Green Bay climbs to No. 1 in espnW mid-major rankings

Mehryn Kraker and 7-1 Green Bay jumped three spots to take over the top spot in the mid-major rankings. Courtesy of Green Bay Athletics

You thought we were done talking about a showdown between No. 1 and No. 2 in women's college basketball? Not so fast. We are just getting started.

A national television audience won't get to watch when Green Bay and South Dakota State meet in Brookings, South Dakota, on Friday. But it is a showcase for perhaps two of the three programs, along with Gonzaga, that come closest to a mid-major approximation of Connecticut's and Notre Dame's ability to maintain a standard of excellence year after year and recruiting class after recruiting class.

You can't get more out of a basketball program than the Phoenix and Jackrabbits do on an annual basis.

And they emerge at the top of these rankings at the perfect time.

1. Green Bay (7-1)

The Phoenix might feel they let the chance of a lifetime slip away at Notre Dame, but they don't seem to be dwelling on it. The degree to which they are dominating opponents earns them the top spot. Many of the recent victories are the sort that would be notable anyway in the mid-major context -- at Belmont, Chattanooga and Marquette and at home against Drake. But it is the way Green Bay wins. It led by 23 points in the fourth quarter at Chattanooga and 29 points entering the final period against Drake. It never trailed -- and almost never led by fewer than double digits -- at Marquette. After Friday's visit to Brookings, rival Wisconsin comes to town. (Last ranking: 4)

Top honors: Mehryn Kraker (18.0 PPG, 3.8 APG, 68.3 field goal percentage in four games). The fifth-year co-captain is a marvel. She has the game of the player who drives you nuts in pick-up basketball, the full array of up-and-unders, pivots, hesitation dribbles and backdoor cuts. You know, the player who spends all day on the court when the rules are winners stay.

2. South Dakota State (7-1)

The Jackrabbits just couldn't take care of the ball in a loss at Oklahoma the day before Thanksgiving. The Sooners outscored them by 13 points off turnovers and won by 14 points. Without someone like Gabrielle Boever, one of the few rotation players lost after last season, South Dakota State is short on point guard experience. That said, the Jackrabbits still have more assists than turnovers, and they have balance. All five starters average double figures and all shoot at least 47 percent from the field. The stretch ahead is daunting beyond Green Bay's visit. South Dakota State hosts George Washington two days later and travels to Louisville next week. (Last ranking: 1)

Top honors: Madison Guebert (18.5 PPG, 59.3 3-point field goal percentage, 2.8 SPG in four games). A Top 100 recruit who looked the part as a freshman a season ago, Guebert appears to be developing into option 1B alongside Summit League preseason player of the year Macy Miller. In her two most recent outings, she hit 14-of-24 3-point attempts.

3. Gonzaga (5-2)

A loss against Michigan could sting by spring. The Bulldogs got the Wolverines on the first day of a holiday tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands but ceded the Big Ten team an early lead and never could pull even despite generally keeping matters within 10 points. Beating Florida State the next day was always going to be a stretch. On the plus side, Gonzaga got quality minutes from Emma Wolfram against both the Wolverines and Seminoles. Then after keeping her out of a third game in three days, she had a nice line in her mainland return. The redshirt junior has battled plenty of injuries, but any minutes at 6-foot-5 have value. (Last ranking: 2)

Top honors: Jill Barta (21.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 64.6 field goal percentage in four games). It can't be anyone else after she put up 27 and 20 points against Michigan and Florida State, respectively. In the span of a week, she took 32 shots against those two teams and Stanford, and made 22.

4. Drexel (4-2)

It isn't that a loss at Bucknell is any embarrassment -- the Bison opened the season in these rankings and might yet return. But Drexel's setback, six days after a signature win against Syracuse, dulls the glow of that earlier result. And while the Colonial Athletic Association is a good league, there are no more chances for Drexel to grab and keep national attention. The sparse schedule, as Drexel goes through its exam period, offers no more games until Tuesday. (Last ranking: 3)

Top honors: Sarah Curran (17.5 PPG, 60.0 3-point field goal percentage in two games). With 19 points against Bucknell, the sharpshooter did her part to forestall the letdown. A 32 percent 3-point shooter in her first two seasons, the senior is hitting at better than 40 percent ever since.

