Part I: 10 questions for 2010

Now that the holidays are over, maybe you’re getting into the swing of the 2009-2010 Division III basketball season. Or maybe you’ve been following the season since the mid-November tip off and are trying to make sense of the results so far. Or maybe you’re just killing time waiting for the next bowl game to begin. Whatever the case is, here are 10 burning questions for the Division III basketball season as we enter 2010.

Northeast: Is Williams ready to return to prominence?

If you’ve only been following Division III basketball since 2005, you may wonder “what prominence?” The Ephs have been a respectable 83-46 the past five years, but are just five games over .500 in the NESCAC with one NCAA tournament appearance (1st round loss to Brockport State in 2008). But go back farther and Williams came within one shot of winning consecutive national championships. This years’ team has started 10-1 with the lone loss at undefeated No. 4 Randolph-Macon 79-74. In that game the Ephs had a 16-point second half lead before the Yellow Jackets rallied. Williams’ margin of victory has been impressive but just one of those wins come over a team with a winning record. The next big test comes in a visit from current No. 11 Amherst on January 9.

My two cents: The Ephs have started fast before. Let’s see what they do in the NESCAC.

Northeast: Can Amherst win the women’s title?

Speaking of Amherst, the No. 2 Lord Jeffs are 10-0 and the only team besides current No. 1 Illinois Wesleyan receiving first place votes. Look at the results to date and it’s easy to see why. Amherst went to the national semifinals last year where their talented but small guards struggled to get on track against Washington U. and TCNJ. This year’s team has a very balanced attack where all five starters score more than seven points per game and the leading scorer is reserve post player Lem Atanga McCormick. A deep NCAA tournament run isn’t a given with the depth of the NESCAC and the region as a whole but Coach G.P. Gromacki has a knack for leading his teams on them. Circle the games at No. 4 Bowdoin on January 29 and at No. 17 Tufts on February 6th for a preview of what the postseason has in store for the Lord Jeffs.

My two cents: They have the best chance of anyone east of Ohio, but I’d still slot them behind IWU, Wash U and Hope at full strength.

Atlantic: Can Richard Stockton repeat in the NJAC?

The Ospreys started last season in the middle of a pack of teams who were “also receiving votes” in the Top 25. But they finished it in the national championship game. This season the Ospreys were ranked No. 5 in the first poll but have slid out of the rankings with three loses, two of them coming at home. Just because Richard Stockton has had a different trajectory in the polls to this point doesn’t mean this season cannot end like last season. This year’s squad is a little different. Jerome Hubbard, an outstanding long-range shooter who stretched defenses, has graduated. DiAndre Brown, a transfer who averaged 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for Eastern Nazarene last year, has taken his place in the starting lineup. The Ospreys were picked as the overall preseason favorite in the NJAC and, despite the 0-1 start, playing in the weaker NJAC south should help them build momentum for the conference tournament. But the return of low post presence Abdoulaye Ouedraogo to William Paterson after spending a season at NAIA Georgetown (Ky.) makes the Pioneers another team to watch.

My two cents: The Ospreys win the NJAC south but fall in the tournament at home.

East: Who is the best team in the East region?

Coming into the weekend, you could have made a good case that Medaille (12-0) was the best team in the region after the Mavericks gutsy win at No. 9 John Carroll. But then Medaille squeaked by Mount Aloysius (4-5) and John Carroll got crushed by Bethany on Saturday, taking some luster off that upset. Still, there is a void atop this region. Rochester is the only team getting votes (or, to be more accurate, “vote”) in the Top 25 at 7-1. Plattsburgh has the same record pending their semester opening match-up with No. 7 Middlebury. St. John Fisher was the preseason favorite in the Empire 8 but lost to Hobart. Ithaca lost a lot to graduation but has a solid 8-2 start. Perennial Liberty League favorites St. Lawrence and Hamilton are just 7-10 to start the season. How about Oneonta State (8-1)? Looks like Upstate New York has a lot of upside for exciting conference races.

My two cents: On a hunch, I’ll say Plattsburgh State. We’re due for another surprising tournament run by a SUNYAC squad.

Mid-Atlantic: Who will win the inaugural Landmark Conference automatic qualifiers?

The stakes are higher in the third year of Landmark play as the Conference has completed its two year waiting period and now has an automatic qualifier. Scranton has won all but one of the titles – men’s and women’s, regular season and tournament, both seasons. On the women’s side, Scranton is always a good bet but not sure one. No. 19 Moravian defeated the Lady Royals at their place already. We’ll learn pretty quickly if Drew (8-0) is for real since the Rangers host Scranton and Moravian next weekend. The men’s side looks wide open. Want to make a case for Catholic because of Preseason All-American Jason Banzhaf? Go ahead. Favor Merchant Marine because of its 9-2 start? Fine. Defending champion Scranton scuffled through non-conference play at 6-5 but can get back on track in conference play.

My two cents: Scranton in women, Catholic in men.

    Part II comes tomorrow.

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