Welcome to the 2018-19 season. I cannot believe we are already here in mid-October and the season starts officially in less than a month. Feels like yesterday I was packing up and walking out of the Salem Civic Center.
If anyone listened to Hoopsville any of the last two seasons, one theme was clear: there is a ton of parity in men’s basketball. Anyone who has read these blogs has seen another part of that theme: it is hard to gauge who really is a Top 10, Top 15, etc. team. Many times, I commented that I had a team in, say, the tenth spot that in any “normal” year they would be further down. They didn’t seem like a ten-spot team, but I had to put someone in there. That I could realistically go from 5 to 15 and not slot anyone. There have been a lot of good teams, but just not a lot of great teams.
This season will be the opposite, and probably to the other extreme. There are so many teams entering this season that appear to be loaded, stacked, etc. The talent level on rosters is incredible and there are teams who showed last year they are going to be difficult to stop. We are still in an era of parity, but the level of that parity has taken a significant step upwards. There are a lot of teams one could argue (and will as we progress this season) are top ten squads, but there just isn’t enough room for them all. There will be teams left out of the Top 25 or my ballot who probably should be Top 25 teams, but there just isn’t enough room for them all.
With that in mind, I tried not to spend too much time on the Preseason Top 25 this year. I’m not saying I just rushed through it, but I really didn’t want to get bogged down in it, either. Bogging down just ends up not helping me nor making my ballot any better than it might have been spending half the time.
A couple of notes before we get started:
- I am not including last year’s final ballot (sorry for not posting that or my final regular season ballot; I was far too busy). I just don’t think it is relevant and I have been somewhat guilty of relying, or leaning, on it too much in the past. I feel the new season should be somewhat new in terms of analysis as well (though, past seasons are important barometers and information)
- In a twist, I am not releasing my entire ballot with this blog. This is one of three I will publish breaking up my ballot, so they aren’t too long to read. We will stick to one blog per ballot during the regular season (when time allows)
- Did you know, never in the history of the D3hoops.com Men’s Top 25 has a team held the top ranking from the preseason all the way through the final poll? WashU (twice) and Stevens Point won the national titles after being Preseason #1 picks, but they didn’t hold that spot the entire season. Um, bad news Nebraska Wesleyan?
- Hamilton and NJCU have hit their highest rankings … ever in the overall Top 25.
- Of the ten teams that have been ranked the most often in the poll’s history, eight are ranked again (Amherst and St. Thomas being the only two not ranked).
With that, here is my D3hoops.com Top 25 Preseason Ballot … starting with the Top 10:
1 – Nebraska Wesleyan
This seems obvious. The Prairie Wolves are the defending national champions, return basically the entire squad (85% of their points) AND bring in two all-GPAC (NAIA) conference selections as transfers. This might have been the only thing I knew about the upcoming season leaving Salem last season. Nebraska Wesleyan will have a target on their backs, but their offense can score points quickly and their defense can snuff out a small wildfire. I cannot imagine NWU isn’t a favorite to get to the championship weekend once again.
2 – Whitman
If anyone listened to Hoopsville the second half of last season, they would have heard a common refrain: Whitman is going to be better despite losing Tim Howell. The super guard has left, but the entire rest of the team returns including two players, Harrison and Wiggins who played extensively on the national runner-up squad, who return from injury. They also bring in a wealth of talent which also features some size inside. The Blues have lost a total of three games in two years; two of those coming in the Sweet 16 or Final Four to the eventual champions. They also have one of the more suffocating defenses in the country. There is nothing I see that says they won’t be in the national championship weekend conversation again this season – well except for bracketing. Head’s up national championship committee… there is a serious problem brewing come March (more on the first Hoopsville episode this season).
3 – Whitworth
Well, the Pirates will have something to say about whether Whitman wins another NWC title. Whitworth made sure Whitman didn’t have the easiest of times last season, winning the conference title game in Walla Walla (and ending a seven-game losing streak to the Blues as well). They return… everyone and everything from last year’s squad including Kyle Roach who is a beast. That said, I feel Whitworth needs to get the inside game going a bit more and that means more scoring from Ben Bishop. If they get the inside-outside game clicking, they are going to be nearly impossible to stop.
