Sarah Hansen, #5 of FGCU drives to the basket against Charlotte player #23 Jai Forney. (Photo by Tim Cowie)
Sarah Hansen, #5 of FGCU drives to the basket against Charlotte player #23 Jai Forney. (Photo by Tim Cowie)

Mid-major musings midway through the season

January 17, 2013 - 2:11pm

Preseason prognostication is always fun -- but not necessarily all that accurate. So here's a look at the difference between then (the received wisdom before the first shot was taken) and now (when actual games have been played).

Not surprisingly, some serious rethinking has had to take place, but it's also true that a lot of the preseason predictions have proven to be pretty accurate. Well, at least so far.

Atlantic Sun

Preseason favorite: Stetson was the coaches’ choice; Florida Gulf Coast was the media choice.

What’s happened since: Stetson has won 11 of its last 12, leading the conference in all sorts of offensive categories, including scoring, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. As expected, 5-4 senior guard Victoria McGowan has been nothing short of sensational – her 33-point performance against Kennesaw State was a career high – and she was Hatter Classic MVP. There looks to be only two dates to circle on the conference schedule: Jan. 26 at FGCU and Feb. 23 Stetson hosts FGCU. As for the Eagles, no shocker that they continue to shine behind the three-ball; FGCU set the NCAA record for threes in a game with 22 en route to a 97-60 win over East Tennessee on Jan. 12.

Midseason favorite: Florida Gulf Coast

But don’t forget about: Stetson. The Green and Gold lost by four at home last year to FGCU, and McGowan, who has started every game of her career, is playing the best ball of her career.

Atlantic 10

Preseason favorite: Dayton

What’s happened since: When the coaches picked Dayton, we were skeptical given the loss of four starters to graduation, and the Flyers were certainly not the overwhelming choice, as Duquesne, Richmond, Temple, Charlotte and St. Bonaventure also received first-place votes. But behind super sophs Ally Malott and Andrea Hoover, Dayton has become nationally relevant and would be alongside Duke as one of two unbeatens if not for a surprising hiccup against Bowling Green on Dec. 30.

Midseason favorite: Dayton

But don’t forget about: Charlotte. Veteran experience has paid off for the 49ers, whose losses have come to Florida State, Kansas State, a better-than-expected Toledo team and Fordham. Don’t overlook Duquesne, either, which knocked off a nationally ranked West Virginia team and 2012 WNIT runner-up James Madison.

America East

Preseason favorite: Albany

What’s happened since: We love the resume Boston University has put together, which includes wins at Marist and over St. John’s and a three-point loss to West Virginia. The unfortunate reality for the Terriers, though, is that their only shot at the NCAA Tournament is an at-large berth, as they are ineligible for the conference tournament given their move to the Patriot League next season. The Great Danes continue to roll behind third-year coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. A big reason why: Freshman forward Shereesha Richards has been AE Rookie of the Week four times thus far.

Midseason favorite: Boston University gets the nod, but Albany will get the automatic bid.

But don’t forget about: A Hartford team that was the first to defeat Quinnipiac and has a victory over Marist.

Big Sky

Preseason favorite: Idaho State

What’s happened since: Defending champion Idaho State is recovering from a four-game slide that included a loss to conference foe Northern Colorado. Meanwhile Montana and Montana State sit atop the conference with a juicy Jan. 19 game coming up in Missoula. Montana has won six of its last seven; meanwhile Montana State has won five straight.

Midseason favorite: Montana

But don’t forget about: Montana State, especially if the Bobcats get the win on the 19th.

Big South

Preseason favorite: Liberty

What’s happened since: The early-season results indicate an intriguing conference tournament: After 10 tries, Presbyterian recorded its first-ever win over conference stalwart Liberty. And we’re impressed by conference newbie Longwood, a contender, behind senior forward Chelsea Coward. That said, we still like the Lady Flames, who boast one of the top players in the state in Devon Brown, first-team All Big South as a freshman, sophomore and junior.

Midseason favorite: Liberty

But don’t forget about: A Blue Hose team that defeated Liberty in Lynchburg and rallied from 20 back to beat Campbell.

