Women's Basketball: Creighton Bluejays

Saturday's Bracketology update

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
3:47
AM ET

Some updates after Saturday’s conference tournament games:

NOTABLE

• A reassessment of Duquesne and Charlotte has put the Dukes in the field and the 49ers out. With Duquesne's No. 36 RPI ranking, history says the Dukes have a great probability of a bid. RPI is not the end-all, be-all, but that is the way it has almost always worked out.

• The same rationale holds for Creighton, which is why the Bluejays, despite a loss in the MVC semifinals, stay in the field.

• San Diego State, Pacific and Toledo were all regular-season conference champs that lost in the tournaments. Each of them has some credentials that warrant some consideration. However, speaking of history, all have extremely poor strength of schedule (SOS) numbers. Their inclusion in the field would historically be unprecedented based on those numbers (San Diego State ranks at 146, Toledo's at 234 and Pacific 118).

• After another look, Purdue and Michigan State moved up the S-curve. Unfortunately for the Spartans, it wasn’t enough to change their seed. They are actually a natural No. 7, but had to be moved down one seed line to make the bracketing process work. That happened plenty in this bracket.

• Texas Tech was reevaluated and moved down to the natural No. 8 line, but had to be adjusted to a No. 7 for the same procedural reasons.

LAST FOUR IN

South Florida
West Virginia
Creighton
Duquesne

FIRST FOUR OUT

San Diego State
Charlotte
Pacific
Toledo

NEXT FOUR OUT

Ohio State
Florida Gulf Coast
Kansas
Florida

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

Big East: 8
SEC: 7
Big Ten: 6
Big 12: 6
ACC: 5
Pac-12: 4
Atlantic 10: 3
MVC: 2

AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS

Baylor
Duke
Chattanooga
Gonzaga
Liberty
Middle Tennessee
Marist
Notre Dame
Princeton
Purdue
Stanford
Stetson
Tennessee-Martin
Texas A&M
Saint Joseph’s
Central Michigan
South Dakota State
Fresno State
Albany
Montana
Cal Poly
Hampton
Oral Roberts
Navy
Idaho
Tulsa
Prairie View

Saturday's Bracketology update

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
8:15
PM ET

Some updates after Saturday's conference tournament games (as of contests through 8 p.m. ET Saturday):

LAST FOUR IN

West Virginia
Saint Joseph’s
South Florida
Creighton

FIRST FOUR OUT

Duquesne
Ohio State
Kansas
Florida

NEXT FOUR OUT

Minnesota
Illinois
Arkansas
James Madison

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN

Big East: 8
SEC: 7
Big Ten: 6
Big 12: 6
ACC: 5
Pac-12: 4
A-10: 3
MVC: 2

AUTO BIDS

Tennessee Martin
Stetson

Friday's Bracketology updates

March, 9, 2013
3/09/13
1:51
AM ET

Some updates after Friday's conference tournament games:

NOTABLE

• Texas A&M moved up two spots on the S-curve from 14 to 12 after its win over South Carolina in the SEC quarterfinals. That also elevated the Aggies from a No. 4 seed to a No. 3.

• South Carolina’s seed was unaffected by the loss to A&M, but the Gamecocks dropped from 13 to 16 on the S-curve, meaning they went from the top No. 4 seed to the final No. 4 seed.

• The advance by Texas A&M pushed Nebraska from a No. 3 seed to a No. 4 seed, despite the Cornhuskers' win over Iowa in the Big Ten quarterfinals. The Aggies moved up based on the quality of their win over a top-25 RPI opponent.

• Eastern Illinois, the top seed in the Ohio Valley Conference, was upset in the conference tournament semifinals on Friday. As a result, Tennessee Tech, which meets Tennessee-Martin in Saturday’s final, is the OVC’s new representative for now.

• Creighton joined the field as the Missouri Valley’s automatic qualifier. The Bluejays are tied with Wichita State atop the MVC standings with Saturday’s regular-season finales to go.

• With Creighton in and Wichita State out, Saint Joseph’s moved into the field as the last team in.

LAST FOUR IN

West Virginia
Duquesne
South Florida
Saint Joseph's

FIRST FOUR OUT

Ohio State
Kansas
Florida
Minnesota

NEXT FOUR OUT

Illinois
Arkansas
Saint Mary’s
James Madison

CONFERENCE BREAKDOWN


Big East (8)
SEC (7)
Big Ten (6)
Big 12 (6)
ACC (5)
Atlantic 10 (4)
Pac-12 (4)

SATURDAY'S AUTO BIDS

• Ohio Valley, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

• Atlantic Sun, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

An updated mid-major top-10 rankings, through games as of Tuesday.

1. Delaware (23-3, 14-0 Colonial)

The Blue Hens have yet to lose since a Dec. 20 setback against Maryland, Elena Delle Donne's second game of the season and first back after a month's absence. There are plenty of remarkable numbers when it comes to Delle Donne (seriously, a lot), but one that jumps out is that she has turned over the ball just 17 times in 20 games this season. For all the attention she receives from two and even three defenders, for all the times she has the ball at the end of the shot clock, and given that she's attempted 348 field goals and 127 free throws, 17 turnovers is otherworldly. Home games against James Madison and Drexel and a trip to Hofstra are remaining hurdles.

