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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)

3 – Williams (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 – Hanover (Unchanged)

9 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)

10 – WashU (Unchanged)

11 – St. John’s (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

22 – Emory (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, here is how my ballot finished last season:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 10

Did you watch the Hoopsville Marathon? You can catch up On Demand by clicking the picture.

Well, let me start by apologizing for those who like to read these blogs for not getting you one the last few weeks. I had other obligations or items on my plate the last few weeks that didn’t allow me the time to post. I have also been under the weather dealing with a cold and exhaustion (notice, Hoopsville was canceled Sunday) which hasn’t helped.

Many of you might be curious how I voted, so let’s start there:

Week 8 Week 9
1 Babson Babson
2 Whitman Whitman
3 Rochester Ramapo
4 Chris. Newport Rochester
5 Denison Chris. Newport
6 Ramapo UW-River Falls
7 Whitworth Denison
8 UW-River Falls Washington Univ.
9 Tufts Tufts
10 New Jersey City New Jersey City
11 Salisbury Amherst
12 Amherst Whitworth
13 Washington Univ. Hope
14 Hope Salisbury
15 Marietta Marietta
16 St. Norbert St. Norbert
17 Hardin-Simmons Guilford
18 Guilford Middlebury
19 UW-Eau Claire North Park
20 Augustana Hardin-Simmons
21 Middlebury Ripon
22 Wesleyan Wesleyan
23 North Park Oswego State
24 Benedictine Benedictine
25 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Neumann
Dropped Out Endicott (#14), Neumann (#25) UW-Eau Claire (#19), Augustana (#20), Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (#25)

As you can see, movement in a few different places. I toyed with some teams in and out despite maybe not losing. I also made some serious shifts to those who seem to be struggling especially in conference play.

While things have been a little less volatile in the Top 25 – if not the entire division – it doesn’t make things easier. I think there is a significant cap in the area of 7-15. I am not comfortable with a number of teams where I have them ranked. Many are too high. However, I have to put someone in those slots. I have to fill in the holes. So teams are going to rise further up than I want them, but I don’t have anyone better to put in those slots.

This week as was the same. Teams in spots I am not convinced are deserving of that ranking, but I can explain that with those individual teams. So without further delay, here is my ballot for this week’s D3hoops.com Top 25:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)
I’ve got nothing to add here. I think they are the best in the country being led by arguably the best player in the country. Haven’t changed my mind all season.

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)
I’ll be honest, I am nervous now. The Blue nearly lost to Linfield. I had said on Hoopsville recently that I thought the past weekend could easily be overlooked by Whitman after beating Whitworth for the second weekend. However, I thought they would have struggled with Pacific though their struggles with Linfield maybe makes more sense. The Blues can’t overlook even the weakest of opponents. Teams this high in the rankings don’t do that.

3 – Rochester (Up 1)
I didn’t like the Yellowjackets prior weekend in the UAA and was nervous with the immediate turn around against the same opponents it would not end well. Rochester actually put their foot down. I’ve been worried they might fade like they did last season, but maybe that isn’t going to happen. That said, EPIC showdown with Washington University this weekend that could determine the conference automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but Rochester cannot overlook Chicago this weekend as well.

Despite CNU’s success, Dave is wondering what’s been going on with Marcus Carter. Courtesy: CNU Athletics

4 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
The Captains look strong, but I would feel a lot more confident if their All-American Marcus Carter was having an All-American type season. My concern is he hasn’t looked nearly as strong this year and that could turn into a liability moving forward especially if the Captains hope to get back to Salem.

5 – Ramapo (Down 2)
Maybe I got a little too overzealous moving the Roadrunners to No. 3 overall last week. I liked what I was seeing. They were controlling their opponents in a usually tough NJAC. And while the NJAC hasn’t been as strong this year, I didn’t expect Ramapo to struggle against TCNJ this past week. Oops. Ramapo is a very good team, but they can’t allow dings like they experienced this past week. I was willing to move them further down the poll, but they ran into an area where a lot of losses had taken place and moving them behind teams below them didn’t work – they aren’t worse than those teams.

