- Eric Angevine
All season long, Insider will be keeping a close eye on teams from conferences that haven't usually produced multiple NCAA tournament bids to see which squads outside of the spotlight look the strongest come tournament time. To that end, we'll be ranking the top performers from all conferences outside of the A-10, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, Pac-12 and SEC. One new caveat for this season: With the movement of BYU to the WCC, we will not be including the Cougars, due to their established performance record. Likewise, Gonzaga and Memphis are also not considered in these rankings.
Two weeks have passed since our last rankings, and conference play is in full swing for most of the mid-major world. Two top-five teams from our last rankings have clashed with each other, with the Creighton Bluejays knocking off former index leader Wichita State on the road. As a direct result, we have a new No. 1 team: the Gaels of Saint Mary's College have risen to the top.
Saint Mary's Gaels: 13-2 (2-0)
Despite a neutral-court loss to an elite Baylor team, the Gaels continue to claw their way to the top, thanks to a 16-point win over No. 10 mid Missouri State and a hot start to WCC play. Senior forward Rob Jones stuffed the stat sheet with 24 points, 15 boards, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block in a narrow win over league newcomer Brigham Young, and a 3-point barrage from a trio of guards helped the Gaels rout Pepperdine. The 29-point margin of victory in the latter game helped keep SMC's adjusted defensive efficiency numbers just low enough to vault it over Wichita State. Matthew Dellavedova & Co. face San Diego and San Francisco -- two of the WCC's weaker entrants this season -- before Gonzaga pays a highly anticipated visit Jan. 12.
ESPN Insider uses advanced metrics to track teams that might bust your brackets come March. A former Dance darling, St. Mary's is making waves this week.