Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Silent majority rankings #2

Our second ranking of the top women's basketball teams in the non-BCS conferences. Click here to see our preseason rankings.

1. Delaware (2-0)
Elena Delle Donne snagged the headlines for her 40-point, 13-rebound tour de force in last week's 80-71 victory over then-No. 11 Penn State, but it takes an entire team to engineer a victory of this significance. So our biggest takeaway from that result is that the Blue Hens really do have enough quality pieces around their star to do special things this season. No time to celebrate, though - Delaware's next three games are at Villanova (Tuesday), at St. Bonaventure (Sunday) and at Princeton (Dec. 1) - each one a contest in which the Blue Hens will have to be at or near peak efficiency to survive. By the way, Delle Donne is averaging 36.5 points in the two games and is on pace to finish the Blue Hens' 28-game regular season with 1,022. We're just sayin'....

2. Green Bay (3-0)
As talented and well-coached as this group is, we figured that, with the loss of the Co-Horizon League Players of the Year, there had to be some dropoff. Well, through three games the Phoenix are averaging 83.3 points on 53.4 shooting (50 percent from 3-point range), have scored 93 points off 75 forced turnovers and are winning by an average of 23.3 points. Some dropoff, huh? Our favorite Green Bay stat - six of the nine players to see action this season are shooting 100 percent from the free throw line, and overall the team is 54-of-59 from the line (91.5 percent).

3. Gonzaga (2-1)
Not only will we not penalize the Zags for their 76-61 loss at Stanford, we're giving them bonus points for leading at halftime at a place where the Cardinal never loses (64 straight wins at Maples Pavilion). As expected, Oregon State transfer Haiden Palmer (13.7 ppg) and Kansas State transfer Taelor Karr (7.0 ppg, team-high 15 assists) have been welcome additions to a Gonzaga team that is as explosive as ever (84.3 ppg).

4. Princeton (4-0)
The Tigers won't get much national attention for it, but to us, getting wins against Villanova and at Marist by a combined 32 points over a three day span might be the most impressive two-game sweep in Division I so far. Statistically at least, Tigers star Niveen Rasheed (19.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg) has shown no ill effects of the knee injury that cost her most of the 2010-11 season. But Niveen's individual brilliance is only part of a well-coordinated attack that elevates these Tigers into a Top-25 caliber unit.

5. St. Bonaventure (4-0)
Got to watch the Bonnies in action the other day, and let's just say they're not the flashiest team we've seen. But in coming through unscathed after an opening four-game stretch that featured road games at St. John's and West Virginia, St. Bonaventure has yet to allow more than 58 points and is averaging just a shade over 10 turnovers a game. So hey, who needs flash?

6. Oral Roberts (4-0)
A couple of weeks ago, the Golden Eagles' three-point exhibition survival of Division II Central Oklahoma had us a bit concerned. But four games into the real season, they are who we thought they were - an explosive unit at both ends of the court led by one of the nation's elite scorers in Kevi Lupar. A 17-point win at Wisconsin proved that their act travels well. And in Saturday's 92-71 win over Louisiana Tech, the Golden Eagles unleashed Bernadett Balla (12 points), a 6-2 freshman from Hungary who appears poised to add even more firepower.

7. San Diego State (3-1)
This ranking is a nod to one of the most surprisingly emphatic victories of the season, the Aztecs' 82-74 pasting of then-No. 18 DePaul in the Rainbow Wahine Classic in Hawaii. The next day, SDSU dropped a 59-58 decision to Portland. But the Aztecs still emerged as the tournament champions - three teams finished with 2-1 records and SDSU won the tiebreaker. In addition, Arizona transfer Courtney Clements, a 6-0 guard who scorched the Blue Devils for 25 points and is averaging 21.2 ppg on 52.3-percent shooting was tournament MVP and Mountain West Player of the Week.

8. Toledo (1-1)
The Rockets' 10-point victory over Dayton before 3,467 fans at Savage Arena extended the Rockets' home winning streak to 19. An 84-68 loss at Green Bay followed, but we're not going to be too critical of Toledo for that. As you can tell by these rankings, we think this Phoenix bunch is just that good.