6 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)
Despite the fact the Falcons took their first WIAC loss of the season to Oshkosh, I didn’t move them. The main reason is I didn’t have any where further down to put them. The second reason is I would have been shocked to see any team go undefeated in the WIAC. I do think the loss to Oshkosh is a little concerning considering how UWRF has been handling the rest of their conference schedule. However, Oshkosh is a good team and certainly capable of getting that win. The biggest surprise was it was on the Falcons’ home court.

Dave isn’t that sold on WashU, but this weekend’s clash with Rochester will help him answer questions for both teams. Courtesy: WashU Athletics

7 – Washington Univ. (Up 1)
Now we enter the area I am not comfortable with in terms of where teams are ranked. I know a lot of people are impressed with WashU… I am not blown away with them. I feel they are a 10-15 ranked team who is certainly having a good season. My concerns were made clear in their game at Case Western Reserve when the Bears basically blew a 16-point lead with a CRWU team that just wasn’t close to 100%. The odd part is WashU had a number of missing players the second time around with CRWU and the game was over early (correction, I have this confused with the Case missing players against Chicago; I apologize). Big match-up coming against Rochester with Emory lurking as well. I will be watching this weekend’s games closely.

8 – Amherst (Up 2)
No surprise the Lord Jeffs got past Tufts this weekend. And Amherst has done nothing but win since they lost to Wesleyan and Trinity a few weekends prior, but this is another team that right now I feel more comfortable between 10-15. The conference has exposed some flaws and I am just not as sold on the purple As as I used to be – heck, I wasn’t even that sold when they were in the 2-slot on my ballot. Maybe chalk all of this up to how crazy parity has become that there aren’t any bad losses anymore.

9 – Whitworth (Up 3)
Their loss to Whitman basically sealed the fact to me that the Pirates are the same dominating force we have grown accustom to, so their ranking in the Top 10 is an uneasy one. I like them closer to 15, but had to move them up to 9. They had a far more solid weekend than Whitman, but maybe realizing they can’t control the conference has taken some of the pressure off. This just isn’t as strong a squad as I am used to, so a Top 10 ranking seems strange to me.

Hope cracks into the D3hoops.com Top 25 despite the fact Dave has them tenth on his ballot.

10 – Hope (Up 3)
I may be higher on the Dutchmen than others. There is something about this squad I like. I can’t put an exact finger on it, but the fact they are staying above the fray in the rest of the MIAA may have something to do with it. Who knows. Again, maybe not a Top 10 squad, but I like what I see.

11 – Marietta (Up 3)
The Pioneers seem to be getting their swagger back, but I am not convinced they have solved the problems that plagued them in the middle of the season. The recent win over John Carroll gave me hope they found some answers, but I still think they can be exposed by team who has quality players inside. I don’t love Marietta this high right now until I see how they finish the season, but here is where I have to put them.

12 – St. Norbert (Up 4)
The Green Knights did a nice job to avenge their lone conference loss in … years. I think they are a quality team, but not sure they aren’t more like 15th or 16th in the country. That said, they are proving to be a tough out and once again control how the MWC will be determined this season.

Middlebury could turn out to be the most dangerous team in the NESCAC.

13 – Middlebury (Up 5)
The Panthers have quietly been assassins. They have been rolling over teams that leading up to the game looked like they might be formidable. Just look at the recent game against Hamliton! I wasn’t really buying in to Middlebury earlier this season, but they actually might be the most dangerous team in the NESCAC. Forget Tufts and Amherst or even Trinity, Middlebury could control this conference before things are settled.

14 – Salisbury (Unchanged)
I wasn’t as aggressive with the Seagulls because I think they are playing with fire. This is a team that sometimes plays too close to their opponent’s level than they should. York (Pa.) beat them earlier this season and Salisbury barely got past them the second time on the Seagulls home floor. I just don’t think they know how to put teams away and that will mean teams hanging around and maybe knocking Salisbury off one or two more times this season (not counting a third game with CNU). I would feel far more comfortable if Salisbury actually blew the doors off more of their opponents like they are capable of doing.

