Michigan women No. 11, MSU unranked in Associated Press preseason basketball Top 25

Detroit News staff and wires

For the third straight year, the Michigan women's basketball team will enter the season as a top-25 team.

But this time, the Wolverines tied their best ranking ever, checking in at No. 11 in The Associated Press Top 25 women's preseason basketball poll, which was released Tuesday. 

The Wolverines bring back three starters, led by the team's top two returning scorers in Leigha Brown and All-American Naz Hillmon, from a squad that took Baylor to overtime in the program's first trip to the Sweet 16 last season.

More: Surprise Sweet 16 run has UM women's basketball team aiming even higher

Naz Hillmon (00) and the Wolverines will enter the 2021-22 season as the No. 11-ranked team in the nation.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico called the ranking an honor and said her team was eager to build on the momentum from last spring.

“We have been able to take steps forward and grow as a program the past few seasons, doing things that had never been done before,” she said. “Showing that consistency year in and year out is the sign of a great program, not just a great team.”

Michigan is the fourth-highest ranked Big Ten team, behind Maryland (No. 4), Indiana (No. 8) and Iowa (No. 9). Michigan State, like the men's team, just missed the cut and received the second-most votes by an unranked team.

More: MSU women to chase Big Ten title behind Nia Clouden, experienced cast

Meanwhile, Dawn Staley and South Carolina are back in a familiar spot: No. 1 in the top 25 poll. It’s the second consecutive season that the Gamecocks are the preseason favorite.

“With who we brought back and who added for this season, we knew we would start out among the hunted, and it’s something that our program is getting used to,” said Staley, who is going into her 14th season as South Carolina coach. “Watching practice every day, I can see that we have the pieces and the competitive fire to reach all of our goals. We have a few more weeks to put those pieces together into a cohesive, successful team that can live up to this preseason ranking.”

The Gamecocks received 14 of the 29 first-place votes from a national media panel in Tuesday’s poll. UConn was second, garnering 10 first-place ballots. It’s the 15th consecutive season that the Huskies were among the top five teams in the preseason.

Defending national champion Stanford was third, getting the other five first-place votes. Maryland and North Carolina State rounded out the top five.

It’s been a busy few days for Staley. The school announced a new, seven-year contract that will pay her $2.9 million this season and grow to $3.5 million in the final season. She also believes the $22.4 million deal should make an impact on her sport and in the equality of what men and women’s coaches and athletes receive from their schools.

Hoosier hysteria

Indiana is No. 8, the school’s highest ranking ever in women’s basketball. There’s a lot of excitement around Bloomington, with all five starters returning from a team that went to the Elite Eight last year and had its sixth straight 20-win season.

“It’s great recognition for our program and a testament to our team and how they continued to get better throughout one of the most difficult and challenging seasons we had in the history of women’s basketball,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “We believe we have much to prove and are looking forward to what we know will be a challenging season in both non-conference as well as what we’ll see in the Big Ten.”

Heartland hopes

There are high expectations in Iowa this year: The Hawkeyes are No. 9 and Iowa State is No. 12.

Iowa, led by star guard Caitlin Clark, has its its highest preseason ranking since the team was sixth in 1996.

Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly has a bulk of his starting five back, including Ashley Joens and Lexi Donarski. It’s the team’s best ranking in the preseason since 2001, when the Cyclones were eighth.

Conference watch

The Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC each have five ranked teams, tops in the nation:

Joining No. 4 Maryland, No. 8 Indiana, No. 9 Iowa and No. 11 Michigan is No. 17 Ohio State for the Big Ten.

In the Pac-12, No. 3 Stanford is joined by No. 10 Oregon, No. 14 Oregon State, No. 20 UCLA and No. 22 Arizona.

The ACC has No. 5 N.C. State, No. 6 Louisville, No. 16 Florida State, No. 17 Georgia Tech and No. 24 Virginia Tech.

The SEC has four teams with No. 13 Kentucky, No. 15 Tennessee and No. 23 Texas A&M joining top-ranked South Carolina. The Big 12 also has four programs ranked, led by No. 7 Baylor with new head coach Nicki Collen. The Bears are joined by the Cyclones, No. 19 West Virginia and No. 25 Texas.

The only non-Power Five team in the poll is No. 21 South Florida out of the American Athletic Conference.

Associated Press Top 25

1. South Carolina (14 first-place votes) 705 points (last year's final regular-season poll: 6)

2. UConn (10), 696 (1)

3. Stanford (5), 682 (2)

4. Maryland, 632 (7)

5. N.C. State, 589 (3)

6. Louisville, 575 (8)

7. Baylor, 522 (5)

8. Indiana, 521 (12)

9. Iowa, 513 (NR)

10. Oregon, 479 (23)

11. Michigan, 403 (16)

12. Iowa State, 376 (NR)

13. Kentucky, 368 (18)

14. Oregon State, 273 (NR)

15. Tennessee, 244 (13)

16. Florida State, 231 (NR)

17. Ohio State, 197 (22)

17. Georgia Tech, 197 (NR)

19. West Virginia, 192 (17)

20. UCLA, 175 (9)

21. South Florida, 146 (19)

22. Arizona, 135 (11)

23. Texas A&M, 123 (4)

24. Virginia Tech, 98 (NR)

25. Texas, 79 (NR)

Others receiving votes: Georgia 65, Michigan State 63, Florida Gulf Coast 43, Missouri State 18, South Dakota 13, BYU 11, LSU 10, Arkansas 10, Washington State 9, Notre Dame 8, Oklahoma State 8, DePaul 6, Belmont 5, Oklahoma 3, South Dakota State 1, Mississippi 1