Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Silent Majority rankings (through Jan. 24)

Haven't done this for a few weeks, and quite a bit has changed since our last edition including our No. 1 team (barely):

1. Green Bay (17-0, 7-0 Horizon)
Why No. 1: Debated this one quite a bit, as Delaware has a higher RPI and has been equally impressive against a tougher schedule. Ultimately, though, we couldn't argue with undefeated.
Star turn: Junior forward Lydia Bauer responded to a rare off night from Phoenix star Julie Wojta by pouring in 19 points in a victory over Youngstown State.
Dribbles and bits: Talk about balance: Five players scored in double figures for the Phoenix in Saturday's 80-58 rout of Cleveland State, the fourth time this season that's happened. Not surprisingly, Green Bay averages 18.1 assists per game. But our favorite number is 25.4, the average number of turnovers forced by the Phoenix per contest. Green Bay's opponents typically have about 75 possessions per game. So roughly 35 percent of the time they have the ball, they don't even get off a shot. ... The 17-0 start is the best in school history. Green Bay has also won 37 straight regular-season games and 33 in a row against Horizon League foes.
Burning question: Can the Phoenix go undefeated? Green Bay will be clear favorites in its 12 remaining.regular-season games and will likely host its matchups in the Horizon League Tournament. The Phoenix are determined to not take their eye off the one-game-at-a-time ball. But at this point we'd be surprised if these guys aren't 32-0 on NCAA Tournament Selection Monday (March 12).

2. Delaware (16-1, 7-0 CAA)
Why No. 2: Because we don't have a 1A.
Star turn: Last Thursday, Lauren Carra became the first player other than Elena Delle Donne to lead the Blue Hens in scoring this season when she tied for team-high honors with 15 points in a 65-46 victory at Towson. The player she tied with? Delle Donne.
Dribbles and bits: Vice president Joe Biden was part of a sellout crowd of 5,021 that took in the Blue Hens' 60-49 victory over Drexel Sunday. It was the largest crowd for a Delaware women's basketball home game that wasn't part of a doubleheader. Quick aside: Was it me or did Biden do a lot of fidgeting during the State of the Union? ... Sports Illustrated served up its second feature on Delle Donne in its latest issue. The magazine also weighed  in on the Blue Hens superstar in 2009 after - to the delight of hoops fans everywhere - Delle Donne decided to stop spiking that volleyball and pick up a basketball again. ... Delaware continues to lead the nation in free-throw percentage (82.4). ... Although it's often overlooked - but surely not by Blue Hens coach Tina Martin - the Blue Hens are defending the heck out of teams, allowing just 49.7 points per game in CAA play.
Burning question: Can Delle Donne go 50-50-90? Not sure if anyone has ever shot at least 50 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the line for a season (certainly no one that stands 6-foot-5, right?). Delle Donne is currently at 55.8 FG, 47.2 3FG and 92.2 FT. We're sure this is the last thing on her mind, but for some reason, we're fascinated by the prospect.

3. St. Bonaventure
Why No. 3: A seven-game winning streak, an 8-0 road record, wins over St. John's, West Virginia, Marist, Temple and Richmond, no bad losses (Delaware, Villanova)...what's not to like?
Star turn: Sweet-shooting Jessica Jenkins earned Atlantic 10 and United States Basketball Writers Association National Player of the Week honors after setting a conference record for career 3-pointers. Jenkins has now connected on 293 bombs after making four against Richmond and six more against Charlotte.
Dribbles and bits: The Bonnies play at one of the slowest paces in Division I - they rank 335th in Division I in possessions per 40 minutes - but have obviously been wildly effective at getting the games played on their terms. So while their scoring average (64.1 ppg) appears pedestrian, their points-per-possession stats reveal them to be a very potent offensive team. ... Saturday's 68-63 victory at Charlotte required the Bonnies to rally from a 13-point deficit over the final 16:30. ... In back-to-back victories over Saint Louis and Richmond, the Bonnies committed just 12 turnovers in the two games combined. They average a Division I-low 11.9 turnovers a game.
Burning question: Are the Bonnies getting enough respect? Not really; we've been arguing the Bonnies should be ranked in the Top 25 for weeks. They're not complaining, though, and we're starting to think the team may actually thrive with a "we'll show them" chip on their shoulder. We've noticed how the game stories on their official website never fail to point out whenever the Bonnies, projected to finish seventh in the conference's preseason poll, beat a team picked to finish higher than them. So far, that's happened three times.

