South Dakota State leads way in espnW preseason mid-major poll

Macy Miller led the Jackrabbits in points per game (15.5) and was last season's Summit League tournament MVP. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Months after South Dakota defeated Florida Gulf Coast in a WNIT championship game that doubled as a celebration of mid-major basketball, neither the Coyotes nor Eagles land in the preseason mid-major top 10.

Some gratitude, right?

But it's all part of the same story. There is a lot of good basketball played in the mid-major conferences -- enough to produce a WNIT final between teams that deserved to be in the larger tournament.

Ignore these teams at your own peril.

1. South Dakota State

2015-16 record: 27-7; lost in NCAA tournament second round

South Dakota State was about a minute away from the Sweet 16 a season ago. After upsetting Miami in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, the Jackrabbits led Stanford by four with 86 seconds to play in the round of 32. The win slipped away, but the message was delivered: South Dakota State is a perennial Summit League powerhouse. And now the Jackrabbits -- No. 25 in espnW's preseason top 25 rankings -- return players who were responsible for 86 percent of the minutes in that game against Stanford. The Jackrabbits' schedule this season includes trips to Oklahoma and Louisville and a mid-major clash against Green Bay.

Name to know: Macy Miller. South Dakota State sticks around year after year because it's never built around one player, but Miller is a heck of a cornerstone. Her elegant offensive game would work at any level.

2. Western Kentucky

2015-16 record: 27-7; lost in WNIT quarterfinals

The Hilltoppers are here with an assist from the state's two heavyweights. Former Louisville coach Michelle Clark-Heard is now the head honcho at Western Kentucky. And Kentucky is the source for impact transfers Jaycee Coe and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers (Goodin-Rogers will be eligible after the fall semester). Another vital addition: homegrown point guard Micah Jones, who was granted a fifth year after she tore her ACL in the second game last season. Western Kentucky will get a chance to turn some heads this season with games against DePaul, Indiana and Louisville (and potentially at least one of Baylor, Ohio State and Syracuse).

Name to know: Kendall Noble. She has been a conference freshman of the year, player of the year and twice its defender of the year. What's left after averaging 18.1 points per game, 7.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists? Maybe All-American.

3. Chattanooga

2015-16 record: 24-8; lost in NCAA tournament first round

Jim Foster started his schedule this season with games against Rutgers, Florida and Indiana, so maybe the Chattanooga coach thinks he has something special (games against Connecticut, Louisville and Notre Dame follow, as well as mid-major peers Green Bay and Florida Gulf Coast). The Lady Mocs return their three leading scorers and just about all the meaningful minutes that didn't go to Alicia Payne. They also welcome back Chelsey Shumpert, an all-conference pick whose 2015-16 season was reduced to three games by injury.

Name to know: Jasmine Joyner. Only Bethune-Cookman's Kailyn Williams has more blocks among active Division I players, and Joyner got off to a "slow" start with 56 blocks as a freshman. She has 258 the past two seasons.

4. Penn

2015-16 record: 24-5; lost in NCAA tournament first round

Penn battled back and forth with Washington in their first-round game last season, even though the Huskies won in the end. The reigning Ivy League champions return all six players who averaged double-digit minutes in 2015-16. The team's two centerpieces: Michelle Nwokedi and Sydney Stipanovich (19.7 rebounds per game and 5.4 blocks per game between them), and a deep backcourt with plenty of shooters carries its weight. Don't sleep on the opener at Duke.

Name to know: Michelle Nwokedi. She was a bit player as a freshman and then transformed into a sophomore who rarely left the court. Her development changed the trajectory of the team's national potential.

5. Green Bay

2015-16 record: 28-5; lost in NCAA tournament first round

First, the bad news: Megan and Kaili Lukan will not be with Green Bay this season. Both sisters graduated after enjoying a successful career on the court; they both embodied the program well. The Phoenix also lost Tesha Buck to transfer. But here's the good news: Allie LeClaire, Mehryn Kraker and Jessica Lindstrom are returning. The trio averaged double-digit scoring last season. And with three redshirt freshman, coach Kevin Borseth is back to his old stockpiling ways.

Name to know: Jessica Lindstrom. In a breakout sophomore season, Lindstrom grabbed nearly twice as many rebounds as any teammate, but she still hit 44 3-pointers.

6. Saint Louis

2015-16 record: 26-8; lost in WNIT third round

The Atlantic 10 is fertile mid-major ground, but Saint Louis is a less familiar representative in these rankings. These Billikens belong. Led by bona fide star Jackie Kemph, the team returns seven of nine rotation regulars. The Billikens also add Michigan transfer Paige Rakers, a needed 3-point asset, and Akron transfer Kerri McMahan. Unfortunately, while the A-10 offers challenges, Saint Louis didn't do itself favors with its schedule. Marquee home games against Missouri and Washington State probably won't be enough to build any kind of NCAA at-large résumé.

Name to know: Jackie Kemph. No returning player in the country averaged more assists per game last season, yet Kemph is also the third-leading returning scorer in the A-10. She's still just a junior.

7. Belmont

2015-16 record: 24-9; lost in NCAA tournament first round

The Bruins return all six players who started double-digit games en route to the NCAA tournament a season ago, which is promising continuity for a group that ranked in the top 30 nationally in overall field goal shooting, 3-point shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio. They also have useful size in 6-foot-3 Sally McCabe, the Ohio Valley Conference defensive player of the year. Belmont isn't going to get an at-large tournament bid, but home games against Green Bay and IUPUI offer notable tests, as do road trips to Louisville and Minnesota.

Name to know: Darby Maggard. Ranked No. 74 among incoming freshmen a season ago, sandwiched between Michigan and Ohio State signees, the 5-foot-5 Maggard played up to those credentials as a freshman.

8. Gonzaga

2015-16 record: 19-14; lost in WNIT second round

A loss against Utah in the WNIT snapped Gonzaga's streak of nine consecutive 20-win seasons, a stretch that included four trips to the Sweet 16. Some might see that as a sign of decline, but a healthy Elle Tinkle and a lot of backcourt depth might instead make it an aberration. Eligible transfers Chandler Smith (Nebraska) and Makenlee Williams (Utah State) could help. The Bulldogs play Stanford, Michigan and Florida State in the span of eight days in November.

Name to know: Jill Barta. Did the versatile, 6-3 Barta emerge late in the season as the next in a line of standouts, or did she feast on weak competition? We'll see, but she was fantastic in the WCC as a redshirt freshman.

9. Colorado State

2015-16 record: 31-2; lost in NCAA tournament first round

This is not the team that won 31 games last season. Of the seven players who played meaningful minutes against South Florida in the NCAA tournament, only three remain. The Rams didn't lose everything, though. In addition to Ellen Nystrom, the Mountain West preseason player of the year, the Rams return Elin Gustavsson, Stine Austgulen and Hannah Tvrdy, all of whom played important minutes last season.

Name to know: Ellen Nystrom. She's the reason to believe Colorado State has an encore, whether it's through scoring or making others better. She's a triple-double waiting to happen.

10. Bucknell

2015-16 record: 25-8; lost in WNIT second round

The Bison had to rank among the most injury-ravaged teams in the country last season, yet they still won a game in the postseason. So while graduating scorer Jacquie Klotz is a blow, simply staying healthy could alleviate much of that pain. That includes co-captain Megan McGurk, who missed the second half of last season. Early trips to North Carolina and Rutgers are interesting opportunities against wounded traditional powerhouses.

Name to know: Claire DeBoer. She ranked among the Patriot's top 10 in points, rebounds, assists and steals. DeBoer is listed as the league's preseason player of the year.