Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 4

Let me start with an apology. I wanted to post my Week 3 D3hoops.com Top 25 blog, but simply didn’t have time. Stagg Bowl Week takes up a lot of time including being on the road from Tuesday until Saturday (in beautiful, but suddenly always windy Roanoke Valley). I do thank those of you who spotted our Twitter poll (below) asking about these blogs. Not a lot of people, but quite a few said they liked the blog, so we are continuing.

So to start things off, here is my Week 3 ballot along with a notation of where teams moved, if necessary:

Those in Whitman’s huddle haven’t been who we expected this season, but the Blues continue to be Dave’s top squad on his ballot.

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
3 – Middlebury (Up 1)
4 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 2)
5 – Williams (Down 2)
6 – Ramapo (Up 1)
7 – UW-Rivers Falls (Up 3)
8 – WashU (Up 3)
9 – St. John’s (Up 3)
10 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 3)
11 – Rochester (Up 4)
12 – New Jersey City (Up 4)
13 – Wesleyan (Up 4)
14 – MIT (Up 6)
15 – Skidmore (Down 1)
16 – Wartburg (Up 8)
17 – Marietta (Down 12)
18 – UW-Whitewater (Down 10)
19 – Hanover (Down 10)
20 – Lake Forest (Up 2)
21 – Nichols (Up 4)
22 – St. Norbert (Unranked)
23 – Salem State (Unranked)
24 – Eastern Conn. (Down 3)
25 – Baldwin Wallace (Down 7)

Dropped out:
– North Central (Previously 19)
– Bowdoin (Previously 23rd)

So that is where things started for this week. Not a lot of games to judge on this week thanks to mainly finals, but still a lot of match-ups that allowed for plenty of information for voters. It didn’t result in a lot of movement for a lot of my ballot, but it did make for the last five to ten slots to be very challenging. I ended up with far too many teams for those last ten or so spots. I was caught between being drastic and cutting a lot of teams just to make room – no other reasons – or to get creative. I may not have been as creative as I could be, but I did try and find interesting ways to solve the challenge(s).

Definitely going to start using the famed “pink eraser” from now on. Going through too many top-of-the-pencil erasers!

I also just shook my head and cleaned up the eraser shavings from the multitude of times I changed my mind or didn’t like how I had worked things out. Thank goodness I am at least smart enough to do these in pencil.

I thought by this point in the season there would be enough information to start feeling secure about who I was voting for and why, but I could make an argument against every single team on my ballot and where I have them positioned. From 1 to 25 and beyond. There are arguments that could be made for those not on my ballot for why they should be. It is maddening sometimes.

There are a lot of good teams in Division III men’s basketball. I just don’t think there are a lot, if any, great teams. Everyone has flaws. All teams are susceptible. No team is going to get to the end undefeated, unblemished. That makes for great nights of basketball and incredible match-ups even from games you don’t expect, but it doesn’t make for an easy time on Sunday nights and Mondays putting a Top 25 ballot together.

I did notice one thing… if you want to win in Division III basketball, you might need a W in your name. Counting UW schools as “Wisconsin-so-and-so” and teams with Ws leading any part of a multiple-name school, I have 10 “W” teams (eight if you don’t count the multiple-name schools). I remember one year have five schools in a row on my ballot that all started with “W.” It just felt weird. Like I had done something wrong. However, like possibly needing purple in your school color to win a national championship, maybe you actually need a W to be one of the best at getting Ws.

Okay, I digress.

Here is my Week 4 D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
Admittedly, the Blues have me a little nervous. That said, I have stated as recently as the last episode of Hoopsville that I don’t expect anyone to go undefeated this season. This includes Whitman who is playing without two of last year’s starters (who may be out for the reason; we will learn more soon I am sure), but also has a terrific team attitude that starts on the defensive end. They survived against Occidental, but losing that or another game before the (re)start of the conference schedule would not surprise me.

Augustana remains high on Dave’s ballot despite the challenges. All teams are facing challenges this season.

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
Not sure what I think of the Vikings. They don’t blow me away, but they also continue to get the job done. Again, a loss of Wofford I think is going to be a factor and one they can overcome. CCIW play will not be easy, so I doubt they can survive without one or two more losses.

3 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
When teams are idle for a long time, it gets hard not to move them around. I think the Panthers are a very good squad, but not playing for three weeks concerns me for early January.

