Editor's note: These rankings have been updated Wednesday following the news that Baylor's Beatrice Mompremier plans to transfer.
For the first time in four years, UConn is not the defending champion. The NCAA-record win streak is over, and the rest of the women's college basketball world was invigorated by a first-time champ. Mississippi State opened a door, and South Carolina stepped through it. However, the Huskies return the best collection of talent in the country and start out on top again as we look ahead to the 2017-18 season.
The landscape might change in the coming months with (more) player transfers, coaching changes and injuries. But for now, here is a look ahead to next season.
The Huskies' absence from the championship podium might be a short one. With the exception of guard Saniya Chong, the core group is back and likely determined to wipe the bad taste of losing in the national semifinals from its mouth. Gabby Williams and Kia Nurse will be closing out their careers, and first-team All-Americans Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesha Collier will be juniors. If motivation alone doesn't lift UConn to even higher levels, the addition of 6-foot-6 Azurá Stevens should. The Duke transfer, who likely would have been this season's preseason ACC player of the year, had she stayed in Durham, North Carolina, becomes eligible. Geno Auriemma also adds 6-foot-2 Kentucky transfer Batouly Camara and the nation's top recruit, 6-foot-1 Megan Walker from Virginia.
It might seem strange at first to see the Lady Bears without Nina Davis, and Kim Mulkey will be looking for a wing offense after the graduation of Alexis Jones and Alexis Prince. Inside strength, however, will not be a problem. Kalani Brown, who is 6-foot-7, looks like she is ready to be an All-American, and 6-foot-4 Lauren Cox could make a huge jump as a sophomore -- something that became a necessity with Wednesday's news that 6-foot-4 Beatrice Mompremier will transfer. Kristy Wallace gives Mulkey an experienced point guard, and Natalie Chou emerged as more of an outside shooting threat late in the season.
Kelsey Mitchell's decision to stay in Columbus, Ohio, for her senior season puts the Buckeyes in position to make a Final Four run. However, that got more difficult when freshmen Kiara Lewis (6.7 PPG last season) and Tori McCoy (8.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG), who looked to be the future of the program, announced they were transferring. The depth took a major hit, but Mitchell still has plenty of talented help. A healthy Stephanie Mavunga and even more contribution from Linnae Harper and Asia Doss will make Ohio State, already the fourth-most prolific offense in the country this past season, even more potent. Alexa Hart should return to a more prominent role and help offset the loss from the graduation of Shayla Cooper.
Guards Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty are back for their senior seasons, which gives Karen Aston one of the most experienced backcourts in the country. Joyner Holmes could be ready to become one of the country's best players as a sophomore. How well Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau or South Carolina transfer Jatarie White can replace Kelsey Lang in the middle is the key to how good the Longhorns will be in 2017-18.
The Irish should be a much better team in February/March than they will be at the start of the season. Lindsay Allen, the all-time assists leader in the ACC, has graduated, which means Muffet McGraw will have to groom another point guard. Look for Stanford graduate transfer Lili Thompson to have an impact here, or veteran Mychal Johnson, who has played just spots to this point in her career. The timetable of Brianna Turner's return from the torn ACL she suffered in the NCAA tournament is the other major question mark. It's unlikely that the 6-foot-4 All-American will begin the season on the court. In the meantime, the likes of Marina Mabrey, Arike Ogunbawale and Jackie Young should be able to keep the Notre Dame offense churning along. But losing Erin Boley (6.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG in 15.0 MPG last season), whose role increased after Turner's injury, hurts.
So much for the defending champs being the biggest threat to UConn's return to the top. Three Gamecocks were selected in the top 10 picks of the WNBA draft, and Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray -- both of whom left South Carolina with a year of eligibility remaining -- leave a big void for Dawn Staley. Alaina Coates is also gone, which means Staley has to replace three of her top three scorers. Her 11th-rated recruiting class might be pressed into major minutes earlier than expected, especially 6-foot-1 Elisia Grissett. Tyasha Harris should be even more confident as a sophomore point guard, and A'ja Wilson will be a favorite for every national player of the year award.
Forward Alanna Smith could be ready to become the next great big in Cardinal lore. She and Nadia Fingall could be one of the best frontcourt duos in the country. Marta Sniezek and Dijonai Carrington are guards whose experience now matches their talent. Brittany McPhee will take on an even more important role with the departure of Karlie Samuelson. But it's Tara VanDerveer's latest recruiting class, led by point guard Kiana Williams from Texas and 6-foot-3 wing Maya Dodson from Georgia, that could make Stanford the favorite in the Pac-12 and a contender for another Final Four.
Diamond DeShields said she came back to Tennessee for her senior year to play alongside and help mentor what most believe is the best recruiting class in the country, a group that includes top-20 signees guards Evina Westbrook and Anastasia Hayes and wing Rennia Davis. They join DeShields and veterans Mercedes Russell, Jaime Nared and Alexa Middleton. This could be a make-or-break year in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Vic Schaefer has set the bar higher in each of his five seasons in Starkville, Mississippi. One step more would be an SEC championship and possibly an NCAA title after reaching the final in 2017. Much of the depth that helped define the Bulldogs the past couple of seasons is gone, but the core of Morgan William, Victoria Vivians and the ever-improving Teaira McCowan is back.
