NCAA
Graham Hays, espnW.com 1080d

Princeton climbs four spots to No. 2

Women's College Basketball, Dayton Flyers, George Washington Colonials, Green Bay Phoenix, James Madison Dukes, Western Kentucky Lady Toppers, Princeton Tigers, Gonzaga Bulldogs

With Thanksgiving leftovers dwindling and the Christmas season here, time is running out for mid-major teams to build their résumé with wins out of conference. Most of the teams you'll find below already made the most of at least some of those opportunities.

1. Green Bay (6-2)

What happened: If we're being honest, making a game against Connecticut competitive for most of the first half will be more than many will manage against Geno Auriemma's team this season. Green Bay ultimately lost that game against the defending champions by 36 points, but that setback came after wins the previous two days against Georgia Tech and Arizona State during a holiday tournament in Florida. In just its second home game, Green Bay also beat Western Michigan this past weekend.

What to know: In Green Bay's four most noteworthy wins this season (against Marquette, Purdue, Georgia Tech and Arizona State), Mehryn Kraker averaged 17 points per game and shot 66 percent (27 of 41) from the floor overall and 62 percent (8 of 13) from the 3-point line. She was also the team's leading scorer on a similarly good shooting night in an overtime loss at Vanderbilt. This isn't going to be a team with a lone signature star, but, well, as a word to the wise, don't leave Kraker open.

What's next: at South Dakota State (Dec. 10), vs. Wisconsin (Dec. 13), vs. Vermont (Dec. 20)

2. Princeton (9-0)

What happened: Since last we checked in on the mid-major scene, Princeton won games by margins of 27, 25, 30, 29 and 30 points. Three of those were against major conference teams, the last an 85-55 rout at Michigan on Tuesday night. True, there were not a lot of national championship contenders in the mix, which also included Wake Forest, Montana and Charlotte at a holiday tournament and a home game against Georgetown, but that's a special level of domination. And while there are a dozen or so teams with better scoring margins, most of them have played a lot more than two home games.

What to know: Four starters average double-digit points per game. All average at least 4.3 rebounds per game, and 23.6 rebounds per game collectively. Three of those four shoot better than 40 percent from the 3-point line and all three shoot from that distance with regularity. In other words, it's a nice assemblage coach Courtney Banghart has with Blake Dietrick, Michelle Miller, Annie Tarakchian and Alex Wheatley (and the fifth starter, Amanda Berntsen, leads the team in steals).

What's next: vs. Binghamton (Dec. 13), at Delaware (Dec. 16), vs. Portland State (Dec. 19), at Monmouth (Dec. 21)

3. James Madison (7-1)

What happened: A Maryland first-half run proved too much to overcome in a neutral-site game played in Puerto Rico, depriving the Dukes of a second potential signature win and giving them their first loss of the season. Still, it wasn't the kind of setback that should undo any perceptions of the team's previous good work. Comfortable-enough wins against Houston, Richmond and Davidson followed, although the Spiders made it a two-possession game late.

What to know: Precious Hall is having one of those seasons when it's difficult to know what to make of statistics and labels like "volume scorer." It's barely December and Hall, who has scored at least 20 points in five consecutive games, has already taken more than a hundred more shots than any teammate. Given the wins, that hints at how much this team needs her to create its offense without Kirby Burkholder. And while her two-point percentage is poor, Hall is shooting 36 percent from the 3-point line and 92 percent from the free throw line, efficient on both counts.

What's next: at Ohio (Dec. 15), vs. Hampton (Dec. 20)

4. Western Kentucky (8-2)

What happened: There was no rest for the weary. Coming off back-to-back losses at Mississippi State and Louisville at the end of a stretch of six games in 12 days, Western Kentucky went to Long Island over Thanksgiving and beat both Tulane, still that team's only loss this season, and host Hofstra. The Lady Toppers also added a second win this season against a power conference school with a 98-69 rout of Mississippi this past week.

What to know: Credit for this stat has to go to Western Kentucky, but it's an interesting `one. Sophomore Kendall Noble is the nation's only player averaging at least 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals per game. Western Kentucky's strength, especially against top opponents, is that it has three players who belong on the court for any team. That starts with Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan, but Noble is in this case a much-needed third wheel.

What's next: at Austin Peay (Dec. 16), vs. Ball State (Dec. 21)

5. Florida Gulf Coast (6-2)

What happened: There is ample reason to see the proverbial glass as half full, but there's also that temptation to think about how close it is to completely full. A narrow loser at Auburn already this season, FGCU lost a double-overtime game against Ohio State on a neutral court on Nov. 29. That was its third game in three days, following wins against Wichita State and Clemson, and Ameryst Alston and Kelsey Mitchell combined for 52 points, but so close.

What to know: Even by its own standards, Florida Gulf Coast is off to a strong start from the 3-point line. The Eagles are shooting 40 percent from behind the arc, harkening back to the 2011-12 team that shot 37 percent and went 29-3. But it's nice to know you have other clubs in the bag. Florida Gulf Coast beat Wichita State despite hitting just four 3-pointers. According to FGCU, that's the fewest in a win against a nonconference opponent since the move to Division I. And only once, in a win against Belmont during that same 2011-12 season, did they hit fewer than four.

