Creighton climbs up mid-major poll
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.
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