Flyers, Colonials prepare to clash

Late in a December game at Vanderbilt, his team clinging to a lead on a day when he used just seven players and four of them finished with either four or five fouls, Dayton coach Jim Jabir called for a zone defense to try to lessen the likelihood of someone picking up a foul the team could not afford.

Senior guard Andrea Hoover came down the court and promptly called out a man-to-man defense.

Insurrection? In this case, more like reflection. They are simply too much alike to avoid occasional confrontation.

"We have this repartee back and forth and a lot of respect," Jabir said of the player whose career is winding down. "I mean, a lot of respect. She knows what I want, and she knows how to win. That's what we're going to miss the most."

Jabir is a Brooklyn, New York, native who still has more than a trace of the accent, and all the sarcasm, to prove it after more than a decade in the Midwest. Hoover is born and raised Ohio, an unassuming, almost reserved, sort off the court who attended a small Seventh-Day Adventist school and had to reconcile her faith, and its prohibitions on Saturday activities, with the athletic talent she believed it was her responsibility to use.

Yet somehow the two rather different worlds from which they come overlap, like the smallest sliver in a Venn diagram, in the space between the lines of a basketball court. She has earned the right to freelance from time to time, to follow her instincts.

The weekend ahead will be one a lot of basketball fans spend waiting for Monday and the small matter of No. 1 South Carolina visiting No. 2 Connecticut (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The best game of the weekend proper is probably the Pac-12 encounter between Arizona State and Stanford on Friday, each team with one loss and trying not to lose contact with first-place Oregon State. Sunday, too, offers three games between ranked teams. But if you want to invest some time in a weekend game, you could do much worse than Sunday's encounter between Dayton and No. 24 George Washington.

On one side is league leader George Washington's Jonquel Jones, a star still ascending with a season to play beyond this one. She is a force who can make a strong case as the best player currently competing outside the ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC (or the Power 5 and Connecticut, if you prefer). It's a case she strengthened a month ago in Dayton when she put up 24 points, 17 rebounds, two steals and a block in a 69-66 win. Behind Jones and an intimidating frontcourt around her, the Colonials are a resurgent program.

On the other side is Hoover, plagued by fouls in the previous meeting and facing a game her team can't afford to lose if it wants to win a conference championship. Nominally a guard but mostly just a basketball player, she ranks second in the Atlantic 10 in points per game (19.4), eighth in rebounding (7.6), 11th in assists (3.4) and first in 3-point field goal percentage (49 percent). Most people haven't had a chance to watch her play. And that is their loss.

Hoover's next field goal, assuming she doesn't hit a free throw first, will push her into fifth in Dayton history in career scoring. Given her scoring average and the team's postseason possibilities, she could move into third by the end of the season, with the most points of anyone to play for the Flyers in the past 30 years. That doesn't tell the story.

Hoover, along with classmate and former McDonald's All-American Ally Malott, chose Dayton when they had other options at schools with more history that played on bigger stages than those offered in the Atlantic 10. They chose Dayton, in much the same way someone like Courtney Vandersloot chose Gonzaga, and brought something new to a program already on the upswing with players like Justine Raterman and Kristin Daugherty. What Hoover means and has meant to Dayton can't be measured purely in points and rebounds, or even in trips to the NCAA tournament, although all of those things are part of it. What she means is why Jabir didn't lose his cool in the Vanderbilt game.

He trusts the program in her hands.

Sunday isn't everything, but it's a lot. Because there aren't many Sundays left for Hoover, and her coach knows it.

"Oh my God, I cry now," Jabir said earlier this season. "I miss her already, and she's not even gone."

When she goes, it will be like a piece of him leaving.

Although at least he'll be able to get someone to listen to his defensive calls.

Now on to the rankings.

1. Princeton (19-0, 3-0 Ivy)

What happened: In its first game back from an annual exam-induced extended hiatus one year ago, Princeton trailed Harvard by 14 points at halftime and lost at home. This year? Well, if there was any rust it was only in that Princeton outscored Harvard by 18 points in the first half, compared to 32 points in the second half of a 96-46 rout. Things were a little closer the next night at Dartmouth, but only a little, in an 83-65 win.

