Duke edges Vols for No. 1 in preseason AP poll
If ever a basketball team had what it takes to be No. 1, it's the Duke women.
With talent, depth and experience, the Blue Devils are confident they've got the right ingredients, and they're not alone in that thinking.
Duke led The Associated Press preseason poll Tuesday, edging six-time national champion Tennessee by five points for the top spot even though the Lady Vols had more first-place votes.
The 500th poll since The AP began ranking women's team in 1976 had the closest vote for No. 1 since the news media took over the voting from coaches in 1994.
Duke also was No. 1 in the men's poll released Monday, the third time one school held the top spot in both preseason polls. Connecticut did it in 1999-2000 and 2003-04.
"Let's hope we finish at the very top," women's coach Gail Goestenkors said.
Duke, which went 31-5 last season and reached the final eight in the NCAA Tournament, received 17 of 46 first-place votes from a national media panel and had 1,107 points. Tennessee, a Final Four team last season, had 23 first-place votes and 1,102 points.
The closest voting previously in a preseason media poll was Tennessee's 29-point margin over Texas last year.
Duke returns first-team All-American Monique Currie and its four other starters from last season. Point guard Lindsey Harding, a starter in 2003-04, returns after a yearlong suspension and Goestenkors signed a top-notch recruiting class headed by Colorado high school standout Abby Waner.
"We feel we have all the pieces in place," Goestenkors said. "We're also very much aware that just because you feel you have all the pieces in place, it doesn't guarantee anything. Really, it's the team that gets on a roll at the right time. It's a tough thing to coach and predict when that's going to happen."
Experience is the main reason Dan Fleser of the Knoxville, Tenn., News-Sentinel voted the Blue Devils No. 1.
"Duke has all their starters back. I just like their depth," Fleser said.
Fleser said he's impressed with Tennessee's talent, but was hesitant to vote them No. 1. Four Tennessee players are coming back from knee injuries, including Candace Parker, the high school sensation who'll finally make her debut this season.
Parker's knee problems forced her to sit out all last season.
"With the talent they have, they're as good as anyone," said Fleser, who voted Tennessee fourth. "But some of these players are coming off knee surgeries and you're not sure how they'll hold up the whole year. My vote reflects that degree of uncertainty in my mind about that."
Bob Rodman of The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore., voted Tennessee No. 1 in part because he thinks the Lady Vols are hungry to win again. Their last national title came in 1998 and they were denied a berth in last season's championship game when they blew a 16-point second-half lead against Michigan State in the semifinals.
"It's my feeling that A, they want to be back on top again and B, they've got a pretty good group of players," Rodman said. "The third thing is Connecticut has slowed down and opened the door. I just think they see a door that's open and have all the incentive to want to get through it."
Three teams split the remaining first-place votes.
No. 3 LSU, which returns national player of the year Seimone Augustus, received three; No. 6 Baylor, the defending national champion, was voted No. 1 on two ballots and eighth-ranked Georgia got one first-place vote.
Ohio State was fourth, Rutgers fifth and North Carolina seventh. Connecticut, which didn't reach the Final Four last season after winning three straight NCAA titles, held the No. 9 spot and Michigan State starts out at No. 10 after making its first Final Four trip.
Stanford was 11th and Texas 12th. Then it was Texas Tech, Maryland, Notre Dame and Minnesota, followed by Vanderbilt, DePaul, Purdue and Arizona State.
Temple, Utah, North Carolina State, Southern Cal and Oklahoma held the final five places.
Southern Cal, one of the nation's elite programs in the 1980s, gained its first national ranking since the week of Nov. 21, 1995.
Of the teams in the current poll, only Baylor and Maryland appeared in the first AP poll on Nov. 25, 1976. Delta State was No. 1 in that poll.
Goestenkors said she can see why voters are split on who should be No. 1 this season. As much as she likes her own team, she knows there's plenty of talent elsewhere.
"It's going to be such a great year," she said. "There are so many teams that could be the national champion. It's an exciting time for women's basketball."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press