Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 2

Middlebury didn’t play this past week. That caused Dave to leave them where they were, but others moved the Panthers up. (Courtesy: Middlebury Athletics)

It was another weird week in Division III basketball. I didn’t have 26 loses from 16 teams, but in less games 12 Ls still ended up populating my Top 25.

Maybe I shouldn’t say “weird.” This appears to be the status quo now, so maybe it is actually “normal.”

Either way, the losses coupled by not-so-amazing wins resulted in some of my Top 25 decisions being a breeze. Yeah. Took me nearly no time to get about half to two-thirds of my ballot done. That allowed me to be more energized to tackle the final ten to fifteen spots. I could think more clearly about new teams. I normally feel like I have already whacked my way through a good portion of the jungle before realizing the jungle got thicker. At least this time, I started in a clearing first.

Yes, teams lost. That happens more often now. I’ve talked, a lot, about that. With the mentality that teams losing isn’t that unexpected, especially to good teams, along with others also not playing necessarily challenging squads this week (or all season) led me to not move as many teams around as I expected. In fact, until I realized I needed one particular team higher up my ballot, I had the top 14 teams on last week’s ballot unchanged. I then “woke” (it was a long weekend) and after shifting one team significantly, the rest moved down a spot.

Then came the later half of the ballot. I knew I was going to get some teams wrong last week. The voice in the back of my head had been screaming and for the most part I had ignored it. That voice has been laughing at me ever since.

The real challenge came to getting teams on to the ballot. I wrote 14 teams down that I wanted to consider getting on the ballot plus a couple of others with an outside chance. There was no way I could cram that many in. I ended up starting to whittle down the list of possibles while also looking to find more to cut off my previous week’s ballot. Took me a little longer than I expected as I considered opponent winning percentages and dove deep a bit on results.

Since I didn’t spend that much time on my ballot, let’s not spend too much time in the intro to the ballot and get right to it. A reminder, here is last week’s ballot. And now, this week’s ballot for the D3hoops.com Top 25 with a few notes:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
Puget Sound gave the the Blues a heck of a good game, but that might be more of an indication of UPS than Whitman. The Blues have a large target on them. They are going to take everyone’s best.

Grey Giovanine looks on as the Titans of UW-Oshkosh handed Augustana their first DIII loss of the year.

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
I had to share the picture that was on the front page of D3hoops.com. The look on Grey Giovanine’s face is priceless. One of resignation that of course this would happen. Listen, they lost to a very good, maybe an underrated, Oshkosh team. The loss of Wofford (injury) wasn’t something I thought would be a big deal. I still don’t, but I do realize Jacob Johnson isn’t there to pick up the slack.

3 – Williams (Unchanged)
Their loss to Wesleyan, like in Augustana’s case, may be more about the Cardinals than it is about the Ephs. That or the men’s team was distracted by the women’s soccer team winning their second title in three years. HA! Is Williams the third best team in the country? I don’t know. Not sure who is to be honest.

4 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
Didn’t play this week. Don’t play much between now and New Year’s. That is going to make it tough to truly understand how good the Panthers are between now and when NESCAC action begins.

5 – Marietta (Unchanged)
Yep. I saw the loss to Baldwin Wallace. Tell me if you have heard this before… that might be more of an indication about the Yellow Jackets than… yeah, you know what I am going to say.

6 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 7)
Here is the team I spoke of which I needed to move up the ballot. I rather move the Titans up than Augustana down for that win. Move them ahead of Augustana? Yeah. I considered that. Was 50/50 on it. I did it last week with Hobart (more on that later). Single game results don’t necessarily paint the entire picture, so as a season gets more and more data I am not as jumpy to just lean on that variable. There are also times when it is absolutely relevant and others when other data plays more of a role. In this case, Oshkosh moved up due to their win over Augie, but not ahead of them as of yet.

Ramapo and a host of other schools moved down Dave’s ballot despite winning because room needed to be created for UW-Oshkosh.

7 – Ramapo (Down 1)
This is where we start with a rash of teams who moved down due to Oshkosh being moved up. Here is a prime example to answer the question we always here, “why did ‘my team’ lose points/move down despite not losing and winning X games.” Because nothing is in a vacuum. Other teams movement affects everyone on a ballot. Roadrunners had a good week in the NJAC and wasn’t going to move up or down as a result. I needed to move UWO up, had to find a spot and thus had to move everyone down to make it happen.

8 – UW-Whitewater (Down 1)

9 – Hanover (Down 1)

10 – UW-River Falls (Down 1)

11 – WashU (Down 1)

12 – St. John’s (Down 1)

Ohio Wesleyan was unable to comeback and defeat Hanover, but Dave’s Week 1 ballot predicted that defeat. (Courtesy: Ohio Wesleyan Athletics)

13 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 1)
Many may hear me state (preach) that I am not a fan of teams being “punished,” like the Battling Bishops, when they lose to a higher ranked team. If we trust our own ballots and the poll, then if we say Hanover is better than Ohio Wesleyan and the result is exactly that, then why would anyone then move the losing team down? Yes, a blow out, injuries, or other items may cause that to happen, but many times voters just move a team down for a loss no matter who it is. Ok. Off my soapbox. You may notice that despite my comments Ohio Wesleyan moved down a slot. I refer you back to the Ramapo comment. Everyone from 7 through 13 moved down a slot to free up the spot I needed. OWU was originally penciled in to stay put, thus OWU was going to stay at 12.

14 – Skidmore (Unchanged)

15 – Rochester (Up 1)

16 – New Jersey City (Up 3)
The Gothic Knights are off to their best start in 25 years. Some would argue that Sam Toney could be the best player in the conference and region (back to back 30+ point games; never done in TCNJ NJCU history). Despite what they lost from last year’s squad, this could be a damn good unit. Their opponent winning percentage is currently below .500, so it might be hard to truly gauge. I have also bought in to the Knights and later regretted it. Time will tell.

