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: Recapping the season

I’ll be honest: I enjoy doing these blogs mainly because it allows me to reexamine my ballot on a weekly basis. Sometimes, as I have been writing these over the past few years and giving my reasons for why a team rose or fell on my ballot, I would change my mind and either go back and adjust my ballot before the deadline or keep my notes in mind during the upcoming week. I also knew that I needed to have valid reasons for my decisions or the public would call me out. But let me even more honest: I have not looked forward to writing this blog this season because the men’s Top 25 is a clustermess. There was no way I could write my thoughts on teams without argue against myself into a never ending pit for every single team in every single position on my poll. I joked with Pat Coleman while putting my pre-season ballot together, and again in Week 1, on whether I could start at number ten and go down from there.

However, it is about time I put my ballot back out for the world to see and I decided a few weeks ago this would be as good a time as any. We are about halfway through the season and at least some things are shaking out. Of course, there is plenty of teams getting Top 25 attention (the last poll had 48 teams receiving votes; this week’s poll probably has even more) and there are plenty of different opinions amongst the 25 voters – my ballot has never looked so completely different than the overall poll in all of my years of voting – but, at this point there is nothing to lose, so here it is.

Now so you can better understand what my voting has been but without breaking down each week, below is a table of each of my ballots from the preseason on:

Preseason Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
1 UW-Whitewater Augustana Augustana UW-Whitewater Wash U. Wash U.
2 Augustana UW-Whitewater UW-Whitewater Amherst St. Thomas St. Thomas
3 Randolph-Macon St. Thomas St. Thomas St. Thomas Augustana Augustana
4 Amherst Amherst Amherst WPI UW-Whitewater UW-Whitewater
5 St. Thomas Randolph-Macon WPI Wash U. WPI WPI
6 WPI WPI DePauw Ohio Wesleyan Babson Babson
7 DePauw DePauw Chicago Augustana Richard Stockton Randolph-Macon
8 Babson Wooster Virginia Wesleyan Randolph-Macon Randolph-Macon Emory
9 Calvin MIT MIT Virginia Wesleyan Virginia Wesleyan Dickinson
10 Albertus Magnus Chicago Wash U. Richard Stockton Ohio Wesleyan Wooster
11 MIT Virginia Wesleyan Wooster Illinois Wesleyan Illinois Wesleyan Albertus Magnus
12 Chicago Wash U. Randolph-Macon MIT Dickinson Virginia Wesleyan
13 Illinois Wesleyan Cabrini Richard Stockton Albertus Magnus Albertus Magnus Ohio Wesleyan
14 Wash U. Richard Stockton Albertus Magnus Babson Wooster Marietta (new)
15 Virginia Wesleyan Albertus Magnus Babson Wooster Amherst Richard Stockton
16 Wooster Babson Illinois Wesleyan DePauw Chicago Chicago
17 Williams Calvin Emory Chicago Scranton Eastern Connecticut
18 Cabrini Illinois Wesleyan Ohio Wesleyan Scranton Eastern Connecticut Husson
19 Richard Stockton Emory (new) Scranton Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Emory Amherst
20 Scranton Dickinson (new) Calvin Eastern Connecticut Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Scranton
21 Whitworth Scranton Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Emory Centre North Central (new)
22 Christopher Newport Stevenson Dickinson Dickinson Bethel (new) Illinois Wesleyan
23 Stevenson Ohio Wesleyan (new) Eastern Connecticut (new) Centre (new) St. Olaf (new) Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
24 Whitman Whitman Stevenson Stevenson Stevenson St. Olaf
25 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Cabrini Cabrini Bates (new) Franklin & Marshall
Dropped out: #17 Williams
#21 Whitworth
#22 Christopher Newport
#24 Whitman #20 Calvin #12 MIT
#16 DePauw
#25 Cabrini
#21 Centre
#22 Bethel
#24 Stevenson
#25 Bates

Clearly plenty of movement and plenty of turmoil. I am actually surprised I’ve only had three different number one teams. Also, the amount of losses I have racked up in each of these ballots is pretty surprising. For example, there were 15 losses between the preseason and Week 1 polls; there were eight losses between Week 2 and Week 3; and between Week 4 and Week 5 I racked up 14 losses. Sure, some of those had extended periods of time, but that is still a lot of losses.

You are probably wanting to know what I think of each team, because I usually provide those thoughts. Not that I am completely convinced of some of my own arguments, here is the Week 5 ballot in my eyes:

1 – Wash U. (Unchanged)
Talk about meteoric rise for the Bears. They aren’t even picked to win the conference this year and yet they remain undefeated at 11-0, but will get started with conference play this week in a long awaited game against Chicago and then they will face Emory and Rochester the following weekend. Talk about a perfect time to prove whether the Bears are as good as their first half has indicated (which included a win over Wheaton [Ill.], Webster, and Illinois Wesleyan and struggle against sub-par Trinity [Tex.]). We all know Wash U. is a well-coached team, I just didn’t think they had enough talent coming back to be this highly ranked. The next two weeks will be very revealing.

2 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)
Maybe I am the only one who is seeming something out of the Tommies that deserves this high a ranking, but I like how they are playing. Sure, their loss to Gustavus Adolphus shook my head, but they rebounded to beat St. John’s who has been a thorn in St. Thomas’ side for awhile. They also have a convincing sweep of Whitman and Whitworth on the road and a solid win over UW-Stevens Point. I like the Tommies who, wont’ have a huge challenge for a few weeks when they face Bethel and St. Olaf both improved and both on the road.

