The season is almost over. I can’t believe it! Feels like last week we were just tipping things off for another season. Could we really be in the final week of the regular season?
This time of year I can’t help but have one thought in the back of my mind: how many teams am I voting for will not make the NCAA tournament? And if that is the case, should I be voting for them?
Of course I should be voting for them, simply because I should not change my voting criteria to meet the NCAA’s selection criteria. We all know those two are not the same. However, that doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t still have the same thought. What if my #13 team doesn’t even get to the tournament? What if I have three or four teams who won’t be playing? Does that mean I was that off? Does that mean they aren’t one of the top 25 teams in the country?
It is healthy to have those thoughts. It helps me reexamine some of the teams I am voting for and see if in reality they are one of the Top 25. No, I don’t hedge my bets and remove a team because they may not be playing for the Walnut and Bronze because you can still be one of the top teams in the country but miss out on the NCAA tournament. It happens especially in Division III when the criteria is a little more restricted than what I use when voting. But it forces me to make sure I am voting for the right reasons, so while the questions are a bit ridiculous the effort it induces is worth it.
What about this week? Carnage again and with an odd twist. To quote a popular, knowledgeable poster on D3boards.com, Gregory Sager:
“Wow. The poll’s bottom four, and eight of the bottom eleven, all lost last week … and none of them lost to a fellow ranked team. In fact, none of them lost to a team that was even in the (Others Receiving Votes) category.
Speaking of which, nine of the fourteen ORV teams lost last week, one of them (Illinois Wesleyan) twice. And only three of those nine ORV teams that lost fell victim to a ranked team, although one of them lost to a fellow ORV team.”
Yeah. Carnage. I don’t think it happens often that all of the losses in the Top 25 where to teams not even being voted on by voters. And it nearly was worse than that. UW-River Falls barely got past UW-Platteville, WashU survived against Brandeis, Middlebury had a battle with Bates, Ohio Wesleyan snuck past Wittenberg, Carelton nearly got tripped up by Gustavus Adolphus, and St. John Fisher had to use overtime TWICE this past weekend to defeat Stevens and Hartwick! The only ranked team that came close to losing to a team in the ORV category: #1 Babson hit a three pointer nearly at the buzzer to escape against MIT. That was the only game where an ORV would have beaten a ranked opponent.
Okay, enough of the oddity Top 25 stats.
It isn’t that surprising to see teams losing this time of year. It is set-up to have losses. When teams are jockeying for conference tournaments and then when those tournaments begin, you are going to have losses. Plain and simple. Only 43 teams of 416 will finish conference tournaments without a loss. However, Top 25 voters expect those they are voting for to lose to others in the conversation – for the most part. This past week was the exact opposite of that.
My ballot was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The top half was relatively stable. The bottom half, complete chaos. I brought in four new teams, but I nearly kicked out seven! The first half of my ballot took minutes. The second half… much, much longer.
And with that, here is a reminder of last week’s ballot… before moving on to this week’s:
1 – Babson (Unchanged)
I haven’t said much about the Beavers in awhile, so I will take the opportunity now to state I am not worried about the close game against MIT. Babson showed they aren’t only the Joey Flannery show. He has always shown how unselfish he is throughout his career, but people keep forgetting it when he has had to put the team on his back. The fact the entire MIT squad, the broadcast announcer, and the fans on site were convinced Flannery was going to take the final shot on Saturday is stunning. Flannery did exactly what I figured he would do… remind you that even Michael Jordon knew Steve Kerr and John Paxton hit the big shot, too. Flannery hit the open teammate in the corner… game over. The only thing that concerns me about Babson, they have been incredible at trailing at halftime and storming back to win. They have trailed in six games, including twice to MIT, only to win all six of those games. Both games against MIT were double-digit deficits (13 and 12 respectively). That could bite them badly come March.
