Dave’s Top 25 Blog: Week 7

Kenny Love and the overall #1 Whitworth Pirates moved back into second spot on my ballot.

It was an interesting week for the D3hoops.com Top 25 – at least I thought so. We are getting to the point where things appear to be getting more stable. I didn’t think we would ever get to that point and having said that I have probably jinxed myself for the rest of the season. However, I think myself and other voters are starting to feel more comfortable with far more of the ballot. It used to be just the top five, then maybe eight or nine, but now I feel like the top fifteen or more are a bit more solid and I am just working on filling out the rest. In other words, this week’s ballot felt more like ballots of seasons past!

Unfortunately, I did not get to see as many games online as I normally do this past week. Despite the fact a blizzard kept me indoors over the weekend, it didn’t mean I had all of this free time to just watch games. When you are expecting two to three feet of snow, you spend part of that time shoveling during the storm so you can open your doors and have less to break your back over after the storm. Thank goodness I got out a few times during the storm as three feet is what ended up falling on us and I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle that all at once (I am still shoveling three days later!).

As a result, I have concentrated my efforts a little more on posts on the Posting Up boards from those who see teams in action and know them the best. You have to be careful with this tactic as you will get some very different points of view from two people who were at the same game – seen through whatever tint their glasses are per their rooting interests. However, there are a number of solid posters who continually give great accounts of games or input that you can’t always appreciate watching a game online. I will admit, I am not great at breaking a game down through written word, so I truly appreciate those who do.

There still remains one major challenge: There are a number of deserving or seem-to-be-deserving teams worthy of Top 25 love, but not enough spots to put them in. Each week I struggle to figure out how to get teams on my ballot and figure out who to remove. In weeks past when there were losses-a-plenty, it was a little bit easier. However, the last few weeks have seen a downward trend in losses on my ballot meaning I have less teams I am willing to dump for others.

The other challenge comes with squads people think deserve to be in the Top 25 because they got a big win or two. One such team came up in conversation on Twitter recently:

While the tweet wasn’t directed at me, I saw it and it made me think. Wesleyan has been on my radar for weeks, but I keep having problems with some of their results. This past week they beat up on Amherst and beat Tufts as well. Pretty good week, right? But prior to that they had lost three of four games including Amherst beating up on them in a game that actually counted for the NESCAC. (Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams all play a second round of games against each other for Little Three bragging rights. The first Amherst-Wesleyan game counted for NESCAC play: Amherst won. The second game counted for the Little Three only: Wesleyan won.) By the way, when I say they beat each other up, Amherst won the first game by 24 and Wesleyan won the second game by 27. And then there is that Lyndon State (6-9) game the very first game of the season which Wesleyan lost by 2. While it was the first game of the season, it is still a loss I struggle to understand other than it was the first game of the season.

Rashid Epps and Wesleyan have had an up and down three weeks. Credit: Wesleyan Athletics

In my back and forth Twittersation with 757Basketball, they expressed bewilderment as to why Wesleyan wouldn’t be getting love for winning the NESCAC title last season. This is the funniest part because I can’t tell you how many people will tell me they want me voting on only this year’s results, while another set of people understands if I take history into account (not winning a title, but trends and consistency), and other set of people want me to lean heavily on history. I can’t win! LOL

Wesleyan is ranked in the Top 25 on this week’s D3hoops poll, but I will break the suspense and tell you they are not on my ballot below. The Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde routine of the past three weeks doesn’t make make comfortable putting them on my ballot just yet. However, the Cardinals have some solid opponents coming up in the final five games of the season. Play well and I am sure I can find room on a crowded ballot.

One more thing before I continue on with this week’s ballot, I want to recognize Ira Thor and Ryan Scott. Last week Ira started blogging his ballot for the world to see and Ryan Scott followed suit with his blog this week. They both recognized the fact I am doing it as part of the reason they are being transparent and I congratulate them for taking what is honestly a bold step forward in revealing their voting and even thinking behind their decisions. It only helps to give people a better understanding of how different voters vote because there are 25 completely different voters with very different mindsets and interpretations. Some of us might chat with one another, but we certainly don’t all vote the same way. To see their ballots, you can click here for Ira’s and click here for Ryan’s.

Now on to my ballot from this week (forgive the lack of brevity for some of these, not a lot of time this week for writing):

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)

2 – Whitworth* (Up 1)

3 – St. Thomas* (Up 1)

4 – Benedictine (Up 1)

5 – John Carroll (Up 1)

6 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 1)

Elmhurst last unbeaten to lose in the CCIW this season.

7 – Elmhurst (Down 5)
My point a few weeks ago when Augustana lost to Elmhurst on the road was that I expected the Vikings to lose a game in CCIW play. It’s been 43 seasons since someone went through conference play undefeated and I didn’t expect it to happen this year. As a result, I did not and I have not moved Augustana off of my top spot. So Elmhurst losing to North Central, on the road, isn’t all that surprising in the fact that I didn’t expect the Blue Jays to go undefeated in the CCIW either (or they would have been my number one team!). However, it was an 18-point loss not a two-point, overtime loss like Augustana’s. North Central shot very well and Elmhurst was average. So I knew I was going to drop the Blue Jays a couple of spots. They fell a few extra spots only because I couldn’t argue they were better than the teams ahead of them right now. So, five spots is a tough drop for a road loss in conference, but to be honest I expect them to lose another road game this week (Augustana).

For those wondering, no, North Central did not make my ballot this week. I only have one five-loss team on my ballot and seriously considered dropping them off this week as well. It is a decision I am not exactly sure of even as I write this, but it is the decision I went with when it click “submit.”

8 – Hope (Unchanged)

9 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

10 – Susquehanna* (Up 1)

11 – Marietta (Up 1)

12 – Chicago^ (Up 1)

13 – Johnson and Wales (Up 2)
The Wildcats continue to dominate in their conference. I am serious when I say even Albertus Magnus didn’t dominate the GNAC like this in the last few years. 36 points per game! But for those who have followed my blog over the years, you will notice J&W is in about the same spot as AMC has been this time of the year almost every season.

14 – WPI (Up 2)

Lord Jeff no more at Amherst. Just part of a rough week on campus. Credit: Independent Journal

15 – Amherst (Down 6)
Not a good week for the Lord Jeffs – and the final time I will probably be uttering those two words. I’m not sure the ramping up style of scheduling Amherst has done over the last few years (starting with easier opponents and working towards more challenging ones before conference play) is working out this season. That coupled with the fact the NESCAC is a far deeper conference than in years past contributed to a 1-2 week for Amherst. Wesleyan, as noted earlier, and then Colby nipped the purple team from central Massachusetts. The only bright spot, a thorough thumping of Bowdoin in the middle of a three-game road trip. It won’t get any easier for Amherst, maybe, as they continue what is a five game road stretch with games at Williams (12-6) and Trinity (14-4) this week. Amherst is clearly not as good as what voter’s thought in the preseason (#3) nor I (#5). I will be watching very closely to see how Dave Hixon’s squad responds this week.

16 – Alma (Up 2)

17 – Texas Lutheran (Up 2)

18 – Lancaster Bible (Up 2)

19 – St. Norbert (Unranked)
I am making up for last week’s mistake of accidently leaving St. Norbert off my ballot. However, it might have been a blessing in disguise. It forced me to reevaluate the Green Knights since I had them off my ballot. I needed to find a spot to place them and maybe broke up a rut I was in with SNC. I didn’t seem to be able to move them out of the twenties. This might get me moving them around a bit more since with two-losses they are playing better than expectations – AGAIN. I could have moved them up further as well, but at least they are back on the poll where they deserve to be!

20 – Roanoke (Up 3)

21 – Northwestern (Up 3)

22 – Brooklyn (Up 3)

Mount Union needs to win a big game other than Chicago earlier this season.

23 – Mount Union (Down 9)
I’ll be brutally honest, despite having them 14th and losing to a team I and the D3hoops.com voting group had ranked ahead of them (Marietta), I almost pulled the plug on the Purple Raiders. Five losses are the most any team has on my ballot. It is also the most on the overall poll, but that team is North Central. I realize Mount Union has played a very difficult schedule, in what has become a fascinatingly tough OAC race, but at some point I have expected UMU to beat a ranked team! They have a win over Chicago, but they have losses to William Paterson (once ranked), North Central, John Carroll, and Marietta (last two in back-to-back games). What is worse, when Mount Union losses it isn’t close. The average spread in a loss is 13.8 with six being the closest in a game against Colby. I decided to hold on just a little longer because I think the Purple Raiders are a very good team, but they won’t get another “big” game until Feb. 17 against John Carroll. I expect them to win every game between then to be blunt.

24 – Tufts (Down 7)
I nearly pulled the plug here as well. The Jumbos have lost two of their last four including to starting-to-get-hot Middlebury and schizophrenic Wesleyan. At least the games have been close, but as NESCAC play has intensified Tufts seems to be wilting a little. They only beat Conn College by two the other day on the road. Interestingly, Tufts has two non-conference games in the next three which might not tell us anything, so I wait patiently.

25 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 4)
The Diplomats only ended up playing one game due to the Blizzard last week and lost to Gettysburg (they have since beaten McDaniel in a twice-postponed-game). While F&M made a run in the second half to try and make it interesting, the Bullets pulled away in the end and left F&M floundering with 57 points. This is the same point in the season last year when the unexpectedly hot season fizzled on the Diplomats. They had started 14-0 and 7-0 in conference before losing their first game on January 17. They would go on to lose six of their final twelve games of the season and miss out on the NCAA Tournament. This is basically the same team, expect supposedly with more experience. However, the conference isn’t scared of the Diplomats and with Dickinson looking to prove they are still good coming up and a tough finishing set of games remaining, F&M needs to put the blinders on and focus on the task at hand – securing home-court advantage for the Centennial playoffs or this season is going to end just as suddenly as last year’s.