3 – Augustana (Unchanged)
The Augies certainly have had a strange season to this point. Losing players to injury, beating Bradley in the preseason, barely beating Albion and MacMurray, losing to Central, knocking off UW-Whitewater… not sure Augustana doesn’t have a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in them this year. This is a talented bunch who has played together for several years now. You can’t help but have high expectations for this squad, but they will get a test in the coming weeks by first taking on Elmhurst (good way to gauge the Blue Jays as well) before then facing North Park, North Central, Wheaton, and Illinois Wesleyan. Let’s see how they do before I feel completely comfortable with number three (I wasn’t even close to comfortable with them number one when I voted them accordingly earlier this season).

4 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)
The Warhawks were my default preseason number one because they were the national champions and I had absolutely no one else to put above them – everyone, including the Warhawks, had more questions than answers. At first I wasn’t going to knock them for losing to a top-level NAIA squad, but some arguments by others convinced me. They then returned to number one right before losing to Augustana on the road. I am not sure if Whitewater is that good or everyone at the top has fallen just a bit towards the middle. Either way, Whitewater is a tough team that is certainly coached well and with the least challenging of the WIAC schedule ahead of them for a few weeks, we will have to wait until the UW-Stevens Point game on January 21 to really get an idea of what kind of team this is (remember, this game was their coming out party last year).

5 – WPI* (Unchanged)
Clearly I am higher on the Engineers than others. I was higher on WPI coming out of the Hoopsville Classic than others on hand. Who knows why, but I can say I like how WPI is playing. They lost a tough game they should have won against Cabrini, but they play good defense, shoot the ball well, and have multiple options on offense. Chris Bartley knows how to get this team ready for anyone and they have beaten Chicago, Tufts, and Williams (who is surging) so far this season. The challenge will be that they are in a very challenging NEWMAC (who is on par with the NESCAC in terms of quality of teams from top to bottom) and will be reminded of that when they play Springfield (home), MIT (away), and Babson (away) in the next week and a half with Emerson and Clark lurking beyond. If the Engineers want to live up to my expectations while proving everyone else wrong, they need to start conference play with a bang.

6 – Babson (Unchanged)
Here’s another team I am clearly higher on than everyone else. Babson has continued to impress especially walking into LeFrak Gymnasium and holding Amherst to 49 points while handing them their second straight home loss by 19 points or more. Babson has beaten an impressive Bates squad along with Bowdoin and Tufts. They have also blown the doors off of some other squads. NEWMAC play, like with WPI, will be their bellwether. They face Emerson (away), Springfield (away), and WPI (home) in the next three games. If they come out of that 3-0 they will have proven themselves and forced me to pick between the two teams I think are the best of New England right now.

7 – Randolph-Macon* (Up 1)
Are you sensing a pattern? I am higher on the Yellow Jackets then many, but I also see how much talent is on this squad and we all know how good a coach Nate Davis has proven to be. Granted, the loss to Christopher Newport at the beginning of the season and then the head-scratcher of a loss at home to Frostburg are enough to give pause, but RMC has also beaten the likes of Virginia Wesleyan and Lynchburg in conference action and survived tests against well coached squads like Mary Washington, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Wittenberg, Cabrini, and others. The true test will always be ODAC play and they have Bridgewater (home), Guilford (home), Hampden-Sydney (away), Roanoke (away), and Virginia Wesleyan (home) in the next five games to prove themselves to others.

8 – Emory (Up 11)
In this case, I am finally joining the rest of the voting bloc. I haven’t been convinced the Eagles were that good this year despite wins over Guilford and Oglethorpe. The loss to Piedmont certainly concerned me and they didn’t exactly impress against Trinity right afterward. However, the break did them some good as they steamrolled Bates and Virginia Wesleyan to give me all the reason I need to push them well up my ballot. Now Emory has Rochester, Wash U, and Chicago all on the road (at some of the most difficult places to play in the UAA) in the next week and a half. Clearly the UAA will have plenty answered in a quick period of time.

9 – Dickinson (Up 3)
I am very apprehensive over the Red Devils on my ballot at number nine. I didn’t even include them in my preseason poll because I thought they lost far too much talent, especially at the point. However, they continue to win and the victory of North Central certainly showed me they are still capable of playing with the top teams in the country. While they haven’t played a lot of challenging teams outside of NCC, the Centennial will challenge them with a resurgent Franklin & Marshall squad along with a McDaniel, Gettysburg, and Johns Hopkins teams. Dickinson may be too high in the poll, granted, but at this point… everyone might be too high in the poll.

10 – Wooster (Up 4)
I can’t figure out the Scots. Not this year. Not any year. We always know Steve Moore will put together a good team, but this year they have lost to Hanover and Ohio Wesleyan (in back-to-back games) and have also beaten Hope who beat Ohio Wesleyan. In many of their wins they have blown teams out, but Mount Union gave them a hard time. Maybe this is the Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde team! Either way, Wooster has it’s work cut out for themselves in a rather challenging NCAC. There are probably four teams who have a valid opportunity to win this conference and as last year showed, you can’t assume anything on any night in this conference. I am leery Wooster will disappoint yet again, but in the meantime they are 9-2 and again… blowing out a lot of their opponents who are usually pretty good squads.

