NEW YORK (AP) — When he took over in 2014, Kelly Graves set out to establish Oregon as one of the elite teams in women’s college basketball.
Fresh off their first Final Four appearance, the Ducks are ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll for the first time in school history. Oregon, led by sensational guard Sabrina Ionescu, received 25 of the 28 first-place votes from the national media panel to grab the top spot in the preseason rankings released Wednesday.
“I think it validates our vision that we had going in here,” Graves told the AP. “It validates the hard work from my staff that’s been with me the whole journey. On this stage we had a better opportunity to be in position we now are.”
No. 2 Baylor, the defending national champion, received the other three first-place votes. Stanford, Maryland and UConn round out the top five; the Huskies have been ranked in the top five for 239 consecutive weeks, since January 2007.
“That’s nuts,” Graves said of UConn’s streak. “I think I’d be in my mid 70s by the time we reached that.”
No. 6 Texas A&M has its best ranking since the Aggies were fifth on Dec. 29, 2014. Oregon State, South Carolina, Louisville and Mississippi State complete the top 10.
Graves knows no one tends to remember who was ranked first in October. He also feels his team, which was ranked third in the preseason last year, is mature enough to handle the pressures of being No. 1.
“I think it’s really neat and we’re adult enough and smart enough to handle this,” he said. “We’ve kept our heads down and continued to work. Stay humbled and hungry.”
Tennessee isn’t ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1976, ending a 42-year streak. The Lady Vols, who saw their remarkable run of 565 weeks ranked in the poll end in 2016, fell out of the rankings Jan. 14 last season and didn’t return to the Top 25. They changed coaches in the spring, bringing back former star Kellie Harper to coach the team.
No. 16 Notre Dame, coming off two trips to the national championship game, is out of the top 10 for the first time since Jan. 17, 2011. Coach Muffet McGraw lost all five starters to the WNBA and two top reserves from last year transferred. It is the team’s worst preseason ranking since the Fighting Irish were also ranked 16th in 2008.
Coach Mike Neighbors has No. 22 Arkansas in the preseason Top 25 for the first time since 2002. In the last decade, the team has been ranked a handful of times but not since a one-week stay in the Top 25 in 2014 when Jimmy Dykes was the coach.
“We’re honored by it and definitely not going to take it for granted,” Neighbors said.
The Razorbacks return six of their top seven scorers from last season’s team that lost in the third round of the postseason WNIT. Junior Chelsea Dungee leads the way.
“My grandpa used to say things are different when the deer gets the gun,” Neighbors said of being ranked. “There’s a different approach for us with teams having motivation against us. It requires a different level of preparation and understanding and that’s really new for us.”
No. 24 Indiana has only its second preseason ranking in school history. The Hoosiers were 23rd in the 2016 preseason poll. … No. 15 Texas has the second-most appearances in the preseason poll with 35. Maryland and Stanford are tied for fourth with 32 one behind third place Georgia. … Oregon became the 15th different team to be No. 1 in the preseason. UConn and Tennessee are tied with 12 each. … Michigan State at No. 17 was one of five teams that weren’t ranked in the final poll last season. The Spartans were joined by Arkansas, Minnesota (23), Indiana and Michigan (25).
The Atlantic Coast Conference led the way with six teams ranked. Behind No. 9 Louisville are Florida State (12), N.C. State (14), Notre Dame (16), Miami (18) and Syracuse (21). The SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 all had five teams ranked. The Big 12 had two teams with the American Athletic and Big East each having one.