Dropped Out:

Trine’s undoing started with a loss at Calvin. Courtesy: Trine Athletics

Trine (Previously 22)
I did to Trine what I nearly did to Mount Union. After starting the season 10-1, the Thunder have gone 3-3 in their last six and now sit 3-3 in the conference race in a three-way tie for third. Furthermore, they haven’t beaten the really good or ranked teams on their schedule. They have lost to Ohio Wesleyan, Calvin, Hope, and Alma. Three of those teams ranked and all three conference losses to teams ahead of tied with them in the standings. Trine needs to man-up and get a significant win. They have a home game against Calvin coming up this week which can help them greatly (since they are tied with the Knights in third place), but Hope and Alma won’t show up on the schedule for a few more weeks.

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season

Previous Ballots
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

So, only one team entered the ballot (with one team dropping out) and it’s the first team to re-enter my ballot this season. They also shouldn’t have been off my ballot in the first place!

There are still probably 20 or so teams I have “on my radar” that I spend the most time on each week trying to figure out if they deserve to be on my ballot or not. And if they do, who should be removed.

Sometimes I blow up my ballot because I have gotten into ruts and teams probably should be moved more drastically then I am allowing in its current structure. Other times I blow it up is when I feel like I have put myself in a corner and can’t find good enough reasons to move teams on or off accordingly. This week with the bottom third of the ballot feeling somewhat set, I feel a ballot blow up coming… just to shake up my thinking.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 6

Will Starks and John Carroll moved up on Dave's ballot thanks to a big win over Mount Union.

Will Starks and John Carroll moved up on Dave’s ballot thanks to a big win over Mount Union.

Another week, another challenging D3hoops.com Top 25 to consider. The top of the poll is somewhat solid. Not many changes, some shuffling, but the top fourteen spots didn’t take much time to decide on. It was the next eleven spots which are difficult, especially the massive vacuum that seems to reside in that area. Not the kind of vacuum that sucks everything up, but the kind of vacuum that is an empty, devoid space.

There have been a few vacuums this season on my ballot. At the beginning it resided between 5-10 on the poll. It has steadily moved down the poll as some of the good teams I had reservations about have proven themselves pretty strong. It has been starting around 12-15 for a few weeks now.

That’s the complication. There are a high number of teams who certainly can make arguments to be Top 25 teams – I’ve said probably up to 70 teams some weeks. But there is a place on the poll each week where it doesn’t feel like teams are good enough to be ranked there, but no one else should be there either. It’s a vacuum.

I have dealt with these vacuums in two ways this season: moved teams from below up into the ranks to fill the hole; inserted teams unranked before to fill the hole. The first option I used when the vacuum was further up in the Top 10. I didn’t have teams unranked the week prior who could just jump into a slot in the range of five to ten. However, as the vacuum has shifted further down, I have inserted unranked teams into as high as 15, I believe. Neither option feels comfortable because I am basically putting teams where I don’t think they fit. But again, there is a vacuum I need to fill and it may have backfired on me last week.

None the less, there is a vacuum for me starting right at number fifteen. I went with the “unranked last week” plan of attack yet again and took a risk.

With that all said… let’s get to the ballot! But first, a shout-out to my fellow voter Ira Thor who decided to reveal his Top 25 as well. I applaud him for deciding to be transparent. I know others who will tell you their ballot should you ask (being transparent) and I think it’s good to help people understand what voters are thinking.

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
No reason to change my mind here, though it has been an interesting to see how the first place votes have been breaking down and the reactions to those votes.

2 – Elmhurst (Unchanged)

3 – Whitworth* (Unchanged)

4 – St. Thomas* (Up 1)
Three-game week resulted in no losses and included a solid win over Augsburg and an import win over St. John’s.

Luke Johnson and Benedictine continue to avoid an in-conference hiccup.

5 – Benedictine (Up 1)
The Eagles continue to avoid what I worry about the most: a conference loss which could spiral into a couple of losses quickly. In games they should win, they dominated at least one of them this past week.

6 – John Carroll (Up 4)
The Blue Streaks are proving they are for real this season. You will remember I have been nervous of what was really going on in University Heights, Ohio, but a high-scoring 116-93 win over ranked Mount Union was what I was looking for on my personal litmus test for the team. Granted, it was a litmus test across the board for John Carroll, but I was very interested not only if John Carroll could win the game, but would they do it on their own terms – high scoring game tells me it was on their own terms. Now the target is squarely on JCU. They have wins over Marietta and Mount Union, but they won those games at home. They have ten games remaining for the conference tournament and have to play Marietta and Mount Union on the road… in back-to-back games in February.

7 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unchanged)

8 – Hope (Down 4)
The Dutchmen’s fall of four spots to a pretty good Alma team is three-fold: they did lose a game granted on the road, they haven’t looked all that strong in the last few weeks, and the movement of other teams didn’t find a hole until number eight. I still think Hope is a dangerous team who has a chance at being very special this season, but since returning from the holiday break, they barely beat Albion at home (68-65), had a tougher-than-expected game at Olivet (79-64), and the loss on the road to Alma. They backed that up with an emphatic win over Trine (74-51) which probably should have kept them from falling four spots. However, I don’t think they are playing better than the teams ahead of them and when I moved John Carroll up four spots the only opening I had left was here at eight. I just want to see Hope start to play a little more consistently at a high-level that I have become accustom to this season.

9 – Amherst (Unchanged)

Tim Daly and Christopher Newport are quietly putting together one of their best seasons in program history. Courtesy: Christopher Newport Athletics/Keller Gabriel

10 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
Quick comment on the Captains – they are playing some really good basketball. The CAC has been an interesting conference where almost anyone can rise to the occasion to beat someone on top, but Christopher Newport has been dominating everyone. They haven’t had a conference game in single-digits at the end all season. The closest anyone has come has been Salisbury (71-60) and Marymount (68-58) at the beginning of December. This might be a team who will quietly go far into the tournament this year before anyone realizes what is actually happening.

11 – Susquehanna* (Down 4)
This has been a magical season for the Crusaders and going undefeated in the conference was certainly on everyone’s mind no matter how unrealistic it may have been an expectation. But when they beat-up on Scranton on the road and having already beaten Catholic at home, that expectation began to take root. Was I surprised they lost? No. However, I didn’t think they would lose to a team in the bottom two-thirds, or so, of the conference. I figured Catholic or Scranton would eventually trip them up. Drew is a good team, but that was a road game Susquehanna should have won to remain a Top Ten squad.

12 – Marietta (Unchanged)

13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)

14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)

Quarry Greenaway and J&W are blowing out teams in conference by more than 36 points per game! Courtesy: Johnson and Wales Athletics

15 – Johnson and Wales (Unranked)
And here we enter the vacuum of my poll right now. I am going with a risk with Johnson and Wales here because… have you seen the Wildcats this season? We had Coach Jamie Benton on Hoopsville earlier this season when they got out to a good start. Should they keep this up, he will appear again to talk about dancing in the NCAA Tournament. They are not only 9-0 in the GNAC, a conference Albertus Magnus has dominated the last few season, but they dismantled a rebuilding, but still good (11-3), AMC squad 113-58 at home last week. They are beating conference teams by an average of 37.6 points per game! For comparison, Albertus Magnus beat their conference opponents by 18.8 ppg last season. J&W’s one loss this season? Linfield in the opening game of the season at Lewis and Clark. Considering the travel alone for that game, I am going to give the Wildcats a pass. I just don’t know if going from unranked to 15th is a smart move on my part.

16 – WPI (Down 1)
A loss to Babson isn’t a surprise expect that it was a home loss. The worry I have is the Engineers didn’t play well on the road against Emerson in the next game. I wasn’t buying into WPI early on. Now I have and it looks like they have hit a funk. We shall see.

17 – Tufts (Down 1)

Sam Hargraves and the Scots are in the D3hoops.com Top 25 for the first time in program history. Courtesy: Alma Athletics

18 – Alma (Unranked)
I had bracketed this past week for Alma several weeks ago. At home against Hope and then on the road against Calvin. This was a true test. Boy were the Scots ready! They beat Hope by 11 in a game they clearly were the better team and then beat-up on Calvin by 22. This squad is not a surprise in the conference. You might remember Hope’s Greg Mitchell talking about them earlier this season on Hoopsville, Kevin Vande Streek talked about them with me at the D3hoops.com Classic, and others have talked about how Alma (and Trine) were going to reshape the top of the MIAA. Alma is proving those thoughts accurate. But there is a lot of basketball to go including on the road against Trine this week and a road Hope, home Calvin set of games in early February.

19 – Texas Lutheran (Down 2)
The Bulldogs didn’t do anything to fall two spots, but they aren’t exactly a team I felt comfortable moving up into the 15th hole (per my previous handling of vacuum problems). But I am also getting nervous I am reading too much into the squad. When I talk to those who have seen them in action, they don’t speak as highly about them as I expect. One voter’s thoughts to me were, “they are good, just good.” I wanted badly to see them this past week when I was in San Antonio, but my schedule didn’t allow it. They do have a win over Alma and are now ranked in my poll behind them. That’s because I think Alma is playing better now than in late December and it was a one-point win in the first place.  The other problem: the losses to Pacific Lutheran, Illinois Wesleyan, and Texas-Tyler are not looking as good or strong as they have in the past. The shine just doesn’t seem to be there for me anymore

Herbie Brown and Lancaster Bible survived the toughest travel weekend of the season.

20 – Lancaster Bible (Unranked)
As with Alma, I had this past weekend bracketed for Lancaster Bible and they delivered. They had their toughest, conference road trip of the season ahead of them and they dominated with wins over Cazenovia (92-77) and Morrisville State (97-66). Morrisville State has been the class of the NEAC for several years, so to go into their place – even if they are having a down year – and beat them my 31 is more than impressive. That coupled with the fact they already have a dominating win over Franklin & Marshall and I am ready to buy in. The only trick is the Chargers are just hitting the midway point of the season. Unlike most teams, they have 13 games to fit into roughly a four-week period (January 22 to February 20). That schedule may take a toll, though eight of the final thirteen games are at home.

21 – Franklin & Marshall^ (Up 4)
The Diplomats have not let Glenn Robinson’s chase for 900 career wins or passing Bobby Knight on the all-time list distract them – nor would he let them for anyone who knows them. However, it can be a very distracting thing. Instead, F&M is in the midst of a six game winning streak. I would rank the squad higher, but they aren’t dominating teams, they are having games finish close that shouldn’t, and they aren’t exactly putting 40 minutes of complete basketball together every night – if they have done it at all this season. But they are good and seemingly deserve to be ranked.