2. Dayton (22-1, 10-0 Atlantic 10)

Things aren't getting any easier for the Flyers, but they keep winning. The most recent result, a 58-57 win at home against A-10 contender Duquesne is a good example. Dayton won each of its first five conference games by at least 26 points, including games by 39, 43 and 48 points. The five wins that followed came by an average of eight points. Andrea Hoover, who might be the most valuable player on a team whose balance is its greatest asset, came up with 20 points in the win against the Dukes, while freshman Kelley Austria is averaging 12.8 points per game over the past four games. The regular-season finale against Saint Joseph's is the obstacle in the pursuit of A-10 perfection.

3. Green Bay (21-2, 11-0 Horizon)

With five games remaining on its schedule, Green Bay is three games clear of any other Horizon League team, meaning another conference title (the Phoenix have won at least a share of one in every season since 1997-98) is all but a formality. One interesting note in Kevin Borseth's first season back at the helm is the current group is limiting opponents to 35 percent field goal shooting. None of Borseth's earlier teams, which still managed to do quite well for themselves, came anywhere close to a percentage like that (38.5 the best any of them managed). It's not the same defense they played under Matt Bollant, but the players he recruited are still winning because of defense for Borseth.

4. Chattanooga (23-3, 16-1 Southern)

Does the SoCon season ever actually end? The Lady Mocs continue to maintain a good pace in that particular marathon. Limited by fouls in the first half, Ashlen Dewart was unstoppable in the second half of a potentially tricky road trip to College of Charleston over the weekend, putting up 20 points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes on the court. She followed that with 24 points and 13 rebounds in a win Monday at Georgia Southern. Maybe it's as simple as having Dewart rolling and fellow post Faith Dupree back, but Chattanooga is shooting noticeably fewer 3-pointers over the past nine games than it did prior to that.

5. Princeton (16-5, 7-0 Ivy)

You might think a weekend when a team wins home games by 12 points and 16 points is pretty good. And in Princeton’s case, it was a successful homestand against Dartmouth and Harvard. But those also represent two of the smaller margins of victory in home conference games in the past four seasons for the Tigers. Such is the level of their domination in the Ivy League. In four games since the last rankings, Niveen Rasheed averaged 20.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.0 steals per game, which helps explain why she has never lost a conference game.

6. Florida Gulf Coast (22-5, 15-0 Atlantic Sun)

This isn't quite the version of Florida Gulf Coast we saw a season ago. This group doesn't shoot the ball as well from the 3-point line or overall and doesn't rebound as well, but tell it to the rest of the Atlantic Sun. The Eagles have yet to win a conference game by anything other than double digits. The next two games are against teams in (distant) second and third places, beginning with a weekend trip to Stetson and a home game next week against Mercer.

7. Gonzaga (22-5, 12-1 West Coast)

All of a sudden, there isn't much of a race in the WCC. The Bulldogs are two games clear of BYU and Saint Mary's with only three left to play in the regular season. They evened the series against Saint Mary's, the only team in the league to beat them, with a 69-54 win at home on Valentine's Day. Gonzaga began the week ranked No. 12 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, joining Green Bay (No. 5), Florida Gulf Coast (No. 8), Princeton (No. 10) and Dayton (No. 19) in the top 20 among the mid-major teams found here.

8. Toledo (22-2, 10-1 MAC)

The Rockets return to the rankings on the strength of 10 consecutive wins since opening MAC play with a loss against Central Michigan. Toledo began the week 15th nationally in scoring defense, behind only Delaware and Green Bay among teams in these rankings. The weekend brings a trip to Central Michigan and a chance to split that series. It's the only game remaining against a team with a winning record (although Ball State is 8-3 in conference play).

9. Marist (19-6, 14-0 MAAC)

Welcome back to the Red Foxes, who recently clinched at least a share of the MAAC title for the 10th season in a row. Marist has picked up its shooting pace a bit in conference play, but it appears unlikely it's ever going to get to 30 percent from the 3-point line. So how does Brian Giorgis' bunch keep dominating the league? Defense. Six opponents in a row have failed to reach 50 points, and Connecticut, Kentucky and Purdue are the only teams to score more than 70 points against Marist this season.

10. Creighton (18-6, 10-3 Missouri Valley)

The Bluejays tumble to No. 10 after a lost road trip two weeks ago, losses incurred at Indiana State and Illinois State, but they salvaged this spot with a win against league leader Wichita State. That result, against a team that dominated Creighton earlier this season, means just one game separates the two in the Valley. In a critical win, sophomore reserve Alexis Akin-Otiko picked a nice time for a breakout performance with 13 points, eight rebounds and big play after big play down the stretch.

Next five: Boston University, Charlotte, San Diego State, Albany, Middle Tennessee State
Sarah NelsonCourtesy of Creighton UniversitySarah Nelson is the perfect fit as an undersized post for a team built around guards.

The perfect game is not an unfamiliar concept at Creighton, where the baseball team is a regular participant in the NCAA tournament and plays its home games at TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series.

