Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 1

Babson returns not only Joey Flannery, but 100% of it's scoring from last season.

Babson returns not only Joey Flannery, but 100% of it’s scoring from last season.

There is one thing I can already determine from just the first few weeks of the 2016-17 season… parity has not gone anywhere. If anything, it has gotten more engrained.

No, this is not shocking. I pretty much expected another year of parity on the men’s side of Division III basketball, but something I think many are starting to get used to is seeing top teams taking losses early in the season.

Ryan Scott, D3hoops.com’s new Around the Nation’s columnist, wrote an article last week talking about how much the 70% rule has changed scheduling across Division III. More and more teams are willing to not only challenge themselves by improving their schedules, but also travel to do that. Events like the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic are spurring teams to do both (yeah I know, shameless plug). All of this is adding up to one thing: far better teams are facing each other earlier in the season which adds up to many more losses especially when there are far more good teams around the country than there used to be.

What’s my point? It is going to be another very difficult year trying to figure out who the best 25 teams in the country are every week. Don’t get me wrong, I love filling out my ballot each week and taking longer look at teams than many people in Division III ever consider doing. However, sometimes I just wouldn’t mind having the chance to rubber stamp most of my selections like they can in football most weeks (side-shot at my football brethren just because I can).

Anyway, there are many who probably just want to see my ballot(s). I was far too busy to get my pre-season ballot blog written (it wasn’t going to break down my selections, anyway), so first here is my preseason ballot just for those who are curious:

Many have Amherst number one, I just can't buy in when Babson looks like the better team even on paper.

Many have Amherst number one, I just can’t buy in when Babson looks like the better team even on paper.

1 – Babson
2 – Christopher Newport
3 – Ohio Wesleyan
4 – Amherst
5 – St. Norbert
6 – Tufts
7 – Wooster
8 – John Carroll
9 – North Central (Ill.)
10 – Emory
11 – St. Thomas
12 – Whitworth
13 – Whitman
14 – Benedictine
15 – Alma
16 – Marietta
17 – Hope
18 – Skidmore
19 – Oswego State
20 – Hardin-Simmons
21 – New Jersey City
22 – Salisbury
23 – Virginia Wesleyan
24 – Lynchburg
25 – Rochester

Before you ask: yes, there were a number of schools I considered. Yes, it was very difficult. Yes, I am fully aware before the season started I may have misjudged a number of teams on and off my ballot. Yes, it felt a little like a crap shoot. I did try to take a little different tactic with my preseason ballot and not take nearly as much time. I couldn’t make the argument that spending two more hours working through details would make that large a difference in the end. Who knows, I might have a different point of view next year.

And yes, my ballot took a pounding in the opening weeks of the season. The overall D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25 had 25 losses in it. Mine: 27.

So, I got back to work and tried to weed through probably 50 teams all with varying arguments to be considered. No, I am not promising I have this figured out. Remember, I am just one voter with one train of thinking – even if that thinking is derailed from team to team. I will say this; I am not a fan of large shifts on my ballot. People may not agree with me and that is fine – not going to change my feelings about it. When I make large shifts (as you will see this week especially) I am either usually blowing up my ballot or I get uneasy. It makes me worry I am being too reactionary; like a gunshot wedding. Yeah, I understand there will be people who shake their head and say I should make drastic moves, but there are times I feel if I do I will only regret it later when the team doesn’t live up to the move up or only returns to where I would have put them anyway.

Ok… I’m rambling now. It might only make sense in my head, so let’s just get on with my ballot for this week:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)
To be blunt, the Beavers have a lot on paper that looks really good. Returning everyone from a team I feel would have been in Salem had Flannery not been injured early in the NCAA tournament. They are also compressing a third or more of their season into the first quarter and so far, living to tell about it. I know I am part of the minority right now, but I will get to that later.

Marietta's AJ Edwards has helped lead his team to the most impressive start to the year of any team.

Marietta’s AJ Edwards has helped lead his team to the most impressive start to the year of any team.

2 – Marietta (Up 14)
The Pioneers are good. Damn good. I watched them dismantle Christopher Newport in a game I had been highly anticipating after hoping to have seen it last year in the national quarterfinals. They then didn’t let down against Wooster and handed them the bus keys at halftime. But no, they are not my number one team – they didn’t beat my top team and I think Babson is deeper with possibly more threats inside. That isn’t a shot against AJ Edwards who is a deserving preseason first-team All-American. However, I do think Edwards will need help as they get deep into conference play. I also hope Marietta isn’t peaking too soon, but that might be that other voice in my head who doesn’t like the fact I moved a team up 14 spots (ha!).