— Babson Athletics (@BabsonAthletics) February 18, 2017
2 – Whitman (Unchanged)
3 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
4 – Ramapo (Up 1)
5 – Middlebury (Up 2)
6 – Rochester (Down 2)
My only concern about the Yellowjackets is that it’s deja vu to last season. The difference between the two is Rochester will get into the NCAA tournament and doesn’t have to win. However, stumbling to the end of a season never bodes well for a deep run in March… especially if those losses cost you the chance to host in one of the iconic basketball arenas in Division III (if not all of college basketball).
7 – UW-River Falls (Down 2)
8 – Whitworth (Unchanged)
9 – Washington Univ. (Unchanged)
Quick note to congratulate the Bears on being the first team to punch their ticket to this year’s NCAA Tournament. Thanks to the loss by Rochester, WashU is the UAA champs, though they had to survive a scare in a rather high-scoring game against Brandies to do it. At least no pressure on them heading into their finale with Chicago.
10 – Marietta (Unchanged)
11 – St. Norbert (Up 2)
12 – Hope (Down 1)
13 – Denison (Up 1)
14 – New Jersey City (Up 2)
15 – Bendictine (Up 3)
16 – Susquehanna (Down 1)
17 – Hanover (Up 6)
I think Panthers are a darn good team, but I am nervous I am giving them too much credit here with this jump up to 17. This is a testament of the chaos in this part of the bracket and having to fill in holes. However, Hanover has also won seven in a row and 10 of their last 11 in a league that has usually produced some not-so-dominating teams in recent years. They also ended up winning the HCAC regular season by two games in conference race that looked for most of the season like it would be a revolving door up top.
18 – St. John Fisher (Unranked)
I’ve had my eye on the Cardinals for weeks trying to figure out if this was for real or smoke and mirrors. I think a lot of voters might be scared off by three of their last four wins coming in overtime and I certainly wondered about it as well. However, SJF has also won 15 of their last 16 – all on this side of New Year’s and the overtime games show me that they can gut out victories if necessary. The last two were on the toughest road trip of the season. Some may argue that could tire them out, but I think this week will be the perfect amount of rest before tackling the conference tournament. St. John Fisher looks darn good right now and could make an interesting run in the NCAA tournament.
19 – Tufts (Up 1)
20 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unranked)
I talked about the Battling Bishops last week and liking what I was seeing, finally, from this squad. Yes, Wittenberg nearly tripped up OWU, but the 110-55 win over Allegheny was a bit of a statement win. 12-straight victories very well may make Ohio Wesleyan the team on everyone’s “would like to see least” list.
21 – UW-Whitewater (Up 1)
22 – Neumann (Unranked)
The Knights keep yo-yoing in and out of my ballot. Each time I see a game like Rosemont that tells me they aren’t Top 25 worthy, I then talk to those who think they may be as good as the Cabrini teams of recent-years. It is really hard to get a read on Neumann. They only have two losses and that does say something. They are taking on all comers and the top of the CSAC is certainly more improved than when Cabrini was dominating the conference (and NCAA tournament). Let’s see what this week brings. I know they are ultra focused on the CSAC tournament.
23 – Swarthmore (Down 6)
I am still wondering if I should have just punted the
River Hawks Garnet (edit: apparently the “S” teams in the Mid-Atlantic are confusing me more than just to vote; River Hawks are Susquehanna SMH) out of my ballot this week. They took a beat-down to Franklin & Marshall this past week that was anything but pretty. All three “S” teams in the Mid-Atlantic seem to be struggling to control their conferences. Not sure what happened in this game against F&M who has been hot and cold all season. Sometimes teams need to put blinders on and just barrel through their competition. Not sure Swarthmore is capable of doing that, right now.
24 – Lycoming (Unranked)
The Warriors may be the team I have had on my radar the longest and haven’t voted for at least once. I have debated it nearly ever week since we came back from the holiday break and weeks I was sure I would probably get them in, they take a loss that has me throwing them back into the “consideration pile.” What worries me about Lyco is that the MAC Commonwealth has yet to produce a top-flight program in quite a few years. We have also seen the top teams fade nearly every year for the past five or more years and a team that wasn’t ranked #1 win the conference title almost yearly. Heck, Lycoming was the embodiment of that last year when they started hot, faded badly, finished #5 in the conference before going on a tear to win the conference tournament! Maybe this vote just sets them up to not win the AQ. If so, my apologies.