But what Sarah Nelson did Saturday against Drake is about as close as a basketball player can come to the elegant efficiency of a baseball pitcher retiring 27 consecutive batters.

Nelson finished with 19 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and a steal in 28 minutes in her team's 98-71 victory. That's good on its own, but she put up those totals while hitting 8-of-9 shots from the field, including her only 3-point attempt, and both of her attempts from the free throw line. She also didn't commit a turnover.

There were more prolific weekend scoring lines, but that's as close to all-around perfection as one player is likely to come this season. It also came from a player used to working without much margin for error.

An Omaha product whose older sister played at Creighton, Nelson nonetheless didn't grow up dreaming of playing for the hometown school. As it turned out, the late convert was the perfect fit as an undersized post for a team built around guards. Still ranked in the RPI top 30 and receiving votes in the AP Top 25 for the first time, Creighton began the past weekend ranked No. 1 nationally in 3-pointers per game and No. 5 in 3-point accuracy. It then bettered both averages by hitting 11-of-24 3-point attempts against Drake. Coach Jim Flanery's teams traditionally rely on guards, and specifically guards who can shoot, the great equalizer for mid-major programs.

"The 6-3 kids that are really talented are recruited by everybody," Flanery said. "There are just more guards who can play, probably -- there's less margin between a mid-major guard and a [major conference] guard. We're not going to necessarily be able to defend some teams down low, but they have to guard us, too. Part of it is you're trading a little bit of offense for defense, in terms of floor spacing."

But there is still a point of diminishing returns with a diminutive lineup. Even a team that shoots like the Bluejays isn't going to win consistently by completely ceding the post. Enter Nelson, a 6-foot forward who is often the only player on the court for Creighton who stands at least that tall -- courts that have included big-time bigs like Nebraska's Jordan Hooper and Kansas' Carolyn Davis in opposing uniforms. Nelson has to play like a big without gumming up the works for guards like McKenzie Fujan, Marissa Janning and Carli Tritz who are driving through or spotting up outside. And one of the most complete all-around players in the mid-major ranks does it rather well.

Nelson leads the team in scoring and rebounding, with nearly twice as many rebounds as any other player. She is also second in assists, with a nearly two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, and averages better than a 3-pointer, block and steal per game. For this team, she's the perfect big.

"I don't mind being called small for a post. I'll take it," Nelson said. "It's just like everything; it has its advantages and it has its disadvantages. I really like that it gives me the opportunity to step out, and I think it has helped me improve my mid-range and even my 3. When I was a freshman, I don't think I could hit the rim on a 3. … I think it allows our guards, especially Carli and Marissa and McKenzie, the drivers, to really get in there and spread the floor. So it has its advantages.

"But obviously, when you’re guarding 6-4, it has its disadvantages."

Now on to the rankings.

1. Delaware (18-3, 9-0 Colonial)

The Blue Hens will focus more on the moment, particularly a Feb. 10 game at James Madison that should be the biggest challenge remaining on the conference schedule, but the postseason picture is intriguing. Ranked No. 20 in the most recent AP Top 25 and No. 24 in the most recent NCAA RPI, Delaware might be out of the danger zone when it comes to potential for a postseason run. Even hosting the first two rounds, Delaware doesn't want a seed between No. 7. and No. 10, particularly one of the middle two seeds in that range that would bring a second-round game against a No. 1 seed. Slide in around a No. 5 or No. 6 and a Sweet 16 trip becomes much more manageable.

[+] EnlargeKendall Kenyon
Courtesy of Gary Jones, Pacific Athletics CommunicationsSophomore Kendall Kenyon and Pacific have won six straight games to make their top-10 debut.

2. Dayton (19-1, 7-0 Atlantic 10)

The Flyers finally played a close conference game, beating Richmond by eight points on the road, but February will push them. That includes a trip to resurgent Fordham on Sunday and a home game against Duquesne on Feb. 18. This team’s balance continues to be its greatest strength (the top four scorers have scored between 205 and 238 points), but freshman Amber Deane is putting up big numbers in A-10 games.

3. Green Bay (17-2, 7-0 Horizon)

Green Bay beat UIC 99-53 this past Saturday, the program's most points in a game since the 2005-06 season. Now, let's see, who was the coach back then? Kevin Borseth's return continues to go rather well, as the senior class that he inherited is now 57-4 in Horizon League competition. Those seniors are also responsible for about 77 percent of the current team's points, but one recent bright spot is junior Breannah Ranger. She's averaging 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in conference play, including 14.3 points per game in the past three games.

4. Creighton (16-4, 8-1 Missouri Valley)

The next two weeks are key. After a road trip this weekend that includes a Sunday stop at Illinois State, currently tied for third in the league, Creighton gets a rematch at home against Wichita State on Feb. 16. The Shockers dominated the Bluejays in a 22-point win in Wichita in January. Freshman standout Marissa Janning is coming off back-to-back games with at least 20 points to move into a virtual tie with Nelson for the team scoring lead.