3 – Amherst (Up 1)
I know most voters have the purple and white number one, but I’m not there. First of all, I don’t think they get past Babson last year if Flannery is 100%. Secondly, they lost one of their most important players from last year’s squad Conner Green who could take over a game if needed. That isn’t to say Amherst isn’t very good, I just can’t buy in to the number one team right now. And nothing about their early season schedule would change my mind. Just a note of comparison: Amherst beat Anna Maria (0-5) by 11-points while shooting 51-percent while Babson beat the same Amcats by 50 while shooting 70+ percent.

4 – Tufts (Up 1)
I am a little nervous about the Jumbos being this high, but they have a really good team back from a tremendous run last season. I can’t see any reason to expect them to not have another good season with so many of the pieces from last year’s squad back, but as with most NESCAC teams I am going to have to wait a little longer until their schedule toughens up – this week.

5 – North Central (Up 4)
The Cardinals have replaced Augustana (and Elmhurst) as the top dog in the CCIW this season. North Central showed last year that they had retooled quickly and would be right back in the fray. They already started with a win over Benedictine and Alma, though that later one isn’t as great as previously expected. However, we get to see just how good NCC is this week with three straight CCIW opponents starting with Illinois Wesleyan on December 3.

CNU may need to rely more on Aaron McFarland to help Tim Daly and Marcus Carter succeed this season.

CNU may need to rely more on Aaron McFarland to help Tim Daly and Marcus Carter succeed this season.

6 – Christopher Newport (Down 4)
The Captains game against Marietta shocked me. I expected the game to be nip and tuck most of the way and coming down to the wire. It was over fairly early. That may be more of a sign of how good Marietta is early this season, but at the same time it might be CNU trying to readjust roles to a team that made a run to Salem last season. Most of the parts are back, but when players graduated it doesn’t matter how many return, sometimes there are growing pains. Recovering to handle Dickinson in their next game is a good sign John Krikorian’s squad got the message. But CNU will be involved in one of the more difficult conference battles in the country this year, so this promises to be a long season.

7 – Wooster (Unchanged)
Last year the Scots showed they could fly a little under the radar and still put together a heck of a season. So, expectations are probably pretty high in central Ohio. The loss to Marietta is going to sting, but the Pioneers have had their way of Wooster the last three games, so maybe it was expected. That said, the NCAC will be an interesting battle this year so Wooster needs to be on their toes in every game. This may be a year I am willing to buy in with Wooster after several years of not being sold.

8 – Whitman (Up 5)
I will be honest, I am unsure what to make of the Missionaries. They made a great run in the NCAA tournament last year including beating their arch-nemisis in Whitworth, but Eric Bridgeland’s group never seems to live up to expectations in the past. Can that change? Absolutely. Has it? Not sure, yet. I have seen years when I thought they would finally step up to the next level and they failed in front of my eyes. The start to this season at least has shown me maybe they are finally there. Their win over Texas Lutheran, granted without TLU’s best player being at his best, was far more impressive than Whitworth’s the next day. The best part: we get to see just how good they may be with their first battle with Whitworth just over a week away. Call it a must watch game for Division III fans so plan to stay up!

9 – Whitworth (Up 3)
In the preseason poll, I had the Pirates ranked ahead of Whitman despite the NCAA result last season. The past has always said Whitworth has been the better team, but maybe not this year. As good as Matt Logie’s squad has been, they just might be a step behind Whitman this year. And yes, two NWC teams in the Top 10 isn’t that far off – it isn’t that surprising on the women’s side, after all. The difference is this is the year the NWC needs to finally prove it when March rolls around.

10 – St. Norbert (Down 5)
One of the most consistent teams in the Central Region, if not the entire country, the last five years has been the Green Knights. They have torn through their conference and held their own for the most part against others in their region, despite some tough, early-round, match-ups in the NCAA tournament. But consistency along with bringing back a solid core from last year’s squad (94% or better of their scoring, rebounding, assists, etc.) should have people take notice. Of course, starting the season with a loss to UW-Eau Claire may give people pause, except the Blugolds might be the class of the WIAC this year.

11 – Hope (Up 6)
Lose a game and move up six spots? Yeah odd, I know. The loss to Cornerstone is like all results against non-Division III teams in Hope’s region – hard to truly gauge especially for those outside of the area. Hope has a good team who should be able to build on last season. They may not get much of a battle in the MIAA with Calvin and possibly Alma all being down, but John Carroll, UW-Lacrosse, Stevens Point ahead in the next three games will be a great test.

The defending national champions may have lost a lot of players from last year, but John Tauer always seems to have the answers to stay in the national conversation.

The defending national champions may have lost a lot of players from last year, but John Tauer always seems to have the answers to stay in the national conversation.