Wesleyan knocked off Williams in overtime in the past week leap frogging them onto Dave’s ballot. (Courtesy: Wesleyan Athletics)

17 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The result against Williams was exactly what I was waiting for last week. I noticed the Cardinal’s strong start and I also saw what was ahead of them. Jumping them from unranked to the middle of my ballot for an OT win over Williams might be a bit extreme, but I am okay with it … I think. I have been burned by this before. Even more extreme is if I swapped them with Williams. Why didn’t I? I just don’t think from coming off my ballot to a Top 5 team is feasible (though, UMHB in the final ballot of the poll is an exception). There are reasons I have teams off my ballot. There are reasons I have others on my ballot. Teams I have off my ballot don’t jump into a ballot in the Top 5 or 10 based on just one win. I can hear the arguments, but it isn’t my thinking.

18 – Baldwin Wallace (Unranked)
Here is another team I have been keeping a close eye on, but I feel like I have been here before. I think people laughed at me a few years ago when I had the Yellow Jackets in my Top 25 when pretty much no one else did – and I had them pretty high. That didn’t look so smart a few weeks later despite a hot start. This BW team seems different. The win over Marietta – on the road – was impressive even if it did come via a banked, buzzer beater, three. I would have considered them even if they had lost. By the way, BW’s opponent’s record right now is 15-8 and they are 4-1 with wins over UW-River Falls and Marietta. Not bad.

19 – North Central (Up 1)

20 – MIT (Up 4)

21 – Eastern Connecticut State (Up 4)

Lake Forest’s Eric Porter was named the MWC player of the week for his contributions including 11 threes against Grinnell last week. (Courtesy: Lake Forest Athletics)

22 – Lake Forest (Unranked)
No. You are not seeing things. There is something about the Foresters that I am intrigued about. They have beaten a pretty decent Carthage squad, Chicago, and survived against a redesigned Grinnell squad. Their lone loss is to an interesting Loras squad. Lake Forest is off to a pretty good start and I think it is worth of a Top 25 nod.

23 – Bowdoin (Down 2)

24 – Wartburg (Unranked)
Ok. I am buying in. Kind of. Yes, talking to Dick Peth helped me understand why this team is actually better than I expected, no matter how they finished last season. It is a far more experienced squad than I had given them credit. Their opponents are a combined 16-10 and that only counts their DIII schedule. Their two wins over Dubuque and Eau Claire is what did it for me this week.

Nichols has already yo-yoed in and out of Dave’s ballot early this season. (Courtesy: Nichols Athletics/Jill Souza)

25 – Nichols (Unranked)
The Bison rolled over Endicott in a game I had circled in preseason and highlighted after the Gulls win over Babson. Nichols is putting up points on just about everyone (except Wesleyan who is also now ranked; one of the reasons Nichols fell off my ballot last week was because I wasn’t going to rank Wesleyan) and have two players who many will be talking about in at least New England this season.

Dropped Out:

Hobart (Previously 15)
This is why sometimes I don’t put teams ahead of others based on a head-to-head win and don’t get too excited about a hot start. I didn’t give my contrarian voice in my head enough credit. I liked Hobart’s start to the season. Beating two preseason Top 25 teams is not something to ignore. However, they then lost two of three last week. If it had just been a loss to Brockport, so be it. However, the loss to Union is not good enough if you have beaten Rochester and St. John Fisher already. Hobart will still be the class of the Liberty League this season. They have time to take over the region.

St. Thomas (Previously 17)
I feel somewhat bipolar with my treatment of the Tommies. I wonder if I will get a text, call, email from anyone in particular for my treatment. I think I went with the masses last week after St. Thomas had a great start including taking Marietta to overtime. I worried about when we might see the youth start to affect things. Maybe that time is now. Several have told me Hamline may be pretty solid this year, but I can’t use that as credit right now. UST is also a victim of wanting to get other teams I felt deserving to be on my ballot. They may have hung on otherwise.

CNU was able to get past Salisbury, but fell to Frostburg last week resulting in moving out of Dave’s ballot. (Courtesy: CNU Athletics/Ashley Oaks-Clary)

Christopher Newport (Previously 18)
I am nervous about what is going on with the Captains. Their backcourt is very banged up. They have a lot of flaws. The win over Salisbury was solid. Maybe Frostburg was a trap game. However, if CNU is a Top 25 team, they should win even a bad trap game.

Emory (Previously 22)
The Eagles lost to Hamden-Sydney?! A few years ago, I would have chalked that up to a solid South Region battle. Not this year. HSU is all over the place this season. Emory should have handled that game even if it was on the road.

Babson (Previously 23)
I let go of the leash. Looks like what the Beavers lost was far more than I appreciated. This team is going to take time to fully come together. Don’t be surprised if Babson is at the top of the NEWMAC thanks to their scheduling, while beating them up now, helps them grow later.

Previously Ballots:
Week 1
Preseason

Not sure what else to say. It was an interesting week and as I go to post this, I have seen other voters had very different thinking than I. That is why there are 25 voters. There isn’t just one opinion on this especially with so many good teams now at our disposal.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 1

Delayed from our normal Tuesday morning post. It is a crazy week. Remember, this ballot and my thoughts are based on games through Sunday, Nov. 26.

Just teasing everyone with the look of a delicious turkey dinner with all the fixings.

I’ll be honest. The Thanksgiving holiday was a dangerous one this year. I had to choose carefully when to take a bit of delicious food. If I was checking my Twitter account(s) or the D3hoops.com scoreboard while eating, I risked my life. I lost track of how many times I choked on some turkey, coughed up the mashed potatoes, or spit out the stuffing while reading another shocking score from around Division III men’s basketball. (The women’s results made enjoying a piece of apple pie dangerous as well.) I eventually had to turn my devices off just so I could enjoy a meal.

What a crazy start to the season. I have talked often here and on Hoopsville about the amount of parity. I feel like a broke record. This year reminds me of the same parity argument. I am trying hard not to keep talking about.

Though, there is another factor in place: more teams are willing to play tougher competition early in the season.

