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SEC Title Is Anyone's To Take

South Carolina may be picked to finish first, but no one is safe in the SEC this year. No game is guaranteed, no easy wins for the top conference in women's basketball.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Wildcats, Aggies and Gamecocks, oh my! The Southeastern Conference will arguably be one of the best women's basketball leagues in the country this season. With five teams ranked in both preseason polls, let's break down the competition (in order of SEC preseason ranking).

SOUTH CAROLINA

Dawn Staley's squad returns to the hardwood after a 34-3 campaign last season, which ended with a trip to the Final Four for the first time in program history. The Gamecocks return all three of their leading scorers in Tiffany Mitchell (14.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG), A'ja Wilson (13.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG), and Alaina Coates (11.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG).

Not to mention they return three starters in Mitchell, Khadijah Sessions (4.5 PPG, 2.8 APG, 1.8 SPG), and Asia Dozier (4.0 PPG). They have experience, great leadership with coach Staley, and expectations to win the 2016 SEC title.

Who to watch: Senior Tiffany Mitchell is the two-time SEC Player of the Year and Preseason Conference Player of the Year, with incredible athleticism and the ability to shoot the ball (she shot 54 percent from beyond the arc her sophomore year, and averages 44 percent on her career).

Keep an eye on the Wilson/Coates duo, who combine for 14.5 boards per game. University of Virginia transfer Sarah Imovbioh, led the ACC in rebounding in her final season as a Cavalier. South Carolina's ability to go inside out will make them a nightmare to guard this season.

Non-Conference challenges: At Ohio State (11/13), at UCLA (11/22), Arizona State (11/27), and Duke (12/6).

Preseason ranking: 2/2 (AP Top 25 / USA Today Coaches Poll), 1 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

TENNESSEE

No stranger to preseason top five rankings, Tennessee returns three starters in Bashaara Graves (10.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG), Jordan Reynolds (7.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG), and Andraya Carter (7.2 PPG, 2.1 APG).

The scary part is their two best players sat on the bench last year due to injury and NCAA transfer rules, and both those players (Diamond DeShields and Mercedes Russell) are coming off of winning a gold medal for Team USA at the World University Games this summer, with head coach Holly Warlick serving as an assistant on that staff.

This group is athletic, has a solid presence in the post, and a tradition of winning that will give South Carolina a run for their money for the SEC title.

Who to watch: University of North Carolina transfer Diamond DeShields has yet to play a game as a member of an SEC team, but she has already been selected to the Preseason All-SEC first team.

Named national freshman of the year by multiple organizations, many were surprised to hear DeShields wanted to transfer after her freshman year. The guard averaged 18 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 1.7 SPG in her rookie campaign as a Tar Heel.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, she had to sit out of games last season, and will more than likely live up to the hype. Mercedes Russell sat out last season after having surgery in both of her feet. The 6'6" center tallied 40 blocks and 5 RPG in her freshman campaign, and has now had a year to get healthy, stronger, and hone her skills down low. You will still hear about Graves, Reynolds, and Carter, but get ready for the DeShields/Russell show.

Non-Conference challenges: Syracuse (11/20), Chattanooga (11/23), Texas (11/29), at Stanford (12/16), and at Oregon State (12/19).

Preseason ranking: 4/4 (AP Top 25 / USA Today Coaches Poll), 2 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Vic Schaefer's crew is coming off a historical 27-7 campaign last year that ended with a trip to the NCAA tournament. They return leading scorer Victoria Vivians (14.9 PPG, 5 RPG) along with Morgan William (9.1 PPG, 3.6 APG), and Brianna Richardson (8.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG).

This team tallied the most conference wins in program history last season with 11, and they also had their highest SEC finish at third place. The Bulldogs are young (only one senior is on the roster), but what they lack in experience they make up for with athleticism.

Who to watch: 6'7" Teaira McCowan is one of the highest touted incoming freshmen in the country. The Texas native ranked as the 12th best player in the nation in high school, earning 2015 Parade All-American honors. The center also averaged 19.9 PPG, 17.1 RPG, and 4 BPG in her senior campaign.

Keep in mind the level of play is drastically different between the high school and college levels, but you can't teach 6'7". With proper coaching and development, you could be hearing Teaira McCowan's name as often as you'll hear Donald Trump's name this season.

Non-Conference challenges: at Texas (12/2), Southern Mississippi (12/16), at USF (12/30).

Preseason ranking: 11/13 (AP Top 25 / USA Today Coaches Poll), 3 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

TEXAS A&M

At this point in time, it's almost shocking to see the Aggies only picked to finish fourth in conference play. It also shows you how good this league is. Not only has Gary Blair turned Texas A&M into a winning program, but he also turned it into a NCAA tournament regular.

They return all three of their leading scorers in Courtney Williams (14.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG), Courtney Walker (14.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG), and Jordan Jones (9 PPG, 6.6 APG). The Aggies' postseason run ended earlier than they're used to, in large part due to the injury of Jones, who is also the two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Their backcourt has the potential to be unstoppable, and if 6'5" sophomore Khaalia Hillsman can have a breakout year, this Texas A&M team can do some serious damage in the SEC.

