You have got to love this time of year. All games seem to take on a different perspective as Regional Rankings start getting rolled out, the end of the season can be seen, and teams are fighting for not only conference playoff positioning, but to make the tournaments in the first place. It seems to drive programs and even those who have struggled seem to find themselves when there is more on the line and the opponent has a bigger target on their back. Of course, the second time through conferences makes a different I am sure.
There is a lot less shaking of my head and lot more inquisitive looking at results. There are more answers despite there being more questions than a month or two, or three, ago. That said, there is far more head banging when it comes to voting in the Top 25 especially with the amount of parity we see around the country. (Have I mentioned parity before, recently?)
This week was a mix of things for me. I remained confident with some teams, I had to make some really hard decisions on who to move up and how far despite less than stellar results. I also had to debate how far to move teams down and despite recent results if a team was still better than the group around where I was slotting them. I also had to move teams into slots I didn’t think they fit – a common theme for months now – while wondering if I was missing something on the outside.
There are actually teams with more losses than on my ballot who I think are playing better than teams with less losses. That is tough to gauge. For example, I seriously considered putting Ohio Wesleyan on my ballot and not in the bottom four slots. Remember, I had the Battling Bishops in my Top 5 in the preseason poll. I like what they have. But when you start 2-3 on the season and 7-6 turning into early January… it’s bad. It certainly isn’t a Top 25 team. Since then, OWU is on a ten-game winning streak and handling their business. But does a 17-6 team seriously have a place in the Top 25 ahead of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 loss teams? I have 6-loss teams on my poll, so why not? I have them ahead of those other types of programs, so why not? I didn’t pull the trigger this week, but as I write this I beg the question why I didn’t do it.
People ask all of the time, is the Top 25 a statement for how a team is doing over the course of the entire season or a snapshot of how they are right now. I personally think it is a combination and what kind of mixture that is is dependent on the team. What I determine for one team is not right for another. There are too many factors involved. One team’s defense may be better and I like that over another whose defense isn’t as good, but whose offense tends to flourish. I also look at schedules and conference foes to get a sense of how competitive games are. For some teams, I need to see dominating wins to have confidence in them. In another team, close finishes tells me more because of who they are playing and where those games are. I don’t have a cut-and-dry formula that works for all and thus why the process is several hours instead of several minutes.
I debate all of those things on a weekly basis. How is a team doing right now, has their season given me concern or confidence no matter the current results, are the current results starting to trump what I have seen on a season-wide scale, what is the conference doing, who is on their schedule, are they in a lull or a peak in conference opponents on their schedule. The questions and analysis are endless. Add in what I have seen in box scores and on video web streams and what people are telling me or answering to my questions. I may have missed on Ohio Wesleyan this week and maybe left a couple of teams in who should be gone, but let’s see what the next week brings to justify my decisions or justify my second-guessing.
As a reminder, here is how I voted the last few weeks:
Now on to my ballot for the D3hoops.com men’s basketball Top 25 with some thoughts, but not a lot (it is a busy week):
1 – Babson (Unchanged)
2 – Whitman (Unchanged)
3 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
4 – Rochester (Down 1)
Yeah, I only moved the Yellowjackets down one despite losing this weekend to Chicago. I made a point of watching as much of the Rochester at WashU game as I could (after realizing it started an hour earlier than I expected). They controlled the Bears. There was no sign to me that Rochester isn’t as good as I expected them to be. They didn’t blow me away as a Top 5 team, but to be honest… NO ONE has blown me away as a Top 5 team besides maybe Babson. My expectations of a Top 5 team from five years ago has to change. There is too much talent across the board in Division III now. Rochester held WashU at arm’s length and didn’t let the game go into the Bears’s control. Their loss to Chicago, let’s be honest, wasn’t all that shocking. The Maroons are a very good team who have just picked up too many losses in a tough schedule. What I saw from Rochester in St. Louis gave me confidence on where I have them in my poll.
5 – Ramapo (Unchanged)
6 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)
7 – Middlebury (Up 6)
The Panthers are surprising me. I know I had heard and read a lot of confidence in Middlebury from people early on this season, but I brushed it aside. There was nothing on this team that impressed me from two 17-win and one 18-win campaign in the last three seasons. I didn’t think they had grown. But in the last few weeks, I have been watching them very closely and they have been putting teams away. Just in the 2017 side of the campaign, they have won their games by a margin of 16.7 points per game while only having two losses and only one of those was bad (Williams: 89-65). They handed Amherst the head of it’s old mascot 106-91 over the weekend before rolling over Trinity. The Panthers are playing really, really well and if they keep this up may be the team no one wants to face come the NCAA tournament… especially as Tufts is banged up, Amherst is reeling, and everyone else in the Northeast except Babson seems to be stumbling.
