Almost immediately after the LSU Tigers beat the Iowa Hawkeyes on Sunday afternoon to claim the NCAA women’s basketball championship, ESPN published a way-too-early Top 25 rankings for next season by Charlie Creme.

The wide expectation is that the Utah Utes will be among the nation’s best teams because it is expected to return the key pieces from this year’s squad, which earned a 2-seed in the tournament before falling to 3-seed LSU in the Sweet 16.

Creme is one of those people with high expectations for the Utes, as he has them ranked all the way up at No. 2 in his list.

“The defending Pac-12 co-champs should be the only team in this early ranking that returns every starter,” Creme wrote. “Reigning Pac-12 player of the year Alissa Pili should start 2023-24 as a preseason first-team All-American. 

“Gianna Kneepkens and Jenna Johnson are rising juniors who combined to average over 27 points per game and have become the backbone of the program’s resurgence under coach Lynne Roberts. Kneepkens and Kennady McQueen are the big 3-point threats, and Australian point guard Issy Palmer, back for her senior season, ties it all together.”

‘We will be better next year’: Breakout season showed Utah women’s basketball isn’t a one-year wonder

The mighty UConn Huskies are the only team Creme has ranked higher than the Utes, although he gives the caveat that health will be a big factor, as a number of the Huskies’ best players have dealt with serious injuries during their time in college.

LSU and Iowa follow Utah, and Indiana rounds out the top five.

Among the Utes’ Pac-12 opponents, UCLA is at No. 6, Stanford is No. 9, Oregon is No. 18 Colorado and USC are Nos. 20 and 21 and Washington State is No. 25, with Washington in a group of six teams that comprise an “also considered” category.

South Carolina and Virginia Tech, which were 1-seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament alongside Indiana and Stanford, are No. 7 and No. 14, respectively, in Creme’s rankings.