11 – Albertus Magnus (Up 2)
The Falcons are once again running through their season with reckless abandon and garnering plenty of hype. They at least challenged themselves with Richard Stockton at the beginning of the season, but in what all accounts was an ugly game both in play and in words/actions, AMC couldn’t pull off the victory on the road. Since then they haven’t really played anyone of note (the Purchase State game should have been a good test, but the Panthers were decimated with injuries this year) and have barely won some games they should be winning easier, it is hard to figure out if AMC is really good or it is once again smoke and mirrors. The conference will once again not provide any answers except if the Falcons lose. This is pretty much the ceiling on my ballot for this team.

12 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 3)
The Marlins are probably one of the most consistent teams this century in Division III. It feels weird if I ever consider not putting them in my Top 25. Even if they have lost a bunch of talent, Dave Macedo has someone else in line to take over – consider it their version of the next man up. An early season loss to Randolph-Macon isn’t too concerning and while losing to Emory probably wouldn’t shake any heads, losing by 13 to the Eagles (and it wasn’t even that close) does. I know Virginia Wesleyan will be competing for a conference title, but they have a somewhat easy restart to conference action. First they have a very tough Lynchburg* squad before facing Washington and Lee, Shenandoah, and Emory and Henry. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Marlins return to my top ten relatively quickly.

13 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 1)
Talk about a meteoric rise; a picture of the Battling Bishops would be in the Division III dictionary next to meteoric the way they started the season. That start included a convincing win over Calvin before dispatching Wooster and Denison a few weeks later. Since then, OWU is 2-2 with losses to Trine and Hope in the last month (and the Hope loss was bad). I’m not sure if most of us bought into Mike DeWitt’s squad took much (he certainly thinks we did), but with Wittenberg, Allegheny, and Wabash ahead before facing DePauw, once again our answers will only come if there are losses.

14 – Marietta (Unranked)
I did all I could to avoid putting the Pioneers in my ballot the last few votes. I knew they were undefeated, but it wasn’t like they had anyone that caught my eye on their schedule. Yes a win over Hanover to start the season was note-worthy, but until they spanked John Carroll and beat Eastern Connecticut I wasn’t convinced. They are now 12-0 halfway through the season and if they really are this good they will run through the OAC like a hot knife through butter. That being said and even if they stay undefeated, I’m not sure how much higher I could put Marietta on my ballot considering their SOS isn’t going to be that impressive.

15 – Richard Stockton* (Down 8)
The Osprey were way too highly ranked. I finally get to see Richard Stockton this past weekend and realized that my gut feeling of having them seventh on my last ballot was correct – they were too high. Even if they had beaten Franklin & Marshall on Sunday, they probably would have fallen at least five spots (maybe staying ahead of Ohio Wesleyan). This is a good team with plenty of talent, but they play immaturely, can’t keep their emotions in check, don’t seem to listen to the coaching staff at times (how else do you get a technical for too many men on the court out of a timeout), and don’t have a grasp of the game at other times (you never foul a buzzer beating three point attempt, for example). It is nice to see the Osprey back in the national conversation, but remember this is a very young squad who is probably riding the coattails of last year’s success in the eyes of other voters and has already proven can make a lot of mistakes. Oh, and they lost their point guard a while back and are still searching for that leadership on the court.

16 – Chicago* (Unchanged)
I am probably higher on the Maroons then they are of themselves. I am sure Mike McGrath is shaking his head that I have had Chicago as high as seven on a ballot this season. However, the UAA is full of good coaches and if they think Chicago is the team to beat, I take note. Yes, they couldn’t get past WPI and barely survived against Stevenson at the Hoopsville Classic, but that’s where I thought they proved things to me. Their losses to Wheaton and Illinois Wesleyan were disappointing, especially how much both squads are struggling right now, but they have a lot of good talent that seems to be coming together. Of course with Wash U, Rochester, and Emory coming to the Ratner Center in the next week and a half, this is the perfect time to prove themselves. Or maybe they are a year away from really being at their best.

17 – Eastern Connecticut (Up 1)
The Warriors are proving once again they are a very good team. They will most likely have their sixth straight 20-win season and top the Little East, but I wasn’t willing to jump on board at first when they lost to Hartwick near the beginning of the season. However, they have beaten some good teams like Stevenson, York (N.Y.), Rhode Island College, and Messiah since while barely losing to a clearly good team in Marietta. The Warriors are playing well and have a great test against Amherst that will have all kinds of regional implications coming up Tuesday.

18 – Husson* (unranked)
The Eagles had everything to prove and lose at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas and they proved everyone wrong, so welcome to the Top 25 Husson. Not only did they play extremely well against Scranton to earn the victory in their first game, they held strong against a very challenging Hampden-Sydney team and came away with a thrilling, buzzer beater win to close out day two at the South Point Arena. Warren Caruso has plenty of talent and many options on this squad whose only loss to Bates probably has done more to show how good Bates is as a team. Husson has Colby ahead before getting back into conference play. Conceivably the Eagles could go the rest of the season without a loss and will then look back on their Las Vegas experience when they enter the NCAA tournament – because they will have to prove people wrong once again.