4 – UW-Oshkosh (Unchanged)
The Titans are good, but the WIAC is going to be a slug-fest this season. There are so many good teams in the WIAC. I have more faith in UWO… for now.

WashU’s win over Illinois Wesleyan catapulted the Bears up Dave’s ballot. It was a game that was going to affect Dave’s ballot no matter the outcome. (Courtesy: WashU Athletics)

5 – WashU (Up 3)
The game against IWU was what I was waiting for – for both squads. The Bears showed me that just maybe the team I was expecting has arrived. WashU played very well against the Titans which impressed me. WashU may be one of a very few teams I feel comfortable with where I rank them.

6 – Ramapo (Down 1)
The Roadrunners didn’t do anything wrong to slide down a spot. They fell two weeks in a row as I tried to find room for other teams (UW-Oshkosh last week; WashU this week). I still think Ramapo is a very good team, however I think those other teams are better right now.

7 – Williams (Down 2)
The Ephs have also fallen – four spots total – on my ballot in the last two weeks. I am just not as confident in Williams as I was prior. Part of that is the fact they have lost one of their best players in Klye Scadlock (leads the team in ppg, rpg, second in apg). I am just not sure how Williams adjusts. I know they have had two games since the injury and have a few more weeks before their next, but it isn’t like they are in practice every day adjusting.

UW-River Falls’ Alex Herink has sometimes put the Falcons on his shoulders and the squad has responded.

8 – UW-River Falls (Down 1)
Like Ramapo, the Falcons’ slip of a spot is related to moving WashU above them. That said, trailing 41-26 at halftime against Northwestern (Minn.), before rallying for the victory, is something I did take note. I know Northwestern is probably under-appreciated by many, but I still feel a top ten squad shouldn’t find themselves that deep in a whole against a team not close to the Top 25.

9 – St. John’s (Unchanged)
I may be one of a very few voters who likes the Johnnies this much. Top 10 I am sure has some people shaking their head – much like how I feel with Lycoming is in the Top 10 overall. Each voter has their perspective and mine is that SJU is a darn good team who will win the MIAC this year and is far better than others realize. The Johnnies have put up some very impressive performances, though their close game with Hamline gave me a little concern. I know they lost to UW-La Crosse, but again, I’m not expecting perfection this season and UWL isn’t a bad team.

10 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unchanged)
One of the things I did this week was look at the opponent’s winning percentage for every team I was voting for last week and considering for this week’s ballot. The Battling Bishop’s number was surprisingly lower than I expected: 28-49 (.364). That immediately sounded some alarms in my head. You are voting them way too high especially when teams with higher percentages aren’t even on you ballot. That said, I think OWU has some of the best talent in the country and will rise above a crazy NCAC race. Are they a Top 10 team? Maybe not, but there aren’t a lot of Top 10 teams this season. Someone has to be put here.

11 – New Jersey City (Up 1)
When a team has as many close games as the Gothic Knights have had one way of looking at it is they are playing with fire and will be burned. The other is that it shows a team can withstand the pressure and finish a game no matter how bad they play. NJCU fought back against a very good (under-appreciated) Albertus Magnus squad, down 20 in the second half, to win their second game thanks to a buzzer beater this season (see below). I am not sure NJCU is the 11th best team in the country, but again… who really is?

12 – Wesleyan (Up 1)
Three NESCAC teams in the top fifteen seems a bit excessive and the Cardinals have floated up this high thanks to what has been happening around them primarily. I am not sure if Wesleyan will get its’ wings clipped or how badly once the conference schedule begins, but I also feel they have a very well-rounded roster and a program that has been continually building to this type of season for awhile now. Of course like many NESCAC (even Northeast Region) teams… we have to wait a long time to see this squad back in action (21 days between games)

MIT on paper has some scary attributes and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

13 – MIT (Up 1)
This Engineers squad reminds me of the program’s final four squad. Not in a perfect match, per se, but they are building to something special. Like the team that ran to the final four in 2012, this squad’s best players are underclassmen. In fact, there isn’t a senior on the roster! MIT has already played 11 games and now has a long break and I expect when they re-start NEWMAC play they will prove the conference runs through Cambridge, Mass. this season.

