NCAA
Graham Hays, espnW.com 311d

Green Bay returns to top of mid-major rankings

Women's College Basketball, Green Bay Phoenix, Drexel Dragons, South Dakota Coyotes, Gonzaga Bulldogs, Elon Phoenix

Green Bay is the new No. 1 in the espnW mid-major rankings.

To the Phoenix and their fans, apologies in advance.

For the second ranking period in a row, a new No. 1 promptly lost twice. So the top spot changes hands for the fourth time in five tries, with Green Bay returning for a second go (days after the Phoenix first ascended, they lost to Wisconsin). South Dakota State was the only team to hold No. 1 longer than two weeks -- then the Jackrabbits lost their best player to a season-ending injury. It has been that kind of season in the mid-major world.

Now on to the rankings.

1. Green Bay (16-2, 7-0 Horizon)

It's not 91 victories in a row, but the Phoenix have a streak of eight consecutive wins with an average margin of victory of 25 points. Through the end of the past week, they ranked 13th in the nation in scoring margin and first among mid-major teams. The flip side, of course, is that all the routs can't stop Green Bay's slide in the RPI. Ranked No. 10 through Dec. 18, the Phoenix are No. 29 a month and seven wins later. Welcome to a mid-major's life. Still, the Phoenix are the only such team with a single-digit seed in Charlie Creme's latest bracket (Green Bay is a No. 7 seed). (Last ranking: 2)

Top honors: Mehryn Kraker (19.6 PPG, 52.1 field goal percentage, 3.6 RPG, 2.8 APG in five games). The fifth-year captain is quietly having perhaps the most efficient scoring season in the nation. She's shooting nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line, which is impressive enough, but she's also shooting 68 percent from inside the 3-point line. In other words, she's as efficient from 2-point territory as South Carolina's Alaina Coates.

2. Drake (13-4, 6-0 Missouri Valley)

Drake will see Green Bay's streak and raise it an average margin of victory of 29 points over the past two weeks (albeit aided heavily by a 51-point win at Illinois State). Speaking of Green Bay, Drake is 10-1 since its loss against the Phoenix in December. That includes wins against Iowa and Nebraska and a perfect start to conference play. But one of the trickiest parts of the schedule awaits. Northern Iowa and Indiana State are the other Missouri Valley teams with overall winning records this season. Drake plays them back to back: home against Indiana State on Jan. 22 and at Northern Iowa on Jan. 27. (Last ranking: 5)

Top honors: Lizzy Wendell (22.0 PPG, 58.3 field goal percentage, 3.5 APG, 3.3 SPG in four games). So basically, as good as that line looks, it was a typical fortnight for Drake's leading scorer. Of note in a long season when rest is valuable, she didn't need to play 30 minutes in any of the four games. She played at least 30 minutes in nine of the team's first 12 games.

3. Gonzaga (13-4, 4-2 West Coast)

Did the Bulldogs get it out of their system? That's the cautious conclusion here after the past two weeks, during which Gonzaga (which beat Stanford and Northwestern this season) rebounded from an 0-2 start in a conference that isn't as strong as its recent editions. Plenty of things aren't working quite as smoothly as they did earlier in the season, but a cold touch from the 3-point line is glaring. Gonzaga shot 37 percent from long range out of conference but is shooting just 28 percent on abundant attempts through six WCC games. (Last ranking: 7)

Top honors: Jill Barta (17.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.3 SPG in four games). There would be no four-game winning streak if not for Barta, whose 23 first-half points against Saint Mary's this past weekend kept the Bulldogs in the game long enough to rally for a late win (she finished with 33 points and seven steals).

4. Harvard (13-1, 1-0 Ivy)

Recent results are less compelling than for those teams ahead of the Crimson. Harvard had to rally late to win its Ivy opener against Dartmouth and trailed La Salle by double digits at halftime. That admittedly isn't the blueprint of previous Ivy representatives in these rankings. But after playing just five games in more than a month, perhaps it's just a case of rhythm temporarily lost. After a rematch at Dartmouth, Harvard hosts Cornell and Columbia, teams that are a combined 20-8. (Last ranking: 6)

Top honors: Madeline Raster (14.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.5 SPG in two games). Harvard is an ensemble act. Katie Benzan had the big fourth quarter against Dartmouth. Destiny Nunley had the double-double against La Salle. But Raster, who played her high school basketball just down the street from Notre Dame, was consistently productive throughout both games.

