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 (’16-’17): Week 7

Let me start this week’s blog out by apologizing to those who look forward to this series for not producing a blog last week. Things got a bit busy and by the time I had a moment to write it, there was no point (it would have been dated).

So, let’s start this week by looking at last week’s ballot:

Joey Flannery and Babson continue to be my top pick for the best team in the country, but no one is blowing me away with any kind of dominance.

1 – Babson
2 – Whitman
3 – Rochester
4 – Christopher Newport
5 – Amherst
6 – Ramapo
7 – Whitworth
8 – North Park
9 – UW-Eau Claire
10 – Denison
11 – UW-River Falls
12 – New Jersey City
13 – Tufts
14 – Salisbury
15 – St. Norbert
16 – Benedictine
17 – Endicott
18 – Neumann
19 – Hardin-Simmons
20 – Hope
21 – Marietta
22 – Middlebury
23 – Swarthmore
24 – Carthage
25 – Guilford

Dropped Out:
Wesleyan (Previously 10)
Brockport (Previously 22)
Wartburg (Previously 23)
Williams (Previously 24)

With that information now out there, let’s move on to this week, shall we?

The Top 25 continues to be a blood bath. There were 15 losses featuring 13 teams in the overall Week 6 D3hoops.com Top 25. My ballot featured 13 losses amongst 11 teams. In the last two weeks, 28 losses involving 19 teams. I don’t want to go further back and do that math. All in all, it leaves a voter like myself scratching my head so hard I might start losing hair! In the last few weeks, I have also basically thrown a grenade at the entire thing and waited for the dust to settle. I am using too many grenades.

Working on my Top 25 ballot this week. Looks neat, but this is before I got very far into it.

This week I just shook my head, erased the previous week, penciled in the top two and went back to the drawing board. However, I didn’t move teams as much as I thought I would. I noticed that a bulk of the losses have happened at the top of bottom, not in the middle. That ends up providing a bit of a cushion for teams like Amherst who lose two in a row and makes me get aggressive in removing others with only one loss when I want to get new teams on the ballot.

The other challenge is staying consistent on my thinking. I gutted Wesleyan the week before for losing three straight after I put them tenth. This year I have been more aggressive and simply removed the Cardinals from ballot. I have treated those who lose once every week or two a little less harshly, sometimes not moving them at all (depending on the circumstances). Then suddenly I realize they have four or more losses and maybe I haven’t been harsh enough. And how do I treat Amherst who lost twice (including once to Wesleyan)? Harshly like Wesleyan? Gently like Babson? Suddenly the thinking and the plan are being challenged from all directions? Do I change my methods? Do I adapt? Do I just go with what my gut tells me each week? Neither of them make it easy.

Usually, I try and go on a case-by-case basis, but that starts to get murky when you are talking about 30-50 teams, and countless losses or results, under consideration at any one time.

So, I tried a bit of a hybrid. Look at each team on a case-by-case basis, but also have the bigger picture in mind when it comes to consistency. I’ll admit, I am not sure how well I did this week. Like a lot of weeks, I could have gone around and around and around with teams and rankings. I could have changed my ballot every ten minutes and still be doing it right now if there hadn’t been a deadline. I was even thinking about different options while hanging out with my kids at the science center for part of the day on Monday.

Connecticut College defeated Amherst this past weekend continuing the trend that any good team can beat some of the country’s best this season.

The end result is what I am thinking this week, but I may blow it all up again next week and start over. The fact teams at .500 could have a legitimate chance to defeat a Top 10 team used to be pretty rare. It simply isn’t these days. There are very good teams who for whatever reason have taken more losses than expected and pose a real threat to what appear to be dominating teams. At the same time, some of the dominating teams just aren’t as superior as we are accustomed which allows their flaws to be even more revealing.

I cannot say with any confidence I know who the top teams in the country are right now. I can give you who I think they are, but already in the last few weeks those thoughts have been completely second guessed. Marietta is a damn good team, but can you explain why they are 11-4? Amherst has looked good, but suddenly they drop two games in a row! There is a good chance the best teams in the country don’t have a resume to match. Those teams in the 10-20 range very well could be who we see in Salem come the third weekend of March. The teams up top may not have had their “moments” that show us who they really are – stumbling for a few games after being revealed. The trick will be if those “moments” come in the next few weeks or ill-timed in March.

With that in mind, here is my attempt at gauging who the Top 25 teams in the country are.

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)

Sam Borst-Smith may have played well, but Rochester couldn’t escape their own gym without a loss against WashU.

