Last week’s “easy” week was the exact opposite this week. I erased so many decisions on my pad of paper I practically wore right through the page.
Sufficed to say, this season is crazy. There isn’t a coach I talk with these days who can’t believe what they are seeing with results. There isn’t a Top 25 voter I have chatted with who is sure of half of their ballot. It really is nuts.
This week: the top five didn’t change; five through thirteen went through some readjustments; fourteen on… chaos. Complete upheaval. I spent a couple of hours changing my mind. I thought that by casting a wider net, maybe some teams would jump up and force me to punt other teams. In fact, it only made the decision(s) harder. At one point I seriously had 30 teams I was considering for 12 spots… and I probably could have talked myself into ten more teams!
All and all… I am not satisfied my Top 25 is the best ballot it could be this week. I am too uneasy about a lot of teams, recent outcomes, and those maybe I am discounting for whatever reason. More losses are pretty much guaranteed and I will be back in the same boat each week – so I might as well get comfortable!
As always before we begin, here is a look at last week’s ballot:
1 – St. Thomas
2 – UW-Whitewater
3 – Marietta
4 – Randolph-Macon
5 – Babson
6 – Augustana
7 – Dickinson
8 – St. Norbert
9 – WPI
10 – Virginia Wesleyan
11 – Albertus Magnus
12 – Chapman
13 – St. John Fisher
14 – Emory
15 – Whitworth
16 – Wooster
17 – New York Univ.
18 – Johns Hopkins
19 – Elmhurst
20 – Chicago
21 – Illinois Wesleyan
22 – Washington Univ.
23 – Franklin & Marshall
24 – Ohio Wesleyan
25 – Catholic
And now on to this week’s ballot with some explanations for some of the moves:
1 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)
2 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)
3 – Marietta (Unchanged)
4 – Randolph-Macon* (Unchanged)
5 – Babson (Unchanged)
6 – Virginia Wesleyan (Up 4)
At least someone is winning. We all know the Marlins are always going to be a good team. Maybe this is the year the ODAC has two deep threats.
7 – St. Norbert (Up 1)
8 – Augustana (Down 2)
Another loss for the Vikings. The CCIW is clearly one of the toughest conferences in the country this year with even the bottom being a major threat, but Augustana has to stand up and get it done and not keep taking losses. It is already going to be hard to get at-large bids this season, you don’t want the end of the season plagued with losses to dash your hopes. Big game against Illinois Wesleyan this week – looking for the Vikings to exact some revenge on the road for the earlier loss at Rock Island or Augustana drops and IWU jumps up further!
9 – WPI* (Unchanged)
When you lose to a team I have ranked ahead of you anyway, I am not going to drop you down the poll. I expected Babson to win based on my rankings, so WPI stays in the Top 10 as a result.
10 – Dickinson (Down 3)
Ouch! I figured the Red Devils were due for another conference loss with Johns Hopkins and Franklin & Marshall (on the road) still on their schedule, but Ursinus*?! Seriously?! It was a rough Saturday in the Centennial (call is Centennial Conference Carnage), but you can’t afford to drop games against teams you should be beating (theme for this week’s blog). I realize Ursinus is vastly improved over the squad I saw in December (wasn’t pretty), but Dickinson is better than that. And again… JHU and F&M still to play before the conference tournament!
11 – Chapman (Up 1)
Stop a two game slide with a hard-fought win over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps… impressive. I pretty much had resigned the fact Chapman might lose that game because CMS is pretty good and Chapman seemed to be struggling. That win could have saved Chapman’s post-season hopes.
12 – Albertus Magnus (Down 1)
13 – St. John Fisher (Unchanged)
14 – UW-Stevens Point (Unranked)
Every time I thought about adding the Pointers to my Top 25 ballot I reminded myself they have to play Whitewater this week. If the last game is any barometer, the Pointers are going to lose. So how could I justify putting them into my Top 25 if I think they are going to lose this week? Couple of reasons: they are at least winning and Whitewater is so far their only blemish (but, Oshkosh did nearly get them the next game); they have won 11 of their last 12 and starting to take control of games again; they have Stephen Pelkofer back from injury (played 37 minutes against Platteville) and that is a very good sign for the Pointers. Oh… and I am probably one of the only voters who hadn’t had them in my Top 25 by this point.
15 – Johns Hopkins* (Up 3)
Got a big win over Franklin & Marshall* to split the season with the Diplomats and continue a 16 game winning streak (last loss was to F&M back on November 25). That also equates to a two game lead on Dickinson who the Blue Jays have already beaten. This blue-collar team isn’t backing down!
16 – Emory (Down 2)
I watch (on video) the Eagles blow through Rochester on Friday and then once again struggle against NYU* and loss on Sunday. I am pretty sure Emory is glad NYU is in their rear view mirror – but the entire UAA has been this way this season. It is a very difficult conference this season. I can’t ding Emory that much for losing to a really good team (more on NYU in a minute) when I saw them roll over the Yellow Jackets. I also take into account I haven’t talked to one single coach who has seen Emory and not spoken highly of them. Weird year.