I am not sure what exactly started the trend, but understanding how the SOS and Results versus Regionally Ranked Opponents aspects of Regional Ranking (at-large, bracketing, etc.) criteria is being used, analyzed, and more has got to be one of the factors in play. More and more coaches I talk to point out their interest in getting their teams better prepared for a possible NCAA tournament run. That includes not only giving them experience against top competition out of their conferences, but also best positioning the program when it does come to playing in March. As a result, more and more Top 25 teams are playing fellow Top 25 programs. More teams are willing to challenge themselves in the opening weeks against tough opponents. That coupled with parity is resulting in a lot more chaotic results in the opening weeks.

No complaints. I love how many teams are now playing one another. I wish more would do it.

Ok, one complaint. The early-season Top 25 ballots are now insane. There was a time I could just make a few adjustments in the first few in-season ballots and not worry about. Those times are gone and the start of this season is one of the more insane.

But again… I shouldn’t complain. Getting to see this much good basketball early on is fun.

This week’s ballot was tough. Sixteen of the teams on my preseason ballot suffered a loss. There was also a total of 26 losses!

Now some have argued that we (D3hoops.com) should have a poll the first Monday of the season. I am personally glad we don’t. It can be difficult trying to make sense of only a couple of games. I realize that the number of losses on my ballot is reflective of 12 days of competition. That said, the kinds of losses were baffling. There were many situations where Team A beat ranked Team B, but then Team A lost to ranked or unranked Team C who Team B had beaten.

Undefeated Illinois Wesleyan’s early opponents didn’t impress Dave to include them on his ballot. However, the next part of the schedule is outstanding. (Courtesy: Illinois Wesleyan Athletics)

Another interesting item: there are a LOT of teams who are undefeated who basically have played no one. Or at the very least, no one who has any record worth talking about. It is the polar opposite of what I talked about in terms of teams playing better competition early on. I skipped over quite a few undefeated teams when I looked at their schedule and saw they basically had played no one – or at least not much of an opponent’s record.

So, I went with a game plan to tackle this week’s poll ballot:

  • Any team I had in the preseason Top 25 and suffered a single loss, I penciled in to their same spot to start with – no up or down movement.
  • Any team that suffered more than one loss, I shifted downward immediately.
  • Any team who was undefeated needed a win on their schedule against a team above .500 if I was going to move them up or include them on the ballot.

That’s where I started. You will find that at least with the first bullet point that I stuck with that well. There were some occasions, especially with the third point, that I had to get away a bit from the tenant. I had to do something to fill in 25 slots. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have enough teams to fit on my ballot. Too many teams didn’t necessarily below in the Top 25 no matter their record.

I will concede, though, maybe the standards have to be adjusted (you know… parity). I considered that. It only resulted in having far too many teams in the conversation. If I was going to put in Team X, then Team Y, Z, S, T, U, and others needed to be there for the same reasons. That wasn’t going to work.

Did you follow? I totally understand if you didn’t. There is a lot going on and trying to read into results, follow the strings, and decipher the tea leaves can sometimes be a little too “inside politics” – ok, “inside baseball.”

With that in mind, here is my ballot for Week 1. If you missed how voted in the Preseason, click here.

Jack Daly and the Panthers are off to a strong start, but only play four more times before the New Year. (Courtesy: Middlebury Athletics

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)

3 – Williams (Unchanged)

4 – Middlebury (Up 3)
The Panthers look good this season. I certainly don’t expect them to tear through the NESCAC this season and their early season games aren’t exactly head-turning. I am sure we will find flaws eventually, but thanks to a number of losses Middlebury rises into the top five. Oddly, there are only four games on the Panthers’ schedule between now and 2018.

Kyle Dixon and the Marietta Pioneers started the season, once again, with impressive wins.

5 – Marietta (Up 9)
This is a bit of a jump, but there was a lot going on to result in this. First off, the Pioneers once again have started a season hot. They dominated Hope, withstood a very well coached St. Thomas team, and most importantly didn’t let down against their next two opponents. Of course, there were a number of teams around and above them that lost as well. Now, I do fear I am going to regret this decision at a later date. Marietta has shown their capabilities of starting a season hot and then hit some kind of lull later; sometimes twice. They are still trying to figure out new pieces and live up to expectations. Maybe they will surprise me and live up to this early season ranking.

6 – Ramapo (Down 2)
Not much to say. I mentioned on Hoopsville that their loss to Randolph-Macon concerned me. It showed again that just went I put my chips in, they struggle and drop a game – like early-round NCAA tournament game. Now, RMC shot the lights out of the building and I was told (from an impartial party) they put on a clinic. That is going to happen and I don’t want to necessarily hold that against the Roadrunners – except that is exactly what they will face in March. Ramapo can’t fall too far thanks to other teams’ results. I hope the RMC game is a reminder early in the season that every opponent has Ramapo as a target.

David Sachs is one of three Warhawks in double-figures early in the season. (Courtesy: UW-Whitewater Athletics)

7 – UW-Whitewater (Up 5)
I have to keep reminding myself that the Warhawks lost four starters from last season. That said, the pieces they have in place appear to make for a dangerous group. The debate I now have going on in my head: have I put far too much stock in Whitewater because I cannot put much stock in anyone else or is UWW back at the top of the conference and this is a horse worth riding. Despite moving them up five slots, I need more info and there wasn’t much to start the season.

8 – Hanover (Unchanged)

9 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)

10 – WashU (Unchanged)

11 – St. John’s (Unchanged)

12 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 4)
The Battling Bishops at least avoided what so many others couldn’t: losing early in the season. They had strong victories over competition that doesn’t seem as strong, but their resume also didn’t provide enough information to make a strong decision. OWU is probably a little too high on my ballot, but someone has to be slotted twelfth.

Ben Boots leads the Titans in scoring. Oshkosh could make the WIAC race a crowded one.

13 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 7)
Very much the same situation as Ohio Wesleyan, I feel the Titans are better than the teams behind them, but not necessarily a Top 15 squad… yet. Their resume included Benedictine, but the same Eagles squad we have known the last few seasons. They also had a win over St. Norbert, who once again seems to just reload faster than anyone else. We are clearly in no-man’s land here.

