|Dave McHugh doesn’t have North Central No. 1, or even in his top three, and he’ll tell you why.|
In an effort to provide more information and give the fans of Division III basketball something to ponder each week, I thought I would try and give you a look at my men’s Top 25 ballot and give you reasons for most, if not all, of the teams on my ballot. I will also give you a reason for the teams I removed. This by no means will explain why some teams are in the actual Top 25 or not. This is simply a chance for you to see how I voted and some of the reasons behind it.
Now, I am certainly not perfect in my voting, as I will describe, and I am certainly not fool-proof in my thinking. So, please take this information simply for what it is … information. Healthy debate is more important than bashing my particular ballot.
Of course, there have already been five previous weeks of Top 25 polls plus a preseason poll, so I am a bit tardy on the season with this. However, it is never too late to start and this is certainly when voting in the poll becomes much more interesting.
This week, I did a little house cleaning, “blowing up” part of my poll and the thinking behind it. You will see some big movers that are due to the fact I had them too low to begin with or I am changing my mind on other teams. I also eliminated teams despite no losses because I have other teams I think I am not giving a fair shake to.
1 – St. Thomas (Minn.) – UP 1 spot
The Tommies moved into my #1 position this week due to solid play so far this season. They have very good wins over Whitworth, Whitman and UW-Stevens Point and just pasted Augsburg which had come in looking like they were having a really solid season. They certainly will have some challenges in the conference, but the Tommies look good.
2 – Rochester (N.Y.) – UP 1 spot
I will first admit, I am leery and very worried this is just too high for the Yellowjackets. They are an impressive 12-0 and have an solid win over Ohio Wesleyan while also rolling through their region, so far. Their toughest test comes up this weekend with Chicago and Wash U. coming to the Palestra. Stumble here will have me disappointed in myself and have Rochester falling quickly.
3 – Middlebury – DOWN 2 spots
I had the Panthers No. 1 in the last poll, but after watching their game against Tufts, I couldn’t keep them there. I have hardly, if ever, dropped a team from No. 1 without a loss. However, the game against the Jumbos was just bad. If Tufts could have hit the shot at the end, I probably would have dropped the Panthers even further. Now, don’t get me wrong, Middlebury looks really good this season considering they lost Ryan Sharry due to graduation, but I need to see they are playing better basketball before I am even comfortable with them at No. 3.
4 – North Central (Ill.) – UP 1 spot
I actually moved the Cardinals up a spot from last week and realize I am the only voter with them outside of the top three spots. After seeing North Central in Las Vegas, I just don’t see them surviving the CCIW unscathed and I am not sure I can see them getting to the final four, let alone Salem in general. Landon Gamble is a terrific player inside and Derek Raridon is good forward. However, when the Cardinals did not handle expressive, pressure defense from Ramapo and UW-La Crosse very well, I took pause. Raridon actually disappeared at times against the pressure. North Central did get past Wheaton (who had some flu issues) this past week, but Augustana looms this week and Illinois Wesleyan on January 23rd.
5 – Whitworth – UP 2 spots
I probably undersold Whitworth all season, but have moved put them in my Top 5 this week. They have been playing pretty good basketball after their lone loss of the season being to St. Thomas on opening night. That being said, Whitman is basically the only strong contender they will face the rest of the season. Time will tell just how good the Pirates really are.
6 – Catholic – UP 3 spots
I have loved the Cardinals since the Hoopsville Classic. They are a very talented team, despite going only about eight deep. However, they certainly seem like a team that has jelled. Catholic has a chance to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament if they can keep playing at this level, but they have also shown in the past when things get tough they tend to derail. Here is hoping they keep their focus when foes in the Landmark, including Scranton, start gunning for them.
7 – Ramapo – UP 3 spots
The Roadrunners were another mixed bag in Vegas. I love the play from guys like Stephon Treadwell and Elgin Brown, but was very disappointed in Will Sanborn. I could find a slot machine far easier than his teammates seemed to find him on the court. If Sanborn continues to want to take games off, Ramapo isn’t going to get very far. However, when he is on and with the likes of Treadwell and others contributing, the Roadrunners could be a big surprise by the end of the season.
8 – WPI – UP 7 spots
I actually can’t believe I have the Engineers this high in my poll. They are undefeated with a win over Rhode Island College on their resume, but that is it. Their conference looks to be their biggest test as they still have two games each with MIT and Springfield ahead. However, the Engineers have not had a lot of close games, so they certainly seem to be in control.