19 – Amherst* (Down 4)
The Lord Jeffs are far younger than I kept reminding myself. Not sure how I ever convinced myself they should have been as high as number two – though, I know I kept telling myself how good a coach Dave Hixon is an how much he gets out of his players. The problem is, Aaron Toomey was just that good and it at least got me spoiled into thinking everyone else was that good, too. Amherst is a very good team with plenty of talent to watch out for, but they are not the same team as they have been the last three or so years. I saw them lose a 16-point second half lead and need a buzzer beating three just to tie Goucher (2-9) and force overtime. They had barely survived against a tough Drew squad before that. And we all remember what happened in their final two home games before the holiday break. Amherst may be the team to beat in the NESCAC, but despite two wins I moved them down because they are not as great a team as I was giving them credit.

20 – Scranton* (Down 4)
The Royals are once again a very consistent and challenging team. They just aren’t as good as I was indicating in my previous ballots. The loss to Misericordia now makes more sense to me after seeing them play Husson and Hanover in Las Vegas and then watching them barely survive against King’s and Wilkes this past weekend. Scranton seems to never put together 40 minutes of basketball and certainly can’t do it over a multiple-game spread. I think they are well coached and I think they have plenty of talent, but that talent never gels on the same day. If Ross Danzig is hitting shots early, you better watch out; if he is cold early, his decision making process goes cold as well. Brendan Boken is a very talented post player with great, quick moves, but if you take him out of his game like Husson did, Scranton struggles to find other options. Scranton is going to win the Landmark conference and make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. However, the Royals have got to figure out how to play consistent basketball game in and game out before they are going to be a real threat.

21 – North Central (Ill.) (Unranked)
I just haven’t been convinced the Cardinals were that good this season. They beat UW-Stevens Point and I told myself UWSP isn’t that good this year. They then faced Dickinson and if they had won I was prepared to argue that proved the Red Devils weren’t as good as others thought they were. But now they have beaten Illinois Wesleyan (to complete a rare Cardinals sweep of the Titans in men’s and women’s basketball) and coupled with the fact they have found ways to win throughout the season and I can’t ignore NCC. They have Milikin and Wheaton ahead, but the games I am keying on are January 14 and 17. They will play Augustana and Elmhurst respectively. That will help me get a better gauge of the Cardinals along with the rest of the CCIW this season.

22 – Illinois Wesleyan (Down 11)
Talk about a rough holiday break for the Titans. Did they get coal in their stockings? Illinois Wesleyan blitzed Nazareth and then apparently forgot to show up against Cal Lutheran the next night. They followed that up with a loss at North Central in an important opening game to CCIW play. Some of the comments Ron Rose said of his team, especially after the Cal Lutheran game, should cause concern especially since I don’t think the team headed those words before facing North Central. I am not sure what to make of Illinois Wesleyan right now and with games against Wheaton, Carthage, Milikin, and North Park to come… we might not get a better understanding until they face Augustana on January 21.

23 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Down 3)
The Stags are clearly on everyone’s radar, but I think everyone is trying to figure out what to make of CMS. They started the season with a strange loss to Ohio Northern, but then when on a tear before losing to UW-Stevens Point. They clearly have a talented squad, but with so many games against questionable teams or non-Division III teams (three), the Stags are putting themselves on an even bigger island than they and the rest of the SCIAC already are. Chapman (10-0) is another SCIAC who is off to a great start, but it is so hard to figure these teams out. (Tournaments like the D3hoops.com Classic could really help teams in the SCIAC.) I liked CMS in the preseason, so I am riding them for now.

24 – St. Olaf (Down 1)
The Oles got on my radar when they beat UW-Stevens Point and only had Bethel as their lone loss. They certainly got on other radars as well and when I was looking for new teams a few weeks back to add to my ballot, they got the nod. However, I am leery. They just haven’t played anyone of note besides UWSP and Bethel. Conference action will certainly help answer some questions especially when they play Augsburg and St. Thomas in the coming weeks. Could the Oles really be that good?

25 – Franklin & Marshall* (Unranked)
I could make arguments for why the Diplomats should be higher; I could make arguments for why the Diplomats shouldn’t even be ranked. After watching them on Saturday, I didn’t think they stood a chance against Richard Stockton. Then watching them get a 20 point lead into the second half I couldn’t believe what I was watching. They pretty much blew that lead and needed to hold on to dear life to win. This is a squad that is very young and is still looking for not only its identity, but some leadership. Clearly Glenn Robinson has gotten some talent on this squad that will contribute for some time to come, but I can’t help but think the Centennial schedule is going to rear its head against F&M. No longer are people in awe when they arrive at Mayser Center and no longer is F&M the team to beat in the conference. Dickinson, Johns Hopkins, Gettysburg, and McDaniel all will get additional shots at the Diplomats and should F&M come out of that relatively unblemished and can keep their heads at places like Swarthmore and Washington College, then I will tell you publically F&M is a team to worry about come March.

Dropped out:

Centre (Previously #21)
The Colonels are a good team, but when you lose two of your last three to Johns Hopkins and Sewanee, I can’t keep you in my Top 25. I have mentioned Hopkins a few times as teams in the Centennial will have to deal with, but on a national scale Top 25 teams should beat the Blue Jays. And then Centre lost to Sewanee on the road starting conference play on a real rough note.

Bethel (Previously #22)
I just don’t know what to make of the Royals. They lost to a very good Buena Vista squad (picked to win the IIAC) and they beat St. Olaf earlier in the year. But they lost to St. John’s in a game that clearly would have stated Bethel was ready for conference action. Not sure they have a resume to keep them on a Top 25 ballot.