17 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 5)
I haven’t been that thrilled with the Titans this season, but they keep getting it done even after tough losses. There were comments that Illinois Wesleyan wasn’t a Top 25 team just a few weeks ago after a couple of losses in the CCIW. What I think we actually saw was the early signs the CCIW as going to be very difficult. Now IWU finds themselves in the conference lead by a game with Augustana coming to town this week. Talk about a statement game. If you thought the win at Rock Island was important? This week is even more important. Potential two-game lead in a very difficult conference and the chance to get the tournament through Bloomfield versus Rock Island… big, big game.
18 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 6)
Yeah… I might be jumping a bit too much here, but the Battling Bishops seemed to have solved the can’t-win-more-than-two-games-in-a-row problem they were having last month. Ohio Wesleyan is free and clear of the NCAC including a season sweep of Wooster. In a year of chaos, Ohio Wesleyan may have found some stability at just the right time of the year.
19 – Whitworth (Down 3)
I thought Whitworth would roll through the rest of the conference schedule. I know Whitman was going to be tough, but to get blown out and not score 50 points?! Didn’t see that coming. Whitworth doesn’t seem to have a great strength of schedule this season, so they have to be careful and win the automatic bid. Losing to Whitman will only fuel hopes from those below that Whitworth is ripe for the taking. Down a couple of spots… because I am worried.
20 – Elmhurst (Down 1)
I tried to move Elmhurst down further, but I just couldn’t justify putting them behind those who are below them. Elmhurst looks like they forgot to stay focused. I know Wheaton is a good team and have mentioned the CCIW is really tough this year, but you don’t beat good teams and then drop one on the road at Wheaton. The road doesn’t get easier. North Park, North Central, and Illinois Wesleyan to wrap up the regular season – tread lightly Blue Jays or you are going to get your wings clipped.
21 – Catholic* (Up 4)
I know Catholic is on a good run right now, but I can’t move them that high up the Top 25. They have a weak SOS, apparently, and they have a looming game against Scranton* this week (if they don’t get trapped by Goucher* mid-week). I will get the chance to see the Cardinals again this week and compare them to the beginning of the season. Then, maybe, I can decide if I am smart to leave them in this range of the Top 25 or if I am low-balling them.
22 – Wooster (Down 8)
Bad time to hit a rut. The Fighting Scots have lost three of their last four and seem to be struggling when we are used to them dominating. They have probably played themselves out of controlling the NCAC tournament and could be in deeper trouble if they don’t right the ship soon. I even debated about dropping Wooster all-together, but I honestly didn’t have anyone whose resume seemed better than Wooster’s right now.
23 – New York Univ.* (Down 8)
The challenge in the UAA is going to be summed up best by the Violets and the next two on my ballot. Beat the tough team, lose to the worse teams, all on the road. Once again New York Univ. beat Emory, but once again NYU couldn’t beat Rochester. The challenge for me: I have seen NYU in person – they are darn good. The problem is I see a loss to Rochester (who has won four in a row and is tied for second with practically everyone else in the conference) and I scratch my head. It may simply come down to match-ups, but NYU has put themselves in a position where they may be too far down the regional rankings in a weak East to earn themselves an at-large bid. If they do get into the tournament, they could be one of the deep sleepers to watch out for.
24 – Washington Univ.* (Down 2)
The only reason the Bears are not out of my Top 25 ballot: they have only lost four games and they do have a very difficult SOS. Once again, Washington Univ. lost a game they shouldn’t have lost (Carnegie Mellon) and once again they beat the tougher opponent and did it handily (Case Western Reserve). There is plenty of inconsistency with the Bears, but they are playing a dangerous game. If they don’t win the UAA automatic bid (regular season title), they could end up being stuck behind a lot of good Central Region teams and get left out of the NCAA Tournament. At some point, WashU has to beat the teams they should be beating to leave themselves some wiggle room.
25 – Chicago* (Down 5)
I could almost write the same thing for WashU here for the Maroons. Believe it or not, Chicago leads the UAA – which is clearly the toughest conference in the country this year – but they once again lost a game that just doesn’t make sense. Maybe the talk the Maroons are actually a year away from being potentially a world beater are correct, but the pre-season coach’s poll also predicted Chicago would win the conference. That last part also appears to be correct. However, the only reason I moved Chicago this far down and behind WashU (despite a head-to-head win over the Bears)… six total losses for Chicago. They definitely can’t afford to lose any more games and need that AQ to make sure they make the tournament. Playing with fire in a city that has a love/hate relationship with flames.
Franklin & Marshall (Previously 23)
It’s one thing to lost to a red hot Johns Hopkins teams, but to lose on the road to Washington is not good enough. I know the Diplomats struggle with Washington, especially on the road (lost to the Shoremen four of the last six years), but this season is one of those times you have to figure it out. You also can’t lose to Washington when you just lost to JHU. This is now two two-game losing streaks in seven games and it doesn’t get any easier: Ursinus, Muhlenberg, Gettysburg, and Dickinson. Buckle up F&M fans – this is going to be a very interested finish to the season.