Preseason mid-major top 10 poll

Like the videos we no longer watch or the records we no longer listen to, mid-major is a term that might be in the process of outliving whatever it was that it was originally supposed to describe.

Are there five major conferences or seven? What is Dayton that Butler is not? If a tree falls in the forest near Storrs, Connecticut, does it make the American Athletic Conference important? And if we have high majors and mid-majors, where are the low majors? All reasonable questions that philosophers could ponder on windswept Himalayan peaks.

The objective here isn't to solve the riddle. It's to keep tabs on a lot of really good basketball programs that, generally speaking, go about their business without some combination of the budgets, attention and deference afforded others.

Perhaps there is a better name for the group of schools that represent the bulk of the basketball played in Division I but receive a smidgen of the attention. What these rankings are really about is college basketball's silent majority.

But until that catches on (I'm not holding my breath), we're stuck with mid-major.

Any team that is not in the American, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC is fair game.

1. Dayton (23-8 overall, 14-2 Atlantic 10, NCAA tournament)

What they have: A lot of familiar faces. Dayton lost one player who played even a single minute a season ago. For a team that won 23 games and ranked 13th nationally in points per game, that's a good place to start. Reigning Atlantic 10 player of the year Andrea Hoover could start for any team, and Ally Malott and Amber Deane are equally versatile running mates. Those three averaged 44.9 points, 18.6 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 3.7 steals per game a season ago.

How they can prove it: Opening weekend offers a trip to Washington State but also an even bigger game at Gonzaga. A win in that game might be interpreted as a transfer of mid-major power. The schedule also includes a home-and-home with Central Michigan and games against Green Bay, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Wright State and potentially Iowa.

Name to remember: Kelley Austria. Hoover makes the list of the top 10 mid-major players, but Austria's return from a torn ACL is a big deal for the Flyers. She was in the starting lineup for Dayton's exhibition game. In some ways a mini-Hoover, the junior guard is an asset on both ends of the court as one of the team's best 3-point shooters and best defenders. While not the sole factor, Dayton averaged 86.7 points per game with her and 76.1 points without her.

2. Western Kentucky (24-9 overall, 13-5 Sun Belt, NCAA tournament)

What they have: That classic mid-major recipe of senior savvy. The Lady Toppers have continuity overall, returning six players who averaged double-digit minutes a season ago, but specifically seniors Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan. Voted the Sun Belt's top player entering last season, Govan missed all but 11 games with a leg injury. She's back for the team's Conference USA debut. Reigning Sun Belt freshman of the year Kendall Noble also can't be overlooked.

How they can prove it: Western Kentucky has to hope for a sustained preseason WNIT run that could include games against Colorado, Penn State and West Virginia because there isn't much more "notice me" quotient to the rest of the schedule than a trip to Louisville and a conference visit from Middle Tennessee.

Name to remember: Gooch. Really, you were going to forget that name anyway? Other than a few more turnovers than assists, and that's really nitpicking, she checks off every box. She's an efficient shooter who can step outside to shoot the 3-pointer but doesn't push her luck and gets to the free throw line a lot. She rebounds and creates turnovers. And she has done it all in competitive games against the likes of Baylor and Louisville.

3. George Washington (23-11 overall, 11-5 Atlantic 10, WNIT)

What they have: It hasn't taken former Notre Dame assistant coach Jonathan Tsipis long to restore the Colonials to their former standing. Some key components must be replaced, including shooter Megan Nipe and point guard Danni Jackson, but a full season of Jonquel Jones is a good place to start. Three more starters return and UMBC transfer and potential point guard replacement Lauren Chase is eligible and healthy after missing all of last season.

How they can prove it: The season opener at Florida Gulf Coast is a sneaky big game, but higher-profile tests will be a visit from Maryland, games against NC State and either Purdue or Texas Tech in the Bahamas, and two conference games against Dayton. Fresno State, Georgetown, Memphis and Saint Mary's also make visits.

