South Carolina women’s basketball a top-5 team in first national preseason poll

The South Carolina women’s basketball team is No. 4 in The Athletic’s preseason Top 25 that was released Tuesday.

USC is one of five SEC teams to make the ranking, including LSU (No. 1), Tennessee (No. 12), Ole Miss (No. 14) and Texas A&M (No. 25).

The article also identifies strengths and “question marks” for each team. The projected strengths of this Gamecocks squad sound awfully familiar: defense, paint play, rebounding and ball handling. The “question marks” include experience, with the departure of the beloved “Freshies” class of 2019, and outside shooting.

“It feels fair to say that we’ll never see another class quite like The Freshies (especially with the advent of the transfer portal),” the breakdown read. “Led by Aliyah Boston, South Carolina’s 2019 recruiting class went 129-9 (including 60-1 at home) during their four years. Given the amount of talent and experience with that group, there was obviously a bit of a vacuum when it came to experience for players outside of The Freshies.”

The Athletic is among the recognized women’s basketball polls. The preseason Associated Press Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Poll are expected to be released in mid-October.

Projecting the Gamecocks

The Athletic identified USC’s starting lineup for 2023-24 as Raven Johnson, Te-Hina Paopao and Bree Hall at guard; Ashlyn Watkins at forward; and Kamilla Cardoso at center.

The breakdown goes on to label Cardoso as “one of the country’s most exciting players.” Her 6-foot-7 stature will allow her be a matchup problem on both ends of the floor. If Staley can help Cardoso take her game to the next level, she could be “dominant,” The Athletic wrote.

Last season the Gamecocks shot just 31% from 3-point range as a team, tied for No. 168 nationally, making 4.4 triples per game. The breakdown points to Hall (a 36% shooter last season in limited minutes) Paopao (a 42% 3-point shooter a year ago) and highly touted freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley as potential solutions to USC’s shooting concerns.

South Carolina’s new season begins Nov. 6 with a game in Paris against Notre Dame. A preseason exhibition game is expected but has not been announced.

“Entering 2023-24, Dawn Staley will be going through a transition and rebuild, though she certainly has the kind of roster talent needed for a deep run,” The Athletic wrote.