Jan. 8, 2007
Middle Tennessee has a spot in the AP women's basketball poll for the first time and take it from coach Rick Insell: It's a big deal.
The Blue Raiders joined the poll at No. 21 on Monday, coming in on a nine-game winning streak that includes victories over Georgia, Old Dominion and Western Kentucky.
"As coaches, we all act like we don't care about it," Insell said. "Let me tell you, everybody's lying. We do care. Those who are in all the time, maybe it doesn't mean a whole lot to them. It means a lot to Middle Tennessee."
Texas, which was ranked the first six weeks of the season before falling out, returned at No. 23. New Mexico and Pittsburgh dropped out after a week in which seven members of the Top 25 lost a total of eight games to unranked opponents.
Those losses, plus six games that sent ranked teams against each other, triggered a major shuffling in the poll, just not at the top.
ACC rivals Maryland, North Carolina and Duke held the top three places for the third straight week, while Tennessee remained fourth after winning its annual showdown with Connecticut. UConn dropped two places to seventh.
Middle Tennessee (12-3) first drew notice when it opened the season with an 80-76 loss to Maryland, a game the Blue Raiders led by five with a little more than five minutes left. Maryland has won its 16 other games by an average of 30 points and beat then-No. 19 Michigan State by 40 on Saturday.
A loss to South Dakota State three days after playing Maryland left the Blue Raiders 0-2, but they beat Maine and Minnesota in Minnesota's tournament and their only loss since then was at Tennessee.
"That kind of turned things around as far as attitude," Insell said. "That convinced us that hey, we're not that bad of a basketball team. We've been playing better since then, playing with more drive, playing with more passion."
The Blue Raiders got a scare when leading scorer Chrissy Givens, the Sun Belt Conference player of the year last season, twisted her knee in Saturday's 90-55 victory over Troy. But doctors found no ligament damage and Givens is expected to play at Florida International on Tuesday night.
Maryland (17-0) received 47 of 50 first-place votes from a national media panel to continue its season-long run at No. 1. North Carolina (17-0), which has been second all season, received one first-place vote and Duke (16-0) picked up two.
The three ACC powers are the last unbeaten teams in Division I, but one is sure to get its first loss this week because Maryland plays at Duke on Saturday.
Stanford moved up two spots to get back in the top 10 for the first time since the Cardinal were fourth in mid-November. They've won nine straight since starting 2-3.
Arizona State climbed two spots to 11th and George Washington jumped four places to 12th, the Colonials' highest ranking since they were 11th in the 1992-93 preseason poll. And they did it without playing a game. The Colonials (11-2) end a nine-day layoff Tuesday night against Richmond.
Middle Tennessee, California, Texas, DePaul and Arkansas completed the Top 25.
Texas (11-4) has won four of five since consecutive one-sided losses to Duke and Tennessee. A 79-75 setback at Nebraska has been the Longhorns' only loss to an unranked opponent.
Bowling Green made the biggest jump within the poll, going from 24th to 18th. Arkansas had the biggest drop, falling five places to 25th after losing to Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. Louisville fell four spots.
Pittsburgh, which had been 22nd, dropped out after a 63-39 loss at Rutgers. The Panthers had been ranked for four weeks. New Mexico, 25th last week, lost to Wyoming and Utah. The Lobos had appeared in seven of the previous nine polls.
Insell took the Middle Tennessee job in 2005 after winning 775 games and 10 state championships in 28 years at nearby Shelbyville, Tenn., High School. A 1977 Middle Tennessee graduate, Insell said he saw the women's program as a "diamond in the rough."
So, has it become a diamond yet?
"It takes a piece of coal 100,000 years to become a diamond," Insell said. "I'm hoping it doesn't take that long for us."