4 – Augustana
Hard to not expect the Vikings to be not only at the top of the CCIW, but national rankings as well. Four starters and nine players who played more than ten minutes return including Pierson Wofford who has only been stopped by injury or off-court distractions. Augustana should be tough to stop and are extremely deep, talented, and experienced. I don’t expect them to go unscathed through the CCIW race (no one does that, anyway), but the Central(ish) region will have to go through Augustana this year.
5 – UW-Oshkosh
Finish national runner up, bring back a huge portion of the team, but lose their head coach to a dream job. That’s where I find myself with the Titans. I expect Oshkosh to be good. They have the talent and experience, but how different will this season be? New head coach (I know he was an assistant; personal experience says that doesn’t always pan out as it says on paper), but also a LARGE target on their backs. The WIAC may end up being, once again, the most difficult and bone crushing conference in the country. The question will be if UWO can stay above the fray or fall victim to it.
6 – Wittenberg
By Matt Croci’s own admission on the show, the Tigers were a year early in their success last season. That isn’t a knock, that’s a warning. Witt returns four of their starters, eight players who played more than half a game on average, and 81% of their scoring. They are also not senior laden as their starting lineup will probably only feature one senior – the rest are juniors. I also don’t think Wittenberg will get as much of a battle in the NCAC to beat them up making them possibly fresher come March.
7 – MIT
Watching this, under-appreciated, team in the NCAA playoffs last season was incredible. They were a shot away from returning to Salem with a squad no one had given much of a chance. They are back-to-back NEWMAC champions, return 93% of their scoring including six starters and a player to watch in Bradley Jomard (who was recovering from injury during that NCAA tournament run). They also feature two former Defensive Players of the Year in the NEWMAC and have one of the more talented, and highly sought after, coaches in the country in Larry Anderson. This Engineers squad may be better than their Final Four squad of 2011-2012 which only lost two games and finished in the national semifinals.
8 – Williams
I didn’t expect to have the Ephs this high when I started this process. Williams has seemed somewhat of an enigma. It isn’t like they haven’t been good, but we can all point to results that make you question everything. This Williams team does feature four returning starters, seven who have played more than half of games on average, and three-quarters of the points. They also return Scadlock (edit: previous version said “Scadlove,” we are still determining how that happened. LOL) who missed most of last season (injury) which could result in a trio of Ephs players that will eclipse the 1,000-career point mark this season. The more I looked and examined what Williams had on the roster, the more I realized this could be a special season in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
9 – Springfield
Originally, I was convinced I would have the Pride in my Top 5 when thinking about it the last few months. With Jake Ross back, there was just NO way they would be any lower. Now, don’t for one moment think that because I have then in the 8-spot that I think less of Springfield. Ross is one of the better players in Division III, but they did lose a couple of key pieces from last season’s headline-making squad. That gave me a little pause especially since Springfield started 6-6 last season before going on a tear. That said, the Pride will still be a very good team and their battles against MIT will be must-watch.
10 – Hamilton
Last season, I was leery at times about the Continentals. I just felt like maybe it was smoke and mirrors. I saw them courtside in the NCAA and certainly was impressed with what I saw. However, rightly or wrongly I still feel like I’m being fooled somehow. They return four starters, all average in double-digits in scoring, along with eight players who played half of most games … AND that all equals more than 80% of their scoring offense. Seriously?! That’s a lot of fire power returning. Plus, Hamilton shoots the lights out of the building especially from deep. The race at the top of the NESCAC is going to be fun to watch from the western side of the conference.
There is my Top 10. Yes, I am sure there are some of you wondering why your team didn’t make it into my list. Not to worry, first off, I will release another part of my ballot soon enough. Secondly, I have already admitted there are more teams than there are spots for the Top 10.