14 – Skidmore (Up 9)
These moves are directly related to the number of teams who lost not only in the Top 25, but elsewhere. I have stated I like the Thoroughbreds, but this may be too high especially with their same “shrug” resume. They at least won and to start this season that is worth noting. They also dominated a Plattsburgh squad we are used to be at least competitive. So I have Skidmore near the lead after breaking from the gate. When we hit the turn, I will be very curious to see how Skidmore tackles conference play.

Hobart made a splash to start the season defeating two preseason Top 25 squads.

15 – Hobart (Unranked)
Yeah, this is called buying in. My initial instincts when seeing the Statesmen had beaten both St. John Fisher and Rochester was they would absolutely on my ballot, but not in the Top 15. Several factors came into play including the fact that Hobart may be stronger than I gave them credit for in the preseason. They are the squad I hear people talking about in New York, they were picked to win the conference, and they started the season with two statement wins. I ended up moving them because …

16 – Rochester (Down 1)
… I had to get Hobart ahead of Rochester. If you have read these blogs often enough, you know that when Team A beats Team B I don’t necessarily just move A ahead of B. It usually is more complex than that and certainly not in a vacuum. The exception being the beginning of the season. There isn’t much else to compare against. I was nervous I had put too much on the Yellowjackets to start the season, but they impressed me to start including a win over a Stockton squad those in New Jersey keep whispering to me about.

St. Thomas is back on Dave’s ballot. Didn’t take long.

17 – St. Thomas (Unranked)
The Tommies can sometimes just baffle me… in a good way. I am also fully aware that sometimes teams are so well coached at they can end up coming out of the gates very well. It is when the season becomes a grind that young, inexperienced teams can then show their cracks. Those cracks are what I expected to see early on for UST. However, one of the best coaches in the country is at the helm. I should have remembered that.

18 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)

19 – New Jersey City (Unranked)
Hmm… even writing this makes me nervous. Yes, the Gothic Knights have started 5-0, however let’s be frank… they haven’t really played anyone. That said, their mid-season schedule is pretty solid and they at least avoided that thing we keep talking about – losses. The NJAC race is going to be once again a real battle. Maybe I am putting stock in NJCU too early, but they also have one of the more dynamic players in the region. They could be fun to watch.

20 – North Central (Ill.) (Down 15)
Wow. This was a rough start for the Cardinals. Who knows why, but losing to Heidelberg and Whitworth surprised me. Maybe Whitworth can be understandable if it was the only loss, however they already took the hit from Heidelberg, so I would have expected them to be more prepared for their trip to Hawaii (I need to find a way to run a tournament there!).

Bowdoin’s Hugh O’Neil earned a double-double in the Polar Bear’s win over defending national champions Babson. (Courtesy: Bowdoin Athletics0

21 – Bowdoin (Unranked)
This decision may be based only the fact the Polar Bears beat Babson. I watched a good part of that game and liked how Bowdoin played. While Babson isn’t as good as I expected, Bowdoin appears better than I figured.

22 – Emory (Unchanged)

23 – Babson (Down 17)
There is plenty of justification to simply remove the Beavers from my ballot. I guess I’m just not ready to do that. There are some who will never vote for anyone but the defending championship number one in the preseason. I don’t believe in that, but I could be guilty of giving a defending champ a little more leash at the start of a season. I like the pieces and the schedule is always one of the best. However, Babson didn’t look good in their losses to Endicott or Bowdoin.

MIT enters Dave’s ballot despite the loss to Keene State. (Courtesy: MIT Athletics)

24 – MIT (Unranked)
Despite taking a loss, I liked what I see from this Beavers squad. MIT has good, what appears to be talented, size inside and from those I listen to who have watched them more than I they are on a different level this season. Their win over Tufts made me notice; they loss to Keene State made me scratch my head – that’s going to happen a lot this season.

25 – Eastern Connecticut (Unranked)
The Warriors had a terrific start to the season. Their 5-0 start included wins over WPI, Montclair State, and Colby. That is at least a resume I can appreciate more than most early in the season. I had a lot of choices down in this part of the ballot and went with Eastern Connecticut because something about how they are playing intrigues me.

Dropped Out:

Tuft’s Vincent Pace has eclipsed the 1,000 career point plateau, but Tufts is off to a rougher start than Dave expected. (Courtesy: Tufts Athletics)

Tufts (Previously 13)
I had the Jumbos on my ballot pretty much until the very end. Despite a 2-3 record and having never voted for a team below .500 (I rail on coaches’ polls in other sports that always insist on having below .500 teams on their polls), I felt Tufts still have some terrific weapons and the ability to play with the best in the country. Then it occurred to me: they may have those pieces, but they still had a rough start to the season. They lost to a very good WashU squad and clearly a solid MIT team. They will return to my ballot should they put this stretch behind them. This could be temporary.

Guilford (Previously 17)
I am confident the Quakers are going to be the team to beat in the ODAC, but they didn’t start the season very strong. Their losses actually raise more questions about their opponents than it does about Guilford.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Previously 19)
Missed this one. Big time. I would love to tell those who are wondering what is going on with the Stags something I have learned. I don’t know. All I know is that their preseason All-American, Michael Scarlett, is dressed but not playing – no idea why. CMS has lost their first four games of the season and they just do not look good. I just do not know what to make of it except… this one feels like a big miss right now.

St. John Fisher looks like they have the right pieces to be in the national conversation this season despite early season losses. (Courtesy: St. John Fisher Athletics)

St. John Fisher (Previously 21)
I will freely admit I may have been too confident about the Cardinals. Despite a coaching change and losing a darn good center, I thought SJF would still be a team to reckon with. They are still good, but it is going to take time to get all of these pieces in place and clicking. Their win over Wooster actually kept the Scots off my ballot. Their loss to Hope is what took the Cardinals off my ballot.

Scranton (Previously 24)
Ouch. That may have been the roughest start I have seen from the Royals … ever. The loss to York – ok. The Spartans are a team people will be talking more about later in the season. The loss to Wilkes – interesting. Not sure what to make of the Colonels right now. Then there is the loss to Widener – guh. I have mentioned I worry about Scranton’s inside presence, but now I am worried something else might be amiss.

