Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 12

WashU is one of the strongest teams in the country with results in the first half that make you look twice. (Courtest: WashU Athletics)

The regular season is coming to a close and I think there are still plenty of questions as to who are the top 25 teams in the country. There could be arguments made for a number of teams to be in the poll and a number of arguments against those in the poll (or being discussed). That’s because there are a lot of good teams, not a lot of great teams, and a number of teams can beat others on any given night. That also makes comparing games, like second conference matchups, more complicated.

The other complication I have noticed this season is the dramatic difference between the beginning of the season and the end. We are all used to teams improving from start to finish, but it feels this season there are a number of squads who are completely different than they were in November and December. Sometimes looking back at those games to get a sense of a team is beneficial. This season it just makes one scratch their head more. WashU is one of the strongest teams in the country right now, but they were dominated by Augustana earlier this year. Granted, Augie is no longer at full-strength, but WashU doesn’t even seem to resemble that previous squad. Plattsburgh State has a player now playing who missed the first eight games that makes their squad completely different. There are plenty of other examples. The difference between the first half and second half seems more extreme this season.

Now, for those of you who are screaming I shouldn’t worry about the first half when ranking the Top 25 because the poll should be about now, not cumulative, I hear you. I am not indicating I am ranking based on November. However, early season results also gives you an understanding of where this team has been, where they have come, and most importantly the type of team they are against other opposition. I may lean more on the last few weeks currently, but the entire season provides insight… usually.

Of course, Sunday on Hoopsville Ryan Scott and I discussed the poll in the “Top 25 Double-take.” You can watch the segment below (just click on play; segment is cued up):

The fascinating part about the ballot work this week was … this was the easiest week of the season for me. I had teams to drop and needed to find teams to replace them, that wasn’t easy, however the vast majority of the ballot work was somewhat easy. I moved a few teams around, but it seemed more obvious this week. There were only seven losses amongst seven teams on my ballot this week – that is a piece of cake in comparison to the rest of the season. I know full well there will be more losses next week, but we know that most of the ballot will lose in the final week.

Since I got through my ballot quickly, we might as well wrap up this blog quickly. Let’s get to how I ranked teams. A reminder, here is last week’s ballot. And with that, here is my D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot for Week 12:

UW-Platteville has had a tremendous turn-around from last season.

1 – Whitman (NC)

2 – WashU (NC)

3 – St. John’s (NC)

4 – UW-Platteville (+1)

5 – Wittenberg (-1)
I am a little nervous about the Tigers. Lost two in a row before pulling off a spectacular win over Wooster in the regular season finale. The loss to Hiram I worried opened up the flood gates. It was followed by a loss to Heidelberg, who has beaten some very good teams on the road this season, which seemed to show the dam coming apart. However, Witt got back on top of things against Wooster. The simple fact it was a close game made me breathe a sigh of relief. I’m still nervous that the late season losses could bring the season to a close with a thud.

6 – Whitworth (NC)

7 – Wooster (NC)

8 – Emory (+1)

9 – Hamilton (+1)

10 – Williams (+1)

11 – Plattsburgh State (+1)

12 – Eastern Conn. State (+1)

13 – Illinois Wesleyan (+1)

York (Pa.) has lost two of their last three and four of their last nine. Not the best of finishes for the Spartans. (Courtesy: YCP Athletics)

14 – York (Pa.) (-6)
I said weeks ago that the final game of the regular season at Christopher Newport would be a bell-weather for the Spartans. Unfortunately, it was even more important after a couple of additional losses in the conference season. York ended up squandering away the home-court advantage in the loss to CNU and with it I worry have put themselves in a tough spot this season. It has been a magical season and I still love what they have in their starting five – but they are exposed if they have to go to the bench.

15 – Cabrini (+1)

16 – Augustana (-1)
The Vikings appear to have lost another starter for the rest of the season. I debated about moving them down further on that news, but thought it be more fair to see how they perform this week. Sadly, I am not seeing a lot of signs that a return to Salem is in the cards with this latest injury, but I do want to see how they respond.

17 – Salem State (NC)

18 – Wesleyan (+1)

19 – Nichols (+1)

Hobart’s 15-game winning streak came to an end against Union in the regular season finale. (Courtesy: Hobart Athletics)

20 – Hobart (-1)
The Statesmen finished the regular season with a loss to Union. Ok then. Not exactly a sign of strength in my opinion. The loss ended a 15 game winning streak. I realize Union is decent this year (16-8 overall), but I expected a win to finish things there. Maybe the loss will be well timed. We shall see.

21 – Johns Hopkins (+1)

22 – Swarthmore (+1)

NWU has a schedule that leaves lots of questions. Are they as good as many expected? (Courtesy: Nebraska Wesleyan Athletics)

23 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NR)
I have said several times I am not in love with the Prairie Wolves schedule. Their out of conference schedule left a lot to be desired and not a lot to truly gauge. They then entered IIAC play and immediately got thumped by Buena Vista. Just when it seemed they shook that off, they have a head-scratching loss to Simpson. So why did I vote for them? I’ve been turning towards teams that have at least still winning late in the season. NWU returned the favor on BVU (on the road) and then handled Loras and Wartburg in their last few. I have plenty of questions still, but Nebraska Wesleyan is doing more than most right now.

24 – Christopher Newport (NR)
Ryan Scott reminded me of the Captains when he brought them up on Hoopsville Sunday (see above). I have seen CNU in person this year and while they aren’t the squad we expected, they are playing well and those who weren’t going to get any experience are very seasoned now. They defeated York to finish the season and now control the CAC playoffs through southeastern Virginia. I am not sure if CNU is nearly at the same level as the last few years, but they are returning to form with new players.