3 – Rochester (Unchanged)
Surprise! Yeah. I didn’t move the Yellow Jackets despite a rough weekend including a loss to WashU. The more I tried to move to Rochester, the less likely it became. I simply don’t see who I would put them behind after just their first loss of the season. Now, I will not say I am comfortable. I have liked Rochester all year, but losing at the Palestra and having to come from behind in the first game of the weekend has me uneasy. It is only going to get tougher from here since they have to travel to Chicago and WashU later in the season… not to mention play the rest of the UAA schedule.

4 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
I’ll be honest. I have seriously thought about moving the Captains down despite the fact they keep winning. However, I keep in mind the fact they only have a second loss because of a lucky heave from Salisbury right before the holiday break. That leaves just a dismantling by Marietta at the beginning of the season. I have tried to take more stock in that loss considering the struggles Marietta is now having, but I have leaned on thinking the Marietta squad I saw then is drastically different than the one currently playing and the same goes for CNU. However, the Captains have their flaws, especially inside and I know their opponents will try and expose those flaws. Top five feels too high.

How good is Denison? Dave has decided to buy in, but we shall see how long this lasts.

5 – Denison (Up 5)
The Big Red have skyrocketed the last few weeks in my poll. I have tried to remain a bit subdued at the fact they have only lost one game, but at the same time there is a thought that if a team has gotten this far in this season without more losses they must be good. This isn’t exactly true across the board. Denison’s strength of schedule right now is surprisingly low. However, while the wins over Wooster, Ohio Wesleyan, and DePauw aren’t staggering… I do know those are good programs who appear to be gaining strength after a difficult start to the season. My thinking is Denison may be better than advertised, so I am riding the wave. Unfortunately, we probably won’t get a chance to see if I am right until February 1-8 when Denison plays at Ohio Wesleyan, vs. Wooster, and at DePauw. The NCAC season will be decided that week.

6 – Ramapo (Unchanged)
Surprise again! Another team takes its first loss and doesn’t move. In this sense, I remain consistent. Like Babson earlier this season, I didn’t punish Ramapo for losing to New Jersey City, on the road, in overtime. Yes, NJCU is not at full strength which some could read into and say that means the Roadrunners aren’t that good if they barely got by the Gothic Knights. However, I also know NJCU will take you out of your offensive game no matter their personnel, so I chalk this up as expected. I did not expect any NJAC team to get through the conference unscathed. That is the case with Ramapo and thus one of the better teams I have seen in person isn’t going to get dinged for taking a loss I pretty much expected.

7 – Whitworth (Unchanged)

8 – North Park (Unchanged)

9 – UW-River Falls (Up 2)

10 – Tufts (Up 3)
Tufts is tough to read. I almost feel like it is smoke and mirrors. Are they really a top ten team as I have had for quite a bit of the season? Or have they just floated there because I have to put someone tenth. The win over Middlebury gave me confidence the Jumbos may be for real, but Wesleyan and Connecticut College loom large this week.

11 – UW-Eau Claire (Down 2)

12 – New Jersey City (Unchanged)
Odd week for the Gothic Knights. Lose earlier to Stockton, but recover to beat Ramapo in overtime at home. NJCU would have gone down based on the loss to Stockton; risen based on the win over Ramapo. Thus, they stay where they are. This might be one of the best defensive teams in the country right now even if they are not at full health. They’ve got a couple of good road tests coming up they need to survive.

13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

14 – Endicott (Up 3)

15 – Salisbury (Down 1)
The Sea Gulls are starting to worry me. They seem to struggle to stay focused. Two losses in Las Vegas was shocking, but certainly understandable considering they played two of the better teams there. However, they could have also come out of South Point Arena 2-0. Then they show up at York (Penn.) who is playing without their best player inside and Salisbury rolls over. They should have dominated. Their team is designed to dominate squads like York who are rebuilding. I need to see Salisbury show they can take on all comer before I start thinking about bailing on what I think is a very talented squad.

Mason Reyer and the Quakers have quietly stormed to the top of the ODAC. Courtesy: Guilford Athletics (Ava Nadal)

16 – Guilford (Up 9)
I have been quietly watching the Quakers for weeks now. They, in return, have been quietly cruising through the ODAC and find themselves tied for first place. They have won eight straight including dominating Roanoke. I think a lot of voters don’t know what to do with ODAC for good reason. The top has come back to earth a little bit, so it’s hard to put a lot of faith in the teams at the top. However, Guilford’s two losses are by a combined eight points and when they win, they tend to win easily. The true test may not come until January 28 against Virginia Wesleyan, but keep an eye on this week against Emory and Henry and Hampden-Sydney.