5. Chattanooga (18-3, 11-1 Southern)

There were close calls, but Chattanooga emerged unscathed from an 18-day stretch that included not just five of six games on the road but games at three other serious SoCon contenders. It helps to have depth. The Lady Mocs have 10 players averaging double-digit minutes, and those aren't mop-up minutes. All 10 played at least 12 minutes in a recent 66-60 win against Samford. Only playmaker Kayla Christopher, the team leader in assists and 3-pointers, is flirting with averaging 30 minutes per game.

6. Princeton (12-5, 3-0 Ivy)

It's that time of year for Princeton, which swept road games against Cornell and Columbia this past weekend and won all three conference games thus far by at least 30 points. This is why, as the AP's Doug Feinberg points out, senior Niveen Rasheed ranks nears the top of a small class of players who never lost conference games. Blowouts do funny things with numbers, but it's also worth mentioning Blake Dietrick. The sophomore guard and the team's most prolific 3-point shooter is averaging 12.3 points. 5.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds through three conference games.

7. Middle Tennessee State (17-5, 12-1 Sun Belt)

The Blue Raiders are in control of the Sun Belt race, two games clear of their closest competition, and probably overdue for a return to these rankings. It's no secret around whom the team revolves, with Ebony Rowe, Kortni Jones and Icelyn Elie averaging a combined 49.5 points per game for a team averaging 67.3 points per game. The 3-point line has been a missing ingredient this season, so it's interesting to see freshman guard Caroline Warden playing a few more minutes of late and post player KeKe Stewart attempting long-distance shots more often.

8. Florida Gulf Coast (18-5, 11-0 Atlantic Sun)

Monday’s 66-50 win at North Florida almost qualifies as a nail-biter by Florida Gulf Coast standards. The Eagles keep rolling in their conference, and their next four opponents all have at least five A-Sun losses already. Oregon State transfer Brittany Kennedy is quietly having a terrific all-around season, averaging 10.6 points, 5.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 steals while shooting 53 percent and maintaining a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio.

9. Pacific (18-3, 8-1 Big West)

The Big West leaders crack the top 10 for the first time this season with six wins in a row since a triple-overtime loss against Cal Poly on Jan. 12 handed them their only conference loss. The balance of a senior-laden lineup that has five players averaging double-digit points per game in conference play is impressive, but so are the individual numbers being turned in by 6-foot-2 sophomore Kendall Kenyon. Coming off a 16-point, 19-rebound effort against Long Beach State over the weekend (two weeks after a line of 19 points, 22 rebounds and eight blocks), she’s averaging 13.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in Big West competition.

10. Gonzaga (18-5, 8-1 West Coast)

It's business as usual for Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, winner of six in a row to get a firm grip on first place in the conference. All six of those wins were by at least 12 points and four were by at least 20 points. The backcourt pairing of Taelor Karr and Haiden Palmer is putting up its best numbers of the season. Karr is hitting 51 percent (28-55) of her 3-point attempts to average 14.7 points per game in WCC games, compared to 7.4 points per game out of conference, while Palmer has picked up her own scoring by about a point and a half per game.

Next five: Duquesne, Boston University, Toledo, SMU, Wichita State

Previous poll

An updated top 10, through Tuesday's games:

1. Delaware (13-3, 4-0 CAA)

Practically, I understand why Delaware isn't ranked in either major poll, or even all that close to cracking the list. But at the same time, I don't get it philosophically. At this time one year ago, Delaware was 16-1 and ranked No. 16 in the country. After routing Towson on Sunday, the Blue Hens are 13-3, with wins against Villanova (RPI No. 10), Princeton (No. 20), Duquesne (No. 42) and St. John's (No. 55). The losses that separate last season's record from this season's record (both teams lost to Maryland) were by single digits against Georgetown and Duquesne, in both cases without Elena Delle Donne, who just scored 38 points on 14-of-20 shooting against Towson. And this Delaware team is second in the nation in field goal defense and eighth in scoring defense, both statistics representing significant improvements over the same measures last season. If one adds up to No. 16, should the other really equal poll oblivion?

[+] EnlargeElena Delle Donne
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyElena Delle Donne's unranked Blue Hens received just seven votes in this week's AP Top 25 poll.

2. Dayton (15-1, 3-0 Atlantic 10)

It is safe to assume the Flyers got the message. After going two weeks without a game following a 65-40 loss at Bowling Green, Dayton won its first three conference games by scores of 82-39 (Butler), 95-47 (La Salle) and 74-48 (Rhode Island). Granted, those programs aren't the best the A-10 has to offer, but that's domination. There is one team from outside the BCS conferences among the top 10 in the nation in scoring margin, and you can probably guess which one it is (in fact, Dayton's 22.6 point-per-game advantage checks in eighth, right after Notre Dame, Louisville and Maryland). A trip to Richmond on Feb. 3 (ESPNU, 11 a.m. ET) offers a possible test before the next rankings.