Marietta is back in Dave’s ballot because someone from the OAC should be. (Courtesy: Marietta Athletics)

25 – Marietta (NR)
I have to vote for some OAC team. The conference has been too competitive not to, but I really struggled as to who to vote for this week. I had John Carroll on my short list for a few weeks. I had been voting for Baldwin Wallace (pretty high recently) before they become unglued. I’ve been watching Marietta much of the season and they haven’t been blowing me away, but they seem to be more consistent than others right now. Some could argue JCU is the better team and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but the lost to Capital to finish the regular season resulted in my selection of the PIoneers and not the Blue Streaks.

NC – No Change from previous ballot
NR – Not Ranked on previous ballot
+ – Movement up – number of spots – from previous ballot
– – Movement down – number of spots – from the previous ballot

Dropped Out (Previous Ranking):

UW-Stevens Point (21)
The Pointers have been the talk of the WIAC the entire conference season. They have surprised all with how well they have played, but their loss to Eau Claire was maybe more surprising considering their success to date. The BluGolds were 3-10 in the conference (all in the 2018) before that game and got past the Pointers by a point. SMH Maybe UWSP comes back roaring and will be just as dangerous, but that finish had me remove them from my Top 25.

Middlebury (24)
Three losses in a row and I can’t keep riding the Panthers. I get that they have done this before this season, but that is the problem… this is the second time they have gone through this kind of rough spot. They went from having the NESCAC tournament come through Vermont for the very first time to losing the hosting and out of the tournament in a week’s time. Now they sit for two-weeks before probably playing in the NCAA tournament. Like UWSP, this may be well timed. I’m not that confident.

Maryville (25)
I like the Scots, but I am not sure they finished the season strong, either. Last week they had three games and only lost one, but it was to Huntingdon and – again – not the team to lose to if you are proving you are that good. Maybe well timed (did I mention that?), but we have to wait to see

Previous Ballot Blogs:
Week 11
Week 10
Week 9 – not available (see Week 10 blog for ballot)
Week 8
Week 7 – not available (see Week 8 blog for ballot)
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 3 – not available (see Week 4 blog for ballot)
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

There is one more poll coming before we head into the NCAA tournament (with the final poll coming after the championships are handed out). I am sure there will be a ton of different results to sift through next week. Ryan has already said he is blowing up the entire ballot (see above). I am quite sure I will do something of the same, though I will be very busy at the same time.

Speaking of which, don’t forget there are a few must-watch items coming up in the next week:

  • Hoopsville Thursday Edition – Thursday, Feb. 22 at 7:00 PM ET
  • Hoopsville: Selection Sunday Special – Sunday, February 25 at 6:00 PM ET (or earlier)
  • NCAA Men’s Bracket Reveal – Monday, February 26 at 12:30 PM ET*
  • NCAA Women’s Bracket Reveal – Monday, February 26 at 2:30 PM ET*
  • Hoopsville Bracket Breakdown – Monday, February 26 at 3:30 PM ET
  • * – times may adjust

Follow Hoopsville on Twitter (@d3hoopsville), Instragram (@d3hoopsville), and Facebook (www.facebook.com/Hoopsville) along with D3hoops.com on Twitter and Facebook and the front page for more information on all of those shows.

It is a very exciting part of the season. Allow us to help guide you through the craziness!

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 10

There never seems to be enough time in a week for everything.

Another ballot blog that starts and will include the following items:

  • – Apology to those who find these interesting enough to read for not getting the blog out last week.
  • – Once again, struggled to figure out what to do with teams starting around the fifth spot on down.
  • – Not sure who to include or add to the ballot when dealing with teams that should drop.
  • – Have I mentioned parity?

So yeah… sorry about not getting my ballot out last week. I was even thinking about slamming something together that at least showed you my ballot, but I got tied up prepping for the 5th Annual Hoopsville Marathon. One idea in the future on challenges weeks is to see if a fellow poster would like to write something we can feature instead. That way we don’t leave the blog unwritten for a week.

Before we go any further, here is what my ballot looked like for Week 9 (January 29 ballot) – by the way, new technique on indicating movement; see below the ballot for notations:

WashU continues to be second-ranked on Dave’s ballot, but they may be the strongest team in the country. (Courtesy: WashU Athletics)

1 – Whitman (NC)
2 – WashU
(NC)
3 – Wittenberg (NC)
4 – St. John’s (NC)
5 – Middlebury (+1)
6 – MIT (+3)
7 – Emory (-2)
8 – Illinois Wesleyan (+6)
9 – Emory & Henry (+1)
10 – York (Pa.) (-2)
11 – UW-Platteville (+6)
12 – Wesleyan (+2)
13 – Swarthmore (+5)
14 – UW-Whitewater (-2)
15 – Hamilton (-4)
16 – Whitworth (+3)
17 – Maryville (+3)
18 – Augustana (-3)
19 – Gwynedd Mercy (+2)
20 – Williams (+3)
21 – Eastern Connecticut (+3)
22 – New Jersey City (-6)
23 – Wooster (NR)
24 – Cabrini (-2)
25 – Baldwin Wallace (-18)

NC – No Change from previous ballot
NR – Not Ranked on previous ballot
+ – Movement up – number of spots – from previous ballot
– – Movement down – number of spots – from the previous ballot

The feeling Dave has some nights when he looks at the D3hoops.com Scoreboard.

Earlier this season, especially in early January, it was all about “Bloody Wednesdays.” On several occasions, Wednesday nights would include a LOT of red (indicating losses) especially in men’s basketball. This past week it appears to have been the weekend instead of Wednesday, primarily …. though, Wednesday was pretty rough as well. My Week 9 ballot saw fifteen losses amongst twelve teams; seven losses amongst eight teams in my Top 15.

Ugly.

It has been like that nearly every week. When doing Week 9’s ballot, my ballot had ten losses amongst eleven teams. That might be the least amount of losses so far.

It has resulted in one major challenge the last few weeks: teams ranked in spots that feel far, far too high. I spoke a few weeks ago that starting at number five just consider everyone five spots lower. That continues. I am not trying to be disrespectful towards any team, it is just that I don’t think their body of work and their play currently represents a team that is, say, tenth best in the country. I am somewhat comfortable with the top four. Once I hit number-five, I don’t think they are the fifth, sixth, seventh, etc. best teams in the country. However, we aren’t allowed to leave spots blank, but we have discussed that before.