5. South Dakota (16-3, 5-1 Summit)

South Dakota lost its first game of the new year at North Dakota State, a team that had only three wins at the time. That's the first bad loss for South Dakota, which also lost in overtime at Wyoming and by three points at Arkansas. Although inflated by one outlier at Oral Roberts last week, it is nonetheless of some concern that South Dakota's assist-to-turnover ratio has slipped into negative territory. (Last ranking: 3)

Top honors: Jaycee Bradley (14.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG in four games). Allison Arens had a couple of her quieter scoring efforts in recent wins against IUPUI and Oral Roberts, but teammates picked her up. Bradley was the most consistent over all four games the past two weeks, hitting 11-of-27 3-point attempts in addition to the numbers above.

6. Elon (13-4, 5-0 Colonial)

Elon debuts, which means every Division I team nicknamed the Phoenix is represented (sorry, Swarthmore). The debut is also the reason we haven't yet discussed the previous mid-major No. 1 team. Elon beat Drexel twice in the span of 10 days, winning 48-45 in Philadelphia and 75-65 at home in North Carolina. Elon opened the season by scoring just nine first-half points in a loss at Green Bay, but it has slowly built a quality résumé. In addition to the wins against Drexel, it beat Bucknell and Central Michigan (teams otherwise a combined 27-5), played North Carolina to the wire and pushed Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Shay Burnett (9.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.3 SPG in four games). She is Elon's second-leading scorer on the season, but she leads the team in rebounds, assists and steals. Those all-around contributions shone through over the past two weeks.

7. Belmont (14-5, 6-0 Ohio Valley)

Ranked here in the preseason, the Bruins return on the strength of 12 wins in 13 games. The only setback in that stretch was a one-point loss at Minnesota. Belmont has hit at least one 3-pointer in all 115 games under coach Cameron Newbauer, but the more impressive long-range stat might be that the team has hit at least 10 3-pointers in 31 of those games. Belmont has only two games remaining against teams that currently have winning records, so it has as good a chance at running the table as any team in the top 10. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Sally McCabe (15.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 5.5 BPG in four games). Belmont does a lot of things that set it apart -- it ranks in the top 50 nationally in both 3-point accuracy and assist-to-turnover ratio. But nothing sets it apart from most mid-majors more than having a 6-foot-3 shot-blocking presence in the post (with 3-point range, of course).

8. Saint Louis (14-4, 4-1 Atlantic 10)

The Billikens have a favorable A-10 schedule, with many of what look like their most difficult games set for their home court in Chaifetz Arena. But they still have to win those games. That didn't happen against Dayton, cold shooting and tepid rebounding dooming the hosts. So they tumble four spots while we wait to see what happens when Fordham and George Washington, each on the cusp of these rankings, come to visit at the end of the month. (Last ranking: 4)

Top honors: Jackie Kemph (11.8 PPG, 9.0 APG in four games). Only Texas A&M's Curtyce Knox both averages more assists per game and has a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Kemph. So even if her own scoring and shooting has been a bit off the pace of a season ago, she continues to create plenty of points.

9. Drexel (12-4, 3-2 Colonial)

In an Elon-less world, things still look pretty rosy for the Dragons, who beat Northeastern by 30 points and UNCW by 33 points between losses against the Phoenix. But Elon does exist, and so Drexel, like most teams here, faces a reality in which an automatic bid is the only path to the NCAA tournament. There was no easily discernible formula for the losses. At home, Drexel had nearly twice as many turnovers as assists and couldn't hit a 3-pointer. On the road, it had more assists than turnovers and shot fine from long range but couldn't stop Elon on the boards. (Last ranking: 1)

Top honors: Jessica Pellechio (13.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG in four games). Drexel's wild card in any game, Pellechio scored 20 points at Northeastern, 24 points at Elon and just eight points in the other two games over the past two weeks. She also scored 30 points against Penn State earlier this season but has been in single digits eight times. When she's hot, she's hot.

10. Wyoming (13-3, 5-0 Mountain West)

Wyoming rolled through its first five league games, including blowout wins against Fresno State, UNLV and Utah State, all of which have winning records. That burnishes a résumé that included wins at Colorado and against South Dakota, as well as a competitive loss at Michigan State. There are teams on the cusp here that have discernible strengths -- George Washington's defense, Quinnipiac's turnovers. But Wyoming's offensive efficiency, ranking among the nation's best in adjusted field goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio, earns the Cowgirls the nod for now. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Liv Roberts (18.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 3.7 APG in three games). She's the model of efficiency in an efficient offense, shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line. But as the recent run suggests, she has a complete game, too.

Dropped out: Boise State, Ohio, Western Kentucky

Previous rankings: Nov. 3 (preseason) | Nov. 23 | Dec. 8 | Dec. 21 | Jan. 4

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