9 – St. Mary’s (Md.) – UP 7 spots
Here is another team I have kept low on my ballot until recently. With their lone loss being to Catholic, the Seahawks are playing very good basketball. They have wins over a tough Randolph-Macon squad along with Christopher Newport and F&M the night this poll came out. The Seahawks have shown that even with the loss of a major inside presence in the offseason, they can find ways to win even when they aren’t putting a lot of points on the board. What I am worried about is if the Seahawks can stay focused.
10 – Christopher Newport – UP 2 spots
Here is another one-loss team that is quietly getting things done. They lost to St. Mary’s (a future conference opponent) on the road and have tested themselves with Randolph-Macon, Salisbury, Wesley, and Eastern Mennonite and got victories in all of them. Ahead is the conference which doesn’t seem all that challenging, but teams like Ferrum and N.C. Wesleyan will be gunning for them.
11 – Franklin & Marshall – Unchanged
I actually moved a few teams ahead of the Diplomats this week, because they are heading into a challenging few weeks. Their loss to Transylvania wasn’t that surprising to me, so I didn’t really punish them earlier (they have been in and around this spot in my poll for most of the season). However, they have shown some inconsistent play especially from their big man inside who produces one night and disappears the next. How they hold up with six of seven games on the road (though, they lost the first already to St. Mary’s) will give me a better sense of whether they are too high in my poll.
12 – Washington (Mo.) – DOWN 8 spots
Just as I bought into the Bears, they stumble against Chicago. I actually had Wash U. No. 4 last week, but their loss to the Maroons was their second road loss of the season (the other being to Wheaton) and has me a little worried. They have to travel to Atlanta and then Rochester this weekend and while Mark Edwards always has his team ready, but I wonder if sometimes they are looking too far ahead.
13 – New York Univ. – DOWN 4 spots
OK… I admit… I am the only voter voting for NYU. Why? I am not as sure as I was a week ago. I actually had them #9 until they lost to Brandeis this past weekend. And while I usually subscribe to the theory of not buying into NYU in non-conference play, something about what I saw in preseason and during the beginning of the season had me maybe a little too confident. I also thought their loss to New Jersey City was simply a blip on the radar. Heck, they handed Stevens their only loss of the season. Now I am very nervous. The Violets face Case Western Reserve and Carnegie Mellon this weekend. Certainly not overly challenging competition, so one stumble here will have them out of my poll next week.
14 – Hampden-Sydney – Unchanged
I think the Tigers are very underrated. They are 11-2 this season with their loss to N.C. Wesleyan the only head-scratcher. The loss to Guilford was almost written in the cards as you will see below. Hampden-Sydney has maybe the best talent in the ODAC if not the country including Harrison George. However, they do have the tough task of playing in the ODAC and with games against Randolph-Macon, Eastern Mennonite, Randolph, and Guilford (again) in a four-game stretch starting Jan. 16. A lot of questions will be answered before the end of the month.
15 – Ohio Wesleyan – Previously unranked
Every time I went to buy in with the Battling Bishops, something made me take pause. A loss to Rochester and narrow victories against Defiance, Otterbein, and DePauw had me wondering what Mike DeWitt’s squad was really all about. But then they beat Wittenberg on the road by 12 and I put more chips on their spot – in fact they went from unranked to No. 15 as part of my gut check this week. This is a good squad that is tied with Wooster on top of the NCAC and has a real shot of winning of the conference or at least making the tournament if they don’t.
16 – Wooster – UP 1 spot
Two losses for the Scots at this point in the season isn’t bad. They did lose to Adrian at home which had me worried, but their loss to a tough Transy squad on the road is nothing to be worried about. They are in the middle of my Top 25 because they need to make a statement to move up. Of course they have to play two against Ohio Wesleyan and still have one more against Wittenberg that could make things a little more interesting.
17 – Albertus Magnus – UP 1 spot
The Falcons only loss this season is to D-I Yale … but they really haven’t had too many challenges. They have beaten a surprisingly down Wesleyan squad and a scratch-your-head Trinity (Conn.) team. And they have no challenges in their conference. How good are the Falcons? I really don’t know.
18 – UW-Stevens Point – UP 1 spot
Yes, it took this long to get down to a WIAC school. Surprised, aren’t you? In some ways I am surprised as well, but I can’t get a read on the WIAC this season. Either the teams are really good, but can’t beat everyone, or they are more “average” than they have been in the past. That doesn’t mean a team like the Pointers isn’t good, but when you look at a loss on the road to Concordia (Texas) two games after losing to St. Thomas … I take pause. The chances of them getting through the conference unscathed are about as likely as me winning the lottery. Stout, La Crosse and Platteville are the next three (all at home) before seeing Whitewater on Jan. 23. The next two weeks will tell me if the Pointers are for real or if this placement in the Top 25 is appropriate.