3. Green Bay (14-2, 4-0 Horizon)

If only Aaron Rodgers had a defense like this. The Phoenix lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 46.7 points per game to edge Connecticut in the category. That's some good company. Even with former coach Matt Bollant and associate coach Mike Divilbiss gone, the Phoenix under Kevin Borseth still use the "Buzz" defense that makes opponents so uncomfortable (Adrian Ritchie, for instance, is on the cusp of the top 20 in steals per game). But there are some subtle changes -- last season Green Bay forced 25 turnovers per game but saw opponents shoot 38.7 percent. Turnovers forced are down to 20.5 per game this season, but opponents only hit 35.1 percent of their attempts.

4. Boston University (16-3, 6-0 America East)

The Terriers keep their heads down and keep climbing up the rankings. There have been some results recently that give pause, including a 55-53 win at New Hampshire and a 57-52 win against Binghamton, but you get the benefit of the doubt for a few close calls when you win 13 games in a row. Defense is this team's strength (No. 15 nationally in scoring defense and No. 31 in field goal defense), but that has been a consistent strength over the past few seasons. If this team is a cut above past editions, and Wednesday's showdown against fellow conference unbeaten Albany is another step in attempting to prove that's the case, improved offensive efficiency is a reason why.

5. Creighton (13-4, 5-1 Missouri Valley)

People who don’t follow the Missouri Valley might wonder why Creighton drops just two spots after Wichita State blitzed the Bluejays 67-45 this past weekend. (Conversely, those who do track the MVC might wonder why Wichita State, now alone in first place in the league, isn't in this spot.) It was a bad performance against the Shockers, one for which the home team's defensive pressure deserves much or most of the credit. But the body of work Creighton put together before conference play buys it more leeway than other mid-major teams that lose league games. In losses against Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota and Wichita State, Creighton shot 30.4 percent from the 3-point line. In 13 wins, the nation's second-most prolific 3-point shooting team hit 40.2 percent of those attempts.

6. Chattanooga (14-3, 7-1 Southern)

The Lady Mocs earned a big win at Davidson this past Friday, handing the Wildcats their first conference loss, and avoided any mental letdown with a businesslike 27-point win at conference minnow Western Carolina two days later. That sets up a big four-day stretch, beginning with Wednesday's visit to Samford (6-2 in the conference and the team that represented the league in the NCAA tournament last season) and Friday's home game against Appalachian State (6-1 in the league and 12-3 overall). Entering her first game against her former school, Appalachian State, Ashlen Dewart is averaging 18.3 points on 54 percent shooting in Chattanooga's eight conference games.

[+] EnlargeWumi Agunbiade
Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMIJunior Wumi Agunbiade scored 23 points in both of Duquesne's wins this past week.

7. Duquesne (14-3, 3-0 Atlantic 10)

After back-to-back strong defensive showings against Saint Louis and Temple this past week, Duquesne has held eight opponents to fewer than 50 points this season. It's still nice to have the kind of offense Wumi Agunbiade provided in those recent wins. The Canadian junior scored 23 points against both the Billikens and Owls, the most any Dukes player scored in a game this season and just the second and third times a player scored as many as 20. A trip to Dayton looms in February, but three road games in the next two weeks present enough of an immediate challenge.

8. UTEP (14-2, 2-1 Conference USA)

This is the flip side of the Creighton coin. UTEP beat Arizona, Arizona State and Kanas State this season, wins which count for something. But when a team builds a résumé on a home-loaded schedule (11 home games and just three true road games), it can't afford to do things like lose at home in conference -- even to a pretty good UAB team. That said, considering the Miners still edged UAB 57-33 on the boards and held the Blazers to 39 percent shooting, this is not the time to cast them into the hinterlands. The schedule the next two weeks includes games against Rice and SMU, two of the four other teams in Conference USA ranked in the RPI top 120 (UAB was also one of those teams).

9. Princeton (10-5, 1-0 Ivy League)

Princeton hasn't exactly been busy since the last rankings. The reigning (and reigning and reigning) Ivy champs opened conference play with a 77-47 win against Penn, and … well, that's it. The Tigers always have an extended January layoff (pesky academics), but the lull provides an opportunity to study the existing résumé. You know what? It's pretty good. All five losses came on the road (Marist, UCLA, Villanova, Delaware and DePaul) in competitive games. There are wins by double digits against Saint Joseph's, Rutgers, Illinois State and Drexel, teams with a combined 46-20 record otherwise. Even with that schedule, few teams competing for this spot can match Princeton's field goal differential (42.1 percent field goal offense against 34.9 percent field goal defense), rebound margin (9.9 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.07).

10. Florida Gulf Coast (15-5, 8-0 Atlantic Sun)

A familiar face from last season's mid-major rankings makes a return. The Eagles closed the nonconference portion of the schedule with the biggest result of their season, a 76-70 win against LSU, and carried that momentum into the Atlantic Sun. They have yet to win a conference game by fewer than 10 points, with six of eight wins by at least 20 points. That includes the Jan. 12 game against East Tennessee State in which they hit 22-of-43 3-point attempts. One reason for pause is that minus that game, Florida Gulf Coast is shooting 29 percent from the 3-point line this season. This weekend brings a big home game against Stetson, the other unbeaten in the A-Sun.

Next five: Gonzaga, Middle Tennessee, San Diego State, Pacific, Toledo

Previous rankings

People in Watertown, Minn., have known it for years. Folks in Omaha saw it coming months ago. The Missouri Valley Conference learns it with each passing day. Might the rest of us come to realize it in March?

