|Sam Longwell and his WPI teammates moved up on Dave McHugh’s ballot.|
WPI athletics photo
After the week of carnage in the men’s Top 25, I decided to completely overhaul my ballot. Last week I went through a gut check; this week I started over. I looked at teams I already had on my ballot, teams I was considering, teams that was provided to voters, and teams that caught my attention as I went through each region. The result was initially about 50 programs on the table. Then after a quickly cutting based on a quick look at the teams on the table, I was left with 41 schools to consider for this week’s ballot.
From those 41 I started anew going through each team’s results up to this point and painstakingly looking at their wins, losses, travel, what other factors could have been at play and their overall statistics. As a result, you will see a lot of changes on my ballot compared to last week including, maybe, some surprising moves.
No.1 St. Thomas – Unchanged
The Tommies may have actually solidified their No.1 ranking in my ballot through the overhaul.
No.2 – Rochester – Unchanged
The Yellowjackets certainly proved they are a very good team this past weekend with not only the win over Chicago, but a very strong win over Wash U. They are shooting very well this season and winning by an average of 18.6 points a game.
No.3 – Whitworth – UP 2 spots
I am a little nervous about the Pirates this high after the week they just had. They barely survived against Whitman (who lost two games this week) and George Fox (who then beat Whitman). And some of their stats have me worried like only outrebounding their opponents by 2.4 a game. However, they have four players averaging double-figures this season and continue to win.
No.4 – WPI – UP 4 spots
The Engineers are still undefeated though they didn’t really get tested this past week. They do have the most wins in Division III including a victory over Rhode Island a month ago. However, I have the same concerns with WPI as I do with Whitworth.
No.5 – Middlebury – DOWN 2 spots
The Panthers are still undefeated, but they are barely getting it done. Yet another weekend in the NESCAC sees Middlebury barely beat an opponent this time at home. My confidence is shaky despite the fact they are beating opponents on average by more than 15 points and shooting 51.9% a game with four players in double-figures.
No.6 – UW-Stevens Point – UP 12 spots
The Points big move up my ballot is based on not only the fact they beat Stout and La Crosse this week by an average of 12 points, but also the fact I took a longer look at all teams. Stevens Point has five players averaging more than 10 points a game while they only turn the ball over about ten times a contest. I do have questions on whether the Pointers can get through the conference unscathed, but they have a two game lead in mid-January so they are pretty well positioned.
No.7 – North Central (Ill.) – DOWN 3 spots
The Cardinals were bound to trip up in the CCIW, but I didn’t see it happening to a struggling Carthage team. They did right the ship against Augustana, but I said last week I wasn’t confident with the Cardinals. Now North Central has some impressive wins and are not only beating their opponents by more than 13 points a game, but they are holding opponents to an average of 56 points a game. However, I doubt the Carthage game will be their only bump in the road the rest of the season.
No.8 – Williams – UP 12 spots
I have not been giving the Ephs enough credit. When I took a longer look at their season, their lone loss to Stevens became less of a concern for a team that is outscoring their opponents by 19.1 points a game and shooting a very impressive 52.2% from the floor. With four players in double-figures leading a team that has swept Wesleyan and beaten Springfield and looked better against common opponents than Middlebury, it was high time I bought into the Ephs.
No.9 – Catholic – DOWN 3 spots
I didn’t think the Cardinals could get through the Landmark unscathed (especially since they still have to play Scranton twice), but the loss to Juniata on the road gave me pause. Catholic teams of the past would have taken a loss like that and turned into a losing streak. Maybe the new Landmark schedule allowed CUA to stop the bleeding by Saturday or they are showing they can handle a few bumps and bounce back.
No.10 – Ramapo – DOWN 3 spots
The Roadrunners got tripped up by a single point by William Patterson this week which certainly had me shaking my head. However, Ramapo has five guys averaging between 11 and 16 points a game while outrebounding their opponents by nearly seven boards a game. Ramapo seems to be playing well despite concerns their top player Will Sanborn takes nights off.
