Jen Smith on Basketball

Epps rated among SEC best; Kentucky picked to finish fourth overall

Makayla Epps at the University of Kentucky's Midnight Madness practice in Rupp Arena on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, in Lexington.
Makayla Epps at the University of Kentucky's Midnight Madness practice in Rupp Arena on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, in Lexington.

Uncertainty might surround the Kentucky women’s basketball team going into this season, but Southeastern Conference media still seem certain that the Cats will finish in the top four.

A day before SEC Media Days are set to begin in Nashville, the league released its predicted order of finish and top players on Tuesday, and UK was predicted to finish fourth overall.

Select media members picked defending SEC champion South Carolina as the top team, followed by Mississippi State and Tennessee, respectively.

Kentucky, Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn round out the top half the league. Missouri, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Arkansas, LSU, Alabama and Mississippi round out the bottom half.

UK senior Makayla Epps, who averaged 17.1 points and 4.8 rebounds a game last season, was voted to the All-SEC team.

South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson was the overwhelming choice for preseason SEC Women’s Basketball Player of the Year. Wilson’s teammate Alaina Coates also received votes, as did UK’s Epps and Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians.

Those four players also make up the bulk of the All-SEC team with Tennessee’s Diamond DeShields being the fifth player.

Including Epps, the Cats return three starters from last season’s 25-8 team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. UK finished 10-6 in the conference, tied for fourth place.

Other returning starters include senior forward Evelyn Akhator and sophomore guard Maci Morris. The Cats return three other players in center Alyssa Rice and guards Taylor Murray and Makenzie Cann, a transfer from Cincinnati.

But it’s not the players returning that likely gave voters pause, but the players who departed. That includes five transfers, one graduate transfer and a dismissal.

Of those players, though, only forwards Alexis Jennings (transferred to South Carolina) and Batouly Camara (transferred to Connecticut) played significant roles last season.

Kentucky’s Matthew Mitchell, who also had to replace all three assistant coaches, also lost most of the players from the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes. He did add guard Jaida Roper and Jessica Hardin to the mix along with walk-ons Rachel Potter, LaShae Halsel, Paige Poffenberger.

Stony Brook standout Ogechi Anyagaligbo will sit out this season per transfer rules.

The Cats open their season with Miami (Fla.) on Nov. 11 in Memorial Coliseum.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

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