Drake remains No. 1 in espnW's mid-major rankings

Darby Maggard and Belmont jumped one spot to No. 2 but still trail No. 1 Drake in espnW's updated mid-major rankings. Belmont Athletics

Before the last leftovers get polished off, or find their way into the trash bin when you can't face one more turkey sandwich, give thanks for holiday tournaments on neutral courts -- the best opportunity for mid-majors to square off against ranked opponents on equal footing.

It was just such a trip that allowed our leader to entrench at No. 1, despite its first loss.

1. Drake (6-1)

Drake began its Thanksgiving stay in Vancouver by scoring six points in the first quarter against Rutgers and trailed by 15 points at halftime. Things got better from there. The Bulldogs roared back to beat the Scarlet Knights 69-59, survived a game against Notre Dame with their dignity intact and then pulled off the week's biggest win by beating No. 13 South Carolina 90-85 in overtime.

Beating the Gamecocks is impressive enough in any context, but doing it while playing your third game in a little less than 60 hours is a stunner. Sure, both teams were equally tired, but the smaller team more reliant on precision passing for its points (South Carolina assists on 52 percent of its field goals, compared to 77 percent for Drake) would theoretically suffer more from fatigue. Yet Drake had the legs for overtime and the edge in depth, outscoring South Carolina 48-18 in bench points. Sara Rhine's 25 points were expected, but Brenni Rose's 17 were a clutch surprise.

December is loaded with big games. This week, Creighton is struggling but knows the Bulldogs well, while a visit to South Dakota State on Dec. 8 is a mid-major headliner.

Drake broke into The Associated Press Top 25 this week, at No. 24. (Last ranking: 1)

2. Belmont (4-1)

Belmont opened the season at NC State and will travel to Tennessee at the end of December, but it kept a lower profile than many mid-major peers during the holiday. The biggest hurdle since the last rankings was a slog of a game at Middle Tennessee, but the Bruins held the Blue Raiders scoreless for nearly the first six minutes of the final quarter to pull away.

More consequential than recent results was Darby Maggard becoming the program's all-time leading scorer at the NCAA Division I level. A top-100 recruit when she arrived, Maggard has been no less valuable to Belmont than two other members of that class have been to their schools: Louisville's Asia Durr and UConn's Katie Lou Samuelson. Maggard began the week ranked tied for second in 3-pointers among active D-I players, third in assists and 23rd in points. (Last ranking: 3)

3. South Dakota (5-1)

Other than making about as long a trip to a neighboring state as it's possible to make in Division I athletics -- more than 1,000 miles to the University of Montana -- South Dakota had an uneventful Thanksgiving. It needed the lull because what comes next might define the season, at least with respect to a national profile. The Coyotes host Iowa State on Wednesday and Green Bay three days later. They will play at Missouri and against Indiana on a neutral court later in December, but the opportunity to play two quality opponents at home is one a mid-major can't throw away.

With that in mind, Ciara Duffy is getting hot at the right time. The team's leading scorer as a sophomore a season ago, Duffy had a rough shooting night (2-of-11) in a loss against Drake on Nov. 15 and scored a combined 19 points in the first three games. But in scoring 23 points against Wichita State and 26 points at Montana in the past week, she shot 57 percent and committed just one turnover. (Last ranking: 4)

4. Central Michigan (5-1)

The result didn't turn as many heads as Drake beating South Carolina, but Central Michigan beating Virginia by double digits on the road deserves note. All the more after the Chippewas kept their focus and routed Chattanooga the next day at the Cavalier Classic in Charlottesville. How much either of those results help Central Michigan's NCAA résumé will depend on what the Cavaliers and Mocs prove to be this season, but they help the eye test right now.

Few mid-major players are playing better at the moment than Presley Hudson. In those victories in Virginia and a home win against UCF, she averaged 21.7 points, 6.3 assists and 3.3 steals for the week -- and that was a comedown from her 34-point game against Western Kentucky the previous week. Not a bad four-game response to the loss against South Dakota State. (Last ranking: 6)

5. Green Bay (3-2)

Drake beat the higher-ranked team, but Green Bay can argue that its true road win at then-No. 16 Missouri is still the most impressive this season from the mid-major ranks. The defense -- and it is defense, as opposed to merely pace of play -- is remarkable. Since giving up 73 points in a loss at DePaul, including 22 in the fourth quarter, Green Bay allowed 49 points at Missouri and then 39 and 35 points at home against Maine and Dayton, respectively.

