DALLAS (AP) — With Brittney Griner and all the starters back from Baylor's 40-0 season, the race in the Big 12 likely will be for second behind the Lady Bears.
It is no surprise that Baylor is the overwhelming favorite to win the league again — and perhaps a second consecutive national title.
"I think all of us will make the most of our opportunity to step on the floor and tip it up and play against arguably the best team in America," Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said Thursday during the league's media day. "But there are a handful of us that it will be a dogfight to finish either right around them in second, third or fourth."
The only women's team in the Big 12 that didn't have a winning record last season was Missouri, which is now in the SEC with Texas A&M, which won the national championship representing the Big 12 two seasons ago. League newcomers West Virginia and TCU both have at least four returning starters after having winning records last season.
This will be the senior season for the 6-foot-8 Griner, the two-time All-American who was the AP player of the year last season.
Through her first three years at Baylor, Griner has averaged 21.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game with a Big 12-record 594 blocked shots. She is the first NCAA player with 2,000 career points and 500 blocked shots.
"Griner makes them special and unique," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said the goal isn't and never was to go undefeated. The only goal is to win championships, including six games in the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Bears can't win 40 games again since there is no possibility for them to play that many games this season.
But can somebody keep them from winning every game again?
"They're coming off an undefeated season last year, and certainly they're the team to beat in our league," said Coale, who returns all five starters. "But they're human. ... If we had to play five out of seven, it might not go our way. But you have to be better for 40 minutes one night. So yeah, it's possible."
Mulkey has put together a challenging non-conference schedule for her team, including Kentucky in the second game. The Lady Bears play at Notre Dame and host Tennessee before Christmas, and go to Connecticut on Feb. 18 in the middle of conference play.
Bob Bowlsby took over as the Big 12 commissioner earlier this year after serving as athletic director at Stanford, which lost to Baylor in the NCAA national semifinal game in Denver last April.
Bowlsby said it was a very good Stanford team that did as good a job as anybody against Griner.
"What came through loud and clear is the Baylor team was a lot more than just Brittney Griner. This was a really good team with a dominant player and a lot of lot really good players around her.," Bowlsby said. "They certainly have the nucleus that would indicate that you could keep a string going. They have a chance to be among the most dominating teams of all time."
Baylor got the maximum nine first-place votes in the preseason voting by league coaches, who weren't allowed to vote for their own team. Baylor has won the last two Big 12 titles.
The preseason vote had Oklahoma and West Virginia tied for second, followed by Kansas, which returns four starters from a team that won two games in the NCAA tournament. The rest of the picks, in order, were Texas, Iowa State, defending WNIT champion Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU.
"We got away from Connecticut (in the Big East), and now we're going to play Baylor and Oklahoma, and Texas, and all of these schools. It's a great league," West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. "From top to bottom, it's the No. 1 RPI league in the country."
The media day activities were held on the floor at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, where the women's conference tournament will be held in March. For the first time since the league started play 16 years ago, the event won't be held in the same city as the men's tournament.
"I've seen a lot of different models and if any league can pull this off and do it in first-class fashion and turn out the crowd, it's the Big 12," Bowlsby said.
"We're the best basketball conference in the country," he said. "We've demonstrated that in a variety of ways, not the least of which is having the defending national champions in our conference. ... We've led the nation in RPI the last five years, and there's no indication that we won't be every bit as good or better in this coming season."
Lady Vols' Warlick embraces chance to replace icon
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Holly Warlick had barely settled into her seat when the Tennessee coach was asked if she had the worst job in the country as successor to the iconic Pat Summitt.
"Why would I have the worst job in the country?" Warlick responded on Thursday at Southeastern Conference media day.
"I love the opportunity to follow Pat Summitt," she said, adding it's "the perfect situation for me."
Warlick inherits the powerhouse program at a time when Kentucky appears to have climbed to the top in a shifting of the power structure.
The Wildcats are picked to repeat as SEC champions behind reigning player of the year A'dia Mathies and last year's top freshman Bria Goss.
