Who will challenge Cardinals, Irish, Lady Bears and Ducks?


The ACC had the national champion last year, and the SEC took the title the year before. The Big 12's last national champion was in 2012. The Big Ten and Pac-12 each are looking to win their first NCAA title since the 1990s.
The Power 5 conferences all have some outstanding teams and players this season. We took a look earlier at the Big Ten and SEC, now let's examine the other three.
ACC: Another Irish-Cardinals showdown?
2018 league regular-season champion: Notre Dame and Louisville
2018 tournament champion: Louisville
2018 NCAA tournament teams (8): Duke, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame, NC State, Syracuse, Virginia
2018 best NCAA finish: National champion (Notre Dame)
2018-19 espnW preseason rankings: No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 4 Louisville, No. 18 NC State, No. 21 Syracuse, No. 22 Duke
Outlook: Last season, Louisville ended Notre Dame's string of four consecutive ACC tournament titles, then both teams made the Final Four. The Cardinals lost to Mississippi State in the semifinals in overtime; Notre Dame beat the Bulldogs for its second NCAA title. This year, both bring back four starters and could be Final Four-bound again. Notre Dame is picked first in the ACC and Louisville second. Circle the date: Jan. 10, when the Cardinals visit the Irish (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).
Louisville's Asia Durr (18.7 PPG) was the 2018 ACC player of the year. Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale (20.8 PPG), the Final Four star, will challenge her for that again. And perhaps Irish forward Brianna Turner, back from missing last season with a knee injury, will be in the hunt too.
Oregon can't let Sabrina Ionescu pass through the program without at least a Final Four trip. The Ducks are no longer next; they need to be now.
Notre Dame, the defending national champion, is our unanimous preseason No. 1. UConn, Oregon, Louisville and Baylor round out the top five.
With new coaches building up programs and longtime coaches re-establishing their teams, there's hope the Big Ten is headed toward postseason success.
Syracuse, sparked by Division I assists leader Tiana Mangakahia, is picked to finish third in the conference. NC State is slated to finish fourth. Last season, the Wolfpack were picked to finish 10th, but ended up tied for fourth and reached the Sweet 16.
Around the league: Can North Carolina return to the NCAA tournament after a three-year absence? The Tar Heels return senior guard Paris Kea (19.4 PPG), and last season's ACC rookie of the year, center Janelle Bailey (15.3 PPG). Plus, guards Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker return after missing last season with knee injuries. ... The injury bug already has bitten Duke again, as point guard Kyra Lambert will miss her second consecutive season with a knee injury. ... Florida State has made the NCAA tournament six years in a row, and 13 of the last 14. But the Seminoles must replace their entire starting five from last season. ... Former Baylor forward Beatrice Mompremier could give a big lift to Miami as a transfer. ... There are four new head coaches in the ACC this season: Amanda Butler (Clemson), Joanna Bernabei-McNamee (Boston College), Tina Thompson (Virginia) and longtime Florida State assistant Lance White (Pitt). Former WNBA MVP Yolanda Griffith is one of Bernabei-McNamee's assistants.
Big 12: Can Baylor get back to Final Four?
2018 league regular-season/tournament champion: Baylor
2018 NCAA tournament teams (4): Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas
2018 best NCAA finish: Sweet 16 (Baylor, Texas)
2018-19 espnW preseason rankings: No. 5 Baylor, No. 12 Texas, No. 20 West Virginia
Outlook: The story remains the same: The league title is Baylor's to lose. The Lady Bears have won or tied for the Big 12 regular-season title eight years in a row. They've won seven of the last eight league tournament titles. Baylor's Big 12 record since the 2010-11 season: 135-7. Baylor's alleged rival, Texas, is 1-18 versus the Lady Bears during that stretch.
It doesn't seem likely much will change at the top of the Big 12 in 2018-19. Baylor had an underappreciated great season in 2017-18 at 33-2; the Lady Bears' losses were at UCLA and in the NCAA Sweet 16 to Oregon State. In both cases, Baylor was missing a starter: forward Lauren Cox (illness) versus the Bruins and point guard Kristy Wallace (knee injury) versus the Beavers. Baylor had lost Wallace at the end of the regular season, and freshman Alexis Morris played well in her place. But falling short of the Final Four again -- Baylor last made it there in 2012 -- left the Lady Bears disappointed.
Then Morris was dismissed from the team before the start of this season, so guard play will be one of Baylor's challenges. The inside game, led by 2018 Big 12 player of the year Kalani Brown (20.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG) and Cox (15.3, 9.7), will be a major strength.
Texas is picked to finish second, but lost two top guards in Ariel Atkins (who had a key role as a rookie for the WNBA runner-up Mystics) and 2017 Big 12 player of the year Brooke McCarty. West Virginia gets back guard Tynice Martin, the MVP of the 2017 league tournament, after she missed last season with a foot injury. The Mountaineers are picked to finish third. TCU and Oklahoma are projected fourth and fifth.
Around the league: Texas and former Big 12 team Texas A&M (now in the SEC) are intense rivals in the Lone Star State. But Longhorns guard Danni Williams went to the "enemy" side for her senior season as a graduate transfer from the Aggies program. She's picked as Big 12 newcomer of the year, although she'll be in the league just one season. ... The Big 12 has one new head coach: Marlene Stollings, who left Minnesota to take over at Texas Tech. The Lady Raiders have finished last in the Big 12 three of the past five years and have a 14-76 record in the league during that stretch.
Pac-12: Another big breakthrough for Ducks?
2018 league regular-season/tournament champion: Oregon
2018 NCAA tournament teams (6): Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA
2018 best NCAA finish: Elite Eight (Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA)
2018-19 espnW preseason rankings: No. 3 Oregon, No. 7 Oregon State, No. 8 Stanford, No. 23 Arizona State, No. 25 Cal
Outlook: The Pac-12 advanced three schools as far as the regional finals last season, and the league hopes the success doesn't stop there this season. One of the NCAA tournament regionals is in Portland, Oregon, a state that has two teams in our espnW preseason top 10. Oregon, the Pac-12 favorite, might be a little slim on depth, but it might not matter considering how good the players they have are. Triple-double threat Sabrina Ionescu (19.7 PPG, 7.8 APG) and Ruthy Hebard (17.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG) lead the way. A trip to the Final Four would be a program first for Oregon.
Oregon State lost center Marie Gulich to the WNBA, but transfer point guard Destiny Slocum is eligible, and the Beavers also have back junior guards Kat Tudor (12.0 PPG) and Mikayla Pivec (11.1 PPG). The Beavers are picked to finish third in the league behind Stanford, led by forward Alanna Smith (13.5 PPG) and Kiana Williams (10.4 PPG).
UCLA lost stars Jordin Canada and Monique Billings to the WNBA, and we will see how the Bruins adjust without their leadership. UCLA is picked to finish sixth, behind Cal and Arizona State.
Around the league: Cal post player Kristine Anigwe (16.7 PPG, 8.8 RPG) could have a big senior season and move up the WNBA draft board. ... Last season, starting his second go-round at USC, coach Mark Trakh made a run at the NCAA tournament with a 20-11 record. The Trojans didn't make the field of 64, but their season was a step in the right direction. ... Utah has made the WNIT the last three seasons in a row; the Utes are looking for their first NCAA tournament appearance since they joined the Pac-12 in 2012-13. Their last was in 2011, when they were still in the Mountain West. ... The Pac-12 has one new head coach, Washington State's Kamie Ethridge, who was previously at Northern Colorado. The Cougars have made the WNIT three of the last five seasons, but the school's only NCAA tournament appearance was in 1991.