Who to watch: Shlonte Allen came to College Station a year ago as one of the highest touted junior college players in the country. She was benched for a majority of last year due to a leg injury, but the 5'8" guard should be in tip-top shape this season.

Allen averaged 18.5 PPG during her time at Trinity Valley Community College, and was also named an NJCAA All-American. Let's not forget Coach Blair's last junior college experience with Danielle Adams, the 2011 NCAA tournament's most outstanding player. Get ready to hear Shlonte Allen's name a ton this year.

Non-Conference challenges: at Duke (11/18), TCU (11/21), Cal (11/27), Ohio State (11/28), BYU (12/5), DePaul (12/12), and at Oklahoma (12/20).

Preseason ranking: 13/16 (AP Top 25 / USA Today Coaches Poll), 4 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

KENTUCKY

Coming off of a 24-10 performance last season, Kentucky looks to return to the top of SEC prominence this year. Despite one of their best players deciding to transfer last minute (Linnae Harper made the announcement on October 26), the Wildcats still return their leading scorer in Makayla Epps (14.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG).

Add that to a healthy Janee Thompson (10.1 PPG, 3 APG), and a sophomore full of potential in Alexis Jennings (7.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG), Kentucky has a chance to make some noise come March. The challenge for head coach Matthew Mitchell will be finding a way to get his kids to play as a team despite their lack of "big minutes" experience together.

Who to watch: Alexis Jennings is going to be a fun player to watch for the next three years. Only a sophomore, the 6'2" forward has the potential to become a double-double machine. If she can figure out how to rebound against some of these teams with more size, she can really help this season.

Look out for freshman Batouly Camara, a 6'2" kid with insane potential. Her athleticism combined with her size and skill made her the 9th best high school player in the country last year. Camara averaged a double-double in high school, and if she can adjust to the college game quickly, look out for her as a potential All-SEC Freshman.

Non-Conference challenges: at Arizona State (11/15), Louisville (12/10), and Duke (12/20).

Preseason ranking: 18/17 (AP Top 25 / USA Today Coaches Poll), 5 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

OLE MISS

The Rebels are coming off of a 19-14 season last year that ended with a trip to the WNIT, and head coach Matt Insell continues to rebuild this Ole Miss program. They return three starters in Erika Sisk (9.2 PPG, 3.5 APG), A'Queen Hayes (7.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG), and Shandricka Sessom (5.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG).

This is a young team with nine underclassmen, but don't take Ole Miss lightly. Insell's crew has potential to upset some of the SEC heavyweights come conference play.

Who to watch: Rutgers-transfer Precious Person has a chance to really shine at Ole Miss. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, Person has size and athleticism that will be beneficial in the SEC. Jonell Williams is a 6'3" freshman that averaged a double-double in high school. If she can score in the post against bigger players, then she has the ability to make some noise this year.

Non-Conference challenges: Missouri State (11/19), Western Kentucky (12/2), and Tulane (12/16).

Preseason ranking: 6 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

MISSOURI

To quote Forrest Gump, Mizzou is "like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get." The Tigers are coming off of a 19-14 season that ended with a trip to the WNIT. Last season, Robin Pingeton's group pulled off key upsets over the likes of Texas A&M and Kansas State, but then lost to teams they should've beaten like Bradley and Missouri State.

But be wary of teams like Mizzou, because they are the sleepers that can hand heavyweight teams a loss when they least expect it. The Tigers return leading scorer Jordan Frericks (13.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG) and starter Sierra Michaelis (10.4 PPG, 5 RPG).

Who to watch: Redshirt sophomore Kayla McDowell started the first nine games last year before suffering a season-ending ACL tear. Before her injury, the 6'2" forward was averaging 8.4 PPG and 7 RPG. Her presence will be invaluable for this team if they're going to compete this year in conference play.

Sophie Cunningham is a highly regarded freshman - a McDonald's All-American and the 14th best player in the country. Not to mention she was the kicker on her high school football team. A really nice shooter with the ability to create her own shot, Cunningham could've gone anywhere in the country, but she chose Mizzou. This is a name you'll be hearing a lot in the SEC this season.

Non-Conference challenges: at Missouri State (11/13), and at Wichita State (11/18).

Preseason ranking: 7 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

ARKANSAS

The Razorbacks are coming off of an 18-14 season that somehow ended with a trip to the NCAA tournament (teams usually need 20 wins to get an at-large bid to the dance). Jimmy Dykes's crew returns their top two leading scorers in Jessica Jackson (14.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG) and Kelsey Brooks (13.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG). This team was incredibly streaky last year, but coach Dykes is still in the rebuilding process. Arkansas has the ability to pull off a few upsets in the SEC.

Who to watch: The whole freshmen class. Coach Dykes and his staff have done an excellent job landing top 100 ESPN recruits, and they bring in five newbies with a lot of potential. When you're rebuilding a program, you never know who's going to step up on any given night, and you may be hearing a lot about the Razorback rookies.