25 – Salisbury (Down 13)
I hate to say it, but I saw this coming. As much as I have been a fan of the Sea Gulls, I told people six weeks ago that I worried Salisbury would fade in the final weeks of the season. Granted at the time I was still holding on to the notion that the CAC would be a four or even five team race at the top. That never materialized, but Salisbury still has some bad habits that seem to be costing them. The biggest problem is they play to their competition’s level. The result can be fantastic games against Christopher Newport or Ramapo. The other result can be head-scratching games against Frostburg State and York. I realize Salisbury is dealing with injuries and illnesses, but almost everyone is at this time of the year. Salisbury needs to put its foot down sometimes and forget who they are playing. They may play themselves out of the NCAA tournament at worst if they keep this up and lose in the CAC semifinals.
Guilford (Previously 19)
For the same reasons I nearly kicked out Swarthmore and Salisbury are the reasons the Quakers are off my ballot. Guilford doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to make the NCAA tournament this year and they simply aren’t dominating like they were earlier in the year. From the beginning of the season until the end of January, despite three losses, Guilford seemed to be in control of most games. They finished 16-3. Since then, more games have been close (only one has been a double-digit victory) and they have gone 4-2 including a bad lose to Roanoke and then a head-scratching loss to Emory & Henry.. at home! Guilford has put themselves in a tough spot and are not finishing strong this season.
Oswego State (Previously 21)
I have always been a fan of the Lakers, but they make me want to pull my hair out. The last two weekends have been anything but good. They had won 12 of their last 13 prior to Feb. 10. Since then they have played four games with the score differential an flat 0! Lost by 1, won by 1, won by 5, lost by 5. They ended up finishing on top of the conference by a game which is important, but they nearly threw it all away. What they have also done is probably thrown a real chance at being the 2nd ranked team in the East Region out the window. I hope Oswego makes the NCAA tournament, but they and Brockport have made what appears to be a two-bid league get on shaky ground.
Wesleyan (Previously 24)
I find it apropos on how I vote and work through my ballots that last week I decided to keep Amherst on my ballot which resulted in Wesleyan getting on (returning) the ballot as well… for them to both lose in the NESCAC quarterfinals. Wesleyan is a good team, but they have also found ways to seemingly forget that. Their win over Marietta (granted when Marietta was struggling) is now off-set by losses to Hamilton and Trinity. No matter how good and deep the NESCAC is this year, a team that beats Marietta should be able to beat those two squads and Williams who the Cardinals lost to a few weeks ago.
Amherst (Previously 25)
For as good as Amherst was at the beginning of the season, they seem to be the exact opposite at the close of the season. They have lost three of their last four and are 9-7 since mid-December (8-6 since the start of 2017). Yes, they have lost to teams that have proven the NESCAC is a better conference than it ever has been, but I would argue they have also lost to teams they have no right losing two if they really are that good a team. A team that beats Babson, granted in double-OT, shouldn’t be losing to Connecticut College, Eastern Connecticut, and arguable Wesleyan twice. Not to mention the fact losing to Williams at home in the NESCAC tournament. Oh, I get it is hard to beat a conference team three times, but you have to do it when your season is hanging in the balance. Amherst could miss out on the NCAA tournament as a result and their canceled game against Rhode Island College may have been the decider. Had Amherst beaten RIC, their resume may have been stronger. Had they lost, the NCAA hopes may be snuffed out as we speak. We and Amherst wait uncomfortably for a week.
So there you have it. Next week promises to be FAR crazier as nearly everyone is guaranteed to lose. What this does promise: a wide-open conference tournament season which will produce maybe one of the most “must-watch” NCAA tournaments from start to finish in recent memory.