Big West

Preseason favorite: Cal State Northridge

What’s happened since: The Matadors have done the usual plus; in addition to being unbeaten in conference, they knocked off nationally ranked UCLA. Freshman Marta Masoni has become a staple in the starting lineup; the 6-1 guard/forward has been a part of the Italian national team for years.

Midseason favorite: Cal State Northridge

But don’t forget about: We like the grit of the Cal Poly team that pulled out a 96-95 win over Pacific in triple overtime.

Colonial

Preseason favorite: Delaware

What’s happened since: Delaware started the season as a Top 10 team, but played without all-American Elena Delle Donne for six games. The senior, expected to be the second pick in April’s WNBA draft behind Brittney Griner, has struggled with a reoccurrence of symptoms from Lyme disease. The good news for the Blue Hens is EDD is back and doing her usual: dominating opponents with a set of skills we rarely find in one player. More good news: While Delaware dropped out of the poll in her absence, this Blue Hen team proved how good the supporting cast is, going 4-2 without her, including a win over Princeton and a five-point loss to Georgetown.

Midseason favorite: Delaware

But don’t forget about: WNIT runner-up James Madison has struggled with its chemistry and its offense, and the defense took a blow when senior Nikki Newman broke her foot. But the Dukes have given Delaware trouble in the past, and have the talent to challenge for the conference title again, especially if Newman can return from the injury in time for the conference tournament.

Conference USA

Preseason favorite: Tulane and UTEP each received five first-place votes in the coaches’ poll.

What’s happened since: UTEP has matched the best start in school history, winning its last nine. They’ve defeated Arizona and Arizona State, suffering only one loss, by a point to New Mexico State on Nov. 28. Kudos for Tulane being 5-0 on the road, but the Green Wave was hurt by an opening conference loss to SMU.

Midseason favorite: UTEP

But don’t forget about: The Mustangs don’t just have great perimeter shooting, they have one of the premier players in the conference in Kansas transfer Keena Mays, a 5-7 junior guard whose season low is 16 points.

Horizon

Preseason favorite: Green Bay

What’s happened since: The Phoenix romped over Detroit 62-31 in the conference opener for both teams; Green Bay and Detroit were picked 1-2 in the league. A three-point loss to James Madison in Cancun and a three-point loss to Central Michigan are all that keep this Green Bay team from being perfect.

Midseason favorite: Green Bay

But don’t forget about: Cleveland State. What’s not to like about the Vikings and the consistency of 5-11 senior forward Shalonda Winton, high scorer in 14 of the team’s 15 games this season and lead rebounder in 13 of the first 15 games?

Niveen Rasheed leads Princeton with 16 points and 9 rebounds per game. (Photo by Beverly Schaefer)

Ivy

Preseason favorite: Princeton

What’s happened since: The Tigers, winners of 25 straight conference games, have taken the Ivy title three years in a row, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be four. Senior guard Niveen Rasheed remains one of the top players in the nation and looks to lead Princeton to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth year in a row.

Midseason favorite: Princeton

But don’t forget about: Harvard, which has amassed 10 nonconference wins as Princeton has, led by junior guard Christine Carter, Ivy Player of the Week three times already this season.

MAAC

Preseason favorite: Marist

What’s happened since: The Red Foxes played an unenviable nonconference schedule, falling to UConn, Kentucky, Purdue and Oklahoma, but it’s hard to imagine them not winning their ninth straight MAAC Tournament. Niagara, picked to finish second, already has two league losses. It’s a typically balanced, turnover-free Marist team that has received a lift from Vanderbilt transfer Tori Jarosz, a 6-3 sophomore who leads the Red Foxes in scoring.

Midseason favorite: Marist

But don’t forget about: Conference tournament runner-up Fairfield rallied to within five at Marist earlier this month.

MAC

Preseason favorite: East -- Miami; West – Toledo

What’s happened since: As expected, the return of point guard Naama Shafir (ACL surgery last season) energized Toledo, which won 12 of its first 13 games with the loss coming by three points at nationally ranked Dayton. But after last week's 73-66 loss to Central Michigan, the Rockets find themselves looking up at the youthful but talented Chippewas, who have been buoyed by the mid-December addition of former Iowa State starter Jessica Schroll (10.9 ppg). In the other division, Miami stumbled at Ball State last week to surrender the early East lead to Akron (11-4, 2-0) and Buffalo (4-11, 2-0). 