Nichols (Previously 25)
The Bison are a good team with some very good talent. Remember that. Their one loss was to Wesleyan which initially wasn’t going to result in demoting Nichols. However, to make that move I needed to put Wesleyan onto my ballot (i.e. my Hobart move). I am not ready to move Wesleyan. So, for now, the Bison are off my ballot. I doubt it will be for long.

So, there you go. A bit of a topsy-turvy Top 25 ballot. I am sure there will be quite a few more of these this season. In reality, this is a good thing. We get to enjoy interesting matchups and a lot of nights have games worth checking out. Certainly makes the beginning of the season far more fun.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Preseason ’17-’18

Preseason Top 25 work featured an extensive Excel spreadsheet, at least two notepads, and plenty of erasers.

The 2017-18 Division III basketball season is around the corner. Retirements, new coaches, transfers, new rules, and plenty more await us on November 15 when things officially get underway. I am certainly excited about the upcoming season, but will admit the last two months have flown by. Last I checked, I was putting some things in order while relaxing at my parent’s place in Down East Maine. Suddenly the season is roughly two weeks away and I don’t feel ready. Not sure how the teams feel!

This men’s basketball season promises to carry on the theme of the last few years: parity. Plenty of parity. That said, I felt I had less teams to consider for the Top 25 than I can remember in a long time. Maybe that’s because of parity. So many teams that have been outstanding are just good or pretty good now. There just doesn’t seem to be many outstanding teams. I felt I was saying, “eh, nope, not a Top 25 team on paper right now,” a lot. I said it to a lot of those perennial favorites as well.

I’ll give a spoiler away now. Amherst, Hope, St. Thomas, Whitworth, and Wooster didn’t even make my ballot. Most of them I didn’t consider after looking them over the first time through. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good teams. It is just so much harder to figure out the Top 25 because we now have a handful of really good teams and a ton of good to pretty good teams. Too many to fit on a ballot.

One other thing that surprised me, I voted for three WIAC, three NESCAC, three USAA, and two CCIW teams. Nothing against those quality conferences, but with so much parity I didn’t think 11 of the 25 slots would got to the four power conferences.

I will also admit, the preseason Top 25 sometimes feels like a crap-shoot. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. It is hard to take information on paper about a team, compare it from what you know (or remember) about the team the previous season, and weigh in factors like transfers, new players, and coaching changes. Those last three factors are nearly impossible to actually truly understand. One person’s “great addition” is another’s “let’s see what he can actually do.”

I am not incredibly confident I have read the tea leaves accurately this year. I stared at my notepads and Excel spreadsheet for long periods of time trying to figure out who really deserved to be, say, the 11th ranked team. Which teams was I completely misreading or misinterpreting. Was the loss of an important player going to hurt or maybe help? How much stock was I putting in historic performances and was that even fair to do?

As I’ve had said in many a preseason, at some point I had to just stick with what I had on paper and stop erasing and rewriting (thank goodness, I do these ballots with a pencil). I could erase and rewrite hundreds of times, but I was never going to feel satisfied with my results. There are teams that I could even argue may be too high, too low, should be ranked, should not be ranked.

Personally, I can’t wait to get a few weeks of basketball underway to better understand what I am reading or hearing.

I won’t bore you with any more of my odd-ball thinking. Let’s get to my ballot. I have included at least a brief note or thought about each team, so this will be lengthy. If you enjoy these kinds of things, have at it. If you rather just see who I ranked where and ignore the rest, I won’t take it personally.

First, here is how my ballot finished last season:

Babson coach Stephen Brennan chatting with me on the Hoopsville Courtside postgame show following the Beavers National Championship victory. (Courtesy: Babson Athletics)

1 – Babson
2 – Whitman
3 – Rochester
4 – Augustana
5 – Middlebury
6 – Marietta
7 – Ramapo
8 – Williams
9 – Hanover
10 – UW-River Falls
11 – Christopher Newport
12 – Hardin-Simmons
13 – Hope
14 – Washington Univ.
15 – Tufts
16 – St. John Fisher
17 – Ohio Wesleyan
18 – Keene State
19 – New Jersey City
20 – Benedictine
21 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
22 – Whitworth
23 – Denison
24 – UW-Whitewater
25 – Susquehanna

Now to my ballot for this season’s D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25 (remember, I am just a single voter of 25 total):

Whitman hopes to take trade in their 2017 Sectional Championship trophy for something with a little more gold in in it.

1 – Whitman
This one was about as slam dunk as they get in recent years. After nearly going undefeated for the entire season with the lone loss being to the eventual national champions in the national semifinals in one of the best games I’ve witnessed… someone else had to impress me to knock the Blues off the top perch on my ballot. Especially considering everyone returns!

2 – Augustana
One theme you are going to hear a lot from me is “this feels a bit high.” Augustana came out of nowhere last season and made it to the national championship for the second time in three years, but they felt at least a season early. The Vikings bring back a lot of talent, but also need to fill some holes. I hope I am not expecting too much from Rock Island.

3 – Williams
Four starters return to a squad that also seemed to be a year early. Ephs seem to finally have rebuilt, but they also lost a lot in two players graduating. Expectations are going to be high in Western Mass.

4 – Ramapo
Nothing shakes my head more than the Roadrunners who had a record season last campaign, but once again seemed to hit the glass ceiling. And when they hit that ceiling they tend to hit it hard. Ramapo brings back a ton from last year’s squad including Mr. Everything Tom Bonacum plus a bevy of transfers, but this squad has got to be focused on the bigger picture. I would have ranked them #2 if I had confidence they could break through when it matters most. I also thought about ranking them lower.

5 – North Central (Ill.)
Connor Raridon returns (if you ask some fans, his season-ending injury still affected the team 20 games after the fact) and that means all five starters are back for the Cardinals along with nearly all of the offensive production. It is going to be a battle in the CCIW this season with a lot of good teams (Carthage, IWU among others), so I expect NCC to take some lumps, but they could also turn some heads.

Babson’s national championship came in part to the incredible play, including this championship-winning block, of Joey Flannery.

