NCAAW Big 12 preview: Iowa State and Texas are hungry for Final Four

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We continue our conference preview series with the Big 12. Here is a look at each team in order of predicted finish according to the preseason coaches poll.

Players to watch (preseason All-Big 12 list): Ashley Joens (First Team), Emily Ryan (First), Lexi Donarski (First)

The Cyclones had loftier expectations than just one Sweet Sixteen visit over Ashley Joens’ first four years. At least they made it to the second round of the tournament all three years it occurred in that span, which is a good accomplishment, but they definitely had their sights set higher. They lost a heartbreaker to Jordan Nixon and Texas A&M in 2021 and were upset in an 11 seed/3 seed situation in 2019, preventing two trips to the Sweet Sixteen. They also were upset in a 10 seed/3 seed game last year with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line. Now, they enter 2022-23 as the only team with three preseason All-Big 12 Team members. With the talented trio of Joens, Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski leading the way, could this be the year Iowa State finally makes its first Final Four and/or wins one or more of the Big 12 championships for the first time since 2001?

Lexi Donarski (left) and Emily Ryan
Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

Players to watch: Rori Harmon (First), Aaliyah Moore (First), Shaylee Gonzales (honorable mention) Taylor Jones (HM), Sonya Morris (HM)

Texas has been picked to finish second in the Big 12 by the conference’s coaches, but the national media has it ahead of Iowa State, all the way up at No. 3. Three key transfers in Shaylee Gonzales (BYU), Taylor Jones (Oregon) and Sonya Morris (DePaul) will try to make up for the departures of Aliyah Matharu, Joanne Allen-Taylor, Lauren Ebo and Audrey Warren. Second-leading scorer Rori Harmon is the only Top 5 scorer returning for the Longhorns, but those three transfers bring a lot to the table and are the reason why Texas is so highly ranked. Harmon, who averaged five assists per game last year as a freshman, received preseason All-America honorable mention honors, while Gonzales is the two-time reigning WCC Player of the Year. That should be a great backcourt tandem.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Basketball Tipoff

From left to right: Rori Harmon, Aaliyah Moore and Shay Holle
William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Players to watch: Madi Williams (First), Taylor Robertson (First), Ana Llanusa (HM)

Oklahoma is trying to build off its best season in a while. It went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed. Its last trip to the second round had been 2017 and its last time as a No. 4 seed or higher had been in its Final Four season of 2010 (No. 3 seed). This year, the Sooners will indeed have their sights set on their first Sweet Sixteen since 2013, as their No. 15 ranking would indicate. They return Madi Williams (18 points per game last year), Ana Llanusa (17.3) and Taylor Robertson (17.2). Oklahoma beat Baylor twice and Texas once last year. Expect it to present a challenge to both Iowa State and Texas this year.

Syndication: The Oklahoman

Taylor Robertson (jersey #30)

Players to watch: Aijha Blackwell (First), Sarah Andrews (First), Dre’Una Edwards (HM) Ja’Mee Asberry (HM)

This year could very well be the end of Baylor’s 12-year streak of winning the Big 12 regular-season championship. However, Aijha Blackwell (Missouri) and Dre’Una Edwards (Kentucky) are two transfers who will keep it competitive in the conference. In addition, Sarah Andrews’ big leap as a sophomore was a good sign; she is now a junior. The losses of NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, both members of the 2022 WNBA All-Rookie Team, will of course be huge. Second-leading scorer Jordan Lewis has also graduated. However, perhaps the Bears can actually go further in the Big Dance this season, seeing as they suffered a disappointing and shocking lost in the second round in 2022.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament - Second Round-South Dakota at Baylor

Sarah Andrews (with ball)
Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Players to watch: Holly Kersgieter (First), Zakiyah Franklin (HM), Taiyanna Jackson (HM)

Kansas is trying to build off its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013. The Jayhawks were a No. 8 seed last year and beat Georgia Tech in the first round before falling to Stanford in the second round. Their top four scorers, Holly Kersgieter, Zakiyah Franklin, Ioanna Chatzileonti and Taiyanna Jackson all return. Kersgieter was the team’s lone representative on the All-Big 12 First Team last year and is its lone representative on the preseason team this year. She led the way with 13.4 points per game, but Franklin’s team-leading four assists and Jackson’s team-leading 8.1 rebounds were key as well.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament - Second Round-Kansas at Stanford