Like the band about to be signed, it's only a matter of time for Marissa Janning.

By almost any standard, including the one employed by her coach, Janning is ahead of schedule. Two months into her first college season, Creighton’s freshman point guard is already one of the nation’s more productive new arrivals, a player who could make the difference for a team that came within five seconds from taking No. 3 seed St. John’s to overtime in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament.

[+] Enlarge Jim Flanery
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMICoach Jim Flanery's nonconference schedules includes games with Minnesota, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Creighton is No. 24 in this week’s first official RPI release, a ranking that is the product of what is annually one of the most rigorous nonconference schedules in the mid-major ranks (not to mention, after home games against Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, proof that mid-majors can secure home-and-home scheduling with major programs). The Bluejays returned almost all of last season’s rotation players, led by juniors Sarah Nelson (team-leading 12.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this season) and Carli Tritz (9.2 points and team-leading 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game).

But the shiny new toy is Janning, Minnesota’s reigning Miss Basketball. She’s second on the team in scoring, shooting 46.8 percent from the 3-point line (10th in the nation), and has committed just 18 turnovers in 323 minutes.

“I knew she’d be good,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “But she’s been better than I thought.”

The only person who might not be overly impressed by her rise is Janning, who could be forgiven for thinking she needs to make up for lost time. After all, she had already played two seasons of varsity basketball before she was a freshman in high school. Before she could even think about a learner’s permit, she made it to the high school state finals in track and field, a seventh grader who qualified in the mile and two mile. When she committed to Creighton as a junior, passing on interest from bigger programs, Flanery breathed a sigh of relief. Her decision broke a string of 15 consecutive years in which the state's top prep player went to a school in a BCS conference.

But in her first game, against a ranked Oklahoma team, she missed her first shot. And her second. And her third. And, well, you get the picture. The kid who scored more than 3,500 points and set a state record for 3-pointers in high school needed two free throws to get on the scoreboard at all. She played 15 minutes and missed all nine of her field goal attempts.

“Most freshmen, first game, playing a top-15 team, if they miss their first five, they probably stop shooting,” Flanery said. “She kept shooting. Which in that game maybe wasn't good, but I think in the long run, you’re like, ‘OK, this kid stays confident.’ That’s kind of her M.O. She’s confident. Not cocky. But I think coaching women in general, especially at Creighton, they’re under-confident a lot of times more than they’re overconfident.

“She’s about the right amount of confident.”

She stayed confident even after missing all four of her attempts in Creighton's second game. Since that rough start, Janning averaged 13.9 points over the past 11 games, including a career-high 22 points last week. Watching the 5-foot-8 guard, it's easy to see more than a little of former Illinois State star Kristi Cirone, a three-time winner of the Jackie Stiles Award as the MVC's top player. Like Cirone, Janning is a point guard who can shoot, get to the basket and stay with anyone on defense. She is not a scorer asked to play point guard.

Nelson says Janning's confidence might be her best trait.

“I know that when I was a freshman, when I got in the game I was like, ‘Oh crap, oh crap, don’t screw up, don’t get pulled out,'" Nelson said. "I think that’s something great to have, is to know that she’s confident and she’s not afraid to shoot the ball and not afraid to take care of it and things like that. I think that allows her to advance and become a better player in that aspect.”

Oh, and one other thing.

“Also, she’s great to play with because she’s can’t miss from 3 half the time,” Nelson added.

On to this week's rankings.

1. Delaware (9-3): Over the span of five days, Delaware beat Villanova, Duquesne and St. John’s, all quality RPI wins at road or neutral sites. Elena Delle Donne hit the overtime winner against St. John’s and played 111 of a possible 125 minutes in the three games, but it’s also worth noting the contributions of seniors Kayla Miller and Jaquetta May. Miller leads the team in assists and is averaging 29.3 minutes per game, up from 16.3 mpg last season. May finished with nine points and nine rebounds against both Duquesne and St. John’s, after totaling 10 points and eight rebounds against Villanova, and is averaging 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game after barely playing last season.

2. Dayton (12-1): It was as if everything that could have gone wrong but didn't during a surprising 12-0 start coalesced in one painful market correction when Dayton dropped a 65-40 decision at Bowling Green on Dec. 30. The Flyers couldn’t play at their preferred tempo, couldn’t take care of the ball and couldn’t defend during a second half in which they were outscored 37-15. That’s the bad news. The good news is Dayton is still 12-1, and those wins against DePaul, Toledo, Vanderbilt and Michigan State still look good. January’s Atlantic 10 opponents are a combined 33-55 at the moment, so there should be time for the Flyers to get back to basics.

[+] EnlargeShareta Brown
Jeff Golden/Getty ImagesThe nation's second-leading scorer, Detroit's Shareta Brown mustered just eight points against Green Bay's stifling defense.

3. Creighton (10-3): Fortune giveth (rallying from 15 points down with seven minutes left en route to an overtime win against BYU). And it taketh away (ceding a 19-point lead in the second half at Minnesota en route to a double-overtime loss at the end of December). The nation’s second most prolific 3-point shooting team faces a big game against Illinois State on Friday.

