No. 8 Vols picked to win SEC

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Summitt says while she isn't sure Tennessee deserves to be picked to win the Southeastern Conference, the Lady Vols coach expects her team to work to live up to the annual expectations.

Summitt admits she was expecting her Lady Volunteers to be picked third or fourth in the league when she recently traveled to the SEC's annual media day. Instead Tennessee was picked to win it, as the Lady Vols have done 14 times under Summitt.

"I don't know that we belong there, but that's where we want to get to," Summitt said Monday during the team's media day. "We want to have the best team in the league, but there's a lot of great teams right now."

Despite returning nearly the same team from Tennessee's worst finish in the NCAA tournament last season, the Lady Vols grabbed the No. 8 spot in the preseason Top 25.

If the players themselves are paying attention to the preseason hype, they're not letting on.

"It doesn't matter what the rankings say. It just matters that we go out there and show that we can be the best team that we can," sophomore center Kelley Cain said.

With a tough schedule that includes games against 10 other currently ranked opponents and an improved SEC, Summitt knows it will take a lot to prove the Lady Vols belong among the best teams in women's basketball.

A loss in the opening round of last season's NCAA tournament to Ball State stuck with the Lady Vols during their offseason.

They spent plenty of time during the summer in the gym with strength and conditioning coach Heather Mason, who said she hasn't seen a Tennessee team do more during their time off as this team has done.

They'll get their first test immediately when they host No. 7 Baylor and top recruit Brittney Griner on Nov. 15. The rest of their November will be spent traveling to Texas Tech, No. 14 Virginia and No. 24 Middle Tennessee.

"I think they really get it," Summitt said. "With the schedule we have we have to get it, and we have to get it early."

Last year's Lady Vols squad was the youngest the Hall of Fame coach had ever instructed, and this year's squad has three freshmen, six sophomores and three juniors -- but no seniors.

Summitt said having a young team will never cause her to lower the standards she's set for players.

"I'm not going to lower my standards because of that, not at all. My thought is we have to raise the bar," she said.