Opening Day Takeaways: Is South Carolina even better and is there a new favorite in the ACC?

Opening Day Takeaways: Is South Carolina even better and is there a new favorite in the ACC?

South Carolina secured its NCAA title rings, and the Gamecocks and 16 other top-25 teams got their feet wet in the 2022-23 women’s basketball season opener on Monday.

Only one top-25 team lost: No. 21 Creighton, the Cinderella of the 2022 NCAA Women’s Tournament, beat No. 23 South Dakota State.

From freshmen getting their first taste of college play and transfers introducing themselves to new fans and fifth-year super seniors making their final rounds, it was a lively day. Expect surprises and upheavals to happen soon, as we have only just begun.

ESPN’s Alexa Philippou, Charlie Creme and MA Voepel take a look at some of the things that stood out the most – and what they could mean for the rest of the season – on opening day.

Are Gamecocks even better?

Defending national champion South Carolina lost a starter, Destanni Henderson, from last season but fired national player of the year Aliyah Boston. As good as the Gamecocks were last season at 35-2, could they be an improved team this season?

Of course, a 101-31 opening win over East Tennessee State was by no means a test. But it showed that the Gamecocks veterans will have plenty of reinforcements. Consider freshmen like Ashlyn Watkins, a 6-foot-3 forward who had 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in her college debut. His performance was part of the 47 points South Carolina earned from its bench.

Coach Dawn Staley explained afterward how she felt each returning individual improved. Considering the Gamecocks had no obvious weaknesses last year, if there was a big question this season it was exactly how playmaking duties would be covered with Henderson gone. Monday’s game indicates it could be a shared chore, at least for a while, with redshirt rookie Raven Johnson leading with four assists. So opponents might not want to hear it, but yeah, this could be an even tougher South Carolina team to beat. — MA Voepel

New favorite in the ACC?

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Cayla King wins trey against Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers

The 13th Virginia Tech has high expectations this season, built primarily around Elizabeth Kitley, Ashley Owusu and Taylor Soule. The Hokies outscored Mount St. Mary’s 101-45, but the story was that it was Cayla King – not Kitley, Owusu or Soule – who led the way. King, a 6-0 senior, made nine 3-pointers and scored 33 points, both career highs. This type of long-range shooting can result in any game, against any opponent.

One game might not be a big enough sample, but King’s outburst could be an important sign: whether Virginia Tech really has a legit fourth scorer in King to play alongside Owusu and point guard Georgia Amoore in backcourt, the Hokies might have to be considered the ACC favorite. — Charlie Cream

Monday’s biggest win?

Defense was the most overlooked aspect of Creighton’s Elite Eight run in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Bluejays held Iowa and Iowa State, two of the best teams in the nation, below 70 points last March, and put the pincers on South Dakota State in the 78-69 victory of Monday, the only match of the opening day to oppose the classified teams. . The most accurate 3-point shooting team in the nation a season ago, South Dakota State went just 5 of 21 from deep against the teeming Bluejays. Junior Lauren Jensen led the streak with seven of Creighton’s points in a game-breaking 9-0 streak late in the fourth quarter. She scored 16 in the final 10 minutes and finished with 30.

The victory will be worth an entire row in Tuesday’s Bracketology and gives Creighton a road win the committee will love in its March deliberations. With games against South Dakota and Nebraska to come, the Bluejays now have the chance to have the kind of start that could propel them into the top 15 in the standings. — Cream

Van Lith, Louisville start fast

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Hailey Van Lith drills the jumper against the Cincinnati Bearcats

The Louisville Cardinals’ 87-68 win over Cincinnati was a little close for comfort at times – the Bearcats shot within eight in the third despite trailing 23 – but junior Hailey Van Lith had the kind of great performance that many expect of her as an upper class. Her 28 points — the second-highest of her career — led the Cardinals, and she did it quite effectively on 12-for-20 shooting (60%). Van Lith only reached that clip twice last year as a sophomore and didn’t attempt as many shots each time (15, 16).

If the budding star can maintain that efficiency, more shots from beyond the arc (she was 2-for-7 on Monday), and Florida State Seminoles transfer Morgan Jones (14 points and 13 trips to the free throw line francs against Cincinnati) continues to find its rhythm, Jeff Walz’s team could make the graduation of three starters a quickly forgotten affair. — Philippepou

Two tales for the Terps

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Diamond Miller extends through the paint for a high and low bucket.

The bad: Maryland senior guard Diamond Miller – who looked really good at the start – went to the locker room in the second quarter of the Terps’ 88-51 victory over George Mason with an apparent knee injury and did not return to the ground due to “tenderness”, according to Washington Post reporter Kareem Copeland.

The good: Princeton transfer Abby Meyers can play even as she adjusts to a new team, taking on the go-to scorer role for No. 17 Terps after Miller’s injury finishing with a team-high 19 points (and starting the match on 5-for 5-shooting from 3). Meyers’ shooting prowess is indispensable for Maryland after losing Katie Benzan, Owusu and Chloe Bibby.

If the rest of the plays around them continue to settle, Maryland could surprise some people in the Big Ten despite a slew of starts behind Miller (assuming she’s okay) and Meyers. — Philippepou

Is Soares what Cyclones missed?

Ashley Joens did Ashley Joens’ things (28 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists) in Iowa State’s 87-54 win over Cleveland State, scoring 24 points in 18 minutes in the first half. But what might be more critical to the Cyclones’ long-term development is how Stephanie Soares, two-time NAIA Player of the Year. The 6-6 post earned the start on Monday and made her presence known early with three blocks in the opening two minutes of the game, despite only playing six minutes in the first half due to foul issues . She finished the game with a double-double (15 points, 14 rebounds), plus four blocks and four steals in 21 minutes.

If Soares can stay out of trouble, keep her conditioning in the right direction, and continue to make an impact against better messages, she provides an inside presence at both ends for Iowa State that he hasn’t. not had in recent years, one that could help the program reach heights not seen in more than a decade. — Philippepou

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