South Dakota, Summit League continue to power espnW mid-major top 10

Hannah Sjerven and South Dakota remain No. 1 in espnW's mid-major rankings. Gonzaga and South Dakota State also held firm at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. Rice made the biggest jump, six spots to No. 4. Molly Schiermeyer/USD

We are here for you, Mount Rushmore State. You, too, Buckeye State.

As has been the case most of the season, the states of South Dakota and Ohio are responsible for multiples entries in the espnW mid-major rankings while being shut out of the AP Top 25. In every other case, teams on the list below share a state with a team in the AP poll.

Enough with the geography, at least until we get to the MAC tournament in Cleveland and the Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls. Let's get to the top 10.

1. South Dakota (20-3, 8-1 Summit)

South Dakota beat IPFW by 22 points in its most recent game, and that was the closest call the Coyotes had in several weeks. It's safe to say that the No. 1 ranking is in good hands at the moment. Considering one of the recent routs was a 43-point win against the Summit's third-place team, it's hard not to look ahead to the South Dakota State rematch later this month.

Hannah Sjerven remains the name to know in assessing March potential. Still deployed off the bench, the 6-foot-2 transfer from New Mexico is the variable alongside constants Allison Arens and Ciara Duffy. She had 10 rebounds in 17 minutes in a win against Missouri and a double-double in 23 minutes in a win against Iowa State, but she's averaging 14.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game since a win against South Dakota State on Jan. 6. (Last ranking: 1)

2. Gonzaga (21-2, 10-1 West Coast)

Here's another team that has settled into a comfortable conference rhythm, winning all four games during this ranking period by double digits. Gonzaga made that run despite navigating the road swing through Pacific and Saint Mary's this past week, an often perilous trip. Those teams are tied for third in the conference.

The 3-point element, or lack thereof, remains an intriguing subplot after the Bulldogs made just five 3-pointers in sweeping Pacific and Saint Mary's. Gonzaga began the week tied for 230th in Division I in 3-pointers made this season. Only a handful of teams of consequence ranked lower, though it's worth noting that the handful included Notre Dame in a tie for 288th and Baylor in a tie for 340th. Better to win without than force the issue, but it's interesting to watch. (Last ranking: 2)

3. South Dakota State (17-6, 9-1 Summit)

The seven-game win streak isn't important. Like its in-state rival, South Dakota State is making comfortable work of the rest of the Summit this season. What is important is the Pork Classic, always a favorite date on the mid-major calendar and a bucket list item for some.

A tradition nearly 50 years old and that currently encompasses a men's and women's doubleheader in Brookings, the Pork Classic includes barbecue meals for fans (including non-porcine ice cream from the SDSU Dairy Bar) and an auction for a live hog. As long as the day exists, we will celebrate that existence.

For the record, South Dakota State beat Omaha 81-47 in the accompanying game. (Last ranking: 3)

4. Rice (18-3, 9-0 Conference USA)

They passed every test the past two weeks. Then again, they are Rice students.

The big movers in the rankings this time around, the Owls built that on road wins at Middle Tennessee and UAB, two rivals for conference supremacy, in a span of less than 48 hours. The Owls never trailed and led by as many as 18 points against the Blue Raiders, who scored only 47 points. Then, rather than wilt after a grinding first half against the Blazers, they raced away for another double-digit lead.

Rice didn't waste the work the following weekend, either, beating Charlotte and then Conference USA contender Old Dominion at home. It matters how teams handle prosperity, and Rice didn't waver.

Every basketball fan should want to watch Nancy Mulkey and Erica Ogwumike right now. No NCAA tournament single-digit seed should want to draw that combination in March. (Last ranking: 10)

5. Florida Gulf Coast (17-4, 8-0 Atlantic Sun)

Launching a prodigious number of 3-point shots is nothing new for FGCU -- there is even a documentary about it. But the ability to reload from season to season is impressive, and it helps the Eagles reclaim a place in the top 10 while working on a nine-game win streak.

The Eagles are without players responsible for 311 3-pointers a season ago. For context, and excluding FGCU, only 11 teams made more than 311 3-pointers last season. Yet here the Eagles are again, trailing only DePaul as the most prolific team from long range this season.

Staying here won't be easy. After beating second-place North Alabama on Tuesday, FGCU faces third-place Stetson and fourth-place Liberty in the next week and a half. (Last ranking: Not ranked)

6. Central Michigan (15-5, 6-2 MAC)

Reyna Frost has grabbed at least 20 rebounds in two games this season. She averages 12.6 RPG and would lead the conference in rebounding even if counting only her defensive rebounds (184).

Since Dec. 20, Frost has scored at least 20 points in a game as many times as Klay Thompson.

Once a rattlesnake bit her. After five days of excruciating pain, the snake died.

Fine, we stole the last one from the Dos Equis people. The rest are pure Frost, who is having a season that should put her in the running for not just mid-major but also All-America honors. With Central Michigan in danger, both in the MAC and these rankings, after a second league loss, she put up 28 points and 21 rebounds to help secure a win against Buffalo this past weekend. (Last ranking: 6)

7. Drake (16-5, 8-1 Missouri Valley)

If not cruising, Drake looked to be headed toward a home win against Missouri State this past weekend in a meeting of the MVC's top two teams. The Bulldogs began the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead and the ball. In the span of 90 seconds on the game clock, the lead shrank to a single point. It soon evaporated altogether, and with it went a 47-game conference win streak.

Those were costly seconds for the Bulldogs but not fatal for the season, with the return game at Missouri State ahead in early March. The loss also overshadowed a brilliant start to February for Becca Hittner. Her 37 points against Missouri State went for naught, but she returned two days later and scored 30 points in a win against Southern Illinois. (Last ranking: 4)

8. Quinnipiac (15-6, 10-0 MAAC)

There is some rationalizing required with a team that entered conference play with a losing record and has since run roughshod over, to be charitable, modest competition. But Quinnipiac took Texas to the wire earlier in the season and didn't embarrass itself against Missouri. Even a home loss against UCF in December looks less and less glaring as that team continues to win.

The whole "three wins in the past two NCAA tournaments" thing doesn't hurt, either.

This hasn't been the easiest season for senior Aryn McClure, the preseason player of the year in the MAAC. She's still hovering below 40 percent field goal shooting and 70 percent from the free throw line, staples for her in her first three seasons. But a season-high 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting against Rider on Sunday could signal a strong closing kick. (Last ranking: Not ranked)

9. Miami (Ohio) (15-4, 6-2 MAC)

The Redhawks added a win at Ohio on Jan. 30 to an earlier eye-catching conference win at Central Michigan. Their loss against Buffalo the game before beating the Chippewas was a single-possession difference into the final minutes. That's enough to earn this spot, especially with the way juniors Lauren Dickerson and Savannah Kluesner are playing. In MAC action, Kluesner is averaging 19.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Dickerson, the playmaker who averaged nearly 20 points per game last season but is struggling with shooting efficiency this season, is up to 17.8 points per game against conference opponents. (Last ranking: Not ranked)

10. Ohio (18-2, 7-2 MAC)

Ohio hangs on to a place on the list, but staying here won't be easy after Miami joined Central Michigan as teams coming out of Athens with wins. Those home losses make the math difficult for Ohio, which still has return road games at both of the aforementioned schools and Toledo. But that's the speculative part. What Ohio does -- 46 percent field goal shooting compared to 38 percent field goal defense, 13.8 turnovers committed per game compared to 20.6 turnovers forced -- remain the fundamentals of a team that merits inclusion. (Last ranking: 8)