- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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An updated mid-major top 10 through Tuesday's games:
1. Dayton (6-0):
It shouldn't appear this easy to replace four starters who helped make Dayton a regular in the NCAA tournament. But the new-look Flyers soar to the No. 1 ranking on the strength of victories against DePaul, Vanderbilt and Toledo. Everything is working. Sophomore Ally Malott is shooting 46 percent from the 3-point line and averaging 8.7 rebounds per game, showing the kind of all-around game that made her a McDonald's All-American in high school. Senior Samantha MacKay is already almost halfway to a career high in assists, with 35 against just 15 turnovers. And freshman Amber Deane had 39 points, 13 rebounds and just four turnovers in the wins against the Blue Demons and Commodores.
2. Middle Tennessee (4-1): They could have and maybe should have knocked off Iowa in the WNIT semifinals, losing in Iowa City after Iowa's Jaime Printy hit a 3-pointer with one second left to force overtime, but the Blue Raiders look legit. Junior Ebony Rowe played all 45 minutes in that game, and finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds. The big game obviously is Wednesday's tilt against Tennessee in Knoxville, but the next two weeks also feature a tough trip to South Dakota State and an even tougher, if shorter, trip to Kentucky. One concern is that Middle Tennessee's 3-point accuracy slipped badly last season and shows few indications of improving early this season.
3. Delaware (2-2):
You can rank Delaware exclusively on the merits of a 2-2 record that includes victories against Sam Houston State and Providence, hardly powerhouses, or you can rank the Blue Hens as a team that just regained the services of Elena Delle Donne. Since these rankings are about as scientific as Norse mythology to begin with, I'm invoking the Delle Donne codicil. Assuming she is back for good, games this month against Princeton and Maryland should reveal more about just where this team stands. Senior Danielle Parker (11.3 ppg, 10.7 rpg) continues doing her part.
4. Gonzaga (6-1): The Bulldogs were unsuccessful in their first attempt to claim a signature win, losing 55-42 against No. 7 Louisville in Mexico at a holiday tournament, but chances remain at home against No. 1 Stanford this weekend and later in the month against No. 15 Ohio State. With wins already to their credit against Southern California and Wisconsin, the Bulldogs are building a résumé. Freshman Elle Tinkle has yet to earn a regular place in the playing rotation, but the younger sister of Stanford standout Joslyn set a career high with 14 points off the bench against Winthrop in Mexico.
5. UTEP (5-0): Maintaining this ranking will be more difficult after the Miners lost 6-foot-4 senior post Kristine Vitola to a season-ending injury earlier in the month. The Latvian appeared headed for a breakthrough season as the team's leading scorer through three games. But even without Vitola, UTEP beat Arizona over the Thanksgiving holiday, giving the Miners a sweep of the Pac-12 Arizona schools. At least the Miners have depth in Latvians. Senior Anete Steinberga (yep, Latvian) led UTEP with 18 points in just 23 minutes in the win against Arizona.
6. Green Bay (4-1): An overtime loss in Cancun, Mexico, against James Madison was a disappointment, the Phoenix unable to find a way to slow down Tarik Hislop, but things seem stable in Kevin Borseth's return. Green Bay got a quality road win at Northern Iowa to open the season, and followed the loss against James Madison with victories against Missouri and Richmond. Seniors Adrian Ritchie (17.8 ppg) and Sarah Eichler (16.2 ppg) have stepped up the way returning starters always seem to when shifted to leading roles in the program, but Stephanie Sension's emergence after a bit role in seasons past is equally notable.
7. Chattanooga (4-1): What can Chattanooga do for an encore? No team wants to peak before the leaves are all off the trees, but the Lady Mocs already have one of the season's highlights as a result of a season-opening win against Tennessee. It will take some work to top that. They're also going to have to work to overcome a rebounding deficit that currently stands at 5.8 per game, something that cost them in a loss at Saint Mary's over the holiday weekend. The team opens conference play this week, but games against Auburn, Alabama and UAB offer some remaining regional tests out of conference.
8. Duquesne (4-1): Leading North Carolina in Chapel Hill with fewer than five minutes to play in the WNIT, Duquesne had to settle for a 52-48 loss in the end. But that effort, along with a win against Delaware (minus Delle Donne) and over a solid Liberty team earn Duquesne a place. The only person in Pittsburgh who could be more readily associated with turnovers than Jocelyn Floyd is poor Charlie Batch. Fortunately for Duquesne, Floyd is usually the one doing the taking in the transaction. She had 35 steals in her team's first five games this season. Here in the mid-major rankings, we call that Wojta-esque.
9. Hartford (5-1): The Hawks came close to a signature win at home against St. John's over Thanksgiving, leading the game midway through the second half before the Big East power turned things around for a 12-point victory. Even so, with wins against Marist and Richmond, Hartford looks capable of acquitting itself well against a December schedule that includes a trip to Vanderbilt and the always-daunting encounter with Connecticut (at least it will be on Hartford's court). An all-rookie selection in the America East last season, Amber Bepko keeps improving (10.8 ppg, 2.7 spg, 36 percent 3-point shooting).
10. Marist (3-3): Scheduling counts, and other than the opener against a rebuilding Vermont program, Marist hasn't had an easy night. Wake Forest is not the strongest ACC program, but bouncing back from losses against Connecticut and Purdue to beat the Demon Deacons in each team's third game in as many days is a quality result for the Red Foxes. Granted, if Marist continues to shoot 25 percent from the 3-point line (and that's after 12-of-28 shooting against Wake Forest), it's going to be a long season. But beating Wake Forest on tired legs and fellow top-10 contender Princeton in the wake of losing post Tori Jarosz to long-term injury shows some resilience.
Next five: Princeton, Arkansas-Little Rock, Toledo, Old Dominion, San Diego State
Previous polls: Nov. 9
14dBonnie D. Ford