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WOMEN'S PRESEASON TOP 25

1. DUKE: The Blue Devils return four starters from a team that went to the Final Four last season, including Alana Beard, a Kodak All-American who led the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring. The team played with just eight players last season because of injuries and transfers and fell one game short of a national championship. With so much talent returning, it's a no-brainer to pick Duke No. 1.

2. TENNESSEE: Michelle Snow is gone at center from last season's Final Four team, but Ashley Robinson is expected to fill in nicely. Tennessee returns G Kara Lawson and F Gwen Jackson. The biggest question is who will play floor general.

3. LSU: The Tigers return PG Temeka Johnson, who led the league in assists (7.5), and F Aiysha Smith, who led the team in scoring (15.9) and rebounding (7.7). All eyes will be on freshman Seimone Augustus, pegged as the player to take LSU to the next level.

4. UCONN: The Huskies lost four starters from last season's 39-0 national championship team. All-everything G Diana Taurasi returns. Reserves averaged just under 17 minutes last season. Geno Auriemma hopes they actually learned something.

5. KANSAS STATE: A Sweet 16 team last season, K-State returns starters Nichole Ohlde, Laurie Koehn, Kendra Wecker and Megan Mahoney. The Wildcats caught many by surprise. Nobody should underestimate them this season.

6. STANFORD: The Cardinal returns three starters, most notably junior Nicole Powell. Powell averaged 16.6 points last season, was a Kodak first team All-American and was the first player to lead the Pac-10 in rebounds and assists in a season.

7. TEXAS TECH: Five of the top six scorers return from a team that went 20-12. Add the return of Plenette Pierson, one of the top forwards in the nation who was suspended four games into last season, and it looks like another strong team.

8. PURDUE: The Boilermakers have the potential to compete for a third consecutive Big Ten title. All-Big Ten selection Shereka Wright (19 points, 1.3 blocks) leads a group with six freshmen. How well junior G Erika Valek returns from a torn ACL is a key.

9. GEORGIA: The Bulldogs return one of the most dominant frontcourts in the nation: 6-6 Kara Braxton, 6-2 Ebony Felder and 6-5 Christi Thomas. How quickly freshmen Gs Sherril Baker and Alexis Kendrick make the transition to college ball will determine the team's fate.

10. VANDERBILT: The Commodores came within one game and one nemesis (Tennessee) of the Final Four last season. Leading the way for first-year coach Melanie Balcomb is All-American Chantelle Anderson and senior G Ashley McElhiney.

11. NOTRE DAME: The inside-outside combination of Alicia Ratay (15.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Jacqueline Batteast (13.8, 7.8) make the Irish strong contenders to retake the Big East title. With experienced PG LeTania Severe and lots of depth, a strong season is in reach.

12. TEXAS: Fresh off its first NCAA Sweet 16 appearance since 1990, the Longhorns return three starters. Stacy Stephens and Heather Schreiber combined for 28 ppg. The Longhorns need several young players to step up to make another tournament run.

13. NORTH CAROLINA: Senior G Coretta Brown (17.1 ppg) and junior C Candace Sutton (12 ppg) will take over the leadership role vacated by all-conference player Nikki Teasley. The Tar Heels are expecting big things from La'Tangela Atkinson, the ACC preseason rookie of the year.

14. PENN STATE: With Kelly Mazzante (24.9 ppg) at point guard, the Nittany Lions are in good hands. The problem is RaShan Barnes is gone and the Nittany Lions must find someone to rebound and defend the inside the way she did. With no seniors and no freshmen, Penn State will look to play an uptempo style that revolves around Mazzante. Finding an inside scoring threat is a must.

15. MINNESOTA: The Gophers return five starters from a 22-8 team, so their oncourt ability can't be questioned. Off the court is another story. The offseason has been filled with drama: Brenda Oldfield left for Maryland and new coach Pam Borton inherits a program facing NCAA sanctions. Led by All-American Lindsay Whalen and 6-2 center Janel McCarville, how well the Gophers fare may depend on how they handle offcourt distractions.

16. LOUISIANA TECH: Legendary coach Leon Barmore is gone, along with several bigtime players who graduated. But junior G Amber Obaze returns and will lead a young team that includes just five letterwinners.

17. ARKANSAS: The good news is the Razorbacks return F Shameka Christon and senior Gs India Lewis and Dana Cherry. The bad news is they don't have a reliable PG to replace Amy Wright and run the floor. If Gary Blair can find someone to do that, Arkansas may be in the hunt for the SEC title. Fortunately for the Razorbacks, they boast a recruiting class considered the fifth-best in the nation.

18. OKLAHOMA: The NCAA runner-up lost three of its top four scorers to graduation. The heir apparents are young, but preseason Naismith candidate Caton Hill and sophomore Dionnah Jackson will lead the way.

19. COLORADO STATE: Coach Tom Collins is gone. Former Santa Clara coach Chris Denker takes over a team that won its first Mountain West title last season. The Rams lost one player to graduation and return 10 letterwinners. The four returning starters made up 80.8 percent of the scoring and 83.1 percent of the rebounding last season. G Elizabeth English returns after a torn ACL in December; she was the leading scorer at the time. Preseason all-conference F Ashley Augspurger started every game.

20. CINCINNATI: Four starters return from a 27-5 team and will be aided by 5-10 junior Valerie King and 6-3 sophomore Debbie Merrill. The biggest problem will be finding someone to help Merrill in rebounding.

21. BOSTON COLLEGE: Size and experience are the Eagles' strengths. Senior PG Brianne Stepherson is a preseason Naismith candidate. Team quickness isn't a strong suit and the Eagles need Becky Gottstein to stay healthy.

22. IOWA STATE: Senior G Lindsey Wilson is the only starter from last season's 24-9 team. Iowa State will have to find players to help ease the pressure on Wilson.

23. GEORGE WASHINGTON: A team that finished its season by winning 10 of its last 13 returns every starter. Six-foot-4 junior Ugo Oha is an all-around player: she can block shots, score, rebound and play defense. Marsheik Witherspoon runs the floor and Cathy Jones and Lindsey Davidson take care of the outside shooting.

24. UC SANTA BARBARA: After going undefeated in the Big West, the Gauchos return four, including 6-8 Lindsey Taylor. But the loss of Kayte Christensen, who led the team in scoring, rebounding and steals, will be tough to overcome.

25. TCU: Three starters return from a 24-7 squad, including sophomore Sandora Irvin, a preseason All-Conference USA selection. Juco transfers Kim Ortega and Tracy Wynn should help make TCU the favorite in C-USA.

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