15 – Guilford (Up 2)
The ODAC is not something to write home about this season. Competitive, sure, but not top notch. That said, Guilford is quietly having a pretty impressive season. The loss to Hampdon-Sydney did more than concern me, but the Quakers are back in control of the ODAC which could have a lot of ramifications later. The biggest trick, Guilford cannot rest on their laurels. There is an argument that only one team from the ODAC will make the NCAA tournament this year no matter how things turn out (I don’t agree, but the argument is a good one). Guilford has to not trip up between now and February 26.

16 – New Jersey City (Down 6)
What the Gothic Knights did this past week is exactly what I said they and others in the NJAC can’t afford to do this season. Prior to seeing the SOS numbers last week, I thought NJAC was in good shape to have two teams in the NCAA tournament. But the recent SOS numbers (not from the NCAA, but pretty accurate) tell a different story. With numbers that low, a team like NJCU cannot lose to a team like Rowan. I don’t care how good people say teams in the NJAC are, the top teams have to keep beating the teams behind them or this is once again going to be a one-bid conference especially in a year where the middle and bottom haven’t ended up being as good as expected. The loss to Rowan could ended up being bad for many reasons besides me losing confidence that the Gothic Knights were underappreciated… not to mention a squad with such a good defense gives up 90+ in the loss. Not good. Not good at all.

Brian Sortino and Oswego State are once again proving to be a dangerous second-half team. Courtesy: Oswego State Athletics

17 – Oswego State (Up 5)
Tell me if you have heard this story before? Oswego State has some questionable results early in the season, people forget about them, and they come storming back in the second half of the season. The Lakers now have control of the SUNYAC thanks to their recent win over Brockport. However, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. This team is full of talent, but there are teams that tend to leave me wanting more and Oswego has been one of those teams… will they do it again?

18 – Denison (Down 11)
Ouch. Losers of three straight and seeing their two-game advantage in the NCAC disappear completely the Big Red now find themselves a game back of Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan with losses to those two in this stretch. Not good. Denison, I feel, has been a very good team who has taken advantage of Ohio Wesleyan’s disastrous start to the season and a below-par-Wooster squad. However, they had gotten to February still playing terrific basketball. This is the worse time possible for a meltdown. I hope Denison is able to figure things out, because they are also dealing with a shockingly low SOS which means these losses could ended up costing them a chance at returning to the NCAA tournament.

19 – Tufts (Down 10)
Normally a single loss to a conference foe, especially a very good one like Amherst, wouldn’t drop a team ten spots. However, Tufts is having to play with their most important player: Tom Palleschi. His presence inside makes the Jumbos a difficult team to play and beat. Without him, the squad has been exposed to the tune of three losses in four games. Will Palleschi return? Not sure. He might be back in two or so weeks… he might be done for the season. Sadly, the season may go down with their player. That is sad to say for a team that played above expectations last season and seemed to be above the NESCAC fray all season.

UW-Whitewater gets on Dave’s ballot for the first time this season. Are the Warhawks really that good this year? Courtesy: UW-Whitewater Athletics

20 – UW-Whitewater (Unranked)
This is the first time I am voting for the Warhawks and I don’t love the vote. Sorry. The out-of-conference schedule was nothing to be proud of and the three-game losing streak to start conference play was what I thought would happen – bringing UWW back to earth. However, they have gotten back to flying and have won seven straight with four of those being on the road. The toughest test will be this week at UW-Stevens Point and at UW-River Falls. After this week I will either be comfortable with Whitewater on my ballot or shaking my head as to why I chose them over someone else. Looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

21 – Swarthmore (Unranked)
As strange as this is going to sound, I was impressed with the Garnet’s overtime win at McDaniel. I saw the game in person and really liked what I saw from Swarthmore. McDaniel has a habit of playing to the level of it’s opponent which in this case meant playing a far better game than they have shown in the past, so I didn’t knock Swarthmore for having to go into overtime against the Green Terror – especially at McDaniel. The Garnet’s inside game is better than I expected, though their bigs may have to play a little quicker for them to be more dangerous in March.