And then the other challenge: who should be in the Top 25? Each week, the other big challenge is who to include. Each week teams come off, others are added. The challenge is… how many and who? The further down you go on the ballot, the harder it is to figure things out. That isn’t new, but because of parity the pool has gotten deeper in recent years and in recent weeks. Three, four, five-loss teams and others are a very large group of teams with resumes that run the gamut.

When it comes down to these teams, one of the things I battle with is whether the team I’m considering can continue playing well and won’t take a loss (ore a series of them) in the near future. I’m not sure if it is the right way to think about it, but I hate the feeling of adding a team to the ballot and the next week immediately removing them. It feels like an “oops.” I have had it happen often, but it doesn’t mean I like it. My mentality is if I select a new team for the Top 25, they are rising and should stay there.

Let’s just get to the ballot for Week 10. A friendly reminder, I am just one of 25 voters, so my ballot only carries the weight of one voter.

Whitman remains the top team on Dave’s ballot. This week features a rematch with Whitworth. Plenty of questions will be answered… hopefully. (Courtesy: Whitman Athletics)

1 – Whitman (NC)

2 – WashU (NC)

3 – Wittenberg (NC)

4 – St. John’s (NC)
Yes, the Johnnies suffered their first loss in the MIAC when St. Olaf took them down. However, I didn’t expect SJU to get through the conference schedule unscathed. St. Olaf did a nice job slowing down a really good offense. I just didn’t feel it meant I needed to drop them into the melee below.

5 – Middlebury (NC)

6 – UW-Platteville (+5)
I realize UW-Stevens Point is leading the conference, but the turnaround and the way the Pioneers are playing this season really impresses me. I do think I have them a bit high, but everyone is high at this point.

7 – York (Pa.) (+3)

IWU’s eight-game win stream came to an end this week, but Dave didn’t move them. (Courtesy: Illinois Wesleyan Athletics)

8 – Illinois Wesleyan (NC)
I know the Titans lost to Augustana, but it was close. Not like the IWU win over Augie earlier this season. Honestly, a narrow loss gives me more confidence in IWU than it makes me confused about the two. If Augie had smoked IWU, I would have put them next to each other … well, that “other” result had something to do with it as well. IWU is good, just not sure just how good.

9 – Hamilton (+6)
I am not thrilled I have two NESCAC teams in my Top 10. Dave Hixon’s thoughts on the Hoopsville Marathon Thursday only confirmed what I had been thinking – the top of the NESCAC may not be great, but the conference is pretty damn good from top to bottom. The Continentals escaped their second weekend in a row in Maine with no losses. They are doing what others are not doing: they keep winning.

10 – MIT (-4)
I am a bit nervous with the Engineers. Jomard suffered what sounds like a significant ankle injury in their loss to Babson. They barely beat Wheaton (Mass.) in overtime the following game, Jomard was out, and they only played seven players. He is their best player. This could leave them exposed especially late in the season. I’m going to watch MIT closely.

11 – Emory (-4)
I have preached that I don’t drop teams if they lose to squads I have ranked higher. However, Emory has now lost on back-to-back weekends to WashU in games that didn’t even feel as close as the score. They also struggled against a better-than-their-record Chicago team. I just feel if Emory is as good as I am ranking them, I’d see maybe a tighter game with WashU and be in more control against Chicago.

12 – Whitworth (+4)

E. Conn moved up Dave’s Bllot considering they continue to win and get the job done. (Courtesy: ECSU Athletics)

13 – Eastern Connecticut (+8)
One thing the Warriors aren’t doing… losing games. I moved EConn up in a big way because there are a number of teams who continue to pick up losses and EConn isn’t. They may be better than I have been giving them credit for this season.

14 – Williams (+6)

15 – Wooster (+8)
It can be understandable if you haven’t been watching the Scots because you are blinded by Wittenberg’s incredible season and the implosion we seem to be seeing out of Ohio Wesleyan. I felt Wooster wasn’t going to put much of a season together. They are playing pretty darn consistent, though. It is hard to ignore.

16 – Emory & Henry (-5)
Talk about a bad week. I considered moving E&H further down after losing to both Roanoke and Lynchburg. Both on the road and as I have said in the past, the top teams in conferences win games on the road in conference.

17 – Swarthmore (-4)
Inconsistent. Lost to Muhlenberg and struggled with McDaniel. Need to tighten things up if they want to be a threat.

18 – Cabrini (+6)

19 – Augustana (-1)

UWSP continues their impressive run in WIAC play. The three-game losing streak in December is long-gone.

20 – UW-Stevens Point (NR)
I still am surprised the Pointers are doing so well in the conference. Clearly, the patented Bob Semling defense is making a significant difference. I am reminding myself that the last title for UWSP featured one of the more smothering defenses I ever seen despite the fact the offense never blew you away. Six losses is a lot; I know that. I witnessed two of those losses in front of me. Continue to lead the WIAC with one loss, I can’t justify not voting for them any more.

21 – Salem State (NR)
I’ve had the Vikings on my radar for several weeks. While the MASCAC is nothing to write home about, Salem State at least is avoiding losing games they are supposed to win. The balance on this team is impressive to see. There just may be something special going on here.

22 – Hobart (NR)
I have struggled to figure out what exactly is going on with the Statesmen, but like others they continue to win. The Liberty League is topsy-turvy this season with Skidmore falling off a cliff and Ithaca not having the same form late in the season as they did early on (losing four straight). Hobart has risen above the fray. Early season losses are still a note, but no longer a concern as we seem to be well past those games (see WashU).

Wesleyan has not made things as easy as a slam dunk of late. (Courtesy: Wesleyan Athletics)

23 – Wesleyan (-11)
I thought about dropping the Cardinals altogether. My opinions on the NESCAC have changed is one factor, but the other is that as many times that Wesleyan has gotten a key win, they have also lost a game that was important (i.e. Purchase and Trinity).