22 – Trine (Down 1)
To be honest, I probably should have pulled Trine out of my ranking. I didn’t expect them to beat Hope especially after the Dutchmen got beat by Alma earlier in the week. But to lose by 23? Ouch. They have also now lost two in the last four games against two of the four teams battling for the top of the conference and with Alma looming on Wednesday, I am nervous that Trine is not going to pass its toughest test of the season (Calvin, Hope, and Alma in five games – 14 days). In hindsight, I might have had a better team to take their place or keep one of those I ejected this week in the poll.

Roanoke was unable to beat Hamden-Sydney, but still played their style of game. Courtesy: Roanoke College Athletics

23 – Roanoke (Down 3)
This is what happens it seems more than I can count. You finally buy into a team, rank them, and they go out and lay an egg. When I quickly chatted, via text, with Page Moir about the Maroons loss to Hampden-Sydney, he said it was a bad shooting night. I didn’t know the score at the time, just that they lost (I was with ODAC members at the NCAA Convention at the time). I looked later and saw the score: 100-92. Bad shooting night and still put 92 points on the board?! Let me tell you the number of coaches would love to have that problem! That is why I am not bailing on Roanoke. They are still playing their game and a bad shooting night is the reason they lost, not the reason they aren’t a Top 25 team. They are still the fourth-highest scoring team in the country (100.0 ppg) and one of those teams hasn’t really played a Division III schedule (Nebraska Wesleyan 100.3 ppg). The other two: Greenville (5-10; 111.7 ppg) and Grinnell (7-7; 106.4 ppg).

24 – Northwestern (Down 5)
I don’t like the loss to St. Scholastica to be blunt. I realize the Saints are 10-6 on the season, but it isn’t a good loss in my mind for the Eagles. I seriously thought about ejecting them from the Top 25 and there could be a strong argument later to have done it. The Eagles have now lost twice in a conference they went undefeated in last season and lost two of their last five games. I might be giving them too much credit for being a tough squad.

25 – Brooklyn (Down 2)
The Bulldogs didn’t do anything necessarily to fall two spots – they beat Hunter in their only game of the week. They just shuffled down two spots due to movement of teams above and around them. I still don’t love their loss to Baruch despite how tough the CUNYAC really is and the fact everyone knows Baruch is one of the tougher match-ups, no matter the record. But they are still a team I think will surprise some people come March.

Dropped Out:

UW-Whitewater (Previously 17)
I can’t say I have ever put a team into my Top 25, especially that high on the ballot after being unranked, and then removed them the next week. Bad week for the Warhawks. Lost to River Falls and Oshkosh Guh. I don’t really have anything to say. I thought they were coming together as a team especially considering how many transfers had come onto the program, but I must have read more into it than there needed to be. I will say last year’s experience of not ranking UW-Stevens Point until even later than this point in the season was in the back of my head, but this was just buying in too soon. This is also an example of why sometimes I am gun-shy about teams that are playing well above my expectations and thus why I tend to be a little slower than some to buy in.

Bridgeport Tusler scored 18 against Augsburg, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the loss for Bethel. Courtesy: Bethel Athletics

Bethel (Previously 22)
I circled this decision for a very long time. I am still not so sure I got this right. I realize they lost to Augsburg, but let’s not pretend that isn’t a good Aggies squad there in Minneapolis. But when Augsburg got thumped in their next game to St. John’s it had a trickle down affect to Bethel. Despite going 2-1 on the week and being what I feel is the second best team in the MIAC, I decided to take them out of the poll and give someone else a chance for right now.

St. Norbert (Previously 24)
The Green Knights slipped past me. Plain and simple. I was moving so many parts around (see above) along with considering so many other teams outside my ballot, I simply lost track of St. Norbert. Their win over Beloit didn’t do anything for me (they should be Beloit by 26!), though their win over Knox certainly raised my eyebrow (only scoring 56 points – thirty less than against Beloit – only winning by 3 to a one-win squad). I had not planned to removed St. Norbert from my Top 25, but in my back and forth thinking about Northwestern and with other squads I thought deserved to be in there, SNC simply fell off my ballot and I didn’t really notice it until writing this blog. Probably a mistake I will have to fix next week.

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season

Previous Ballots

Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

So there you have it. I am still keeping up with my removal of at least three teams from my Top 25, and shuffling teams around quite a bit. However, this week felt a little less stressful. That or I have gotten so used to the hours of work and hair pulling that it didn’t bother me as much this week. I am leaning towards that second thought.

I have also been knocking on the door of a full ballot blow-up and am kind of shocked I didn’t force it in the last few weeks. This week will be revealing if that kind of shake-up is needed in the near future.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 5

Augustana remains the top team on my ballot despite a loss.

I’d be lying if I told you I don’t think about my Top 25 ballot throughout the week. I think about the next ballot from about the moment I submit the current week’s ballot until I vote the following week. However, I don’t think I have focused on my ballot more during any week than I did this week. For obvious reasons.

On Wednesday night, I watched one of the more exciting and well played in-season basketball games in a long time. That or the fact I got to see two top five programs dual it out into overtime two days after a classic of a game between #1 and #2 in Division I swayed me. Either way, Augustana and Elmhurst played a whale of a game that needed five more minutes and smart officiating to be decided.

I knew from the moment the game ended and Elmhurst won that there was a lot to think about. And it would have ramifications all the way down the ballot. I hinted at my thinking then on Thursday night’s Hoopsville and talked about the debate I had going on in my head not only about who do I consider voting for number one, but how other teams who didn’t even play in the game factor in.

It was also another crazy week in terms of losses. The top two-thirds of my ballot was relatively quiet (thank you gentlemen!), but the last eleven teams accounted for nine losses. Nine of the entire ten in my ballot (the tenth being Augustana). That caused me to go out on some limbs, get aggressive with some cuts, and debate about blowing the entire thing up. However, considering the top 14 teams did not lose (outside of Augustana), blowing up the entire ballot didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

So there were two major shuffles: at the top where deciding on the number one team had ramifications all the way down to the ninth spot on the ballot; at the bottom where the final eleven spots saw four new teams and a bit of back-and-forth as to where to slot people.

With that in mind… let’s get to the ballot!

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
My thoughts on Thursday’s Hoopsville (further explained on Sunday’s show) ended up holding true. I thought about this several times a day since they lost on Wednesday. As I stated in last week’s blog, I knew Augustana was not going to get through the CCIW schedule undefeated (there is a reason no one has since 1973).

“Will Augustana go unfazed through conference action – NO! I expect Augustana to take a loss or two before we get to the NCAA tournament, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t think they are the best team in the country.”

If I knew that, then I am expecting my number one team to lose. Considering they lost to the second best team in the conference, on the road, by two points, in overtime said a lot to me. The Vikings had lost a game that no one should be surprised they lost. This isn’t a loss at home to Millikin or Carthage. It’s to a team I had second in my pre-season ballot and furthermore it was on the road for Augustana. And I’ve said this before, I don’t believe that just because a team wins a single game head-to-head that they automatically should be considered the better team. I still think Augustana is the best team in the country.

Elmhurst didn’t get my first place vote, but they moved up significantly after beating Augustana in overtime.

2 – Elmhurst (Up 5)
Beat the number one team in the country, on your floor, and in overtime… well done. THIS is the Blue Jays squad I expected in the pre-season. Not the team that lost to Benedictine by 20 (more on that shortly). Elmhurst played extremely well and deserve the victory. They came from behind in the second half and overtime while also giving up leads throughout the game. What do you expect from two very, very good basketball teams? I debated about making Elmhurst number one, but I don’t feel they can repeat this feat at Augustana nor do I feel if this game had been at Augustana the outcome, a win, would have been repeated. If played ten times, I think Augustana wins a majority of the games so thus, Elmhurst is number two.

3 – Whitworth* (Down 1)
It’s not what the Pirates did or didn’t do, it’s what Elmhurst did that precipitated this move. I did consider Whitworth for the top slot. However, I have seen the Pirates in person this year and Augustana both on video this year and in person at the Championship Weekend last year. I just don’t think Whitworth would be able to beat Augustana right now. They may have to do it in the NCAA tournament (because the Pirates always ended up in the toughest bracket), but right now they move down a spot just so I can put Elmhurst number two.

4 – Hope (Down 1)
Same as Whitworth; needed to find room for Elmhurst. Another team I certainly considered, but if I had them behind Whitworth and said not to the Pirates, I don’t feel Hope has done anything as of late to change my mind.

5 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)
I feel like copying and pasting what I said for Whitworth and Hope and pasting it in here. Same reason(s). A win over Bethel is a nice feather, but expected. Not enough to warrant leap-frogging those ahead of them last week.

6 – Benedictine (Up 3)
Here is the most challenging team on my ballot. The Eagles are undefeated and they beat Elmhurst by 20. At least one voter decided they were worthy enough to get a number one vote. I can only assume that is based on the Benedictine beat Carthage, Carthage beat Augustana, thus Benedictine would also beat Augustana theory. It is a theory I just can’t buy into. I realize there are a ton of factors at play with every single game making no game equal. So, I am not one to buy into head-to-head should trump all or that you can play the Team A beat Team B, Team B beat Team C, thus Team A is better than Team C game. Benedictine is clearly a good team, but in a sub-par conference. They clearly have gotten it done out of conference (five games, five opponents from the CCIW). My concern is someone in their conference is going to beat them and that will raise more questions than it answers. I also don’t think Benedictine would be able to beat Augustana. So I moved the Eagles up, but I’m not sure I can move them much higher.

7 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 2)
More moving of teams to find slots. I needed to get Elmhurst and Benedictine higher, so Ohio Wesleyan moved down. It has nothing to do with the Battling Bishops except I think those other two squads are better right now.

8 – Susquehanna^ (Unchanged)

Amherst got back to their winning ways after the Rhodes loss last week.

