1. Virginia Tech (7-1)
Last week: 4
Resounding road victories at Penn State and at Tennessee sent an emphatic message, particularly from a Tech team that had stumbled badly at Georgetown (73-56 losers) in its only previous road contest. While the win over the Lady Vols generated the headlines - and understandably so - in some ways we were even more impressed with what happened in State College, Pa. Tech seized control early, held it together during a Nittany Lions' second-half run then used back-to-back 3-pointers from Hannah Young and Vanessa Panousis to snap a 44-44 tie and re-assert command. Tough stuff, particularly in the other team's building. Of course, they don't hand out trophies for what teams do in December, and the Hokies still have some things to clean up (23 turnovers vs. Penn State; 10-20 FT shooting at Tennessee). But as we sit here today, this looks like a team that can compete for a spot in the top half of the powerful ACC.
Shoutout to: Panousis. Who are we to argue with the ACC and espnW? Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi!
Next up: Morgan State (2-7), Wednesday, 7 p.m. It will be the Bears' third straight game against a Virginia school (beat Norfolk State Saturday, lost to Hampton Monday). Also, Morgan State opened its season with a 92-31 loss at JMU.
2. Virginia (7-3)
Last week: 2
Rousing victories over NJIT Saturday and Bowling Green Tuesday helped reduce the sting of a shaky defensive effort in Wednesday's 85-73 home loss to Iowa. The Bowling Green victory came before 10,048 fans - mostly elementary and middle school children - during the Cavaliers' stunningly successful "Field Trip Day." In terms of Virginia's readiness for battles against upper-level ACC-caliber foes, we should get more answers on Dec. 21 when the Cavaliers visit Ohio State.
Shoutout to: Lauren Moses, who continues to hold it down in the post (two straight double-doubles) and has emerged as one of the Cavaliers' most important players. Her absence for stretches against Iowa because of foul trouble was a key factor in the Cavaliers' struggles.
Next up: Charleston Southern (5-3), Dec. 18, 7 p.m.
3. JMU (5-2)
Last week: 1
The Dukes tossed in an offensive stinker Monday night, shooting just 23.6 percent in a 56-45 loss at St. Bonaventure. The loss dropped JMU to 1-2 in road games, and it took a dramatic rally from 10 down in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter to produce the one win (68-56 in overtime at Hampton). The Dukes are averaging 81,5 ppg in four home games but just 52.7 ppg in regulation on the road and have yet to score more than 25 points in the first half of any of the three. To be fair, differing levels of competition explains some of that, and it's a small sample size. Still, the Dukes clearly haven't had the same firepower away as they've had at the JMU Convocation Center - and only one of their next five games is at home.
Shoutout to: Jazmon Gwathmey, who on Monday became the 29th JMU player to crack the 1,000-point barrier.
Next up: at Richmond (6-2), Sunday, 2 p.m.
4. Richmond (6-2)
Last week: 3
After surrendering 98 points to Marquette over the Thanksgiving break and nearly 50-percent shooting last week to Furman, the Spiders returned to getting their defense on and stifled Providence 57-50 to snap a two-game losing streak. The result, which came in Richmond's first true road game, marked the third time this season Richmond has held an opponent to exactly 50 points and fifth time to 57 or less. Not surprisingly, the Spiders are 5-0 in those games.
Shoutout to: Freshman Salita Greene, who notched a career-high 10 points and added eight rebounds in the victory at Providence. It was just the second time this season a Spider other than Janelle Hubbard, Lauren Tolson or Micaela Parson scored in double figures. Another freshman, Tuuli Menna, had 10 points against UNCW.
Next up: JMU (5-2), Sunday, 2 p.m.
5. (tie) William and Mary (7-1)
Last week: 5
We get all the buzz about what Virginia Tech did, but how 'bout some love for the Tribe's week - three victories in five days, two on the road, with the last coming by 17 at Clemson after holding the Tigers to just six points in the second half. William and Mary has now won five straight since a six-point loss at Richmond on Nov. 20, and the 7-1 start matches the best in program history.