24 – UW-Whitewater (-10)
The big problem with UWW is that they are 3-3 in their last six and 5-4 in their last nine. Those are similar to Amherst’s results last year at this time. Probably should have dropped the Warhawks altogether.

25 – Maryville (-8)
I like what the Saints have put together for a season, but losing to Covenant can’t happen. This is the same argument I’ve made numerous times about making sure to get the job done against opponents you are supposed to get the job done against especially when the challenge is on the road.

Dropped Out (Previous Ranking):

GMC had a rough week at the wrong time. (Courtesy: Gwynedd Mercy Athletics)

Gwynedd Mercy (19)
Two losses in two games including to Lehman. I know that Lehman is at the top of the CUNYAC, but Cabrini won their CUNYAC-CSAC game and GMC missed the chance… especially after coming off a loss against Cabrini earlier in the week. Rough week.

New Jersey City (22)
I know the NJAC can be a tough conference, but the Gothic Knights are letting an incredible opportunity slip through their fingers. NJCU is 8-5 since December 29 and 3-2 in their last five including an inexcusable loss, at home, against Rowan. NJCU needs to stop losing games if they want to be in good shape come March.

Baldwin Wallace (25)
Just when I buy into the Yellow Jackets, they lose three in a row. They are now 4-4 in their last eight and have been swept by Ohio Northern. I knew the OAC race was going to be wide open, but BW has allowed the race to be wide open.

Previous Ballot Blogs:
Week 9 – not available (see above)
Week 8
Week 7 – not available (see Week 8 blog for ballot)
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 3 – not available (see Week 4 blog for ballot)
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

There are a number of teams not on my ballot that I am strongly considering, but it sometimes feels like a crap shoot. Some I wanted to see go one more week due to some key match-ups coming. Others are in reserve for those in the rankings who have big weeks coming up as well.

For those wondering, I do look at the NCAA SOS numbers, but don’t weight them heavily right now. I like to see those numbers settle down a little before I read into them too much (much like Massey and Bennett). I’m already reserving time next week to do a deep dive into everyone now that all those numbers are a bit more solid to consider. However, they won’t replace any of my other items I use to consider.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 8

Joey Hewitt and Whitman continue to be Dave’s top pick in his Top 25 ballot.

First of all, let me apologize my Top 25 blog out last week. It was an odd week and having Hoopsville on Monday afternoon to “compliment” the time usually spent the work on my weekly ballot… time got away from me.

It is too bad, because there was a lot to talk about. Most of it can still be covered this week. However, before we get to this week’s ballot, here is last week’s along with notation of any movement related to Week 7‘s ballot:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
2 – WashU (Up 1)
3 – Wittenberg (Up 4)
4 – UW-Whitewater (Up 5)
5 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 5)
6 – St. John’s (Up 2)
7 – York (Pa.) (Down 1)
8 – UW-River Falls (Down 3)
9 – MIT (Up 3)
10 – Augustana (Down 8)
11 – Hamilton (Up 9)
12 – Williams (Down 8)
13 – Wesleyan (Down 2)
14 – John Carroll (Up 3)
15 – New Jersey City (Down 1)
16 – Emory (Unranked)
17 – Middlebury (Up 8)
18 – UW-Platteville (Up 5)
19 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 6)
20 – Swarthmore (Up 3)
21 – Whitworth (Unchanged)
22 – Baldwin Wallace (Down 6)
23 – Nichols (Up 1)
24 – Emory & Henry (Unranked)
25 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unranked)

Actual GIF of Dave at his desk last week doing his ballot (ok, not really, but pretty good impersonation!)

Last week was nuts. I could have ranked teams in the 10 to 25 spots in any order. I wanted to put them all in the 20th slot or maybe the 17th. I found most of them somewhat equal for all kinds of different reasons and was going around and around (and around) in what order to put them. Those high felt too high; those low felt too low. Flip them and they still felt wrong.

On Sunday’s “Top 25 Double-take” on Hoopsville (below), Ryan stated this was maybe his easiest week voting in the Top 25. I didn’t find it easy. His perspective is different. I think he had twice as many teams on his radar than I did (I had 45 in Week 7 that I was considering), so if he does any kind of whittling of his list it is probably going to feel easy. However, Ryan also said he thought his order was more set than in the past. That was me several weeks ago. I thought I had my order and with so many losses happening within the group the way it was ordered, I felt good.

That feeling is gone. I don’t have any sense of order right now. Last week I couldn’t really settle on 10-25 with any satisfaction. This week that got more problematic.

So, I tried to overhaul things. Kind of like blowing up my ballot, but with the element of trying to use information I hadn’t been leaning prior (basically because I didn’t have the time). This week, I talked with some coaches some of whom reached out to me. There are a number of coaches I trust when it comes to their judgement and eye. They are the kind who will be frank and give it to me straight even if it is at the detriment of their team. They might resort to “coach’s speak” when on Hoopsville, but they don’t do that when we talk off-air. I appreciate that and this week I get a little bit of an idea of how some of them saw things. It was invaluable and helped me see things maybe in a different way.

I got more aggressive this week in an effort to find answers to questions that were stumping me. I also was trying to grasp with the WIAC-yness of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. I went deeper outside the Top 25 packet of information, and my radar, to see what I might be missing. This included double-checking some conferences races to see if I had missed a team who had heated up.

That look Dave gets when dealing with a “gap” in the ballot and UWSP leading the WIAC by two games. LOL

The one major problem I ran into: a massive gap in my Top 25. While I was confident in my top nine last week, that was quickly cut to just the top four. After that… I didn’t want to rank anyone until at the least the tenth spot. You might hear me and others say that and think it is just a talking-point used as an example. However, I actually practiced the idea this week. I put down my top four, then skipped to putting teams where I felt they seemed right. I didn’t have any teams until the tenth spot. As I worked through my list of teams, no one made me want to put them in 5-9. I was left with a list that went 1-4 and then 10-whatever (I sometimes rank teams beyond 25 especially when I am looking to move teams in and out of the poll despite decent weeks).