8 – Whitworth (Up 1)
9 – Washington Univ. (Down 2)
Normally, I don’t move a team down very far when they have lost to a team I, at least, had them ranked behind. However, I thought about moving the Bears down further. I just wasn’t blown away with their effort against Rochester. I think WashU is a good team, but not Top 10 good. Then again, when I don’t think my Top 5 is really Top 5 caliber, maybe WashU being below what I think a Top 10 team goes with the territory. While I have to both get the WashU teams of old out of my head and stop comparing them… I also have to stop looking for something that blows me away. I just didn’t feel like WashU was worse than the teams below them and thus while my thinking was to move them down further… the answer is I couldn’t. So a combination of things including a cushion keeps WashU in my Top 10.
10 – Marietta (Up 1)
11 – Hope (Down 1)
The overtime game against Trine concerned me. I know Trine and the rest of the MIAA are subtly better than people realized, but I think Hope needs to be a bit more assertive if they are in my Top 10. I also thought Marietta is playing a bit better basketball as of right now, so I shifted the two teams.
12 – Salisbury (Up 2)
13 – St. Norbert (Down 1)
I have been double-guessing this since I submitted my ballot and had been debating this non-stop prior. There is something about the Green Knights I think is good, but they frustratingly don’t always show it. The Grinnell loss bugs me, but I also realized Grinnell might be playing with a little bit of fire after having to forfeit game due to some kind of screwed up paperwork or whatever allowed a player to be playing when he shouldn’t have (is how I read into the explanation). My counter argument is I am putting too much stock in the Grinnell emotions and didn’t pay attention enough to the fact that SNC lost a game they should have won – no matter the style being played… this isn’t new to them. The problem, not many teams below St. Norbert are blowing me away, either. So they “float” here at 13. Probably should be around 20… but this is no-man’s land for my ballot.
14 – Denison (Up 4)
I don’t have a great breakdown for why I moved the Big Red up four spots besides the fact that a number of losses above them coupled with not many teams around or below them blowing me away forced me to put teams in slots that are far higher than I would like (I think I have shown a few examples of this already).
15 – Susquehanna (Unranked)
I missed the chance to see the River Hawks in person this year (due to the Division III soccer championships) and I have been a bit more critical. The Landmark conference is not that amazing at the top this year, though the middle and bottom have become more interesting. Scranton and Catholic are no where close to their NCAA-selves of the past, so should I put that much stock in Susquehanna beating Catholic last week? What got me to put Susq in this slot was (a) every time you think a game will derail them, they come back strong and haven’t had a losing streak all season and (b), they blow Catholic out of the water on Saturday (88-64). This was a tough game schedule wise as Goucher and Drew were on either sides… a loss in this trio of games would not have surprised me. Frank Marcinek really likes this squad and that says a lot. I’ll buy in … for now.
16 – New Jersey City (Unchanged)
17 – Swarthmore (Up 4)
18 – Benedictine (Up 6)
Last week I indicated I was comfortable with the Eagles near the bottom of my ballot. They hadn’t done anything in conference except lose a game. Then a birdy pointed me to something I should have noticed on my own: in Benedictine’s nine-game winning stream since their loss to Concordia (Wis.), they have beaten their opponents by an average of 25.7 points per game! They have shot .540 in that stretch improving their season shooting to .514! They are only allowing 69.7 ppg which has brought their season average down to 70.8. Something about that game against the Falcons woke this Benedictine squad up. Sometimes there are times we see a “good” loss … this might have been it for a team that I have to remember brought back a ton of talent from last year’s national championship appearance.
19 – Guilford (Down 4)
I’ll be quick, the win over Randolph-Macon was just what the Quakers needed. The loss to Roanoke… ugly.
20 – Tufts (Down 1)
21 – Oswego State (Down 4)
For a team that needs to keep dominating, losing by one to Fredonia and then barely beating Buffalo State by one… not what I wanted to see from the Lakers to remain confident that Sortino and gang can actually get it done.