4. BYU (18-3, 7-1 West Coast)
Why No. 4: The Cougars have won seven in a row since a Dec. 31 loss to St. Mary's. Gonzaga's lone conference loss also came to St. Mary's. The difference? BYU lost to the Gaels on the road. Gonzaga's setback came 10 days ago in its own building.
Star turn: 6-7 sophomore Jennifer Hamson, the daughter of BYU Hall of Famer and former Division I national scoring champion Teresa Spaulding Hamson, had a season-high 14 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks in BYU's 76-55 pounding of Portland.
Dribbles and bits: The Cougars cracked the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since Nov. 27, 2006 this week, checking in at No. 23. ... Gonzaga is one notch higher at No. 22, giving the WCC two Top-25 teams for the first time in league history. ... Statistically the Cougars are above average in virtually every category and are particularly adept at sharing the ball (19.4 assists per game, 4th in Division I). BYU averages a robust 72.9 points per game despite the fact that no Cougar scores more than 10.9 per game (Lexi Eaton). On Jan. 12, Jeff Judkins became the winningest coach in program history when the Cougars beat Pepperdine 80-56. Judkins was a star player at Utah and was a second-round draft pick by the Boston Celtics in 1978. The Celtics used one of their first-round picks that year to select Larry Bird.
Burning question: Can these guys knock off Gonzaga? The teams meet twice in February, and perhaps once more in the WCC Tournament. Hate to hedge here, but since their profiles so far virtually mirror each others, we'll answer this in mid-March.

5. Gonzaga (17-3, 6-1 West Coast)
Why No. 5: The Zags have won 12 of their last 13 games and own one of the top wins by a non-BCS team this season, a 71-68 neutral-court win over current No. 15 Georgia.
Star turn: Senior forward Katelan Redmon is the reigning West Coast Conference Player of the Week, largely on the strength of her career-high 32-point performance in a victory over Santa Clara.
Dribbles and bits: In addition to being No. 22 in the AP poll, the Bulldogs are also No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. ... Gonzaga's 66-63 loss to St. Mary's on Jan. 14 snapped the Zags' 40-game conference winning streak in which all but one of the wins came by double figures. ... The Zags have a well-earned reputation for pinball-like scoring but proved they could win ugly in Saturday's come-from-behind, 55-44 decision over San Diego.
Burning question: Is the WCC the strongest non-BCS conference? The Atlantic 10 is probably the deepest, and conference RPI numbers have favored the CAA. But as with individual teams, the RPI works best as a tool, not the end-all. In terms of overall quality, we'd probably rank them A-10, WCC and CAA, in that order. But just the fact that the WCC is even in this discussion speaks volumes about how far the league has come.

6. Princeton (13-4, 3-0 Ivy)
Dribbles and bits: Tigers last played on Jan. 15 and won't return to action until Feb. 3 because of the school's exam break...Tigers star Niveen Rasheed (16.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg) has been named Ivy League Player of the Week four times this season...Princeton's rugged non-conference schedule appears to have the team primed to tear through the Ivy: the average score from the Tigers' three conference victories is 80-39. Harvard, which has wins over St. John's and America East leader Boston University, has positioned itself as the Tigers' most formidable obstacle.

7. Florida Gulf Coast (17-2, 9-0 Atlantic Sun)
Dribbles and bits: Their schedule degree of difficulty (277th in Division I) isn't that intense - although in the Eagles' defense we doubt quality teams are tripping over themselves for a shot to play these guys - but you have to respect a team that has won nine straight since a Dec. 28 neutral-court setback to N.C. State. ... The Eagles continue to lead the nation in 3-pointers made per game (11.9), but proved they have the toughness to prevail on nights when the shots aren't falling on Monday by beating a good Stetson team on the road despite 28.3 percent shooting (22.6 from 3-point range).