9 – Amherst (Down 2)
Again, moving down to create room. I am not blown away by the Lord Jeffs this season, but it isn’t like Dave Hixon doesn’t put together a solid program. Top 10 feels safe.

10 – John Carroll (Unchanged)

11 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)

12 – Marietta (Unchanged)

13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)

14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)

15 – WPI (Up 3)
At this point in my ballot last week is where teams started to lose thus creating a vacuum. WPI is having a good season, better than I expected which makes me leery. I know others are buying in. I am being cautious with the Engineers for right now. Granted, a win over an also-better-than-expected MIT squad was a good sign this week.

16 – Tufts (Unranked)
I have had my eye on Tufts for a while, but was sure if they were as good as advertised. The season started “eh” with losses to MIT and WPI and close games against opponents I figured they would dominate… so I waited. Then they beat Babson^, but I waited some more. Then they beat Whitman in a very high-scoring affair and I got intrigued, but wasn’t buying in. This week they rolled over Bowdoin and creamed Colby, two teams who have been getting Top 25 attention and are having very good seasons, especially Colby, and I decided to buy in. Now jumping to the 16th spot is a big jump for a team I was waiting on, but that vacuum created in this area of the poll needed to be filled. Their two wins I thought were better than what those lower on this ballot had put together for resume points, so here the Jumbos sit. Middlebury, Hamilton, and Wesleyan ahead.

17 – UW-Whitewater (Unranked)
Getting a bunch of transfers in to replace a ton of talent may be the new way to go in the WIAC! It clearly seems things are coming together nicely now for the Warhawks as they steamrolled through UW-Stout and then handed UW-Stevens Point their second loss in a row. My thinking has been the top of the WIAC has come down a bit this season, but the Warhawks are proving there may be a national contender in the making after all from the state of Wisconsin.

18 – Texas Lutheran (Up 2)
Winning the games in conference they are supposed to win. I am hoping to see them this coming weekend in person, but it is looking doubtful due to schedule conflicts.

19 – Northwestern (Up 2)
Also continue to win the games they are supposed to win. I appreciate that when it happens as it is easy to get complacent and trip up.

20 – Roanoke (Unranked)
I’ve been watching what the Maroons have been up to since the beginning of the season, but didn’t want to buy in ahead of a major victory. They got that last week. Page Moir’s squad is clicking on all cylinders. They even beat a Division I opponent which counts as a loss for North Carolina A&T, but not for the Maroons (exhibition). In almost all of those games, Roanoke has put up 100+ points (eight of their 13 games). And then they went and beat Virginia Wesleyan AT the Fish Tank! Roanoke is on top of the ODAC and playing some of the best basketball I have seen from this program in a very long time. I am actually excited just writing this because Page Moir is one of the best guys in Division III and I couldn’t have been happier to write down “Roanoke” on my ballot. Now the tough part: The target is on their back with Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon coming up this week.

Trine has emerged as a dangerous team in the MIAA.

21 – Trine (Down 2)
Trine didn’t win both of their games this past week, but considering their loss was to a better-than-their-record Calvin squad, I am not surprised. What stood out to me was a comment by a MIAA follower on D3boards.com that stated Trine was “everything they said they are” which I took as a compliment. The MIAA race is deeper at the top than I expected, though I can’t see Hope not winning it, and it’s because teams like Trine have developed incredibly well while everyone has been watching Hope and Calvin.

22 – Bethel (Unchanged)
According to the polls (mine and the D3hoops.com poll from last week) the loss to St. Thomas was expected. Thus, no changes here.

23 – Brooklyn (Down 8)
For as great a start to the season it was for the Bulldogs, they aren’t stay very consistent right now. The eight spots is a bit harsh, but the vacuum created by them and others further up caused a bit of a fall after their loss to Baruch. I am just not seeing the same dominance they showed at the beginning of the season. Granted, the CUNYAC is far more difficult that people are giving it credit for this season. However, Brooklyn needs to focus on winning the games they should if they want to secure an at-large bid should Lehman or others win the conference AQ.

24 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

Courtesy: Franklin and Marshall Athletics

Franklin & Marshall’s Glenn Robinson thanking the crowd celebrating his 900th career win.

25 – Franklin & Marshall^ (Unranked)
I am slipping the Diplomats onto my poll, though nervously. I have not bought in as many other voters have with this squad. I still see a number of weaknesses and I am not sure they can dominate a sub-par, compared to seasons past, Centennial Conference as they seem to be doing right now. However, I watched most of their game against up-and-coming Swarthmore and was impressed with how composed they were and how much they willed themselves to victory over a team that wouldn’t quit. Now, they were also playing to get Glenn Robinson his 900th victory (congratulations once again), so that may have been the driving force. And that is what worries me. They have hit the milestone mark that was on this season’s schedule. Can they continue to win now that the emotional mark has been passed?

Dropped Out:

Stockton^ (Previously 16)
Losing three in a row, no longer the leader of a crazy NJAC, and certainly not looking like their dominating selves, it was time to punt on the Ospreys. There just isn’t anyone in the NJAC worth noting in the Top 25 right now because they are beating themselves up. Even conference leader New Jersey City (6-1) has an “eh” overall record of 8-5. Stockton could have taken advantage of William Paterson’s major stumble at the beginning of the season, but in turn has stumbled themselves. Conference coaches may be right that the NJAC is the most difficult conference top to bottom, one through ten, but they are not the best conference nationally if the top of the conference can’t at least be a dominating team(s).

Oswego State (Previously 17)
I debated about this. The Lakers lost only the second game going into this poll, but they lost by 38 to Oneonta State. Ugly isn’t the right word. I have been high on Oswego for most of the season, but they are in the middle of what is now a crowded race in the SUNYAC which sees two-thirds of the conference fighting it out at the top. If I am voting for Oswego, then I have to find room for Cortland, Plattsburgh, Buffalo State, Oneonta, etc. They all have nine-wins (Oswego with eight) and no more than three losses. But there isn’t enough room for those four squads, so Oswego comes out and I watch the SUNYAC race ever closer to try and figure out who is playing the best basketball amongst a lot of very good teams.

Scranton* (Previously 23)
Three games in the Landmark Conference this past week was a true test. It wrapped up six games in twelve days for the Royals who came out of it 5-1. So why drop the Royals from my ballot? It was a hard debate, but at least I got to see Scranton in person before making my decision. It came down to the fact they lost to Susquehanna on their home court by 15. The result was expected per the poll, but you can’t lose that game by 15 in your own gum. Then the Royals played one of the more incredible games shooting wise against Goucher on the road and had to come from 13 down in the second half along with getting bailed out thanks to a dumb foul by a Goucher played in the final five seconds to pull off a one-point victory. I am not faulting them for the game at Goucher as both teams shot over 57% for the game, but I saw some inconsistencies that worried me – mainly, the ability to get into an offense that is dominating and then as quickly as they got into it go away from it for no reason taking their foot off an opponent’s throat. I also saw Catholic this past week and think in many ways, but for different reasons, the two squads are evenly matched (yet again) and don’t feel comfortable voting for both. Scranton is out for now, but with Catholic on the horizon, they could easily be back in the poll soon.

Pacific Lutheran* (Previously 25)
Well that didn’t last long. I thought the Lutes looked really good at the D3hoops.com Classic. They then laid an egg twice against Linfield and George Fox both on the road. Not pretty. Those two losses are going to stick with me for a while should I ever consider Pacific Lutheran again.

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I saw in person last season

Previous Ballots:
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

Another crazy week in the Top 25. The middle of my ballot seems pretty solid, right now, which is saying a lot considering how wide open it had been from about number six down. Of course, that could change next week completely. Moving forward I have probably 70 teams I am watching to some degree and constantly realize I need to add another team to the list. There is only so much time I can give to these votes, so having a team slip through isn’t unheard of nor unexpected. At the same time, this is the time of year when usually I can start narrowing the list dramatically since the grind of conference season will weed out the pretenders. That being said, this year has proven to not fit any of the usual voting rhythms, so I am sure I will be on a plane headed back from Texas next Sunday wondering how much of Monday will be spent tearing my ballot a part.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 4

(Please forgive the lack of links and items like bolded words and such, like normal. Having trouble with formatting this week.)

Well then. Three weeks of results should make it far easier to determine who are the best 25 teams in the country. Right? HA! Wrong.

Don’t get me wrong. I really didn’t have high expectations going into this week’s voting. I knew it was going to be tough. Last week, I had read somewhere there was 90+ schools in Division III men’s basketball with 2 or fewer losses, I think. So in preparation to vote and for this blog, I double-checked that number on the NCAA stats website: it’s actually 64 teams (through games played 1/3/16) – women have 78 teams, in case you were curious. At least the number wasn’t 90+, but 64 teams with two or fewer losses is still a lot of programs.

No. Before you think I am going to consider every one of those 2-loss teams for my ballot, that isn’t possible.

Yes. I also didn’t preclude teams who have lost more than two games. Heck, there were several sitting on my previous ballot.

But just in the simplest of thinking: there are more than 70 teams out of 415 (technically) that one could at least bring up based on their record and say, “why not so-and-so” when talking about the Top 25. A ballot that only represents the top six-percent of the division… and more than 17-percent of the division could make some kind of argument to be included. In early January.

Staggering.

The result? I nearly blew the entire ballot up. If I actually had more time in my day on Monday (I had a basketball game to attend for a client), I would have done it. Instead, I did the next best thing: a major shake-up.

For those who know me and these blogs over the last few years, you know I am good for at least one “blow-up” vote a season. Usually two. While I resorted to a major shake-up this time around, I am already looking to probably having to blow it up in the next week or two and start nearly from scratch.

I won’t bore you with why and how I blow up a ballot in this blog, but the major shake-up took shape when I got into the section between 5-10 as I voted. I had a team moving down into the group, I had teams at the bottom of the ballot who really needed to move up and probably deserved more than a handful of spots. I also have had a large drop off in my feelings of who really is the best seventh, eighth, ninth, etc. best team in the country the entire season. As a result, I decided to get bold with a few teams and make some major moves northward. I also decided to just punt on a team I had ranked number ten previously. And I got aggressive both up and down with other squads. The moving around forced me to look outside of not only my Top 25 but who had been on my short-list but off the ballot in the previous weeks and search for other candidates.