22 – Neumann (Up 3)
I am not blown away with Neumann, but they keep winning especially as the target gets bigger and bigger. I can’t figure out their personnel changes in the second semester, but they keep winning. One-loss overall and playing in the CSAC makes it hard to stand out, but I had been told at the beginning of the season to keep an eye on Neumann and so far watching them has been good enough to get them ranked… even move them up this week. I had actually sold them when they had a couple of close games they shouldn’t have had in conference, but I am also willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point.

St. Thomas is back in the conversation and in control of the MIAC race after a less-than-Tommies start to the season.

23 – St. Thomas (Unranked)
Well, the Tommies are back. After a near-disastrous start that had them in the middle of the MIAC pack, St. Thomas has regained control of the conference and seem to be playing on a different level. Who knows what Coach John Tauer has psychologically down with his program, but it has worked! Great turn around that I just couldn’t keep unranked any more. The finish to the season is not going to be easy, but with two wins over both Bethel and St. John’s already in the Tommies’ pocket, UST is in the driver’s seat once again.

24 – Benedictine (Unchanged)
I don’t have much to say here. The Eagles have been stuck in the 24-slot for weeks with me. Their first conference loss didn’t give me much hope, but they also continue to show they may be as good as last year’s team. No, I am not ranking them accordingly because I feel there may be some smoke and mirrors, but in the meantime I keep watching with no reason to move them up … or down.

25 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Unranked)
CMS and Neumann have been in and out of my ballot for a few weeks. They are both 1-loss teams I can’t figure out. CMS first got on the ballot when they easily handled their first above .500 squads of the season. They came off when they barely got passed Caltech. They continue to win and a one-loss team looks better than some of the three, four, five, even six-loss teams. Not sure where CMS is going to go this season should they make the NCAA tournament, but here’s hoping they show how good they seem to be instead of it just being the usual beat-down of West Coast teams.

Dropped Out:

North Park’s Juwan Henry has missed the last few games for the Vikings who have now lost three of their last six.

North Park (Previously #19):
Injuries and losses are revealing the North Park team I thought we were going to see. They have two preseason All-Americans (only two to have that this year), but one appears out with an injury and the rest of the supporting casts doesn’t seem able to produce like they have in the first-half of the season. The Vikings are 3-3 in their last 6 and 6-4 since the New Year. Not that impressive anymore.

Hardin-Simmon (Previously #20):
I have really liked the Cowboys, but two losses in a row (before a win to stop the bleeding) did not impress me. They have some of the best talent in the country, but they may have just set-up the “win-or-go-home” scenario for the conference playoffs. Not sure how HSU gets in the NCAA tournament unless they win out – though, we haven’t seen the first regional rankings to better understand their situation.

Ripon (Previously #21):
Just when I buy in to the Ty Sabin-led squad, they lose two in a row. I wasn’t surprised when St. Norbert beat them, though the 17-point spread was eyebrow-raising, but to then follow that with a loss to Lake Forest was disappointing. The giveth and they taketh away.

Wesleyan (Previously #22):
The Cardinals are a team I have said was worth watching in what is the deepest and craziest NESCAC we have seen in quite some time, but they are in the same boat as others in terms of not losing games they shouldn’t. Williams nipped Wesleyan in the only game the Cardinals had last week! That speaks louder to me – just one game and lose it – than anything else. There was no other game to distract the team – just one – and they lost. Wesleyan is still dangerous, but not as fearful as beforehand.

There you have it. Another week down. Couple more to go and we will be talking about who is in and out of the NCAA tournament. I will hopefully have time get you those ballots as they are filed each week.

Don’t forget to tune into Hoopsville the rest of the season! We will be on air for a special Regional Rankings show on Wednesday afternoon along with our usual Thursday and Sunday night coverage starting at 7PM those nights.

Other ballots:
Week 7
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Recapping the season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A memorable one

Throughout the recently completed season, Chapman junior forward Justin Riley blogged about the Panthers’ historic run. His final entry recounts the Panthers’ tournament experience and offers thoughts on the special bond he had with this year’s teammates.

We thank Justin for his thoughtful, well written entries throughout this season. And he was just as good on the court, picking up All Independent Player of Year honors. He’ll be back for his senior season at Chapman this fall, and we hope he’ll chronicle it for us.