No.11 – Christopher Newport – DOWN 1 spot
The loss in double-overtime to North Carolina Wesleyan was both expected and unexpected. Sure, NC Wesleyan would be gunning for Christopher Newport and the game was on the road. However, it showed the Captains may have to stay focused for every game in their conference this season. Now, they have three players averaging more than 15 points a game and their two losses have been by eight total points. So, I feel comfortable… for now.
No.12 – Hampden-Sydney – UP 2 spots
I was actually more impressed the more I looked at Hampden-Sydney this week. They are outscoring their opponents by nearly 23 points a game while shooting 51.1% from the floor and getting seven more boards a game. They are even dishing nearly 20 assists a game! The Tigers just have to stay focused in what will be a tough run of Randolph-Macon, Eastern Mennonite, Randolph, Guilford and Lynchburg in the next five games.
No.13 – Ohio Wesleyan – UP 2 spots
The Battling Bishops are playing very solid basketball right now. However, they have Wooster this coming Saturday at home. That will give all of us a chance to grade both teams and see who is in control of the NCAC.
No.14 – Stevens – Unranked
I said when I dropped Stevens out of my poll last week it was not because of Stevens, but when I took a closer look I couldn’t believe I had made the move to begin with. Stevens has beaten Williams and only lost to NYU (by 6). They have three players averaging more than 14 points a game and are outscoring their opponents by than 10 points a game.
No.15 – Amherst – UP 9 spots
I had been holding the Lord Jeffs kind of low this season, so it was a good thing I took a longer look this week. They have six players scoring 10 points or more while outscoring their opponents by 15.6 a game. Sure, the loss to Babson at home still raises concerns, but the Lord Jeffs appear to be better than I was giving them credit for.
No.16 – Guilford – UP 6 spots
The Quakers continue to roll right now having won eight straight games. They are playing pretty good basketball in all aspects and have some very good wins on their resume this season.
No.17 – St. Mary’s (Md.) – DOWN 8 spots
It is a big drop for the Seahawks who beat Franklin and Marshall, but they lost to Wesley this past week as well. I think Wesley is a good team, but now St. Mary’s has lost two games that weren’t even close (13 to Catholic and 14 to Wesley) and they all but blew a huge halftime lead on the Diplomats. They are also being outrebounded by 3.1 a game which could be a big problem the rest of the season. I need to take pause and see how St. Mary’s responds to Saturday’s loss before I consider moving them back into the top 15.
No.18 – Wooster – DOWN 2 spots
There isn’t anything the Scots did to slide this week, I just did some rearranging in the overhaul. They are dominating on the boards and are shooting well. However, they are turning the ball more than their opponents and they have a big test on Saturday against Ohio Wesleyan.
No.19 – Albertus Magnus – DOWN 2 spots
The Falcons are certainly having a very good season on paper, but they really haven’t played anyone while only outscoring their opponents (including Yale) by five points a game and also being outrebounded by more than five boards a game. Nothing else stands out to me as they work their way through a weak conference. I am leery this could be more smoke and mirrors than anything else.
No.20 – Washington (Mo.) – DOWN 8 spots
The Bears have me nervous. They have now lost three games this season all on the road. Granted, Rochester is proving to be a very good team, but Wash U. was barely able to get past Emory making me realize they seem to struggle away from their home court. They are dominating on the boards at an 13.6 average and they have six of the next eight at home, so I will be watching to see if the home court is truly their advantage.
No.21 – Calvin – Unranked
The Knights may not have an impressive schedule especially with a loss to Carthage and a very low scoring output against Wheaton, but they are outscoring opponents by more than 17 points a game, outrebounding by nearly 11, and shooting very well on average. I would think this week they should beat Hope who is struggling this season, but anything is possible in a rivalry game – so I will be watching.
