Zags, BYU give WCC two entries

January, 25, 2012
01/25/12
1:11
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1. Green Bay (17-0 overall, 7-0 Horizon)

The Phoenix -- one of only two mid-major teams in the top 10 nationally in scoring margin, along with Florida Gulf Coast -- keep rolling. So, too, does All-American candidate Julie Wojta, but Green Bay is much more than one player. Coach Matt Bollant talked recently about wanting his players to be more aggressive going to the rim, rather than relying on the 3-pointer, but it's easy to see from whence the temptation comes. One reason the Phoenix cracked the top 10 in the coaches' poll for the first time is they are a better outside shooting team than last year's Sweet 16 edition, particularly given the new 3-point line. Led by Lydia Bauer (40.8 percent from behind the arc) and Adrian Ritchie (35.4 percent), the Phoenix are hitting 6.6 3-pointers per game at 36.6 percent, compared to 5.3 per game at 35.7 percent a season ago. Yet they also average 19.2 free throw attempts per game, exactly the same mark as a season ago because Bauer, Ritchie and Sarah Eichler have each already topped last season's attempts.

2. Delaware (16-1 overall, 7-0 Colonial Athletic Association)

After averaging 33 points per game over a three-game stretch to begin the new year, Elena Delle Donne is averaging "just" 20.3 points in her four most recent games. Trouble for the Blue Hens? Not so much. Delaware's opponents are shooting just 34.9 percent this season, and that's down to 32.9 percent in Colonial play. Delle Donne remains the only player averaging double digits for the season, but Lauren Carra is averaging 10.7 points per game in seven conference games. And tied for eighth in the conference in assists? That would be Delle Donne. She's not bad.

3. St. Bonaventure (18-2 overall, 5-0 Atlantic 10)

The Bonnies didn't take the easy route before conference play, winning big games on the road against the likes of St. John's and West Virginia, and they aren't taking the easy route to the top of the Atlantic 10. Charlotte, Duquesne, Richmond and Temple are a combined 0-4 against St. Bonaventure and 12-2 against the rest of the Atlantic 10. The Temple win Jan. 11 and the Charlotte win Jan. 21 are part of an 8-0 road record for the Bonnies this season. Along with road games at Duquesne and Dayton in February, Wednesday's home game against Saint Joseph's looks on paper like one of the few hurdles remaining between this team and a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

4. Florida Gulf Coast (17-2 overall. 9-0 Atlantic Sun)

For Florida Gulf Coast, it's live by the 3-pointer or, well, win by slightly less by the 3-pointer. The nation's most prolific team from behind the arc suffered through a 7-for-31 night in its most recent game at Stetson, the team closest to the Eagles in the Atlantic Sun standings. On the road and shooting 23 percent on their bread and butter? What seemed like a sure recipe for a loss was instead a 59-55 win. Granted, Florida Gulf Coast probably isn't going to pull many March upsets if it isn't at its best from the 3-point line, but good teams find ways to win on bad nights.

5. Princeton (13-4 overall, 3-0 Ivy League)

Most of the teams on this list have little difficulty winning conference games, but Princeton is taking it to extremes in Ivy League play. The Tigers, who are in the middle of their annual midwinter schedule lull, won their first three Ivy games by an average of 41 points per game. The Tigers are crushing conference opponents on the boards, holding an advantage of better than 25 rebounds per game, but that isn't entirely new. Despite playing a tough schedule out of conference, the Tigers own a nearly double-digit rebound margin per game for the entire season. Credit that mid-major rarity to Niveen Rasheed and Devona Allgood inside, but also to a group of guards who rebound well.

6. Gonzaga (17-3 overall, 6-1 West Coast Conference)

Since beating Georgia and Dayton in Las Vegas just before Christmas, Gonzaga has run off seven wins by double-digit margins, including five on the road in conference play. Unfortunately for its cause, it also lost a game in that stretch against Saint Mary's, its only game against the other teams currently in the top three in the WCC. Oregon State transfer Haiden Palmer and Kansas State transfer Taelor Karr continue to keep the Bulldogs in business from the 3-point line. On the season, they account for 63 of the team's 95 3-pointers.

7. BYU (18-3 overall, 7-1 West Coast Conference)

The Cougars entered the AP Top 25 this week, making the WCC the only mid-major league with two ranked teams (Saint Mary's is receiving votes in the AP poll and beat both BYU and Gonzaga already, only to fall a half-game off the pace in a buzzer-beater loss at San Francisco on Monday). BYU has yet to play Gonzaga and lost at Saint Mary's on New Year's Eve, but it did earn a road win of value at San Diego on Jan. 14. Redshirt sophomore reserve Stephanie Vermunt doesn't have the necessary attempts to qualify for the national lead, but she's putting together a memorable season from the 3-point line, converting at 55.8 percent on 29-of-52 shooting from long distance.

8. Bowling Green (16-3 overall. 6-0 Mid-American)

The season started slowly for Bowling Green, at least by its standards, as the program sought to replace Lauren Prochaska and Tracy Pontius. They narrowly missed an upset against Purdue and dropped games at Dayton and Creighton, their three best nonconference opponents. But there's no secret as to why the Falcons now look like a team that might get to play postseason basketball in their new building, a first- and second-round NCAA tournament site. Duke transfer Alexis Rogers is averaging 20.3 points per game in conference play, up nearly 10 per game over nonconference action, giving Curt Miller a viable one-two punch with junior Chrissy Steffen (14.6 points per game).

9. Middle Tennessee (16-5 overall. 8-0 Sun Belt)

Another familiar name is reclaiming familiar territory in the top 10. The Blue Raiders haven't looked back since beating Kentucky just before January arrived, winning seven in a row since as part of an overall 10-game winning streak. Ebony Rowe remains a force, averaging 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game overall, but she has had plenty of help in Sun Belt play. Assists leader Kortni Jones had at least a share of the scoring lead in five of the first eight conference games, including important road wins at South Alabama and Florida Atlantic.

10. Fresno State (15-4, 3-1 Western Athletic)

A 73-71 loss at UNLV early in January was a setback for a team that would have liked a quality road win to go with its home upset against Oklahoma earlier in the season. Still, that defeat didn't derail the Bulldogs. They close out January at home against San Jose State and Hawaii after winning their previous four games by an average of 21 points per game. Ki-Ki Moore remains the go-to option, but sophomore Taylor Thompson had a hot hand in the first three WAC games, averaging 13 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game. The team's leader in assists, Thompson has just 30 turnovers in 582 minutes this season.

Next five: Hofstra, UTEP, Marist, San Diego State, St. Mary's

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