12 – St. Thomas (Down 1)
I can hear many say it, I have the Tommies too high. The defending national champions lost a lot in the off-season thanks to graduation (damn graduations in college sports LOL). However, the one thing St. Thomas has always done is reload, retool, re-whatever very, very well. They have not won 11 straight conference regular season titles for any other reason. That said, the conference has become far more difficult in the last few years as proof of the Tommies losing the conference title game to St. Olaf last year. But I am not about to just write-off St. Thomas because they lost a bunch of players. John Tauer has one major weapon back, Grant Shaeffer, and any team would love to have him on their squad.

13 – Rochester (Up 12)
First, I think the Yellow Jackets may be a sleeping giant or a dark horse this season. The second half of last season saw Rochester quietly storm through the UAA with nine straight wins including sweeping Wash U and Chicago on back-to-back weekends before they stubbed their toe on the final weekend. Rochester brought back a lot of that squad with regained confidence. Rochester very well could win the UAA this season, but that gets me to my second though – this is a large jump up the poll for me. Twelve spots based on six wins over an interesting collection of teams – none of them upper echelon teams, necessarily. Outside of St. John Fisher, Rochester doesn’t have a lot tests on their schedule before getting into the UAA schedule. They may have to stay undefeated for others to buy in.

14 – Baldwin Wallace (Unranked)
I heard a few people mention to me they liked the Yellow Jackets (is there a hive on this ballot or in Division III?) when I asked around this off season. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But wins over St. Mary’s (Md.) and New Jersey City made me take notice after Baldwin Wallace rolled through Case Western Reserve to start the season. Maybe I am jumping on this one too hard (and not others hard enough), but I like the fact BW is back in the national conversation. There is something about how they are made up that makes me think they could make some waves and keep John Carroll honest in the OAC.

15 – Salisbury (Up 7)
Here is another team I think is far more dangerous than people realize. Not only do they return most of last year’s squad who ran second to Christopher Newport in the Capital Athletic Conference and got to the second round of the NCAA tournament, but they also return one of the program’s best players who was out last season with an injury (though, one could argue who is the best player since they could have two All-Americans on the squad by the end of the season). The Sea Gulls will be part of a crazy battle this season in the CAC with CNU as well as a resurgent St. Mary’s and Mary Washington among others that could make the CAC the best conference to watch this year. Andy Sach’s squad has started the season with a win over Virginia Wesleyan, Johns Hopkins, and Staten Island and will head to D3hoops.com Classic to play Ramapo and Hardin-Simmons but not before playing CNU in an early season must-watch game.

Jalen Harris is leading the Gothic Knights in scoring on a squad many think could be one of the best in program history.

Jalen Harris is leading the Gothic Knights in scoring on a squad many think could be one of the best in program history.

16 – New Jersey City (Up 5)
I keep hearing the Gothic Knights could potentially have the program’s best season in a long time – I am looking forward to seeing if this does indeed happen. However, they need to make sure to handle their out of conference schedule. They have already lost once to Baldwin Wallace, who I now have ranked ahead of them. Considering they may take some lumps in the NJAC (as the conference likes to eat it’s young), NJCU has got to focus on the last few games of their out-of-conference schedule over the holidays. But before they get there, they run through four conference opponents starting this week.

17 – Skidmore (Up 1)
I like the Thoroughbreds. They have a terrific core back on the floor with their All-American talent, Aldin Medunjanin, back from injury, so similar to Salisbury they are in a position to have a special season. However, as Joe Burke admitted in a recent history with me on Hoopsville, this program has been knocking on the door to the next level. Remember Skidmore has first round wins the last few years and then narrow second-round losses to good squads like Johns Hopkins and Tufts at their places. This has to be the year to push through. Not sure how the conference schedule will help or hurt, so Skidmore has to remain strong and maybe even dominate teams when possible.

18 – Lynchburg (Up 6)
I realize the Hornets lost a good group from last year’s record-setting year, but I don’t think Lynchburg will fall off that much. Hillary Scott has done a very good job bringing Lynchburg back to the top of the ODAC and they have broken through. The loss to UW-Stevens Point was interesting at the Hoopsville Classic. However, I think that was more of a testament of showing off just how well UWSP can play defense when needed. Lynchburg will use that game as motivation and an example the rest of the season.

19 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unranked)
In the preseason, I wasn’t sure what to make of the Titans. I only had one team from the CCIW ranked which felt odd (though, not as odd as not having any WIAC teams), but despite the fact IWU had been picked to finish second in the conference I wasn’t sure how that translated to the Top 25. A 5-0 start with some solid wins answered some of those questions. I do wonder if the Titans are really that good in the long run, but it will be fun to see a little more green in the national conversation.

