Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 2

Denison enters Dave's Top 25 ballot this week, but not without some second guessing.

Denison enters Dave’s Top 25 ballot this week, but not without some second guessing.

Another interesting week of games to mull over as a D3hoops.com Top 25 voter. The top held firm for the most part, but there were still some surprising results to try and figure out.

At the same time, there are large number of teams who are showing early they may be pretty good. That is the part that is so difficult to figure out early in a season. Are these teams legit? Are their schedules an indication of strength? Are these results smoke and mirrors? When does reality set in (if it is different than what we are seeing)?

I think that is the most difficult part of voting this early in any season, but especially now with so much parity (are you tired of hearing about parity?). A lot of teams start 5-0, 6-0, etc., but not all of them truly are Top 25 teams. Just because you start a season undefeated doesn’t mean you are one of the Top 25 teams in the country.

As an example, there are 24 teams without a loss in Division III men’s basketball through Monday, December 5. Prior to December 1? 38!

Not all teams or schedules are created equal. So, weeding through who is undefeated and why, along with who have lost games and why, is challenging. Even more so when on top of the 24 teams who are undefeated who have 77 who have suffered a single loss, and more than 165 with two losses (80 with a winning percentage of .750 or better).

There simply isn’t enough room to honor everyone. I also have tried very hard not to fall back on the “usual suspects,” not when there are so many teams who have entered the mix. But that is what makes it harder. As a voter, you understand who the WashUs, Woosters, IWUs, UW-Whitewaters of the Division III world have done over the years. It is probably easier to plug them into a Top 25 based on a good start than it is to look at the Denisons, Swarthmores, Endicotts, Keene States and understand the significance of their seasons. It is harder to go with what you don’t know as well than what you do know.

That was a lot of what was on my mind as I tackled my voting. Trying to better understand programs, schedules, and not go with the “usual suspects.”

A reminder, here is last week’s ballot.

And here is this week’s (with far less capsules on teams to avoid being repetitive):

Tufts is being led by Vincent Page (16.0 ppg) and despite the loss remained in place on Dave's ballot this week.

Tufts is being led by Vincent Page (16.0 ppg) and despite the loss remained in place on Dave’s ballot this week.

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Marietta (Unchanged)

3 – Amherst (Unchanged)

4 – Tufts (Unchanged)
I will be brief with this. By my previous ballot, Tufts v Babson was predicted to be a Babson win. Tufts held strong and played well. I am not going to then move them down my poll if my previous ballot predicted the Jumbos would lose. Though, it was a good week for Tufts – I had the honor of calling the Division III men’s soccer championship weekend for NCAA.com and the Jumbos won their second title in three years in double-overtime over Calvin. Congrats to Tufts! (OK, shameless plug finished).

5 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

6 – Whitman (Up 2)

7 – Whitworth (Up 2)

8 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

9 – Hope (Up 2)

10 – Rochester (Up 3)

NCC's Conor Rairdon was 5-15 (12 points) from the field in 39 minutes in the Cardinales concerning 57-40 loss to UW-Platteville.

NCC’s Conor Rairdon was 5-15 (12 points) from the field in 39 minutes in the Cardinales concerning 57-40 loss to UW-Platteville.

11 – North Central (Down 6)
The Cardinals only have lost once and did a nice job to beat Illinois Wesleyan following that loss, but I can’t get the performance against UW-Platteville out of my head. From all accounts and from reading what I could, it was a bad game. But it also may not be a game NCC can avoid in the future. There may be some telling problems that could be exposed later in the season especially against the tough CCIW.

12 – Salisbury (Up 3)

13 – Wooster (Down 6)
This would be one of those “usual suspects.” After I voted, but before crafting this blog, I did have a discussion with someone who raised something that has been in my head for years: find it frustrating that Wooster gets a certain “benefit of the doubt.” I know over the last few years I have made a similar point, but not as perfectly said. This is not to take away from Wooster, but it is to raise the question in my own head – I am just plugging the Scots in because it says “Wooster” on my sheet? Am I putting them too high for the same reason? Denison beat them (now twice in a row; more on them later) and the Scots have two losses albeit to two apparently very good teams (we know Marietta is good). I initially only brought Wooster down a few slots. I then realized I was being a little too kind. But there is an argument Wooster should be further down in this and the overall poll.

14 – Baldwin Wallace (Unchanged)
As with Tufts, my poll predicted Baldwin Wallace would lose to Hope Marietta (my apologies over the mistaken opponent), so I haven’t moved them. That said, this is one of those teams you try and better understand despite not being from a group you know well. I nervously watch to see if the shoe will drop on the Yellow Jackets. Shamelessly, I hope they continue to have a great season.

15 – New Jersey City (Up 1)

16 – Skidmore (Up 1)

17 – St. Thomas (Down 5)
A surprising loss to Augsburg certainly had me take notice. Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe the Tommies were as good as last year, but they have proven over the years to always been a solid Top 25 team (no, not just a plug-them-in squad). I was also reminded that they had a surprisingly lost last year to Carleton at the same time of the year (second game of conference play). I will be watching to see how they do against St. John’s and UW-Stevens Point coming up to truly get a pulse on this revamped squad.

18 – Endicott (Up 4)

IWU's Trevor Seibring is one of five players averaging double-figures in points for the Titans.

