South Dakota takes over top spot in espnW's mid-major rankings

South Dakota replaced Drake as the No. 1 team in espnW's mid-major top 10, with Madison Guebert and South Dakota State coming in at No. 2 in the rankings. Dave Eggen/Inertia

At least for the moment, UConn dethroning previously top-ranked Notre Dame largely settles any debate about the No. 1 ranking in the overall college basketball landscape.

A loss for the top-ranked mid-major team this past weekend offered no such clarity.

After Drake's loss at South Dakota State, there is essentially a five-way tie atop the list. All but one of the quintet plays at least one ranked opponent before Christmas, which should help clear things up. But since we can't take the easy way out and make them all No. 1, here's the best attempt at a working order.

1. South Dakota (9-1)

South Dakota had four assists and 23 turnovers in a game against Green Bay on Dec. 1. The Coyotes attempted 19 3-pointers that afternoon and made just four. Those are cringe-inducing offensive numbers -- and if they were any kind of trend, a cause for concern. But as long as they are outliers, it almost burnishes South Dakota's résumé that it still won the game.

The Coyotes aren't often that careless with the ball. They have 42 more assists than turnovers in their other nine games. And their most prolific 3-point shooters are also efficient from long range for the season. But especially coming three days after a signature win against a ranked Iowa State team in which the 3-pointers did fall, there is something to be said for winning ugly against a defense that takes a lot of opponents out of any kind of offensive rhythm.

The first of two conference games against South Dakota State looms in early January, but South Dakota is busy beforehand with a visit to Missouri on Saturday and a neutral-court game in Puerto Rico against still-unbeaten Indiana a few days before Christmas. (Last ranking: 3)

2. South Dakota State (6-3)

As mentioned last time, South Dakota State's résumé is destined to confound. Sure, a loss to Baylor was among the best mid-major performances, but a 39-point loss to Marquette didn't make that list. It comes down to the body of work against peers. With recent wins at home against Drake and Green Bay and a road win at Chattanooga -- not an easy trip despite that team's slow start -- South Dakota State's 6-3 record is more impressive than some unblemished marks.

It isn't a coincidence that Madison Guebert's name always seems to come up in this space. It can be as the star, like against Drake this past week, or as a complementary piece alongside Macy Miller or others on a given day. But the Jackrabbits can play with just about any team in the country when Guebert makes opponents account for her and stretches defenses.

And wouldn't you know, one of the best teams in the country is coming to town Wednesday. Oregon coach Kelly Graves didn't want any part of another trip to Brookings, having experienced how difficult it can be while at Gonzaga, but he needed another game. Coming off a loss at Michigan State, at least he will have his team's full attention. (LR: 7)

3. Gonzaga (9-1)

Perhaps the win against Rutgers and the reasonably competitive loss against Notre Dame, both in a Thanksgiving tournament in Canada, were the signs we missed. But playing their fifth game in 11 days, the Bulldogs made sure everyone heard them when they beat Stanford on Dec. 2.

Add a subsequent win against Washington State and Gonzaga's three wins against major conferences are more than any team in the top five except Drake.

Stanford needed 46 attempts to score 41 points from the 3-point and free throw lines combined. Gonzaga needed just 35 attempts to score 43 points from those lines. For those reasons, file away the name Katie Campbell. She didn't score from the free throw line against the Cardinal (though she hasn't missed a free throw in two seasons), but she hit five 3-pointers. Shooting 55 percent from behind the arc, she's single-handedly giving Gonzaga range. With her, Gonzaga ranks in the top 100 in 3-point percentage. Without her, they wouldn't rank in the top 300. (LR: Not ranked)

4. Drake (8-2)

Drake's relationship with the 3-point shot is an interesting one. The Bulldogs rank in or around the top 20 nationally in both total 3-point production and accuracy. Yet it's difficult to argue they rely on the shot when they attempted just 15 in an overtime win against South Carolina. Then the Bulldogs shot 50 percent inside the arc, 82 percent on substantial free throw attempts and lost at South Dakota State this past week because they missed 19 of 26 3-point attempts. Now comes a résumé-defining week with a trip to Iowa State and a home game against Iowa. (LR: 1)

5. Central Michigan (7-1)

A win at Quinnipiac highlighted a quiet two weeks. Not only was that revenge for a 14-point loss to the Bobcats at home a season ago, it gave Central Michigan another quality road win to go with an earlier result at Virginia. As good as the program is, it didn't have a nonconference road win of note in the past three seasons until upsetting Ohio State in the NCAA tournament. Wins against Virginia and Quinnipiac ultimately might not mean much when it comes to NCAA tournament at-large credentials, but they say something about the confidence and focus of a team coming off a Sweet 16 run. Central Michigan will be tested before Christmas, first in a trip to Vanderbilt and then when Louisville visits Mount Pleasant. (LR: 4)

6. UAB (8-1)

It's feast or famine when it comes to UAB's résumé, which includes an overtime loss against Tennessee after letting a 12-point lead slip away, a win against struggling Oklahoma and little else of note. But UAB has nearly twice as many assists as turnovers and ranks in the top 40 nationally in 3-point accuracy. That context matters. When a mid-major team has specific skills that serve it well against all types of opponents, as Tennessee learned, it matters. So for now, we'll ride with point guard Miyah Barnes (60 assists, 16 turnovers) and sharpshooter Rachael Childress (41.8 percent from the 3-point line this season and in her three-year career). A holiday tournament game at Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 21 is a big test. (LR: NR)

7. Ohio (8-0)

Ohio makes its debut largely thanks to a win last week against Purdue, and it got that win largely thanks to Cece Hooks. So let's introduce a rising mid-major standout. The sophomore totaled 31 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals against the Boilermakers and didn't commit a turnover in 38 minutes. She did all of that despite picking up her third foul in the first half. For the season, she's averaging 17.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists (after averaging 1.9 assists in similar minutes as a freshman) and shooting 58 percent. Credit to Purdue coach Sharon Versyp, who will take her team on the road to tricky regional mid-major destinations. (LR: NR)

8. Portland State (7-0)

Granted, it has been more difficult to play at UTEP in previous seasons, but Portland State got its first true road win of the season with an 89-61 rout in Texas over the weekend. The schedule is not helping the Vikings, with some devaluation of its wins as opponents continue to struggle. But the Vikings continue to play efficiently. Australian center Courtney West returned to the lineup after a brief injury hiatus, restoring one of the NCAA's leading active shot blockers, but Portland State might now have double the shot-blocking presence. A 6-foot-4 junior college transfer in her first season for the Vikings, Jordan Stotler is averaging better than two blocks per game. (LR: 8)

9. New Mexico (7-1)

New Mexico's only loss came in the season's opening week against Auburn. The Tigers still have just one loss, but the early setback for the Lobos is all the more excusable when you consider how new this team was and remains. All-Mountain West center Jaisa Nunn is a good cornerstone, but the Lobos are routinely starting two freshmen and two transfers around her. So while we'll normally give New Mexico some grief for its home-loaded schedule (the first road game this year was a double-overtime scare at Houston), it makes sense to give this group time to jell. (LR: NR)

10. Green Bay (4-4)

The four teams that beat Green Bay are a combined 27-10 this season. The Phoenix have two wins against major conference teams with winning records, ranked Missouri on the road earlier in the season and most recently in-state rival Wisconsin. That's the case for keeping a place in the top 10, although the case would be more easily made if the loss at South Dakota State to start this past ranking period hadn't been by 30 points. Too much credit for a challenging schedule? A trip to ranked Marquette on Saturday should render the verdict on that question. (LR: 5)

Fell out: Belmont, Buffalo, IUPUI, Boise State