What to know: Odds are that there will be quite a few more blowouts in league play, which affords Princeton some minutes to experiment. Sophomore Vanessa Smith and junior Taylor Williams are two of the team's leaders in blocks, in addition to rebounds per 40 minutes. It will be worth watching to see if they get a chance to expand their time.

What's next: vs. Columbia (Feb. 6), vs. Cornell (Feb. 7), at Brown (Feb. 13), at Yale (Feb. 14)

2. Green Bay (17-3, 7-0 Horizon)

What happened: The Phoenix breezed through road games at Valparaiso and UIC this past weekend to wrap up an unbeaten stretch of four consecutive road games. The final score in a 67-52 win at Valparaiso was about as close as the home team got all night and UIC's good half in a 64-45 loss was when it scored 27 points and shot 33 percent. Only one of the first seven Horizon League opponents reached even 60 points against Green Bay.

What to know: There are options when it comes to Green Bay's best 3-point threat, Mehryn Kraker and Allie LeClaire both certainly in the mix, but there is no contest on who has the purest shot. Everything about Tesha Buck's shot -- the quick release, quiet mechanics and soft touch -- is fun to watch and lately those shots have dropped. She shot 52 percent from the field, including 47 percent from the 3-point line, in the three most recent wins.

What's next: vs. Oakland (Feb. 4), vs. Cleveland State (Feb. 7), vs. Wright State (Feb. 12), at Milwaukee (Feb. 14)

3. Chattanooga (20-3, 8-0 Southern)

What happened: Chattanooga entered the AP Top 25 and ... well, it kept playing like it had all season. In three games as a ranked team, wins against Samford, Mercer and at East Tennessee State, the Lady Mocs allowed an average of 49 points per game (admittedly helped by holding Samford to 32 points). If Green Bay's streak is impressive, consider that no team has reached 60 points against Chattanooga since Tennessee did it in a loss on Nov. 26.

What to know: Chelsey Shumpert took the collar in the aforementioned 49-32 win against Samford, missing all six of the shots she attempted, but that's the outlier of late. In the other three games since last we checked on the Lady Mocs, the team's leading scorer averaged 18.0 points, 3.3 assists and shot 59 percent from the floor.

What's next: vs. Wofford (Feb. 9), vs. UNCG (Feb. 14), at Western Carolina (Feb. 16)

4. Florida Gulf Coast (20-2, 7-0 Atlantic Sun)

What happened: The Eagles are rolling through conference play, winning each of their four games since the last edition of these rankings by at least 14 points and a total margin of 75 points. It's a theme here in the top four, but defense is carrying the day. It's really difficult to beat these teams if you can't score 60 points, and only USC Upstate did in the recent stretch. Kennesaw State, Lipscomb and Northern Kentucky failed to reach 50.

What to know: Have we mentioned Whitney Knight? Well, sorry, it's about to happen yet again. The Florida Gulf Coast junior is (quietly?) putting together one of the great all-around seasons in the country. Even with a rare single-digit scoring performance mixed in, she averaged 14.8 points per game in the past four games. But that's not her only trick. Knight also totaled 30 rebounds, 18 blocked shots, 11 3-pointers and 10 assists in those games.

What's next: at Stetson (Feb. 7), vs. Northern Kentucky (Feb. 12), vs. Lipscomb (Feb. 14)

5. George Washington (19-2, 8-0 Atlantic 10)

What happened: While the rematch with Dayton looms, the rest of the A-10 has increasingly proved no match for the Colonials. The Dayton game remains the only single-digit win for George Washington in conference play, the most recent routs by 15 points at Massachusetts, 27 points against Duquesne (a game in which Jones needed just 24 minutes to total 22 points and 17 rebounds), 19 points against La Salle and 35 points against George Mason.

What to know: It might not be the model of how they want every game to go, but it's a pretty impressive statement of ability that George Washington routed La Salle in a game in which none of its players hit more than three field goals. In the moment, that's a rough shooting day (27.5 percent for the game). But if a team is going to have an off day, getting 29 offensive rebounds and points from 10 players is a nice way to do it.