Non-Conference challenges: Oregon State (11/28), Missouri State (12/2), at Rutgers (12/6), Texas (12/20).

Preseason ranking: 8 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

GEORGIA

The Georgia Bulldogs started off last season 12-0 with huge wins over TCU, Ohio State, Georgia Tech, and Michigan State before dropping 10 conference games and finishing the year with a 19-12 record and no postseason berth.

Joni Taylor's squad returns four of their top five scorers from 2014-2015, including Shacobia Barbee (11.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG), Tiaria Griffin (11.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG), Mackenzie Engram (7.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG), and Merritt Hempe (7.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG). If they can figure out how to play like a team and stay disciplined, then Georgia has potential to separate themselves from the middle of the SEC pack.

Who to watch: Look for junior Halle Washington to make key contributions this year. The 6'2" forward has the size to be a big-time rebounder, so if she can get a meanness and scrappiness to her game, she could really help the Bulldogs down low against other bigs in the SEC.

Non-Conference challenges: at Michigan State (11/18), Georgia Tech (11/22), BYU (11/27), and Seton Hall (12/6).

Preseason ranking: T9 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

LSU

LSU is another team that somehow got an NCAA tournament bid after finishing their season 17-14. Nikki Fargas is a well-regarded coach, and knows how to win. The Tigers lost a lot of scoring from graduation, and only return one impact player in Raigyne Moncrief (11.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG). Make no mistake; it's difficult to win 10 games in the SEC. However, LSU is going to have to find scoring from players other than Moncrief in order to be successful this season.

Who to watch: Jenna Deemer enters her sophomore year after a successful freshman campaign. She averaged 5.7 PPG, shooting 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. Deemer could be a key factor in the Tigers' scoring ability. Coaches can always find a spot on the floor for a shooter.

Non-Conference challenges: at Tulane (11/23), Purdue (11/27), at Rutgers (12/19), and at UConn (12/21).

Preseason ranking: T9 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

VANDERBILT

Vanderbilt is coming off of a 15-16 season in which they only won five conference games. The Commodores return four of their five leading scorers from last year in Rebekah Dahlman (10.3PPG, 4 RPG), Morgan Batey (8.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG), Marqu'es Webb (8 PPG, 4.9 RPG), and Rachel Bell (7 PPG, 36 percent 3PP). This team needs to find an identity early in the season if they want to be a legitimate contender in the SEC.

Who to watch: Minta Spears is a transfer from Texas Tech, who got into grad school, which, therefore, makes her eligible to play this season, and will leave her with two years of eligibility. The 5'10" guard averaged 7.4 PPG and 2.2 RPG during her time as a Red Raider. She's a three-point shooter, and should be able to provide a spark for Vandy.

Non-Conference challenges: at Dayton (11/18) and at Green Bay (11/21).

Preseason ranking: 11 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

FLORIDA

The Gators are coming off of a 13-17 season in which they lost five of their last six games. Amanda Butler enters her ninth season as head coach, and missed the postseason last year for the first time in her tenure at Florida. They return six of their seven key contributors, including leading scorer Ronni Williams (10.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG). They have the experience, and have a lot of potential to finish higher than 12th in the league.

Who to watch: Tyshara Fleming is a junior college transfer from Northwest Florida State College, and she will provide a significant presence in the post for the Gators. At 6'4", she averaged 7.2 PPG and 6.8 RPG in her last two seasons, and her length will make it difficult for other post players to play against.

Non-Conference challenges: Florida State (11/16).

Preseason ranking: 12 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

AUBURN

Auburn struggled tremendously last year, only winning three SEC games, and finishing the season at 13-18. They return three of their top four scorers in Brandy Montgomery (12.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG), Tra'Cee Tanner (11.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG), and Katie Frerking (7 PPG, 5.6 RPG).

The Tigers under head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy are known for their fast-tempo style of play, so if they can be disciplined and play together, they could give some of the powerhouse teams in the conference a hard time.

Who to watch: Neydja Petithomme is only a sophomore, but led the team in assists last year with 3.2 per game. She also averaged 5.5 PPG and 2.1 RPG. Petithomme shot 28 percent from three point land last season, so if her three-point shooting has improved, then she could be a viable threat for the Tigers.

Non-Conference challenges: UVA (11/19) and Minnesota (11/28).

Preseason ranking: 13 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).

ALABAMA

Alabama only won two SEC games last season, finishing the year with a 13-19 overall record. They return all five of their top scorers, including Ashley Williams (13.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG) and Hannah Cook (8.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG). Head coach Kristy Curry enters her third season and returns with a lot of experience on her team. Bama averaged 18.5 turnovers per game last year, and will need to find a solution for that if they want to be successful this season.

Who to watch: Karyla Middlebrook led the team in assists her freshman year with 3.2 per contest, in addition to shooting 32 percent from three. If she can become more of a scorer for the Crimson Tide, then she has a chance to turn a lot of heads.

Non-Conference challenges: at Georgia Tech (12/18).

Preseason ranking: 14 (SEC Preseason Media Poll).