14 – Skidmore (Up 1)
The Thoroughbreds feel more like a Top 20 squad, but like I’ve said before… there aren’t a lot of teams that feel right in these spots. They are all too high. Skidmore is good. They have a terrific player in Edvinas Rupkus who is one of several juniors leading this squad (four of the top five scorers are juniors; one other is a sophomore). The Middlebury game may be more helpful than harmful in the long run for Skidmore. That might be the perfect game for them to learn from moving forward.

15 – Warburg (Up 1)
The IIAC could be one of a number of fascinating races this season. I have finally bought in a bit more in Wartburg who will be at the point of that race, but they aren’t alone. Nebraska Wesleyan, Buena Vista, Loras, and others are going to make this a great race in the conference. Wartburg may end up not being the only one ranked this season.

Nichols is rising up on Dave’s ballot who likes some of the parts of the Bison and what they could do this season. (Courtesy: Nichols’ Athletics)

16 – Nichols (Up 5)
I really like the Bison. I’ve said that before. I realize I have had them higher, but each time someone who has played or knows them sees where I have them ranked I get a note reaffirming my thinking. That doesn’t mean I am smarter than anyone else, but it does help me feel like I am not out on a limb with this choice. In reality, their conference is not a tough one to win especially this season, however they have five players in double-figures being led by Marcos Echevarria who if you haven’t seen play you need to watch.

17 – St. Norbert (Up 5)
I honestly didn’t think I would be voting for the Green Knights this season, but once again SNC has moved onto my poll in a season I didn’t expect them to retool – let along rebuild. Now, St. Norbert, like Nichols, moved way up this week because I made a more drastic move with teams who had been ahead o them and are now behind them. So, I will admit this slot might seem high. Again… a lot of teams seem high. My curiosity with SNC is can they even win the MWC this season? For the first time in a while, there are other teams in the fray. Lake Forest, Monmouth, Grinnell all look like they could compete for the conference title this year.

John Carroll appears on Dave’s ballot thanks to a win over Marietta and a better-than-expected opponents’ winning percentage. (Courtesy: John Carroll Athletics)

18 – John Carroll (Unranked)
I am taking a bit of a leap of faith here. I have a friend who bleeds Blue Streak who doesn’t miss a chance to remind me of how well JCU is playing (even admits when they stumble), but also admits they haven’t really played anyone of note. What finally was their opponents’ winning percentage: 36-32 (.529). Now some of that is thanks to having Marietta on their schedule, but they beat the Pioneers. 18th is a bit of a jump, but I also wanted to get the Blue Streaks ahead of some teams, like Marietta, if I was going to include them.

19 – Rochester (Down 8)
No, losing to Ithaca was not the main reason Rochester fell eight spots this week. It is part of the reason, but not the entire explanation. There was a pack of squads I felt couldn’t stay as high as they were with two losses especially as other teams needed to move ahead of them because of those losses. The loss to Ithaca may not be as bad as some initially thought (more on that below), but at the same time it does raise concerns for me. Could I be buying in too much? I still think Rochester is a darn good team no matter the turnover from last year, but I also realize I might have bought in too much early on.

20 – Marietta (Down 3)
I have done mental gymnastics with the Pioneers. I have argued I am buying in too much; I have argued I am not giving them enough credit. The trick is, Marietta’s wins early on no longer have the same shine. St. Thomas and Hope are both below .500. In fact, the only win the Pios have against a team above .500 is La Roche. Marietta has a .461 opponents’ winning percentage, but most of that is thanks to the records of the teams that have beaten them. I am torn on whether the Pioneers have shown anything that qualifies them for the Top 25.

UWW has a lot on paper Dave likes and other parts that has him worried he bought in too much. Just how good is Whitewater? (Courtesy: UWW Athletics)

21 – UW-Whitewater (Down 3)
I really think the WIAC race is going to be one of the top five to watch – and there are about ten conferences races that will be fascinating. UWW is going to be involved for sure, but I am concerned I bought in early on a squad that has a lot of new pieces and turnover. I know Pat Miller can coach, we have seen that, but it ultimately comes down to the players. Their opponents are 27-38, which doesn’t give me anything to lean on here.

22 – Hanover (Down 3)
A friend messaged me less than a week after the Panthers lost to Transylvania and  basically say Hanover was pretenders. I understood where he was coming from, but I told him I was going there. I think Hanover, and others, actually show there are a lot of good teams in Division III who easily can have a bad night or two. It is going to happen and Hanover had it happen against Transy. However, the Panthers have won their next two to at least shake off that bad victory. Time will tell if I am right about Hanover still being a Top 25 team.