8. Hampton (15-3, 7-0 MEAC)
Dribbles and bits: Elite defensive team that ranks fourth in Division I in fewest points allowed (48.8 ppg)... The emergence of former prep star Alyssa Bennett and sharpshooter Nicole Hamilton has boosted Hampton's offensive arsenal. ... Point guard Jericka Jenkins has 38 assists in her last three games and is averaging 7.7 dimes on the season.  ... Hampton's 52-39 victory at Howard Monday was its 20th straight against MEAC competition.

9. UTEP (17-2, 6-0 Conference USA)
Dribbles and bits: The Miners' seven-game winning streak includes impressive victories over Memphis and at Tulane. ... UTEP's two losses, to UCSB and Arizona State, were by a combined three points and came in back-to-back games (Dec. 21 and 28). ... On Wednesday, the El Paso Times reported that Miners freshman Chrishauna Parker (5.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 8 starts) and reserve guard Ryah Lacy (1.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg) have been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. But this still leaves the extremely deep Miners with 10 players averaging double-figure minutes.

10. Fresno State (15-4, 3-0 Western Athletic)
Dribbles and bits: Winners of four straight and 10 of their last 11, a stretch that began with a 69-66 victory over then-No. 24 Oklahoma ...The Bulldogs rank second in Division I in 3-pointers made per game (9.7) and are 16th in the nation in scoring offense (75.3).

11. James Madison (14-4, 5-2 CAA)
Dribbles and bits: Winners of seven of their last eight. ... The gang can't shoot straight on some nights but is a lock-down defensive unit virtually every night...Held Middle Tennessee State to 46 points, Duquesne to 49, VCU to 43 and Hofstra, which averages about 80, to 63 in the Pride's own building... Dukes' resume has some holes, most recently a 60-43 home loss to emerging Drexel. But their body of quality wins stacks up nicely with virtually any team on this list.

12. Middle Tennessee State (16-5, 8-0 Sun Belt)
Dribbles and bits: Blue Raiders' 10-game winning streak includes the most glamorous victory of any team in these rankings, a 70-58 triumph over then-No. 6 Kentucky. ... Sophomore Ebony Rowe earned Sun Belt Player of the Week honors after averaging 23.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in a pair of road victories. ... MTSU took a 57-1 record in home conference games over the past seven years into Wednesday's game against Troy at the Murphy Center.

13. Temple (11-8, 4-1 Atlantic 10)
Dribbles and bits: Don't be alarmed by that loss total as the Owls' almost-sadistic non-league schedule featured Ohio State, Rutgers, Duke and Texas A&M, among others. Temple has won six of its last seven games with victories over Richmond, Duquesne and Dayton. The loss was to St. Bonaventure. A year ago, the Owls also took similar lumps during their non-conference season, then won 15 in a row in January and February. So there's clearly a method to Tonya Cardoza's (scheduling) madness.

14. Hofstra (14-4, 6-1 CAA)
Dribbles and bits: The Pride laid an egg at home last week in an 81-63 loss to James Madison, but it was a rare stumble in a season in which Hofstra has beaten St. John's, Kansas State, Marist and Drexel. ... Hofstra star Shante Evans, a member of the U.S. Pan-Am Games team last fall, is averaging 18 points and 10.4 rebounds and has registered double-doubles in nine of her last 10 games. ... The Pride will have a chance to make some national noise Thursday at mighty Delaware.

15. St. Mary's (15-6, 6-2 West Coast)
Dribbles and bits: We had these guys slotted much higher before Monday's 66-64 loss at San Francisco (4-17), and the 17-point loss to San Diego gives us pause, too. But this team also beat BYU and won at Gonzaga within a 15-day span. If those teams are in the AP Top 25, somebody had better recognize these Gaels are no joke, either. Consistency of performance does appear to be an issue, though.

On the verge: Marist, San Diego State, Dayton, Bowling Green, Wichita State, Tulane, Richmond, Memphis, UAB, Idaho State.

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