20 – Benedictine (Down 6)
The Eagles had nothing short of a magical run last year. To be the only team in all of NCAA men’s basketball to nearly go undefeated for the season was incredible, but they didn’t lose as much from that team as people thought. They also had a tough slate to start the season and had some close losses. I suspect Benedictine will remain in the national conversation this year.

Ryan Cain is no longer the interim head coach of Keene State and the team has rewarded him by possibly improving on last year.

Ryan Cain is no longer the interim head coach of Keene State and the team has rewarded him by possibly improving on last year.

21 – Keene State (Unranked)
The Owls were the surprise of the NCAA tournament last year. Under, then, interim coach Ryan Cain suddenly Keene State was in the second weekend. But does that really mean they are one of the best teams in the country? I was a bit skeptical in the pre-season. Everyone knows about the Owls now, but they started strong with wins over (depleted) Southern Vermont, Hartwick, and Springfield to name a few. No, none of them are world beaters, but Keene State has won in dominating fashion. Maybe the Northeast has a few new teams to look at outside of the NESCAC and NEWMAC.

22 – Endicott (Unranked)
Speaking of new teams in the Northeast, hello Endicott! I didn’t want to drink the Kool-Aid in the preseason, but can’t ignore the fact Gulls have done well to start the year. A narrow loss to my number-one Babson and a win over then-nationally ranked Middlebury. Couple those with how they finished the season and what they have back and Endicott looks like a fresh face to watch in New England as well. The challenge now: there aren’t a lot of games the rest of the season to truly gauge Endicott.

23 – Emory (Down 13)
I may have whiffed on a few teams in the pre-season, may have … it is still to be determined … the Yellow Jackets (seriously, is there a hive here?) may be one of them. Emory was strong last year though retooling from previous powerful teams. I thought reading the tea leaves an listening to those I trust that Emory would be right back in the conversation nationally. Maybe not. A loss to start the season against Covenant and then another to LaGrange are head scratchers. They also narrowly snuck past Guilford in double-overtime. Maybe I should have just dropped Emory, but I felt like holding on. We shall see. This wasn’t the start I expected for an out-of-conference schedule that is not as challenging as it has been in the past for Emory.

24 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 21)
Any feel that breeze? I may have swung hard and missed on a slow-pitch softball pitch. My back might be hurting. What is going on with the Battling Bishops? When I voted they had lost two straight to Capital and Illinois Wesleyan (who dominated). As I finish writing this blog, they have now lost to Otterbein. I know Mike DeWitt likes his team this year. I liked what I saw. Three first-team NCAC players returning to a squad that got to the Sweet 16 last year and looked really, really good. Sometimes a new season doesn’t necessarily bring the same chemistry. Might need to head back to the science lab to figure this one out in Delaware, Ohio because the Battling Bishops have already used up a lot of wiggle room for any selection criteria in the first six games of the season.

John Carroll has started the season by seemingly looking up at everyone else.

John Carroll has started the season by seemingly looking up at everyone else.

25 – John Carroll (Down 17)
When Mike Moran announced this would be his last season you had to figure the squad would respond and create a magical finish for the long-time coach. Not sure this is how anyone thought the season would begin. Two-straight losses to Mt. St. Joseph’s and Hanover to start the season and now a loss to Hope (after we voted and before I was finishing this blog post). Guh. I may have swung and missed here as well. Maybe the Blue Streaks are distracted more with the future than the present. Who knows, but this is not what I expected for a squad who looked so good last year and brought back so many of those same parts.

Dropped Out:

Alma (Previously 15)
I knew the Scots had lost a few pieces from a terrific team last year, but I also knew who was back. I also knew they lost a guard who seemed to be good off the bench (Beckman) who decided to try and go to a higher division (and transferred to Hope just to go to school; not playing), but I read that as maybe a gain, not a loss (he wasn’t buying in any way since he thought he was better than Division III). But I did NOT know they had two of their most important parts suffer injuries in the pre-season and wouldn’t be back anytime soon. I wouldn’t have voted for Alma in the preseason with that information. Now four-straight losses off a single win to start the season… Alma will be playing for an automatic-bid the rest of the way.

Oswego State (Previously 19)
The SUNYAC may be one of the top three conference races to watch this season and there were many who thought the Lakers could be a special team this year. Not only did they have a lot of parts from last year’s NCAA second-weekend team returning including pre-season All-American Brian Sortino, but they got some heralded transfers. But Oswego State has stumbled once again to start a season. I need to keep this fact in mind. I haven’t seen the Lakers get through the first half of a season without stubbing their toe. I just can’t keep them in my Top 25 with losses to Nazareth and Hamilton and no significant wins. We shall see what conference play reveals.

