FILE - In this March 27, 2015, file photo, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley directs her team during the first half of a women's college basketball regional semifinal game against North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament Greensboro, N.C. Staley and No. 2 Sout
Gerry Broome, File
November 11, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Once again, No. 2 South Carolina and No. 4 Tennessee enter the season as the favorites to contend for the Southeastern Conference women's basketball title.

That much hasn't changed.

But once you get past the teams that shared last year's regular-season title, it's tough to predict anything about this league.

''Really, in the SEC, you never really know what to expect,'' Tennessee guard Andraya Carter said. ''I think last year it was like, `Oh, this team beat that team, but they lost to another team,' or, `They beat this team twice but lost to a team that might be ranked less.' That's just the nature of the SEC.''

South Carolina tied Tennessee for the regular-season title last year and later beat the Lady Vols in the SEC tournament final and made its first Final Four appearance. Both the SEC's media and coaches have picked South Carolina first and Tennessee second in their preseason polls.

No. 11 Mississippi State is picked to finish third in the league, its highest appearance in the history of the conference's preseason media poll. Georgia, Vanderbilt and LSU traditionally are among the SEC's top programs, yet all three are picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference standings this year.

The most notable change this season is the guy missing from Georgia's bench. Andy Landers stepped down in March after coaching the Lady Bulldogs to 862 wins in 36 seasons. Georgia's new coach is Joni Taylor, who had spent the last four seasons as an assistant on Landers' staff.

''We are great friends,'' Taylor said. ''Outside of him being a great mentor to me and everything he's done, he is my friend. I call him all the time and just say I miss seeing you every day.''

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Here are some things to watch in SEC women's basketball this season:

THE DROUGHT IS OVER: Last season, South Carolina became the first SEC team to reach the Final Four since Tennessee's 2008 national title, not including Texas A&M's 2011 championship when the Aggies were still in the Big 12. With South Carolina second and Tennessee fourth in the preseason Top 25, the SEC has an excellent chance at returning to the Final Four.

RETURNING STAR POWER: South Carolina guard Tiffany Mitchell returns for her senior season as the reigning SEC player of the year. ''Her work ethic is unmatched probably by any player that I've ever coached,'' South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. Other returning first-team all-SEC selections include Kentucky guard Makayla Epps, South Carolina forward A'ja Wilson and Texas A&M guard Courtney Walker.

LADY VOLS' BIG ADDITION: Tennessee should get a big boost from the arrival of North Carolina transfer Diamond DeShields, a former Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year who averaged 18 points per game her lone season with the Tar Heels.

NEEDING TO BOUNCE BACK: Georgia and Vanderbilt are on the rebound after having long NCAA Tournament streaks end last season. Georgia had earned 20 straight NCAA bids and Vanderbilt had reached the tournament 15 straight times before last season.

UNEXPECTED EXITS: LSU must deal with the departure of Danielle Ballard, who LSU announced this summer wouldn't be returning this season. Ballard earned second-team all-SEC honors as a junior last season despite being suspended for LSU's first 14 games. Another unexpected departure involves Kentucky guard Linnae Harper, who transferred after averaging 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season.

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