Xavier among two A-10 teams in mid-major poll
1. Xavier (20-3, 10-0 Atlantic 10): It dealt with a scare at home against Saint Joseph's -- a three-point game with less than a minute to play -- but Xavier mostly keeps rolling through the Atlantic 10. After a bit of a rough patch, Special Jennings had 18 points and only three turnovers in 30 minutes at Duquesne. A game at home against Charlotte near the end of the month can't be overlooked, but the biggest hurdle remaining between the Musketeers and a sweep of the conference is Wednesday's Ohio derby at Dayton.
2. Gonzaga (21-4, 10-0 West Coast): Another installment of mid-major rankings, and another record for the Bulldogs. This time it's point guard Courtney Vandersloot taking possession of the assists record in the West Coast Conference -- midway through her junior season. The wins also keep coming, and although the margins shrank in recent tilts, winning three straight by double digits on a road swing through Saint Mary's, Portland and San Diego isn't easy. Tiffanie Shives hit 10 of 17 from behind the arc in the three games.
3. Hartford (21-3, 12-0 America East): Entering Thursday's game against Binghamton, Hartford has held back-to-back opponents to fewer than 40 points and its past eight opponents to fewer than 50 points. Sparking things on the other end, Jackie Smith had 16 assists and just five turnovers in three games since the last rankings. Three of the Hawks' final four games are at home, including the regular-season finale against Vermont. (The America East tournament is also a home affair for them.)
4. Princeton (19-2, 7-0 Ivy League): The biggest conference tests for Princeton come in the first week of March, with trips to Harvard and Dartmouth on back-to-back nights as per Ivy League scheduling norms, but the Tigers keep taking care of business. Dartmouth kept things close at Princeton on Feb. 6 but still came out on the wrong end of a double-digit margin, something true in each of Princeton's first seven league games. Freshman Niveen Rasheed is averaging 13.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in conference play.
5. TCU (19-5, 9-2 Mountain West): TCU finally got a big win on the road in conference play, outlasting Utah 105-96 in a four-overtime thriller at Utah that landed Utes star Kalee Whipple on "SportsCenter" for one buzzer-beating 3-pointer to prolong the night. Tuesday's game at San Diego State could effectively wrap up the regular-season title for the Horned Frogs. Stretching over the past four games (she played all but two minutes in the four-overtime game), Helena Sverrisdottir has just five turnovers in her past 134 minutes of basketball.
6. Fresno State (20-5, 11-0 WAC): Here's how Fresno State coach Adrian Wiggins made his case recently: "If you flipped and put our name on Arizona State's stats or UCLA's stats and changed the names, I think you'd be amazed at what you'd think about our team." He has a point. The lack of a signature win hurts in raising the profile, but the Bulldogs played Stanford close into the second half and acquitted themselves well on the road at TCU and USC without guard Emma Andrews early on. The next hurdle comes with Nevada, second in the WAC, at home on Saturday, followed by trips to Louisiana Tech and Boise State in the week that follows.
7. Dayton (20-5, 8-2 Atlantic 10): The game against Xavier in Cincinnati two weeks ago ended up a rout, but home court and keeping point guard Patrice Lalor out of early foul trouble this time could at least give the Flyers some sense of optimism. Lalor has 19 assists against just six turnovers in four games since the Xavier loss, and the Flyers are averaging just 12 turnovers per game in their past three games, all wins.
8. Green Bay (20-3, 9-3 Horizon): The Phoenix have more important things to worry about than mid-major rankings or even Top 25 rankings. They trail Detroit by 1½ games in the Horizon standings and don't have the luxury of another game against the leaders in the race for potential hosting duties in the conference tournament. (The teams split their games this season, each winning on its home court.) It's very strange to look at conference statistics and find Green Bay next to last in field goal defense.
9. Illinois State (18-5, 11-1 Missouri Valley): The Redbirds beat Missouri State on Sunday, their 11th win in a row and a result that keeps them two games clear of Creighton in the loss column in the Missouri Valley. (The Bluejays handed Illinois State its only conference loss, a decisive 69-44 decision in early January, and the two teams meet at Creighton during the final weekend of the regular season.) Missouri State's Casey Garrison might be hard to displace, but Illinois State's Ashleen Bracey is making a run of her own at player of the year honors. Bracey is second in the league in points and rebounding and shooting 37 percent on 3-pointers.
10. Arkansas-Little Rock (20-5, 13-1 Sun Belt): A preseason contender, Arkansas-Little Rock dropped off the radar a bit after early losses to Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Drake and Ole Miss, and again after the Trojans lost their conference opener at South Alabama. But since that last one, more than a week before Christmas, Arkansas-Little Rock hasn't done anything but win, and the streak stands at 13 after Saturday's victory over Western Kentucky. Chastity Reed is averaging 24.6 points per game, while guards Shanika Butler and Asriel Rolfe are averaging a combined 8.2 assists against just 3.0 turnovers per game.
Next five: Vermont, Old Dominion, Drexel, Middle Tennessee, Marist