An accomplished group of D-I women’s basketball programs will be looking to energize the start of their 2017-18 campaign at the 24th annual Preseason WNIT, as tournament officials today announced the 16 teams suiting up for the challenge.
The November event features a three-game guarantee for all teams; first-round matchups and the bracket will be announced later this spring. All games are hosted by participating schools; eight of the teams for 2017 earned postseason berths in March 2016.
The Preseason WNIT field consists of: Cal State Northridge (Big West); Drake (Missouri Valley); George Mason (Atlantic 10); Houston (American Athletic); Liberty (Big South); Louisiana (Sun Belt); Louisville (Atlantic Coast); Michigan (Big Ten); Milwaukee (Horizon); New Orleans (Southland); Old Dominion (Conference USA), Oregon (Pac-12); Saint Francis (PA) (Northeast); Southeast Missouri State (Ohio Valley); Texas A&M (SEC); and Toledo (Mid-American).
“The Preseason WNIT is a great mix of tried-and-true teams with up-and-coming teams, all eager to start their season in the national spotlight,” said Renee Carlson, Executive Director of the WNIT. “We are excited to help showcase what each of them can do.”
This is the first time in the Preseason WNIT for three programs – CSUN, Houston and New Orleans. It’s the second run for Drake, Louisiana, Michigan, Milwaukee, Old Dominion, Southeast Missouri State and Texas A&M. Three-time participants are George Mason, Louisville (champions in 2013), Oregon and Saint Francis (PA); it’s the fourth time in for Toledo and No. 5 for Liberty.
ESPN’s early rankings for next season had Louisville at No. 10; Oregon was 13th, and Michigan (winner of the 2016 Postseason WNIT) was slated 21st.
2016-17 Record: 18-14 overall, 10-6 Big West Conference (no postseason)
The Matadors won 11 more games this past season than in 2015-16 and are trending in the direction of CSUN rosters that earned NCAA tournament berths in 2014 and 2015. There’s plenty of experience coming back, led by 6-4 junior-to-be Channon Fluker, the Big West player of the year. She is the second player in league history to lead a season in scoring (18 ppg), rebounds (12 rpg) and blocked shots (2.4 per contest). Another key player is 6-1 sophomore-to-be Eliza Matthews, the league’s freshman of the year who averaged seven rebounds a game. California native and senior-to-be Serafina Maulupe, who transferred home after starting at Virginia Tech, averaged 13.5 ppg and shot right at 37 percent from 3-point range.
2016-17 Record: 28-5 overall, 18-0 Missouri Valley Conference
(lost to Kansas State in first round of NCAA tournament)
The Bulldogs won 22 games in a row and claimed the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title before coming up short in the NCAA tournament. The year will go down as the most accomplished effort in program history. While a couple of important seniors have moved on, Drake still has an explosive element with Becca Hittner, who was the MVC’s freshman of the year and averaged 12.4 points and six rebounds per game. She also shot an amazing 52 percent from the 3-point line (50-of-95). Junior-to-be Sammie Bachrodt closed with 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and also shot well from long range (58-for-141, 41 percent). Head coach Jennie Baranczyk was honored as the MVC and espnW Mid-Major coach of the year after her team's historic run to the regular season title.
2016-17 Record: 13-17 overall, 6-10 Atlantic 10 (no postseason)
The Patriots saw an uptick last season in their defensive approach; the next step is to fortify the offense, which posted fewer than 60 points in nine of the team’s last 10 games. Sophomore-to-be Jacy Bolton started all 30 games in 2016-17 and closed by averaging 8.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. George Mason adds UConn graduate transfer Natalie Butler to the roster and is eligible to play right away. The 6-foot-5 center played in 62 games the past two seasons for the Huskies and was the Big East Freshman of the Year at Georgetown. Head coach Nyla Milleson has done solid work as the team moved into the demanding Atlantic 10; the team was just 8-23 in her first season, 2013-14.
