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Texas A&M, South Carolina split SEC preseason polls — but is Mississippi State in the race, too?

While Texas A&M’s path to the title is the most straightforward, recent SEC mainstays Mississippi State and South Carolina can still compete if they don’t let their losses affect them.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 30 Div I Women’s Championship - Third Round - Notre Dame v Texas A&M
Chennedy Carter looks to lead Texas A&M to the top of the SEC.
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With five teams in the AP Top 25 — No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 8 South Carolina, No. 10 Mississippi State, No. 13 Kentucky and No. 22 Arkansas — the SEC figures to be a strong conference again in 2019-20, after sending seven teams to the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

Texas A&M hopes to seize an opportunity to win the SEC after finishing third last season. Meanwhile, recent champions Mississippi State and South Carolina will look to challenge for conference supremacy despite both teams losing their top two scorers.

Let’s take a look at the SEC’s top three teams:

No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies

The coaches poll favorite to win the SEC, the Aggies return all five starters, including preseason SEC Player of the Year Chennedy Carter. The Aggies won the SEC Tournament in 2013, but have finished in the middle of the pack during regular season play the past two seasons.

Carter, a two-time All-American, has the third-highest career scoring average in the NCAA Tournament at 31.0 points, trailing reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne (34.4) and Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes (31.7).

Ciera Johnson might already have a case for the best center in the SEC, as she opened the Aggies’ season with 24 points and 13 points in their season-opening victory over Little Rock, building of a 12-point, 8.4-rebound redshirt sophomore season. Meanwhile, Kayla Wells to looks to build off of an impressive sophomore season.

Aaliyah Wilson started the first nine games of the 2018-19 season, but missed the rest of the season due to a knee injury. This season, Wilson may not factor into the starting lineup, but she should be an impact player off of the bench.

Season opener: Texas A&M beat Little Rock 78-35 on Nov. 5.

Up next: Texas A&M plays Team USA on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. ET. The game is Team USA’s third of four games on its college tour. The Aggies’ next regular-season game will be at home against Duke on Sunday, Nov. 10, at 4 p.m. ET (SECN+).

No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks

The Gamecocks failed to win either the regular-season or SEC tournament last season for the first time in seven seasons. The Gamecocks also lost 10 games for the first time since 2012 and enter the 2019-20 season without their two leading scorers from last season: Te’a Cooper transferred to Baylor as a graduate student, while Alexis Jennings graduated.

Nonetheless, the media picked South Carolina to win the SEC. One player to watch is freshman Aliyah Boston. The forward made quite the statement with a triple-double in her first career game with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks.

Two starters from last year, Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, enter as the only seniors on the squad and will need to be the leaders on the court if head coach Dawn Staley’s team is going to live up to the program’s recent success.

Season opener: South Carolina beat Alabama State 103-43 on Nov. 5.

Up next: The Gamecocks visit No. 4 Maryland on Sunday, Nov. 10, at 3 p.m. ET (ESPN).

No. 10 Mississippi State Bulldogs

The reigning regular-season and tournament champions, Mississippi State lost two great players in Teaira McCowan and Anriel Howard to the WNBA. Despite being picked third in both preseason polls, the Bulldogs figure to be in the mix for their third straight regular-season title and second-ever tournament title due to the talent that they bring to the court.

Jordan Danberry, a graduate student, averaged 13.1 points in her first season as a starter while forward Chloe Bibby looks to start her junior year where she left off last season. Bibby started 18 games, but was sidelined due to a knee injury. Andra Espinoza-Hunter started 17 of the final 18 games of the season and made three or more 3-point shots in a game seven times over that stretch.

Season opener: No. 10 Mississippi State opens at home against Southern Mississippi on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 3 p.m. ET (SECN+).