final AP poll last season before losing in the Sweet 16 to South Carolina in the Gamecocks’ closest game on their way to winning the national championship.

The Gamecocks, who went wire-to-wire as the top-ranked team last season, are unanimous No. 1 in the preseason poll, followed by Stanford, Texas, Iowa and Tennessee. It’s the 20th consecutive poll in which South Carolina has been No. 1.

Other ACC teams in the poll are No. 7 Louisville, No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 10 N.C. State and No. 13 Virginia Tech. That’s the highest rank for the Hokies since the final poll of the 1998–99 season.

The three top-10 teams and the five top-15 teams are more than any other conference.

Mitchell Northam of WUNC, the only North Carolina-based AP voter, has Carolina the highest rank of any voter at No. 7 and has Virginia Tech No. 6, Louisville No. 8, N.C. State No. 9, Notre Dame No. 10 and Miami No. 20. Kelly Gramlich of ACC Network, the first voter to rank UNC last season, has Louisville No. 5, Virginia Tech No. 9, UNC No. 10, Notre Dame No. 12, N.C. State No. 13 and Miami No. 25.

Northam and Gramlich are two of five voters who have UNC in the top 10.

Only two voters have UNC ranked lower than No. 16. Danny Davis of the Austin American-Statesman has the Tar Heels No. 17 and P.J. Brown of the Arizona Daily Star voted UNC No. 21. The Arizona Daily Star covers Arizona, whose season ended with a 63–45 loss to the Tar Heels but Brown didn’t cover that game. Brown has Arizona No. 12, but the Wildcats check in at No. 19.

UNC has eight games against ranked teams on its schedule (No. 11 Indiana, No. 25 Michigan, No. 13 Virginia Tech twice, No. 10 N.C. State twice, No. 7 Louisville and No. 9 Notre Dame) and could meet a ninth ranked team in No. 8 Iowa State for its second game at the Phil Knight Invitational.

The Tar Heels return four starters from last season’s 25–7 team, including junior guard Deja Kelly, who on Monday made the 20-player watchlist for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which goes to the top point guard in women’s basketball. She averaged 16.5 points per game last season, making All-ACC first team and honorable mention All-American.

Other ACC players on the Lieberman list, which will be trimmed to 10 in mid-February, are Louisville’s Chrislyn Carr, Miami’s Haley Cavinder, Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles and Syracuse’s Dyaisha Fair.

Also back are three junior starters from last season: Alyssa Ustby, Kennedy Todd-Williams and Anya Poole. Fifth-year point guard Eva Hodgson, the first player off the bench last season, is also back.

The Tar Heels get three significant additions in redshirt freshman forward Teonni Key (who ESPN ranked No. 9 in the Class of 2021), freshman point guard Paulina Paris (ranked 27th in the Class of 2022) and, eventually, redshirt freshman Kayla McPherson (No. 17 in the Class of 2021).

Key and McPherson missed last season while rehabbing after surgery to repair torn right ACLs. While Key is expected to be ready for the season, McPherson will likely miss the entire non-conference schedule, which concludes at the end of December, with an unrelated injury.

The team held a scrimmage Saturday afternoon at Carmichael Arena, with attendance limited to season-ticket holders. Just as with the four-on-four scrimmage at Live Action with Carolina Basketball, Ustby, Key and Ariel Young did not participate.

A school spokesperson said that they were held out for precautionary reasons. The scrimmage Saturday was five-on-five and included the team’s male practice players.

The team will host a closed home scrimmage against No. 1 South Carolina on Saturday.

AP Top 25

RankTeam (2021–22 record)Change from
last 2021–22 poll
1South Carolina (29–2)750 (30)
2Stanford (28–3)710
3Texas (26–6)+3650
4Iowa (23–7)+4643
5Tennessee (23–8)+13617
6Connecticut (25–5)-1596
7Louisville (25–4)-3556
8Iowa State (26–6)+2537
9Notre Dame (22–8)+12513
10N.C. State (29–3)-7457
11Indiana (22–8)414
12North Carolina (23–6)+5401
13Virginia Tech (23–9)+3365
14Ohio State (23–6)323
15Oklahoma (24–8)+7318
16LSU (25–5)-7317
17Maryland (21–8)-4296
18Baylor (27–6)-11273
19Arizona (20–7)243
20Oregon (20–12)206
21Creighton (23–10)114
22Nebraska (24–9)73
23South Dakota State (29–9)67
24Princeton (24–4)+150
25Michigan (22–6)-1347

Others receiving votes: Utah 35, UCLA 26, Villanova 25, Kansas 25, DePaul 19, Georgia 17, Belmont 14, Miami 11, South Dakota 9, Ole Miss 5, Kansas State 5, BYU 4, Gonzaga 3, Florida 3, Arkansas 3, South Florida 3, UCF 2, Duke 2, Alabama 2, Washington State 1. Point values in parentheses indicate the number of first-place votes.

UNC schedule

(current ranking)
9WednesdayW, 91–59Jackson StateHome1–0
12SaturdayW, 75–48TCUHome2–0
16WednesdayW, 93–25South Carolina StateHome3–0
20SundayW, 76–65James MadisonHarrisonburg, Va.4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24ThursdayW, 85–79OregonPortland5–0
27SundayW, 73–64No. 17 Iowa State Portland6–0
DecemberACC/Big Ten Challenge
1ThursdayL, 87–63No. 2 IndianaBloomington, Ind.6–1
7WednesdayW, 64–42UNCWHome7–1
11SundayW, 99–67WoffordHome8–1
16FridayW, 89–47USC UpstateHome9–1
Jumpman Invitational
20TuesdayL, 76–68No. 18 MichiganCharlotte9–2
ACC season begins
29ThursdayL, 78–71Florida StateHome9–3, 0–1 ACC
1SundayL, 68–65No. 4
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, Va.9–4, 0–2 ACC
5ThursdayL, 62–58MiamiCoral Gables, Fla.9–5, 0–3 ACC
8SundayW, 60–50No. 10
Notre Dame
1–3 ACC
12ThursdayW, 70–59VirginiaCharlottesville, Va.11–5,
2–3 ACC
15SundayW, 56–47N.C. StateHome12–5,
3–3 ACC
19ThursdayW, 61–56No. 13 DukeHome13–5,
4–3 ACC
22SundayW, 70–57Georgia TechHome14–5,
5–3 ACC
26ThursdayW, 72–57PittsburghPittsburgh15–5,
6–3 ACC
29SundayW, 69–58ClemsonClemson16–5,
7–3 ACC
2ThursdayW, 73–62VirginiaHome17–5,
8–3 ACC
5SundayL, 62–55LouisvilleLouisville17–6,
8–4 ACC
9ThursdayL, 75–67SyracuseSyracuse17–7,
8–5 ACC
12SundayW, 73–55Boston CollegeHome18–7,
9–5 ACC
16ThursdayL, 77–66, OTN.C. StateRaleigh18–8,
9–6 ACC
19SundayW, 71–58Wake ForestHome19–8,
10–6 ACC
23ThursdayL, 61–59No. 4
Virginia Tech
10–7 ACC
26SundayW, 45–41No. 13 DukeDurham20–9,
10–8 ACC
MarchACC Tournament
2ThursdayW, 68–58Clemson Greensboro21–9
3FridayL, 44–40No. 13 Duke Greensboro21–10
NCAA tournament
18SaturdayW, 61–59 St. John’sColumbus, Ohio22–10
20MondayL, 71–69No. 12 Ohio State Columbus, Ohio22–11

Photo of Coach Courtney Banghart, Deja Kelly and Kennedy Todd-Williams courtesy of the ACC


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