2016-17 Record: 12-19 overall, 4-12 American Athletic Conference (no postseason)
Cougars head coach Ronald Hughey has stabilized the program, which struggled to a 6-24 mark in his debut season with the program in 2014-15. Sophomore-to-be Angela Harris averaged 10 points per game last season and led the team in steals (54), while junior-to-be Serithia Hawkins started 30 games, averaged more than 30 minutes per contest and averaged 7.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest. Houston may get a nice boost from incoming junior Nasheema Oliver, a JUCO transfer from Northwest Florida State. She was nationally regarded as a Top 50 recruit but saw her career at Georgia derailed with injuries; she has the potential to be a strong player in the post.
2016-17 Record: 13-17 overall, 12-6 Big South Conference (no postseason)
The Flames went through very expected growing pains last season, with seven freshmen on the roster and 90 percent of the team’s 2015-16 scoring no longer around. It was just the third time in coach Carey Green’s 18 years at Liberty that the team didn’t win 20 games. The returning crew of sophomores should be up to speed, led by Big South freshman of the year Keyen Green (no relation), who started 30 games, averaged 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and shot just under 60 percent from the field. Lela Sellers came through with six points per game and had 18 starts, and Iva Ilic (who played on the U-18 Croatian national team) started 17 games and averaged seven points per contest.
2016-17 Record: 20-11 overall, 11-7 Sun Belt Conference (no postseason)
The Ragin’ Cajuns reached the Sun Belt tournament title game for the first time since 2007, but came up short against a strong squad from Troy. They didn’t play in the postseason, but Louisiana had won the two previous WBI championships. Back for more in 2017-18 is senior-to-be Simone Fields, who shot 54 percent from the field and averaged 14.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Incoming freshmen to watch are 5-9 twins Brianna and Kianna Suber, 6-2 forward Tyreonna Doucet, and 5-8 guard Skylar Goodwin, who averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior.
2016-17 Record: 29-8 overall, 12-4 Atlantic Coast Conference
(beat Chattanooga and Tennessee in NCAA tournament, lost to Baylor in Sweet 16)
The Cardinals continue to be a threat to win any game at any time – in nine years, coach Jeff Walz has guided his team to the NCAA Sweet 16 on six occasions, and the 2016-17 roster outscored opponents by 13 points and forced nearly 17 turnovers per game. The team returns junior-to-be Asia Durr, who shot 40 percent from 3-point range and averages better than 19 points per game and senior Myisha Hines-Allen (13.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game).
2016-17 Record: 28-9 overall, 11-5 Big Ten Conference
(beat Georgia Tech in three overtimes to win Postseason WNIT championship)
The Wolverines turned their disappointment in missing the NCAA tournament into an impressive run through the WNIT bracket. It was the third straight year Michigan had gone as far as the semifinals in the event. All-tournament MVP Katelynn Flaherty and Hallie Thome are proven forces for the team; senior-to-be Flaherty tallied 27 points in the WNIT title game and has already topped 2,000 career points, and Thome averaged 16 points and seven rebounds per game while shooting 61 percent from the field. The roster gets a shot of youthful savvy with the signing of Canadian forward Hailey Brown, who has significant international experience.
2016-17 Record: 22-12 overall, 11-7 Horizon League
(beat Southern Illinois and Saint Francis in WBI; lost to UNC-Greensboro in semifinals)
The Panthers continue to build a name for themselves under coach Kyle Rechlicz, who was 17-42 her first two years at Milwaukee but 41-25 over the past two seasons, with back-to-back postseason appearances. The team loses four seniors heading into 2017-18, but the top of the lineup is back with seniors-to-be Steph Kostowicz (15.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game) and Jenny Lindner, who averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. She was eighth in the nation in free-throw shooting (89.5 percent). With two point guards graduated, the team may lean on redshirt freshman McKaela Schmelzer.
2016-17 Record: 14-15 overall, 9-9 Southland Conference (no postseason)
The Privateers reached the Southland Conference tournament for the first time, their first league tourney moment since leaving the Sun Belt in 2010. Every roster benefits with a star, and New Orleans has one of those in senior-to-be Randi Brown, who averaged 22.7 points per game last season and drained 85 3-pointers. Helping stabilize the offense down low is junior-to-be Shania Woods, who closed with 9.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. All five starters return, including Kayla Mundy and Danielle Wright, who both played in every game last year. The team has a defensive identity, forcing more than 20 turnovers per game in 2016-17.