Midseason favorite: East -- Miami; West -- Central Michigan

But don’t forget about: Bowling Green and Ball State

MEAC

Preseason favorite: Howard

What’s happened since: Both Howard and Hampton began the season with aspirations of doing well enough in non-league play to merit at-large consideration. Unfortunately, while Hampton bagged a victory over LSU, neither likely did enough to get the committee's attention. These are still two extremely dangerous teams, though, and it's difficult to imagine someone other than one of the two HUs winning this league. Hampton survived 52-50 when these teams met in Washington on Saturday. A rematch in Hampton is set for Jan. 28, and all indications are a third meeting will come in the MEAC Tournament final.

Midseason favorite: Hampton

But don't forget about: North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State, both of whom enjoyed solid non-conference seasons.

Missouri Valley

Preseason favorite: Creighton

What’s happened since: With victories over Nebraska, South Dakota State and BYU and a 4-0 MVC mark so far, the Bluejays have more than lived up to the preseason hype. Wichita State, Illinois State and Indiana State are all worthy challengers, but the Bluejays have played at or near a Top-25 level much of the year. It'll take an exceptional performance to unseat them.

Midseason favorite: Creighton

But don't forget about: Northern Iowa, which despite a 7-9 overall mark has already surprised Indiana State and Missouri State.

Mountain West

Preseason favorite: San Diego State

What’s happened since: Many thought there was a chance that loaded SDSU might run away with this title. But the Aztecs were unable to meet lofty, Top-25 caliber expectations in the non-conference schedule and have already been tagged with an eight-point loss by Fresno State. Still a ton of conference games left, but it now appears as though the Ki-Ki Moore-led Bulldogs are the team to beat.

Midseason favorite: Fresno State

But don't forget about: Surprising Wyoming, which with a 12-3 mark boasts the league's best overall record.

Jasmine Martin, #24 of Quinnipiac with the jumpshot against #35 Shenneika Smith. (Photo by John Hassett)

Northeast

Preseason favorite: Quinnipiac

What’s happened since: The greatest team in Bobcat history? It’s hard not to tout these Bobcats, who produced the biggest win in team history on Dec. 23, a 75-72 defeat of St. John’s. Quinnipiac is off to the best start in school history behind the tandem of senior guard Felicia Baron, junior forward Brittany McQuain and sophomore guard Jasmine Martin. We doubt even a brutal upcoming road stretch will stop these guys.

Midseason favorite: Quinnipiac

But don’t forget about: St. Francis is also unscathed in the conference and endured a brutal nonconference slate to prepare for league play.

Ohio Valley

Preseason favorite: East -- Tennessee Tech; West -- Tennessee-Martin

What’s happened since: Belmont (5-1 OVC) has emerged as a factor in the East behind a succession of come-from-behind victories. On Monday the Bruins erased a 12-point deficit to win by nine at Murray State. It was the fifth time in six games the Bruins rallied to win. The lone loss in that stretch was a 58-52 loss to Tennessee Tech, which with a 4-1 record is well-positioned to make good on its prediction as favorite. Eastern Illinois (4-1) has assumed early command of the West.

Midseason favorite: East -- Tennessee Tech; West -- Eastern Illinois

But don't forget about: Tennessee-Martin (7-11, 2-2), although you have to wonder whether or not a non-conference schedule that included Baylor, Stanford, Louisville and Purdue might have set this team back a bit.

Patriot

Preseason favorite: Navy

What’s happened since: With all teams having played just one conference game, this league's race has yet to take shape. Army posted the most glittering non-conference record (11-4), but Navy had the most challenging non-league schedule. This figures to bode well for a Navy team that in winning the past two conference titles has tended to play its best in March. 

Midseason pick: Navy

But don't forget about: Lehigh and American 

Southern

Preseason favorite: Davidson

What’s happened since: Led by the versatile Sophia Aleksandravicius, the Wildcats (5-0 SoCon) have performed as predicted. Chattanooga's 80-71 upset of Tennessee on the regular season's opening night still stands as the year's most notable victory by a non-BCS program over a BCS power. Also impressive is how the Mocs have continued at a high level despite the loss of center Faith DuPree -- a Tennessee transfer -- to a knee injury. Center Ashlen Dewart has been immense in the post ever since and with DuPree expected to return sometime this month, so the Mocs will have a two-center rotation the envy of virtually any program. Chattanooga will visit Davidson on Friday.