I spent a good amount of time trying to convince myself to move teams into the gap ahead of my teams in 10-15, for example. It wasn’t happening. Yes, I could make arguments for them to move up, but they weren’t convincing and full of holes in my opinion.

What resulted was a massive jump up into a territory I don’t know is accurate for some teams. Others stayed around where they had been despite not the best of weeks. And others didn’t move down nearly as far as I intended to move them. Even looking back at the ballot 24 hours later, I don’t like the results. It feels like a jumbled mess, but all this time later I don’t have any answers and I don’t have that, dreaded, moment where I realize a solution and made the mistake of not voting accordingly.

With that, here is my D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot for Week 8. Notes for a lot of these teams, which makes the read longer (apologies), but some people seem interested:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
The Blues don’t blow me away, but no one has beaten them and they have taken on some solid challenges. I think last year’s squad was better, but that doesn’t mean this year’s team can’t make the same run or even win a championship this time around. The straw that stirs this team’s drink is not Tim Howell. They have other guys who are the keys and the fact they have more than one threat makes them tough to beat.

WashU has impressed and moved up to be knocking on the door of No. 1 on Dave’s ballot (shh, he’s even considered them for the top spot!).

2 – WashU (Unchanged)
I got a text message out of the blue from a coach who simply said, “this is a final four team.” WashU has incredible senior leadership this season that has been building for the last few years. They are dominating, by their standards, their opponents and it is has been impressive to watch. They are not perfect, clearly, but they seem to be improving when others don’t seem to be. They still have Emory and Rochester ahead in UAA play (twice each, same weekend, both), but I like what the Bears have produced so far.

3 – Wittenberg (Unchanged)
Several coaches and another contact basically didn’t mince words when it came to the Tigers: they are damn good. Maybe this season is happening an year earlier than some expected, but Wittenberg’s coaching staff have a team on their hands that seems nearly unbeatable. I don’t think they get through NCAC play unscathed. I think Ohio Wesleyan could trip them up the second time around and Wooster is improving as well, however Wittenberg should be a team to watch out for especially if they have home court advantage until Salem.

4 – St. John’s (Up 2)
I’ve been high on the Johnnies since the beginning of the year, though nervously. In years past, SJU eventually showed flaws and took hits by this time of the season. Not this year. Last week showed me a lot with a beatdown of Macalester (not looking past the Scots) and then a strong 15-point win over St. Thomas. St. John’s is in the right place to end the Tommies dominance of the MIAC, but the target is only getting bigger.

From this point on, consider teams five spots below where they are on my ballot. That may help you understand where I truly think teams are in the Top 25… not where I had to put them because I needed to fill the gap.

Emory skyrocketed up Dave’s ballot, thanks to good play and a huge gap that needed to be filled. (Courtesy: Emory Athletics)

5 – Emory (Up 11)
Yeah. Wow. Big jump here for the Eagles. I know I have them far higher than where they are on the ballot. Seems appropriate for how many teams this situation is flipped. Emory hasn’t lost since their bad loss to Hamden-Sydney at the beginning of December. Emory seems to be getting stronger, much like WashU, and has dispatched teams rather convincingly in a lot of cases. They have a huge test ahead: Chicago and WashU on back-to-back weekends. They at least get to start the home-and-home series in Atlanta.

6 – Middlebury (Up 11)
I have stated a number of times, especially on Hoopsville, that I think Middlebury is the best team in the NESCAC. However, they didn’t seem very good after the holiday break. Losing three of five nearly had them slide right off my ballot. It appears the Panthers have solved their woes and have turned the ship around. Last week saw them beat Williams after a huge battle with tough-to-beat Albertus Magnus. I like Middlebury. I don’t love Middlebury. They may be the best team in a conference that is overrated in terms of top-end strength.

7 – Baldwin Wallace (Up 15)
The win over John Carroll was the result I was looking for from the Yellow Jackets. I know I am higher on BWU than most voters. The loss to Ohio Northern on January 10 probably gave many pause. I get that. I also don’t think they are a Top 10 team, but here they are this week. The road doesn’t get easier, but the difference between this Baldwin Wallace team and others, they are still in the conversation – if not controlling it – in late January.

8 – York (Pa.) (Down 1)
The Spartans have pieces that almost any team in the country would love to have, including two centers/forwards who can play the four position and even step out and shoot the three for percentage. However, they aren’t as deep as I thought they would be. Their starting five all scores in double-figures which is outstanding, but the drop-off after that is significant. In other words, they can’t get into foul trouble. An improving Mary Washington team handed YCP their first loss of the season on the road. Not surprising York lost – they were bound to lose – but, I think it puts far more pressure on them to beat Christopher Newport, also on the road, than it did prior. Let’s see how the Spartans deal with pressure.

9 – MIT (Unchanged)
The loss to Springfield surprised me. Springfield has been all over the map, literally, this season. They have one of the best guards in New England, but they haven’t been able to raise their game against top competition. I figured, the Engineers would get a battle against the Pride, but not to be down big and have to rally back … and lose by three. MIT has a lot of what makes York dangerous and hearkens back to the couple-year run MIT had that saw them get to Salem. That makes them dangerous, but they also prove that anyone can beat anyone this year.

Emory & Henry is a squad that may be playing better than people realize. Picked to finish 4th in ODAC, they have a one-game currently. (Courtesy: Emory & Henry Athletics)

10 – Emory & Henry (Up 14)
Another big move up the poll for a team and one many probably aren’t talking about. However, this past week the Wasps took full control of the ODAC and I believe firmly entered the national conversation. Okay, maybe didn’t firmly take control of the ODAC, but certainly made the conference take notice. Wins over Lynchburg and Randolph-Macon have given E&H not only a one-game lead in the conference, but also a six game winning streak since their only loss of the season (Wooster). Also, wins over Maryville, Transylvania, and others are starting to look better and better as those teams continue to do well.

