This week was hard. Plain and simple. Hard.
The most challenging part was picking a number one team. Simply put: who really is the best team in the country this season? There is no way there will be a consensus pick (as I write this before the rankings have been published). I ended up coming down to picking between four teams. I could see an argument for six.
I considered St. Thomas, UW-Whitewater, Randolph-Macon, and Babson and eventually went with … Randolph-Macon. It wasn’t easy. I probably thought about the number one vote in some capacity for three or so hours. I mulled over schedules, results, SOS numbers, lottery numbers, quantum physics, and even threw a dart or two. Every single team I considered had results on their schedules I didn’t like, flaws with their teams, and concerns with the last two weeks. There just wasn’t a team that jumped up and looked like a number one team.
But it got harder after that. So many teams once again lost last week. I had twelve losses on my previous ballot. Not a record, but certainly not good. I tried to stick with many of the “rules” I had set to governing how I moved teams around, but some of those rules (like losing to a team ranked ahead of you) got me in trouble with leaving teams on my ballot that really argued to not be there anymore. And of course with a season so wide open, there are far more teams I am considering for the Top 25 than I have room for on my ballot.
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 – Virginia Wesleyan
7 – St. Norbert
8 – Augustana
9 – WPI
10 – Dickinson
11 – Chapman
12 – Albertus Magnus
13 – St. John Fisher
14 – UW-Stevens Point
15 – Johns Hopkins
16 – Emory
17 – Ill. Wesleyan
18 – Ohio Wesleyan
19 – Whitworth
20 – Elmhurst
21 – Catholic
22 – Wooster
23 – New York Univ.
24 – Washington Univ.
25 – Chicago
And now on to this week’s ballot with some explanations for some of the moves:
1 – Randolph-Macon* (Up 4)
I’d be lying if I told you this felt comfortable. The loss at home to Frostburg State on November 30 still bothers me. But here is the kicker: The Yellow Jackets haven’t loss since. 18 straight. And with an ever larger target on their back, Randolph-Macon continues to get the job done even when the games might not be pretty. We already know RMC is playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, but they have also beaten everyone including Virginia Wesleyan twice. Undefeated in the ODAC with two to play… that just doesn’t happen! In fact, the last time a team went undefeated in the ODAC was 2000 (Hampden-Sydney)!
2 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)
It came down to the fact I couldn’t knock the Warhawks for losing to a certainly underrated UW-Stevens Point squad. Furthermore, Whitewater didn’t have probably their best player on the floor due to apparently a personal matter (just as Stevens Point didn’t have their best player on the floor due to injury when the two teams first met). Maybe I am giving the Warhawks a little too much credit since they have three losses – two of them in Division III. However, there is something unflappable about UWW that just makes me feel fine with them at number two.
3 – Babson (Up 2)
I think the Beavers are underrated. They have lost twice to very good teams, Bates and WPI, and avenged that conference loss to WPI* a few weeks ago. Certainly they have had some tight games, but they are winning and getting contributions deep on their bench. They have also played a far more difficult schedule than people want to give them credit for including wins over Bowdoin and Amherst this season.
4 – St. Thomas (Down 3)
I actually debated about leaving the Tommies in first despite their loss. Heck, UW-Whitewater would have moved up one despite a loss if I had given them number one slot. However, it came down to the fact St. Thomas lost to a middle-of-the-MIAC team in Concordia-Moorhead and thus couldn’t put the MIAC regular season title further out of reach with three games left to play. Call it a mental lapse. That loss to Moorhead is worse than the loss to Stevens Point for Whitewater and thus why the Tommies fell three spots.
5 – Augustana (Up 3)
Not only did the Vikings get a big win over Illinois Wesleyan in dominating fashion on the road (82-56), they avoided the mental collapse in the trap game that followed against Millikin. That performance means the CCIW playoffs will have to go through Rock Island where, despite IWU’s earlier win this season, is not the easiest place to play in the Midwest. I realize I might be buying in a little too much with Augustana since we aren’t that far removed from the collapse against North Park and North Central in back-to-back games, but I also think those games woke Augustana up.
6 – St. Norbert (Up 1)
I’m not sure I can keep moving St. Norbert up. They have a slightly below average SOS and their conference just isn’t that competitive at the top (the Green Knights have won 41 straight conference games). I’m only setting myself up for disappointment if St. Norbert doesn’t go far in the NCAA tournament because, remember, this is still a somewhat young team.
7 – WPI* (Up 2)
8 – UW-Stevens Point (Up 6)
I am fully on board with the Pointers, now. Message received. I have been downplaying Stevens Point all season, but finally woke up a few weeks ago. They have their best player back and the win over UW-Whitewater looks to make the conference home court decision come down to a coin flip – yes, a coin flip. Well done Pointers.