17 – Amherst (Down 12)
Guh. Talk about a bad week for the men’s squad. The loss to Wesleyan, okay. But to compound it with a loss to Connecticut College? The former Lord Jeffs have now lost not only two in a row, but three of their last four and four of their last six! It’s like the Babson game was all they were focused on. And it isn’t going to get any easier. The next four are against Bowdoin, Colby, Williams, and Trinity who all spell blood in the water. I can’t say for sure why Amherst struggled this past weekend, but rest assured the next four opponents have seen why and will try and exploit it as well.

18 – Hardin-Simmons (Up 1)

19 – Hope (Up 1)

Jack Knupp and WashU haven’t blown me away this season, but their win over Rochester is too difficult to ignore. Courtesy: WashU Athletics

20 – Washington Univ. (Unranked)
Ok. I finally voted for the Bears. I know a lot of voters thinking highly of WashU (thus why they are 11th despite my 20th place [previously not on my ballot] vote). I am not sure why. They are 11-3 which is obviously good, but they have lost to UW-Eau Claire by 14, Central by four, and Illinois Wesleyan by a point. They then needed overtime to beat a below-their-average Wooster squad, barely survived a tough Chicago team, and needed to comeback against an overrated (by me previously) Emory team. Yes, UWEC is in my Top 25 and IWU has been in and out (and, spoiler, still flirting). Prior to this weekend, the Bears just didn’t excite me. However, they did beat Rochester on the road (the second game of the Atlanta-Rochester trip to boot) and that got me thinking: sometimes teams don’t win pretty, they win ugly. Maybe WashU is one of those teams. Not sure how much we will learn in the next three weekends should they win (vs. NYU, vs. Brandeis; at Carnegie Mellon, at Case Western Reserve; vs. Carnegie Mellon, vs. Case Western Reserve). Lose? May answer my questions more fully. For now, I’m on the bandwagon. Hope it doesn’t hurt as much as it did for St. Louis Cardinals fans on the Jason Heyward bandwagon last offseason (that’s an inside joke).

21 – Marietta (Unchanged)

22 – Middlebury (Unchanged)

23 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The Cardinals are either suffering from whiplash or learning to play the yo-yo. They went from tenth to unranked to 23rd on my ballot in three weeks. They went from ninth to unranked to 24th on the D3hoops.com poll. Wow, what a ride. But when you beat Amherst and close out the weekend ending your three-game losing streak with a second straight win at Trinity… it is bound to happen. Wonder where they land next week after playing Emmanuel, Tufts, and Bates.

Tahron Harvey and the Eagles suffered their first conference loss in 34 games (conference record) against Concordia (Wis.).

24 – Benedictine (Down 8)
I seriously considered removing the Eagles from the Top 25. Yes, it was a single loss, but it was in conference where to be in the Top 25 they probably should be dominating. I realize it is hard to keep winning in any conference (which makes St. Norbert’s run even more impressive), but I was very concerned with the loss to Concordia (Wis.). The only thing that stopped me from removing them was feeling I might have been too harsh, but more importantly not sure who I would replace them with. Plenty of candidates, that’s for sure. Just not sure if any of them have proven anything more than Benedictine. We shall see.

25 – Neumann (Down 7)
I also nearly removed the Knights as well. This might have been one of the few times I expected a team to keep winning. Or more appropriately, I expected that if Neumann were to lose it would be to Cabrini or Gwynedd Mercy. Not to Rutgers-Camden who was previously 1-9 (now 3-11). Though, I did consider that Camden is playing far better now and nearly knocked off Ramapo as well. However, the last few weeks I have noticed that Neumann’s leading scorer is missing. James Butler hasn’t shown up on a box score in awhile.

Dropped Out:

Cam Wiley and the Garnet lost two last week by an average of 17.5 points dropping them out of my ballot.

Swarthmore (Previously 23)
The Garnet had a rough week. They lost two in a row and neither of the games were close. Johns Hopkins handled them 70-52 in Baltimore and Franklin & Marshall steamrolled the Garnet 83-66 at Swarthmore. Not sure what happened. I don’t see any missing players. This was a chance for Swarthmore to take firm control of an okay Centennial Conference this season and instead it is has turned things into a free-for-all. Maybe I had put too much stock in the Garnet.