22 – UW-Whitewater (Down 2)
This breaks my rule about moving teams down when they lose to a team ranked above them. The shift was mainly because of teams I was moving around above and around UWW. Had they won, they probably wouldn’t have moved up very far because of that movement as well. More a testament of where I think the Falcons fit in on this poll and what is happening around them.
23 – Hanover (Unranked)
I have been debating about the Panthers for weeks. The loss to Rose-Hulman gave me pause. They aren’t blowing their conference competition out of the water, but I also think the HCAC has improved at the top quite a bit (certainly gotten deeper). And they only have three-losses at this point in the season! Granted, I (spoiler alert) punted teams with two and three losses this week, but I think Hanover is playing better than those other squads.
24 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The Cardinals keep yo-yoing on my ballot. However, I can’t ignore they slayed Amherst for the second time this season. I could have easily not voted for them and put another Wesleyan (Ohio) in here in their stead, but the decision with who follows (another spoiler alert) triggered this one. Sometimes deciding where a team goes on my ballot, if they get on it, and if they are taken off of it also depends on other teams. In this case, Wesleyan making the poll was based more on the fact that …
25 – Amherst (Down 17)
… that the purple As didn’t fall off my ballot. I debated a long time on this. I seriously contemplated dropping Amherst from my ballot despite them being 8th the week prior. The four-losses in six games in late January/early February gave me pause and I dropped them. They then moved up the poll and into the Top 10 after getting back to their winning ways (six straight) while other teams fell around them. I didn’t love them in my Top 10 – but that has been discussed. They then lost two in a row (OT against Wesleyan before being handled by MIidlebury) and I nearly gave up. What is odd is the concerns I had at the beginning of the season, that I nearly forgot, seem to be cropping up now. They proved me to me earlier that those concerns were hog-wash… until now. I just don’t think they are as strong or as deep as we are used from the LeFrak residents. So why didn’t I just simply remove them? I do still think Amherst has the ability to make a run in the NCAA tournament if they get back in the right mindset – though, not Salem this year (and yes, I didn’t think they could have gotten to Salem last year if Babson had Flannery at 100%… or even 75%) and THAT is why I dropped them. However, if I think they can make a deep run, I can’t remove them. Furthermore, if I drop Amherst then I drop Wesleyan leaving me two spots open. I have already admitted I would have put Ohio Wesleyan in in that case, but I don’t know who my second team was. I wouldn’t have left in any of the teams I dropped and the others I was considering didn’t make as strong a case in my opinion. So, Amherst (and Wesleyan by default right now) stay… and I second-guess myself the rest of the week.
Neumann (Previously 22)
This was the only team that had a chance to stay on my ballot, honestly. But the loss to Rosemont kills me. This is not a shot at the Ravens who I think is a very improved team, but to stay on my ballot from the CSAC, you have to dominate the conference. The loss to Rosemont doesn’t prove that to me. As good as Neumann is, it seems they are still trying to figure out personnel and maybe overlooking opponents. Both of those are red flags for me.
St. Thomas (Previously 23)
I seriously considered replacing the Tommies with Carleton which would have been that second team I mentioned I was looking for to replace Amherst and Wesleyan (to go along with OWU). Carleton beat St. Thomas to end their eight-game winning streak and extend the Knights, then, 10-game winning streak. For St. Thomas, that loss concerned me for a squad that had turned it around and looked to be on it’s way to another MIAC regular season title. And I didn’t want to vote for Carleton, because I was worried the win would be the emotional climax and they would stumble after it. Interestingly, St. Thomas lost their next game maybe revealing their emotional climax had been reached and Carleton dominated in their next game maybe revealing a new team for my ballot next week.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Previously 25)
I knew this would happen. Almost immediately after putting CMS back on my ballot for the second time this season and just after convincing myself they were going to continue dominating the SCIAC… they lost to Pomonoa-Pitzer and before they could stop the bleeding La Verne knocked them down another peg. Just can’t vote for CMS who went from having a Pool C chance if they needed it… to having to now win to get in to the NCAA tournament.
I think that about covers it. Don’t forget Hoopsville will be on air Wednesday afternoon shortly after the Regional Rankings are published and will be on air Thursday and Sunday nights starting at 7:00PM. Also, please consider donating to the Hoopsville Fundraising efforts. We want to stay on the air for years to come and your public television-esque support is very much appreciated.