9 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 3)
10 – Dickinson (Unchanged)
Well, I was going to ding the Red Devils pretty good for their loss to McDaniel*. However, reports were they had a lot of players sick which happens this time of year. That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to move them down a couple of spots anyway until they turned around and beat Johns Hopkins* to at least make the Centennial finish a little more interesting.
11 – Marietta (Down 8)
It is one thing to lose your unbeaten streak at this point in the season, but I thought Marietta could at least stop it at one loss. Nope… two. Everyone knew this past week was going to be tough with Mount Union and John Carroll on the schedule, but I figured at worst it would be 1-1 for the Pioneers. Hopefully Marietta stops the latest streak in its tracks or they could be in trouble. The only reason I didn’t move Marietta even further down for two untimely losses… the simple fact they lost to two very competitive teams in their conference.
12 – Albertus Magnus (Unchanged)
13 – St. John Fisher (Unchanged)
14 – Emory (Up 2)
Held serve at home. Very important weekend for the Eagles and they got the job done against Washington Univ.* and Chicago*. That makes up for the trip to the Midwest where they lost both of those games. Now Emory is in a bit more control of the rest of the season and it’s thanks to the fact most of the back-end of their conference schedule lets them enjoy their Atlanta home.
15 – Johns Hopkins* (Unchanged)
16 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 2)
17 – Elmhurst (Up 3)
18 – Chapman (Down 7)
I know they only lost one game this past week, but after starting the season undefeated the Panthers have now lost three of their last five including to two teams in the middle of the conference standings. And with that Chapman has also lost some control of whether the SCIAC playoffs come through Harold Hutton Sports Center. Their game against Cal Lutheran this weekend looms very large.
19 – Whitworth (Unchanged)
20 – Catholic* (Up 1)
I got to see the Cardinals in person for a third time this season and the first since the Hoopsville Classic and they are very much improved. However, I still have some concerns. They beat Goucher* 100-85 with their starters scoring 97 of their points. There just isn’t a lot of contributions from the bench except in minutes and some defensive help. If Catholic wants to make a run this year, I think they need more than minutes coming off their bench. They need some offensive help.
21 – Wooster (Up 1)
22 – New York Univ.* (Unchanged)
23 – St. Olaf (Unranked)
My concerns for the Oles may have been premature. Since losing back-to-back games, St. Olaf has won seven straight to leave themselves a half game behind St. Thomas atop the MIAC. And of course, they have a showdown with the Tommies coming up on Monday (as I write this). It is a big game for both teams. St. Thomas wants to not have a losing streak and St. Olaf would love to wrestle the regular season title and home court advantage away from the Tommies. Should be a great game in St. Paul.
24 – Washington Univ.* (Unchanged)
I probably should have dropped the Bears, but am sticking it out for another week. This split-the-weekend experience is getting old even if it is in the tough UAA. I realize the loss to Emory on the road doesn’t look bad on paper, but WashU is 4-4 in their last eight and 6-5 in conference action! In hindsight, I really should have dropped them. However, they have three straight home games remaining against NYU*, Brandeis, and Chicago* and those games could not loom larger.
25 – Penn State-Behrend (Unranked)
I’ve got nothing witty to say about the Lions except they have only lost two games this season, so it is probably about time to recognize that fact. Their SOS is pretty poor which tells you they are winning their games in a below-average conference and a not-so-great out-of-conference schedule. However, they are still winning (10 straight) and that can’t be discounted too much.
Illinois Wesleyan (Previously 17)
If the Titans only loss this past week had been to Augustana, fine. If they had kept the game against the Vikings close, fine. But you get trounced by Augustana and you lost to North Park who you know has been gunning and beating plenty of good teams and I have seen enough. I realize the CCIW is tough this year, but Illinois Wesleyan is just so inconsistent this season. I just can’t keep rewarding IWU when can’t seem to win games they should be winning. Not to mention the fact, they cost themselves home court in the CCIW tournament as well.
Chicago* (Previously 25)
I have stated it often here, I don’t knock teams for losing to teams I have ranked higher. My ballot clearly states I expect that loss to happen. In other words, the loss to Emory by Chicago was expected. And until the very last minute I wasn’t going to drop Chicago. But it bothered me. As with WashU*, Chicago has been inconsistent in a very tough UAA. 4-4 in their last eight losing to nearly the same teams WashU has (except for Brandeis). So it came down to this, while the loss to Emory was close… 15-7 in the Top 25 seemed inappropriate. I still like the Maroons as a team and think next year they are going to be dangerous. They are home for the next two including a very important game against NYU. Then they hit the road where WashU is looking for some payback. Interesting finish to the UAA schedule is an understatement.
* – seen in person this season.