2016-17 Record: 17-14 overall, 11-7 Conference USA (no postseason)
The Lady Monarchs were one of the nation’s most powerful programs in the 1980s but have not reached the NCAA tournament since 2008. ODU consistently finishes in the top half of conference play and always challenges the top teams. Very skilled players continue to come through the roster, including Jennie Simms, who was selected in the second round of April’s WNBA Draft. The team will be rebuilding from the loss of several seniors and two transfers; there is size and strength coming in with freshman twins Janae and Janeen Camp (6-4 and 6-5, respectively) and 6-4 forward Dejah Carter.
2016-17 Record: 23-14 overall, 8-10 Pac-12
(beat Temple, Duke and Maryland in the NCAA tournament; lost to UConn in Elite Eight)
The Ducks were one of the surprise stories of the year, starting three freshmen and earning their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2005. Seeded 10th, Oregon beat No. 7 Temple, No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Maryland. Sophomore-to-be Ruthy Hebard averaged 14.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and Sabrina Ionescu met her first-year expectations with 14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. After posting more triple-doubles than any freshman in NCAA history, Ionescu was named the ESPNW national freshman of the year, as well as the Pac-12 freshman of the year. The Ducks were extremely dangerous from 3-point range, shooting 39 percent as a team, and senior-to-be Lexi Bando was a scorching 76-of-160 (47.5 percent).
Saint Francis (PA)
2016-17 Record: 17-15 overall, 13-5 Northeast Conference
(beat Campbell in WBI; lost to Milwaukee in Round 2)
The Red Flash earned their first-ever postseason victory (and the first for a Northeast Conference team) versus Campbell. Jessica Kovatch had a stellar sophomore year, averaging 21.2 points per game and making 110 3-pointers. A graduate transfer from Maryland, Ace Harrison came through with 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. The roster gets a nice scoring boost from incoming freshman Karson Swogger, who averaged 28 points and six steals per game on the way to being named to the prep all-Pennsylvania first team.
Southeast Missouri State
2016-17 Record: 13-17 overall, 7-9 Ohio Valley Conference (no postseason)
The Redhawks will return an experienced group of players, although proven offense is hard to find. Adrianna Murphy closed last season averaging 6.1 points and 5.8 assists per contest and Deja Jones averaged 7.9 points per game and led the team with 163 total rebounds. One source of offense may be incoming freshman Tesia Thompson, an ESPN Top 100 national recruit who averaged 26.5 points per game, 11.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 4.8 steals per contest. The team did have a nice year from 3-point range, shooting 35 percent as a team.
2016-17 Record: 22-12 overall, 9-7 Southeastern Conference
(beat Penn in NCAA tournament; lost to UCLA in Round 2)
The Aggies won the 2011 NCAA title under coach Gary Blair, and he’s kept the program relevant and then some since taking over in 2003. The roster returns a lot of quality options, starting with junior-to-be Danni Williams and her average of 16.6 points per game (and 36 percent from 3-point range). Senior-to-be Khaalia Hillsman added 16.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest, and junior-to-be Anriel Howard had double-double totals of 10.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. The team also signed the No. 6 incoming freshman, point guard Chennedy Carter.
2016-17 Record: 25-9 overall, 12-6 Mid-American Conference
(lost to Creighton in first round of NCAA tournament)
The Rockets were a tough assignment all season, holding teams to an average of 62 points per game and forcing teams to shoot less than 37 percent from the field on their way to winning the MAC Tournament title. There’s plenty of talent coming back, with explosive scoring always a chance from junior-to-be Mikaela Boyd, who averaged 12.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Jay-Ann Bravo-Harriott chipped in 11.5 points per contest and shot 35 percent from 3-point range; assists leader Mariella Santucci and Kayla McIntyre (10 ppg) are also back. Standout freshman Zaria Wright (18 ppg) is one of three impact signees for Toledo.