#3 Tennessee Women's Basketball Preview

Tennessee Volunteers

Overall Rank: #3
Conference Rank: #1 SEC
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The Tennessee women’s basketball team had a tough off-season as legendary head coach Pat Summitt disclosed that she has the early stages of dementia. The courage by Coach Summitt to come public with this is powerful as she is continuing to lead the Lady Vol program.  It’s been a tough dry spell for Tennessee in not making it to the Final Four since Candace Parker has graduated. The talent has been there but there have been questions regarding the team’s maturity and ability to handle adversity. Well, with what their head coach is going through, we will see in a huge way what the character and makeup of the players in the Tennessee women’s basketball program is all about.

2010-11: 34-3, 16-0
2010-11 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Pat Summitt (1,071-149 at Tennessee, 1,071-149 overall)

Who’s Out:
Angie Bjorklund’s sharp shooting from the perimeter will be an underlying challenge for the Lady Vols to address in 2011-12. Bjorklund was drafted 17th overall in the WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky. Kelley Cain’s career has ended due to chronic issues with her knees. Alyssia Brewer left the program and transferred to UCLA.

Who’s In:
An absolutely loaded class is coming to Knoxville. Ariel Massingale, regarded as one of the top point guards in the country, anchors a class that should jumpstart the Vols with a tremendous infusion of energy to the current group of veteran players. Cierra Burdick, a very versatile athletic forward out of Charlotte, North Carolina, will be a nightmare for opposing teams to defend as she is a converted guard who can effectively shoot from anywhere.

Who to Watch:
Meighan Simmons looks to build off an excellent freshman season as she led the Lady Vols in scoring as a freshman. Shekinna Stricklen is the leader on the front line and she should contend for All-American honors and national player of the year honors all season long. Glory Johnson, if she can stay healthy, will be a strong threat to average a double-double in points and rebounds per contest. Alicia Manning scored 23 points in the season opening exhibition win over Carson-Newman. I would suspect her involvement off the bench would grow as well. Also, with Kelley Cain’s medical retirement, the type of production they get from Vicki Baugh, both scoring and especially defensively in controlling the paint, will be huge for Tennessee.

Final Projection:
The schedule in the preseason is an absolute gauntlet in typical Pat Summitt fashion with the likes of Stanford, UCLA, and Notre Dame on the road. They will also tackle Miami, Rutgers, and Texas to go along with an always interesting SEC slate. January 19, 2012 should be a fun one for Tennessee as Coach Summitt will take on her prized pupil, Nikki Caldwell, in an SEC battle for the first time. The elements of talent and experience are all in place for the 2011-12 Lady Vols. This should be the year of a return to the Final Four with a strong shot at a 9th national championship. This group of Tennessee players will be on a mission to get their coach another shot a national championship as she continues her fight against dementia. Fortunately, there is strong group of assistant coaches in place that will be a great support system to take some of the load off of Coach Summitt moving forward.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Meighan Simmons, Sophomore, Guard, 13.5 PPG
Taber Spani, Junior, Guard, 8.0 PPG
Shekinna Stricklen, Senior, Forward, 12.8 PPG
Glory Johnson, Senior, Forward, 12.0 PPG
Vicki Baugh, Grad Student, Center, 3.6 PPG

Madness 2012 WNBA Draft Rankings:
#2 Shekinna Stricklen
#5 Glory Johnson
#21 Alyssia Brewer

Madness 2011 Women's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#3 Cierra Burdick
#4 Ariel Massengale
#21 Isabelle Harrison