Today's it's South Carolina ... next year it's Connecticut.

Apr. 8—Dawn Staley and her Gamecocks cut down the nets in Cleveland on Sunday by capping an unbeaten season with a national championship following an 87-75 victory against Caitlin Clark and Iowa. As for the 2024-25 season, Geno Auriemma and his tradition-rich Huskies will win their 12th national title next April in Tampa. So says N-G women's college basketball writer and AP Top 25 voter Joe Vozzelli with his way-too-early Top 10:

1. Connecticut

Paige Bueckers returning for a fifth season in Storrs, Conn. — and forgoing a chance to go to the WNBA — was a major development for coach Geno Auriemma's Huskies. The 6-foot guard from Hopkins, Minn., averaged 21.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 53.6 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from beyond the arc in her first season back from a knee injury. Forward Aaliyah Edwards is departing, but UConn — fresh off reaching the Final Four — will have a deep and talented backcourt thanks to Bueckers, KK Arnold and Azzi Fudd, who will look to bounce back from ACL and medial meniscal tears last November.

2. South Carolina

This past season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Dawn Staley and Co. Guess again. The Gamecocks never lost a game during a dominant season with a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts roster. Still, losing Kamilla Cardoso to the WNBA will hurt after the 6-7 Brazilian center had a breakout senior season. Ashlyn Watkins could be the next great big for Staley's South Carolina team, while a young backcourt of MiLaysia Fulwiley, Raven Johnson and Tessa Johnson is more than equipped to allow the Gamecocks to challenge for back-to-back national titles.

3. Southern California

The Big Ten will look a lot different next season with Iowa standout Caitlin Clark and Indiana star Mackenzie Holmes gone. That Ohio State will also have to deal with some key losses (more on that later) after winning the league's regular-season title potentially opens the door for the Trojans to win the Big Ten in their first year in the new-look, 18-team conference. You would have had to be living under a rock to have never heard about USC's best player, with guard JuJu Watkins a legitimate National Player of the Year contender next season. All the 6-2 guard from Los Angeles did was average 27.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals as a freshman.

4. North Carolina State

Wes Moore's Wolfpack got back to the Final Four for the first time since 1998, but a disastrous third quarter in Friday night's national semifinal loss to South Carolina ended N.C. State's magical season. The good news for the Wolfpack is it can run it back with mostly its same roster next season. Aziaha James — known as "Zaza" by her teammates — emerged as a star during N.C. State's deep NCAA tournament run, with Saniya Rivers also expected to return. The duo accounting for nearly 40 percent of the Wolfpack's offense during a 31-7 season.

5. Notre Dame

Hannah Hidalgo's final game of her standout freshman season drew headlines for all the wrong reasons amid a nose-ring controversy where she had to sit for more than four minutes in a 70-65 Sweet 16 loss to Oregon State in Albany, N.Y. The 5-6 guard from Haddonfield, N.J. struggled throughout against the Beavers, shooting 4 of 17 from the floor. But Hidalgo is one of the game's next big stars. The big question for Niele Ivey's Irish will center around the health of Olivia Miles. A healthy Miles — she will have been out for 11/2 years when the 2024-25 season tips off in November — could see Notre Dame reach the Final Four next year.

6. Texas

Madison Booker kind of floated under the radar. But the 6-1 forward was a star after averaging 16.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists en route to claiming Associated Press Second-Team All-American status. After an Elite Eight loss to N.C. State in Portland, Ore., the Longhorns could go a step further next season. Rori Harmon will be coming off a major knee injury last December with the Texas point guard looking to return to form. When the junior went down, Harmon was putting up big numbers with 14.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.8 assists on 52.3 percent shooting.


Also a Big Ten newcomer, the Bruins should stay right with rival USC and Ohio State late in the season for the Big Ten title when it's decided next March. Lauren Betts thrived in her first season in Westwood as the Stanford transfer and 6-7 center from Centennial, Colo., averaged just short of a double-double with 14.9 points and 9.3 rebounds. Kiki Rice, also part of UCLA's highly touted 2022 recruiting class that had Rice pegged as the No. 2 overall recruit in the country by espnW HoopGurlz, is fresh off her best overall season. Cori Close's team lost 78-69 to LSU in the Sweet 16 of Regional 2 in Albany, but have the makings for a special season next winter.

8. LSU

Angel Reese is off to the WNBA. Hailey Van Lith, who took a less prominent role offensively after joining LSU from Louisville, is again in the transfer portal. But Kim Mulkey's Tigers have one of the most exciting guards in Flau'jae Johnson to play alongside Mikaylah Williams. LSU is also fortunate to have Aneesah Morrow as the Chicago native and former Simeon standout should give the Tigers a defensive and rebounding presence. There's no reason to think Morrow can't at least match the 16.4 points and 10.0 rebounds she averaged this past season.

9. Ohio State

Kevin McGuff won't have an easy time finding what Jacy Sheldon and Celeste Taylor supplied the Buckeyes on his 2024-25 roster. Sheldon's influence as a veteran point guard and Taylor's effect as a defensive stalwart are two significant losses in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State will undoubtedly dip its toes in the transfer portal to see if it can bring in some talent. But even if they do, this is now fully Cotie McMahon's team. The 6-foot forward wasn't the reason the Buckeyes were upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament with the Centerville, Ohio, native scoring 27 points in a 75-63 loss to Duke. She'll contend for All-Big Ten honors next season.

10. Kansas State

This is based on Ayoka Lee coming back for another season and making use of her bonus COVID year to play for the Wildcats. The center has already been on campus in Manhattan, Kan., for six seasons, losing two of them to injury. That Lee reportedly did not declare for the WNBA draft — despite the Byron, Minn., native set to graduate with a master's degree this spring — could be an indication Lee is leaning toward playing another year for K-State coach Jeff Mittie, who will have a very good team with Serena Sundell and twins Jaelyn and Brylee Glenn back.