Holly Warlick at the 2013 Lady Vols media day
Tennessee didn’t receive any extra incentive with this year’s Associated Press Top 25 women’s basketball preseason poll.
Instead, the Lady Vols’ ranking reflects an expectation.
UT is fourth in the first AP poll, which was released on Friday. The ranking is a far cry from the No. 20 they were given to start last season. The Lady Vols used that ranking as motivation and went 27-8, rising as high as No. 8 in the poll.
Tennessee’s 752 points were 38 more than No. 5 Louisville, which eliminated the Lady Vols 86-78 in the Oklahoma City Regional final last April. The loss ended their season in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season.
Defending champion Connecticut was No. 1, receiving all 36 first-place votes. Duke was second, followed by Stanford.
Tennessee was among six SEC schools that were ranked. The others were Kentucky (No. 7), LSU (No. 15), Texas A&M (No. 16), South Carolina (No. 22) and Georgia (No. 24). No other conference matched that total.
Along with the conference teams, Tennessee will play three other teams appearing in the preseason poll: Stanford, No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 12 North Carolina.
Led by coach Holly Warlick, last season’s Division I rookie coach of the year, the Lady Vols return two decorated players. Senior guard Meighan Simmons was the SEC co-player of the year last season. Sophomore forward Bashaara Graves was the conference’s freshman of the year.
Mercedes Russell, a 6-foot-6 freshman center, was ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2014 by ESPN HoopGurlz and Women’s Basketball Insider.
Tennessee hosts Carson-Newman in an exhibition at 7 p.m. on Monday. The season opener is Friday at Middle Tennessee State.