Defending champion Terps tops in AP preseason poll
Maryland followed one milestone by achieving another.
Seven months after winning its first national championship in women's basketball, Maryland is No. 1 in the preseason for the first time.
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The Terrapins were an overwhelming choice as the top team in The Associated Press poll on Wednesday, receiving 47 of the 50 first-place votes from a national media panel and compiling 1,246 points -- 85 more than No. 2 North Carolina.
It's easy to see why.
Coach Brenda Frese returns her entire starting five, led by second-team All-American Crystal Langhorne, plus her top three reserves from last season. And if that isn't enough, transfers Christie Marrone (Virginia Tech) and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood (Tennessee) are now eligible, though Wiley-Gatewood can't play until the first semester ends in December.
Still, Frese understands that talent and the top ranking don't guarantee anything. Since the 1989-90 season, the No. 1 team in the preseason poll has won the NCAA championship only four times, most recently Connecticut in 2003-04.
"Every year is new and different," Frese said. "Obviously, we have to stay healthy like we did last year. But the most important thing is we have to improve and get better, especially since every team we play is going to give us their best shot. Hopefully, we'll have the chemistry we need."
The only other time Maryland was ranked No. 1 came during a four-week stretch in January and February of 1992. This is the first time in the last 10 years that someone other than Connecticut, Tennessee or Duke has led the preseason poll.
Maryland, which beat Duke in overtime in last year's title game to finish 34-4, opens Friday night at Middle Tennessee State.
North Carolina, which joined Maryland and Duke to form an ACC trio in last season's Final Four, received one first-place vote and was 13 points ahead of Oklahoma. The Sooners received the two other votes for No. 1.
All-American guard Ivory Latta and two other starters are back for Carolina. All five starters return at Oklahoma, which again will give opponents fits with space-eating center Courtney Paris, the first freshman to be chosen a first-team All-American.
The Sooners' lineup so impressed voter Tommy Deas of The Tuscaloosa, Ala., News that he put them No. 1 on his ballot.
"When you have a proven inside player who can score and rebound, that puts you in the hunt," Deas said. "Then when you have the kind of shooters they've got coming back, that makes you impossible to defend. It looks like they have the makeup to go far in the tournament and maybe win it all."
North Carolina's vote for No. 1 came from Jay Jenkins of the Charlottesville, Va., Daily Progress. Jenkins thinks the Tar Heels feel they have something to prove. Their only losses in a 33-2 season were to Maryland and they were No. 1 in the final poll.
"North Carolina has two things that elevated the program into my top spot -- point guard Ivory Latta and a chip on their shoulders," Jenkins said. "Every player that returns is better for having played a full season with Latta.
"Given that experience, the added dimension of maturity and motivation, UNC edges out Maryland, which no longer enjoys the underdog label."
Stanford was fourth and Tennessee fifth, followed by Duke, Ohio State, Connecticut, Georgia and LSU, the only non-ACC team that made it to Boston for last season's Final Four.
Purdue starts its first season under coach Sharon Versyp at No. 11 and Rutgers is 12th. Then it's Arizona State, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, followed by Michigan State, New Mexico, Baylor and DePaul.
California, Southern Cal, UCLA, BYU and Texas held the final five spots.
New Mexico and BYU are the only teams in the Top 25 that had never before appeared in the preseason poll. California, coming off its first NCAA tournament appearance in 13 years, is ranked for the first time since the week of Feb. 16, 1993.
Only five teams in the poll weren't ranked at the end of last season -- Kentucky, Vanderbilt, California, Southern Cal and Texas. Vanderbilt had been ranked every week last season until falling out of the Top 25 in the final poll.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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