Xavier is No. 1 in final mid-major top 10

March, 5, 2010
03/05/10
12:27
AM ET

1. Xavier (24-3, 14-0 Atlantic 10)

Notable wins: USC, Arizona State, Kansas, Minnesota, Middle Tennessee St., Temple, Dayton (twice)
Losses: Michigan State, Michigan, LSU

The frontcourt lived up to all expectations, especially as Amber Harris continued to make her way back from the knee injury that kept her out last season. She fell just six rebounds shy of giving Xavier two players who averaged double-doubles in league play (Ta'Shia Phillips managed that feat for the third season in a row). But the outside shooting provided by Katie Rutan, Tyeasha Moss and Special Jennings was also noteworthy. The Musketeers shot 37.7 percent from the 3-point line overall this season, up from 32.5 and 31.5 percent the previous two seasons, respectively.

2. Gonzaga (25-4, 14-0 West Coast Conference)

Notable wins: USC
Losses: South Dakota State, Stanford, Baylor, Texas A&M

Did Gonzaga do enough to merit an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should it fail to win the WCC's automatic bid? It missed out two seasons ago after going 23-7 during the regular season, including 13-1 in the WCC, but that team didn't beat league opponents by more than 30 points per game, as this edition did in sweeping the slate. In addition to leading the nation in assists, Courtney Vandersloot overcame an early-season shooting funk to hit 57.5 percent of her total shots and 44.2 percent of her 3-point attempts in conference games. And for all the attention Vandersloot and Heather Bowman get and deserve, Vivian Frierson gives the team a third spotlight player.

3. Hartford (25-3, 16-0 America East)

Notable wins: Temple, Bowling Green, Vermont (twice)
Losses: Providence, Connecticut, Marist

The state of Connecticut nearly had two teams allow fewer than 50 points per game during the regular season, the Hawks nearly matching the undefeated team from Storrs in that regard. Erica Beverly and Diana Delva don't have the size of Xavier's Harris and Phillips, but they're perfect complements for each other. Delva is a terrific offensive rebounder with a good touch around the basket and Beverly is a phenomenal defensive player. If they hit some outside shots -- and Jackie Smith came on strong from the 3-point line in America East play -- the Hawks can make some noise the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

4. Princeton (23-2, 11-0 Ivy League)

Notable wins: Delaware, Lehigh, Drexel
Losses: UCLA, Rutgers

Without a conference tournament in the Ivy League, Princeton still has some regular-season work to do, but the league hasn't proved much of a challenge for the Tigers thus far. Led by a freshman with nearly unlimited potential in Niveen Rasheed but also possessing good balance, a strong post presence in Devona Allgood and a steady, pass-first point guard in Lauren Polansky, there are some similarities between this Princeton team and the Marist team in Rachele Fitz's freshman season -- the one that advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual national champion Tennessee.

5. Fresno State (25-5, 16-0 WAC)

Notable wins: Louisiana Tech (twice)
Losses: USC, TCU, Stanford, West Virginia, Boston College

The Bulldogs have a distinct style and one they execute well, averaging nearly 25 3-point attempts and forcing 20 turnovers per game. They aren't necessarily equipped to win games in March in the paint -- they were outrebounded in four of their five high-profile losses, often by significant margins -- but they still finished with a positive rebounding margin for the season. That accomplishment, combined with the perfect conference record, seems suggestive of a team that isn't going to lose focus or beat itself. Junior star Jaleesa Ross fits that bill, doing pretty much everything well.

6. Dayton (23-6, 11-3 Atlantic 10)

Notable wins: Michigan State, Georgetown, Purdue, Temple
Losses: Louisville, Toledo, Vermont, Saint Joseph's, Xavier (twice)

How does a team respond to adversity? Dayton dropped a tough game at home against Louisville early in the season and bounced back to beat Georgetown and Purdue on consecutive days. It lost a surprising decision at Saint Joseph's in league play and obliterated a pretty good Richmond team 83-31 three days later. It lost twice to Xavier, once in a rout and once in an overtime heartbreaker, and came back with wins against Charlotte and Temple, respectively. This is a tough, deep, adept defensive team that can play with a lot of postseason-caliber teams when it gets some shots to go down.

7. TCU (22-6, 12-3 Mountain West)

Notable wins: Texas A&M, Fresno State, Kansas, BYU, San Diego State, Utah (twice)
Losses: Oklahoma, NC State, Minnesota, Wyoming, New Mexico, San Diego State

The Mountain West was not an easy league this season, and the Horned Frogs still finished two games clear of the closest competition. Helena Sverrisdottir is a stud in any setting. One of the few worrying signs for the Horned Frogs was a 6-5 record on the road (7-6 including neutral-court games). Perhaps that's not fair for a team that nearly beat Oklahoma in Norman and survived four overtimes at Utah, but it can't be ignored after last season's postseason flame out in the conference and NCAA tournaments.

8. Arkansas-Little Rock (24-5, 17-1 Sun Belt)

Notable wins: Middle Tennessee
Losses: Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Drake, Mississippi, South Alabama

Nebraska and Connecticut are the only perfect teams over the entire season at the moment, but they aren't the only team perfect in 2010. Arkansas-Little Rock has been rolling since a loss at South Alabama on Dec. 16. Like league rival Middle Tennessee, it's a team constructed perfectly around a star. Chastity Reed averages 24.8 points and 7.9 rebounds, but she's complemented by three guards in Kim Sitzmann, Asriel Rolfe and Shanika Butler. Sitzmann and Rolfe provide 3-point cover and the trio has combined to total 333 assists and just 139 turnovers, astounding ball control.

9. Green Bay (25-3, 14-3 Horizon League)

Notable wins: DePaul, Wisconsin, Marquette
Losses: Loyola, Illinois-Chicago, Detroit

The heady times when Green Bay appeared headed toward the top 10 nationally (and the slightly less heady feat of topping these rankings) are long gone, but the Phoenix have quietly gone about righting the ship after a midseason slump. They still need to win the Horizon's automatic bid to make the NCAA tournament, but they've won five of their last seven games by 19 or more points, the lone single-digit victory a 61-54 win at Butler with first place on the line. All but two of their opponents in those seven games shot worse than 40 percent from the floor, and one of the two that fared better turned over the ball 30 times, noticeable improvement for Green Bay's defense.

10. Middle Tennessee (22-5, 17-1 Sun Belt)

Notable wins: Kentucky
Losses: LSU, Tennessee, Xavier, South Dakota State, Arkansas-Little Rock

It was a long climb back from what was a bit of a disappointing start for a team with tremendous potential. It wasn't the losses so much as the scale of defeat that surprised. But with the constant of All-America candidate Alysha Clark to rally around, the Blue Raiders started doing what they can do so well -- bury teams who pay too much attention to Clark from the perimeter. Middle Tennessee shot just 29.2 percent from the 3-point line out of conference, including just 29-for-108 in four nonconference losses. In Sun Belt play, it hit 41.9 percent of its 3-point attempts.

Next five: Illinois State (22-5), James Madison (23-6), Vermont (23-6), Old Dominion (16-12), Marist (23-7)

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

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