IWU’s Trevor Seibring is one of five players averaging double-figures in points for the Titans.

19 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)
See my notes on Tufts and Baldwin Wallace. The Titans were predicted in my poll to lose to North Central. Yes, the Cardinals did fall based on their loss to UW-Platteville, but they didn’t fall in my mind below IWU prior to their game.

20 – Benedictine (Unchanged)

21 – Lynchburg (Down 3)
The loss to Shenandoah gave me pause, even if it was an overtime battle. Have I misread the Hornets? I have seen them in person and usually I will pick out concerns. However, I liked what I saw with Lynchburg. But there is the question of who might be the best in the ODAC and others are coming to light like Emory and Henry that have given me pause.

22 – Denison (Unranked)
Per the conversation about Wooster, there is a point here that maybe I have Denison FAR too low. They beat Wooster already this season and who can forget their upset of the Scots in the NCAC playoffs last season? From some reports (received after I voted), Denison is for real but there could be an argument they are suffering from the “usual suspects” conundrum. After a few conversations, I did wonder if I have the Big Red far too low on my ballot.

23 – Emory (Unchanged)

Zach Yonda and Swarthmore have entered the D3hoops.com Top 25 for the first time in program history. (Courtesy: Swarthmore Athletics)

Zach Yonda and Swarthmore have entered the D3hoops.com Top 25 for the first time in program history. (Courtesy: Swarthmore Athletics)

24 – Swarthmore (Unranked)
I had a trusted colleague basically whisper in my ear in the month before season started that Swarthmore was going to win the Centennial and they would be very good. I was skeptical. I don’t think the top of the Centennial will be world beaters this year (F&M will struggle far more than people realize). However, the Garnet had a big win over Dickinson and seem to be playing well. I do struggle to read into their schedule with the likes of PSU-Abington, Centenary (N.J.), and Washington College (who has an upset win over Gettysburg). But the wins over Misericord and Dickinson do cause me to take note. Ursinus and Rowan ahead will be a good barometer.

25 – Keene State (Down 4)
Could the limelight be too bright for the Owls? Maybe. Suffered their first loss to Mass-Dartmouth last week. People forget the Corsairs were very much in the LEC conversation last year with an improved squad. So, I am giving Keene State the benefit of the doubt. There is a far larger target on their backs this year thanks to that incredible NCAA tournament last season. How they respond to the loss will be my litmus test.

Dropped Out:

Nate Axelrod (seen last year against Benedictine in NCAA tournament) and Ohio Wesleyan are off to a tough start to the season.

Nate Axelrod (seen last year against Benedictine in NCAA tournament) and Ohio Wesleyan are off to a tough start to the season.

Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 24)
Another loss for the Battling Bishops who appear to be battling team chemistry and expectations this season. Three in a row to Capital, Illinois Wesleyan, and Otterbein before finally righting the ship (maybe temporarily) against DePauw. There are a number of good tests ahead in and out of conference for OWU, here is hoping they haven’t used up their at-large flexibility before December even started. In the meantime, my preseason #3 pick will sit off my ballot for a while before I can believe they were as good as I expected.

John Carroll (Previously 25)
What is going on in University Heights? Is the team distracted by the incredible season the football squad is having (if you don’t know, you really should check it out on D3football.com)? Could Mike Moran be trying to hand the reigns to his son ahead of time to try and slide the job to him? Could that be screwing up chemistry? Ok, so that last part probably isn’t the case, but I would be lying if it hasn’t crossed my mind a few times. Outside shooting is clearly off and the team is clearly struggling. Losses to Hanover, La Roche, Hope, and Muskingum (undefeated!) have put the Blue Streaks season in peril. Marietta is looming along with some other challenges. I will be a bit over-the-top by saying: things aren’t looking good.

A gentle reminder that I am just one of 25 voters in the D3hoops.com Top 25. I represent one opinion. I am completely fine with those who disagree – there are 24 other voters who disagree because only four others have the same first-place team and I bet anything no one has the exact same Top 25. Just remember, though, just because I have a different opinion doesn’t mean I am right. I will admit when I am wrong as I have already this year. So be gentle when commenting. HA!

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 1

Augustana Remains Dave’s #1 Pick

Deep breath.

Two and a half weeks into the season and the first in-season Top 25 is here.

Deep breath.

I knew that the preseason poll would not hold up. There was no way in this era of parity that I could assume most of the Top 25 would go unscathed. But this was brutal.

Deep breath.

The overall D3hoops.com Top 25 went 82-31 (.726) to start the season. Those receiving votes: 88-27 (.765). Ouch.

My preseason Top 25? 83-33 (.716) including a forfeit.

Deep breath.

For those who have read these blogs over the course of last season and this preseason, you know I have spoken a lot about parity in Division III. I mentioned in the preseason blog that “this year may see that parity go even further.”

Yep. It has. And it will.

I continued, “I am expecting one thing – a wide open season.”

Yep. It has been. And it will be.

I pretty much have resigned myself to the fact each week will be a challenging, time consuming process. But as another voter said to me this week while we discussed our thoughts on different teams and the poll overall, “all we need is for someone to win some games to make it a little easier.” Is that so much to ask?