4. UTEP (12-1): The Miners closed nonconference play with two of their most prolific offensive performances, albeit against Sam Houston State and Texas-Pan American, two opponents a team with Top 25 aspirations should roll. Sophomore guard Chrishauna Parker came close to a triple-double against Sam Houston State (15 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists) and followed that up with 17 points, 12 rebounds and three assists against Texas-Pan American. Conference USA doesn’t appear to offer much to bolster the résumé (no other conference team is in the RPI top 100), but visits from East Carolina and UAB in the next two weeks could prove challenging.

5. Green Bay (11-2): The defense is trending toward ridiculous. Green Bay beat Detroit 62-31 on Tuesday to open Horizon League play, in the process holding the nation's second-leading scorer, Shareta Brown, to eight points. The Phoenix have played 10 games since an 89-86 overtime loss against James Madison. There is a loss in there, but no team scored more than 54 points in those 10 games. And the win against Detroit marked six consecutive games in which the opponent failed to reach 50 points. Three of those teams didn't even score 40.

6. Boston University (12-3): The team’s two best players, Chantell Alford and Mo Moran, combined for just 10 points and four assists in 75 combined minutes on the road in arguably the most difficult conference game Boston University will face -- and it still came out with the win. Thanks to 26 points from Rashidat Agboola and a strong defensive effort, the Terriers emerged with a 45-39 win at Hartford on Jan. 5. Their next four conference foes are outside the RPI top 250, leading up to a Jan. 23 visit from preseason America East favorite Albany.

7. San Diego State (9-4): Yes, missed opportunities abound. A two-point deficit midway through the second half against UCLA became a 66-52 loss. A four-point lead with 26 seconds remaining became a 59-58 loss against Washington. And most recently, a four-point halftime deficit against Oklahoma State became an 80-72 loss. But the flip side is the Aztecs were good enough to have those opportunities and good enough to rout Auburn by 21 points and USC by 34 points. The line Chelsea Hopkins is averaging (11.9 points, 7.2 assists, 7.1 rebounds) is worthy of All-America consideration.

8. Toledo (12-1): Wins in recent weeks against Marquette and Charlotte, the former on the road and the latter at a neutral site, lend substance to a record marred only by a three-point loss on the road against Dayton in November. The backcourt of redshirt senior Naama Shafir and redshirt junior Andola Dortch came up big in both wins and has to rank among the best duos in the mid-major ranks. Immediate tests await in MAC play with an opener at home against Central Michigan and a short trip down I-75 this weekend to Bowling Green.

9. Chattanooga (10-3): It's not easy to go 20-0 in any setting, so one loss in the long, long Southern Conference season isn't the end of the world, especially when it comes in a team's third road game in six days. It is, on the other hand, a little worrisome that Chattanooga slipped this quickly, dropping a 70-60 overtime decision against Elon after winning its first three SoCon games by 14, 43 and 30 points, respectively. A road test at Davidson comes up before the next mid-major rankings.

10. Duquesne (11-3): This appears to be a rough time of year for Duquesne. A season ago, the Dukes came off the high of beating West Virginia close to Christmas and lost three of their next six games, including one to a mid-major out of conference. This season, they beat West Virginia and lost two of their next three. A neutral-site loss against a Delaware team with Delle Donne is understandable, but a home loss against Miami (Ohio) is less so. The Redhawks are a good team with a special player in Courtney Osborn, but they shouldn’t win in Pittsburgh against a motivated host. One culprit is 3-point shooting. Duquesne hit just 6-of-39 attempts in the losses against Delaware and Miami.

Next five: Florida Gulf Coast, Gonzaga, Princeton, Pacific, Middle Tennessee

Creighton climbs up mid-major poll

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
12:14
AM ET

A look at an updated top-10 mid-major poll, through Sunday's games.

1. Dayton (12-0): So much for any potential lapse in concentration on the road. The Flyers remained perfect since last we checked in, thanks to a 31-point victory at previously two-loss Akron and a 38-point win at Siena. Point guard Samantha MacKay had 13 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and one turnover in 34 minutes against Akron. The senior has 67 assists in 12 games this season, 10 assists shy of her career high, and entered last week as one of only 12 players nationally with at least 50 assists and a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. That list also includes names like Duke’s Chelsea Gray, Nebraska’s Lindsey Moore, Stanford’s Amber Orrange and BYU’s Haley Steed. The Flyers have rest coming. They play at Bowling Green on Dec 30, their only remaining game before opening conference play at Butler on Jan. 12.

[+] EnlargeHaiden Palmer, Ameryst Alston
James Snook/USA TODAY SportsHaiden Palmer and Gonzaga are fifth this week.

2. Delaware (6-3): I’ve already added several chapters on Elena Delle Donne’s return, but her presence alone was enough to make a game of it against Maryland and is enough to land the Blue Hens back in this spot. The challenge now, albeit one they might not be thinking about in as many words, is making up for lost time. Delaware hosts the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, but it would be nice to do so as at least a No. 4 or 5 seed to avoid playing a potential second-round game as a decided underdog. There is potential for three games in the next week that could provide opportunities for RPI polishing. First comes Saturday’s game against Villanova in Hanover, N.H., which could set up a rematch with surging Duquesne in the winner’s bracket of the tournament hosted by Dartmouth. A trip to St. John’s follows, still a quality opponent, if not last season’s power.