Carthage (Previously 24)
Speaking of free-for-all, the CCIW is shaping up that way as well. I thought Carthage was maybe turning into a Cinderella and setting themselves up nicely, but they then lose to Illinois Wesleyan. Not a bad loss, but IWU is without preseason All-American Trevor Seibring (back) right now. Add to the fact that the Red Men barely got past Illinois Tech and I start to see red flags. CCIW is always competitive and good, but maybe this year it doesn’t have a dominating side like in years past.

So, there you go. An interesting week to say the least. There are already losses on my ballot like North Park who lost on Monday night to Manchester. I am sure the losses will mount up once again and I will be back to the drawing board again.

But I do enjoy this. My struggles to find the best 25 teams in Division III men’s basketball means that there is plenty of good basketball to go around. Last March was awesome with how the tournament played out. I can’t imagine this year’s event will be just as exciting. We have a lot of good teams who put on a show each and every night. I am not complaining in the least. Gives us more to talk about.

Previous Ballots:
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 – Elmhurst (Unchanged)

3 – Whitworth* (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

7 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unchanged)

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

9 – Amherst (Unchanged)

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

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

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

12 – Marietta (Unchanged)

13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)

14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)

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

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

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

17 – Tufts (Down 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Ballots

Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

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

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

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 – Susquehanna^ (Unchanged)

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

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

10 – John Carroll (Unchanged)

11 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)

12 – Marietta (Unchanged)

13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)

14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trine has emerged as a dangerous team in the MIAA.

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

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

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

24 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

Courtesy: Franklin and Marshall Athletics

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Ballots:
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

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

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 8

BOOM! That sound you heard was my ballot pretty much getting blown up. I have been tempted for weeks, but after the results of the last seven days plus what I saw in person the time was now.

I should mention that blowing up my ballot doesn’t mean I make whole-sale changes or completely change my mind on things. Rather, I start from a new base and reexamine all teams I am voting for, those I am considering, and those who maybe aren’t on my radar. It takes a lot more time than I usually spend on my ballot (which is probably too much time to begin with) and has mixed results.

This one has mixed results.


I am just not satisfied I have a pulse on what is going on nationally. There are so many losses. There are no great teams. There are a lot of good teams I can’t figure out. I could have spent countless more hours debating teams but eventually went with my gut on a couple of them (whether on or off my ballot) and decided to see where the chips lie in a week.

It was another rough week for my ballot: 15 losses most of them at the bottom half. As a result, I made some bold moves. I reconsidered some teams and I decided to cut bait with others.

Many wonder how Top 25 voters think and I don’t think there is an easy answer mainly because when one argument works for one example it may not work for a dozen others. There is no set criteria – which is a good thing – which makes dissecting results difficult and thus why there are 25 different opinions tallied together for one overall poll.

Here’s what I can tell you about my thinking:

  • A game that happens in November can be as important as a game in February unless more current results are telling a different story (I will point those out when necessary).
  • A head-to-head result is going to trump a lot of items, unless it is about the only item that is going in favor of a team (again, I will point out when necessary).
  • I do look at SOS numbers (albeit somewhat inflated right now) to better understand a team’s schedule, but I won’t make a decision based on those numbers. I will instead look at the team’s schedule a bit more to understand why the SOS is high or low compared to others and make the decision based on that information.
  • At this point in the season, ignoring an undefeated record is getting harder and harder to do, so I made moves accordingly.
  • Winning streaks start to weigh more this time of the season. This is where items like games in November and head-to-head results may take a back seat.
  • Ugly or tough wins over teams that should be easy wins are judged on a case-by-case basis. What looks bad for one team I may dismiss with another based on other data. Again, what works for one example may not work for the rest.

I could go on and on with other examples, but this blog is going to be long enough anyway. Remember, I am just one voter with one opinion. This is one of the toughest years in a long time to be a Top 25 voter on the men’s side and I promise you that even in discussions with other voters everyone is reading the tea leaves differently.

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

1 – St. Thomas
2 – Augustana
3 – UW-Whitewater
4 – Washington U.
5 – Randolph-Macon
6 – WPI
7 – Babson
8 – Wooster
9 – Marietta
10 – Virginia Wesleyan
11 – Dickinson
12 – Albertus Magnus
13 – Chicago
14 – Emory
15 – North Central (Ill.)
16 – St. Olaf
17 – St. Norbert
18 – Chapman
19 – Ohio Wesleyan
20 – UW-Stevens Point
21 – Franklin & Marshall
22 – Husson
23 – Illinois Wesleyan
24 – St. John Fisher
25 – Case Western Reserve

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

1 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)
Sometimes when I blow a ballot up I actually go a different direction with my number one vote – not this time. The Tommies have beaten Bethel, St. Olaf, and St. John’s in the last three games – their biggest rivals in the MIAC standings this season – and beat two of them on the road. Sure, games were close, but you have to expect that in a much more challenging MIAC this season and in a rivalry game (St. John’s). St. Thomas has lost once back in early December to Gustavus Adolphus who they have a rematch with on Wednesday. I like how St. Thomas is playing in a season where everyone is flawed.