This week all but TWO teams in my preseason poll shifted position. Outside of the top six, it was a free-for-all. I nearly rubbed away all of the paper on my pad from all the erasing I was doing. Insert teams, change my mind, erase, reinsert teams, change my mind, erase, etc., etc., etc. And to prove how wide open things are… there are seven teams in the D3hoops.com Top 25 that I do NOT have on my ballot. SEVEN!

Not much more I can say in this section, because there is plenty to say below each team (expect one – not adding any notes to the most obvious decision on this poll). So, let’s get on to my ballot from the first week of this season.

1 – Augustana^
Any questions? Good.

2 – Whitworth (Up 2)
I had a coach from the west coach reach out to me randomly and part of his email said Whitworth was good. Damn good. Worthy of their overall No. 3 ranking. I take some coaches’ views, especially those I respect their point, very seriously. I get to know who is blowing smoke, who is downplaying things, who is sincere, and who is trying to push an agenda. This coach isn’t even in Whitworth’s conference and called them legit. The Pirates have had some close games, but they also have won those games which is more than you can say for a vast majority of Division III teams already this year.

3 – Hope (Up 13)
The Fighting Dutchmen made a BIG jump thanks to a heck of a start to the season… including a solid victory over defending national championship UW-Stevens Point^ on the road the night after traveling to UW-La Crosse. Yes, Hope lost to Cornerstone, but that is the number one team in NAIA Division II and it took a 9-0 run by the Eagles to defeat Hope by seix. This team is loaded with seniors and juniors who all can score, rebound, play defense, and lead this squad. That is a dangerous combination in Division III, just ask Augustana. This might be the season Hope fans and the rest of the nation has been waiting for from western Michigan. I have a feeling something special is brewing on the shores of Lake Michigan.

St. Thomas’ Cortez Tillman

4 – St. Thomas* (Up 4)
The Tommies are good. Even when they take on a challenge from a David like team, they don’t falter. They weather the storm and push through. I got to see St. Thomas at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic and liked what I saw. Even their game against Southern Vermont* where they were down early showed me they can fight back. And their game against Emory* showed that even when they are struggling they can find answers. They aren’t flashy and they don’t have just one player that dominates making them hard to defend. FOUR guys lead the team in double-figures, though admittedly on the stat sheet there is a noticeable drop-off after those guys (all seniors and juniors). However, two sophomores will eventually start stealing headlines, John Veil and Ryan Boll, along with others as this team improves from what is already a very good start to the season.

5 – Amherst^ (Unchanged)
The Lord Jeffs once again started the season with a bit of a ho-hum schedule. It’s a trademark of Dave Hixon’s whether it’s intentional or not. Johnson State, Worcester State, and Anna Maria, all of them at home. While I wasn’t impressed with the opponents, I wanted to see how Amherst at least played and how much they won those games by. Nothing was close – 18 points. Amherst is going to be a very good team, once again, from the Northeast. They just need to get some better challenges to prove themselves before conference play begins. We will have to wait until Brandeis (Dec. 8) and Babson (Dec. 10), both on the road, to see that challenge. They also have Rust on their schedule on January 2 – which will be a perfect game to literally shake the rust off a 20-day lay-off between games.

6 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 7)
The Battling Bishops started the season ready to play! The team seemed to start off where last season ended, on a roll. Of note, wins over Calvin, Trine, and Illinois Wesleyan jumped out at me. They are also putting up points (four of the six games 80-plus) and seem ready to live up to expectations that this year could be special. Of course, Wooster is looming. Ohio Wesleyan starts conference action at home against the Scots in what will be the defining game of the early season. However, with two of the three D3hoops.com Preseason All-Americas from the Great Lakes Region belonging to the Battling Bishops… I like their chances this season.

7 – Elmhurst (Down 5)
The CCIW coaches might get together and mandate no one is allowed to play any team from the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, especially Benedictine! Elmhurst was one of three CCIW teams (Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton) to lose to the Eagles and they lost to them at home. That almost overshadowed dominating wins over Curry and Westminster along with a surprise System style win over Greenville. They followed up with barely beating Alma which does raise some concerns, unless you talk to those in the MIAA who say Alma could be dangerous (as Greg Mitchell of Hope told me on Sunday’s Hoopsville). I think Elmhurst is a team that will be darn tough this season, but not surprised they will also take a few lumps – I clearly was expecting too much at number two in the preseason.

8 – Marietta (Up 1)
This area (No. 7 on down) is where my ballot starts to feel a little uncomfortable. I don’t have teams I can say confidently are the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth best and beyond. I can’t. Marietta doesn’t feel like the eighth best team in the country, but no one behind them seems like they are better – which is why they ended up moving up a spot. Nothing about the Pioneers start blows me away. Solid wins over teams you expect them to beat. Barely defeated maybe an overrated Catholic^ squad (more on that later on) and then dropped a game against a tough St. Vincent squad, but one they should have beaten (the Bearcats lost to Hood prior). Marietta gets to start conference play with what was the bottom half of the OAC last season, though watch out for Wilmington… but it only gets tougher from here.