11 – Hamilton (Unchanged)
I hinted at it earlier. The national strength of the NESCAC might be overrated and the Continentals may have given everyone a sneak peak at that this week. No, they didn’t change spots, but I had intended to move them down (technically, they slipped five spots on my ballot originally). Hamilton was handed their first loss of the season by Amherst and it wasn’t close. Coach Adam Stockwell, though, made an interesting point on Hoopsville Sunday night, and I am paraphrasing: our team can beat anyone in the Top 100 on any given night. Now, don’t focus on “Top 100” and think of the bottom. Think of the top. This year especially, they very well could have a team that could beat Whitman – they also have a team that Amherst is able to beat. There are a lot of teams who could beat anyone in the Top 100. I’d argue anyone in the Top 100 could beat anyone (i.e. 100 could beat 1). So, Hamilton could be a damn good team, or more likely is just as good as everyone else, but not great. That leads to whether the NESCAC might be overrated… you have to wait for more on that.

12 – UW-Whitewater (Down 8)
Getting my first chance to tackle the WIAC here. As with the NESCAC, I’ll break it down in several sections, but with none of my Top 25 candidates even leading the conference, I had to change my evaluation of the conference. I have said many times I think the WIAC is the best race in the country and thus the best conference this year. Top to bottom it is insane. Anyone can apparently beat anyone on any given night. I thought UW-Stout was damn good when I saw them in Las Vegas, but I couldn’t come to terms with the idea they may not be in the top four. Whitewater and the rest have not had a great start to the conference schedule, but that might be because the conference is very, very good… but not great. Like the NESCAC. Maybe the top isn’t as great as I had considered previously, but have a ton of good teams and the result will just be the conference beating each other to a pulp. Despite not leading the conference, I think Whitewater is the best team in the WIAC and of those I’m voting for the better team.

13 – Wesleyan (Unchanged)
This coming out less than 24-hours after Wesleyan lost on a buzzer beater to SUNY Purchase is what is called horrible timing. I’m losing confidence in the Cardinals, as I have with the NESCAC. Honestly, Wesleyan should have rolled over Purchase if they truly are a Top 25 team. No, I am not trying to diminish Purchase who was 9-6 entering that game. I realize this may be further proof of just how deep the parity is in Division III this season. However, these are the games Wesleyan has to win if they are as good as others say. The problem is, Wesleyan has now lost four of their last eight with a crazy win over Middlebury being the lone highlight. I voted prior to the Purchase game which left Wesleyan on my ballot. Next week they most likely won’t be here.

Illinois Wesleyan has gone from unranked to well up Dave’s ballot in quick order, but not with plenty of pulled hair. (Courtesy: Dean Reid, D3photography.com)

14 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 11)
Here I enter a hornet’s nest. I am not sure what to do with the Titans. In the last few weeks, I have torn my hair out. Part of me screams that IWU is damn good and going to be in play for the CCIW championship. The other part points to inconsistencies I’ve seen this season and reasons I’ve hesitated to vote for them in the past. Last week, I slotted them on my ballot 25th – their first appearance. I didn’t like, but I had so much trouble finding a spot I liked for them. I took the time to chat with some people who have seen then to try and get a better sense of what I was missing. I even read the CCIW-boards, not always helpful but usually decent insight. It honestly made me more confused. I like Illinois Wesleyan. I think they are a good team. 14th good? Eh. The difference for me right now is that their losses to WashU and Emory are becoming less damaging and their current run through the conference more impressive. That loss to Carthage, though… still tough to deal with… and I have to wait until February 17 to see the return match.

15 – Augustana (Down 5)
I had Augustana well ahead (in poll terms) than IWU last week. Those on the CCIW boards didn’t like that. So be it. No one saw the dozen or so versions prior to my last ballot that had these two teams swapping places multiple times. Hard to prove that kind of thing. I think Augustana is still the best team in the CCIW, but they probably aren’t showing that right now. That very well could be they haven’t found a solution for the loss of Wofford. I have spoken before about my concern on this. At first, I wasn’t concerned, then I remember that last year’s go-to guy after Wofford departed was Jacob Johnson and … he isn’t around any more. I finally decided to lean more on the loss to Wheaton (who has been sporadic this season) and the near loss to Carroll despite them being the previous week. Wheaton lays ahead and so does IWU before the end of the month. I will feel a little more confident in the CCIW race in about a week’s time.

16 – New Jersey City (Down 1)
Here I am blogging about a team that may not be on my ballot next week – thus the disadvantage of not getting these blogs done earlier (may need to find a way to change the timing). I’ve like the Gothic Knights and especial Sam Toney, but once again an NJAC team is showing inconsistencies. Most in the region will say the NJAC is a tough conference and they beat each other up. I get that. Not disagreeing, but if an NJAC team wants to prove they are one of the best in the country… they have to step above that fray and put conference opponents behind them. NJCU has now lost three of their last seven – all to conference opponents. They have lost control of the top of the conference and sit two games behind TCNJ and Ramapo – who they have split with so far. Prior to the Monday night loss to TCNJ, I would have said I liked NJCU, but they need to start controlling their destiny. Now, I will tell you they have to buckle down and prove they are as good as they claim to be. TCNJ, Montclair, and Ramapo all still to play.

Dave is buying in that UW-Platteville is a Top 25 team, but there are seven squads in the WIAC who could probably make at least a claim to the idea. (Courtesy: UW-Platteville Athletics)

17 – UW-Platteville (Up 1)
I like what the Pioneers are doing more than others in the WIAC. Of course, they have been a victim of Stevens Point just like nearly all the rest. THey have beaten Oshksoh along with Stout, Eau Claire, and La Crosse (not something everyone can say they have done). I find themselves tied for second with Whitewater in the WIAC race … for now. They still have two with Whitewater to play and maybe there is more to prove, but for not I like how the Pioneers are playing more than others. Maybe it is just the timing of the conference schedule more than anything.