Holly Kersgieter (with ball)
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Players to watch: Serena Sundell (First), Gabby Gregory, Jaelyn Glenn

Kansas State might be ranked had redshirt senior star Ayoka Lee not needed knee surgery that will keep her out the entire season. Lee set the NCAAW Division I record with 61 points in a single game last season; she is a dominant 6-foot-6 center. With her on the court last year, the Wildcats made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Serena Sundell was the only player besides Lee to start every single game for the team and she averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 assists. It will be her duty to lead the team this year in Lee’s absence. Gabby Gregory comes over from Oklahoma, where she averaged 16.7 points per game in 2020-21. Twins Jaelyn and Brylee Glenn join Sundell as key returners.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament Quarterfinals-Kansas State vs Texas

Serena Sundell
Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Players to watch: Bryn Gerlich, Bre’Amber Scott, Ella Tofaeono

Texas Tech finished in eighth place in the Big 12 last year with an overall record of 11-19 and a conference record of 4-14. Vivian Gray was a lone superstar for the team and she has graduated. So has Taylah Thomas, who was second on the team in scoring with 10 points per game and first in rebounds with 8.6. The Lady Raiders return Bryn Gerlich’s 7.4 points per game, as well as her team-leading 4.2 assists. They also have Bre’Amber Scott, who only played in eight games last year but did have the third-highest scoring average on the team at 8.4. She averaged 18 points in nine games at Little Rock the year before. Ella Tofaeono (six points and 4.1 rebounds per game last year) rounds out Texas Tech’s players to watch.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Basketball Tipoff

Bryn Gerlich
William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Players to watch: JJ Quinerly (HM), Madisen Smith (HM), Tavy Diggs

West Virginia finished one spot ahead of Texas Tech in the standings last year, sporting a comfortably better conference record of 7-11 (15-15 overall). The Mountaineers lost Kysre Gondrezick to a WNBA lottery pick entering last season, but still had Kirsten Deans and Esmery Martinez from their 2021 second-round run. Yet, they failed to make a repeat tournament appearance. With Deans now at Florida and Martinez at Arizona, it may be even tougher for them to put together wins. However, they do return their third- and fourth-leading scorers in Madisen Smith and JJ Quinerly. They also add Tavy Diggs, who averaged 9.6 points per game at TCU in 2020-21. As far as the head coaching position, Dawn Plitzuweit takes over for Mike Carey, who held the spot for 22 years and made the tournament half the time. Plitzuweit just led South Dakota to the Sweet Sixteen.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Georgia Tech v West Virginia

Madisen Smith (with ball)
Photo by Scott Wachter/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Players to watch: Lior Garzon, Naomie Alnatas, Taylen Collins

Last year, the Cowgirls dealt with the departure of Natasha Mack and fell from third in the conference to ninth, going 3-15 in the Big 12 and 9-20 overall. This year, Lior Garzon comes in from Villanova having averaged 13.1 points per game last year for the Wildcats. She is joined by Naomie Alnatas, who was a star scorer at Kansas City and averaged 5.3 assists in 2021-22, and Taylen Collins, the team’s top returner.

Syndication: The Oklahoman

Taylen Collins (with ball)

10) TCU Horned Frogs

Players to watch: Bella Cravens, Lucy Ibeh, Emily Fisher

TCU is predicted to again finish last in the conference; last year it was 2-16 in the Big 12 and 6-22 overall. The Horned Frogs do have a solid player in Bella Cravens, who was a key contributor the past two seasons at Nebraska and averaged 10.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 2019-20 at Eastern Washington. Cravens is joined by Lucy Ibeh, who averaged 12.5 points and 10.3 rebounds for Central Arkansas last year, and Emily Fisher, who had a solid four years at American. It will be hard to replace Lauren Heard, who averaged 14.8 points last year and a career-best 21.2 the year before that.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 03 Big Ten Women’s Tournament - Illinois v Nebraska

Bella Cravens (shooting)
Getty Images

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