Then comes Georgia and Vanderbilt in the media's predictions, followed by Tennessee in a rare underdog role after losing all five starters from a team that went to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
Count Warlick among those who consider the Wildcats the right preseason pick.
"They lost one starter," she said. "They won the regular season SEC. It would be kind of a no-brainer. It's theirs to lose."
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell returns the core of a team that went 28-7 in his fifth season and also won three NCAA tournament games. The Wildcats do play defending national champion Baylor in Game 2, providing a pretty good indicator of where they stand.
Mitchell addresses the front-runner status by talking about the characteristics that are posted on the locker room wall: principle, sacrifice, preparation and character.
"Those things matter, and whether you're the hunter or if you're hunting or if you have a bull's eye on your back, those things just don't make a difference," he said.
Mitchell has a ready example to get his players to discount preseason projections. The 2009-10 Wildcats team was picked to finish next-to-last in the then-12-team SEC. Kentucky instead won 28 games and played in the NCAA tournament.
"We try to approach that in practice," Mitchell said. "We try to keep our practice sessions as absolutely competitive as they can be. We try to honor great effort every day and the players that give great effort do well in the program and the players that don't, don't succeed. It's really an atmosphere of showing them what we feel like's important for this team to do to be good.
"We don't spend a large amount of time talking about the external expectations. When we were picked 11th, we said that the preseason polls didn't matter so they can't matter now when we're picked first."
League newcomer Texas A&M is picked fifth behind Big 12 newcomer of the year Kelsey Bone after winning two NCAA tournament games. Coach Gary Blair, who spent a decade at Arkansas, lost three starters.
Mississippi, meanwhile, promoted assistant Brett Frank to acting head coach for the season on Wednesday.
Coach Adrian Wiggins and two other assistants were dismissed, and the athletic department revealed on Saturday it was working with the NCAA regarding "impermissible recruiting contacts and academic misconduct."
Frank said the Rebels have run the emotional gamut recently.
"I think they've experienced every emotion imaginable: from hurt to shock and everything in between," Frank said. "I think they understand that they still have a job to do. They still have a responsibility.
"They've all decided to unite and put this behind them as best they can and really focus on the things we've established as our goals from Day 1."
-- John Zenor
UK's Calipari: 'We're not very good right now'
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari sounds like an exasperated professor who just started teaching Chinese to a bunch of freshmen.
Smart and talented they might be, but it's still a whole new language.
That's why the Wildcats coach scoffs at anybody who would anoint the defending national champions the team to beat.
"Whoever did that needs to be drug-tested," Calipari said Thursday at Southeastern Conference media days. "We're not very good right now. I think we'll be a good team eventually, hopefully, but right now we're just average.
"Good players, good kids, they're trying. Just young. Don't play hard enough. Don't play full possessions. Out of control. Don't know each other, which isn't surprising. We have no roles right now. We're all trying to figure out who's who."
Of course, it's only October. Check back in March.
Calipari will get little sympathy in a league that figures to only get stronger with the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri. There are new coaches at South Carolina (Frank Martin), Mississippi State (Rich Ray) and LSU (Johnny Jones) and new stars like Tigers point guard Phil Pressey, the preseason SEC player of the year.
Teams will play 18 conference games this season instead of 16 with the expansion, and divisions are no more in hoops.
The most scrutinized change might be which blue-chip recruits are sporting the blue-and-white Kentucky jerseys. That's not so unusual, but Calipari insists this time it's different.
The Wildcats must replace six NBA draft picks, including the top two in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. This entirely new starting five won't have the same support from more seasoned players like, say, last year's sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones. Certainly not senior Darius Miller. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer is back after averaging 12 minutes a game.
"I've always had two or three veterans," Calipari said. "Everything we're doing is practically new to everybody. This is a different deal. We've got good kids who are good players, but we're not a good team.
"That's the challenge of it. What would you expect? We lost every player from last year. It just takes time. You don't just go and all of a sudden they get to know one another."
Those recruits include another shot-blocker to replace Davis in top national recruit Nerlens Noel, along with Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress.