Shoutout to: Sharpshooter and closet dime-dropper Marlena Tremba, who racked up a career-high 10 assists to go with her 14 points in the win over Clemson. As a team the Tribe had 20 assists for the second time this season and are averaging a robust 16.9 dimes through eight games.
Next up: vs. Norfolk State (0-6), Dec. 17, 7 p.m.
5. (tie) VCU (6-2)
Last week: not ranked
With their 57-48 victory at then-No. 17 Arizona State, these Rams certainly did their part in one of the most successful regular season weeks by Virginia schools in recent years. The game came at a cost, though, as forward Camille Calhoun suffered an ACL injury and is out for the season. It's an extremely tough break for Calhoun (tied for the team high at 11.3 ppg), who was really coming into her own this season and was a week removed from earning her school's student-athlete of the week honor. As for the team, the Rams have thrived with a balanced, all-hands approach and will soon add former Old Dominion point guard Galaisha Goodhope. That said, Calhoun will be missed.
Shoutout to: Keira Robinson, who had 14 points and eight rebounds in the big win at Arizona State.
Next up: vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore (3-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
On the verge
Liberty (3-5, 1-1 Big South): The Lady Flames' loss to Gardner-Webb gave them a defeat in their Big South opener for the first time since 2009. Liberty evened its conference slate Saturday by downing Charleston Southern but did so without starting point guard Sadalia Ellis (12.7 ppg, second on the team), who apparently has a foot/leg injury. Here's hoping she heals quickly because the Lady Flames host Seton Hall (7-1) Saturday and visit No. 13 Duke (7-2) on Dec. 17.
George Mason (4-6): In terms of sheer excitement, it's hard to beat George Mason's 90-83 double-overtime win over Delaware Monday night. The Blue Hens' Hannah Jardine (career-high 31 points) sent the game into OT with a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left; the Patriots' Tiffany Padgett forced a second extra period with a jumper with 12 seconds remaining. And then the Patriots were flat-out perfect in the final five minutes - 5-5 field goals, 8-8 free throws. Taylor Brown finished with a season-high 28 points. Fun stuff.
Radford (3-3, 0-1 Big South) : The Highlanders, who have dropped six straight on the road dating back to last season, will be out to reverse that trend Wednesday at Xavier (5-2).
(not necessarily in order)
Old Dominion (2-6): On the heels of a rough opening stretch and a disastrous Paradise Jam, a shorthanded Lady Monarchs team produced its sharpest performance of the season Wednesday in pummeling Loyola (Md.) before a sellout crowd on Education Day at the Constant Center. It was ODU's second straight game without leading scorer Jennie Simms and starting center Ije Ajemba, both of whom are indefinitely suspended for violating team rules. Now on exam break, the Lady Monarchs will return to action next Tuesday at Howard (1-9).
Hampton (1-7, 1-0 MEAC): The Lady Pirates picked up their first victory Monday night at Morgan State. The MEAC opener also served as a relative breather in yet another grueling Hampton schedule. The Lady Pirates' first seven opponents are a combined 40-8 with three of them (Oregon, UTEP, Texas) still undefeated. Next up: at No. 2 South Carolina (8-0).
Longwood (1-6, 0-2 Big South): The Lancers should have a good opportunity to return to winning form in Saturday's home date with Division III North Carolina Wesleyan. Also, if you haven't seen it, check out this story on how Lancers coach Bill Reinson would not be denied his dream of becoming a college coach.
Norfolk State (0-6, 0-1 MEAC): The Spartans appeared to be on track for that elusive first victory Saturday, only to be outscored 26-10 in the fourth quarter of a nine-point loss at Morgan State. This after the Spartans had outscored the Bears 25-6 in the third quarter. NSU will try again Sunday at home against UNC Wilmington (2-3).