January 06, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) It's been a tough season for mid-major teams.

A glance through the women's basketball poll this season and there are none of them in the Top 25. Monday marked the sixth straight week that there were no teams from non-power five conferences plus the Big East and American Athletic. It's the first time since the Top 25 became a writers poll in 1994-95 that no mid-major teams were ranked for more than three straight weeks.

George Washington and Chattanooga were the lone non-power schools to earn any time in the poll this season. Both were gone by the first week in December.

''There is still plenty of quality among mid-major teams this season, maybe even too much for the narrow space afforded them in the national picture,'' said Graham Hays, who has been ranking the top mid-major programs for ESPN for the past eight years.

''The depth, especially as those programs increasingly play each other, makes it difficult for any one of them to break free of the pack, as Princeton did a season ago. It has been more difficult to find an obvious No. 1 in the mid-major rankings this season, but also more difficult to limit the rankings at just 10 teams.''

It's going to be even more difficult now for them to get into the Top 25 with conference play having started.

''I was thinking about that,'' Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. ''It's so hard for them to break into the poll. George Washington got ranked early on. If they have one or two losses they're done. People just drop them.''

To McGraw's credit, the Irish played at South Dakota State earlier this season and came away with a tough nine-point victory. The Jackrabbits (12-3) are the highest ranked mid-major right now, sitting tied for 35th with four points in the poll.

Coach Aaron Johnston's team's only other losses came to then-No. 6 Maryland, by seven points, and Green Bay by one.

''The margin of error for mid-majors is so small,'' Johnston said. ''We played Maryland and Notre Dame close this year, beat DePaul who's ranked and lose by one to Green Bay. Unfortunately one loss gets us out of people's minds.''

The loss to Green Bay came a few days after the win over DePaul, which didn't help them with the voters. With limited national TV exposure for women's basketball, it makes it more difficult for smaller schools to garner any attention.

Still this season seems more of an anomaly for mid-majors. Last season was a huge breakthrough for them. Princeton went undefeated in the regular season and climbed as high as 13 in the poll. Chattanooga, George Washington and Florida Gulf Coast also were in the final poll. That marked the fifth time in the past 10 years that four non-power conference teams were in the last poll of the season.

''There was some recognition for some really good mid-majors,'' Johnston said of last year's success. ''There haven't been enough of those big wins to get the recognition this year, maybe that's a part of it.''

Getting a chance to play those big teams is difficult as many won't play road games.

''The challenge for a lot of mid-major teams is scheduling,'' said poll voter LaChina Robinson. ''The stronger mid-majors programs struggle to get Top 25 teams to play them to have a shot at the poll. Once mid-majors hit their conference slate it's hard to stay in the polls with a loss and hard to move in even if you go undefeated.''

The other part is that some of the perennial mid-major powers have struggled this season. Dayton lost two stars to graduation and then was hit by injuries. Marist had a few of its players transfer over the summer and coach Brian Giorgis is working with a young squad. Gonzaga sits at 12-4, but has no real big victories. Princeton lost an early game to Seton Hall and then dropped a pair of games at Dayton and Ohio State.

All of those programs have spent some time in the Top 25 over the past few years.

''That thing comes and goes in cycles,'' said Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff, who built Xavier into a power before it joined the Big East. ''They'll come back around. I've been on both sides of it. At the mid-major level it usually takes a special group of kids that make a great run. It's hard to sustain from a recruiting stand point to keep it going at that level. But there are some great coaches at the level and they'll get them back up there.''


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