October 15, 2013 9:54:36 AM
STARKVILLE -- Vic Schaefer wasn't concerned about polls when he was hired as Mississippi State's new women's basketball coach.
The longtime assistant and associate head coach at Arkansas and Texas A&M helped forge Final Four and national championship plans at both schools, so he knows what it takes to compete in the Southeastern Conference and on the national scene.
That's why he wasn't surprised Monday when he saw members of the media selected MSU 11th out of 14 teams in the annual preseason poll. Defending regular-season and tournament champion Tennessee received 192 points and was picked as the preseason favorite. Kentucky (185), LSU (156), Texas A&M (144), Vanderbilt (134), Georgia (132), and South Carolina (131) rounded out the top half of the league. Auburn, Missouri, Florida, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Alabama rounded out the bottom half.
"It is up to us to prove them wrong," Schaefer said.
Coming off a 14-16 (4-12 SEC) showing in 2011-12, Mississippi State was picked to finish 11th in the 2012-13 preseason poll. The Bulldogs had a chance to finish as high as ninth in the final regular-season standings before a loss to Auburn in the regular-season finale dropped them to a tie for 10th place. MSU slipped to 12th in the seeding for the SEC tournament because it lost a tiebreaker. A loss to Alabama in the opening game of the tournament dropped MSU to 13-17 (5-11) in Schaefer's first season.
This season, a class of five newcomers (four freshmen and one junior college player) has optimism high surrounding the program.
Schaefer acknowledged MSU team members likely are the only ones who know how much junior Savannah Carter and freshmen Ketara Chapel, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, and Breanna Richardson have added to the program. After taking the 2012-13 preseason pick of No. 11 as a compliment, Schaefer said the Bulldogs can use this year's preseason poll as a source of motivation to show people they are ready to take the next step.
"I think our kids will look at that and use it and say we have to prove people wrong," Schaefer said.
Tennessee senior guard Meghan Simmons was picked as the preseason player of the year. Tennessee's Bashaara Graves, Kentucky's DeNesha Stallworth, LSU's Theresa Plaisance, and Vanderbilt's Jasmine Lister also were selected to the All-SEC team.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.