Name to remember: Jones. The 6-foot-4 transfer from Clemson is the kind of athletic post presence that mid-major programs typically must do without. In 23 games after becoming eligible a season ago, she averaged 14.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. She also averaged 4.1 turnovers per game, so there is some work still to be done with the Bahamas native, but that only makes it more tempting to think about the finished product.

4. Green Bay (22-10 overall, 13-3 Horizon, WNIT)

What they have: Experience and youth. Green Bay remains one of the youngest teams in Division I, with just three juniors or seniors on the roster, but it's largely the same roster that won 22 games a season ago while even younger. Kaili Lukan and Tesha Buck are the returning double-digit scorers, while redshirt senior Megan Lukan, the last tie to Green Bay's Sweet 16 team, is the conductor at point guard. By Green Bay standards, there is also some size inside.

How they can prove it: They aren't short on opportunities. Green Bay's first three games are at Marquette, Vanderbilt and Purdue. The home opener is Duquesne, no sure win, followed by games against Georgia Tech and either Arizona State or Villanova in Florida. December brings trips to South Dakota State and Dayton, and a visit from Wisconsin.

Name to remember: Mehryn Kraker. When Kevin Borseth went to Michigan, he left replacement Matt Bollant a gift to develop in former All-American Julie Wojta. The ceiling might not be that high, but perhaps Bollant returned the favor in leaving Kraker for Borseth's return. Kraker was solid through the first half of last season, her first on the court after a redshirt season, but over the final 15 games, she averaged 12.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 46 percent from the 3-point line on better than five attempts per game.

5. Wichita State (26-7 overall, 14-4 Missouri Valley, NCAA tournament)

What they have: They have Alex Harden. That should be good for 20 wins. The rest is fiddling around the margins. All right, that might be hyperbole, but the senior guard is worth as many wins to her program as just about any player. In addition to scoring, she led Wichita State in assists and steals and ranked second in blocks and rebounds. The team also returns three more starters and its top reserve, including versatile Jamilla Bonner as the second-leading scorer.

How they can prove it: It won't be in conference play, so the Shockers will need to do their work early against a schedule that opens against former league rival Creighton and includes in the span of a month neutral-site games against Florida Gulf Coast and Ohio State, as well as a visit from Kansas State and a trip to Tennessee.

Name to remember: Alie Decker. While Harden is the name you should know, Decker is the complementary asset. It's tough for any team, mid-major or otherwise, to win without 3-point shooting, but the Shockers made fewer and shot a worse percentage than their opponents more often than not in recent seasons. That changed because Harden, along with everything else, added the shot to her game, but more because Decker was healthy and hit 50 3-pointers.

6. Florida Gulf Coast (26-8 overall, 17-1 Atlantic Sun, NCAA tournament)

What they have: To whatever degree he was part of the Indiana coaching search, Karl Smesko is still in the coaching chair with a renegotiated long-term contract, and that's the most important news for Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles attempted more than a thousand 3-pointers a season ago and were one of only two teams to connect on an average of at least 10 3-pointers per game. Five of their six most prolific outside shooters return.

How they can prove it: Florida Gulf Coast plays George Washington, Auburn, Wichita State, Clemson and Ohio State before December arrives, so it won't take long to get a read on this team. The schedule softens from there, with a potential game at Saint Joseph's in a New Year's tournament the remaining highlight.

Name to remember: Whitney Knight. She was the Atlantic Sun's best 3-point shooter, but that only scratches the surface of what the 6-3 redshirt junior contributes. She also ranked third in the conference in blocked shots, a rare combination if ever there was one. For good measure, she also led Florida Gulf Coast in defensive rebounds.

7. Gonzaga (29-5 overall, 16-2 West Coast, NCAA tournament)

What they have: Not surprisingly, given the kind of success enjoyed during the past decade, Gonzaga stayed in the family to replace Kelly Graves. Lisa Fortier is a first-time head coach and just 10 years removed from the conclusion of her own playing career, but she has been at Gonzaga for all but one year since. On the court, while Graves leaves big shoes to fill, he also leaves big bodies. The Bulldogs have six players listed at 6-2 or taller, including Sunny Greinacher, the leading returning scorer and rebounder, and touted 6-5 redshirt freshman Emma Wolfram.