Between the information we get from D3hoops.com, the information I had already had on the side to keep track of, and the information I went searching for on Sunday night and Monday… I probably had nearly 70 teams I considered in some manner this week. Some were easily dismissed. Others didn’t make it and are gnawing at me. Some made the ballot, despite reservations I have even sitting here now.

But I wasn’t alone. I spoke to several voters this week (most of whom reached out to me) and to say there is almost no consensus would be an understatement. Besides Augustana being the number one team in the country and maybe having the same feeling for who are the top four or five teams (not necessarily the same order), no one has even a remotely similar ballot. Everyone has valid arguments and opinions. No one feels absolutely sure they are right in their read on almost any of the teams.

There are many teams who are not living up to any expectations anyone had in the preseason or early part of the season. There are many other teams who are playing so far above preseason expectations it is hard to know if things are for real.

There is so much parity and so many good teams it is really hard to nail down who are the best 25 in the country right now.

Before we look at this week’s ballot, here is my ballot from mid-December. I wasn’t able to get my blog out due to football and other commitments that week, but you do need to know where I was coming from heading into this week.

1 – Augustana
2 – Whitworth
3 – Hope
4 – Amherst
5 – St. Thomas
6 – Ohio Wesleyan
7 – Elmhurst
8 – Marietta
9 – Christopher Newport
10 – Mount Union
11 – Babson
12 – Benedictine
13 – Chicago
14 – John Carroll
15 – Brooklyn
16 – Stockton
17 – Oswego State
18 – Salisbury
19 – Virginia Wesleyan
20 – Texas Lutheran
21 – East Texas Baptist
22 – Susquehanna
23 – Northwestern( Minn.)
24 – St. Norbert
25 – Wooster

That was Week 3, December 13th’s ballot.

Just to give you a head’s up, I did take a peak at early SOS numbers as best calculated my our friend —. I realize these numbers are very raw due to the fact a lot of teams haven’t played half their schedule and conference action hasn’t had an influence (good or bad), but they gave me an idea of what teams had in their out-of-conference scheduling (despite some conference games mixed in, but I can read between the lines with that). You can find the info here: . I did use it to break up some teams in a group, but usually the SOS number was dramatically different.

Here is this week’s ballot:

1 – Augustana^
I realize the Augies have had a few close games, but you have to expect that for a team who has a major target on their back for many reasons. They are getting into CCIW play where certainly every team and every coach knows each squad extremely well… and NO team has gone undefeated since 1973! Will Augustana go unfazed through conference action – NO! I expect Augustana to take a loss or two before we get to the NCAA tournament, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t think they are the best team in the country.

2 – Whitworth* (Unchanged)
I got the chance to see the Pirates in action at the D3hoops.com Classic (called both of their games, actually) – I liked what I saw. I realize Whitworth hasn’t played the most difficult out of conference (their SOS is/was below .500), but they have talent and depth at nearly every single position on the court. It starts with Kenny Love who isn’t even the team’s leading scorer (see Christian Jurlina AND George Valle), but he is the one that makes this team go and draws the most attention. But it goes beyond Love, Jurlina, and Valley… add in Staudacher, Sears, Roach, Baker, Bishop… the list just gets longer of the guys they can bring in – even freshman – who make an impact. This might be one of the best teams Whitworth has had and it is unheralded right now because it is so hard to judge them in the Pacific Northwest. Their game against Calvin was tight as expected (at least I didn’t think it was going to be an easy game and I have a few coaches who will testify me telling them that in Vegas) and their game against UMHB took them out of their comfort zone. I wasn’t surprised in the least. I am comfortable with the Pirates at number two.

3 – Hope (Unchanged)
Not sure what to add here. They got it done with four wins over the holiday break. They are the team to beat not only in the MIAA, but probably the Great Lakes Region – though that region is stacked at the top this year.

4 – St. Thomas* (Up 1)
Not much to add to what I have been talking about over the last few blogs. The Tommies didn’t have a very busy holiday break with just two games. They do now get into the conference tilt which isn’t as challenging schedule wise as in the past, but will still be daunting with Bethel, St. John’s, St. Olaf, Carleton, and Augsburg all with good first-half(ish) records and significant wins. The MIAC may be emerging as one of the top five in the country; it certainly is underrated in terms of talent and success.

5 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 1)
Another team who simply got the job done despite only playing two games. The Battling Bishops have a lot of talent, but now things get interesting as they re-enter conference play and Hiram enters the mix having beaten OWU already this season. Ohio Wesleyan needs to dominate a conference that can dominate for me to feel really comfortable with them at number five.

6 – Elmhurst (Up 1)
I might have the Blue Jays a little high or at least not behind the only team they have lost to (more on that in a minute), but that one loss is starting to look better and better as time goes on. I already had high expectations for Elmhurst and they are living up to them with this start to the season. They are beating all kinds of different teams in different ways showing they can score a lot of points (125 vs. Buena Vista) or shut down teams (50 points for Albion). The top of the CCIW this season with Elmhurst and Augustana is damn good.

7 – Amherst^ (Down 3)
I would have dropped the Lord Jeffs further, but there was only so far for them to fall. A bit brutal a treatment for taking their first loss of the season, but it wasn’t a good loss. Losing to Rhoades on the road isn’t what people expect from Amherst. It reminds me of last year’s holiday road trip that saw the Lord Jeffs blow a 15 points lead to Goucher (winning in OT after a buzzer beater forced the extra five minutes) and other stumbles during that trip. Plenty has been made of Dave Hixon’s scheduling on the D3boards which starts out slow with easier opponents and builds up, but the Lord Jeffs seem to be struggling at the holiday break before conference play often. I’m nervous thinking we assume Hixon has this under control when in reality we are just blinded by the words “Lord Jeff” and the purple colors. Eastern Connecticut, Williams, and Wesleyan in the next three (all at home, mind you) will tell us plenty. (By the way, I used the Lord Jeffs name as much as I could because it could be going away.)

8 – Susquehanna^ (Up 14)
Hello Crusaders! Susquehanna cracked into my Top 25 at #22 last ballot, but I didn’t get a chance to say anything about them. Maybe that was good as the holiday break has changed my mind. The Crusaders have probably the toughest out-of-conference schedule in years (at least, that’s what Frank Marcinek said on Hoopsville Sunday) and they are unbeaten. Those wins include hot-starting Lycoming, then-22nd-ranked Catholic, then-15th-ranked Trinity (Conn., 79-74), and Johns Hopkins in a mixure of home, away, and neutral games. They then reentered conference play with a dominating win over Moravian. Susquehanna came on late last season and the coaches in the conference picked them to be second (behind Catholic). It looks like the rest of us are just catching on that Susquehanna is maybe for real. (Here is another school I tried using their mascot name as much as possible because it is actually going away.)

9 – Benedictine (Up 3)
I didn’t think I would be voting for the Eagles in my top ten this season. My mentality was similar to my approaches to teams like Albertus Magnus in years past. I just thought there was a ceiling I couldn’t put them through. I also expected Benedictine to lost at least once in their non-conference, CCIW-only set of five games even if they had beaten Elmhurst to garner national attention in the first place. They haven’t. That has warranted at least one voter I know to put Benedictine number two on his ballot. I’m not buying that high (and my vote probably offsets enough to place them number six overall). My only concern and reason for pulling in the reigns more than others is the fact that when you truly look at their non-conference schedule… they are beating CCIW teams who would consider themselves “average” by their own standards: Illinois Wesleyan (6-6), Wheaton (4-8), North Central (8-4), Carthage (7-5). Yes, the North Central win is starting to look better after the Cardinals started 2-3 on the season. And yes, Benedictine did blow the socks off last year’s NACC champs, Aurora, a few weeks ago. All that adds up to a significant win (Elmhurst) and two solid wins (North Central and Aurora) and pushes the Eagles through the ceiling I had self-imposed. But can Benedictine, a team coaches expected to battle but finish second in the league, go undefeated? That seems like a tall order, so how they deal with a loss or two in conference will be the real story of the season.

10 – John Carroll (Up 7)
Ok, I have now bought in with the Blue Streaks. You might remember in previous ballots I stated I was “leery how high I put the Blue Streak” because of what we hadn’t seen in awhile from John Carroll – early season success. So higher they streak on my ballot, buoyed by the fact they went 3-0 during the holidays including a solid win over conference-foe Marietta and a pretty solid Brockport State squad while in Florida. But now comes a dogged conference schedule and what should be a three-horse race at the top. The OAC should be fun to watch this season.

11 – Christopher Newport (Down 2)
A loss to Scranton, even if it is on your home floor, isn’t the worst thing in the world. I am not punishing the Captains for the loss by dropping them two spots as much as I was opening a spot to get the undefeated teams who were behind them ahead of them now that CNU is no longer undefeated themselves. You will notice later my opinion on Scranton and thus why the loss isn’t horrible for Christopher Newport. However, they have to be careful in the Capital Athletic Conference ahead for them are teams itching to pull off another upset (and the team they beat): PSU-Harrisburg (#21 Salisbury), Wesley (#2 VWC), Mary Washington (#18 VWC), York (Stevenson), and St. Mary’s (Salisbury) in the next five games.

12 – Marietta (Down 4)
A second loss, needing room for undefeated teams behind them in the previous poll, and one of the losses being to John Carroll is why the Pioneers fell four spots on my poll. Normally a loss to a team I had previously ranked behind them and now rank ahead of them wouldn’t have resulted in four spots, but it did this time. Marietta is still a very dangerous team and after watching St. Vincent in person at the D3hoops.com Classic last week, I can better appreciate why Marietta lost that game. But like John Carroll, they re-enter OAC play with a large target (being regular season champs last season) and have some interesting challenges ahead in Ohio Northern, Capital, and Otterbein before seeing Mount Union for the first time this season.

