Three SEC teams land in top five

Pat Summitt ended last season as the winningest coach in NCAA history.

She'll start out 2005-06 on top again. The Tennessee Lady Vols ruled the top spot in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll, which was released Wednesday.

Tennessee received 19 of 31 first-place votes and 756 points. Duke, which received eight first-place votes, finished with 724 points. LSU, which got three first-place votes, was third at 668. Ohio State was fourth, with Rutgers and Georgia tied at No. 5.

Defending NCAA champion Baylor, North Carolina, Connecticut and Stanford round out the top 10. The Cardinal were the only other team to receive a first-place vote (1). Michigan State, last season's NCAA runner-up, was 11th.

The ACC, Big East, Big Ten and SEC each put four teams in the top 25. Three teams each from the Big 12 and Pac-10 were included.

Tennessee, which finished 30-5 last season after losing in the national semifinals, has made four straight trips to the Final Four, but hasn't won a national title since 1998. But the Lady Vols return three starters and will also have the services of Candace Parker, the national high school player of the year two years ago, who sat out last season after undergoing two knee surgeries.

Parker is expected to be the team's leading scorer right away, and her coaches believe she will change the way women's basketball is played. Like Julius Erving, Parker is expected to take the game above the rim. She could play every position on the court at some point during the season, but will start at small forward.

Tennessee's roster includes just two seniors -- 3-point threat Shanna Zolman and post Tye'sha Fluker. But the underclassmen behind them are a deep, talented bunch. Sophomores Alexis Hornbuckle and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood bolster the backcourt. Parker, Nicky Anosike -- whose work ethic has drawn comparisons to former Tennessee All-American and WNBA star Tamika Catchings -- will be a force inside with Fluker.

Summitt, who enters her 32nd season with a 882-172 record, has said Tennessee's biggest weakness a year ago was its shooting. Last season's Lady Vols were the worst shooting team (41.6 percent from the field) of her coaching career. Summitt told USA Today she doesn't expect it to continue to be a problem.

"I think it's been one of our best offseasons because everyone got in the gym," Summitt said in Wednesday's USA Today. "That hasn't happened the last four years. Some would; others wouldn't."

Duke returns Monique Currie, one of the nation's top players who opted to return for her senior season (she redshirted 2002-03 because of a knee injury). The Blue Devils also return all five starters from last season's Elite Eight team and added the country's second-best recruiting class.

LSU, which returns senior Seimone Augustus, last season's consensus national player of the year, has played in the past two Final Fours.