Drexel, Gonzaga make biggest jumps in espnW mid-major poll

Meghan Creighton hit seven 3-pointers to help Drexel upset No. 11 Syracuse. Courtesy Drexel Athletics

As the mid-major rankings near their second decade, you probably know the drill. There is a lot of good basketball being played beyond major conferences, and while "mid-major" might be a flawed label with too many imperfections to catalog, the goal here is to highlight those teams that aren't getting as much attention right now and could make a lot of noise come March.

The rules remain that any team not in the ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC is eligible for consideration. Check back every two weeks for the new top 10.

1. South Dakota State (4-0)

While only time and context will reveal the full value of the wins, victories against Creighton and Iowa put South Dakota State on a strong early footing. That's particularly true of the 66-64 win at Iowa in the second of back-to-back games. It was nearly a repeat of the NCAA tournament game at Stanford that slipped away a season ago, a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter in this case reduced to a tie with five seconds left. But Macy Miller's pullup with 1.7 seconds left secured the win. The Jackrabbits travel to Oklahoma on Wednesday. (Preseason ranking: 1)

Top honors: Miller (17.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 56.5 field goal percentage in four games). Beyond the winner, Miller recorded 26 field goals, 14 free throws, nine assists ... and five turnovers. So for every one time she gave away possession, she made 10 plays that led directly to points.

2. Gonzaga (3-0)

Through all the NCAA tournament wins and all the weeks ranked in the AP Top 25, Gonzaga couldn't shake one millstone around its collective neck. It couldn't beat Stanford. And even if the same was true of most of the Pac-12 through those years, seven consecutive losses (by an average of 21 points) since the schools first played in 2010 were part of Gonzaga's identity. No more after a 68-63 victory at Stanford on Nov. 18. Games against Michigan and Florida State on Thursday and Friday in the U.S. Virgin Islands will test those good vibes. (Preseason ranking: 8)

Top honors: Jill Barta (16.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 57.1 field goal percentage in three games). She was nearly perfect in Palo Alto, hitting 8-of-10 shots, including all three 3-pointers, and committing one turnover. She isn't going to cede the Pacific Northwest to Washington's Kelsey Plum and Oregon State's Sydney Wiese.

3. Drexel (3-1)

Drexel played with fire in its early scheduling, but, well, there be Dragons. Days after Gonzaga beat then-No. 11 Stanford, Drexel beat the Syracuse team that inherited that poll position. That result came after a season-opening win against Penn State that takes on new resonance after the Lady Lions proceeded to beat Tennessee. A competitive loss at Vanderbilt in which Drexel led in the fourth quarter is the only blemish. This team has yet to record more turnovers than assists in a game. When you shoot the 3-pointer well, as Drexel did against Penn State and Syracuse, extra possessions can make all the difference. (Preseason ranking: NR)

Top honors: Meghan Creighton (10.3 PPG, 5.5 APG, 5.0 RPG in four games). Sarah Curran and Jessica Pellechio scored more points, among many contributions, but Creighton went from offensive conductor to virtuoso soloist against Syracuse, hitting 7-of-10 3-pointers in the upset.

4. Green Bay (3-1)

Overshadowed by the game between Baylor and Connecticut the same night, Green Bay gave Notre Dame the kind of run in South Bend that few visiting teams manage. A shaky first quarter notwithstanding, it was as revealing a performance as a team could have. That it was ultimately a four-point loss doesn't change the conclusion. After all of that energy, emotional and physical, a road trip to Belmont on Nov. 22 could have been a loss waiting to happen. Instead, Green Bay pounded away (48 rebounds, 36 points in the paint) and outscored the host 40-27 in the second half. (Preseason ranking: 5)

Top honors: Jessica Lindstrom (14.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 45.0 3-point field goal percentage). Her coach says Lindstrom got tired of hearing her dad tell her to rebound more as a kid. Teammates talk about her curiously strong fingers. Whatever the case, Lindstrom doesn't look the part of rebound machine until the shot goes up. The ball shows up in her hands an inordinate amount of the time.

