The preseason picks are out, and South Carolina was picked to win its third straight SEC regular-season championship. I think it’s the right call, although Tennessee deservedly got some mention – the Lady Volunteers were 15-1 in the SEC last year despite having half the roster hurt, and having Diamond DeShields eligible may restore the (sole) title to Rocky Top.
What I suspect is the other media members had a similar line of thinking to my own. Tennessee is very talented, and while Kentucky, Mississippi State and Texas A&M will be very strong as well, the Gamecocks and Vols appear to be the two best teams in the league. What pushes USC ahead?
A lot of returning talent from a Final Four team, that’s what. While the Gamecocks lost their most indispensable player in Aleighsa Welch, they return two-time SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell and replaced Welch with Sarah Imovbioh, the best rebounder in the ACC. With A’ja Wilson ready to take an increased role after an SEC Freshman of the Year season and Alaina Coates stepping into the starting lineup, the Gamecocks should be as ferocious as they have been the last two seasons.
Tennessee is working DeShields and its new/injured-last-year talent into the rotation and replacing its top three scorers from last season. The Wildcats, Bulldogs and Aggies will be very strong but each, at least on paper, has some questions among the lineup.
G Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina
G Diamond DeShields, Tennessee
F Victoria Vivians, Mississippi State
F Jessica Jackson, Arkansas
G Courtney Walker, Texas A&M
PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Diamond DeShields, Tennessee
I know, I know – how did I vote DeShields over Mitchell, the two-time POY? And not vote Tennessee ahead of USC, considering that?
I think DeShields is the better individual talent. Having seen her up close, she can take over games. While Mitchell can certainly do that as well, Mitchell also understands that there are a lot of other options on the team. DeShields, especially early, will try to take over and show she hasn’t lost a step, and I think her numbers will be better across the board than Mitchell’s.
But I think the Gamecocks are the better all-around team. They have defined roles and know exactly what they’ll try to do every game. Tennessee may have some trial-and-error early.
As for the rest of the preseason team, the ballot asked to pick two guards, two forwards and a center (the men’s ballot was to pick five players, regardless of position). I tried to stick to that script for the women’s, but instead chose three guards and two forwards. It wasn’t easy.
I could only pick five (although six made the preseason team with the rather silly system of ties not being broken) so I had to leave off some standout players. Coates, Wilson, Graves, Georgia’s Shacobia Barbee, Texas A&M’s Courtney Williams and Kentucky’s Makayla Epps are certainly all-conference candidates.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState