Ah yes, the Mid Majors. When it comes to mens basketball, these are the programs that retain players for four years, instead of the "elite" one-and-done thing.
In womens hoops, these elite Mid-Major teams are just as good or better than many of the "Power Conference" teams. Here are five Mid Majors women basketball programs that have already proven they aren't afraid to play the big schools, and in many instances they have already beaten them–and we're not even to March Madness yet. [divider]
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kaneisha Atwater (16 ppg., 6 rpg., 3 apg.)
WHAT MAKES THEM TICK: The Eagles are coming off of a 7-point win over Auburn and have won 4 games in a row since falling to the SEC's Mississippi State on Dec. 19. A win over Arizona has also been an early-season feather in the cap. The Eagles programs–both mens and womens–are outstanding and have made a once-unknown school a national name.
BR-45 GONZAGA (11-4)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Shelby Cheslek (11 ppg., 2 blocks, 9 rpg.)
WHAT MAKES THEM TICK: The Zags are clearly one of the nation's top Mid-Major program, and the results prove it. The losses are to Stanford, Southern Cal, North Carolina and Washington State–proving Gonzaga isn't afraid of anyone. Already the program is 3-0 against West Coast Conference competition, mowing down Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and San Francisco in succession in the past 10 days. This is a big-time program that's going to do big-time things in the postseason.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Allie LeClaire (14 ppg., 3 rpg., 3 apg.)
WHAT MAKES THEM TICK: As of Jan. 1, the Phoenix are on an 8-game winning streak getting ready for Horizon League play. This year they've beaten the SEC's Vanderbilt, the Big Ten's Wisconsin and also played tough against Virginia and Rutgers in a tournament in the Virgin Islands. This program is legit, and will let it be know during March Madness–just sit back and watch.
BR-40 JAMES MADISON (7-4)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Angela Mickens (12 ppg., 8 apg., 4 rpg., 2 steals per game).
WHAT MAKES THEM TICK: OK, so the Dukes don't have that signature win yet, even though they are playing extremely well. Defense has been a key, holding opponents under 55 points per game. Games against UCLA, Baylor and West Virginia prove this program isn't afraid to play anybody. Keep an eye on the Dukes come conference tourney time.
BR-20 PRINCETON (10-3)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Michelle Miller (14 ppg., 6 rpg., 2 apg).
WHAT MAKES THEM TICK: If you're a "Power Conference" opponent, you'll kindly want to distance yourself from Princeton–or else you'll head home wondering why you scheduled the Tigers. Well coached, obviously cerebral, talented … this team has already knocked off Michigan and Pitt and took on Ohio State. They'll once again be the heavy favorites in the Ivy League for another March Madness ticket.