Stevenson* (Previously #24)
I have liked the style of play the Mustangs play for a while now. They are very well coached by Gary Stewart, but the loss to Albright after barely beating Macalester on the road and having a tougher battle than I expected against Allegheny is cause for concern. They had previously beaten Widener is what can only be described as an ugly game. Now they have Messiah, Alvernia, and Hood ahead who are all well coached and all have the capabilities, even if they aren’t the same squads as last year, of getting a quality win over Stevenson. The next few weeks are critical for the Mustangs if they hope to win the conference and ever return to the NCAA tournament.

Bates (Previously #25)
I took a flier on the Bobcats in the last poll because they were undefeated with wins over Babson, Husson, and Bowdoin. And while I think they are still very good team, they lost back-to-back games to Emory and Birmingham-Southern while in Atlanta. If they had gone 1-1 with their lone loss to Emory, I would have left them on my ballot. They have some really good tests ahead with Brandeis and Middlebury in their next two games and of course the rest of NESCAC action ahead. The Bobcats may still be a Top 25 team, they just have to prove they can recover from their Atlanta trip.

* – teams I have seen in person. I am not indicating who I have watched online as they are too numerous to keep track of accurately.

There you have it. I could make arguments for teams I left in my Top 25 to be taken off the poll. I could make arguments for teams I have been considering, but just haven’t placed on the ballot as of yet. I could argue I have teams too high, too low, etc. There are undefeated teams who haven’t played anyone of note. There are teams with three or more losses who have played a litany of good teams. It is a challenging year to vote in the men’s Top 25 and I don’t think it is going to get any easier as the season moves forward.

In the meantime, I will stew over this ballot for the next week and figure out what I am missing or over analyzing. Who knows… I might blow the whole things up in the coming weeks.

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 11

I have no confidence in about 99% of the Division III teams, right now. None.

I talked to a few of the Top 25 voters this week as either I reached out to them to get their take on a few teams or they reached out to me and the one thing I quickly figured out: this is getting harder and harder. That may not mean something to non-voters or general Division III fans, but trust me when I say that this time of the season usually means less work on the Top 25 because teams have proven themselves and are ready for the last few weeks of the season.

Not this year.

I have almost no faith in my picks anymore. I have no confidence that where I have a team slotted is actually where they should be. I have a lot of confidence that I have some teams too high on my ballot and as a result I find myself stuck in no-man’s-land when dealing with losses even if a host of teams behind a team that has lost didn’t lose (see Cabrini).

I joked with one pollster that I want to submit my ballot with UW-Stevens Point number one… and leave the rest of the ballot blank. Not that no other team is a Top 25 squad, but because none of the teams I have in my Top 25 really seem like they deserve their ranking – they all may be too high!

And Cabrini really had me debating. Not necessarily because they lost, but because of who was behind them and how that would impact where they sat in the rankings. I actually changed my mind at least four times and came up with four different solutions… not liking any of them. I ended up staying pat with last week in hopes the coming week can give some better clarity.

As I begin, here is a reminder of last week’s ballot.

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)
This will shock people and I really don’t know what to say. I could explain it six ways to Sunday and still not necessarily agree with it myself. It came down to a few things: was the loss to Baptist Bible bad? Yes. Was the last two weeks for Cabrini strange? Yes. Are they getting healthy again? Seem to be. Am I comfortable bringing other teams up to the number-two spot? No. Aaron Walton-Moss appears to be headed back from his injury and to paraphrase Mike Show from Baptist Bible, he is still a very dangerous player even on just one leg. This team does have a weak conference and their SOS shows that, but a weak schedule hasn’t stopped the Cavs from being minutes away from a national championship two years ago and making a challenging run to the elite eight last season. I am willing to trust my gut and Coach Markus Kahn on this one, but could I regret this decision in a week? Yes.

3 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)
Yeah, the Titans were knocking on the door of number-two thanks to Cabrini’s loss, but I just don’t feel they are the second-best team in the country… or even third-best. They have three-losses all in conference and could even lose the regular-season title to quirky Wheaton (Ill.) should they lose to the Thunder this week. Can I really be comfortable putting the Titans that far up my ballot if they may not even be the one-seed in their own conference tournament to a team I have on the outside-looking-in of my ballot? Yikes.
(EDIT: I mistakenly stated IWU has three-losses in conference, they indeed have two. I was thinking if they lost to Wheaton, they would pick up a third loss and incorrectly added that to their total. Furthermore, I should state that saying “they would lose the regular-season title” I meant they would lose the #1 seed. My good friend Bob Quillman pointed out my mistakes and I am grateful.)

4 – Wash U. (Unchanged)
More of the same with the Bears of Washington University. I have stated in past weeks I am nervous with this team this far up in ballot and I know I am not the only one thinking that. Again, had I moved Cabrini down it probably would have resulted in Wash U. moving up to number three and that simply makes me cringe. I like how the Bears are playing and they are rolling away with the UAA title, but I am not sure their conference standing is a sign of how good the Bears are or proves that the rest of the UAA took a step back (or for some more than one) this season.

5 – Wooster (Unchanged)
I seriously considered moving Wooster down this week not for what they did on the court, but for what the rest of the conference did – or didn’t do. The Scots now have a two-game lead in a conference that doesn’t have anyone really stepping up at this point in the season. If ever I would to demote a team for what the rest of the conference was doing, this would be it. However, I also thought it wouldn’t be fair to Wooster… for now.