6 – Babson
When you lose one of the best players to play in Division III to graduation after winning the national championship, the next campaign doesn’t expectations as lofty. I figured I would drop Babson far because I just am not sure you can ever make up for what you lose in Joey Flannery, but once again the Beavers have a wealth of transfers that could keep them atop the NEWMAC, the Northeast, and in the national conversation.

7 – Middlebury
Tough read on the Panthers. Four starters return, but that accounts for only half of their offensive output last season. Losing Matt St. Amour is big; however, it also could make this team come together even more and provide more options and targets. Losing an incredible talent may be the perfect thing to bring it all together.

8 – Hanover
Yeah, I am not sure if this is a bit of a reach or not. The Panthers had a tremendous season last campaign and return four starters, the conference Player of the Year, and nearly 80-percent of their offense. However, will everything ride on Wes McKinney or are their other options to keep Hanover in the conversation? I have more questions than answers and feel I may be putting too much stock in Hanover early.

9 – UW-River Falls
Another team who had a great campaign where I am not sure what to make of the off-season. Lost two starters which accounted for about a third of the team’s points and half the assists. Can UWRF keep the momentum moving forward? Has UWRF permanently changed the conversation atop the WIAC? I think they may have, but the WIAC race will be the toughest it has been in a few years.

10 – Washington Univ.
I haven’t hidden the fact I have not been as impressed with the Bears in recent years. However, it appears what some would call a “rebuilding” or a “retooling” has brought us to this season. The UAA is ripe for the taking and I don’t see why WashU won’t be on top at season’s end. Three starters and 75% of the offense with weapons in all places on the floor. I like how it reads on paper, but want to see how it plays on the court before I move them up higher.

St. John’s sophomore David Stokman looks to continue the rise of the Johnnies in the MIAC.

11 – St. John’s
That is not a typo. The Johnnies showed last year they are ready to dethrone St. Thomas in the MIAC. All five starters return, nearly all the scoring, plus three players in double-figures in the starting five with weapons at guard, forward, and center. I think St. John’s is ready to surprise a lot of people who haven’t been paying attention to anyone but the Tommies in the MIAC.

12 – UW-Whitewater
Is the rebuilding process over? Whitewater has had a few seasons where the team hasn’t been where people are used to them, but it seems that is now in the past. The pieces appear to be there. It feels like Whitewater will make it a thick race atop the conference.

13 – Tufts
What I saw the Jumbos do in the postseason without their center, Tom Palleschi, gives me confidence they will have a strong season this year now that he has graduated. Three starters back including Vincent Pace not to mention a lot of scoring options. I think Tufts is here to stay in the upper echelon of the NESCAC.

14 – Marietta
Here is another team that lost quite a bit, but may surprise. Yes, losing AJ Edwards and others (accounting for over half the points) hurts, but the Pioneers have a transfer from Wooster and Ohio Valley (DII) that seem ready to contribute right away. The start of the season will be very difficult and will prove either I have put too much stock in Marietta or they are going to bounce back nicely.

15 – Rochester
I’ll be blunt: the Yellowjackets lost a lot! I had them in and out of my ballot a dozen times. I still am not sure I should have voted for them, let alone 15th. Sam Borst-Smith, Mack Montague, and Zach Ayers made that offense click and nearly knocked off Whitman in the Elite Eight. They have a lot of talent back and the name recognition helps with recruiting. I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do in the preseason, but the ballot is already in.

Ohio Wesleyan senior guard Nate Axelrod looks to continue the Battling Bishops’ success from the last half of last season.

16 – Ohio Wesleyan
The Battling Bishops have one of the best, if not the best, point guards in Division III basketball. Nate Axelrod had an off-season last campaign maybe because he was the focus of every defense. However, it is his senior campaign and he has some more options around him to take the pressure off. I suspect OWU will quietly surprise some people as they did to close out the second half of last season.

17 – Guilford
Admittedly, the ODAC is down. Randolph-Macon could show that last year wasn’t a fluke with far more experience, but I still think the ODAC campaign goes through North Carolina this season. That said, I do wonder if the Quakers are not a little distracted. Administrative changes have removed the AD title from Tom Palombo who was also in the running to be the next Washington & Lee head coach prior to that title change. Or maybe those distractions and less responsibility will galvanize this unit. I’ll be watching Guilford quite a bit this season.

18 – Christopher Newport
It seems the Captains missed their chance last season losing to Keene State in the NCAA third round. They have only lost five total games the last two seasons, but come in to this season banged up and having lost a lot of leadership from last year. Reports are Marcus Carter won’t be back until the second semester after knee surgery and others will be missing as well. The CAC may be easier to win this time around (Salisbury rebuilding and no other serious threats seemingly on the horizon), but on a national level CNU’s performance may not impress many. This is a wait and see season.

CMS’s Michael Scarlett lives up to the name rather well. He is also a dangerous offensive threat who sets his teammates up well.

19 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
It appears CMS has built something for the long run in Southern California. Or at least for consecutive seasons. Michael Scarlett will lead the way with his incredible three-point and free throw shooting along with looking to help others. CMS should roll through the SCIAC and look to finally make a run in March.

20 – UW-Oshkosh
A third team from the WIAC on my ballot… and it isn’t UW-Stevens Point. Oshkosh has been the most consistent in conference the last few seasons, but maybe I am buying too much stock. Three starters and most of their offense is back. As I wrote in my notes, “I like what I see on paper, but…” Not sure what the “but” will produce.

21 – St. John Fisher
Lost their best player in Keegan Ryan and then their coach, Rob Kornaker, announces his resignation (retirement?) shortly before practices begin. Losing those two men alone had me leaning towards not voting for the Cardinals (the pessimistic side of me wondering if Kornaker’s decision to leave was because he knew this campaign wouldn’t be as good despite saying he wanted to see his son play in college). However, I am going with SJF early because they still return four starters and nine players who played more than then minutes a game on average last season. Their assistant coach, who was groomed by Kornaker, takes over. It could still be a good squad in the East.

Adam Gigax and the Emory Eagles hope some time playing in Italy this summer will springboard their upcoming campaign.