No.22 – Illinois Wesleyan – Unranked
The Titans are getting the job done when they need to. Yes, the loss to Franklin is still quick to remind me they can overlook teams, but they are holding opponents to about 62 points a game while outrebounding them by over nine a game. The biggest concern is they are shooting just 65.3% from the free throw line though they have shot 81 more free shots than their opponents helping make up for the misses. A win over Augustana and dominating Carthage was good enough for me to move them back into my Top 25.
No.23 – Randolph – DOWN 3 spots
The loss to Virginia Wesleyan wasn’t unexpected. It was on the road and just a six point spread, so I am not going to knock the Wildcats too much for that. They are still outscoring opponents by nearly 15 points a game and have maybe one of the most underrated players in the country. If they can solve a weak rebounding game, they could be a team to watch out for in February or later.
No.24 – Rhode Island – Unranked
The Anchormen have given me fits this season. However, they seem to have left their two-game slide in the rear view mirror having won five straight. Not many challenges await them in the conference for a team that holding opponents to less than 60 points a game. They just need to remain focused on each game.
No.25 – Rose-Hulman – DOWN 4 spots
Their loss to Transylvania didn’t cost them that much since I think Transy is playing well (despite a loss to rival Hanover). It was only the Engineers second loss of the season, though it was at home. What impresses me the most is that they are holding opponents to 48.2 points per game and outscoring them by more than 15. That along with the fact that opponents are shooting just 26.6 from beyond the arc really makes me appreciate Rose-Hulman’s defense and defense is the key to winning as we all know.
Dropped out this week:
Franklin & Marshall – No.11 last week
I wasn’t really going to knock the Diplomats for the loss on the road at St. Mary’s, but when they couldn’t beat winless Washington College I knew I had to take a long look at F&M. To start the season, F&M played 5 of its first 7 and 8 of 12 at home. They now have three road losses including to a Shoremen team that they had beaten by 19 earlier in the season (granted, Chestertown tends to be a tough place for the road teams). Factor in the inconsistencies of Honorable Mention preseason All-American Hayk Gyokchyan and it has me thinking the Diplomats are overrated. And Centennial conference isn’t through with them yet. The Diplomats are in the middle of six of seven games on the road and opponents may not be that awestruck by F&M.
New York Univ. – No.13 last week
I realize that the Violets didn’t do anything for me to drop them out of my Top 25. They won three games last week including two conference games at home. I also realize that since I was their only voter last week that was the only points in the poll they were getting. Now, that being said… it gave me great pause to realize I was the only one voting for them and it wasn’t like I had them in the 20’s. Sure, they only have two losses on the season, but they got beat up by Brandeis over a week ago and didn’t exactly play the best game of the season against Carnegie Mellon. And their only significant win was to SUNY-Old Westbury in early December. I will keep my eyes on the Violets, but taking the time to reexamine my Top 25 cost them a spot.
UW-Whitewater – No.23 last week
I indicated last week that a loss this week would cost the Warhawks a spot in my poll and they ended up losing to 7-9 UW-Superior who had just gotten throttled by UW-Platteville earlier in the week. When looking at their stats, the Warhawks also didn’t impress me. They are playing a lot of close games and are not outrebounding their opponents. They are allowing teams to shoot nearly 40% from beyond the arc and are losing at the free throw line. Yes, the Warhawks are the defending champions, but they are showing just how much they lost from that team.
Wheaton – No.25 last week
I know they beat North Park and Millikin by an average of 22 points this week, but when I took a deeper look at things I just couldn’t hold them in my 25th spot. Sure, they have four guys averaging between 10 and 20 points a game and they are outscoring their opponents by 14 a game. But, they are tied for fourth in the CCIW with Augustana (whom they play this week) and if I can’t put Augustana in my poll, I am not sure I can justify Wheaton. I do like the Thunder as a team and if they can go on a run, they could be back in my poll soon.