Midseason favorite: Davidson

But don't forget about: Defending tournament champion Samford, runner-up Appalachian State and surprising Elon. 

Southland

Preseason pick: McNeese State

What’s happened since: It’s extremely competitive at the top, as Central Arkansas (4-0), Lamar (4-1), Nicholls (3-1), Sam Houston State (3-1) and Oral Roberts (3-1) all sit within a game of each other in the conference race. Meanwhile, McNeese (3-2) is still recovering from a brutal stretch of eight straight road games during which they went just 2-6. On Sunday, Central Arkansas star Megan Herbert became just the second active player to reach 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. The other is Baylor's Brittney Griner.

Midseason favorite: Central Arkansas

But don't forget about: The four one-loss teams trailing the Sugar Bears and McNeese, all of whom figure to be heard from before the season ends.

SWAC

Preseason favorite: Prairie View

What’s happened since: As is often the case in a league where teams frequently schedule non-conference games over their heads for financial considerations, no SWAC team began conference play with a winning record. Also, no pattern has emerged through the first few weeks of  league play. For example, Grambling began the week with a 2-15 record, but one of those victories came by 13 points over Southern, the team that currently leads the SWAC with a 5-1 mark.

Midseason favorite: Prairie View

But don't forget about: Anyone else, really. If Grambling can roll Southern, it appears as though this is one league in which anyone really can beat anyone.

 

Summit

Preseason favorite: South Dakota State

What’s happened since: The Jackrabbits punctuated a solid non-conference run with victories over Nebraska and Georgetown and have raced out to a 5-0 start in Summit play. But while SDSU remains the clear favorite, there will be challenges throughout. The most recent one came a week ago when the Jackrabbits had to rally from nine points down in the final 3:49 and get a Megan Waytashek putback at the buzzer to escape 66-64 at Fort Wayne.

Midseason favorite: South Dakota State

But don't forget about: IUPUI

Sun Belt

Preseason favorite: East -- Middle Tennessee State; West -- Arkansas-Little Rock

What’s happened since: The league is extremely deep and balanced this year as seven of the 10 teams appear capable of picking each other off on a given night. And the conference stakes will be even higher for Middle Tennessee State, which has picked up an NCAA Tournament at-large bid the past two years but wasn't able to secure the kind of non-conference wins likely to make that possible this year. All signs point to a conference tournament in which several teams will enter with a legitimate shot of securing this league's lone bid.

Midseason favorite: East -- Middle Tennessee State. West -- Arkansas State

But don't forget about: Western Kentucky currently leads the East with a 6-1 mark, and North Texas is the pacesetter in the West at 5-2. And while UALR is just 4-4, three of the losses have come by two, three and three points.

West Coast

Preseason favorite: BYU

What’s happened since: The Cougars lost leading scorer Lexi Eaton to an ACL injury in early December but remarkably have not lost a game since and take a nine-game winning streak into Thursday's showdown at Gonzaga. No one should be surprised if the Bulldogs defend their home court in this one, but this Gonzaga team lacks the offensive firepower of previous editions and already has dropped one conference game to St. Mary's.

Midseason favorite: BYU

But don't forget about: Gonzaga-slayer St. Mary's and San Diego, which lost by only three points to BYU. San Diego visits St. Mary's on Thursday.

WAC

Preseason favorite: Utah State

What’s happened since: The story in this league so far has been Seattle, which under veteran coach Joan Bonvicini has roared out to a 5-0 conference start -- two games better than any other WAC team -- in its first full year of Division I membership. Junior forward Kacie Sowell (17.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg) has been the headliner for the RedHawks, who have become masters of the close game. Eleven of their first 14 games have been decided by six points or less, with four ending in overtime. With Devyn Christensen and Jenna Johnson leading the way, Utah State can score points with anyone. But the Aggies simply can't stop anyone (80.0 points allowed, 342nd out of 343 Division I teams).

Midseason favorite: Seattle

But don't forget about: Utah State and Louisiana Tech, especially given Seattle's proclivity for nailbiters. 


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