The Cowboys really look like a good team, but Coach Carse's squad hasn't shown it in the box scores as of yet.

The Cowboys really look like a good team, but Coach Carse’s squad hasn’t shown it in the box scores as of yet.

Hardin-Simmons (Previously 20)
I like what Hardin-Simmons has in a team. Last year they struggled and I think you can make a direct correlation of their struggles to Craig Carse’s health last year. He’s back. The team is back. But they started the year 2-2. But there isn’t a coach I talk to who has watched them or seen tape who doesn’t like what they see. Going to wait for now. I’ll get to see them in person against some decent competition in Las Vegas. I’ll reevaluate then.

Virginia Wesleyan (Previous 23)
The one thing I have gotten very used to is that Dave Macedo never reloads – he constantly has parts to put into what we all consider holes. He has one of the deepest rosters in the country and he finds talent in places no one else is able. But could parity be taking a bite out of the Marlins? For a program that is routinely in the Top 25 for the past decade, they seem to struggle to dominate out of conference now. That is where parity could be playing role. It could also be an example of stronger out-of-conference scheduling. The loss to Salisbury wasn’t that bad. The loss to Emory & Henry? Not sure what to make there. There are some who think E&H is poised to appear on top of the ODAC. I am not so sure. Thus, I have knocked VWC out for now. I’ll see them on Sunday and can reevaluate before the next poll.

I apologize for the length of this post. Future blogs will be shorter as I won’t write capsules on each team. We are also discussing an idea of altering this to a video-based post, a Hoopsville vignette as it where, in the future.


Time to Change Preseason Basketball

New Jersey City court (Courtesy: NJCU Athletics)

New Jersey City court (Courtesy: NJCU Athletics)

Over the years that I have been involved with Division III basketball, the preseason has undergone some changes. Nothing significant, but changes all the same. I think it is time to make another change and this one would be a bit more significant.

Winter sports like basketball are the only Division III sports that do not have non-traditional seasons, nor are coaches able to get together or work with their teams when the academic year begins. Fall sports have a preseason that begins before any other students arrive on campus. Spring sports are able to have a non-traditional season which can start the first day of classes in September, so coaches can meet (new) students and get teams working together well ahead of their seasons. Winter sports, nothing. The trade-off is there’s a month long practice season for most teams before the actual season begins.

Time to change this. But before my proposal, consider these questions.

Do basketball teams really need a month-plus of practice time?

Is it a good idea that coaches are unable to access their team prior to mid-October?

Is it best that student-athletes are barely able to have contact with their coaching staff prior to practices beginning?

Those are the three questions at the heart of basketball practices options along with the constant concern, especially with college presidents, about keeping the Division III ideals in place that students are not beholden to athletics. They are here on campus to be students first.

That last part is something that can’t be forgotten or dismissed. Any changes need to keep that principle in place. College presidents will snuff out any idea if they feel it hinders the student-first experience. That’s the reason non-traditional seasons haven’t grown, even becoming more restricted.

FDU-Florham women's basketball practice (Courtesy:

FDU-Florham women’s basketball practice (Courtesy: Steve Hockstein/for the Star-Ledge)

This is at best, inconsistent if not hypocritical. Obviously, fall sports need to start before academics start and thus athletes are adjusting to academics second. However, spring sports can start their non-traditional seasons as soon as the academic calendar begins. Winter sports, no chance.

When talking to a number of coaches around the country about changes that could considered, one Mid-Atlantic coach pointed out how his inability to be available for his team doesn’t seem to keep those on campus from blaming the program when there is a problem. If a new student comes on campus gets in some kind of trouble in the first couple weeks, he is labeled as being a “men’s basketball player” and thus the connotation is he represents the program. The snowball then starts to roll downhill. But as this coach pointed out, he hasn’t even met with the student-athlete, yet! He isn’t allowed to check in with him, help him adjust to college, give him advice or find him assistance. So how is he a “men’s basketball player” when he hasn’t even been in a team meeting let alone put on a uniform?

As any student-athlete will tell you, their coach and staff are instrumental in helping them adjust to college, the schedule, the life, etc. just as much as an academic advisor. But when a new student comes on campus, the rules prevent them from interacting with their basketball coach. That doesn’t make sense.

Coaches can have one team meeting and one official in-office meeting per student early on. And student-athletes can drop by their coach’s office, but the contact is limited out of season. But one or two meetings in the six to eight weeks prior to practices starting doesn’t seem right.