9 – Babson^ (Up 1)
Another team that moved up despite a loss. I like what I see with Babson including word they have some major talent that transferred in. However, they lost to Bowdoin in overtime after starting with an Amherst like schedule and barely getting past Lasell and Becker. Bowdoin isn’t a horrible loss, but with games against Brandeis, Amherst, and Bates still to come plus playing in the NEWMAC… extra losses are not something the Beavers can afford to put on their resume. Can Babson get back to Salem? Probably, but they need to get more dominate on offense.

St. John Fisher was the class of the Hoopsville Classic.

10 – St. John Fisher* (Up 7)
The Cardinals were the second best team at the Hoopsville Classic (behind St. Thomas). They fought through some challenges, made the right adjustments, and found ways to get their offense in sync. I know they are still finding themselves after losing so many seniors, but when you have a presence like Keegan Ryan (D3hoops.com Second Team All-America) on the inside you are going to be in good shape. One thing the Cardinals will have to be careful about is foul trouble. They like to play aggressive, but Coach Rob Kornaker has stated it publically, they have to adjust to a freer flowing game. If they can make that adjustment while not sacrificing their defensive quality of play, SJF will be a tough team to get through come March.

11 – Stockton^ (Up 1)
Nothing about the Ospreys start to the season makes me sit up and take notice. They started with a loss to a tough Staten Island squad and then rolled over Neumann, Gwynedd Mercy^, and Rowan as they should have. I said in the preseason blog I might be buying in a little too much and I still worry I am. They move up a spot mainly because someone has to fit into the number 11 hole even if the team I put here might be closer to a number 17 squad.

12 – UW-Stevens Point^ (Up 11)
Just writing the words “Up 11” makes me nervous. Yes, the Pointers are off to a good start this season and their only loss is to Hope who ranked higher – though it was by 12 on Stevens Point’s home court. They barely got past Superior, survived against St. Olaf (who was previously ranked), and handled their business against a tough St. Norbert squad. But what makes me nervous, is they will play No. 1 Augustana^ this coming weekend in a rematch of the national title game and I am not sure it will be close. I doubted UWSP last season and didn’t rank them until well into the year. They proved everyone wrong being one of the best defensive teams in recent memory. However, they have really lost a lot from last year’s squad and the entire top of the WIAC is arguably down this season. I am not sure they are the 12th-best team in the country right now; maybe closer to low teens. But here we are again with a team filling a higher hole because I am not allowed to leave these spots simply blank.

13 – Washington Univ.^ (Unranked)
The moment I pressed the “vote” button on Monday, I was second-guessing this decision. I had been second-guessing it the entire day especially after I slotted them in even higher. I quickly erased that idea and moved them down closer to 20. But then I had a large gap where I had no teams, so after a lot of moving around and readjusting… Wash U ended up 13th. What did catch my eye is that they have had a dominating start to the season against opponents they should be dominating. No game has ended closer than 16 (Johns Hopkins^) with most games being 20 points or more. The Bears appear to be playing incredibly good defense (not allowing more than 65 points) which was a major problem last year. However, I may quickly regret this decision as even those who know the program well think my vote is nuts. Illinois Wesleyan and Augustana loom in the next three games. Those two along with Centre (coming up at the end of December) are the best three teams on Wash U’s out-of-conference schedule. They don’t have a tough schedule this year. So this really could just be smoke and mirrors that I am buying into. We will talk about this again next week I am sure.

14 –Brooklyn (Unranked)
I know I said this on Hoopsville a few weeks back, but watch out not only for the Bulldogs but the CUNYAC. Brooklyn is coming off of a quiet 23-win season last year, rebounding from consecutive 12-14 seasons. Alum Rich Micallef has had an immediate impact on this squad and they could be the talk of at least the Atlantic Region this season. They have had some dominating wins to start the year (first three games and four of the six were 90+ point performances) against some pretty good talent: Case Western Reserve and William Paterson among others. Again, they feel a little high at 14, but there is a gap in the middle of this ballot for me. However, Brooklyn is a team that could change the tournament landscape come March (if they make it out of a tougher than usual CUNYAC).

William Paterson walks off court in protest of Jose Rebimbas’ firing. Picture courtesy of Instragram video.

15 – William Paterson (Down 1)
I don’t know what to do with the Pioneers. This is the other very talented squad in the Atlantic Region (my how things in this region have changed in a few years), but there is turmoil right now. They started the season with a spanking of Mount Union before having some tough battles to follow. Then they got spanked by Brooklyn on a day/night that eventually would reveal their coach, Jose Rebimbas, had been fired. Was this firing already a distraction leading up? Did the team know the day of the Brooklyn game, Rebimbas’ last? This was followed up with the team walking off the floor before the tip-off against Ramapo (a result that the NCAA still has to weigh in on for multiple reasons). Then it was days of no one knowing if they would show up at Cabrini and play Rosemont two days after Thanksgiving (many didn’t know the morning of the game!). I think William Paterson can be a special team this year, but they have to keep their heads on straight. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt for now as maybe cooler heads have prevailed and they will fight through this season – maybe even be inspired by what they feel is an unjust firing. However, the moment more chinks in the armor are revealed… I won’t hesitate to bail as I fear this team, as special as it appears, could also unravel in a second. (More of my thoughts on their forfeit and decisions after at the beginning of Sunday’s Hoopsville.)

