Xavier tops mid-major rankings

November, 22, 2010

1. Xavier (2-0)

This week: vs. Louisville, vs. Troy, vs. Delaware State

Maybe the defense isn't quite up to the program's standards just yet; Michigan became the first team to shoot 50 percent in a game against Xavier since before Amber Harris arrived for the 2006-07 season. But Xavier won that game in Ann Arbor. Maybe the rebounding is still coming around, after the Musketeers were beaten on the boards by an undersized South Carolina. But the A-10 champions won that game in Columbia by 19 points. And more than the other numbers, road wins are the kind of statistic Xavier will happily accumulate while it looks for depth and rounds into midseason form.

2. Green Bay (3-0)

This week: vs. Hartford, Penn State, Utah in Cancun, Mexico

The Phoenix have little choice but to be sharp out of the gate, as was the case in beating George Washington, Minnesota and Wisconsin. After this week, Marquette will effectively represent the lone remaining game of note as the Phoenix look to build the kind of résumé that earned them the Horizon League's first at-large NCAA tournament bid last season (should they go to such a route again). As good as Green Bay was last season, it was not the defensive presence it had been in the past. But the maturation of sophomores Adrian Ritchie, Lydia Bauer and Sarah Eichler makes the Phoenix far more capable of getting points out of their defensive pressure.

3. TCU (3-0)

This week: vs. West Virginia, Iowa State, Virginia in U.S. Virgin Islands

Emily Carter's scoring binge notwithstanding, wins against Houston Baptist, SMU (in overtime) and Texas-San Antonio don't tell us much about the Horned Frogs -- certainly not in comparison to the games on tap this week. TCU was pretty good at taking care of the ball last season, finishing with just 13 more turnovers than assists, so it was noteworthy that they turned it over 22 times in the lone close game against SMU. On the flip side, after leading the team with 77 fouls last season, Starr Crawford picked up just four in the first three games this season.

4. Gonzaga (1-2)

This week: at North Dakota, vs. Ole Miss, TBD in Honolulu

Raise your eyebrows at the record if you so choose, but how many teams looking up at this ranking would come away from games at USC and home against Stanford with just a 12-point cumulative deficit? (Or have a player that could put up 24 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three steals against Stanford, as Courtney Vandersloot did.) There's little reason to penalize the Bulldogs for playing good opposition in the season's first week. Even partly as a function of their own cold shooting, matching Stanford on the boards with 49 rebounds is a good sign inside for a team so far struggling to replace Tiffanie Shives' shooting outside.

5. Illinois State (3-0)

This week: at South Dakota State

The Redbirds avoided any letdown after a season-opening win at Illinois, blowing out Eastern Illinois by 31 points and beating SIU-Edwardsville by 11 points to set up big road tests at South Dakota State this week and DePaul next week. Just how balanced is the offensive in the early going? Through three games, a player has taken double-digit shots just four times. Redshirt senior Kenyatta Shelton is responsible for two of those performances, but it's her rebounding and defense that could help the Redbirds stick around all season if she stays healthy.

6. Princeton (2-1)

This week: vs. USC, Vanderbilt/Quinnipiac in Nashville, Tenn.

It was an opportunity missed in Piscataway as Princeton rallied from 13 points down at the half against Rutgers to take a one-point lead with a little more than a minute to play, only to lose 54-53 on a shot with four seconds remaining. Nevertheless, the Tigers hardly fell on their faces in a big road game and bounced back three days later to win at Lehigh, not an easy assignment in the region. Niveen Rasheed earned Ivy League player of the week honors after finishing with 27 points, 17 rebounds and seven steals in the two games.

7. Tulane (3-0)

This week: at LSU, vs. Portland State, Cal/Cal State Fullerton in Berkeley, Calif.

We'll know a lot more about Tulane by the end of the week, but the groundwork seems to be in place for a special season. Mississippi State isn't anything close to the team that made the Sweet 16 last season, but a 20-point win against an SEC team is a 20-point win against an SEC team. The Green Wave won 26 games last season despite losing starter Brittany Lindsey to injury after just six games. She's back this season and rounds out a lineup with five double-digit scorers through the early going.

8. Marist (3-1)

This week: at Villanova

The fun is just beginning for Marist, which bounced back from a season-opening loss against St. John's in Kansas with blowout wins against Vermont and Dartmouth. Between now and New Year's Day, the Red Foxes play Villanova, St. Bonaventure, Hartford, Boston University, Louisville, Nebraska, Houston and Arizona State -- with just two of those games at home. Coach Brian Giorgis is playing 12 players with some regularity as he tries to narrow things down to a more manageable rotation, but even with the moving pieces, the Red Foxes have committed just 35 turnovers in four games (against 75 assists, despite modest 40.8 percent shooting).

9. Bowling Green (3-1)

This week: vs. Detroit, vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, Montana State/Seattle in Seattle

The opening loss at Evansville was inexplicable -- Bowling Green doesn't have the luxury of those games -- but credit the Falcons for righting the ship in a hurry. The MAC champions beat Creighton by 26 points, Youngstown State by 46 points and Oakland by 34 points in advance of a big showdown with UALR in Seattle over Thanksgiving. Lauren Prochaska is doing what Lauren Prochaska does, although with more rebounds, but Tracy Pontius is the ace up the sleeve so far. She has always been good, but 45 percent shooting from the 3-point line is a throwback to her first-team all-MAC sophomore season.

10. Arkansas-Little Rock (3-1)

This week: vs. Bowling Green, vs. Montana State/Seattle in Seattle

Do you go with the good: a 59-55 win against fellow mid-major contender Louisiana Tech? Or do you go with the bad: an 87-41 blitzing at the hands of Texas A&M in College Station? A little of both is probably the best answer. The less said about the latter, the better. The Trojans had more turnovers (24) than rebounds (23) and couldn't provide any cover for themselves from the 3-point line. But bouncing back three days later against a good Louisiana Tech team buys them some grace.

Next five: Dayton, Old Dominion, Utah, Fresno State, Portland

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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