Dawn Staley and South Carolina picked up right where they left off: No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 women’s basketball poll.
The defending national champion Gamecocks were the unanimous choice of the 30-member national media panel in the preseason poll released Tuesday. It’s the third consecutive season South Carolina is the preseason favorite.
“This is where we wanted to be and envisioned for our program,” Staley said. “I got to give it to our players. We constantly get some of the best players in the country. They put us in this position as they work extremely hard. I don’t know if they come in and say I want to be the No. 1 team in the country, but they do say they want to be national champions. This is a step to being a national champion.”
Stanford, Texas, Iowa and Tennessee round out the top five teams in the preseason poll. It is Iowa’s best ranking since 1994 when the Hawkeyes were also fourth in midseason.
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“It makes no difference in March what we’re ranked in October, but certainly I want my team to have confidence and be proud of what they’ve accomplished. Iowa is on the map,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “We’ll celebrate it and then forgot about it.”
South Carolina went wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team last year and have been the top team for 20 straight weeks. Only UConn (four times) and Baylor (once) have had longer streaks at No. 1 since the 1994-95 season when the Top 25 became a writers’ poll.
The Huskies are ranked No. 6, the first time since 2006 that they weren’t in the first five in the preseason poll. Louisville, Iowa State, Notre Dame and N.C. State finish off the top 10.
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Princeton has its first preseason ranking, coming in at No. 24.
The Tigers were ranked for the final two weeks of last season and return four starters from the team that pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament, upending Kentucky in the first round before falling to Indiana by a point in the next game.
“It’s great for our program and for the Ivy League and putting some respect on what we’ve done in the past,” coach Carla Berube said. “I think it’s tremendous for our team and for us to live up to the standards we’ve set, we’ve got lofty goals. To be ranked in the preseason means a lot, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Berube has upped the Tigers schedule to challenge them with games at Texas and at UConn, her alma mater.
“We’ve learned that if you have a tough non-conference schedule it can get you ready for the Ivy League and beyond that,” she said.
There are high expectations in the state of Nebraska. No. 21 Creighton has its first preseason ranking while No. 22 Nebraska was its first ranking since 2015. It’s the first time in the history of the poll that both teams have been ranked in the same week.
“It’s good to have Creighton and Nebraska in Top 25. It’s good for the state,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said.
The Bluejays are coming off a great season when they advanced to the first Elite Eight in school history by knocking off No. 2 seed Iowa at home in the second round and Iowa State in the regional semifinals. Expectations are high this year.
“It says to our players that they put the program in a better position than we’ve ever been in,” Flanery said. “That’s good for them. I think they deserve it. They worked to get us to this point. I don’t think it changes their approach.”
No. 13 Virginia Tech has its best ranking since the final poll of 1999 when the school was also 13th. … No. 23 South Dakota State is ranked in the preseason for the first time in school history.
The Big Ten is tops in the nation with six ranked teams. Joining No. 4 Iowa are No. 11 Indiana, No. 14 Ohio State, No. 17 Maryland, No. 22 Nebraska and No. 25 Michigan.
The ACC has five teams in the poll, including three in the top 10. Joining Louisville, Notre Dame and N.C. State are No. 12 North Carolina and No. 13 Virginia Tech.
The Big 12 has four programs ranked, led by No. 3 Texas and No. 8 Iowa State. No. 15 Oklahoma and No. 18 Baylor are also ranked.
The SEC and Pac-12 each have three teams in the poll. No. 16 LSU joins top-ranked South Carolina and No. 5 Tennessee for the SEC. No. 19 Arizona and No. 20 Oregon join No. 2 Stanford for the Pac-12.
No. 21 Creighton and UConn represent the Big East while No. 24 Princeton is the lone school from the Ivy League and No. 23 South Dakota State the only Summit League team in the rankings.