Gonzaga climbs to No. 1 in espnW mid-major rankings

Elle Tinkle and Gonzaga have wins over Northwestern, Stanford and Washington State on the résumé. Courtesy Gonzaga Athletics/Mike Wootton

If you think transforming from glutton into dieter is a tough trick to master in the holiday season, try life as a mid-major. The same teams that spend November and December trying to pull off the upsets that will get them noticed now transition to conference play in the opposite role.

From David to Goliath, all to earn the opportunity to use the slingshot again come March.

But before we get there, let's check in on the final rankings of 2016.

1. Gonzaga (8-2)

This is a new position for the Bulldogs this season but certainly one they've held in the past. What sets this particular Gonzaga team apart, even from those that made Sweet 16 runs, is three regular-season victories against power conference schools. That was something Gonzaga under Kelly Graves or Lisa Fortier had accomplished just once prior to Monday's 67-56 win against Northwestern, which is now added to earlier victories against Stanford and Washington State. (Last ranking: 3)

Top honors: Kiara Kudron (11.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 55.0 field goal percentage in three games). The rare out-of-region recruit in Spokane, Washington, is the only American on the roster from east of the Mississippi River. In the win against Northwestern, she matched Nia Coffey's standard double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-2 forward is second on the team in assists and leads in rebounds.

2. Drexel (6-2)

It has been a quiet December, at least on the basketball court, with just three games played prior to Wednesday's trip to Lafayette. But recent wins against Niagara and Saint Joseph's kept the Dragons in good standing. There are no more showcase games, but seven teams in the Colonial Athletic Association currently have winning records, so the league could be interesting. (Last ranking: 4)

Top honors: Ana Ferariu (18.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG in one game). Drexel's roster has less international flavor than in the days of Gabriela Marginean, but it isn't entirely devoid of imports. Romanian freshman Ferariu played 17 minutes in the team's first seven games. She played 13 minutes against Saint Joseph's this past weekend and scored 18 points -- all in the second half as the Dragons erased a halftime deficit.

3. Green Bay (9-2)

The most recent No. 1 here, the Phoenix had a convincing win at South Dakota State -- a game they led by double digits even before an injury felled Jackrabbits star Macy Miller. But the rivalry game against Wisconsin proved their undoing. Green Bay couldn't solve Wisconsin's zone and missed injured Sam Terry, the oft-overshadowed senior with 3-point range and toughness off the bench. She returned briefly in Tuesday's bounce-back win against Butler. Next up is Horizon League play, with Milwaukee likely the biggest obstacle to a 19th straight title. (Last ranking: 1)

Top honors: Mehryn Kraker (17.7 PPG, 3.7 APG, 2.3 SPG in three games). A good look at a 3-pointer that went awry in the closing seconds against Wisconsin will sting, but her overall production is why the Phoenix were so close to cracking the AP Top 25 to begin with.

4. Ohio (8-1)

The unbeaten season came to a disappointing end at Michigan. Disappointing not solely because of the result but because the game was uncompetitive after the Wolverines ran to a 29-14 edge in the third quarter. Still, a victory days earlier at IUPUI shouldn't be overlooked. Just ask Missouri if the cozy confines in Indianapolis are treacherous territory. A bad 3-point shooting team could get a boost from Katie Barker. The redshirt freshman hit 6-of-8 3-point attempts in Ohio's most recent win. In just 85 total minutes this season, she leads the team in 3s. (Last ranking: 6)

Top honors: Quiera Lampkins (20.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.3 SPG). She yielded the stage to Katelynn Flaherty at Michigan, the Wolverines star totaling 17 second-half points to break open the game, but Lampkins continues to pile up points in an efficient manner.

5. Drake (6-3)

Drake could be a sleeper in the Big Ten this season, slowed only by the inconvenient hurdle of playing in the Missouri Valley Conference. Less than two weeks after a win at Nebraska, Drake beat Iowa this past Sunday. Even a victory against Auburn on Wednesday in a holiday tournament in New Orleans probably isn't going to be enough for an NCAA at-large profile once the MVC drags down the RPI (Drake was No. 35 as of Monday), but the Bulldogs are trending positively. (Last ranking: 10)

Top honors: Caitlin Ingle (13.5 PPG, 9.0 APG, 3.0 RPG in two games). Second in the nation in assists per game this season, Ingle has more games with double-digit assists than double-digit field goal attempts. But when Iowa challenged her and clamped down on Lizzy Wendell, Ingle responded with 20 points -- and seven assists, of course.