6 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

7 – Amherst (Unchanged)

8 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

9 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

10 – Williams (Unchanged)

11 – Wesley (Unchanged)

12 – WPI (Unchanged)

13 – Brockport State (Up 2)

14 – Texas-Dallas (Up 2)
Here is about the point in the ballot I am ready to throw things around and scream bloody murder… and maybe it actually starts with Brockport State as well. These teams seem too high up. In fact, they probably are too high up. Texas-Dallas is having a good year, but honestly their only resume highlight is that they are cruising in their conference. They also probably have to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA tournament thanks to the new 22-game schedule the ASC has implemented (though the Comets are #2 in the South Regional Rankings in Week 1). The second half of my ballot is nuts.

15 – Randolph-Macon (Down 1)
This may surprise people since the Yellow Jackets lost to Eastern Mennonite this past week, but to me I considered a couple of things. This was RMC’s first loss since losing a close game at Cabrini on December 18, Eastern Mennonite actually has some solid wins this season, the game was on the road, and the ODAC has probably more parity from top to bottom this season then in a long time (ten of the twelve teams have above-.500 records right now). Coach Nathan Davis has proven he can get his team clicking late in the season, so I can’t fault a single loss in the last fifteen games. One other factor, there was enough turmoil in the lower half of my Top 25 ballot that there was only so far for the Yellow Jackets to fall.

16 – Whitworth (Up 2)
Guh… I am pretty sure this is too high for the Bucs. I like how Whitworth plays and they are well coached, but my concerns coming out of Las Vegas have not changed. They are short on the bench, especially on the inside, and they sometimes lack the fire power they need to put teams away. Those concerns had me keeping Whitworth low on my ballot ever since. Now they are sneaking up and I am not thrilled. Sure, I am not surprised George Fox took them to the wire, but that is a game Whitworth needed to make a statement with.

17 – Purchase State (Up 3)

18 – Mary Washington (Down 5)
Frederick, the Eagles have landed! Mary Washington has lost three straight games in conference action and each of those losses I have a problem with. Salisbury: sure the Seagulls are tough, but if the Eagles are that good they win. Christopher Newport: a game that Mary Washington needed to use as a way to forget about Salisbury and stay in great position on top of the conference. Wesley: certainly not a surprise that the Wolverines won, but Mary Washington didn’t even look like a factor in the game. Maybe Mary Washington has peaked too early and if that is the case it is a shame because Mary Washington had been having one of the best seasons in program history. Oh, and they only feel five spots because I couldn’t imagine teams behind them ahead of them.

19 – Albertus Magnus (Up 3)

20 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 3)
I will admit, along with Mary Washington, I may have had the Battling Bishops up too high. Just the single loss to Wabash may not have resulted in dropping three spots, but Ohio Wesleyan is now 2-2 in the last four and if you look at their overtime win, it was to 5-18 Alleghany. Maybe the NCAC race was too good to be true.

21 – Centre (Down 2)

22 – Rose-Hulman (Unranked)
Believe it or not, the Engineers have won 16 of their last 17 games and seem to be playing the best basketball when it counts the most. They also have a potential All-American in Julian Strickland leading the way with more than 25 points a game and leading in almost every other category as well. Rose-Hulman had a disappointing finish to last season, but this is an experienced squad who may be a dark horse depending on the set-up in the NCAA tournament.

23 – Staten Island (Up 2)

24 – Scranton (Unranked)
Against my better judgment, I placed the Royals into my ballot. I know they have only lost three games this season and their SOS is surprisingly high, but if there is one conference I know very, very well… it is the Landmark and nothing impresses me about this conference this season. Juniata has disappointed, Catholic has not been as good as expected, and the rest of the conference is playing at about an “ok” level. Certainly there is more parity this season in the conference, but that doesn’t mean the teams are good. Welcome to my Top 25 Royals, just don’t let me regret the decision (I am already regretting being a Top 25 voter this season).

25 – Richard Stockton (Unranked)
WHAT AM I DOING?! I am getting desperate, I think, to find teams that seem to fit in the Top 25. I have been watching the Ospreys for a while, but just have not been impressed with their resume, the NJAC, or anything else for that matter. However, they have won 20 games and are now at least tied for the top of the conference. I just have a feeling I am grasping at straws and happen to grab Richard Stockton’s from the other fifteen potential candidates.

Dropped Out:

Messiah (Previously 21)
Considering who I put into my Top 25, maybe pulling the Falcons out was too rash. However, they lost their second game to Stevenson (this time at home) and now all of their losses are conference losses. Messiah has had the chance several times this year to put their stamp on the conference, but can’t seem to put teams away and may have more match-up problems than I realized when watching them last month. Time will tell if this was a rash decision.

Bowdoin (Previously 23)
I really like how the Polar Bears have played this season, but the loss to Tufts coupled with the fact it was their second loss in three games makes me concerned the Polar Bears are on thin ice. Could they have peaked too early? They can prove myself and others wrong or right by how they perform in the NESCAC tournament which starts this weekend.

Dubuque (Previously 24)
I should have seen this coming. The only other time I placed Dubuque in my Top 25, they promptly lost. This time they lost both games (Loras and Central) and now probably won’t make the NCAA tournament unless they win their conference. I wanted to route for the underdog here, but they are making it hard to believe they can meet the challenge.