16 – Benedictine (Unranked)
When you start the season winning three games against CCIW foes, two of them on the road, and both of those being Top 25 programs, you deserve some love and attention. Now, this might be a bit high, but this is where they fit in for now. The Eagles certainly came out guns blazing this season. Yes, they beat Illinois Wesleyan for the second consecutive season, but they followed it up with wins over Wheaton and Elmhurst – they didn’t beat Wheaton last season! The only challenge is going to be their conference and the rest of their schedule. Benedictine has five out of conference games and they are ALL against CCIW teams. Meaning they won’t play a game outside of the NACC or CCIW and they aren’t even picked to win the NACC (something coach Kevin Bunkenburg talked about on Sunday’s Hoopsville)! Maybe this ranking is just a reward for a fabulous and historic start to the season… or it could be a sign that there are some new players in the Central Region that no one would have given any mind to in recent years.

17 – Salisbury* (Unranked)
I wasn’t necessarily convinced I was going to vote for the Sea Gulls following the Hoopsville Classic, but they did do a very good job at Stevenson and then went and knocked off Virginia Wesleyan. Salisbury can be dangerous this season. They aren’t playing with their best player from last season due to injury, but they have the components to beat you inside or outside – heck, did you see what they shot against DeSales*?! I know Christopher Newport is the pick to win the CAC, but I think people didn’t realize how quickly Andy Sachs and the team would jell. They look good and face CNU coming up this week. Great early-season conference game for everyone to gauge things.

18 – Mount Union (Down 11)
Tough to start the season with a shellacking given to you by William Paterson, but to follow that up with a beatdown by North Central is tough. Granted, the Purple Raiders returned the favor in their three other games including against Chicago^, but that only muddied the resume. I debated about giving up completely, but they did show they could win a big game. Of course, that was part of a North Central beats Mount Union who beats Chicago who beats North Central weekend that just made things madly confusing. I think Mount Union will right the ship and be dangerous the rest of the way, but with Baldwin Wallace, Capital, and Ohio Northern part of their four-game start to conference play… they better be ready to fix things now.

19 – Chicago^ (Down 16)
Yeah, I must have drank some kind of Kool-Aid with the Maroons… and no, that drink was not coming from Chicago’s campus. The last two seasons there is something about Chicago I really like, but either I am completely losing my mind or they simply aren’t living up to expectations. Many would probably say I am nuts – and I probably was – for having them third in my preseason poll. However, I think they are talented enough to be a Top 10 team – thus maybe they aren’t living up to the expectations. Who knows? Chicago looked sluggish against North Park and gave the game away in the end. They didn’t look good against Mount Union before looking much better against North Central. The Northwest trip certainly did them good, but they have a couple of really tough tests ahead with Wheaton and Illinois Wesleyan in their next four games. Maybe I bought in too soon – like last season.

20 – Catholic^ (Down 14)
I said in my preseason poll I was apprehensive with where I positioned the Cardinals No. 6, but I didn’t foresee this start to the season. I also said that previous years Catholic hadn’t lived up to expectations… it certainly looks like that could be true again this year. The only problem I have had with CUA over the course of many years… they don’t live up to expectations. Maybe they have to come into a season with no expectations. That’s what they did in 2012 when they shocked everyone at the Hoopsville Classic started what would be a magical year which ended in a tough NCAA Round 2 loss at Williams. Granted, they have lost two games on last second shots and won another by two. They have had close games. But they shouldn’t be close against Washington and Lee and maybe Wesley^. The Cardinals have Susquehanna^ (picked to finish second in the Landmark) ahead this week. Their out of conference games coming up against St. Vincent and Dickinson* will be telling. If Catholic doesn’t dominate an easy-to-dominate Landmark, they are going to fall short.

Virginia Wesleyan’s Kaelin Poe

21 – Virginia Wesleyan^ (Down 10)
I didn’t have the Marlins as high up as a lot of voters in the preseason ballot, but that doesn’t mean their start wasn’t disappointing. The tip-in loss to Wesley was one thing, but to get smacked by Salisbury probably revealed more about VWC than many realized. However, Dave Macedo is known for always reloading his squad – they never rebuild. They dominated what appears to be a pretty good Averett squad and took care of business against MSOE, Emory and Henry, and N.C. Wesleyan as expected. But the next three games will be telling: Washington & Lee, Christopher Newport, and Mary Washington. Come out of that unscathed is a good sign. Come out of that run with bruises and it might not be as grand a year as some expected. Overall the top of the ODAC is down this year (that parity thing, again), so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised the top team in the conference is struggling as well. Maybe they didn’t reload as much as many expected they would.

22 – John Carroll (Unranked)
Could the Blue Streak be the real deal this season? I know expectations in the conference are high after their first 20-win season in five years and they have started the season 5-0. My only concern is they didn’t exactly play a who’s who of teams this season – this list is a who’s who from seasons past: Transylvania, St. Mary’s (Md.), Birmingham-Southern. There is also Rust and La Roche. Of those five games, the only one close was the last one to La Roche and John Carroll has put up an average of 103.2 points per game (while allowing 85.4)! That’s some good offensive numbers. They start conference action with Wilmington and Marietta in the next four games… so now things get real for John Carroll. Maybe they are for real.