Contrary to the image of a mid-major team slinging 3-pointers to fell Goliath, Green Bay over the years has been an erratic 3-point-shooting team. A season ago, the Phoenix even attempted fewer than their opponents. But with so much changeover in the scoring department this season, it's worth watching what role that shot plays. Green Bay attempted 29 in a close loss to Northwestern but only 14 in the win at Missouri (hitting just four against the Tigers). (Last ranking: 9)

6. Buffalo (4-1)

It might be time for a mea culpa. Buffalo was absent in our initial rankings because losing three starters seemed like a lot to overcome for last season's Sweet 16 surprise. After all, Cassie Oursler was the second-leading scorer and Stephanie Reid among the NCAA leaders in assists a season ago. (Buffalo also lost a fourth returning starter, Summer Hemphill, for the fall semester when she was ruled academically ineligible.) After wins against South Dakota State and Georgetown during a Thanksgiving tournament in Las Vegas, and an entertaining defeat against Oregon the previous weekend, we sold the Bulls short as long as Cierra Dillard is around. (Last ranking: NR)

7. South Dakota State (3-3)

The Jackrabbits are far and away the toughest team to slot at the moment. How many mid-majors are good enough to beat Central Michigan on the road and trail Baylor by two points with 20 seconds left to play? It's a short list. When Madison Guebert hits 3-pointers -- which is often -- South Dakota State has an ideal complement to Macy Miller and a whole bunch of bodies that can make life uncomfortable for opponents. And yet, difficult as it must have been to bounce back physically and mentally, South Dakota State lost to Buffalo the next day and returned home from the holiday tournament in Las Vegas without a win to show for it.

It only gets more interesting, with Green Bay, Drake and Oregon all visiting by Dec. 12. (Last ranking: 2)

8. Portland State (4-0)

Gaudy records built on little substance don't do much for us here at the mid-major rankings. A good loss is more valuable than a soft win. But even if its signature wins thus far are modest, coming against UC Davis (picked second in the Big West) and Seattle (picked third in the WAC), Portland State is here for reasons beyond the empty loss column.

What appeals is a team with five starters and 11 players back from a group that grew into a contender in the Big Sky a season ago. It also helps that the Vikings got their best wins without 6-foot-4 Australian center Courtney West, the Division I active leader in career blocks per game (2.69) who is out with a high ankle sprain. Add her back to the lineup alongside Washington State transfer Ashley Bolston and Kylie Jimenez, last season's Big Sky Freshman of the Year, and let's see what this team does. (Last ranking: NR)

9. IUPUI (5-1)

IUPUI got another brilliant big-stage performance from Macee Williams with 31 points, seven rebounds and just one turnover at Wisconsin on Nov. 19, but the Jaguars came up a possession short in an overtime loss. That effort came after Williams put up 23 points and 12 rebounds in a win earlier this season at Mississippi. She gets another chance at a power conference, this time one with an All-American counterpart in the post, when IUPUI visits Iowa and Megan Gustafson on Dec. 8. First comes a visit this week from perennial Missouri Valley contender Northern Iowa. (Last ranking: 8)

10. Boise State (5-1)

Only a three-point game at halftime, the visit from Louisville didn't turn into a debacle. That said, Boise State didn't have an answer for Louisville's inevitable run in the third quarter and didn't do much to suggest a 32-point loss to the same team in last year's NCAA tournament was nerves. The Broncos aren't in that league yet, but bouncing back over the holiday weekend to beat Big Sky preseason favorite Idaho and the aforementioned Northern Iowa keeps them here. In a scoring quirk, Braydey Hodgins and Ellie Woerner each scored 23 points against Idaho and then each went scoreless against Northern Iowa. Luckily, standout Riley Lupfer saved that day. (Last ranking: 10)