Florida's Billy Donovan must replace No. 3 pick Bradley Beal, another one-and-done star, and point guard Erving Walker. High-scoring guard Kenny Boynton and center Patric Young return, though, for a team that has made the regional finals each of the past two seasons.
Missouri has only one starter and three lettermen returning from a team that won 30 games last season but was stunned by 15th seed Norfolk State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Their second-round opponent would have been the Gators.
That starter, though, is the 5-foot-11 dynamo Pressey, a finalist for the Cousy Award as the nation's top point guard.
Haith expects four transfers to have immediate impacts, including former Connecticut forward Alex Oriakhi and Earnest Ross, who led the SEC's Auburn in scoring and rebounding two years ago. Another transfer, Oregon's Jabari Brown, is eligible starting in December.
Now, Haith gets to try to develop chemistry with new players sort of like Calipari does annually at Kentucky.
"I applaud Cal, what he's done," the Missouri coach said. "I think it's very difficult what he does in terms of having a whole new team every year, basically. Last year's team, he did have some veterans, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. I think he'll tell you that helped, but the nucleus of his team has always been young guys. He got those guys to play so hard on the defensive end. That's always the thing with young kids, getting them to understand how hard they've got to play on the defensive end of the court, and he's done that."
Haith said he watched tapes of SEC games over the summer to get a sense of the style of his new league.
"I think the one thing that really stands out is the athleticism of this league," he said. "It's a very athletic league. I also think they play a style in terms of tempo defensively a little differently than the Big 12. There's more pressing. There's more aggressive play, extending the defense, in this league than there was in the Big 12. That's something we have to get used to."
Besides Kentucky, no SEC team had more turnover than Vanderbilt, which lost its six leading scorers from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Guard Kedren Johnson is the top scorer back and he only averaged 3.1 points a game.
"Even though the talent is different, the expectation is not," coach Kevin Stallings said. "Hopefully our guys understand very well that we're not going to compromise or lower our standard even though we've had a great deal of turnover."
The new teams have the returning coaches lobbying for more teams to get into the NCAA tournament after only four made it last season, not counting Missouri.
"Like with the Big East and a lot of these teams that have expansion right now, I think you're always looking to try to get half your league in legitimately," Donovan said. "I think we should be legitimately talking about getting eight teams into the tournament.
"That's what we're looking at trying to do right now. With the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, that should be a realistic goal for this league."
-- John Zenor
Oral Roberts preseason favorite in Southland
FRISCO (AP) — Newcomer Oral Roberts has been chosen as the preseason favorite to win the Southland Conference men's basketball title in a poll of the league's coaches.
The Golden Eagles, who previously played in the Summit League, got first-place votes from seven of the Southland's 10 coaches. Stephen F. Austin was picked to finish second, followed by Northwestern State, McNeese State, Lamar, Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State.
Nicholls State and Central Arkansas tied for eighth place in the preseason poll, with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi picked last.
The preseason all-conference team includes Stephen F. Austin's Antonio Bostic and Taylor Smith, Northwestern State's Shamir Davis, Central Arkansas' LaQuentin Miles and Southeastern Louisiana's Brandon Fortenberry.
Bostic, Davis and Miles were automatic selections after making last season's all-conference team.
Ex-Indiana coach agrees to four-year deal at TSU
HOUSTON (AP) — Texas Southern men's basketball coach Mike Davis has agreed to a four-year contract with the Houston school.
TSU athletic director Charles McClelland tells KRIV-TV of Houston that the contract is to be presented to university regents for approval Friday. No financial terms were disclosed.
Davis, who's 51, was named interim coach at the historically black university on Aug. 2 and has been assembling a staff. He takes over a Tigers basketball program that the NCAA recently placed on probation for the upcoming season.
McClelland said Davis had been named only an interim coach while TSU awaited results of the NCAA investigation.
Davis succeeded Tony Harvey, who resigned earlier this year for personal reasons. He coached UAB in 2006-12 after succeeding Bob Knight at Indiana in 2000-06.