Green Bay maintains hold atop espnW mid-major rankings

Senior forward Rosemarie Julien leads FGCU in scoring with 13.8 points per game. Courtesy FGCU Athletics

Drummers drumming? Lords a leaping? Maids a milking? That's all well and good, but what would December be without 10 mid-majors mingling?

We'll be back after Christmas. For now, here are the rankings.

1. Green Bay (8-1)

The Phoenix earned a place in the AP Top 25 after a win against ranked Marquette on Dec. 2, then lived up to the ranking with a commanding win at Dayton and a rout at Loyola, a former conference opponent that had a knack for tripping up even the best Green Bay teams during the years they shared in the Horizon League (Loyola is now in the Missouri Valley).

Candidates abound for mid-major player of the year. Gonzaga's Jill Barta, George Mason's Natalie Butler and Miami's Lauren Dickerson are in the midst of mesmerizing years. UC Davis' Morgan Bertsch, Western Kentucky's Tashia Brown and Central Michigan's Presley Hudson are piling up numbers for teams that reside in or near these rankings. But it will not be easy to pry the award away from Green Bay and one of this season's favorites in Jessica Lindstrom.

Green Bay's offensive system isn't built to highlight one player, but Lindstrom showed off the ways she can influence and dominate games with 29 points and 17 rebounds at Dayton. A tireless rebounder and bulldozer when she gets the ball in the post, she shoots 64 percent from inside the 3-point line but also 40 percent from beyond it. And along with fellow senior Allie LeClaire, she is a leader who perpetuates, rather than takes for granted, the program's culture.

Last week: No. 1

2. South Dakota State (8-2)

Louisville took the challenge and escaped Brookings, South Dakota, on Dec. 3 with its perfect record barely intact. Oklahoma wasn't as fortunate three days later. Like Louisville coach Jeff Walz, give Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale credit for going to play in a tough environment (she did the same against Marist at the height of that program's mid-major reign). But the Jackrabbits showed in both games why so few are willing to make the trip, and why they are No. 2 here. Freshman Myah Selland continues to look like a future cornerstone, totaling 14 points and seven rebounds against Louisville and 12 points and nine rebounds against Oklahoma.

The schedule offers fewer brand names in the coming days, but it doesn't get much easier. Tricky road games await at Creighton, Drake and Florida Gulf Coast before the end of the year.

Last week: No. 2

3. New Mexico (11-0)

New Mexico puts up a lot of numbers, but perhaps the most telling is the number of people walking through the door to watch the Lobos. Always an attraction at home, the Lobos drew their biggest crowd of the season in a win against Texas Tech on Dec. 6, then beat that with a crowd of 6,763 in a win against previously unbeaten Navy on Dec. 10. Winning all your games while ranking ninth in the nation in scoring will get people to pay attention.

Those home wins were part of the most difficult stretch of the schedule thus far, coming on the heels of road wins at UTEP and New Mexico State. That stretch continues with a trip to Oklahoma this weekend. The 59-35 win at UTEP was particularly instructive. In a game played at something other than New Mexico's preferred pace, and with leading scorer Cherise Beynon limited to 12 minutes by foul trouble, the Lobos got 19 points from Tesha Buck, forced 25 turnovers and held their opponent to single digits in each of the final three quarters.

Last week: No. 3

4. Florida Gulf Coast (10-2)

Mid-major teams have a legitimate gripe about the unwillingness of established programs from major conferences to come visit them, but the smaller schools need to do something with those opportunities when they arise. That is precisely what Florida Gulf Coast did in a 70-64 win against No. 20 Kentucky in Fort Myers, Florida, on Dec. 8. Rested after their grueling schedule over Thanksgiving week -- when they played six games in nine days, including two against ranked opponents -- the Eagles came out strong against the Wildcats and then used 15 second-half points and two second-half assists from Rosemarie Julien to hang on to their lead.

Florida Gulf Coast faces Chattanooga on the road on Dec. 17. The Mocs are 5-1 in their past six games, including wins against Auburn, Indiana and Northwestern.

