October 21, 2009 9:18:00 AM
There is shared optimism about the Mississippi State women''s basketball team.
Members of the Southeastern Conference and national media picked MSU to finish fifth in the Southeastern Conference this season and selected senior guard Alexis Rack as a member of the All-SEC preseason first team on Tuesday.
"I want us to improve and not get caught up in the rankings," MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. "Everything is on paper right now."
Fanning-Otis and senior point guard Marneshia Richard will be in Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday to participate in the annual SEC Media Days event for the conference''s men''s and women''s basketball teams.
The Lady Bulldogs return four starters and 11 letterwinners from last season''s team that went 23-10 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
MSU also finished 8-6 in the SEC and earned a No. 6 seed for the conference tournament. This season, the Lady Bulldogs will try to earn their highest finish in the SEC since they were tied for third in 2002-03 (24-8 overall, 10-4 in league).
The members of the media appear to believe MSU has the potential to accomplish that goal. The Lady Bulldogs received 120 votes in the poll and were six points behind fourth-place Vanderbilt.
LSU (206 points), Tennessee (190), and Georgia (156) took the top three spots.
Florida (105), Arkansas (92), Auburn (85), Ole Miss (70), South Carolina (61), Kentucky (40), and Alabama (24) rounded out the voting.
While confident her team has plenty of potential, Fanning-Otis knows preseason accolades won''t earn her team any victories.
"We have a heck of a lot of practicing to do before we do what''s important, and that''s how we finish," Fanning-Otis said. "We have to be ready to open up and to progress until we get ready for the SEC, when we hopefully can compete for a championship."
Rack, an All-SEC first-team selection last season, led MSU in scoring last season (14.9 points per game). She joins Georgia''s Ashley Houts and Angel Robinson, LSU''s Allison Hightower, and Tennessee''s and Shekinna Stricklen on the first team. Hightower was voted the Player of the Year.
Rack and classmates Armelie Lumanu and Chanel Mokango, members of the All-SEC Defensive Team, and Tysheka Grimes will highlight an experienced cast of returning players.
Richard, who missed all of 2008-09 with a knee injury, junior Mary Kathryn Govero, and sophomore Diamber Johnson also return to give the Lady Bulldogs plenty of depth in the backcourt.
Fanning-Otis hopes to use that depth to play an up-tempo game and to apply plenty of defensive pressure. She said the team started work in practice Friday to identify the right rotations and to introduce new concepts.
"We''re not as consistent as I would have liked, but we''re going to continue to work hard and to progress," Fanning-Otis said. "We have a long way to go to learn what we have to learn. Hopefully we will make progress each and every day."
MSU will play Delta State in a closed scrimmage Nov. 1 at Humphrey Coliseum. It will open exhibition play Nov. 8 against Monticello.
NOTE: MSU will hold an open house/ribbon cutting ceremony for its new locker room inside Humphrey Coliseum at 2 p.m. Saturday. The event will start with an open house and a tour of the new home of the Lady Bulldogs and will be followed by a ceremony at 2:45 p.m.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.