23 – East Texas Baptist (Down 4)
Eh. This wasn’t the team I figured I would be left with from the Texas area in my Top 25. A close win over Rhodes and a one-point loss to Texas Lutheran (who I am still trying to get a read on) just makes things confusing. Plenty of good games on the horizon for the Tigers (McMurry, Hardin-Simmons, Louisiana College) to get a better idea of how good they could potentially be this season.

24 – Wooster (Down 1)
I said in the preseason poll I was tempted not to even include the Scots on my ballot. Clearly other voters feel the same way. They lost to certainly a good team in Skidmore, but not a Top 25 team at this point. The game against Silver Lake does nothing for me – it’s a waste of a game in my opinion. Then Wooster dominated Cabrini^ to no surprise. For now I will leave Wooster on my ballot as I don’t have anything to sway me otherwise. However, Ohio Wesleyan, DePauw, and Wabash are ahead and that will make or break what I expect of Wooster this year.

25 – Northwestern (Unranked)
There were a LOT of teams I could have slotted in here. I actually probably should have gone with Oswego State, but the Eagles are off to a strong 5-0 start following an incredible finish to last season (remember they made the Sweet 16 with wins over St. Thomas and Elmhurst). I don’t love who they beat, but I don’t hate the schedule either. A good test against Bethel is coming up before a long break and conference action. We shall see how long I ride with Northwestern, but they certainly have been a fun team to watch the last nine months (and even longer).

Dropped Out:

Emory* (Previously 15)
Following the Hoopsville Classic, I thought the Eagles were the third-best team there. They were in no danger of falling off my ballot. But they lost to Marville and LaGrange to follow the trip to Baltimore and I had no choice. Not a good start to the season. Emory has a lot of good tools and talent on this squad, but they are clearly searching for their identity. Replacing Alex Foster and others was obviously going to be tough, but maybe we thought after years of replacing talented stars that Emory could rebound well. Compound things with injuries and Emory has had a tough start to the year. They will reemerge in the national conversation as they battle in the UAA, but in the meantime they are off my ballot and will have to really get rolling before they can probably return.

Dickinson’s Ted Hinnenkamp leads team with 17.0 ppg and 8.5 rpg.

Dickinson* (Previously 18)
Even after the Hoopsville Classic I was thinking about dropping them from my poll. They struggled against Stevenson* and couldn’t find their rhythm against St. John Fisher*. I really thought the Red Devils would still be a Top 25 caliber team until I saw them against McDaniel*. The Green Terror came out fast and forced Dickinson to make massive changes in the first half including going to a zone defense. The result was Dickinson getting back into the game and leading. But they couldn’t readjust in the second half and McDaniel was able to make adjustments and ended up leaving Dickinson in their dust. Alan Seretti says he doesn’t want to see me any more this season (seen three of their four games, only one was a win and I only saw the second half of that one) and I can’t blame him. Dickinson has a lot more to fix and replace than maybe a lot of thought they would. It turns out, losing Gerry Wixted and his class was far more devastating than losing Adam Honig the season prior.

Eastern Connecticut (Previously 20)
Maybe the Warriors aren’t ready for prime time? Losses to WPI (who may be better than anyone expected they would be) and Johnson and Wales (who certainly could be position to win the GNAC this season) didn’t impress me. Not for a team that should be far better than that. They did get dominating wins over Western New England, Ramapo, and Hamilton, so I will keep them on my radar. But I really wasn’t expecting a 3-2 start from Eastern Connecticut this season.

Bates (Previously 21)
I probably voted for the wrong NESCAC team in the preseason poll anyway. I probably should have gone with Trinity (Conn.), but that is in the past. Bates in the meantime lost in shootouts with Southern Maine and University of New England – both teams off to terrific starts (4-2 and 5-2 respectively), but also teams I thought Bates could have beaten. They have some interesting tests upcoming before conference play: Husson^, St. Joesph’s (Maine), Colby (non-conference), Southern Vermont*, WPI, Babson^, Brandeis, and either Springfield or Husson (again) all before NESCAC action begins. If the Bobcats are for real this season and able to back-up last season’s great run, it’s this out-of-conference schedule that is very important.

Hardin-Simmons (Previously 22)
I thought this was supposed to be the Cowboys’ big season, but a 3-3 start is ugly. Especially when the losses include Southwestern and Schreiner. Their two wins? Schreiner (2-4) and winless Trinity (Texas). Not good. Now maybe they are missing a player(s) or something else that I haven’t been able to pick up on box scores or on D3boards.com (I can’t keep everything I read retained). If that is the case, we have an explanation. If that is not the case, I have no idea what is going on in Abilene, Texas.

Southern Vermont* (Previously 25):
I knew the task we gave the Mountaineers at the Hoopsville Classic, but I was hopeful they would emerge 1-1. However, they went 0-2 including a controversial loss to Salisbury. Despite the fact I thought they played very well, especially against St. Thomas* and despite the fact they have plenty of talent, it is hard to keep a 2-2 team who started 25th on my ballot… on my ballot. However, Southern Vermont is worth watching this season. They don’t have a tremendously challenging schedule except games against Bates and Middlebury to bookend Christmas, but they are a very talented team who should once again steamroll their way through the conference. They just have to stay focused on the big picture and know that despite the losses at the Hoopsville Classic… they will only serve to help them come February and maybe March.