Other ballots:
Week 10
Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 3
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 10

To be honest, this week’s Top 25 ballot was a pain in the a$$. It wasn’t exactly carnage throughout, but the losses that did pile up caused me to have teams rise into spots in the poll I was just not comfortable with. I certainly could have left teams where they were and had others jump over them, but there wasn’t many arguments for teams behind to jump ahead. It caused for a long 24 hours of constantly plugging away, diving into data, and trying to listen to either my head or my gut… or ignore both.

So I want to publicly thank the following for making the Week 10 Top 25 a pain in the a$$: WPI and Wesley primarily. Couldn’t you guys take care of business? WPI, dropping one game to giant-killer Emerson or to a solid unit in Babson, but both?! Wesley, your performance against York (Pa.) was anything but inspired. It didn’t occur to you that you have to play every game?

Ok, tongue-in-cheek moment over with… those two teams alone caused plenty of chaos with my ballot, but it wasn’t the only challenge I faced. Heck, 24 voters had to reconsider who we thought was the top team in the country and I am sure everyone had a different point of view in how they made that determination. I actually thought about it for five days (thanks in part to UWSP losing on a Wednesday and both teams not playing the rest of the week).

What ended up happening this week was interesting. I made some difficult decisions, I followed by head in some spots and gut in others, and I also punted a few teams and introduced some teams I had been watching for months but didn’t feel deserved to be on my ballot. All in all it sets up for another crazy week and I am not sure I won’t be cursing out a few more teams next week.

As we get started, here is a reminder of last week’s ballot… and on we go:

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)
I thought long and hard about this and it came down to two things: did I really think the Pointers would get through WIAC play unscathed and did I really think they could go into Whitewater and not lose. First item: no. I was actually pretty surprised that UWSP had gotten this far into the season without losing a game in conference. They have been playing better and better and had been taking care of business like it was their jobs. That gets me to the second item: no. I knew UWW would be ready for UWSP and considering the game was in Whitewater I knew weeks ago there was a very real chance the Pointers would lose. The game goes to overtime and the spread is five points. UWSP ends up being the second-t0-last undefeated team in Division III (see below) and they lost a game I pretty much expected they may lose, so I couldn’t really drop them from the top spot.

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)
As for why I didn’t change number-one votes, that argument is probably better here with Cabrini. When I thought about the UW-Whitewater game I took into consideration whether I thought Cabrini would have won that same game. The answer was actually pretty simple: no. Considering the game was in Whitewater and Cabrini would have played the game either without or with a much hobbled Aaron Walton-Moss, I cannot say with any confidence Cabrini would have won that game, either. So if I can’t say they would have won that game, I can’t then move them ahead of UW-Stevens Point. The other challenge is the fact Cabrini ended up playing no games last week thanks to three postponements including one everyone was looking forward to seeing. The game against Wesley on Monday would have helped voters gauge how good Cabrini really was at this point in the season especially with an injured Walton-Moss. However, weather got in the way of that game a second time (and pretty much won’t be made up) and then got in the way twice of Cabrini’s game with Immaculata (power problems on Cabrini’s campus). Now the challenge for the Cavaliers is the fact they have to play four games in six days this week three of which will be on the road with back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday. Despite the competition not being that challenging, I will be impressed if Cabrini gets through this week unscathed… though Mother Nature may have another postponement looming for the Cavs: a major nor’easter is being forecast for their game against … wait for it … Immaculata. (Shaking my head.)

3 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 1)

4 – Wash U (Up 1)
This is one of those teams I am not very comfortable with this high, but not sure I could default by moving other teams ahead of them – though I nearly did with UW-Whitewater. I was reluctant with the Bears earlier this season and kept them low and I may have ignored that feeling and went with the data a bit too much… we shall see.

5 – Wooster (Up 1)

6 – UW-Whitewater (Up 2)
After beating UW-Stevens Point, I nearly jumped the Warhawks up to fifth or fourth and even considered a move to third. However, the fact they had to have overtime to beat the Pointers at home gave me pause. That fact isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t the defining argument I needed to make such a bold move. Had the game been at Stevens Point, I would have felt differently. Maybe the Warhawks should be higher, but I had my reasons for them being behind IWU, Wash U., and Wooster before the week began and the win over UW-Stevens Point didn’t change that opinion for me.

7 – Amherst (Up 2)

8 – St. Norbert (Up 2)
Here is another team I am not comfortable with in the Top 10. You know I think the Green Knights are a sleeper (despite their ranking) and depending on how the NCAA tournament gets bracketed could have a break-through post-season, but that doesn’t mean I think they are the eighth best team in the country. However, I need to put some team in this slot and I didn’t have an argument for anyone behind them to jump them. St. Norbert is steamrolling their way through the conference and right now that is the biggest determining factor for me. That have sometimes struggled in their conference, but they are taking care of business this year and doing so impressively. One person pointed out their loss to UW-Whitewater probably makes them at best the third-best team in the WIAC. I agree… and thus they are third on the list compared to those teams.