Matt Hunter has York (Pa.) back in the Top 25 conversation for the first time in more than 10 seasons. (Courtesy: York Athletics)

23 – York (Pa.) (Unranked)
There are a lot of things that have gone right for the Spartans this season … and I love it. An injury last season to Dalton Myers has allowed Matt Hunter to plug two big-men into the lineup this season when he only had expected to have Blayde Reich. Both guys can also step back and shoot from 15-feet making them tough to guard. Add in some solid guard play and York has changed the completion of the CAC for me this season. York will take on Salisbury to start the New Year and then Christopher Newport on January 13. Pencil those games in as ones you have to watch York.

24 – Eastern Conn. (Unchanged)
The Warriors surprisingly dropped out of the Top 25 without playing any games, but I will admit I nearly dropped them myself. It has nothing to do with Eastern Conn. State and everything to do with other teams, especially those in action, voters like myself feel they need to get onto their ballot. There isn’t a lot on their schedule that jumps out at people, but I decided to hold on for now.

25 – Baldwin Wallace (Unchanged)
Here is another team I was debating about dropping, but then I realized that at this point in the season the Yellow Jackets have one of the better opponents’ winning percentages of the teams I am considering: 42-28 (.600). The OAC race, as noted, is insane already this season. Baldwin Wallace looks like one of those who will still be there at the end of the season. The schedule gets interesting in the next few weeks and I am definitely going to catch a few games over the holidays.

Dropped out:

Lake Forest (Previously 20)
It is harsh to drop the Foresters based on one loss compared to others, but the loss came to North Park who is not having a great season. While Lake Forest has some decent wins on their resume so far, those wins indicate they should have beaten North Park. They didn’t and I needed room for others.

Salem State (Previously 22)
I might have been too instinctual with the Vikings last week. I got caught up in their wins over Tufts, Babson, and WPI and thought maybe the loss to MIT was just one of those “bad nights.” They followed it all up with a loss to Endicott, who isn’t bad but is certainly up and down, and they gave up 96 points.

Previous Ballots:
Week 3 (not posted)
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

Ithaca is on Dave’s radar which also means several others are being considered.

Now, usually I don’t talk about teams I didn’t vote for (besides those who dropped off my ballot) on any given week. I tried that one or twice and it only caused numerous tweets, emails, messages, etc. about who else I didn’t vote for, who else I might be considering, or those who didn’t understand I can’t mention ALL the teams I consider any given week. So, I stopped. Too much work, anyway.

I am breaking that rule this week to talk about Ithaca and Cortland. After Ithaca’s win over Rochester, I decided I needed to consider Ithaca for my ballot. However, when I researched Ithaca a bit more I noticed they had split with Cortland this season (out of conference opponents; happened more often this season around Division III). Thus, if I was going to consider Ithaca, I needed to also consider Cortland. I couldn’t find a justified reason to include one without the other. That meant dropping two more teams from my ballot. But who? Maybe Eastern Connecticut, but that wasn’t enough. I didn’t like dropping anyone else, though I am sure one could make an argument for a number of squads. So, I ultimately decided to leave Ithaca and Cortland off and drop Rochester (and the group it is hitched to) further down – a move that initially took place to get Ithaca and Cortland on the ballot. I’ll wait a bit longer to see if which team, if not all, continue to play well.

D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas is shaping up to be a very good one. The 8th annual event takes place Dec. 28-30 at South Point Arena.

So there you go. Week 4’s ballot. Now, we voters get to relax for a few weeks. The next D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot won’t happen until January 1 (HAPPY NEW YEAR!). I will not only watch a number of games online, but I can’t wait to see Whitman, Rampao, and Ohio Wesleyan along with Stevens Point and others at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. That event is proving to not only be terrific this season, but more and more popular for top teams around the country each year. That will prove to either help me with my decisions… or make things more muddied. LOL

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and most importantly Happy New Year to one and all. Enjoy it even if you are unable to be with family.

If you are reading this you are most likely a Division III basketball fan, make sure you get out and support these terrific student-athletes and programs even if you don’t have a rooting interest in the team(s) closest to you. It is worth getting to games and supporting them anyway. Make that one of your New Year’s Resolutions.

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