— KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference begins the first year of the post-Pat Summitt era in an unfamiliar situation.
Tennessee, the eight-time national champion and longtime conference heavyweight, isn't favored to win the league. The Lady Vols aren't even considered among the top few contenders.
The Lady Vols don't return anyone who started an NCAA tournament game last year during their run to a regional final. That creates opportunity for the rest of the SEC, which is seeking to produce its first Final Four team since Tennessee won the national title and LSU reached the semifinals in 2008. Texas A&M won the 2011 national championship when it was still a Big 12 member.
"I think you'll see some changes in the league," Georgia coach Andy Landers said. "I think going into the year most people would probably pick Kentucky as the team to beat. I think you'll have a number of very, very good teams. I think you'll have probably as many as four or five that could be ranked at some point during the season in the top 10."
At this point, the league has five teams in the Top 25. No. 6 Kentucky, No. 10 Georgia, No. 15 Texas A&M and No. 16 Vanderbilt are all ranked ahead of No. 20 Tennessee.
Kentucky returns four starters from a team that went 28-7, won the SEC regular-season crown and reached a regional final last season. The list of returning starters is headed by 5-foot-9 senior guard A'dia Mathies, the 2012 SEC player of the year. Kentucky also benefits from the return of 5-6 point guard Jennifer O'Neill and the arrival of California transfer DeNesha Stallworth.
O'Neill sat out last season with a stress fracture in her right foot after starting three games as a freshman in 2010-11. Stallworth, a 6-3 junior center, ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in scoring (13.3) and 12th in the league in rebounding (6.4) two seasons ago before sitting out the 2011-12 season as a transfer.