South Carolina, UConn, Stanford women top preseason Top 25

NCAA Basketball

FILE – In this March 6, 2020, file photo, South Carolina players celebrate after defeating Georgia 89-56 in a quarterfinal match at the Southeastern women’s NCAA college basketball tournament in Greenville, S.C. Dawn Staley and South Carolina are back in a familiar spot: No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 women’s basketball poll, released Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.(AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)

Dawn Staley and South Carolina are back in a familiar spot: No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 women’s basketball poll.

It’s the second consecutive season that the Gamecocks are the preseason favorite.

“With who we brought back and who added for this season, we knew we would start out among the hunted, and it’s something that our program is getting used to,” said Staley, who is going into her 14th season as South Carolina coach. “Watching practice every day, I can see that we have the pieces and the competitive fire to reach all of our goals. We have a few more weeks to put those pieces together into a cohesive, successful team that can live up to this preseason ranking.”

The Gamecocks received 14 of the 29 first-place votes from a national media panel in Tuesday’s poll. UConn was second, garnering 10 first-place ballots. It’s the 15th consecutive season that the Huskies were among the top five teams in the preseason.

Defending national champion Stanford was third, getting the other five first-place votes. Maryland and North Carolina State rounded out the top five.

It’s been a busy few days for Staley. The school announced a new, seven-year contract that will pay her $2.9 million this season and grow to $3.5 million in the final season. She also believes the $22.4 million deal should make an impact on her sport and in the equality of what men and women’s coaches and athletes receive from their schools.

HOOSIER HYSTERIA

Indiana is No. 8, the school’s highest ranking ever in women’s basketball. There’s a lot of excitement around Bloomington, with all five starters returning from a team that went to the Elite Eight last year and had its sixth straight 20-win season.

“It’s great recognition for our program and a testament to our team and how they continued to get better throughout one of the most difficult and challenging seasons we had in the history of women’s basketball,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “We believe we have much to prove and are looking forward to what we know will be a challenging season in both non-conference as well as what we’ll see in the Big Ten.”

RISING WOLVERINES

Michigan also tied its best ranking ever, coming in at No. 11. The Wolverines return three starters, including Naz Hillmon, from the squad that lost to Baylor in overtime in the Sweet 16 last season.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico called the ranking an honor and said her team was eager to build on the momentum from last spring.

“We have been able to take steps forward and grow as a program the past few seasons, doing things that had never been done before,” she said. “Showing that consistency year in and year out is the sign of a great program, not just a great team.”

HEARTLAND HOPES

There are high expectations in Iowa this year: The Hawkeyes are No. 9 and Iowa State is No. 12.

Iowa, led by star guard Caitlin Clark, has its its highest preseason ranking since the team was sixth in 1996.

Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly has a bulk of his starting five back, including Ashley Joens and Lexi Donarski. It’s the team’s best ranking in the preseason since 2001, when the Cyclones were eighth.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC each have five ranked teams, tops in the nation:

Joining No. 4 Maryland, No. 8 Indiana, No. 9 Iowa and No. 11 Michigan is No. 17 Ohio State for the Big Ten.

In the Pac-12, No. 3 Stanford is joined by No. 10 Oregon, No. 14 Oregon State, No. 20 UCLA and No. 22 Arizona.

The ACC has No. 5 N.C. State, No. 6 Louisville, No. 16 Florida State, No. 17 Georgia Tech and No. 24 Virginia Tech.

The SEC has four teams with No. 13 Kentucky, No. 15 Tennessee and No. 23 Texas A&M joining top-ranked South Carolina. The Big 12 also has four programs ranked, led by No. 7 Baylor with new head coach Nicki Collen. The Bears are joined by the Cyclones, No. 19 West Virginia and No. 25 Texas.

The only non-Power Five team in the poll is No. 21 South Florida out of the American Athletic Conference.

TIP-INS

Georgia Tech is ranked for the third time ever in the preseason (2009, 2012). … Virginia Tech is in the preseason poll for only the second time ever, joining the 1999 squad that was ranked 17th.

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