The five-questions preview of Tennessee’s women’s basketball season for govolsxtra.com and Sunday’s editions of the News Sentinel, had a recurring theme.
Consistency cropped more than once as a key variable. Suppose this would be the case for any team or season. But when we last saw the Lady Vols, they had just stumbled out of the NCAA tournament, looking nothing like the team that had stormed through the SEC tournament two weeks prior.
I submitted my SEC preseason ballot last Thursday in advance of Tuesday’s media day in Charlotte, N.C. My top three picks were South Carolina, Texas A&M and then Tennessee.
The Gamecocks weren’t a difficult choice as champions. All five starters return from last season’s regular season championship team. Plus, the nation’s No. 2 ranked recruiting class has been added featuring 6-foot-4 A’ja Wilson, the top recruit.
Choosing between A&M and Tennessee was a difficult call. The Aggies return a trio of standout guards. One of them, junior Courtney Walker, might turn out to be the best player in the conference. She averaged 21.2 points per game last postseason and led A&M to the Elite Eight. The Aggies also have added 6-5 Khaalia Hillsman, a five-star recruit, to their frontline, thereby addressing their most glaring weakness in two losses to Tennessee last season.
The Lady Vols, meanwhile, have lost leading scorer Meighan Simmons. She played one of the best games of her collegiate career at A&M last season, scoring 26 points and shooting 12 for 19 from the floor. Foot surgeries, meanwhile, have sidelined 6-5 Mercedes Russell for the season.
All three teams will be among the top six of the Top 25 preseason ballot I’ll submit to the Associated Press later this month. Their tug of war over the top spot in the league could continue over bigger prizes.
Tennessee ought to benefit from having swept its top conference rivals last season. In general, the Lady Vols still have more experience. This season, that ought to translate into more consistency for this team – no question.