Cloninger: Seventh? Were you paying attention?

Posted by David Cloninger on October 14, 2013 

Coach Dawn Staley talks with her team during practice Tuesday at the USC practice facility.

TRACY GLANTZ — tglantz@thestate.com

Another season and another preseason prediction that could be considered disrespectful, dense or detached.

South Carolina, despite 50 wins, two NCAA tournament trips and finishing tied for fourth over the past two seasons, was predicted seventh in this year’s SEC preseason poll, released on Monday. You can see the entire poll here.

Now, it’s important to note that preseason predictions mean about as much as verbal contracts (once coined by a professor of mine to not be worth the paper they’re not written on). It’s not like Dawn Staley receives a bonus or the players receive a plaque for being voted preseason anything.

But to see the Gamecocks voted middle-of-the-pack seems to be pretty ignorant.

USC lost Ieasia Walker and Ashley Bruner, each an integral part of success over the past two years, but returns the bulk of its team, almost all of which logged significant minutes last year. Add in signees Alaina Coates and Olivia Gaines, plus the return of Tiffany Davis and Tina Roy after injuries cost them last year, and USC could be argued to be stronger than it was.

The Gamecocks were picked seventh two years ago and finished tied for fourth. They lost five seniors off that team, were picked sixth a year ago and still finished tied for fourth. After losing three seniors (two starters), but returning players like Aleighsa Welch, Khadijah Sessions and Tiffany Mitchell, I voted USC fourth.

I can understand the Gamecocks finishing behind Tennessee, which returns Co-Player of the Year Meighan Simmons and Freshman of the Year Bashaara Graves. And that it’s Tennessee, for crying out loud. Kentucky, despite losing A’dia Mathies, is still formidable. LSU has the league’s top returning scorer in Theresa Plaisance and a terrific squad around her. While USC won that game last year, this year it’s in Baton Rouge. I can see that being the difference between the Gamecocks finishing third or fourth.

But Georgia, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M were also voted ahead of USC. Certainly, a case can be made that Georgia is always going to be Georgia. This particular Georgia lost three starters, though. Texas A&M lost Kelsey Bone and only returns two starters, the leading scorer of which posted 10.4 points per game.

Vanderbilt, there’s an argument. Guards Jasmine Lister and Christina Foggie are a special tandem. But USC has beaten Vanderbilt three straight times.

I realize that not many go in-depth with their voting or even bother to vote, as only 15 total first-place votes were listed (split between Tennessee and Kentucky). It just seems particularly in this case, votes were given based on programs’ past and not their future.

My picks:
1. Tennessee
2. Kentucky
3. LSU
4. South Carolina
5. Georgia
6. Vanderbilt
7. Texas A&M
8. Missouri
9. Florida
10. Auburn
11. Arkansas
12. Mississippi State
13. Alabama
14. Ole Miss

Preseason All-SEC team
G Meighan Simmons, Tennessee
G Jasmine Lister, Vanderbilt
F Theresa Plaisance, LSU
F Bashaara Graves, Tennessee
C DeNesha Stallworth, Kentucky
Player of the Year: Meighan Simmons, Tennessee

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