Let’s also look at the pre-season practice structure. All basketball programs in Division III are allowed to start practices on October 15, though some conferences start later. That’s a minimum of 30 days prior to the start of the season with some exceptions. Considering six practices a week, there are about 26 or so practices leading up to the first day of games, assuming a team starts on Nov. 15. Doing some quick math around Division III, that’s more practices than any other team sport in Division III including football.

So there is your trade off. You can’t meet with your team at the beginning, but there are a few extra practices. Not sure that trade off makes sense either.

One of the other comments I have heard over the years, especially from coaches, is that there may be too many practices. By the time the season starts, teams are worn out practicing against themselves. Sure, they aren’t playing the best possible basketball in games when the season starts, but I would contend this isn’t an indication about needing more practice time. I’d argue playing opponents helps teams prepare, not more practice. There is only so much they can learn practicing against each other.

So let’s make a trade off that reduces the number of pre-season practices while allowing coaches more time to help their student-athletes outside of the game.

St. Thomas men's basketball practice (Courtesy: New York Times)

St. Thomas men’s basketball practice (Courtesy: New York Times)

Here is what I propose, as a starting point, to provide an idea how these changes would benefit and effect programs:

–       There’s a “non-traditional” period from the start of classes until four weeks after classes begin or end of September, whichever comes first. During that period, teams have a two-week window that opens once the first practice and/or meeting takes place.
–       Two full-team practices allowed. Additional practices are limited to six players max. No player can participate in more than seven practices.
–       Two full-team meeting can take place during two-week window, except one must coincide with a practice.
–       Preseason practices pushed back from October 15 to October 25 approximately

The most important factor is coaches could meet with their teams far earlier in the year in a more meaningful way. Instead of a single meeting as a way of saying hello, coaches now get a chance to run some light practices and actually be there to help students (re)adjust to the academic year. At the same time, it allows coaches and athletes to get on the same page for the season ahead and waste less time in preseason trying to fix things like bad form.

Several coaches I spoke with pointed out how frustrating it is to see one of their team members in the gym shooting free throws or jump shots and they have bad habits. However, because it is prior to October 15, they cannot help fix them.

Another issue this helps to address is pick-up games that teams play before practice begins.  Instead of playing a style the coaching staff wants to benefit the team, the pick-up games are more like street-ball. Come October 15, the coaching staff has to take more time getting the team refocused on the right offense, defense, and plays. No wonder teams need so much time in preseason to get ready.

Smith College women's team huddle (Courtesy: Matthew Cavanaugh for the Boston Globe)

Smith College women’s team huddle (Courtesy: Matthew Cavanaugh for the Boston Globe)

Giving coaches time in September to fix bad habits, hand out the playbook, and run through basic schemes doesn’t seem like a bad idea. And while this proposal does cut the amount of preseason practices, they won’t be needed if the coach has gotten his or her team focused on being better prepared when the preseason begins.

One thing college presidents are not going to endorse is full-fledged practices. Even non-traditional seasons don’t have regular-season style practices. So there is no way presidents will adopt this new schedule if teams are having what seems like regular season practices at the beginning of the academic year. Not when the season is two months away. But another coach I chatted with out of the Northeast had a better idea: take the D1 model and allow coaches to work with small groups of players.

If practices were restricted to four to six players per session, that would be invaluable. Practices would be a bit lighter and more focused. This means less time needed in the gym. This also gives coaches the chance to get to know individual players better early on. And it allows for less wasted time (as the coach works with the guards, the post players are standing around and vice versa).

By only working with smaller groups, this proposal will also keep programs from practicing every day. However, coaches will always try and find some loopholes, so a restriction of how many practices a player can participate in will be needed as well. In a two-week window (12 allowed days), players could not participate in more than seven practices and two meetings.

Another benefit of a September practice period is open tryouts. You may not realize it, but a number of programs, including some of the best in the country, still hold open tryouts. Instead of putting those at the beginning of the pre-season and taking time away from preparing the team, now a coach can hold those open tryouts in September and get these new student-athletes prepared for the upcoming season a little sooner. Maybe it doesn’t work to have open tryouts and two practices in September, but this is a fixable problem.

There will be some others details to figure out as well. For example, non-traditional seasons cannot be mandatory or have affect whether a player makes a team. Since this proposal takes time away from the pre-season, this might be a challenge. Coaches won’t want to lose part of their 19-week season to a time-frame when athletes aren’t required to be there.

16 JAN 2016: The NCAA Division III Business Session during the 2016 NCAA Convention takes place at the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio, TX. Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos

16 JAN 2016: The NCAA Division III Business Session during the 2016 NCAA Convention takes place at the Marriott Rivercenter in San Antonio, TX. Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos

But the biggest challenge here is convincing the college presidents. Some will contend they don’t want student-athletes getting their schedules buried with athletics and that they should get into the academic schedule before basketball starts.