Last week: No. 7

5. UC Davis (9-0)

The West Coast Conference has generally had the edge in reputation over the Big West in terms of mid-major basketball in recent seasons, but UC Davis is having none of that. The Aggies beat San Francisco and Saint Mary's by a combined 41 points in recent days, the second of those games on the road. That after wins against Pepperdine and Pacific earlier this season.

Asserting supremacy over the Pac-12 is a bigger ask, but after a win earlier this season against Washington State, UC Davis plays its biggest nonconference game of the year at Oregon State on Dec. 20. At the very least, an improvement on last season's 41-point loss should be expected.

Last week: No. 6

6. Belmont (8-2)

It hasn't been a busy month on the court for the Bruins, but Darby Maggard is making the most of those minutes available. The junior point guard, a former top-100 recruit and currently a tick ahead of Mississippi State's similarly diminutive Morgan William for the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation, has been letting shots fly from long range. In wins against Presbyterian and Lipscomb, Maggard hit 11 of 24 3-point attempts. The surge sends her into the top 20 nationally in 3-pointers per game (3.40). Belmont will be excited for center Sally McCabe's return from a shoulder injury in the coming days, but Maggard had her back.

The spotlight game of the next two weeks is the intra-city rivalry with Vanderbilt on Dec. 21, but a visit from Wright State on Dec. 18 should be just as telling.

Last week: No. 5

7. Ball State (9-0)

Who are we to argue with perfection? Along with UC Davis and New Mexico, Ball State is one of the last three mid-majors without a loss. A 66-60 win at Purdue on Dec. 4 cemented Ball State's debut in these rankings. That was the MAC team's third win against a team from a major conference, following earlier wins against Butler and Vanderbilt. The formula against the Boilermakers looked a lot like the formula all season, with Moriah Monaco and Carmen Grande combining for 35 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists. A native of Spain, Grande is currently ninth among active NCAA Division I players in career assists -- the only non-senior in the top 15 on that list.

Last week: NR

8. Duquesne (9-2)

As is its wont in recent seasons, Duquesne could offer fans a free concert with every game simply by playing every national anthem represented on its roster. But the basketball melting pot has produced seven consecutive victories, including a recent 19-point win against a good Toledo squad to add to earlier wins against ACC opponents Pitt and Virginia. One leading scorer, Chassidy Omogrosso, comes from about 40 miles up the road. The other, Julijana Vojinovic, comes from slightly farther afield. The Serbian junior has been especially prolific of late, averaging 21.5 points on 48 percent shooting and 47 percent 3-point shooting in four December games.

While the circled event on the schedule is a game against Connecticut in Toronto on Dec. 22, Duquesne's next game is a compelling visit from Central Michigan. Which brings us to ...

Last week: NR

9. Central Michigan (8-1)

A second MAC team makes its debut, which perhaps shouldn't be a surprise. Entering play Tuesday, MAC teams had a combined 72-35 record. That isn't easy for a mid-major league, whose weaker teams usually spend the season's early months serving up wins to teams from bigger conferences (the MAAC, for example, had a 27-72 record in the same span). A team that loves to play at a fast tempo, Central Michigan is always good entertainment value, but wins against Iowa State, San Diego State and Vanderbilt this season show quality, too.

One of just three active upperclassmen in Division I averaging double-digit rebounds for her college career, junior Reyna Frost averaged better than 13 rebounds in the aforementioned three signature wins and had 23 points and 16 rebounds in a competitive loss against Purdue.

Last week: NR

10. Rice (6-2)

The kind of school where final exams are more challenging than even conference road games, Rice hasn't been on the court much this month, a comfortable win against Incarnate Word the only December result. But after some slips by teams that kept them out of the rankings last time, the Owls move up to claim a place for the first time under second-year coach Tina Langley. A former assistant on some of Maryland's best teams, Langley might be a somewhat familiar name. But not nearly as familiar as that attached to Erica and Olivia Ogwumike, the younger sisters of former Stanford stars Chiney and Nneka. Erica and Olivia are combining to average 31.2 points per game this season for the Owls (Olivia didn't play in the most recent win against Incarnate Word).

Last week: NR

Dropped out: Loyola Marymount, Middle Tennessee State, Northern Colorado, Saint Joseph's

Previous polls: Nov. 15 | Nov. 29