Defending champion Terps tops in AP preseason poll

Maryland followed one milestone by achieving another.

Seven months after winning its first national championship in
women's basketball, Maryland is No. 1 in the preseason for the
first time.

The Terrapins were an overwhelming choice as the top team in The
Associated Press poll on Wednesday, receiving 47 of the 50
first-place votes from a national media panel and compiling 1,246
points -- 85 more than No. 2 North Carolina.

It's easy to see why.

Coach Brenda Frese returns her entire starting five, led by
second-team All-American Crystal Langhorne, plus her top three
reserves from last season. And if that isn't enough, transfers
Christie Marrone (Virginia Tech) and Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood
(Tennessee) are now eligible, though Wiley-Gatewood can't play
until the first semester ends in December.

Still, Frese understands that talent and the top ranking don't
guarantee anything. Since the 1989-90 season, the No. 1 team in the
preseason poll has won the NCAA championship only four times, most
recently Connecticut in 2003-04.

"Every year is new and different," Frese said. "Obviously, we
have to stay healthy like we did last year. But the most important
thing is we have to improve and get better, especially since every
team we play is going to give us their best shot. Hopefully, we'll
have the chemistry we need."

The only other time Maryland was ranked No. 1 came during a
four-week stretch in January and February of 1992. This is the
first time in the last 10 years that someone other than
Connecticut, Tennessee or Duke has led the preseason poll.

Maryland, which beat Duke in overtime in last year's title game
to finish 34-4, opens Friday night at Middle Tennessee State.

North Carolina, which joined Maryland and Duke to form an ACC
trio in last season's Final Four, received one first-place vote and
was 13 points ahead of Oklahoma. The Sooners received the two other
votes for No. 1.

All-American guard Ivory Latta and two other starters are back
for Carolina. All five starters return at Oklahoma, which again
will give opponents fits with space-eating center Courtney Paris,
the first freshman to be chosen a first-team All-American.

The Sooners' lineup so impressed voter Tommy Deas of The
Tuscaloosa, Ala., News that he put them No. 1 on his ballot.

"When you have a proven inside player who can score and
rebound, that puts you in the hunt," Deas said. "Then when you
have the kind of shooters they've got coming back, that makes you
impossible to defend. It looks like they have the makeup to go far
in the tournament and maybe win it all."

North Carolina's vote for No. 1 came from Jay Jenkins of the
Charlottesville, Va., Daily Progress. Jenkins thinks the Tar Heels
feel they have something to prove. Their only losses in a 33-2
season were to Maryland and they were No. 1 in the final poll.

"North Carolina has two things that elevated the program into
my top spot -- point guard Ivory Latta and a chip on their
shoulders," Jenkins said. "Every player that returns is better
for having played a full season with Latta.

"Given that experience, the added dimension of maturity and
motivation, UNC edges out Maryland, which no longer enjoys the
underdog label."

Stanford was fourth and Tennessee fifth, followed by Duke, Ohio
State, Connecticut, Georgia and LSU, the only non-ACC team that
made it to Boston for last season's Final Four.

Purdue starts its first season under coach Sharon Versyp at No.
11 and Rutgers is 12th. Then it's Arizona State, Texas A&M,
Kentucky and Vanderbilt, followed by Michigan State, New Mexico,
Baylor and DePaul.

California, Southern Cal, UCLA, BYU and Texas held the final
five spots.

New Mexico and BYU are the only teams in the Top 25 that had
never before appeared in the preseason poll. California, coming off
its first NCAA tournament appearance in 13 years, is ranked for the
first time since the week of Feb. 16, 1993.

Only five teams in the poll weren't ranked at the end of last
season -- Kentucky, Vanderbilt, California, Southern Cal and Texas.
Vanderbilt had been ranked every week last season until falling out
of the Top 25 in the final poll.