From my experience, this doesn’t make sense. I benefited from being on a fall sports team. I was able at the beginning of the year to get into a routine with classes, study-sessions, practices, games, etc. Basketball players have to readjust right before or after midterms to add in practices and eventually games for the rest of the semester. That can be even more detrimental than having it all at the beginning of the year.

The key to any proposal that brings practices into September is to balance academics and athletics, and respect that Division III athletes are not here to only play sports. Limiting the number of practices and size of practices is a practical way to find that balance. And it allows coaches to help the team start the academic year strong and maybe help players avoid pitfalls that will be too late to fix come mid-October. It’s better to fix those problems early in the semester than later when eligibility for the second semester becomes an issue.

And this will also reduce the length of the preseason. Knocking at least ten days (up to nine practices) off the schedule could do wonders for teams. It allows players to focus on midterms and other academic needs at the midway point of the first semester without the start of practices distracting them. The Centennial and NESCAC conferences start later for these kinds of reasons. The Centennial waits until all of its schools have made their way through midterms and mid-semester breaks. The NESCAC waits until November 1 with the old-school mentality of not having too much cross-over with fall sports. The premise isn’t a bad one and neither conference has shown any ill effects for the most part.

Babson men's basketball practicing at Salem Civic Center (Courtesy: Babson Athletics)

Babson men’s basketball practicing at Salem Civic Center (Courtesy: Babson Athletics)

All and all, the idea is to make this a win-win. Allow basketball coaches to connect with their players at the beginning of the year, like coaches in fall or spring sports can. Give players a support system early in the year, when new students are more likely to need the help balancing all the different elements of being at college. Reduce preseason to something more reasonable while also helping coaches make sure players are on the same page, without compromising academics.

The proposal here may not be perfect as delivered. But something needs to be done to give coaches the ability to help their players while also reducing a long, drawn-out preseason of what is already a long regular season especially, for those programs that play deep into March.

(EDITORIAL NOTE: Several people have pointed out that student-athletes and coaches are allowed to meet when ever they want in the off-season when only discussing academics or anything but basketball and the team. I pointed out there are restrictions to one team meeting and one individual meeting in this article. I agree and understand that players and coaches can meet and chat often when not discussing hoops and that can be a benefit at the beginning of the year to help a student-athlete (re)adjust. However, I do want to emphasize that many coaches struggle with this and some student-athletes don’t understand that when told of the restrictions in place for meeting with coaches. I stand by my point that opening up the meeting allowance a little bit especially to talk more about basketball should be allowed. This is especially important with how much fall and spring coaches are able to discuss their sports at the beginning of the academic calendar.)


Pompeii and the Island of Capri

By Chrishawn Orange
Augustana men’s basketball

We headed down to breakfast and it was good but the best item at breakfast was this sausage wrapped in breading. I know this doesn’t seem like a breakfast food, but it was really good.

Next we took a stroll down the hill to get on our bus to go to the historic site of Pompeii. Pompeii is a remarkable city because of what happened to it. The Roman city was covered by the volcanic eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD causing 13 to 20 feet of volcanic ash to bury the city. It lay undisturbed for nearly 1800 years until rediscovered by the Spanish. The city is perfectly preserved as it was when the eruption occurred. Only about 40% of the town was restored and the rest they try to keep from being destroyed.

After this amazing trip to Pompeii, we headed to another place called the Isle of Capri. We took a hydrofoil boat to get to the Island of Capri which was pretty cool, because we could see the places we have been in Italy thus far. Once we made it to the Island of Capri we had some free time.

I took a couple of the guys and headed to a restaurant where I had the best pizza I have ever had in the world. The freshness of the sauce was truly incredible. After that we headed to the higher points of Capri, where we then had some amazing views of the Mediterranean Sea and the rest of Italy. At the top of Capri we were looking for a beach where we could relax and unwind because we’ve already seen so many amazing things. Our quest for the beach was altered when we couldn’t find one in the upper Capri, so we traveled back down to the lower part of Capri and finally got our relaxation time. We spent some quality time with each other and really soaked up what we were seeing.


The Amalfi coast

By Chrishawn Orange
Augustana men’s basketball

My day to write and it began with a wake-up call at 7:30 a.m. from assistant coach Jordan Delp. He told me in the most monotone voice I’ve ever heard “wake up”.

We headed down to breakfast, which was pretty good. They had croissants with lemon powder on them and it was the best croissant I’ve ever had. From there we lined up in a single file line and started our morning walk down to our bus, so we could visit one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world – the Amalfi Coast. On the busiest street in Sorrento, because of the people heading to work, our bus driver was making tight turns and not at a low speed.

