AUGUSTA, GA – Coming off their regular-season east division title and the PBC Tournament Championship, the Lander Bearcats have been selected the preseason favorite in a poll of women's basketball coaches released on Thursday. Lander captured seven first-place votes and 152 total points, edging out second-place Francis Marion by three. Augusta University was third with Columbus State fourth and Clayton State fifth. North Georgia, Armstrong State, Georgia College, Young Harris, USC Aiken, Flagler, UNC Pembroke, Georgia Southwestern and Montevallo rounded out the voting.
Lander ended the 2015-16 season with wins in 14 of their last 15 games, the east division title and a 72-68 win over Columbus State in the PBC Championship game. The Bearcats finished 25-6 overall and made their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, their seventh in the last nine years. This year's team returns three of their top four scorers including All-Conference standouts Breshay Johnson and Ty'Hesha Reynolds, both of whom were named to the preseason All-Conference team on Tuesday.
Francis Marion finished third in the PBC east division, but their 25 wins was enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid as a #7 seed. That was all the Patriots needed to put together one of the most memorable postseason runs in league history as they won the regional and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight for the second time in school history. The Patriots return five of their top seven scorers from that squad including seniors TeTe Flowers and Victoria Dye.
Augusta made an incredible post-season run of their own, advancing to the NCAA region championship game as the #8 seed last season. The Jaguars finished second in the east division, just one game behind Lander with a 14-5 league mark, 24-9 overall. For 2016-17, Augusta returns an experienced team with three seniors and six juniors. Breonna O'Conner was named second-team All-Conference last season and preseason All-Conference this week. In all, the Jags return four of their top six scorers.
Columbus State won their second straight PBC regular-season title with the west division crown last year and played in the PBC tournament final for the third year in a row. New head coach Anita Howard returns six players from that squad including three seniors. Ashley Asouzu was a second-team All-Conference selection and named preseason All-Conference while Brittany Tatum and Gabby Williams also return for their senior seasons.
Clayton State made their 11th NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 12 years in 2016. With a 22-7 overall record and 15-4 conference mark, the Lakers were second in the PBC west division by one game. Six seniors return from that squad including All-Conference forward Andrea Benford who was third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding. In all, the Lakers bring back three of their top five scorers.
The women's coaches poll is below. Teams were awarded 13 points for a first-place vote, 12 for a second and so on. Coaches were not permitted to rank their own teams.