Mid-majors making major news

These are good times for mid-majors. Five teams that qualify for the rankings below were part of the most recent Associated Press Top 25, led by Princeton at No. 16. Not since the 2011-12 season, when Delaware and Green Bay hovered around the AP top 10 and four mid-majors were ranked, has the landscape looked as good at this time of year. So with only one more edition of the mid-major top 10 to come before the teams (hopefully) get a chance to prove themselves on the court in the NCAA tournament, here we go.

1. Princeton (23-0, 7-0 Ivy League; Charlie Creme's projected NCAA tournament seed: 6)

What happened: Princeton won't go through the Ivy League without a scare, or at least something akin to a slightly unsettled rumble in its stomach. For just the second time this season, and the first since the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Princeton won by single digits when it beat Yale 56-50 in New Haven, Connecticut, on Saturday. The Tigers led by just a single point with four minutes to play and by a single possession with 30 seconds to play.

What to know: Princeton's schedule isn't bad, but it undeniably lacks marquee opposition. That said, it's worth pointing out how the Tigers have gone about getting those wins -- or more specifically, where they got those wins. Friday's game against Dartmouth will be just the eighth home game of the season for the New Jersey school. No team in the AP top 10 has played fewer than 11 home games. Baylor, Duke and Notre Dame have each played 15 of them, while Louisville is at 16.

What's next: vs. Dartmouth (Feb. 20), vs. Harvard (Feb. 21), vs. Yale (Feb. 27), vs. Brown (Feb. 28)

2. Chattanooga (23-3, 11-0 Southern; Creme's projected seed: 8)

What happened: Chattanooga played just three games since the most recent rankings, and given that its smallest halftime lead in any of them was 18 points, this should be a rested group. The lone post player taller than 6 feet in the starting lineup, Jasmine Joyner, made the most of the routs. She averaged 16.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 2.3 steals in the wins. The 6-foot-2 sophomore entered the weekend sixth nationally in blocked shots.

What to know: Everyone knows by now about the wins against Stanford and Tennessee. But the three teams that defeated Chattanooga this season are a combined 34-5 in conference play. As the end of the regular season approaches, that five-point loss at Arkansas State and two-point loss at home against South Florida look better and better. (The rout at the hands of Notre Dame is what it is, but it doesn't distinguish the Lady Mocs from a lot of ACC teams that suffered a similar fate.)

What's next: at Samford (Feb. 21), at Mercer (Feb. 23), vs. East Tennessee State (Feb. 28)

3. Florida Gulf Coast (23-2, 10-0 Atlantic Sun; Creme's projected seed: 10)

What happened: The Atlantic Sun juggernaut swept the season series from rival Stetson in satisfying fashion. After a close call at home against the Hatters in January, FGCU held them to 39 points in the rematch. Stetson remains the only other team in the Atlantic Sun with a winning conference record, so the title is all but done and dusted. The Eagles followed that rivalry victory with similarly stingy, and comfortable, wins against Northern Kentucky and Lipscomb.

What to know: Florida Gulf Coast entered the weekend as one of only three teams in the country averaging at least 10 3-pointers per game. The other two, Sacramento State and DePaul, ranked Nos. 342 and 299, respectively, in scoring defense. That isn't because they necessarily stink at defense but because of the pace at which they play to get up all those 3-pointers. Florida Gulf Coast? It ranked No. 25 nationally in scoring defense by the end of last week.

What's next: at Kennesaw State (Feb. 19), at USC Upstate (Feb. 21), at North Florida (Feb. 25), vs. Jacksonville (Feb. 28)

4. James Madison (22-2, 13-0 Colonial; Creme's projected seed: 6)

What happened: If the school's namesake had been this dominant, we might all get the third Monday in March off in honor of his birthday. Only Liberty in the Big South has a bigger lead in a conference race than James Madison does in the CAA. Drexel, Hofstra and Delaware are in second, third and fourth, respectively, and James Madison just opened up a four-game cushion by beating the three of them by a combined 58 points in the past week and a half.

What to know: It is a familiar formula by now: Precious Hall scores, Lauren Okafor rebounds, and Angela Mickens assists. But if you want to see some balance, take a look back at the team's win against Towson last week. The starting lineup combined for 71 of the team's 79 points, with four players scoring 15 points and no starter taking more than 13 shots. Also of note in that game: referee Warren Harding Jr. What will it take to get him to officiate a game in which James Madison plays George Washington on Presidents Day? Kenny Brooks and Jonathan Tsipis, can we make this happen?

What's next: at UNCW (Feb. 19), vs. Hofstra (Feb. 22), vs. Northeastern (Feb. 27), at Delaware (March 1)

5. Green Bay (20-4, 10-1 Horizon; Creme's projected seed: 8)

What happened: It was as surprising a result as there has been in the conference portion of the season, but Green Bay lost its first Horizon League game. Not on the road against a challenger but at home against an Oakland team that has just three other league wins and which trailed in that game by 11 points in the second half. The Phoenix did bounce back with successive victories against third-place Cleveland State and second-place Wright State.

What to know: In three games since the loss to Oakland, Tesha Buck is averaging 12.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists and Mehryn Kraker is averaging 17.3 points and 3.0 assists and shooting 42 percent from the 3-point line. That's a good response. There are a lot of parts that make the whole in Green Bay, but Buck and Kraker are going to feature prominently if the team succeeds. It's easy to look past the fact that each is just now wrapping up her second season on the court.

