Consider this a Happy New Year's edition of the state rankings. RPI numbers are still a bit distorted at this point in the season, but we're including them here anyway, courtesy of the website wbbstate.com
1. VIRGINIA (8-4)
Last week: 1
The Cavaliers didn't pick up many style points, but they did post a pair of confidence-building wins against overmatched Norfolk State and Xavier to win their own tournament. Several factors, most notably injuries and an outbreak of turnovers, conspired to drop Virginia's play a few notches from the highs of their November routs of JMU and Minnesota and a quality neutral court triumph over Vanderbilt. As ACC play approaches, here's hoping the Cavaliers can find that level again.
Coming up: Thursday vs. Virginia Tech; Sunday at Miami
2. RICHMOND (8-6)
Last week: 2
The Spiders were once again burned by one of their own favorite weapons - the 3-point shot - in last week's 82-74 loss at Charleston. The Cougars shot 11-of-20 from long distance. In Richmond's previous game, Florida Gulf Coast made 9 3-point shots. In November, Boston University upended the Spiders in part because of 8 3-pointers. Four games later, Green Bay took down Richmond with 14 treys. For the season, the Spiders rank 329th of 343 Division I teams in 3-point percentage defense. In general, we believe this stat is somewhat overrated. In the particular case of the 2012-13 Spiders, there may be something to it.
Coming up: Friday vs. Navy; Jan. 7 vs. La Salle
3. LIBERTY (10-4)
Last week: 4
It's way too early to declare the Big South regular-season title chase over, but if the Lady Flames stay at the level they reached in Saturday's 90-57 rout at Winthrop, good luck to anyone else in that league trying to keep up. Devon Brown went off - again - this time for 32 points and Tolu Omotola contributed 24 points and 12 rebounds as the Lady Flames avenged one of their two conference defeats from a year ago.
Coming up: Thursday vs. Presbyterian; Saturday vs. UNC Asheville
4. OLD DOMINION (9-2)
Last week: 5
One more victory and the Lady Monarchs will match their regular-season win total from all of last season. And they really haven't had to sweat out any of the victories - the closest winning margin was a 16-point spread at Maryland-Eastern Shore. We're interested to see how the Lady Monarchs handle themselves down the stretch of a close game. By the way, we hope the Constant Center fans come to their feet and applaud when guard Michelle Brandao checks into Wednesday's game against Pittsburgh. After waiting patiently for 44 games to become eligible, the young woman has certainly earned it.
Coming up: Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh; Sunday at Georgia State
5. VIRGINIA TECH (7-5)
Last week: 7
The Hokies rested star junior college transfer Uju Ugoka (knee), pulled second-leading scorer Monet Tellier from the starting lineup for a team rules violation (late for a team practice, according to the Roanoke Times) and then scored just 10 points in the first half against Hampton. For these guys to erupt for 45 second-half points against statistically one of the best defensive teams in the country was nothing short of remarkable. It's also an indication of how much this team's fortunes appear to have changed during the three-game winning streak since the talented Ugoka became eligible. And it makes Thursday's Virginia Tech-Virginia battle the most intriguing between these teams in a long time as Ugoka is expected to play.
Coming up: Thursday at Virginia; Sunday at North Carolina
6. HAMPTON (9-5)
Last week: 2
Yes, giving up 45 points in the second half against Virginia Tech was crippling. But the Lady Pirates set themselves up for defeat by answering the Hokies' 10-point first half with just 17 points of their own. At some point, even a defense as stout as Hampton's needs some offensive cover. And it's not as though Hampton doesn't have capable scorers. In fact, the Lady Pirates made 8 of 9 field goals, including their last six, over the final 3:14 in that Tech game. Maybe that was a sign of more consistent production to come.
Coming up: Wednesday vs. Boston College; Sunday at American
7. JAMES MADISON (6-6)
Last week: 6
Like Virginia, the Dukes were in need of some confidence-building victories, and they now have three of them after resounding home triumphs over American, Maine and Georgia Southern. JMU did not allow more than 49 points in any of the three games, and they scored 88 and a season-high 93 in the last two. Now, bring on the CAA.
Coming up: Sunday at UNC Wilmington
8. VCU (7-7)
Last week: 10
For all the talk about the VCU offense, it was the Rams' defense that triggered Tuesday's 82-47 rout of Maine. Fueled by 21 steals, the Rams scored 36 points off 27 Maine turnovers. Robyn Parks had a double-double (24 points, 11 rebounds) and four other Rams scored in double figures as VCU notched the kind of feel-good, everybody-contributed victory they can hopefully build on.
Coming up: Friday vs. Youngstown State
9. GEORGE MASON (6-5)
Last week: 9
On Sunday, we were kind of hoping the Patriots would post the kind of resounding victory over Georgia Southern (1-10) that JMU recorded two days later. Instead, it took a Kyana Jacobs layup with 12 seconds left for Mason to escape their own building with a 54-53 triumph. Frankly, the Patriots should have had more separation from this team. Then again, weird things often happen, particularly offensively, in the first game after the Christmas break. And a win is a win.
Coming up: Wednesday vs. East Carolina; Sunday at Northeastern
10. LONGWOOD (4-8)
Last week: 12
The Lancers made their first-ever official Big South game a memorable one by scoring a 57-49 victory at Radford. Longwood trailed by eight with just under 15 minutes remaining before outscoring the Highlanders 22-2 to pull away. Chelsea Coward (19 points, 12 rebounds) and freshman Daiesha Brown (18 points, 10 boards) led the way for the Lancers, who with a win at Gardner-Webb Thursday - a team they've already beaten this season in a non-conference game - have an excellent chance to be 2-0 in league play when they host Winthrop on Saturday.
Coming up: Thursday vs. Gardner-Webb; Saturday vs. Winthrop
11. RADFORD (5-6)
Last week: 8
No team is quite the same without its best player. The Highlanders' recent struggles are due at least in part to the absence two-time first-team All-Big South performer Da'Naria Erwin Spencer, who has sat out Radford's last three games. Not sure what the issue is, but Erwin Spencer hadn't been quite herself even before shutting it down. After averaging 32.5 minutes per contest last season, she played 19 minutes or less in three of six games leading up to coming out of the lineup.
Coming up: Thursday vs. UNC Asheville; Jan. 10 at Gardner-Webb
12. WILLIAM AND MARY (2-8)
Last week: 11
Another week, another close loss for the Tribe, who fell 60-56 at Cornell on Sunday. William and Mary got within two at 58-56 with 1:30 left but would not score again. It was the Tribe's sixth loss by single digits
Coming up: Wednesday vs. Winthrop; Sunday at Hofstra
13. NORFOLK STATE (2-10)
Last week: 13
The Spartans' offensive struggles continued at Virginia's Cavalier Classic as they managed just 61 points in their two games combined. NSU played both games without junior forward Rachel Gordon, one of the nation's top rebounders at just under 12 per game. They clearly missed her services.
Coming up: Thursday at Hofstra; Jan. 12 at Maryland-Eastern Shore