Houston jumps two spots; Phoenix No. 2
1. Xavier (21-2, 10-0 Atlantic 10)
There's still a home game against Duquesne, but it looks increasingly like a second consecutive season of A-10 perfection for the Musketeers will come down to the finale at Temple on Feb. 27. Amber Harris and Ta'Shia Phillips get plenty of attention, and deservedly so, but Special Jennings is having an extraordinary senior season. She leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio for a team quietly in the back in that category. With conference perfection on the line, she came up with 19 points and eight assists in a 70-66 overtime victory at Dayton on Feb. 5.
2. Green Bay (24-1, 13-0 Horizon League)
A season ago, Green Bay endured a lost weekend in Chicago. This year, it opened the second half at Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 10 with a 19-2 run en route to an 81-50 victory. Two days later, it led Loyola 42-8 at one point in the first half. And those results came on the heels of an 84-25 victory against Youngstown State in which a first-half shutout appeared to be in play. The Phoenix are playing too well not to bump them up to second, and Xavier shouldn't get too comfortable in the top spot. Celeste Hoewisch was slighted in the Naismith midseason top 30 released recently, but the senior pulse of the team is shooting 48.8 percent from the floor, 43.8 percent from the 3-point line and 81.6 percent from the free throw line.
3. Marist (23-2, 14-0 MAAC)
It must be nice when winning by double digits constitutes a close call, but Marist has come up with some closer-than-usual victories of late, including an honest-to-goodness nail-biter in a 54-52 win at Fairfield on Feb. 6. That said, the Red Foxes are still winning by an average of 17 points per game, setting up a closing stretch in which three of their final four opponents own winning conference records. Marist's overall 3-point shooting has actually tailed off slightly in conference play, making freshman Leanne Ockenden (44.1 percent from behind the arc in MAAC play) potentially that much more useful off the bench down the stretch.
4. Gonzaga (22-4, 10-0 WCC)
Courtney Vandersloot keeps moving up the charts. The senior recorded career assist No. 1,000 against Pepperdine on Feb. 12, becoming just the fourth player in NCAA history -- and the first since 1995 -- to reach quadruple figures. The senior has either scored or assisted on 49 percent of the team's field goals this season. A home game against second-place Saint Mary's looms at the end of the month, but all that otherwise stands between the Bulldogs and a spotless conference record are games against three of the four teams with losing records in WCC play.
5. Temple (19-6, 10-0 Atlantic 10)
The Owls have knocked off Duquesne and St. Bonaventure on the road in the past two weeks, leaving an intra-city trip to Saint Joseph's as the toughest remaining test away from home. Shey Peddy is four rebounds shy of leading the team in points, assists, steals, free throw attempts and rebounds. She does have some ground to cover if she wants to catch Victoria Macaulay for the lead in blocks, so the 5-foot-7 star in her first season in Philadelphia is at least mortal. Even with a potential rematch looming a week later in the conference tournament in Lowell, Mass., the finale against Xavier shapes up as one of the season's most interesting games.
6. Houston (20-4, 11-0 Conference USA)
Houston owns a four-game lead with five to play in Conference USA, so there isn't much math to do in working out the magic number to clinch a title. As always, it's worth noting the team is 19-2 with Courtney Taylor in the lineup. Why is it worth noting? Consider Taylor's 21 points, 18 rebounds, three steals and two blocks on the road against Tulane on Feb. 6. After shooting 39.2 percent in nonconference games, Houston is up to 41.7 percent in league play.
7. Louisiana Tech (18-5, 10-0 WAC)
It has taken five overtimes, including four in two games against Fresno State, but Louisiana Tech is still unbeaten in the WAC. The Lady Techsters lead the league in scoring offense during conference play and have hit at least 85 points in each of their past four games. Points per game is the only major team category Tech leads the league in during conference play, but where other contenders have weak spots the Lady Techsters are near the top in every major category (scoring margin, field goal offense, field goal defense, assist-to-turnover ratio, 3-point offense, etc.).
8. Northern Iowa (19-5, 12-1 Missouri Valley)
The winning streak is at 11 games in conference play for the Panthers, who took a big step toward winning the regular-season title and proving themselves relevant beyond the league by beating Missouri State on the road on Feb. 6 and turning around to beat Creighton at home on Feb. 10. Lizzie Boeck had double-doubles in both victories, while Jacqui Kalin scored 44 points and got to the free throw line 23 times. Northern Iowa now faces three road games in nine days, but those games come against the three teams at the bottom of the standings.
9. James Madison (19-6, 12-1 Colonial)
After starting the season 5-5, including losses against Hampton and Monmouth and a pair of overtime victories against Montana and Central Florida, James Madison heads toward March on firmer ground. Wins at home against Old Dominion on Feb. 6 and at Virginia Commonwealth on Feb. 10 put the Dukes out in front in the conference race, although difficult road games remain at Delaware and Hofstra before a home finale against third-place UNC-Wilmington. Boston College transfer Lauren Whitehurst is averaging 8.1 rebounds per game in CAA competition, compared to 4.9 per game prior to conference play.
10. TCU (17-8, 9-2 Mountain West)
TCU trails BYU by a game in the standings, but in a top-heavy league, the Horned Frogs are 3-0 against the only other two teams with winning conference records. The defending champions put a curious two-game slide against New Mexico and Air Force behind them with recent victories against third-place Wyoming, UNLV and San Diego State. Helena Sverrisdottir played 93 minutes combined in those games and turned over the ball a grand total of once.
Next five: Middle Tennessee, Charlotte, Dayton, BYU, Toledo