What's next: vs. Valparaiso (Feb. 19), vs. UIC (Feb. 21), at Oakland (Feb. 26), at Youngstown State (Feb. 28)

6. George Washington (22-3, 11-1 Atlantic 10; Creme's projected seed: 5)

What happened: It was suggested here a few weeks back that 3-point shooting might bite the Colonials at some point this season. It did, but not quite in the way envisioned. George Washington fell on the road under a barrage of Saint Louis 3-pointers for its first loss in the Atlantic 10. It still has a one-game lead on Dayton, and a season sweep against that team, and got back on track with a 22-point win against St. Bonaventure on Sunday.

What to know: Along with the West Coast Conference, the Atlantic 10 is the best league that falls under the umbrella of these rankings. There really isn't much, if anything, that separates it from the Big East or the Connecticut-less part of the American Athletic Conference. So perhaps it's not entirely surprising that, even as it wins, George Washington watches its statistical profile suffer. Almost uniquely in these rankings, its field goal percentage, field goal defense, rebounding margin and scoring margin are all worse in conference play than out of conference. The Colonials are being pushed, even if the scores don't always indicate it.

What's next: at VCU (Feb. 18), vs. Fordham (Feb. 21), at Richmond (Feb. 26)

7. Gonzaga (21-4, 14-0 West Coast; Creme's projected seed: 10)

What happened: Playing the bottom half of the conference should have made for a quiet stretch. In three cases, routs of Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, it did. In the other case, well, four overtimes later Gonzaga escaped against San Francisco with a win. Still, the first season under Lisa Fortier looks a lot like all those seasons of WCC domination under Kelly Graves.

What to know: Lindsay Sherbert scored 33 points in the four most recent wins. Why is that worth knowing? Because it's more than a third of the points the senior has scored all season. Bedeviled by a knee injury, the Cal transfer, who was one of only two returning double-digit scorers this season, has played a minimal role. But if she can provide some shooting off the bench, and she hit 5 of 6 3-point attempts in the past two games, it's a huge plus for the postseason.

What's next: vs. Saint Mary's (Feb. 19), vs. Pacific (Feb. 21), at San Diego (Feb. 26), at BYU (Feb. 28)

8. Dayton (19-5, 10-2 Atlantic 10; Creme's projected seed: 7)

What happened: That Dayton lost the return game on the road against George Washington on Feb. 8 after earlier losing at home is understandable, but the Flyers will have to be disappointed they couldn't dictate tempo enough in either game to reach 70 points, the baseline for where they are comfortable. They did bounce back with convincing wins against Richmond and Saint Joseph's.

What to know: The rebounding numbers for some of the most accurate 3-point shooters in the country dispel the notion of the spot-up shooter who won't mix it up inside. Among the top 10 in 3-point accuracy, Connecticut's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Niagara's Meghan McGuinness and the Princeton tandem of Blake Dietrick and Michelle Miller all average at least four rebounds per game. That said, even Dietrick at 4.8 rebounds per game isn't in the same league as Dayton's Andrea Hoover at 7.2 rebounds per game (although it's worth noting that Princeton's Annie Tarakchian, who is shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line but is just shy of qualifying for the leaders, averages 8.9 rebounds per game).

What's next: at Fordham (Feb. 18), vs. La Salle (Feb 22), vs. Massachusetts (Feb. 26), at Saint Louis (March 1)

9. Western Kentucky (21-4, 10-2 Conference USA; Creme's projected seed: 12)

What happened: The Lady Toppers regained momentum after a pair of stumbles in quick succession at the end of January. Wins on a Texas swing against North Texas and Rice preceded a win at home against Marshall. They can't overlook UAB this week, but that sets the stage for a massive game against Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, the lone meeting between the teams this season.

What to know: Concern about Western Kentucky's depth has been expressed here and other places. The starters play a lot of minutes (which allows them to do things like collect 10 steals, as Kendall Noble did against North Texas). But freshman Tashia Brown is starting to do more than just provide some relief minutes off the bench. In the three most recent wins, she averaged 10.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 24.3 minutes per game.

What's next: vs. UAB (Feb. 19), vs. Middle Tennessee State (Feb. 21), at Florida Atlantic (Feb. 26), at Florida International (Feb. 28)

10. Quinnipiac (23-3, 15-0 MAAC; Creme's projected seed: 13)

What happened: There is still some work to do, and a lot of road games to play, but Quinnipiac at least unofficially marked its coronation in the MAAC by beating Marist on the road by 18 points Thursday. That came three weeks after the Bobcats beat the Red Foxes at home and three days after it did the same to third-place Iona. Of course, life at the top is perilous, and Quinnipiac needed overtime to escape with a win Sunday against afterthought Canisius.

What to know: The win in Poughkeepsie marked the first time in more than a decade, essentially the span of the Brian Giorgis era, that a conference opponent swept the season series against Marist. For a team that didn't have any signature wins out of conference, the best against alphabetically friendly Alabama, Albany and Army, that is a big deal. Quinnipiac's top four scorers and its assists leader are all seniors, so there is some continuity at work for a group that reached the WNIT or NCAA tournament in each of its first three seasons. But the piece that might put the Bobcats over the top, while also in her final season, is newcomer Val Driscoll. The 6-4 Michigan transfer lends much-needed size and strength inside and is averaging nearly three blocks per game over the past month.

What's next: vs. Saint Peter's (Feb. 19), at Iona (Feb. 22), at Manhattan (Feb. 24), at Rider (Feb. 26), at Monmouth (March 1)

Next five: Wichita State, UALR, Drake, Middle Tennessee State, American

Previous rankings: Nov. 12 | Nov. 26 | Dec. 10 | Dec. 24 | Jan. 7 | Jan. 21 | Feb. 4