22 – Emory
A third team from the UAA in my Top 25. Yeah, I am unsure. This is the area of the ballot where sometimes it might be better to throw darts. The Yellow Jackets should be good. They are one of the most consistent teams in the last six years in the UAA. That said, it seems they haven’t returned to the level we saw from them a few years ago. Another team where I am not sure if I am reading the tea leaves correctly or not.

23 – Skidmore
One of the best players in the East Region and maybe the country returns for the Thoroughbreds who have a lot of talent in a lot of different ways. However, they haven’t been able to put a consistent season together … yet. Maybe I like this team more than I should. Maybe I like and see more in Edvinas Rupkus than I should. I am willing to admit Skidmore has a lot to prove others than it does me and that may mean I have blinders on.

24 – Scranton
The one thing I can absolutely say with certainty about the Royals: they are one of the more consistent programs in Division III men’s basketball. I know they will be at the top of the conference and being considered for Top 25 attention every season. They bring back a lot of weapons, but for the first time in many years I think they are missing a key piece inside (center). How they handle finding the answers down low, so Ethan Danzig doesn’t feel like he has all the pressure on him to produce, will be the key.

Nichols looks to stay a top the CCC and continue to make waves nationally this season. (Courtesy: Nichols Athletics)

25 – Nichols
Here is my wild card. The Bison return nearly everyone from a campaign that turned a lot of heads, including their NCAA tournament appearance (before being crushed by Endicott). Nichols returns four starters and over 80-percent of the points scored from last season including DeAnte Bruton’s 21.3 ppg. However, the Bison have nothing on their schedule that will reveal much about them. Wesleyan, Trinity (Conn.), and Endicott (who lost a lot) are the only games of note. That will make it hard for Nichols to climb my ballot or appear on many others.

Sometimes in the past I have revealed other teams I have on my radar. Other years I have not. I debated long and hard about doing it this year and decided not. Too many people think if I don’t mention a team even on my radar that I am somehow slighting them or the squad when there is absolutely no way I can list every single team I can or did consider in some manner or way.

And with that, this preseason ballot vote is done. Plenty of questions, not a lot of answers, and still two weeks until we see any meaningful basketball played. I look forward to seeing what teams I gauged correctly and which ones I completely missed on. Believe it or not, even when I am wrong I am delighted with the process. Voting in the only Division III men’s basketball ballot is an honor and it allows me to better understand programs, conferences, regions, and much more far better than I could otherwise.

Enjoy the season, folks, and don’t forget to join me on Hoopsville starting Thursday, November 16 – it is out 15th Season Debut! I can’t imagine doing anything else this time of year.

Apparently Salem’s ‘facilities’ are to blame

Salem Civic Center prior to the 2017 men’s basketball semifinals. Courtesy: d3photography.com

The NCAA, or more particularly the particular sports committees, are going to regret the decision to leave Salem, Virginia.

I will admit, that may be pretty blunt and may come from a bias point of view. I have traveled to the Roanoke Valley for NCAA championships since March of 2001. I was introduced to the Salem Civic Center the first season we to put Hoopsville on the air. Pat Coleman invited Jared Rosenbaum and me to what had become the mecca of Division III basketball. Pat’s alma mater which happened to be my alma mater’s biggest rival, Catholic, won the national title that year. It didn’t take anything away from my experience.

I haven’t missed a trip to Salem for basketball since. I have also added a few other trips as well and have now been to over 25 Division III championships in the Roanoke Valley. 17 men’s basketball, 7 football, and 2 soccer. By the time Salem “loses” the football and men’s basketball championships, that total may be 28 or more.

In all those events, not once did I ever think, “I wish the championships had a better place to be. I wish the facilities were better. D-III deserves a better place.”

Not once.

UW-Oshkosh football teams runs out of the tunnel and shower of fireworks onto the field at Salem Stadium in Stagg Bowl 44 last Decemeber. Courtesy: Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

But the men’s basketball and football committees has apparently decided that there are better “facilities” to visit with the championships then Salem. At least, that is what I have been told. “Facilities” was the reason for the decision to leave Salem with football and men’s basketball after 25 and 23 years (following next season) respectively.

Fine. There are flashy new stadiums and arenas to visit. There are apparently members on the men’s basketball committee, at least, who seem to want newer and maybe bigger facilities among other arguments.

Are Salem’s facilities old? Sure. Are they bad? Not in the least. I fear members of the men’s basketball committee have lost focus of the bigger picture while wishing for “better” facilities.

The reason Salem is so well regarded and loved had nothing to do with the facilities. It was because of the experience, especially for the student-athletes, was the best of the best.

As my broadcast partner the last two seasons in Salem for the men’s basketball championships, Lincoln Rose, said during halftime of this year’s men’s title game, Salem “create(s) a national stage, a spotlight for student-athletes who put in put in just as much hours and sweat-equity as well as balance that with academics and you really reward them for all of their hard work and give them a memory they can take with them.”

I couldn’t say it better myself. Salem has provided one of the most amazing championship experiences not only in Division III but in Division II as well. I’d even argue they beat out some of the D-I experiences that I have been part of as well.

Babson men’s basketball practicing at Salem Civic Center (Courtesy: Babson Athletics)

Salem has made sure the student-athletes feel special. Salem has put in place things that are now standard for all Division III championships: mementos for the student-athletes, community service events, host families for each team, and more. What Salem has started and created is now standard for all Division III championships and even other events throughout the NCAA. And Salem is never satisfied with the status quo.

By the way, “Salem” is an easy catch-all for a lot of individuals. Carey Harveycutter, the director of tourism for the City of Salem, is a huge advocate of student-athletes, highly respected in the NCAA. John Saunders was Harveycutter’s right-hand man until he recently retired and has made sure things run smoothly behind the scenes. Brad Bankston is one of the most respected individuals in Division III as the long time commissioner of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and works to put out any fires. J.J. Nekeloff does more than his assistant commissioner and SID role for the ODAC would imply, running media operations like a well oiled machine. And there are more from the ODAC (including member institutions) and the Salem Civic Center event staff who help in small and large ways. I haven’t even mentioned the countless numbers of volunteers who are everywhere and always with a smile on their faces.