13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)
I think the Maroons are starting to click as a team, though I am sure others would disagree. Chicago has been a little streaky this season, but the two losses in the first three games of the season are well behind them and they are starting to take control of games including a 74-57 win over Illinois Wesleyan. We finally get to see the UAA start conference play and that always starts with Wash U for Chicago. This time it’s in St. Louis before then traveling to Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve. Nothing is easy in the UAA, but Chicago has a chance to take control of the conference early if they stay focused.

14 –Mount Union (Down 4)
Just saying that I have three OAC teams in my Top 15 is a little surreal, but I like the Purple Raiders this season and not selling easily. Each of their losses look good in some capacity: William Paterson (despite internal problems seem to be recovering), North Central (as mentioned before are now off and running), and Colby (who is off to a quiet 9-1 start). And while good losses are fine and dandy, you need to get some good wins as well and the Mount has those in Chicago, Capital, and Ohio Northern. Their re-entry to OAC action is a little easier than the other three: Heidelberg, Wilmington, and Muskingum. But, after that they have John Carroll and Marietta back-to-back in mid-January – a perfect “mid-season” litmus test for the Purple Raiders.

15 – Brooklyn (Unchanged)
Not much to say here for the Bulldogs. They only played one game over the holidays and beat a very good in-conference opponent in Staten Island. I look forward to seeing them work through the rest of the conference schedule before I make a reevaluation of Brooklyn.

16 – Stockton^ (Unchanged)
Depending on who you ask, Stockton is either really good or overrated. I can get different opinions from just about everyone I talk to or ask. I don’t know if Stockton is as good as advertised or not. I know I lose favor in them last year at this point after seeing them in person. I will luckily get a chance to see how things are going since they play league-leading New Jersey City and vastly-improved over the break Ramapo in their next two games.

17 – Oswego State (Unchanged)
In a strange scheduling occurrence… the Lakers didn’t play a single game in the three weeks between Top 25 votes. So, not much I can add now. They are in a very difficult SUNYAC from what the start of the season indicates. I will be interested to see how Oswego recovers from the long lay-off and reenters conference action.

18 – WPI^ (Unranked)
I finally decided to buy in with the Engineers this week. Why now? Because they still haven’t lost. Ok, they lost once to Fitchburg State. Say what?! Well, to be honest there are a lot of teams who have lost a game that makes no sense. WPI has actually beaten some good teams this season and in a year where everyone is beating everyone, it seems, the Engineers only have one blemish. Can’t say I saw that coming. So… I’m on board now.

19 – Trine (Unranked)
The MIAA might have the most interesting race in the country this year. At the beginning of the season in my conversation with Hope head coach Greg Mitchell on Hoopsville, he talked about how Alma was a team to watch out for along with obviously Calvin. We also talked about Trine. We also talked about Trine. The Thunder are off to a 10-1 mark with that one blemish coming to Ohio Wesleyan. They have beaten some good teams along the way as well. Trine has made the MIAA a four-team race and that’s not too bad for that conference. Big game coming up against an underrated Calvin squad (by their standards), but no matter the outcome I am looking forward to watching this race.

20 – Texas Lutheran (Unchanged)
It was a mixed bag of a holiday time frame for the Bulldogs. They ended up going 3-2, but against some pretty good teams. Loss to IWU, beat Alma, lost to Texas-Tyler, and then beat East Texas Baptist (again) and Southwestern. I wasn’t sure what to do with Texas Lutheran until I remember some of the conversations I have had with coaches out of Texas and read comments of those who have seen TLU in action. I am willing to keep TLU where they are here at 20th and see what happens next. The Bulldogs have a big weekend looming with hot-starting Austin in the second game of two. Going to keep a close eye on that one.

21 – Northwestern (Minn.) (Up 2)
Not much to add here for right now. The Eagles won five straight during the holiday poll break after losing to a good Bethel squad. There wasn’t any world-beating teams on the list, but it showed they can shake off a tough loss. Their win over UW-Stout was something I can better appreciate after seeing the Blue Devils in action in Las Vegas (good, solid team; no where close to what their 0-16 WIAC record last season indicated). Then the Eagles lost to North Central on Saturday. Not what I was expecting and I probably gave them a little too much credit by moving them up two spots (more on that … shortly). However before that loss, Northwestern wrapped up a two-loss 2015 year. That’s pretty darn impressive.

22 – Bethel (Unranked)
The MIAC is just ridiculous these days. Bethel is certainly one of those reasons. The Royals are 8-1 with a pretty good out-of-conference schedule and an SOS that was higher than I expected. Their one loss: St. John’s. And that is what reveals the challenge of this poll especially this year and most particularly in this part of the poll. I could have easily put the 9-1 Johnnies in this spot instead of Bethel especially with their win over the Royals as an example. I also could have easily put Bethel ahead of Northwestern also thanks to the Royals win over the Eagles. But the Johnnies have a couple of non-Division III games that make it hard to appreciate those wins, they also have a loss to Carleton who beat St. John’s and St. Thomas in back-to-back games. So, I don’t think the Johnnies should be ranked ahead of Bethel and they were left out for now. But here is a conference (MIAC) that St. Thomas has won ten straight times, but we are talking about three teams who probably deserve to be in the Top 25. By the way, I am not sure why I left Bethel behind Northwestern – that one might have slipped past me.

23 – Scranton^ (Unranked)
There are some Royals fans in the Poconos who might have just spit-taked their coffee. I have been a bit critical of Scranton, and the Landmark Conference, for a few years now. It doesn’t help that I know the conference very, very well and thus I see the teams a lot and all season. I just haven’t been buying into Scranton in recent years as they yo-yoed in and out of my ballot. Too many times I find inconsistencies and it frustrates me for a program I think could be so much better. This year, Susquehanna and Catholic were predicted to be better. Susquehanna has been; Catholic has not (the defense seems to be getting worse). Out of that has come the Royals. For most of the season, Scranton hasn’t had any significant wins until they beat Christopher Newport. That gave me a good reason to dive into the team. I still don’t see anything that blows me away outside of the win over CNU. However, their SOS was better than expected, they do have some good wins, and they haven’t taken the losses I have gotten used to that don’t make any sense (though, they did lose to Hobart). I will see the Royals later this week… so let’s see if this ranking holds.

24 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)
The Green Knights have been dominating teams once again this season. They would have moved up the poll, but they lost to Alma right at before voting and that gave me pause. It isn’t that Alma isn’t a good team; they are. I was just surprised coming off of an easy win over Anderson the night before AND it was at home. Now let’s see how St. Norbert does re-entering conference action.

25 – Pacific Lutheran* (Unranked)
I didn’t know what to expect when I got to Las Vegas knowing I was going to see the Lutes. Actually, I am pretty sure I was going to be disappointed. I was going to see a team who clearly is overrated beating some easy non-Division III opponents. That’s not what I saw. Pacific Lutheran has a lot of size inside, good talent on the outside, and they don’t quit. This is a team that barely lost to Chicago earlier this season, handled a fired-up UMHB squad, and then held off a very tough squad in UW-Stout to prepare for (five-man substitution patterns that don’t hold at any point in a half). I was impressed. With two players scoring 18 points per game and a third in double-digits, there are plenty of dangerous weapons to help put the Northwest Conference on it’s head. Whitman is going to have a say eventually in this battle to play Whitworth for the title as well.

Dropped Out:

Babson^ (Previously 10)
I just can’t stay on board with a team that lost the only game it played in three weeks and has won just 60-percent of the games they have played. I know the Beavers lost a bit from last year’s final four, but they had a lot of good talent coming back and got other help especially in the transfer system. It resulted in a 5-0 start to the season, but since then the team has lost four of their last five. Yes, they are playing good… very good teams, but if you are deserving of being a Top 25 team you have do more than play those teams, you have to beat most of those teams. In reality, Babson is 1-4 in the tougher half of it’s schedule. That doesn’t deserve to be ranked even if they had been 10th previously.

Salisbury* (Previously 18)
After a terrific start at 5-0 including two big wins at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic, the Sea Gulls are 3-3 in the last six. Ouch. Salisbury would have stayed in the Top 25 if they hadn’t lost to St. Mary’s. Yeah, the Seahawks. The squad that for years dominated the Mid-Atlantic Region and got to Salem in the Elite Eight in 2013 after years of knocking on the door. This seasons St. Mary’s team isn’t bad, but if Salisbury is a Top 25 squad they should beat SMC … especially when it’s on their own home court! Salisbury is going to be dangerous especially if they get into the tournament, but they need to shake off their funk and get back on track.

Virginia Wesleyan^ (Previously 19)
I never thought I would not have a single ODAC team ranked in my Top 25 in this day in age, but here we are. The Marlins are 7-4 after losing two in a row in the middle of Decemeber. It doesn’t seem like the usual reloading of talent as gone as smoothly for Dave Macedo’s squad this season. I can’t put my finger on it, but the Marlins just aren’t consistent this season. They may still make the NCAA tournament because they are at the top of a somewhat-down ODAC this season, but I think expectations of another good season because of the ability for them to have talent-in-waiting on the bench is probably unjustified this season.

East Texas Baptist (Previously 21)
The Tigers drop out because they have lost two in a row. According to my last ballot, losing to TLU was expected. Then they lost to Concordia (Texas) – guh. The Tigers are still a good squad, but with so many teams worthy of being in the Top 25 conversation, losing two in a row when ranked that low on the ballot just gives me an easy excuse to replace them. I am interested to see how ETBU recovers and heads into conference action.

Wooster (Previously 25)
This was probably one ballot too late, but I am now done with the Scots. This is clearly not their season, by their normal standards. That isn’t to say Wooster still isn’t very good. They just aren’t Top 25 good right now. The loss to Salisbury was just the excuse I needed to finally convince myself to pull the trigger. Wooster is still going to be very much involved in the very interesting NCAC race and may make the NCAA tournament, but I just don’t think they are one of the 25 best in the country like they usually are. Just an off year.

* – Teams I have seen in person this season
^ – Teams I have seen in person in the last year

Something of note: I think I have turned over half of my ballot in the last two or three polls and probably two-thirds of it so far this season. It is hard to really figure out who are the best in the country when so many schools can beat so many this season.