* – teams I have seen in person this season.
^ – teams I have seen in person in the last 12 months.

So there you go. Crazy first week.

I normally won’t write as much as I did on this one. As the season goes along and less teams move in and out of my ballot or up and down, there will be less to recap.

I will say there were at least 50 teams I considered for my ballot. The 25 voters in total voted for 59 teams and ten new teams jumped into the poll. That’s a lot of movement. That’s a lot of questions. That’s a lot of parity.

Parity is great for Division III. It means more teams are competitive and more games will be exciting. It means we can’t expect outcomes and any game we are watching can turn out as a win or loss for our favorite team. Anything goes.

Parity isn’t great for Top 25 voters trying to read the tea-leaves, but to be honest… I wouldn’t want it any other way. Division III basketball is exciting to watch, so don’t miss out.

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.

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 12

This week the top half of the ballot was pretty simple, the bottom half… yeah… well… here we go again.

It is just difficult to really figure out who the best 25 teams are in the country this season. If I don’t have 40 teams I am considering, I am not spending enough time on the project each week. In other words, the more time I spend, the more teams I add to the list. Sure, it would be easy to save myself the time and the patience and just go with a short number of teams. However, this season I have had the bad feeling that I am missing out on someone or there is a team flying under the radar I just haven’t paid enough attention to. As a result, I keep looking around and finding others I want to at least consider – dive into their numbers and season and see what I find. Usually that leads me to teams like Penn State-Behrend, Southern Vermont, or others who have gaudy records, low SOS numbers, below-average conferences, and interesting out-of-conference results. Sometimes I wait these teams out a little longer; other times I go with my gut and add them. In all cases, I am waiting for my gut to be wrong (maybe I am a pessimist at this whole thing – especially this year).

This week, I certainly had 40 teams – leaving myself 25 teams to slot into the final ten spots. I decided to cut bait on some teams that are just not finishing the season well while waiting a couple others out. I left some teams out that probably deserve to be in; I left some on the ballot that probably need to go. It is a lose-lose scenario sometimes.

One thing I know for sure… in a week’s time… I suspect I will be throwing my entire ballot out and starting over. Does anyone really think the majority of the Top 25 is going to get through conference tournaments unscathed?

As always before we begin, here is a look at last week’s ballot:

1 – Randolph-Macon
2 – UW-Whitewater
3 – Babson
4 – St. Thomas
5 – Augustana
6 – St. Norbert
7 – WPI
8 – UW-Stevens Point
9 – Virginia Wesleyan
10 – Dickinson
11 – Marietta
12 – Albertus Magnus
13 – St. John Fisher
14 – Emory
15 – Johns Hopkins
16 – Ohio Wesleyan
17 – Elmhurst
18 – Chapman
19 – Whitworth
20 – Catholic
21 – Wooster
22 – New York Univ.
23 – St. Olaf
24 – Washington Univ.
25 – Penn State-Behrend

And now on to this week’s ballot with some explanations for some of the moves:

1 – Randolph-Macon* (Unchanged)
First undefeated ODAC season in program history and the first ODAC team to accomplish the feat since 2001 (Hampden-Sydney)… impressive! Now they have to get through the ODAC tournament at the Salem Civic Center. A gauntlet that has tripped up many a top-seed… including the Yellow Jackets just last year.

2 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

3 – Babson (Unchanged)

4 – Augustana (Up 1)

5 – St. Thomas (Down 1)
I thought about moving the Tommies down even further than just one spot, but I just can’t move them below some teams right now. I am worried about consistency from St. Thomas. You can’t go and blow the socks off a team like St. Olaf on the road and then roll over against Bethel at home if you are really that good this year and want to make a decent run in the NCAA tournament. The advantage UST has is they will probably be on the road at least to start the NCAA tourney (women get rights to host first weekend), but that loss could have also cost St. Thomas a hosting chance at hosting the second weekend.

6 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)
Another undefeated season in the MWC. Wow. This is a really good team, it appears. But they are really going to have to prove themselves in the NCAA tournament because I just don’t see a way for them to avoid a major Central Region team in the first weekend.

7 – WPI* (Unchanged)

8 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

9 – Virginia Wesleyan (Unchanged)
If there is one thing I will say about the Marlins… who have they really beaten? They finished second in the ODAC and got beat by Randolph-Macon in some very good games, but I am starting to get nervous that Virginia Wesleyan doesn’t have a signature win this season. Are the Marlins overrated? Just stuff I ponder, but sure I believe just yet.

10 – Marietta (Up 1)

11 – Albertus Magnus (Up 1)
Despite a really close call to Emmanuel (buzzer beater to force overtime and then win going away), I just don’t have anywhere else to put other teams. Those now below AMC didn’t seem to deserve being ahead of the Falcons. I really hope AMC doesn’t trip in the conference tournament risking the chance to make the NCAA tournament, because I think the Falcons could be dangerous. I just don’t know what kind of match-ups are in store for AMC.

