With the winter solstice come and gone, days are getting longer (keep telling yourself that through the snow shoveling to come). But with conference play underway or right around the corner, the mid-major teams below that spent the first part of the season seeking out big prizes will find themselves the ones that get every opponent's full attention.
At least Chattanooga, Long Beach State and Indiana State, all new to the top 10, made the most of their opportunities.
1. Green Bay (9-2)
What happened: As Middle Tennessee State and UALR experienced, South Dakota State is a difficult place to go and win (of course, as Arkansas learned, South Dakota State can be a tough out even if the game isn't in Brookings). But Green Bay rallied on the road to beat the Jackrabbits two weeks ago. Then the Phoenix dispatched Wisconsin in what is fast becoming an annual tradition. That made five wins this season against teams from the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12. As a result, Green Bay finally entered the AP Top 25 this week at No. 24.
What to know: This is what happens when you don't have a losing season for the better part of four decades. You get freshman Allie LeClaire. The most local of local products, from the Green Bay area itself like Adrian Ritchie, Natalie Berglin and so many before, LeClaire is already a key rotation player, the third-leading scorer and first player off the bench. She's deceptive off the dribble, a 3-point threat and doesn't turn it over. That's how they grow them up there.
What's next: at Dayton (Dec. 28), vs. Davenport (Jan. 3)
2. Princeton (13-0)
What happened: The Ivy League team traditionally plays no games for much of January, so it was a busy December schedule. Busy but not particularly competitive this time around. Since the last mid-major rankings, the Tigers beat Binghamton, Delaware, Portland State and Monmouth by a combined 168 points. The close call of the bunch was a 28-point win at Delaware. Entering play Monday, only Connecticut, South Carolina, Baylor, Notre Dame, Mississippi State and Indiana ranked ahead of Princeton, the only mid-major in the top 13, in scoring margin.
What to know: The very fact that the collective numbers are so dominant makes the individual numbers somewhat less meaningful because they're generated long after games are decided. But the statistics are still a marvel. Take, for instance, the fact that Blake Dietrick, Michelle Miller and Annie Tarakchian, the team's three leading scorers, are shooting a combined 50 percent (87 of 173) from the 3-point line or that those three have more 3s than turnovers.
What's next: vs. Hartford (Dec. 29), vs. Fordham or Savannah State (Dec. 30), at Hampton (Jan. 5)
3. Chattanooga (9-3)
What happened: The city of Chattanooga has a robust tourism market, but it isn't going to be much of a basketball destination for the foreseeable future. Just imagine the kind of TripAdvisor reviews coming out of Knoxville and Palo Alto these days based on the on-court hospitality displayed by Jim Foster's Lady Mocs. After 40 minutes and just 46 points in its favor, Stanford left with a loss this past week, stumbling in Tennessee's footsteps in that regard. Chattanooga was also one of the busiest teams since the last rankings, picking up more predictable additional wins at Belmont and UT-Martin and at home against Morgan State and North Carolina A&T.
What to know: Two wins in one season against top-10 teams? Delaware never did that with Elena Delle Donne. Gonzaga never did it with Courtney Vandersloot. Green Bay, Marist, South Dakota State or Florida Gulf Coast? Not so much. It makes the loss at Arkansas State that much more difficult to understand (the blowout loss at Notre Dame and a close loss against a good South Florida team less so). Then again, as Florida Gulf Coast learned Monday, Arkansas State can be a tricky place to play in its own right. Freshman Keiana Gilbert led the way against the Lady Vols; sophomore Chelsey Shumpert did the honors with 18 points against the Cardinal. In fact, seniors account for just 20 percent of the team's points this season, so McKenzie Arena might not grow more welcoming any time soon.
What's next: vs. SIU Edwardsville (Dec. 28), vs. South Dakota (Dec. 29), at Harvard (Jan. 5)
4. James Madison (9-1)
What happened: As with several teams on this list, the schedule grew light as finals came and went. A trip to Ohio a few days after finals produced a workmanlike 69-62 win, but James Madison hit Christmas in style with an 85-53 victory against Hampton this past Saturday. The only bad news -- through no fault of its own -- is its season-opening win against UCLA, while still meaningful, carries less and less oomph as the Bruins continue to struggle.
What to know: Precious Hall kept up her scoring pace, totaling 23 points at Ohio and 30 points against Hampton, but coach Kenny Brooks said he didn't know if his team would have come away from Ohio with the win if not for Ashley Perez, who totaled nine points and seven rebounds off the bench. That was the first appearance of the season for Perez, who sat out the first semester to fulfill transfer requirements after arriving from St. John's. She followed with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists (albeit also with five turnovers) against Hampton.
What's next: at Vanderbilt (Dec. 29), vs. Towson (Jan. 4), vs. UNCW (Jan. 6)
5. Florida Gulf Coast (10-2)
What happened: Florida Gulf Coast had a little bit of a tough time putting away Providence at home and less trouble with Bethune-Cookman on the road or Northern Colorado at home. But a trip to Arkansas State on Monday night was a lot of trouble. The Eagles trailed for a little more than half the game but came away with a 74-68 win. Perhaps the best result of the past two weeks for Florida Gulf Coast was Ohio State routing West Virginia on Monday. All of a sudden, that double-overtime loss to the Buckeyes in the U.S. Virgin Islands looks that much better.