So, I guess I am looking for more wins. That would be nice for another reason – I won’t feel like I have to write as much in each blog.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Preseason 2016

Tis the season. Practices have started, games are a mere weeks away, and the first men’s Top 25 ballot has been cast. The excitement to start the season is certainly amping up and after looking through the teams I considered for my ballot… I am expecting one thing – a wide open season.

Last year one of my most common statements was how much parity there was in Division III, especially when you got outside of the Top 10. This year may see that parity go even further. There are so many good teams that have reloaded, great teams that have lost key personnel, championship favorites who are rebuilding or retooling, and championship favorites who haven’t had to reload – they are already loaded.

There are also teams who are emerging on the radar thanks to putting together several years of consistently better basketball. Their experienced players are juniors or seniors who are poised to make a run. Then there are the usual suspects who have gone through coaching changes or lost a high number of those experienced players after making their run. All of those kinds of teams create a high number of question marks.

Parity is great for Division III basketball. It allows more teams to be in the conversation, it makes the regular season fascinating in terms of match-ups, important games, and outcomes that in mid-November mean something in late February. Thanks to the SOS guidelines and the message that teams have to schedule good teams to make sure they can secure an at-large bid (or hosting opportunity) in the tournament along with the parity, the regular season is exciting.

However selfishly… parity is a pain in the ass for Top 25 voters!

Every year the preseason ballot is the most difficult. Obviously, trying to read tea leaves and understand how returning players, transfers or freshmen, and departing players will impact a team is difficult. Then throw in other variables like coaching changes or the quality of coaching coupled with trends we have seen over the years makes things more challenging. But now that parity has made Division III basketball basically a wide open race, Top 25 voters are left grasping at straws, throwing darts, picking names out of a hat, or whatever random method they want to use to try and pick and place teams.

This year’s preseason ballot was by far the hardest just a year after I thought that preseason ballot was the hardest. I knew who I was going to vote number one practically from the time I walked out of the Salem Civic Center last March – though, I gave myself the flexability to look through everything and everyone first before finalizing that decision. But after nearly an entire day (say six hours?) working on my ballot earlier this week… I had only put in the number one team. The rest of my ballot was blank.

The arguments were endless circles.

  • Do I think Team A is better than Team B? Yes.
  • Do I think Team B is better than Team C? Yes.
  • Do I think Team C is better than Team A? Yes. Damn it.
  • I think Team A should be number five on my ballot. But there are no other teams I think should be above them. The problem is Team A is not a number two team, I don’t think. Well what about Team B? No. Same problem. Team C? Nope. Team D? Heck no. Well, someone has to be number two!
  • How about numbers 20-25… I only have 15 teams to consider here… nope, make it 20. Well, who deserves to be there? No one; all of them. Darn it. Well I have to rank Team M, they are always a Top 25 team. Do they deserve to be in the poll? Um, maybe not?! What about taking a flyier on Team N? Sure, why not? Wait, but why? This isn’t helping.

The inner monologue, that spilled into out loud conversation with myself might have been hysterical – or sad – to listen to for someone on the outside of my head. I talked to a few other Top 25 voters I enjoy chatting with – picking their brain – they were all thinking completely different than I was. One had a team at number two I wasn’t considering higher than 15! That had me do an about face and erase everything and start over only to then realize after doing that a few times that I couldn’t justify that high a jump even though my colleague’s justification made sense especially to him.

Finally, I just decided to buckle up and start plugging away. I was going to leave teams off I didn’t feel comfortable. I was going to include teams I certainly feel are risky. I was also going to put teams too high, too low, or just plainly in the wrong slot. There was nothing I could do about it; my ballot was going to be far from perfect.

Then when I saw the final results and the expanded voting information I chuckled. I wasn’t the only one. EVERYONE struggled with this ballot.

So here is my D3hoops.com Men’s Top 25 Preseason ballot – completely while watching my beloved Cubbies implode (or never lite the fuse) against the Mets. Please understand that I wrote everything about my struggle prior to point out that I am not completely comfortable with my ballot. I am sure that while writing these teams out, I will find ways to argue with what I have done already. So yes, I may have some teams too high and some teams too low. I probably included a team that shouldn’t be there and left another out that is a no-brainer to you. It is what it is now that parity is the only way to describe Division III men’s basketball.

1 – Augustana
I am a little surprised this wasn’t a unanimous decision by the 25 voters (two going with Amherst – more on that later). Anyone who saw Augustana last year, saw them get to the national championship game, and knew they were pretty much bringing back the entire squad probably had Augustana penciled in to the number one slot on their preseason poll the day after last season ended. Augustana isn’t going to get through the season unscathed. The CCIW will be too difficult, but this is now a very experienced team with a deep NCAA tournament run under their belt. They know what needs to get done to bring a national title to the Mississippi River. The only thing that will stop them is themselves.

2 – Elmhurst
Nothing about the following 24 teams is rock solid. I am not positive anyone is in the right position and it start with the Blue Jays. Here is another team that returns nearly everyone after a really good season. Many would say Elmhurst appeared on the radar a year early last season. The advantage that has is this team now has plenty of experience to make them ready for the year. The disadvantage is they are not going to surprise anyone and have a bit of a target on their backs. I thought Elmhurst was maybe number five… but I just couldn’t wrap my head around another team being head of them. When I was able to make that argument, another team would debunk it (see my Team A, Team B, Team C debate above). However, Elmhurst is poised to have a terrific season, but like Augustana just playing in the CCIW could be their downfall.

3 – Chicago
I realize I might be buying too much stock in the Maroons. I suspect Mike McGrath will be calling or texting me soon after reading this to either laugh at me or give me all the reasons his team isn’t that good. I get it. I had them in my Top 25 last year in the preseason and thought despite the drawbacks (and injuries) that they were that good. They struggled. But they struggled because honestly this is the season they probably will be the best of the UAA. Number three is high, but like Elmhurst I couldn’t find a reason to keep them lower. I think Chicago will be the clear favorite in a somewhat down – certainly reshuffling – UAA and after dealing with the challenges of last year will be in position to impress this season.

4 – Whitworth
I might be buying too much stock here as well. Despite being more guard orientated than in years past, I think the Pirates could be a really good team this season. They don’t exactly have a challenging start to the season (La Verne, CalTech, and Hamline are part of their Division III non-conference start), but the start could give them a ton of confidence before the middle part of their season when they see Calvin and Mary Hardin-Baylor at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. They do play Colorado College twice (why? No, WHY?!) which tripped them up a few seasons ago, but I don’t see a reason why Whitworth won’t win another conference title and maybe make the run to Salem everyone has been waiting for the last decade.

5 – Amherst
Two voters placed the Lord Jeffs #1. Honestly, I don’t get that. Of course they are going to be good. Last year was an odd year of reloading after a tremendous 2012-13 campaign lead to a national championship in Atlanta and a 2013-14 campaign ended in heartbreak in a dismantling at the hands of Williams in the semifinals. They had some great talent on those teams including Aaron Toomey. They didn’t have that talent, experience, or confidence last year and struggled accordingly. But they still finished second in the conference and made the NCAA tournament. The reason I could NOT vote Amherst number one was simple – they weren’t even on my Top 25 ballot finishing last season (they only got 8 points in the overall poll). They bring everyone back and will be good – because Dave Hixon always puts together good teams – but number five on my ballot feels high, so I’m not sure how anyone voted them #1. That being said, Amherst has proven sceptics wrong many times in the past.

6 – Catholic
The Cardinals have been planning this season for about four years. Last year wasn’t as successful as hoped thanks to injuries and other factors and that is the only reason I am a little apprehensive with this position for Catholic. Steve Howes has a group of athletes who have basically been playing tons of minutes since they were freshmen and made what should have been a deep run in the NCAA tournament in 2013 (before a rough scheduling gave them Williams in the second round and a key injury ruined their chances of winning that game). Last year and prior the team hasn’t lived up to the expectations. There certainly is good reason to think they won’t this year, either. The difference is I think the players themselves have the ability to get over the hump and get through adversity thanks to what they have had to deal with the last two years. The conference is ripe to be taken (Scranton will be down and the rest of the conference has had a ton of turnover) and they have some easy games early in the season to get them rolling.

7 – Mount Union
The Purple Raiders are ready to steal headlines from the football team in November and December… or at least try. I think Mount Union is ready to capitalize on what was a terrific campaign last season and make the OAC a rather interesting conference to watch this year. They have the experience in place, like a lot of teams, to make this season special. Again, they feel too high despite their recent success and current talent, but parity has allowed teams like Mount Union shine when we haven’t seen them in the past.

8 – St. Thomas
The Tommies are the Tommies. Meaning they will compete every year, probably win another conference title, and be a fascinating team to consider in the NCAA tournament. Last year ended with a thud in the first round and sometimes that is the perfect motiviation for a team that maybe expected to always make a deep run. The challenge is the MIAC is not longer a cake walk – which they experienced last season – but that could end up making the Tommies a much more dangerous team. They also start the season at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic along with games against UW-Stevens Point and others that tells me they are ready to test themselves early to be ready for March. The Tommies may be a slight dark horse this year.

9 – Marietta
The only reason I don’t have the Pioneers higher is I am worried about some of the talent they lost and I learned RaNeal Ewing is at least ineligible for the first semester – if he even is available at all this season. Ewing was Marietta’s best player, so consider that another loss – at least temporarily – for a really good team. Marietta will still be a tough team and will be in the national conversation all year. However, they may have a slight challenge to the start of the season with Ewing not on the court let alone the bench. The advantage Marietta has is they have a bit of an easy schedule to start before getting into conference play where John Carroll and Mount Union will make the OAC race one to watch. They also have a possible match-up with Wooster which will give everyone a terrific mid-season barometer of the Great Lakes Region.

10 – Babson
As good as Babson was last year, as terrific a run to Salem as they made, the trick this season will be how do they adjust to losing some key parts from last season and how does Joey Flannery adjust to a massive target on him with maybe less complementing parts to help him out. Flannery is a terrific talent and thanks to the fact the schedule this year is not that challenging nor is the NEWMAC as difficult as in years past (MIT, WPI, and Springfield will all be a bit down from their recent glory), the Beavers could go on a tremendous tear to start the season before facing Amherst in mid-December. That game has been highlighted at least by many as being the litmus test for both programs. Bates will then take three weeks off before facing another Northeast power in Bates. Those two games will give us plenty of information before Babson starts conference play in January.