5. IUPUI (6-1)

All right, you have our attention. IUPUI didn't just beat Missouri this past Sunday, it routed a credible NCAA tournament team 73-45 (although credit to Missouri coach Robin Pingeton, who fought the same scheduling battles in her successful run at Illinois State, for taking the game). The Jaguars were the third part of a Summit League triumvirate that didn't get nearly enough attention a season ago, as South Dakota State proved by nearly reaching the Sweet 16 and South Dakota proved in winning the WNIT. The game against Missouri was the first chance to make an impression this season. Saturday's mid-major clash against Ohio is the next. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Danielle Lawrence (13.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG in three games). Teammate Mikale Rogers was the Summit League's most recent player of the week, for good reason, but Lawrence has a pair of 24-point games in recent days -- including the Missouri win.

6. Ohio (6-0)

It didn't take coach Bob Boldon long to turn Youngstown State into a winner, and the results are looking familiar as his fourth season in Athens, Ohio, rolls along. In back-to-back games at the turn of the month, Ohio beat Middle Tennessee by 21 points on the road and Duquesne by 18 points at home. The Bobcats have played six games; their opponents have 50 more turnovers than they do. After Saturday's game at IUPUI, Ohio travels to Michigan for a chance at a marquee power conference win. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Quiera Lampkins (18.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 2.7 SPG in three games). Those rebounding numbers come with the addendum that the senior stands 5-9 and has 27 percent of the team's offensive rebounds this season. So, yes, she seems to have a motor.

7. UNLV (6-1)

After handing USC its first loss of the season, UNLV did the same to Mississippi shortly after Thanksgiving. That keeps the Rebels in a holding pattern here despite a loss against BYU in a post-holiday tournament in Hawaii (from Las Vegas to Maui, it's a rough life ... and their next stop is in Malibu). The big test awaits Dec. 19 against Oregon State. Of some concern, UNLV commits far and away the most turnovers per game of the teams ranked here. (Last ranking: 9)

Top honors: Paris Strawther (11.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 57.1 field goal percentage in four games). The Rebels can be a streaky bunch, thus far able to count on at least one of Dakota Gonzalez, Brooke Johnson, Katie Powell or Nikki Wheatley in any given game. The exception is Strawther, who quietly and efficiently puts up the same line, be it USC and Ole Miss or Tennessee State.

8. George Washington (7-2)

It was a busy couple of weeks for the Colonials, who played six games since they just missed the previous rankings. And until a surprising loss against American on Wednesday, the Colonials were only a stray second quarter against Syracuse away from perfection. Down as many as 20 points against the Orange at a holiday tournament, George Washington had a chance to tie on the final possession of a 74-71 loss. Undaunted, Jennifer Rizzotti's team then beat Florida Gulf Coast, Western Kentucky, Illinois and VCU by a combined 78 points. Former Lehigh standout Lexi Martins (8.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG) continues to quietly be among the season's best transfers. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Hannah Schaible (12.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.2 SPG in five games). Her biggest scoring performance came with a career-best 20 points against Florida Gulf Coast -- on her birthday no less -- but the rest of her game never wavered.

9. BYU (5-3)

Maybe the puzzle is starting to come together in assessing BYU sans Lexi Rydalch. A brutally noncompetitive loss at Georgia marred the early going, but losses against ranked Oklahoma and Oregon State were competitive in the fourth quarter. Subsequent wins against UNLV and Weber State came against teams that are a combined 12-1 in the rest of their games. It has to be an encouraging sign that Cassie Broadhead and Kristine Nielson have stepped up as double-digit scorers alongside Kalani Purcell and Makenzi Pulsipher. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Purcell (15.8 PPG, 50.0 FG%, 9.2 RPG, 5.6 APG in five games). No surprise here. The player who does it all has been doing a lot of everything in recent weeks.

10. Drake (4-3)

Drake has a strong case for going overlooked in these mid-major rankings when the season began, but it couldn't quite finish off potential wins against Creighton or Iowa State to prove that point. But the overall body of work, the drubbing at Green Bay notwithstanding, is beginning to mount. That was capped by an 84-70 win at Nebraska on Tuesday, the Huskers admittedly rebuilding but still not an everyday prize for mid-majors traveling to Lincoln. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Lizzy Wendell (19.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.3 SPG in four games). The scoring actually represents a dip for Wendell, which tells you something about the standards she has established. But 17 steals in four games, including five at Nebraska, don't hurt her cause at all.

Dropped out: Chattanooga, Quinnipiac, Saint Louis, UT Arlington, Western Kentucky

Previous rankings: Nov. 3 (preseason) | Nov. 23