How they can prove it: Dayton is a heck of an opening game for the Fortier era, but this is a schedule with space to breathe (and not much on which to build an at-large profile). The big test is Iowa in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend, while games at Wyoming and Northwestern in a four-day span will be a basketball and travel test.

Name to remember: Lindsay Sherbert. Someone needs to get all those bigs the ball, and Gonzaga lost 59 percent of its assists. Junior college transfer Georgia Stirton started the team's exhibition game, and German freshman Emma Stach is a very intriguing prospect. But even if it won't be as a point guard, per se, Sherbert will be an important presence in keeping the offense running smoothly and providing the outside component of inside-outside play.

8. Middle Tennessee (29-5 overall, 15-1 Conference USA, NCAA tournament)

What they have: Well, they're supposed to have Cheyenne Parker, the 6-4 former two-time Big South defensive player of the year at High Point who would help ease the loss of all-time great Ebony Rowe. But Parker is suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. None of the other returning players shot even 40 percent from the field last season, but there are enough bodies to play the kind of defense that creates points for Rick Insell's teams.

How they can prove it: Parker will reportedly miss games at Arizona State and at home against Miami and Arkansas to open the season, all potentially useful résumé wins. Games at Kentucky and South Dakota State in a three-day span in December are the other marquee dates on a schedule not quite as stacked as seasons past.

Name to remember: Gabby Lyon. Surely not, right? Surely Insell hasn't already found the next under-recruited regional product who, like Rowe, Alysha Clark and Chrissy Givens, will start piling up statistics. Lyon got more run than any other player in the exhibition opener and finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and three blocks. It was an exhibition, so we won't go crazy, but it's not as if it would be an unfamiliar script in Murfreesboro.

9. Marist (27-7 overall, 18-2 MAAC, NCAA tournament)

What they have: Marist bid adieu to a pair of three-year starters and another two-year starter, but the cupboard is never bare. On talent alone, Madeline Blais and Sydney Coffey hold their own with any who have been part of the Marist dynasty. Tori Jarosz seems fated to forever battle injuries, the latest a foot injury that will keep her out until at least December. At this point, her presence must be a bonus rather than a necessity, but that's still a big bonus.

How they can prove it: With 20 conference games, there aren't a whole lot of schedule openings. Marist's signature game is at Baylor on Nov. 30, the third game in three days for both teams. Home dates against St. John's, Albany and South Dakota State are more likely opportunities to boost the résumé. But it's MAAC automatic bid or bust.

Name to remember: Blais. Just as some baseball players have picture-perfect swings, you won't find a more textbook shooting motion in college basketball. No wonder she shot 54 percent from the field, 48 percent from the 3-point line and 85 percent from the free throw line as the team's second leading scorer a season ago. She's not going to be the stopper Leanne Ockenden was the past four seasons, but the next step is to increase her non-shooting contributions.

10. Colorado State (25-8 overall, 15-3 Mountain West, WNIT)

What they have: Colorado State has one of the most eclectic rosters in college basketball, with players from Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but it's the roster's balance that makes the Rams an appealing pick. Four of six players who averaged between 9.4 and 11.5 points per game a season ago return. The Rams ranked seventh in the nation last season in assist-to-turnover ratio and 20th in free throw percentage. They don't beat themselves.

How they can prove it: When your schedule includes not one but two schools with "of Mines" in their name, you might not have the toughest schedule. The Colorado School of Mines and South Dakota School of Mines (the spectacularly nicknamed Hardrockers) notwithstanding, a trip to BYU and a potential game against Colorado are the highlights.

Name to remember: Gritt Ryder. First, it's one of the best names in college basketball and a perfect fit for a school in a place called Fort Collins, even if the Rams had to go to Denmark to get her. But the do-everything guard is also worth remembering for her game. Part of that balanced scoring a season ago at 11.2 points per game, she also averaged 4.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game and led the team in free throw attempts (hitting 80 percent of those attempts).

Next five: No. 11 James Madison, No. 12 Albany, No. 13 Saint Joseph's, No. 14 BYU, No. 15 St. Bonaventure