11 – Virginia Wesleyan
The Marlins are an enigma as much as they are one of the most consistent teams in Division III. Every time Dave Macedo loses tremendous talent it is replaced with nearly as equal the talent either off the bench or fresh to the team. It is unbelievable the program that has been built near the shores of the Cheseapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The challenge this year, probably a far more guard orientated team than in the past (though, a program that has transitioned in that direction in the last few years). Will that leave them exposed in the ODAC which has usually featured a few big men that can change game plans? Will that leave them exposed in the NCAA tournament? It was great to see the Marlins back in Salem (or any ODAC team for that matter) last year. The question I have: is there talent hiding on the bench as there has been in the past that can help them get back there again. I just don’t see it right now.

12 – Stockton
Maybe I am buying in a little too much in the Ospreys, but something tells me last year’s good season won’t be disappearing any time soon. They did lose the NJAC Player of the Year, but they bring back talent that scored in double-figures. The challenge for Stockton is to stay consistent and not let things get to them. I witnessed the inconsistency and lack of mental stability last year first hand in the middle of the season which seemed to derail them for a few weeks. If they want people to fear them and the rest of the NJAC, they have got to take care of business both in and out of the conference or any love for Stockton will erode quickly.

13 – Ohio Wesleyan
The Battling Bishops had some struggles last year, but seemed to find their mojo at just the right time during conference play and seemed to have the NCAC in control – until the NCAC got really interesting late. What is scary is that Ohio Wesleyan pretty much brings back the entire squad (91% of the scoring) including conference scoring leader Claude Gray. The only reason I didn’t put the Battling Bishops any higher was the concern about consistent basketball. They need to play well against what will be a tough out of conference schedule before starting an always challenging NCAC schedule. If Ohio Wesleyan plays well against the likes of Capital, Calvin, and Illinois Wesleyan before facing Wooster in early Decemeber, they could get on a roll that will have them being one of the scarier teams this season.

14 – William Paterson
To be honest, I would love to see the Pioneers do well this season. After a few inconsistent seasons, William Paterson seems to have gotten back into the conversation and helped bring the NJAC back as one of the tougher conferences. But inconsistencies have been their arch nemesis. Losses against teams they should be dominating and apparent lack of focus in conference play (losing four out of five to close conference play last season was poor – they lost five of their last seven overall) kills any thoughts of jumping on the bandwagon. Their schedule this year starts with a big game against Mount Union, otherwise nothing about their out of conference schedule will give us any indication of how good they may really be.

15 – Emory
Despite what the Eagles have lost, something tells me this program isn’t going away. The have consistently won 19 or more games the last five seasons and Jason Zimmerman seems to get the most out of his players. They also don’t shy away from a challenge as they will take on St. Thomas and Stevenson at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic before facing off against Guilford, Oglethorpe, Maryville, and Virginia Wesleyan to name a few before conference play begins. I know they lost some terrific talent, but Emory seems to find new talent more often and once again could be a factor come NCAA tournament time.

16 – Hope
The Flying Dutchmen may finally be back as a team to watch out for. They return nearly the entire squad and nearly all their points and rebounds to a team that despite some tough points last season, battled to the very end under new head coach Greg Mitchell. Now he is more settled and I know working to improve his squad and who they play (especially getting rid of some non-Division III opponents) and could be worth watching this year. Opponents like UW-Stevens Point, Wheaton (Ill.), Carthage, UW-Platteville, and Messiah will have them ready for conference play to be sure.

17 – St. John Fisher
Here’s another team that has lost a bit of talent off a very good team from last year, but speculation is they will once again be the cream of the crop in the Empire 8. They too will test themselves early at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic along with a possible match-up with Ohio Wesleyan on the road. To be honest, I don’t expect the conference or the region to be overly challenging (though the E8 always produces a surprise team that you have to be concerned about), so the Cardinals have to prove themselves out of conference and they certainly have the schedule to do that. Some early success could bode well for some personal in new or larger roles.

18 – Dickinson
The Red Devils are very much like the St. John Fisher Cardinals in how much they have lost versus how much they still have that no one realizes along with what has been rumored as being a strong recruiting class that could make an immediate impact. Sure, the D3hoops.com Player of the Year is gone, but anyone who knows the Dickinson team will tell you that Gerry Wixted wasn’t the only threat. Remember, this Red Devils squad lost Adam Honig the year before after getting to the elite eight. They nearly repeated that feat last season. Dickinson is also not shying away from a test in the non-conference part of the schedule with St. John Fisher and Stevenson at the Hoopsville Classic followed by Catholic and Guilford later in the season. The question will be how will they do against Franklin and Marshall, Johns Hopkins, McDaniel and others in conference.

19 – East Texas Baptist
I realize I am one of 12 voters – half the poll – who voted for the Tigers. It’s at this point in the poll where I really started to struggle about who should be in and out of my Top 25. One part of me sees a lot of talent coming back to a squad that certainly impressed last season (and was the first omen of things to come at the final four with teams facing UW-Stevens Point). Another part of me worries they may have lost a little too much. They have a 22-game home winning streak still intact and with eight of their first 11 games being at home could use that as momentum to get the season rolling in the right direction. The Tigers aren’t exactly going to play anyone challenging except Hardin-Simmons early on, so that could help them as well. But I suspect conference play will be a bit tough because of teams like Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Louisiana College.

20 – Eastern Connecticut
The talk I’ve been hearing in the coaching ranks is the Warriors have a really good team this year. I’m a little nervous to jump on board considering how many 20+ win seasons Eastern Connecticut has had in the last seven years (seven to be exact), but nothing that jumps out of me in the NCAA tournament – seemingly going backwards (three third round appearances [’10, ’11, ’12], two second round appearances [’13, ’14], and a first round appearance [‘15]). What is really interesting with the Tigers this year is they start the season with three straight tournaments on the first three weekends of the season – all of them on the road. They then play a fourth tournament on the road right before Christmas. Those tournaments will include games against WPI and possibly Ramapo along with Trinity (Conn.) and Amherst mixed in. They will certainly have plenty of back-to-back experience should they make the NCAA tournament.

21 – Bates
I could have gone with Trinity (Conn.) here as well (I realize the Bantams are 12th overall, but I didn’t vote for them) and probably should have in hindsight. Something about how Bates was built last year gave me confidence. I know they return less of their scoring than Trinity does, but I like the fact Mike Boornazian, Marcus Delpeche, and Malcolm Delpeche are part of that trio returning. They all contributed solid points and having an actual center makes a big difference in Division III. It came down to a coin flip between the two squads and I went with Bates.

22 – Hardin-Simmons
I think the Cowboys are going to be dangerous and will make the ASC a heck of a fight all the way through February. Now, because of their conference schedule and the inability to get out of Texas this season (we have talked to them about coming to the Hoopsville Classic) they aren’t able to really test themselves. Trinity (Texas), Southwestern (twice), Schreiner, and Texas Lutheran are their out of conference games, so I will be both studying those results in a finer degree of latitude along with keeping an early eye on their conference games. Another interesting note about their schedule – not one weekend tournament. Those events tend to be pretty helpful to have under your belt come March.

23 – Wooster
I’m going to be blunt… it’s time for the Scots to stop being just the winningest team in Division III this century and live up to expectations that the title partly instills. Wooster once again loses good talent from a program that once again fell short last season. I don’t know the last time they didn’t win 20+ games, but last season the conference gave them fits and they eventually lost to streaking DePauw in the NCAC title game and fell short to Marietta in the NCAA Round of 16. I just feel Wooster is always in the Top 25 and rises steadily in the polls through the early part of the season only to lose a couple of games or not make waves in the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis. This year has an interesting bag of games against teams who in the past have been good, but will either be down this year or are emerging with unknown expectations. They also have a conference that is quite competitive and once again may not go through Wooster’s home gym.

24 – UW-Stevens Point
Last year I didn’t have the Pointers in my Top 25 for about two-thirds of the season. They didn’t start off with guns blazing, but they eventually got into a groove and what they were doing defensively was impressive. I didn’t buy in until late January, if memory serves. They had lost quite a few of their talent from the year before and I didn’t expect them to do much in 2014-15 – they of course won the national championship with one of the best defensive units and performances I have ever seen at this level. Lesson learned. Despite the fact Stevens Point has lost a TON from last year’s squad… I will at least give them and Bob Semling the benefit of the doubt and leave them on my ballot. They have a challenging schedule this year, so we will learn early if they remain.

25 – Southern Vermont
This is the latest Albertus Magnus squad from New England. Tons of talent, gaudy record, but very weak conference means they are playing on a knife’s edge at the end of the season. The difference in the past is that AMC has made sure to win the conference tournament to assure themselves a berth to the NCAA tournament. Southern Vermont had a terrific opportunity last year to prove naysayers wrong, but lost in the conference title game and didn’t even sniff the NCAA tournament. Now they return everyone and are challenging themselves with an appearance at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic which will feature St. Thomas as one of their games. They also have Bates and Middlebury and some other good games on their schedule (along with some easier games like two against Massachusetts College) before starting conference play. If the Mountaineers want to be talked about nationally, Dan Engelstad knows this is the season to do it.

Now, I could go on and list all the other teams I considered. The list could range as high as 25 additional teams. However, I have learned in the past that a) people don’t appreciate the added information, they think of it as a further snub to their team and b) that I always end up leaving out other worthy programs I could mention as well. So to save myself the headache of writing them all down now and the headache from responding to complaints later… here is where we will start.

I will finish on this note. There are a TON of good teams this year who deserve to at least be considered for the Top 25. Almost everyone in the Top 25 and being considered have flaws. The hard part is going to figure out who has the least amount of flaws, are challenging themselves or at least playing better than expected, and who are just throwing up smoke and mirrors.

It promises to be another very exciting year in Division III men’s basketball. Which means it also promises to be long Mondays for Top 25 voters.