Mid-major top-10 rankings: Drake, South Dakota remain on top

The No. 1 spot is up for grabs as Sara Rhine and No. 1 Drake play No. 2 South Dakota on Wednesday. Drake Athletics

The thing about picking your poison when it comes to playing Drake is that you still end up with poison. South Dakota State and Iowa State tried to make life difficult for reigning Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Becca Hittner in Drake's opening two games. They tried to take away the space and lanes the Bulldogs star exploits so well.

The problem? Sara Rhine hit 20 of 28 shots in the first two games. It's nice to have two players on the Wade Trophy watch list.

With the top two teams set to meet Wednesday in Vermillion, South Dakota, here are the latest mid-major rankings.

1. Drake (2-0)

Drake's relationship with the 3-pointer is interesting. The Bulldogs are one of the NCAA's most prolific and most accurate teams from behind the line, and they showed that by hitting 15 in a win against Iowa State this past weekend. But they aren't doomed in big games if they don't get those shots (as in a win against South Carolina last season) or don't display their usual marksmanship (as in last week's season-opening win against South Dakota State). Last ranking: 1

2. South Dakota (2-0)

The Coyotes are the only team here that opened with consecutive road games, at Northeastern and Green Bay. Although a 66-60 victory at Green Bay might sound modest, that's the most points the Phoenix had allowed in a regulation home loss since the 2014-15 season. South Dakota is also the only team with Ciara Duffy, which helps explain why it remains unbeaten after those road games. The senior's totals: 45 points, 15 rebounds, 13 assists, 54% shooting. Now she gets another chance against Drake, against which she endured one of her more frustrating games last season, with five points on 2-for-11 shooting. After Drake, South Dakota plays Utah, Missouri, Missouri State and Ohio State in succession. Last ranking: 2

3. Missouri State (3-0)

The Lady Bears are the big climbers in the rankings, with their quick start suggesting that replacing their coach and leading scorer won't slow the momentum that carried them to the Sweet 16 last season. Few mid-majors will have two better road wins out of conference than at Minnesota and Boise State. Almost as impressively, the Lady Bears dismantled Texas A&M-Corpus Christi between those games, despite playing without Brice Calip because of injury. Calip led the Bears with 21 points against Minnesota and 17 points against Boise State. Alexa Willard picked up the slack with 30 points in her absence. Thursday's WNIT semifinal at Oklahoma is a huge opportunity. Last ranking: 10

4. Rice (2-0)

It has been two games and two opponents, Nicholls State and Arkansas-Little Rock, held to fewer than 50 points. That's business as usual for Rice as a new season begins. The next two weeks won't define the season, but they will go a long way toward shaping it. First is Sunday's home game against fifth-ranked Texas A&M. Almost as important is the trip to Oklahoma State the following weekend. Competing with the Aggies matters as much as winning that game. But if Rice really is a top-25 team, it needs the road result in Stillwater. Last ranking: 3

5. Gonzaga (1-0)

An opening win against Cal State Bakersfield didn't offer much in the way of competition, but that doesn't make freshman Kayleigh Truong's debut any less intriguing. The well-regarded recruit led Gonzaga with 18 points and made four 3-pointers. The Bulldogs returned just 129 3-pointers this season, and Katie Campbell was responsible for almost half of those. Truong doesn't need to lead the team in scoring as the games get more difficult, including Sunday's road trip to Stanford, but she could have a huge influence by providing another shooter. Last ranking: 4

6. Princeton (2-0)

George Washington was picked to finish third in the Atlantic-10, so until proven otherwise, Princeton's 75-50 road rout of the Colonials is a big deal. The Tigers outscored the Colonials 46-23 in the second half, notable because they scored 49 in the entire game between the two teams last season. Carlie Littlefield nearly took the difficult route to a triple-double in this win, totaling 22 points, 10 steals and eight rebounds. The more Princeton can win without Bella Alarie needing to be the leading scorer, the better it bodes. Now comes a difficult weekend, with a trip to Seton Hall on Friday and a home game against Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday. Last ranking: 8

7. Florida Gulf Coast (2-0)

FGCU puts together one of the best mid-major schedules out there, playing other elite mid-major programs and major conference opponents. Karl Smesko gets some slack on the otherwise dubious distinction of playing two non-Division I opponents early in the season. Not to mention that in their lone game thus far against a Division I peer, the Eagles reached triple digits in a 100-54 win against FIU (one more point than they scored against Webber International). Detroit transfer Anja Marinkovic looks like a perfect fit; she has managed to get up 12 shots in 21 minutes through two games, making six 3-pointers in the process. Last ranking: 7

8. Marist (1-0)

An 89-75 win at Boston University was the sum of a quiet opening week. The Red Foxes didn't win a game in which they allowed 75 or more points until almost Christmas last season, but the Terriers did much of their scoring late in this one and only briefly came within single digits in the second half. Rebekah Hand, who scored 27 points, is just outside the top 25 in career 3-pointers among active players but also averages 6.4 rebounds per game in her career. There's a lot of Macy Miller about her game, which is about the highest possible mid-major praise. Last ranking: 9

9. Ohio (1-1)

The Bobcats went to Syracuse and outscored the Orange 22-10 in the first quarter of their season opener. The Orange outscored them 56-32 the rest of the way. For now, the Bobcats get the benefit of the doubt that the second sequence doesn't erase the value of the first. They went on the road against a good ACC team and had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Another quick start fueled a reasonably comfortable win at American, but starters accounted for 344 of 400 possible minutes in the first two games. A trip to Ohio State this weekend looms large. Last ranking: 5

10. Belmont (2-0)

The best programs are preparing to fill vacancies long before they happen. Given Belmont's track record, perhaps the OVC juggernaut deserved more benefit of the doubt here as it moved on without program legend Darby Maggard. In a 72-37 rout of UCF, picked to finish third in the American, it sure looked like Belmont sophomores Conley Chinn and Jamilyn Kinney used their time as understudies wisely. This remains a young team beyond a senior core that includes OVC preseason player of the year Ellie Harmeyer, and a trip to Arkansas next week is daunting. But youth can grow up quickly when it's around the success with which Belmont is familiar. Last ranking: Not ranked