9. Hofstra (2-1)

The Pride didn't just beat St. John's; they ran the Red Storm out of the building in a 93-82 home decision that featured 29 points from sharpshooter Kate Loper and a 27-point, 14-rebound effort from U.S. Pan American Games team member Shante Evans. As evidenced by a 90.3 points per game average, this veteran-rich Pride squad seems to be mastering their high-octane style. The lone loss was a 101-88 setback at Gonzaga that we bet was entertaining as heck to watch.

10. Tulane (4-0)
The best team in Louisiana? Sure looks that way so far as all four of the Green Wave's victories have come against in-state schools, with the obvious highlight being Sunday's 65-62 stunner over then-20th-ranked LSU. Eager to see how well they fare against programs from the other 49 states; Friday's game against Purdue in the Cancun Challenge figures to be quite illuminating.

11. Hampton (2-0)
On offense, these Lady Pirates occasionally look as though they just met each other 15 minutes ago. But man, can these guys defend. In their season opener, the Lady Pirates held Pitt to just 37 points, at Pitt. Granted, the Panthers are rebuilding with all freshmen and sophomores. But those guys have averaged 73.3 points in going 3-0 since that Hampton game. Besides, the Lady Pirates have been suffocating opponents defensively ever since third-year head coach David Six got there so we don't think the Pitt game was an outlier. If the Lady Pirates can execute more smoothly on offense, look out. But their defense alone will keep them in games against virtually anyone.

12. Florida Gulf Coast (2-1)
We were caught off guard by the Eagles' season-opening loss at Seton Hall. No disrespect to the Pirates, but FGCU has developed its program well beyond the point of being satisfied with merely being competitive with a Big East school, and frankly, we feel that's a game the Eagles should win. But just when we were wondering what's up with those guys, Sarah Hansen drained a free throw with less than a second remaining to lift the Eagles past Michigan State 59-58. Now that was a home game, and the Eagles virtually never lose in Alico Arena. Given what happened at Seton Hall, we're eager to see how they handle their next road trip. For now, though, we're giving them the benefit of the doubt.

13. UNLV (4-0)
The Lady Rebels' hot start - the team's best in 10 years - includes a 10-point victory at Iowa. Defense has been the key, as UNLV has held three of its four opponents to 30 percent shooting or less and two foes to 39 points or less. This defense will be put to its stiffest test on Sunday when the Lady Rebels face either Georgia or Georgetown in the final/consolation game of their own Lady Rebel Roundup.

14. Central Arkansas 3-0
Not sure which is more impressive - getting victories over Indiana and Alabama, or the mere idea of getting those schools to come to Central Arkansas, where the home team has gone 27-6 the past two years. The Sugar Bears (love that name) managed to do both, and with five returning starters from a 21-win team, something tells us these victories weren't flukes. We still want to see the team maintain this level in a road game. But early indications are this often-overlooked team is poised for its biggest season yet. By the way, love the school website headline on the home victory over Alabama - "Crowd rises, Tide falls." Nice.

15. James Madison (4-0)
Dukes coach Kenny Brooks will tell you his team still has a lot to work through. But the Dukes have managed to win through their growing pains, and holding an explosive team like Middle Tennessee State to 46 points in Sunday's 14-point home victory suggests the defense may be getting there faster than anyone realizes. Sophomore Kirby Burkholder has been a revelation as a scorer, and Boston College transfer Jasmine Gill had a breakout game against MTSU with a game-high 18 points. Can't wait to see what this team looks like when they get everything figured out.

On the verge: Vermont, Charlotte, Richmond, SMU, Memphis, UC Davis, Robert Morris.

Whatever happened to...

Marist (1-2): No shame in losses to Villanova and at Princeton. We've seen nothing to indicate these Red Foxes won't soon start working their way back up these rankings.

Duquesne (2-1) - The offense (81.3 ppg) is terrific. But the Dukes allowed 52-percent shooting in a four-point win at St. Francis, then got lit up at a 57.8-percent clip in Sunday's 86-80 loss at North Dakota.

Dayton (1-2): Sluggish, slow starts have doomed the Flyers in consecutive road losses at Toledo and Cincinnati. Surprising; we expected this mostly veteran group to really hit the ground running.

Temple 2-2: Owls coming off a disappointing Midwest road string featuring losses at Ohio State and Northern Illinois.

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