What to know: Kaneisha Atwater is fast becoming a name to know. Atwater scored 12 of her 18 points against Arkansas State after halftime to help Florida Gulf Coast get out of town with the win. She also scored 33 points in the victory against Providence. Even with a light day in the rout at Bethune Cookman, she's averaging 12.6 shots per game in the past seven games. Earlier it was Stephanie Haas filling the void left by Sarah Hansen. Now it's Atwater.
What's next: vs. Cal State Northridge (Dec. 28). vs. Quinnipiac or Saint Joseph's (Dec. 29), at Harvard (Jan. 2)
6. Western Kentucky (10-2)
What happened: A front-loaded schedule meant Western Kentucky coasted into the holidays with comfortable wins at Austin Peay and at home against Ball State. In fact, since an overtime victory at Hofstra in November, Western Kentucky ran through five December games winning by an average of 33.6 points per game. While the start date of seasons plays a role, it's impressive that this marks just the second time the Lady Toppers piled up 10 wins before Christmas.
What to know: Chastity Gooch, Alexis Govan and Kendall Noble account for 56 percent of Western Kentucky's points, 50 percent of its rebounds, 52 percent of its assists and 55 percent of its steals. By way of comparison, Notre Dame's Natalie Achonwa, Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride, a pretty nifty trio a season ago, accounted for 56 percent of their team's points, 43 percent of its rebounds, 41 percent of its assists and 40 percent of its steals.
What's next: at Belmont (Dec. 29), at Marshall (Jan. 4)
7. George Washington (9-2)
What happened: George Washington closed out the pre-Christmas portion of its schedule with two comfortable wins at home, beating Memphis by 19 points and Saint Mary's by 18 points. The latter had a tough trip east, also losing at Virginia before its stop in the nation's capital, but the result is still up there with earlier victories against NC State and Purdue as the most impressive of the season for the Colonials.
What to know: George Washington continues to dominate inside, second only to Duke in rebound margin nationally as of Monday, but there could be cause for concern on the perimeter as Atlantic 10 play approaches. The Colonials have been without guard Lauren Chase for three games in a row following her 22-point performance in a win against Fresno State. Chase also leads the team in assists per game.
What's next: at Loyola (Dec. 28), at Towson (Dec. 31), at Dayton (Jan. 4)
8. Long Beach State (11-1)
What happened: No team here was more productive since the last rankings than new arrival Long Beach State. After an earlier overtime loss against USC, Long Beach didn't let another chance for a Pac-12 victory slip away, beating ranked California on Dec. 13. It followed that three days later with a win against LSU. And while a victory against an SEC team carries name recognition, a win this past weekend against Pacific was no less impressive. None of those opponents scored more than 56 points against the 49ers, and Cal needed overtime to reach even that total.
What to know: Long Beach State goes right at opponents defensively. Cal's Brittany Boyd put up some numbers, because rare is the game in which she doesn't, but she also had nine of Cal's 31 turnovers in its loss. LSU's Raigyne Moncrief, the team's primary playmaker, was charged with eight turnovers in 26 minutes. Pacific's Kristina Johnson, one of her team's two primary ball handlers, suffered through six turnovers in 19 minutes and fouled out.
What's next: vs. LIU Brooklyn (Dec. 28), at Colorado (Dec. 30)
9. Dayton (7-3)
What happened: Dayton moves backward in the rankings, but don't confuse that with the team's forward momentum on the court. The Flyers are leapfrogged here by some new arrivals with splashy recent victories, but the preseason mid-major No. 1 team is producing results more and more commensurate with that label of late. Wins at home against Toledo and Central Michigan were expected, if not givens, but a victory at Vanderbilt this past weekend carries weight (especially considering Vanderbilt won the game in Nashville a season ago by 30 points).
What to know: Has Andrea Hoover been mentioned? Well, she's going to be mentioned again. Hoover was one of those receiving votes for espnW player of the week after her performances against Toledo (26 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Central Michigan (25 points, nine rebounds, six assists), the latter upstaging the Chippewas' Crystal Bradford. And it was more of the same at Vanderbilt, where she led the Flyers in all three categories with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.
What's next: vs. Green Bay (Dec. 28), at Central Michigan (Dec. 31), vs. George Washington (Jan. 4)
10. Indiana State (10-1)
What happened: Already a winner at Indiana a few days after Thanksgiving, Indiana State made a longer trip to New York City for a holiday tournament hosted by St. John's. After an opening win against SMU, the Sycamores outlasted St. John's in double overtime in a championship game with 11 lead changes. Time will tell how the Indiana and St. John's victories hold up, but those road results remain the only setbacks for the Hoosiers and Red Storm at the moment. Conference play begins with a huge road game at Wichita State, but Indiana State has won its past 10 road games.
What to know: This is probably where the obligatory Larry Bird reference comes for anything written about Indiana State. All right, well, there isn't a Bird-like figure for this team. But Jasmine Grier can do a pretty good Vinnie "Microwave" Johnson impersonation. A reserve who nonetheless averages the third-most minutes on the team, the senior from Commerce, Georgia (not French Lick, Indiana) scored 21 points in the win at St. John's and 18 points in the earlier victory at Indiana. In Indiana State's other nine games, she averaged 8.4 points per game.
What's next: at Wichita State (Jan. 2), at Missouri State (Jan. 4)
Next five: No. 11 South Dakota State, No. 12, UALR, No. 13 Cal State Northridge, No. 14 Wichita State, No. 15 Marist (tie), No. 15 Gonzaga (tie)
Previous rankings: Nov. 12 | Nov. 26 | Dec. 10