I never hear anyone complain. I never see someone roll their eyes. I see ridiculously long hours and incredible pride.

And while “facilities” is the reasoning, Salem has always worked to improve their facilities and experience. Every single seat in the Salem Civic Center has been replaced, the signage and accents around the walls have all been changed and upgraded, they have replaced the arena’s lighting system, brought in spotlights, even toyed with specialty, show lighting in past years. This is the second or third basketball floor in 23 years, there are tunnels for the teams to run through, video screens to add to the crowd atmosphere, and this year we saw video score tables at center court.

Roanoke College’s Kerr Stadium, site of the Division III men’s and women’s soccer championships in 2016. Courtesy: NCAA.com

Did you know Salem has been using whistle timing systems for more than 15 years? They have finally made their way into the D-I basketball tournaments in the last few years, but Salem made sure the refs whistle stopped the clock for a long time. It is that kind of forward thinking that has made Salem special and made them a championship city.

The city’s respect in the NCAA is so high they were chosen to host the soccer championships with about two months warning when the event was pulled out of Greensboro, N.C. due to the state’s infamous “bathroom bill.” What is significant is Roanoke College’s field is turf. The soccer championships had never been held on anything but natural grass. There were other sites in consideration that had natural grass. The NCAA chose Salem because they knew the experience for the student-athletes wouldn’t be affected.

Outside the Salem Civic Center in 2017.

The student-athlete experience is more important than anything else. In 2013, the men’s championship game was taken to Atlanta, along with D-II, to be part of the 75th anniversary of men’s basketball in the NCAA. Salem was getting the short end of the stick since they had been awarded the bid to host the championship that year. But Salem was asked to do something else: host the quarterfinals and semifinals and do it a week later than scheduled. Anyone who understands how facilities are used and rented knows moving an event by a week is hard to do. Most facilities like the Salem Civic Center have their dates (especially weekends) locked in years in advance. But Salem moved the weekend and easily hosted the elite eight. It was so well done and such a tremendous experience there has been serious conversations of making the elite eight an annual thing in the future. Well… until now.

But the story doesn’t end there. Harveycutter, Bankston, Nekeloff, and others headed to Atlanta to help put the championship game on in ATL. And they brought some ideas back to southwest Virginia with them.

The next December Harveycutter mentioned had an idea for the men’s basketball championship banquet and wondered if I might be available. He had seen the celebration event Division I did featuring Jim Nantz chatting with the coaches and then the student-athletes from each team in a low-key, conversational setting. Harveycutter wanted to do that in Salem, replacing speeches from a player and coach from each team. That made its debut the next year in Salem and lasted for several years, then was replaced with yet another change to the banquet to allow it to be fun and low-key for the student-athletes.

One of the mementos given to the teams who made it to the 2013 quarterfinals in Salem, Virginia.

There are about 500 teams who have been on the “Road to Salem” and not returned with a championship. Do you think those teams have anything bad to say about the experience outside of not coming home with the Walnut and Bronze? I’m confident no one complained about facilities. No one looks around the Salem Civic Center and thinks we are in a crappy situation. No one looks around Salem Stadium and worries the stands aren’t big enough or they are going to collapse. No one. Never. But apparently “facilities” is more important to the Division III committees (and maybe in some part the NCAA) then the overall experience these championships have created over decades.

In the meantime, the “Road to Salem” will lose its luster. The “Road to Somewhere” will mean less especially to the student-athletes who know nothing else.  The student-athletes playing today weren’t even born the last time Salem didn’t host the semifinals. This means something to them. This means something to Division III and because “facilities” aren’t up to someone’s par the experience will take at least a four-year hiatus – if not more.

Colton Hunt, left, awarded the Jostens Trophy in 2013 in Salem, Virginia. He is accompanied by then Randolph coach Clay Nunley. Courtesy: Randolph Athletics

In addition, I have to wonder what the NABC does to run their All-Star Game. Salem had a pivotal role in that game every year. And the Jostens Trophy is handed out each year in Salem, but more importantly it is given out by the Salem Rotary Club and administrated by Bankston, Nekeloff, and others.

Starting in December 2018, football and then men’s basketball will have new hosts for at least four years. Good luck to them. They are going to have to replace the hospitality, community experience, and more that Salem has made the standard. I guess they will have some incredible facilities, but I won’t be looking at that. When I watch games, I look at the court and the student-athletes on that court. When I am in a community, I look at what is going on around the game and the experience those teams are having. As Pat Coleman points out, these new sites will have to live up to a pretty high bar, but I guess their new facilities will have them one step ahead in the eyes of some on the committees.

I won’t use the words I am really thinking about this decision. Instead I will say this. I’m disappointed.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 12

Whitman finished the regular season undefeated. Worthy of noting for a team that entered the Top 25 for the first time in program history just last season.

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.”

WashU was one of a few teams that were threatened, but didn’t fall to teams not even being considered in the Top 25. WashU also punched the first ticket to the NCAA tournament. Congrats! (Courtesy: WashU Athletics)

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.

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)

3 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)

4 – Ramapo (Up 1)

5 – Middlebury (Up 2)

Rochester can afford to stumble at the end and still get into the tournament, but they may not host as a result. (Courtesy: Rochester Athletics)

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)

Hanover should be pumped. They are in control of the HCAC and could reap the benefits in the NCAA tournament. (Courtesy: Hanover Athletics)

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)

Nate Axelrod and the Battling Bishops are slicing through teams as many expected they would be doing all season. (Courtesy: Ohio Wesleyan Athletics)

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.

Lycoming is getting contributions from everyone including sophomore T.J. Duckett (Courtesy: Lycoming Athletics)

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.

Dropped Out:

The Quakers need to make a run at the Salem Civic Center to assure they get into the NCAA tournament – something ODAC top-seeds tend to struggle to do. (Courtesy: Guilford Athletics)

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 will sit on the Pool C bubble the longest mainly because they were eliminated from the NESCAC tournament on Saturday. Could be a scary place to be this week. (Courtesy: Amherst Athletics)

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.

Previous Ballots:
Week 11
Week 10
Week 7
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

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.