Asia Durr, Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen are each all-conference talents. Incoming freshman Dana Evans, the headliner of a top-five class, gives Jeff Walz the kind of explosiveness he hasn't had at point guard since Shoni Schimmel.
11. UCLA Bruins
Cori Close's talented recruiting class of 2014 has reached its final season in Westwood. Jordin Canada, Monique Billings and Kelli Hayes will take one last run at a Pac-12 title. This year's recruiting class, which includes 5-foot-11 forward Michaela Onyenwere and 6-foot-1 guard Chantel Horvat, will be on board to help make that happen.
12. Duke Blue Devils
Having Lexie Brown and Rebecca Greenwell back as building blocks is a great start for coach Joanne P. McCallie, but the Blue Devils will need more help than they received toward the end of the 2017 season. Kyra Lambert's return from a knee injury in the NCAA tournament will also be something to watch. Incoming 6-foot-4 freshman Jade Williams might need to have immediate impact.
13. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks made the most improbable NCAA tournament run in 2017, reaching the Elite Eight while relying almost entirely on freshmen and sophomores. Expectations will be higher in Eugene, Oregon, but coach Kelly Graves brings every impact player back. Point guard Sabrina Ionescu and 6-foot-4 post Ruthy Hebard should be one of the game's best inside-out combos for the next three years.
An inconsistent regular season turned into a good finish with a Big 12 tournament title. The run also exposed the world to Tynice Martin. The 5-foot-10 guard and her 18.6 PPG are back, along with three other starters. Mike Carey also brings in a top-20 recruiting class. The Mountaineers should be the biggest threats to Baylor and Texas in the Big 12.
15. Missouri Tigers
Having a player such as Sophie Cunningham to build around is enough to make the Tigers contenders for a top-four finish in the SEC. Cunningham's well-rounded game, coupled with versatile 6-foot-4 post Cierra Porter and guard Amber Smith, gives coach Robin Pingeton a core to continue to lift the program to its best stretch since the late 1980s.
Carolyn Kieger's talented sophomore class should continue to take the program to new heights. A disappointing first-round NCAA tournament loss should serve as motivation for Allazia Brockton, Natisha Hiedeman, Erika Davenport, Danielle King and Amani Wilborn, the top five scorers from last season, who are all back for their junior year.
Losing two All-Americans such as Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough was going to be hard enough, but Destiny Slocum's decision to transfer after just one season in College Park, Maryland, was an unexpected blow. The good news is Slocum (11.5 PPG and 6.0 APG last season) was part of the nation's top recruiting class a year ago. Stephanie Jones and Kaila Charles will lead the way with veteran help from Ieshia Small and Kristen Confroy and the addition of Florida transfer Eleanna Christinaki.
The Sun Devils will transition from a post-oriented team to one with backcourt emphasis. Reili Richardson and Robbi Ryan were the best freshmen in Charli Turner Thorne's recruiting class of a year ago and should lead the program the next few seasons. Depth, defense and balance will still be the cornerstones in Tempe, Arizona.
19. Oklahoma Sooners
Sherri Coale will be building around the frontcourt duo of 6-foot-4 Vionise Pierre-Louis and 6-foot-9 Nancy Mulkey. Plenty will also be expected of Gabbi Ortiz at the point in her senior season.
Coach Jose Fernandez returns nearly his entire core, and the Bulls are loaded with experience. That includes Laura Ferreira, who averaged nearly 10 points per game in 2015-16, only to miss most of last season with foot problems. Kitija Laksa and Maria Jespersen remain the primary offensive weapons.
The Wolverines turned the disappointment of not making the NCAA tournament into a WNIT championship. That makes the return of centerpieces Katelynn Flaherty, the Big Ten's second-leading returning scorer, Hallie Thome, one of the league's best post players, and Kysre Gondrezick, the top freshmen scorer in the Big Ten, that much more promising.
Coach Lindsay Gottlieb will be embracing motherhood and the return of nearly her entire roster. Kristine Anigwe will push to be an All-American but needs some more help. Cal made the NCAA tournament in 2017 as one of the last four teams in. The continued improvement of guards Asha Thomas and Mikayla Cowling, and the further development of 6-foot-4 CJ West in the post, should make a postseason run more comfortable.
23. LSU Lady Tigers
Raigyne Moncrief led the Lady Tigers in scoring, rebounding and assists -- and she's back for her senior season. The return of Chloe Jackson, who was second on the team in scoring and assists, should help coach Nikki Fargas get LSU to more than 23 wins for the first time in her six seasons in Baton Rouge.
Ashton Millender should return fully healthy from the shin injury that kept her out much of the past season. She joins Amarah Coleman and Tanita Allen as the cornerstones of Doug Bruno's plan to replace Jessica January and Brooke Schulte as the Blue Demons go for a fifth straight Big East title.
Replacing guards Leticia Romero and Brittany Brown is a tall task, but Sue Semrau returns ACC Player of the Year Shakayla Thomas, wing Imani Wright and post Chatrice White. If Nicole Ekhomu can emerge as a backcourt leader, the Seminoles will compete in a tough ACC, which might not be as daunting at the top in 2017-18.
Also considered: Texas A&M, Indiana, Virginia