18 – Swarthmore (Up 2)
I am confused by the Garnet. I saw them in person, granted against struggling McDaniel, and really liked what I saw. Deep team, plenty of talent. Good inside-outside capabilities. Too many threats to be able to stop all of them, no matter how much McDaniel tried to shut down Wiley. However, their loss to F&M still bugs me (considering the Diplomats had a loss to Muhlenberg prior and followed the Swat win with a loss to Dickinson). Swarthmore followed the loss to F&M with an OT battle with Haverford (6-11) and a tight game with Dickinson (908 including a loss to resurgent Washington). With nearly the entire second half of the conference slate ahead… the Garnet aren’t showing me they are that strong. Thus why I originally had them 23rd.

19 – Whitworth (Up 2)
I am not going to take anything way from the Pirates and what they have for talent. They are young and the Northwest race for the next few years is going to be on another level, but I don’t think they are outstandingly good this year. The Whitman game was … okay. And they struggled this past weekend with Linfield and Willamette. I figured Linfield would give them a game (they did the same to Whitman), but to only beat Willamette by two and turn around and not put away Linfield only made me feel more confident Whitworth is a 20-25 team this season. Granted, they are the team I have picked to beat Whitman when they face the Blues in Spokane, but that doesn’t make them a Top 10 team this year. Doesn’t mean I’m right… just may take on it at this point.

Maryville’s Colt Nokes is one of four players (nearly five) in double-figures for the Scots who have been playing very well in the USA South.

20 – Maryville (Tenn.) (Unranked)
Here we get to teams I did a deep dive on and … feel like I was missing something prior. The Scots may seem like a surprise pick, but when I realized how they’ve been playing of late, I kind of liked them here. They shutdown the once-DII Pfeiffer squad that has been blitzing through the schedule so far (though, waiting to hear something major for Pfeiffer that would change my mind about this game). Their only other loss in 2018 was to Brevard – who like Pfeiffer still has some DII in them. Maryville also has losses to Emory and Emory and Henry (psst, stay away from “Emory” teams!) which on my ballot looks okay. Yes, the loss to Centre (10-7) to start isn’t pretty, but that is becoming less of a factor for me. They are in control of their side of the USA South – and probably the entire conference thanks to their win over Methodist as well. By the way, Maryville’s DIII opponents’ winning percentage: 148-117 (.559). Pretty good. The Scots may be better than people are giving them credit.

21 – Gwynedd Mercy (Unranked)
I’ve had my eye on the Griffins for a large part of the season. They are playing better than I expected and when I saw them in person realized they have a multi-faceted offense. I didn’t jump too soon. I wasn’t going to be able extrapalate much with their game against Goucher, but then they up-ended Cabrini and I put them on my list for consideration. They have made up for their one-point loss to Immactulata (8-8) and have a strong win over Neumann. They force bad match-ups and go up-tempo or slow down. They can go big or small on the court. Just seems John Baron has a squad that is only getting stronger.

22 – Cabrini (Unranked)
Yeah, I decided to double-dip in the CSAC. Cabrini has been playing weel for some time, though their loss to Neumann the night the poll is released is going to make this pick look … strange. It very well could be another team I remove from my ballot next week thanks to a Monday night loss (hey, teams… stop playing games on Monday nights when the poll is released! Thanks! LOL). Prior to the Neumann result, I liked how Cabirni was playing. The win over Eastern Connecticut (see below) was noteworthy and I wasn’t getting the Cavs in if I didn’t like Gwynedd Mercy as well (Cavs lost in OT to the Griffins). I am not reevaluating this one.

23 – Williams (Down 11)
This is part of the “NESCAC may be overrated” part. I want to repeat, I think the NESCAC is a very tough conference from top to bottom, I am just starting to think maybe the top isn’t as good as I thought it was. Doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the best conferences in the country, but Williams is the barometer for me. They still seem to now know how to replace Scadlock who they lost weeks ago to a season-ending injury. They played Middlebury tough and that’s why they are still on my ballot, but they have lost two of their last five including to Tufts (13-5) who hasn’t seemed like the Tufts of old this season. Easier opponents like Mass College, Yeshiva, Vassar, Westfield St, Fitchburg St., etc. can sometimes make things confusing. Gaudy record, but against who? The loss to Hamline (9-8) still bugs me. Time will tell if my thinking on the Ephs and the NESCAC bears out… or I am on a island on my own.

24 – Eastern Connecticut (Unranked)
I have voted for the Warriors off and on this season. Something about what they are putting together has caught my eye. Their losses are to WPI (10-7) and Cabrini. I felt I had to put the Cavs on my ballot to return EConn as well. Not sure how Cabrini’s loss this week will affect my thinking here. However, the Warriors also have wins over WPI (yeah, played twice; lost the second game), Montclair State, Amherst, and Keene State. Those are note-worthy in my book. At least I am not the only one.

Lycoming makes their first appearance on Dave’s ballot… maybe by mistake? Dave is still nervous, but the Warriors also keep winning no matter what. (Courtesy: Lycoming Athletics)

25 – Lycoming (Unranked)
Hello Warriors. I am finally voting for you, but in a moment you readers are going to realize it might be by mistake. I have not been high on Lyco. Their opponents’ winning percentage continues to be pretty low (132-156 .458) and I peaked at Matt Snyder’s (@FFTMAG/KnightSlappy) NCAA SOS numbers out of curiousity and saw it was .506. That’s okay, but their non-conference SOS is .422. Not great. However, it came down to an adage many a coach has said to me on many an occasion: no matter the schedule, if a team keeps winning you should take note. Lycoming continues to win. They are now 6-1 versus teams with above .500 records – a significant change in a few weeks – and despite a loss to a pretty good Lebanon Valley team have at least won the games they should. Who else can you say that about? Not many.