3. Creighton (8-2): A win against previously one-loss South Florida at a holiday tournament in Mexico gave the Bluejays another valuable RPI top-100 win (added to wins against Nebraska and South Dakota State, with BYU also a borderline top-100 team) before entering Missouri Valley Conference play. Another opportunity for a quality win comes Dec. 30 at Minnesota. Win that and Creighton’s NCAA tournament at-large résumé looks pretty good, not that it will want to risk needing to rely on that. Frontcourt players who can pass always make me happy, and Creighton’s Sarah Nelson not only leads her team in rebounding at 7.9 boards per game but is tied for the lead in assists (4.0 per game) and has a better than two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. For good measure, she’s shooting 42 percent from the 3-point line.

4. Duquesne (10-1): The Dukes did it again, and you can hear West Virginia coach Mike Carey’s frustration from here. Duquesne beat West Virginia for the second year in a row, this time on the road in Morgantown, to give the Atlantic 10 team its most impressive win this season (Delaware was also ranked when Duquesne beat it in the preseason WNIT, but the Blue Hens were without Delle Donne). The Dukes didn’t shoot or rebound particularly well against the Mountaineers, but unlike last season’s furious second-half rally, they led this game from start to finish. A rematch against a healthy Delaware at Dartmouth’s tournament might be the best remaining mid-major game of the season.

5. Gonzaga (9-3): The final chance for a signature win slipped away with a 65-60 loss against Ohio State on Dec. 17, leaving the Bulldogs winless in marquee games against Louisville, Stanford and the Buckeyes. But a competitive loss against a team that was ranked until the day of the game, even a loss in Spokane, isn’t the end of the world. A win against Washington State on Dec. 29 would give Gonzaga three wins against BCS conference schools (added to November wins against Wisconsin and USC). And on the silver lining side, the Bulldogs shot better than 50 percent from the floor in the second half against Ohio State and both halves of their subsequent game against Idaho. That’s the first time all season they hit at least half their shots in three consecutive halves.

6. UTEP (10-1): It’s not quite time to call them road warriors, but after noting in this space last time that the Miners were lacking in accomplishments on non-neutral courts away from home, it’s incumbent to recognize them for a victory at Kansas State. That result on Dec. 20 was UTEP’s first true road win and came against a team unbeaten at the time. It also came in part thanks to a 47-38 edge on the boards for the visitors, not the normal formula for mid-major teams in such games. But UTEP, which also got the best of Arizona on the boards in a win and were almost level with Arizona State in another win, ranks among the top 50 nationally in rebound margin. The Miners added a win against New Mexico and face Sam Houston State and Texas-Pan American before opening Conference USA play.

7. Chattanooga (8-2): The Lady Mocs played just once since the last rankings and came out the worse for a trip to Auburn with a 53-40 setback. As the score suggests, it wasn’t a strong offensive showing for the visitors. Chattanooga hit just 27 percent of its shots, and if you take out Kayla Christopher’s 3-for-9 shooting from the 3-point line, missed 21 of 22 attempts from long range. Credit some, maybe most, of that shooting performance and 22 turnovers to Auburn’s pressure defense, but Chattanooga handled and shot the ball well against an aggressive Tennessee defense.

8. Green Bay (8-2): The Phoenix staked their claim to in-state supremacy since the last rankings, beating Marquette on the road and Wisconsin at home, and that’s enough for them to reclaim their place here. In the last college basketball game before Christmas, Green Bay beat Wisconsin for the third year in a row (all three games featured different coaching matchups) and did so in dominant defensive fashion. How dominant? Include the Packers and three Wisconsin teams played in Green Bay on Sunday. Only one of them failed to score 40 points, and it wasn’t the Packers or the Phoenix. Former coach Matt Bollant and "Buzz" defense architect Mike Divilbiss are gone, but elements of the pressure defense remain under Kevin Borseth, which helps explain why the Phoenix remain in the top 20 nationally in turnover margin.

9. Boston University (8-3): The Terriers played no games since the last rankings. They come out of their break at a tournament hosted by Lehigh this weekend, but the big game on the horizon is Jan. 5 at Hartford, the first of two meetings between two of three teams, along with Albany, that appear likely championship contenders in America East.

10. Arkansas-Little Rock (10-1): Since a 78-68 loss against Missouri State in the second game of the season, Arkansas-Little Rock has not allowed an opponent to score more than 54 points. In all games, teams are shooting just 29.7 percent against UALR, fourth-best in the nation behind Connecticut, Iowa State and Michigan State. Offense centers on a more individual effort; leading scorer Taylor Gault has more shots than any two teammates combined. The first big conference game comes Jan. 3 against Western Kentucky, currently 3-0 in the league’s other division.

Next five: San Diego State, Middle Tennessee State, Toledo, Hartford, Quinnipiac

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