Traveling on the bus we were able to see some breathtaking views. The kind that look like they belong on a post card. Seeing views we have never seen before and at some points it almost looked fake because of how beautiful they were. With no sun out there was a calm fog on the water and it made the scenery look very majestic.

When I looked out onto Mediterranean Sea I couldn’t tell where the water ended and where the clouds began and it was truly unbelievable. Driving to Amalfi Coast we ran into some major traffic congestion. At one point we almost crashed into another bus and the locals around the area helped us maneuver out and we made it to Amalfi Coast in one piece.

There was bumper-to-bumper traffic and we were barely moving. With all of the houses on the mountain it created a vertical city. This was remarkable because in city of Positano all of the houses are on a cliff. It’s crazy to see how people built a city on a mountain and with the limited technology they had it still is maintained today. We maintained a positive attitude, despite the slow going, because of all of the picturesque views we saw along the way.

When we arrived at the Amalfi Coast, we split up into groups. I enjoyed my day at Amalfi Coast with fellow sophomores Nolan Ebel (Regis Jesuit HS, Englewood, Colo.) and Pierson Wofford (Springfield Lutheran HS, Springfield, Ill.) and Nolan’s parents. We all went out to lunch at an authentic Italian restaurant. There I had an unusual dish that I wasn’t sure, if the combination went together until I ate it. It was ham and cantaloupe and it was incredible.

After lunch I met up with my roommate Dylan Sortillo (Bettendorf HS, Bettendorf, Iowa) and we went down to the coast-line to take the famous picture we always see other people take. The kind when they are in the water and the beautiful building are in the back.

We headed back to Sorrento where we finished our day doing some shopping. This is where Coach Delp made his first purchase of the trip and bought his mom a bottle of olive oil.


Leaving Spain, barely

By Dylan Sortillo
Augustana men’s basketball

Today was our last day in Spain. It was such a good time that it was certainly hard to leave but a little easier knowing that we get to spend the next five days in Italy.

Leaving Spain was kind of an eye-opening moment in realizing how surreal this whole trip is. As we prepared to board the bus to head to the airport, we reflected about how lucky we all are to be in this position. We are getting to explore some of the most amazing parts of the world with our best friends and get to play the game we love while we do it.

It’s crazy to think about the places basketball has taken us and this trip, specifically, has made us realize how blessed we really are. And of course none of this would have even been possible without the extraordinary support of our parents, other family members, coaches, and Augustana College.

Not only was Spain a blast but we also learned a ton of new information about the history and the culture by experiencing it first-hand. The one thing that became extremely evident was that absolutely none of us actually knew how to do the salsa. Although some tried like senior Michael Hoekstra, it did not go over so well. Besides our less superior dance moves, it was special to interact with the local people and see their everyday life and what it would be like to live in Spain.

Now, Spain was incredible but I think it’s important to mention we did nearly get left there.

As we sat at our gate 20 minutes before our flight was to leave, nobody seemed to realize that the plane wasn’t there and we were the only ones at the gate. Mrs. Giovanine made the biggest play of the trip thus far; bigger than any basket or shot, by doing some research and realizing our gate had been switched. We rushed to the appropriate gate and made it just in time.

When we got to Naples we got onto a bus and headed towards Sorento, Italy. After a scenic drive we approached the town that sits right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea with enormous mountains on all sides. The layout of the city with houses of all colors scattered in all directions and hotels and shops directly lining the coast overlooking the endless crystal blue water. As we stopped and took in the view my fellow junior and 100% Italian friend Joseph Ranallo and I agreed it was probably going to be one of the most beautiful sites we’ll ever see in our entire lives.

Yesterday I talked about the winding roads of the Monterresot but today we will have to multiply that times 10. I actually personally shook the bus drivers hand for being able to maneuver through the mountain and beautiful villages that looked straight out of the movies. Finally it got to the point where it was too tight for the bus to fit, so we had to get out with our luggage and walk single file the rest of the way to our hotel, Hotel Spicy.

Once we settled in we got back in our single file line and headed to the city to explore the shops and city center. One of the biggest hits was a world famous Gelato shop that nearly everyone explored before dinner. For dinner at Hotel Spicy we got our first taste of the wonderful Italian food. For starters we had bruschetta, followed by pasta with gnocchi and mozzarella. At this point many of us thought we were done and began to head to our rooms. Little did we know we still had grilled Italian sausage and potatoes to eat and even chocolate powdered cake to finish it off for dessert.

Tomorrow we look to explore more of the beautiful sites of Italy as we visit the Amalfi Coast.

This amazing journey continues.

Go Vikes!