On October 15, a group of guys entered the gym with one thing on their minds: getting the chance to prove himself on the big stage. Practices, games and teammates came and went, but the passion to take Chapman to the postseason for the first time in 26 years burned on.

After concluding the season with a 23-2 record, some positive thoughts filtered through my head:

1. We were ranked in the D3 Hoops Top 25 Poll for all 13 weeks.
2. We had a 17-1 in-region record.
3. We defeated NCAA Division II opponent BYU-Hawaii (ranked 18th at the time).
4. We ended the season on a 13-game winning streak (23.7 scoring margin during streak).

On the other hand, some negative thoughts filtered through as well:

1. Our strength of schedule was weak (no surprise), 392 out of 407.
2. We didn’t have any standout Division III wins, losing to our one real test: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
3. We hadn’t played a team with a winning percentage above .500 since December.
4. And of course, Chapman hadn’t made the tourney since moving to Division III in 1994.

Once all of these thoughts made their way in and out, I still wasn’t sure if we were going to make it. As an avid board reader, it looked like we were very likely to get a Pool B bid, but I couldn’t convince myself for certain; setting myself up for heartbreak was a pain I wanted to avoid. On Monday morning, five of us met at a teammate’s house to watch the selection show hoping that we would see our name in the bracket for the first time. The show started…we waited…we waited…and then, history happened.

WE MADE IT!!

If just making it to the tourney wasn’t good enough, finding out we were hosting Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the first round was the cherry on top. Going in to this game, we knew it was going to be a 40-minute battle. CMS is a well coached, hard nosed team that prides itself on toughness and defense. The practices leading up to the game were very physical and competitive.

At 7:00 PM on March 4, the battle began. The environment was incredible with almost 2000 people in attendance; the Chapman student body covered the entire west side of the gym in white, while roughly 100 CMS students stood across cheering in their respective school colors. CMS jumped out quickly, but we were able to close the gap and fight back-and-forth for the remainder of the first half. Just before halftime, Griffin Ramme hit a buzzer beater three-pointer in the corner to give us a three point advantage going into the locker room.

The second half started similar to the first with CMS jumping out quickly. Once again, we were able to battle back and seize the lead for the final six minutes of the game and capture the victory 58-47. When the buzzer sounded, the gym erupted and the students stormed the court. Words cannot express how I immediately felt, but it was a moment that I will never forget. After the game, the CMS coaching staff and players showed tremendous sportsmanship and wished us well against Whitworth.

The next morning we were up at 4:00 AM to head to the airport to catch a flight to Spokane, Washington. Waking up that early after a physical game didn’t lead to a very comfortable flight, but when we arrived at our hotel, I had no problem taking advantage of the five-hour window to sleep before our evening practice. At practice, we broke down our scouting report and prepared ourselves for another battle Saturday night.

When we arrived to the gym Saturday night, we were very focused and determined to upset Whitworth on their home court. Prior to the game, our coach emphasized that if we came out slow, it would be a long and hard battle back. And that it was. Whitworth came out firing as we found ourselves down 21-6 with 10 minutes to play in the first half. We were able to battle back and close the gap heading into the break trailing 32-26.

The second half mirrored the first as Whitworth expanded the lead to double digits in the opening minutes. We fought hard to close the gap, but were unsuccessful at getting any closer than six points the remainder of the game. Nate Montgomery and Eric Beal did an outstanding job on both ends of the court leading them to a 21-point victory.

Silence filled the locker room as all of us realized that our historic season had come to an end. As players changed and left the locker room, the four guys that started alongside of me every game for the past two seasons—Dan Aguilar, Jared Kaiser, Griffin Ramme and Kyle Wood—sat there in silence. Tears immediately streamed down our eyes as we embraced each other in the locker room for one last time. Though Griffin and I have one more year of eligibility, the camaraderie the five of us shared is something special. I am grateful I had the opportunity to help Chapman make the postseason tournament for the first time in 26 years, but I am more grateful that I was able to share it with this group of guys.

To Dan, Jared and Kyle: thank you for a memorable year.