NCAA
Graham Hays, espnW.com 1035d

Western Kentucky moves into top five

Women's College Basketball, Dayton Flyers, George Washington Colonials, Green Bay Phoenix, James Madison Dukes, Western Kentucky Lady Toppers, Princeton Tigers, Chattanooga Lady Mocs, Long Beach State 49ers, Indiana State Sycamores

Well, this is awkward. Since last we ranked the best of the teams that make up the majority of Division I, more commonly known as mid-majors, there has been about as much in the way of seismic shifts as a typical Sunday in Duluth, Minnesota. The teams that were ranked last time out lost a grand total of no games the past two weeks. They didn't even dance with defeat in most cases, the few close games coming in contests that should have been competitive.

But unlike the team that holds down the top spot, we can't just take most of January off (save the complaints, we know final exams at Princeton aren't exactly the equivalent of a vacation). So on to a very familiar-looking top 10.

1. Princeton (17-0, 1-0 Ivy League)

What happened: Not much. Princeton opened Ivy League play with a convincing 83-54 victory against Penn, getting 25 points from Blake Dietrick and 17 rebounds from Annie Tarakchian, and that's it as far as games until Jan. 30.

What to know: The extended break in the schedule is nothing new for Princeton. It proved costly a season ago, when a team that already had defensive deficiencies was slow out of the gates in its first game back and lost at home against Harvard, but this group is around the top 20 nationally in field goal defense. Coach Courtney Banghart said she doesn't stick to a set formula for how to handle the break, but that this season is likely to be a mix of individual skill development (presumably 3-point shooting is all set for the nation's most accurate team), preparation for Ivy League opponents against whom the element of surprise is out the window and scrimmaging against male players.

What's next: at Harvard (Jan. 30), at Dartmouth (Jan. 31)

2. Green Bay (13-3, 3-0 Horizon)

What happened: The Phoenix opened their Horizon League schedule with back-to-back victories against what are likely to be challengers for the regular-season title and conference tournament hosting privileges: Wright State (on the road) and Youngstown State (at home). It's a full home-and-away schedule in the Horizon, so both opponents will appear again, but combined with a win at home against Milwaukee this past weekend (giving the Phoenix an in-state sweep after earlier victories against Marquette and Wisconsin), it's a strong start.

What to know: Megan Lukan might pursue rugby once her time on the basketball court is at an end, and it's easy to see why. In the first three conference games, Lukan totaled 27 rebounds and seven steals. Again, that's Green Bay's 5-foot-7 point guard. Let's just say if she was the one in front of the onside kick, the Packers would be in Arizona.

What's next: at Cleveland State (Jan. 22), at Detroit (Jan. 24), at Valparaiso (Jan. 29), at UIC (Jan. 31)

3. Chattanooga (16-3, 4-0 Southern)

What happened: It's tough to envision the Southern Conference being much of a challenge if teams can't score 50 points against Chattanooga. Then again, Stanford couldn't get to 50, either. The Lady Mocs allowed 43, 40, 52 and 46 points, respectively, in their first four SoCon games, all wins. For all its strength at home, site of the victories against Stanford and Tennessee, three of those recent results were road wins.

What to know: Chelsey Shumpert led Chattanooga in scoring in each of its past three wins, at Furman and North Carolina-Greensboro and home against Western Carolina. That's the first time this season the same player led the team in scoring in three consecutive games. Taylor Hall did so four times a season ago.

What's next: vs. Furman (Jan. 24), vs. Samford (Jan. 26), vs. Mercer (Jan. 31), at ETSU (Feb. 2)

4. Long Beach State (17-1, 4-0 Big West)

What happened: Long Beach State opened Big West play with four victories, although two came against UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, which appear to be the only truly noncompetitive teams in the league (they're a combined 3-34 this season, while every other team is .500 or better overall). On the more impressive side, a road win at Cal Poly this past weekend came two days before that team beat a very good Cal State Northridge.

What to know: Even offensive career highs underscore how well this team defends with depth. Hallie Meneses set career mark with 26 points in the victory against Cal Poly. Why is that a testament to defense? Because even at 17-1, that was the first time a Long Beach State player scored even 20 points in a regulation game this season.

What's next: vs. Cal State Northridge (Jan. 24), at Hawaii (Jan. 29), vs. Cal State Fullerton (Jan. 31)

5. Western Kentucky (16-2, 5-0 Conference USA)

What happened: Next time, send Florida State. The Conference USA representation from the Sunshine State didn't fare too well against Western Kentucky. In the span of 48 hours this past week, the Lady Toppers beat both Florida International and Florida Atlantic by a combined 76 points. No league team has yet come within 14 points.

What to know: Rare is the player who leads a team in both 3-pointers and free throws made, the play necessary for the latter not always compatible with spotting up for the former. Rarer still is the player who also leads in assists. But even in the shadow of Chastity Gooch, Alexis Govan and Kendall Noble, Micah Jones has at least a chance to do just that. She's the clear leader in 3-pointers and current leader in free throws, thanks to an 86 percent conversion rate.