9 – St. Thomas (Up 2)

10 – Williams (Up 2)

11 – Wesley (Down 4)
I won’t repeat my tongue-and-cheek comment above, but wow did the Wolverines play completely uninspired basketball against now four-win York (Pa.) on Thursday night. I realize the game was delayed, but 48 points on 1-15 shooting late in the game is bad… just bad. I watched most of the last half and it just was bad. Wesley probably would have moved further down my ballot except for two major factors: they recovered to beat Christopher Newport on Saturday and the number of losses and adjustments below this point in the poll caused a bit of a pillow to break their fall. That being said, Wesley has got to learn to play better on the road because their NCAA tournament hopes will ride on it: they aren’t getting a home game at any point in the tournament.

12 – WPI (Down 9)
Emerson has now proven they can beat Top 5 teams. First it was then-number one Amherst and now then-number three WPI. But that should have been the wake-up call. Instead, the Engineers then lost to Babson two days later. Yes, Babson is a very good team this year and it was on the road, but the home loss to Emerson should have at least had WPI ready for Babson, instead they take their second loss in a row. As with Wesley, WPI would have fallen even further down my ballot except they also benefited from the pillow-effect.

13 – Mary Washington (Down 1)
The Eagles almost put St. Mary’s on life-support with their win earlier in the week, but followed it up with a loss to Salisbury at home by ten. Talk about another team apparently not ready for their opponent. Mary Washington has one of, if not the best team in program history, but the target on their back is very large. Salisbury is a good team despite their record, so I wasn’t shocked by the loss. However, the Eagles have to realize at this point in the season every game matters.

14 – Randolph-Macon (Up 3)

15 – Brockport State (Down 1)

16 – Texas-Dallas (Up 4)

17 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 2)

18 – Whitworth (Up 3)

19 – Centre (Up 2)

20 – Purchase State (Unranked)
Here is the first of several teams I have been holding out of my Top 25 and make an appearance this week. The Panthers continue to play well and beat anyone in front of them. In fact, they only have one loss at it was on the road against Albertus Magnus. Their perceived SOS numbers are not that bad and they will probably be ranked number-one in the first regional rankings. I like what Coach Charney has put together at Purchase and there is no reason, anymore, they shouldn’t be in my Top 25.

21 – Messiah (Down 5)
Since going undefeated into mid-January, the Falcons have stumbled in places they shouldn’t be stumbling and struggling on the road. Messiah is a dangerous team, but the loss to Lycoming is inexcusable – not because Lyco isn’t a challenging team, but because if you are as good as I know Messiah to be… that is a game you put away. Big rematch with a struggling Stevenson squad looking to jump-start their season looms on Wednesday… that is going to be a major factor for my ballot next week.

22 – Albertus Magnus (Unranked)
Here is the second team I have been holding out on. I will be blunt: the loss to St. Joseph’s (Maine) is a nasty blemish on their record, but a lot of teams in my Top 25 have some questionable blemishes as well. The Falcons are once again heading down the road of maybe hosting the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and they have to take advantage of that opportunity. I think they have the capabilities to make the second weekend, but results like those against St. Joe’s and close games like that against Anna Maria this week make me nervous this team is just smoke and mirrors – thus why it has taken me this long to put them on my ballot.

23 – Bowdoin (Down 5)
Probably a bit of a harsh demotion for the Polar Bears for their loss to Middlebury, but I had trouble slotting them in any higher. I am certainly not faulting the team for how they lost to Middlebury, but I am faulting them for not beating the Panthers. Middlebury is not the fearsome team of the last few years and if Bowdoin is really that good a squad, that game should not have come down to a last-second three-pointer to tie it and then an unfortunate timeout call.

24 – Dubuque (Unranked)
For the second time this year, I am putting the Spartans into my Top 25 ballot. The simple fact is, no matter who they have played or the strength (or lack of) of their conference, Dubuque is 20-1. You have to be doing something right to get to this point in the season and only have one loss.

25 – Staten Island (Unranked)
Here is the final team I have been holding out on. Just like Purchase State and Albertus Magnus, I am not sure just how good Staten Island is. They are playing well with their last loss coming in the third game of the season – that’s 19 straight wins. The Dolphins could be a sleeper and will probably get a chance to host games in the NCAA tournament, but they may have to be ready to play on the road to prove anything.

Dropped out:

Virginia Wesleyan (Previously 19)
The yo-yo the Marlins had been doing for a few weeks finally broke. The loss at home against Eastern Mennonite was finally the last straw for me. I kept buying in to a team that in year’s past I was reluctant about. Now they are a few games out of first place in their conference and I can’t keep a five-loss team in the Top 25 when I don’t even have teams ahead of them in the conference on my ballot (except for Randolph-Macon). The Marlins could still be a dangerous squad come March, but they have to start putting some things together and get used to playing on the road.

Eastern Connecticut (Previously 23)
I may have bought into the Warriors a bit too much. Their loss early in the week against Wesleyan disappointed me. If they were as good as I thought the information and what I saw indicated, that isn’t even a game.

Oglethorpe (Previously 24)
As you know, I don’t treat a ranked team who losses to team ranked above them too harshly. However, the Stormy Petrels just didn’t have a lot of room to play with sitting 24th when they lost to Centre (season sweep). They got knocked a few spots like others would have, it just so happened that meant coming off my ballot.

Augustana (Previously 25)
As I have said, the Vikings probably shouldn’t have been in my Top 25 last week especially when I didn’t expect them to get through this past week unscathed. The loss to Illinois Wesleyan was an excuse I didn’t need to have, but to lose in such a non-competitive manner didn’t help the cause even if they did beat Carthage the next game.

Other ballots:
Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 3
Week 1