5. Chattanooga (3-3)

Unbeaten records against inferior competition don't guarantee a place in these rankings. But scheduling good opponents and then getting blown out doesn't earn extra credit, either. More than wins against Bowling Green, Lafayette or even a diminished Rutgers, what keeps Chattanooga here with a .500 record is what it showed in losses against Florida and Indiana (and to some degree against Louisville with each team playing a third game in as many days). Until some miscues against Louisville, Chattanooga had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. (Preseason ranking: 3)

Top honors: Jasmine Joyner (11.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 3.8 BPG in six games). She struggled on offense against the Cardinals, but 15 rebounds, seven blocks and three steals against a national title contender tells you plenty about her defensive presence.

6. Saint Louis (4-0)

Of the first four opponents, all mid-majors, only SIU-Edwardsville was picked to finish in the top half of its league. But three of four games were on the road, and only the opener at Loyola Marymount was a single-digit margin for any length in the fourth quarter. So with games against Washington State and Missouri still off in the pre-Christmas distance, Saint Louis is comfortably meeting expectations thus far. (Preseason ranking: 6)

Top honors: Jackie Kemph (19.8 PPG, 7.3 APG, 1.8 SPG in four games). She picked up right where she left off a season ago, including 34 trips to the free throw line and just nine turnovers in addition to the numbers mentioned above.

7. UT Arlington (3-0)

It is a stretch to say there is confidence in this placement. Fair or not (and it's not), it is difficult to think of UT Arlington without thinking of the 20 points it scored in a loss at Baylor a season ago. But those who know the Sun Belt think enough of this team to have picked it to finish second in the league and selected 6-foot-5 center Rebekah VanDijk as the preseason player of the year. Based on what could be seen in a 71-67 win at Western Kentucky on Nov. 16, when the Lady Mavs ceded the host a 17-point first-quarter lead and then rallied to win, those voters might have a point. (Preseason ranking: NR)

Top honors: Cierra Johnson (14.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 4.7 APG, 4.3 SPG in three games). There aren't a lot of good 6-5 posts at any level, mid-major or otherwise, so VanDijk merits a lot of attention, but UT Arlington's other returning starter is a whirlwind of energy.

8. Western Kentucky (2-1)

Mixed results mean Western Kentucky drops six spots. The Lady Toppers handed Indiana the loss that knocked the Big Ten team out of the AP Top 25, but they also lost at home to UT Arlington by blowing the aforementioned giant lead. Thanksgiving will reveal a lot more. Western Kentucky opens the Gulf Coast Showcase against DePaul. A win would likely mean a game against Baylor, but even a loss could lead to a quality game against the likes of George Washington or Florida Gulf Coast later in the bracket. (Preseason ranking: 2)

Top honors: Tashia Brown (18.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG in three games). Her team wouldn't still be here without the victory against Indiana, and it wouldn't have that win without the 15 points Brown scored in the fourth quarter against the Hoosiers.

9. UNLV (3-0)

What does a win against USC mean? We'll see, but the Trojans didn't lose a game last year to a team that wasn't in the Pac-12, so UNLV's 77-66 victory on Nov. 19 merits some attention. Former UCLA coach Kathy Olivier didn't lose much scoring from a team that had a winning record a season ago, and returnees Dakota Gonzalez, Brooke Johnson and Nikki Wheatley make a nice perimeter trio. UNLV will get another chance in a manageable game against major competition when it faces either Mississippi or Wisconsin this week in a tournament it hosts. (Preseason ranking: NR)

Top honors: Katie Powell (8.7 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.0 BPG). The Arkansas transfer is an intriguing talent off the bench in her first season at UNLV. She can play on the block at 6-4, as her rebounding numbers suggest, but she is at least as comfortable spotting up on the wing. She made all four of her 3-point attempts in the win against USC.

10. Quinnipiac (4-0)

This is not because associate coach Mountain MacGillivray might have the best name in college basketball. Although that can't hurt. The Bobcats debut because they just keep winning. Time will tell if victories against normal mid-major stalwarts Dayton and Florida Gulf Coast mean quite as much this season, but Quinnipiac in both cases turned halftime deficits into wins. A mid-major version of Arizona State, they use their personnel in waves and hunt in packs on defense. (Preseason ranking: NR)

Top honors: Aryn McClure (7.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG. 2.5 BPG). She found a way to be involved in the second-half surges against Dayton and Florida Gulf Coast, whether that was scoring points or getting all of a season-high four assists after the break against FGCU.

Dropped out: Belmont, Penn, Bucknell, Colorado State

Previous rankings: Nov. 3 (preseason)