12 – Dickinson (Down 3)
The Red Devils are worrying me. They aren’t finishing the season strong. I still think they make the NCAA tournament even if they lose in the semifinals against Franklin & Marshall* on Friday, but the way Dickinson lost to F&M on Saturday is a little concerning. That’s three losses in the last five games with a win over Johns Hopkins in the middle. I probably should have moved Dickinson down a little more. Here’s hoping the talented senior class decides this is not how their careers is going to end – stumbling to the finish.

13 – Emory (Up 1)

14 – Johns Hopkins* (Up 1)
I debated about flipping the Blue Jays and Dickinson, but decided the recent win by Dickinson was good enough to not make that move. However, Johns Hopkins may very well be the better team of the two. The blue-collar, bring a lunch pail to work mentality to this team doesn’t overwhelm you when you watch them, but they get the job done. Hopkins is one of those dark horses who might surprise in a few weeks.

15 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 1)

16 – Whitworth (Up 3)

17 – St. John Fisher (Down 4)
Not the time of the year to start losing! The Cardinals lost to Alfred and Stevens in the last three games – all in the past week – but luckily had such a commanding lead in the Empire 8 it didn’t cost them. However, it might be hard to get the right match-ups in the NCAA tournament now and if St. John Fisher loses again they might be out as a host the first weekend! Talk about all that hard work being for nothing. Hopefully SJF takes flight again and finds their mojo!

18 – Wooster (Up 3)

19 – Washington Univ.* (Up 5)
Ok… good weekend for the Bears. Beat Brandeis and New York Univ.* to make up for the lousy trip to New York City last month. Despite a crazy season, Washington Univ. is positioned to win the UAA title and get the automatic bid to the tournament. They just have to get past Chicago* which handed them one of their worst losses of the season. The one thing going for Wash U – Chicago has to go to St. Louis. It will be a mini-conference title game between the Bears and Maroons with Emory hoping for just the right outcome (along with a win) to take the title from both of them!

20 – St. Mary’s (Md.) (Unranked)
Here’s one of those teams that might have been flying under the radar. I took a long, hard look at the Seahawks this week. They are 20-4 right now (producing their sixth 20-win season in the last seven years), they are on a 12-game winning streak, and they haven’t had a “close” game (less than double-digits) since a five point win over Mary Washington on February 4. They may not have a great SOS (thanks to losing two games and a lousy bottom part of the conference), but they are also markedly improved from the team that lost to Eastern Mennonite and Delaware Valley* to start the season. Could I be buying in a little too much? Maybe. But this team could create some nasty match-up problems in the NCAA tournament. Who knows… maybe the year no one was paying attention to SMC was the perfect year for them.

21 – Catholic* (Down 1)
I can’t say I was surprised Catholic lost to Scranton* on the road. Scranton needed that win badly and playing in the Long Center is anything but easy. It did bring to the end a 15 game winning streak. The Landmark Conference tournament still goes through Washington, DC and hopefully CUA realizes that loss is the perfect jolt to their season.

22 – Southern Vermont (Unranked)
Hmm… could the Mountaineers be one of the most underrated teams in the Northeast? Ok, I might be going a little too far, but considering Southern Vermont hasn’t lost since a close game against Bates on January 3 and has gone undefeated in a conference they hadn’t won more than 10 games in … ever … SVC may be a team to watch. They once again started the season with a win over Williams, but hard to read them with a ho-hum out-of-conference schedule. But as I have said in the past, I look at win streaks this time of year with a little extra credit… 15-straight for the Mountaineers means they haven’t beaten themselves just yet.

23 – Penn State-Behrend (Up 2)

24 – St. Olaf (Down 1)
I am tried not to jump to too many conclusions with the Oles lost to St. Thomas. Yes, it was on their home court and, yes, it wasn’t close. Those are all big concerns for me. However, St. Olaf is 21-4 and that is a significant mark for this squad. Maybe I should be cutting bait like I did last time, however I also regretted that move a week later. Let’s see how St. Olaf does in the MIAC tournament.

25 – Elmhurst (Down 8)
They played one game this week and got blown out on the road at Illinois Wesleyan. I know the CCIW is tough this season, but at some point you have to stand up and at least be competitive in a game you had a week to prepare for! Those are all the reasons I probably should have dropped the Blue Jays from my ballot. The only reason I didn’t… I just couldn’t argue anyone else ahead of them right now. Or I could, but I wasn’t confident in them either. Rematch with IWU (at Augustana) is coming this week.

Dropped out:

Chapman (Previously 18)
Chapman is struggling to keep it together, it would appear. They have lost four of their last eight in groupings of two-at-a-time and have lost two of those games to 9-15 Redlands and Pomona-Pitzer. I know the SCIAC is “interesting” this season, but Chapman might be running out of gas at the wrong time in the season. And watch out… a red-hot Caltech team is coming to town Tuesday night. I just can’t keep riding on the Panthers bandwagon right now.

New York Univ.* (Previously 22)
Guh. Talk about not matching what I have seen in person. The Violets jumped into the national conversation with a pretty darn good weekend at home against Wash U* and Chicago*, but just haven’t been able to keep up the pressure since including losing badly to Wash U (97-75) and Chicago (77-60) on the road this past weekend. I think NYU is a dangerous team if they make the NCAA tournament. The problem is I think they just ended any hope of playing in the NCAAs with this past weekend’s results.

* – teams I have seen in person versus most who I have seen on video.

Previous ballots:
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11