Xavier sits atop mid-major rankings

December, 7, 2009

Blame the NCAA women's soccer tournament for delaying the biweekly rankings by a day, although that also means the first mid-major rankings submitted from 30,000 feet.

1. Xavier (7-0)

Pac-10, Big 12, Big Ten, mid-major powers -- bring on all challengers. Xavier just keeps rolling, following Thanksgiving weekend wins against Kansas and Minnesota with convincing victories at home against Middle Tennessee and Cincinnati. Michigan State, Michigan, Mississippi and LSU still loom among noteworthy games before Atlantic 10 play kicks off with a Jan. 10 showdown against Temple. Point guard Special Jennings had 15 assists versus just six turnovers against the Blue Raiders and Bearcats.

2. Gonzaga (7-2)

Stanford proved it could run with the Bulldogs, cruising to a 105-74 win three days after Thanksgiving, but few other teams are staying with Gonzaga. Coach Kelly Graves' team has yet to score fewer than 70 points in a game. Courtney Vandersloot's shooting numbers haven't stabilized yet, but she's averaging better than 10 assists per game. Games against Baylor and Texas A&M in Las Vegas the week before Christmas offer one last chance to make a statement out of conference.

3. Dayton (8-1)

The Flyers enjoyed a well-earned light stretch over the last two weeks, following a tough early schedule with easy wins against Chicago State, Illinois-Chicago, Milwaukee and Wright State. Sophomore point guard Patrice Lalor made the most of the run, totaling 20 assists in the team's last three games. Through nine games, she has a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, up significantly from last season.

4. Hartford (6-1)

Things aren't likely to go well when Hartford squares off against Connecticut this Thursday, but wins against Temple and Louisville are better measures of this team's potential. The Hawks do have road wins against a pair of NCAA tournament teams from a season ago, Dartmouth and Sacred Heart, but bigger road tests (like at Marist Dec. 19 or America East co-favorite Vermont on Jan. 26) will reveal more about the Hawks.

5. Temple (6-1)

There's no shame in losing to Hartford on the Hawks' court, and Temple bounced back from that defeat on Nov. 28 to beat Rutgers on the road four days later. The Owls now have wins against Rutgers, Illinois and Auburn, whose combined record in all other games is 18-5. Not too shabby. Coach Tonya Cardoza was unhappy with LaKeisha Eaddy after the Hartford loss; Eaddy responded with 16 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and three assists against the Scarlet Knights.

6. Wisconsin-Green Bay (7-0)

Victories at Wisconsin and at home against DePaul since last we ranked help the Phoenix crack the Top 10. Leading scorers Kayla Tetschlag and Celeste Hoewisch did their part in both big wins, but there also appears to be plenty of depth on a new-look team in the likes of redshirt sophomore Julie Wojta (25 points against DePaul) and freshman Adrian Ritchie (nine points against DePaul, seven rebounds against Wisconsin).

7. James Madison (6-0)

All right, make some room on the James Madison bandwagon. Sunday's win against Virginia in Charlottesville is the highlight of the season's first month for the Dukes, but an early win against Georgetown looks better and better as the Hoyas hold their own. That Dawn Evans is a phenomenal scorer is hardly breaking news, but 38 points against Monica Wright and the Cavaliers is special even by her standards. A game at Duke (which will be coming off a Stanford trip) looms on Dec. 18.

8. Louisiana Tech (3-2)

It might seem strange for a team coming off back-to-back losses to make a debut in these rankings, but the Lady Techsters showed more in a three-point loss against LSU and a second-half rally after a bad first half at Baylor than victories against pushover foes would have. Shanavia Dowdell is right there with Erica Beverly as a slightly undersized post player (who isn't compared to Brittney Griner?) deserving of more attention.

9. San Diego State (4-3)

Thanksgiving was unkind to the Aztecs, who narrowly missed an upset against Notre Dame, lost by three against South Carolina and dropped an 87-48 decision against Oklahoma that's likely to be what many remember -- such is life for mid-majors. Simply put, the Aztecs aren't taking care of the basketball. They're already running a deficit of 52 more turnovers than assists; the deficit was just 66 for all of last season.

10. Middle Tennessee (3-3)

Going 0-3 against Tennessee, LSU and Xavier isn't the end of the world, particularly with the latter two coming on the road, but it would be good to see the Blue Raiders be competitive down the stretch in a big game. With their next four at Louisville and South Dakota State and home against Western Kentucky and Kentucky, they have a chance to make some headway against teams in the next tier down. The 3-point shooting (40-of-142) just hasn't been there.

Next five: TCU (5-3); Illinois State (3-2); Vermont (5-1); Western Kentucky (4-3); St. Bonaventure (8-0)

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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