19 – Randolph – UP 2 spots
I thought I would be voting for an ODAC team with Randolph in the name this season, but I thought it would be Randolph-Macon (which I did do in the preseason). However, Clay Nunley certainly has things going well in Lynchburg. The Wildcats are undefeated with wins over Ferrum and Johns Hopkins causing me to take notice. However, their win over Randolph-Macon impressed me (and other voters) and so they have moved up. They do have Virginia Wesleyan and Guilford coming up which will give me a better sense of where the Wildcats are and especially just how good Colton Hunt is (some think he is the best player in the conference).
20 – Williams – Previously unranked
Yeah, I may be underselling the Ephs here. They have wins over Wesleyan and Springfield, but they also lost to Stevens. Not all bad, but from the preseason on I haven’t felt like Williams was a top team and their road trip out west didn’t sell me either. I have them in my Top 25 for the first time and I am looking to see how they do in the coming weeks especially vs. Amherst on Jan. 23.
21 – Rose-Hulman – Previously unranked
The Engineers are off to the best start in program history – that is 100 seasons of basketball – and they are stealing the headlines from their HCAC foe Transylvania. Jim Shaw has a good squad that has only lost to Carroll. However, Transylvania is resurging and Hanover won’t be a push over (they beat them by just one earlier this season). My eye is on Rose-Hulman because as good as I thought they would be, I didn’t think they would be 12-1.
22 – Guilford – Previously unranked
The Quakers popped on my radar a few weeks ago when they beat Eastern Mennonite and Randolph-Macon in back to back games. Then they lost badly to Virginia Wesleyan which at the time I didn’t think was that big a deal. When they slapped Hampden-Sydney around and won by 14, I decided they deserved some attention. The Quakers won’t see another big test until Jan. 26 when they rematch with Hampden-Sydney. So, I am giving them a shot.
23 – UW-Whitewater – Unchanged
I can hear the WIAC fans already screaming that I have the defending champs too far down my poll. But to be honest, even when I had them far higher, I was nervous. Remember how much this team lost from last season? While they have wins over Illinois Wesleyan, Stout, and La Crosse, they also lost at home to Stevens Point and on the road at St. Norbert. They barely beat a sub-par Carthage and River Falls squads while also blowing others. That all adds up to inconsistency. I can truly reevaluate them starting on January 19th when they face Stout again and then Stevens Point. If they get through those games unscathed, I will be happy to move them up.
24 – Amherst – Unchanged
Who are the Lord Jeffs this season? They have played one team of note, Springfield, and lost, and even lost to Babson at HOME! I am just not sure what I should be expecting from an 11-2 squad that also has put up over 100 points twice, though in a relatively close game against Curry. They won’t get a real test until January 23rd when they face Williams, though they will take on Wesleyan in a week. Until they really blow me away, I am going to continue to keep Amherst around – for now.
25 – Wheaton (Ill.) – DOWN 19 spots
I nearly eliminated Wheaton this week, but kept reminding myself that their two losses were probably partially due to the fact several of their players have been down and out with the flu. However, this was also their best chance to put a stamp on the CCIW with games against Illinois Wesleyan and North Central and they couldn’t do it, especially leading at the half against the Cardinals. They will get their chance again, but still have Augustana first and any stumble at this point will drop them out of more than just my poll.
Adrian – Previously ranked No. 13
I had already felt uncomfortable with where I had Adrian, so two straight losses to Calvin and Hope didn’t help their cause on my ballot. Calvin is having a good season, but Hope is having a really tough one. So, I decided to drop Adrian out and see how they handle the losing streak.
Virginia Wesleyan – Previously ranked No. 20
Four straight losses is just too much to handle. They already fell from No. 1 to No. 20 the previous week and even though they won a game, you can’t ignore four straight losses. Now let’s see if they have figured things out.
Lycoming – Previously ranked No. 22
The Warriors are a good team, but I was a little leery with the fact I had them in my ballot. Their loss to 4-9 Widener didn’t make me feel any better. Lycoming is going to need to prove that was just an oddity to make it back in.
Stevens – Previously ranked No. 25
They didn’t lose and yet I still moved them out. They were 8-1 when the voting information came out and I don’t think they don’t deserve to be in my poll but I just had too many teams I wanted to get on my ballot that also deserved it. Stevens is on the short list to get back on when necessary.