6. UNLV (9-2)

The Rebels came so close to a signature win against Oregon State on Monday. They had a three-point lead entering the final quarter. They had the ball with the score tied in the final minute and again down one point. Still, playing with the Beavers, after earlier victories against USC and Ole Miss, doesn't hurt the profile. Conference play will be interesting early. UNLV opens at home against defending champion Colorado State, but the bigger tests should be the back-to-back games at Wyoming and Boise State that follow. How does UNLV deal with prosperity? (Last ranking: 7)

Top honors: Dakota Gonzalez (10.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.8 SPG in four games). A fortnight is a long time for any one UNLV player to stay hot. They tend to trade streaks in shorter intervals. No one's offensive efficiency is more mercurial than Gonzalez, but the Kansas transfer put points on the board against Oregon State.

7. South Dakota (10-2)

The reigning WNIT champions lost coach Amy Williams to Nebraska and Australian star Nicole Seekamp to professional basketball. What the Coyotes haven't lost are many games. Albeit against a middle-of-the-pack mid-major schedule, South Dakota is actually ahead of last year's pace in both points per game and field goal percentage and still has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio without Seekamp. Continuity through personnel change is a tough act for mid-majors. The year closes in style, with a rivalry game against South Dakota State on New Year's Eve. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Allison Arens (21.5 PPG, 3.5 APG, 54.5 field goal percentage in four games). She scored 69 points in the season's first three games, 19 more than she scored in 33 appearances as a freshman a season go, so it didn't take long to identify who might step up with Seekamp gone. Arens hasn't slowed down, including a career-best 30 points Monday against Northern Illinois.

8. South Dakota State (8-3)

There are rough patches and then there are patches like something out of a "Fargo" script. South Dakota State had a game against Bowling Green wiped out by winter weather (the Falcons couldn't get to Brookings, S.D.) -- and that was the least of the recent unpleasantness. A showcase game against Green Bay went wrong from the start, the loss far less significant than the knee injury that ended Macy Miller's season. The Jackrabbits, much to their credit, came back two days later to beat George Washington, but a trip to Louisville was too much to ask. (Last ranking: 2)

Top honors: Kerri Young (10.0 PPG in three games). The senior isn't going to be Miller, though they come from the same high school in Mitchell, S.D. Even Miller, for all her skill, wasn't asked to take 20 shots a game. But Young's versatility is now an absolute necessity. It was her 3-pointer that finally broke George Washington late in the fourth quarter.

9. Harvard (8-1)

The Crimson were a difficult omission last time out, having at the time added a win at Kansas to an earlier quality victory against Temple. So while they haven't played any games since those most recent rankings, they benefit from volatility elsewhere to nab a spot this time around. A starting lineup with two sophomores and two freshmen could make Harvard a fixture here. (Last ranking: NR)

Top honors: Jeannie Boehm. It is rare to find McDonald's All-Americans in this space, but Boehm is just that. And the 6-3 freshman, the second McDonald's All-American to play at Harvard, is living up to the advance billing. In the win at Kansas on Dec. 7, she totaled 12 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. She's tied for 11th nationally in blocks per game.

10. George Washington (7-4)

With only the loss at South Dakota State to show for their work since the last rankings, the Colonials barely hold on ahead of a glut of teams with good-but-flawed résumés. They get a heck of an opportunity to make a case for themselves at home against Stanford on Wednesday. Free throws weren't the problem against the Jackrabbits, but George Washington is shooting 54.8 percent from the line in its four losses. (Last ranking: 8)

Top honors: Shannon Cranshaw (9.0 PPG in one game). Again, there isn't much of a sample size to work with. But George Washington's high-water marks at South Dakota State were probably a pair of four-point fourth-quarter leads on Cranshaw 3-pointers. She's shooting 44.7 percent from deep this season. The rest of the team is shooting 29.5 percent.

Dropped out: IUPUI, BYU

Previous rankings: Nov. 3 (preseason) | Nov. 23 | Dec. 8