What's next: vs. Providence (Dec. 11), at Bethune-Cookman (Dec. 17), vs. Northern Colorado (Dec. 19), at Arkansas State (Dec. 22)

6. George Washington (7-2)

What happened: Whether the competition lived up to the brand recognition, George Washington rolled through an intriguing part of its schedule with wins against NC State and Purdue in the Bahamas -- a homecoming for Jonquel Jones in which she was tournament MVP -- and Fresno State and Georgetown at home. The toughest test might have been the lone non-major, as Fresno State led in Washington D.C. with four minutes to play this past Saturday.

What to know: Jonathan Tsipis has turned George Washington into a force to be reckoned with on the boards. The Colonials were a good rebounding team a season ago, but they're running 15.2 rebounds per game in the black at the moment, and it's not like the Atlantic 10 is full of teams that are likely to bring that average down. A big part of the surplus has been the steady contributions of 6-foot-5 freshman Kelli Prange, mostly off the bench of late.

What's next: vs. Memphis (Dec. 15), vs. Saint Mary's (Dec. 21)

7. Saint Mary's (6-1)

What happened: Not many mid-majors are going to have better weeks than Saint Mary's (if only because not many of them are going to get three quality teams to come to their place in the span of a week). The Gaels beat Iowa State on Nov. 29 to win the holiday tournament they hosted, then beat Cal State Northridge on Dec. 4 and USC on Dec. 6.

What to know: Like James Madison, Saint Mary's appears to have done a remarkable job of reloading a rotation. Lauren Nicholson has stepped in for Jackie Nared as the go-to scorer. Ranking third in points per game on the team in 2013-14, when she also missed substantial time with injuries, Nicholson is averaging 18.4 PPG and shooting 49 percent from the field this season. That included 27 points against Iowa State and 22 points against USC. And even without Danielle Mauldin this season, Saint Mary's had the edge on the boards in all three of those recent wins.

What's next: at Fresno State (Dec. 12), at Cal Poly (Dec. 14), at Virginia (Dec. 19), at George Washington (Dec. 21)

8. Gonzaga (5-3)

What happened: It has been a rough couple of weeks for Gonzaga. What appears the bad loss of the bunch, a 59-56 setback against American in Las Vegas, isn't that bad when you look at how American pushed teams like George Washington, James Madison and Princeton, but it's not a quality loss, ether. Gonzaga also lost to Iowa in Las Vegas and then lost at home for the first time this season, 59-58 against Washington State on Tuesday.

What to know: Gonzaga hasn't had more turnovers than its opponents in nearly a decade. It hasn't been within 200 turnovers of its opponents in most of those seasons. Gonzaga has more turnovers than its opponents this season. That's a problem. Look at Tuesday's loss against Washington State. Obviously, it could have gone either way with a bounce here or there. But Washington State had more field goal attempts and more free throw attempts. What's a good way to lose 50-50 games? Give your opponent more opportunities to win those games.

What's next: at Wyoming (Dec. 12), at Northwestern (Dec. 15), vs. Southern Utah (Dec. 20)

9. Dayton (4-3)

What happened: Some time close to home and the first winning streak of the season have Dayton back on firmer footing after a tough start to the season. The Flyers won the Jim Jabir Bowl by beating Providence, the team he coached before his current stop, and followed that with wins at nearby Wright State and at home against Purdue. The margin of victory in the last two of those was a combined five points, and that's Wright State sans Kim Demmings.

What to know: Maybe not every team has one, but most teams with the potential to be something special have that one player who can completely change how it looks on a given night. Call it the Charde Houston principle. Ally Malott might be that player for Dayton. Dayton's winning streak, and the competitive loss to Iowa that preceded it, coincided with a surge from Malott, who averaged 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in those four games.

What's next: vs. Toledo (Dec. 10), vs. Central Michigan (Dec. 13), at Vanderbilt (Dec. 21)

10. Arkansas-Little Rock (5-1)

What happened: There isn't much shame in losing to Tulane this season. But for the technicality that is Connecticut, making the American ineligible, the Green Wave would probably be a top-five team in these rankings. But lose UALR did, its first loss of the season. It stings a bit more given that it came in Little Rock. But UALR also beat Oral Roberts and Memphis to keep most of the momentum it picked up with the season-opening win at LSU.

What to know: It took six games for one of UALR's opponents to record double-digit assists, and even in victory, Tulane had seven more turnovers than assists. UALR's opponents have 92 more turnovers than assists for the season. Obviously there is a difference in the quality of some of the competition, but even No. 1 South Carolina's opponents have only 89 more turnovers than assists in two additional games

What's next: Oklahoma (Dec. 14), at South Dakota State (Dec. 18), at Tulsa (Dec. 21)

Next five: No. 11 North Dakota (7-1), No. 12 Albany (4-2), No. 13 South Dakota State (6-2), No. 14 Middle Tennessee State (4-2), No. 15 Cal State Northridge (7-2)

Previous rankings: Nov. 12 | Nov. 26

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