Dropped Out:

UW-Oshkosh (Previously 5)
This was part of my effort to recalibrate the WIAC in my head. Yes, I understand UW-Stevens Point leads the conference by two (though, will play Oshkosh for the first time this week). However, I am not prepared to vote for UWSP as of yet on my ballot (I’ve talked about it on Hoopsville of late). As a result, maybe my thinking on the WIAC is … out of wack. Maybe it is a darn competitive and good conference, but the teams aren’t as good as I had been giving them credit. I readjusted this week and after going 0-2 with losses to Platteville and Eau Claire to go along with four losses in their last seven, I decided to drop Oshkosh from my ballot. Time will tell if I am overreacting or not.

UW-River Falls (Previously 8)
Another WIAC team I felt I needed to aggressively adjust. They, too, have lost to Stevens Point (just this past week) and now have lost three of six including to the previously named Oshkosh. If I was going to drop UWO, I had to drop UWRF. Not sure either team is playing their best right now, anyway.

Oops. Dave didn’t intend not to vote for John Carroll. Maybe something subconscious? (Courtesy: John Carroll Athletics)

John Carroll (Previously 14)
I am going to admit something maybe I shouldn’t: I screwed up. I had intended to leave John Carroll on my ballot, but they got lost in my efforts to look outside my radar for teams I may have been missing. I actually check-mark teams from my old ballot and on my info-sheet when I have slotted them on my ballot. Even taking the steps to go back and erase check-marks when I start to make changes. JCU’s initial check-mark was erased. Then as I got caught up in my research and efforts to fill slots, I never confirmed what I had done with the Blue Streaks. That all said, they were in this position on my ballot of being left off because I am not as confident as others with JCU. They can score, seemingly, at will and I have had several coaches tell me why they like them – especially their former DII point guard. However, I have stated (as you saw in the Top 25 Double-take) that their defense concerns me. I know they play 94-feet and in a team’s face, but they also still give up points when they need to get stops. The loss to Baldwin Wallace honestly told me more about BWU than it did about JCU, but it didn’t help JCU’s cause – who have they really beaten? Marietta? Ohio Northern? Their resume is harder to defend.

It appears Ohio Wesleyan’s hot shooting and playing has cooled off significantly since the D3hoops.com Classic. Maybe it stayed in Vegas? (Courtesy: Larry Radloff, D3photography.com)

Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 19)
I can’t believe that just a few weeks after seeing the Battling Bishops in Las Vegas, I would be removing them from my Top 25 ballot. However, OWU has not been playing at the same caliber I saw at the D3hoops.com Classic. Not sure if the “fame” of dismantling Ramapo and nearly knocking of No. 1 Whitman got to their heads or not, but they seemed to have gotten stuck in gear. Three losses in four game and four in six (before beating DePauw) are eye-opening. Yes, One of those four-out-of-six losses is to Whitman, but of the three out of four, one is to Hiram and another to Wooster. I can forgive the Wittenberg loss, except it was by 21! If OWU was as good as I saw in Vegas, they maybe only loss to Wittenberg since I saw them. The Bishops are simply not playing well together and are in jeopardy of quickly realizing they have to win the conference AQ or they won’t even see the NCAA tournament. Say what?!

Nichols (Previously 23)
No. The Bison did not lose this past week. They have not lost since Jan. 6 to Western New England in overtime. However, they too are not playing the same they were earlier in the season. What once was a dominating squad (including a 19 point win over Wesleyan) has turned into a squad who is barely getting past Eastern Nazarene and Roger Williams. If Nichols is as good as I thought, those games aren’t close. They got their point guard, DeAnte Burton, back from injury, but that hasn’t seemed to make them better. They have now, since I voted, lost to Univ. of New England making my decision better understood.

Previous Ballots:
Week 7 – No blog; see ballot above
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 3 – No blog; Stagg Bowl Week
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

In the future, I do hope to talk to more coaches I know have a good sense of what they are seeing not only on the court in front of them, but even on web streams around the country. I realize I shook up my ballot quite a bit this week and even took some turns not many others are taking. Maybe it will open eyes to other great pretty good teams in the country or maybe I will be proven to have lost my mind this week. However, just realize that these decisions aren’t made on a whim. I make them after following what my research says and what those I trust say. I may like a team and want to vote for them, even after seeing them in person or having them on Hoopsville, but that doesn’t always mean when I do my research it adds up.

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.

post

For now, the banners still hang at UWSP

The investigation into the UW-Stevens Point men’s basketball program has dragged on much longer than anticipated, longer than we were told to expect.

This is almost certainly a bad sign — not just for the obvious reasons, either.

It had been expected that the NCAA investigation into recent Pointers’ seasons and preseason practices would wrap up by April, perhaps May. The fact that no resolution has been announced means that this cloud of suspicion, this uncertainty, continues to hang over the program, and did so through the recruiting season. But secondly, the timeline suggests that the school and the NCAA are trying to come to an agreement over what the punishment will be.

In the interim, the athletic department suspended coach Bob Semling for the final 13 games of the season, and kept the program out of the WIAC tournament. (The Pointers finished 14-10, 8-6 in the WIAC and would have otherwise been the fourth seed in the conference tournament.) This was the second self-imposed punishment for the same violation. .

Semling spoke recently with Alexis Geffen, of Stevens Point’s WAOW 9, saying: “The final report’s going to go through the committee … by the end of July. I would hope by the end of August, start of September, start of school, that we would find out that this is resolved.”

Semling maintains that for the type of violation that has been described, suspending the coach is about as far as one would go. But with the same NCAA committee on infractions having stripped Thomas More of a national title in Division III women’s basketball less than a year ago, it’s fair to consider that a Pointers’ national title could be at stake here as well. And if suspending the coach is sufficient, it’s hard to understand what is holding this process up.

The NCAA committee could instead call for a show-cause ruling on Semling. This would require any school employing him to go through significant procedures and paperwork with the NCAA, all but ending his coaching career.

For now, four banners hang in Quandt Fieldhouse and four national championship trophies still sit in the trophy case outside the entrance. Semling’s name is still on the door of the men’s basketball head coach office. I was there at the end of May to confirm these were true. But for how long those all remain true, it’s hard to know.