What's next: vs. Davidson (Feb. 5), vs. Dayton (Feb. 8), at Saint Louis (Feb. 11), vs. St. Bonaventure (Feb. 15)

6. James Madison (18-2, 9-0 Colonial)

What happened: James Madison won its three games since the most recent rankings by 20, 29 and 42 points, so, yeah, not much in the way of drama. The 89-60 victory this past weekend against Elon, a team that still has a winning record in league play and overall, was the most impressive of the results. James Madison doubled up its opponent 44-22 in the opening half and cruised at home.

What to know: Not that anyone minded, but the Elon game actually broke a string of three consecutive games of 20 or more points from Precious Hall (she had 18 points against Elon). After a rough couple of weeks for her shooting percentage, she's shooting 46 percent over the past four games, including 42 percent (15 of 36) from the 3-point line. That's a nice development with a road trip to second-place Drexel and third-place Hofstra ahead this week.

What's next: at Hofstra (Feb. 6), at Drexel (Feb. 8), at Towson (Feb. 12), vs. Delaware (Feb. 15)

7. Dayton (16-4, 7-1 Atlantic 10)

What's next: at George Mason (Feb. 5), at George Washington (Feb. 8), vs. Richmond (Feb. 11), vs. Saint Joseph's (Feb. 15)

8. Gonzaga (17-4, 10-0 West Coast)

What happened: Welcome back. The West Coast Conference power returns to the rankings as it holds down its accustomed place atop the conference. Gonzaga has 11 wins in a row since a loss against Northwestern, and while that quantity can't erase some of the missed opportunities early in the season, recent victories at Saint Mary's and Pacific are consequential. Everything points to the closing stretch against Saint Mary's, Pacific, San Diego and BYU.

What to know: It can't be a coincidence that Gonzaga hit its stride as Elle Tinkle emerged as a consistent producer in a bunch of phases. She totaled 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals in the win at Saint Mary's and 15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals in the victory at Pacific. She's averaging 16.3 points per game in WCC play, giving Gonzaga a dynamic duo alongside the ever-steady Sunny Greinacher.

What's next: vs. Santa Clara (Feb. 5), vs. San Francisco (Feb. 7), at Loyola Marymount (Feb. 12), at Pepperdine (Feb. 14)

9. Drake (14-6, 9-0 Missouri Valley)

What happened: Drake won its first eight games in Missouri Valley play, but it was the ninth win that cemented a place here. After an overtime victory against Missouri State on Friday, Drake beat league co-leader Wichita State on Sunday, its first regular-season win in that series since the 2009-10 season.

What to know: Recent bumps in the road notwithstanding, Minnesota has received, and deserved, praise for the way it played after losing Rachel Banham for the season. As we've seen at Texas without Nneka Enemkpali, adjusting to life without a star is usually tricky. But Drake has been without reigning MVC player of the year Kyndal Clark even longer than Minnesota has been without Banham. As Mechelle Voepel detailed, Lizzy Wendell has taken over as the go-to player and a mid-major super scorer. But credit, too, to freshman Becca Jones. When Drake lost to Wichita State at home a season ago, it finished with fewer rebounds than the Shockers. This time, with Jones responsible for 16 rebounds in addition to 10 points and five assists (we won't worry about the turnovers), Drake won the boards.

What's next: at Southern Illinois (Feb. 6), at Illinois State (Feb. 8), vs. Northern Iowa (Feb. 13)

10. Western Kentucky (18-4, 7-2 Conference USA)

What happened: The Lady Toppers played four conference games and outscored their opponents by 19 points -- they just didn't do it in quite the necessary ratios. Losses at UTSA (by one point) and at home against Southern Miss (by two points) doubled the team's total for the season, its only previous setbacks on the road at Mississippi State and Louisville. Western Kentucky did, at least, beat third place Louisiana Tech and at UTEP.

What to know: We're talking about two losses by a handful of points in what is truly a mid-major, not a low-major, conference. It's not time to jump ship. That said, is fatigue a concern as the season progresses? Western Kentucky's four key players and double-digit scorers all average more than 30 minutes per game. That's not true of the top four scorers on any other team in the top 10.

What's next: at North Texas (Feb. 5), at Rice (Feb. 7), vs. Marshall (Feb. 15)

Next five: Long Beach State, Wichita State, Quinnipiac, Fresno State, Middle Tennessee State

Previous rankings: Nov. 12 | Nov. 26 | Dec. 10 | Dec. 24 | Jan. 7 | Jan. 21