What's next: at UTEP (Jan. 22), at UTSA (Jan. 24), vs. Louisiana Tech (Jan. 29), vs. Southern Miss (Jan. 31)

6. Florida Gulf Coast (16-2, 3-0 Atlantic Sun)

What happened: Florida Gulf Coast survived the heated Atlantic Sun rivalry with Stetson in its conference opener, winning 57-55 at home (a rout compared to the two most recent meetings that both went to overtime), and then cruised to much easier victories against North Florida and Jacksonville.

What to know: You wonder how a shooter like Taylor Gradinjan, a Milwaukee-area product, got away from Green Bay. Then you look at the weather forecast and remember the last two words in Florida Gulf Coast's name. Whatever the reason, the third-year freshman coming off back-to-back seasons lost to ACL injuries can shoot, and that means she can play for the Eagles. After getting sparse minutes at times this season, she averaged 23 minutes in the past three games and hit 8-of-18 3-pointers. She's shooting 48 percent from behind the arc for the season.

What's next: vs. USC Upstate (Jan. 22), vs. Kennesaw State (Jan. 24), at Lipscomb (Jan. 29), at Northern Kentucky (Jan. 31)

7. George Washington (16-2, 5-0 Atlantic 10)

What happened: The big game won at Dayton prior to the last edition of the rankings, George Washington moved on to grinding out mostly efficient A-10 victories against Saint Joseph's, Richmond, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The 59-49 win at Rhode Island this past weekend marked the first time all season the Colonials didn't score 60.

What to know: There has been a lot to like about George Washington in A-10 play, starting with Jonquel Jones (16.8 PPG, 14.0 RPG) and Caira Washington (16.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG). But the first five games also underscored that this is a team that has to win from inside the arc. The Colonials hit just seven 3-pointers (out of 45 attempts) in those games. If sophomore Shannon Cranshaw isn't hitting from long range, no one is. Will that come back to haunt them?

What's next: vs. Duquesne (Jan. 21), at La Salle (Jan. 24), at George Mason (Jan. 31)

8. James Madison (15-2, 6-0 Colonial)

What happened: Other than James Madison, there are only three teams in the CAA with winning records overall this season, and Kenny Brooks' team already beat two of them in conference play. Those victories this past week against Elon on the road and Drexel followed road wins against Northeastern and William & Mary since the last rankings.

What to know: It seems like Lauren Okafor can't miss in conference play. Actually, in the most recent win against Drexel, it didn't just seem that way. Okafor hit all seven of her shots against the Dragons. In six conference games she's shooting 66 percent and pushing Precious Hall for the team scoring lead.

What's next: vs. William & Mary (Jan. 22), at College of Charleston (Jan. 25), vs. Elon (Jan. 30)

9. Dayton (12-4, 3-1 Atlantic 10)

What happened: The Flyers are now tied for the nation's shortest home winning streak. But you have to start somewhere. After a loss against George Washington earlier this month ended a long streak at home, they beat Duquesne in Dayton to start a new streak, that game sandwiched between wins at Davidson and St. Bonaventure.

What to know: Dayton was tricky enough to deal with when led by a tandem. A trio isn't anything the rest of the A-10 wants to see. Or more precisely, see again. Andrea Hoover and Ally Malott are Dayton's pulse, but junior guard Amber Deane, so good in her first two seasons, is averaging 14.7 points and shooting 53 percent in six games since Christmas, compared to 6.0 points per game on 49 percent shooting before the holiday.

What's next: vs. Rhode Island (Jan. 21), at VCU (Jan. 24), at Richmond (Jan. 28), vs. Saint Louis (Jan. 31)

10. Wichita State (14-3, 5-0 Missouri Valley)

What happened: Wichita State still hasn't allowed an opponent to score 60 points since before Thanksgiving, the three most recent wins on the road at Missouri State, Bradley and Loyola. The games of the year in the league look like the home-and-home that pits the best defense against Drake, which leads the MVC in scoring offense, field goal offense and scoring margin and is also 5-0 so far.

What to know: While she trails Drake's Lizzy Wendell for the scoring lead in conference play, Alex Harden has accounted for 31 percent of Wichita State's points in conference play. Even Washington's prolific Kelsey Plum, by way of comparison, is only slightly ahead of that at 32 percent of her team's points in Pac-12 play.

What's next: vs. Illinois State (Jan. 23), vs. Southern Illinois (Jan. 25), at Northern Iowa (Jan. 30), at Drake (Feb. 1)

Next five: No. 11 Gonzaga, No. 12 UALR, No. 13 Saint Mary's, No. 14 Fresno State, No. 15 Quinnipiac

Previous rankings: Nov. 12 | Nov. 26 | Dec. 10 | Dec. 24 | Jan. 7

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