2 – UW-Whitewater (Up 1)
I actually thought about going back to the Warhawks as my number one team, but that loss to Cardinal Stritch bugs me. I know that it was the very first game of the season and not against a Division III team, but something about that and other games makes me scratch my head. Granted, UWW has rolled through teams recently including UW-Stevens Point this week and that is encouraging. So I moved them up to #2 and will watch how the rest of the season progresses.

3 – Augustana (Down 1)
I expected to move the Vikings down more than one spot after losing to Illinois Wesleyan at home this week, but I didn’t know how far I could really move them down! They bounced back with a win they had to battle for against a resurgent Millikin squad on the road (remember, Millikin destroyed Wheaton a couple of games prior) and sometimes that is more important to note than the loss. It won’t get easier for the Vikings as they are on the road at Elmhurst and North Park (who handled North Central) this week before then seeing North Central and Carthage the next week – and yes, the IWU game is looming.

4 – Marietta (Up 5)
Here is the first big move of the ballot. I can’t ignore the fact the Pioneers are undefeated despite a low SOS (relatively speaking – it’s above .500 but with more conference games to play). Marietta beat Mount Union this week who is maybe their biggest test in the conference and have beaten some pretty good teams this season. As a team stays undefeated longer and longer, the target gets bigger and the pressure grows. So far, the Pioneers are still winning so why not move them up.

5 – Randolph-Macon* (Unchanged)
Here’s another example of a team that seems to be playing very well but has a blemish I can’t wrap my head around. The Yellow Jackets beat Virginia Wesleyan this week and have been taking care of everyone else… except when you remember they lost at home to Frostburg State (8-9) in what one person told me might have been the worst loss in Crenshaw Gymnasium history. I like how RMC is playing and with eight seniors; Nate Davis has a wealth of experience to work with. They just can’t peak too early like they did last year or things will unravel very easily in tough ODAC play.

6 – Chapman (Up 12)
To paraphrase a coach I respect quite a lot: Chapman is a really, really good team. He should know, he coaches a perennially good team and as seen Chapman in action. And Chapman, like Marietta, is undefeated – you just can’t ignore that point in late January. Yes, their SOS hurts them (below .500), but they continue to get the job done with a large target on their back. There are a lot of things I like about this team when looking at them on paper, so I moved them up. Now to dedicate some late nights to watching more of their games especially the next five!

7 – WPI* (Down 1)
The Engineers moved down a slot just to make room for Marietta and Chapman. I still like what WPI brings to the floor and they have recovered nicely from their loss to MIT. Next up: Springfield and Emerson on the road before Babson and MIT at home (not sure where Coast Guard will be slotted in, right now) – good test of games for WPI.

8 – Babson (Down 1)
As with WPI, I needed to make room for other teams, so Babson moved down. I clearly think higher of the Beavers than many other voters, but they beat a much improved MIT squad handily this week which makes me more comfortable with where I have them slotted.

9 – Wooster (Down 1)
Again… making room above the Scots. However, I will say I think this is the ceiling for me with Wooster. The Scots aren’t exactly world beaters this season and have had to really fight for some victories after blowing other teams out. I am not sure Wooster is better than a number nine team and really would feel more comfortable with them in the 10-15 range. However, there are a lot of teams in this year’s ballot probably higher than they would in a “normal” year. Big games this week with Ohio Wesleyan and Wabash on the road.

10 – Dickinson (Up 1)
I initially thought I might move the Red Devils further up after they dismantled Franklin & Marshall*, but thinking more about it the win was more a testament of where F&M is in reality than Dickinson. As with Wooster, I think Dickinson is at their ceiling. I like their team and they are clearly playing well this season, but I don’t think they are better than number ten in the country. Tough games with Muhlenberg*, Gettysburg, McDaniel*, and a rematch with F&M, all on the road, remain on the schedule and I don’t think Dickinson comes out of those 4-0. Plus, they have to play a very good Johns Hopkins team, albeit at home.

11 – St. Norbert (Up 6)
Several factors had me move the Green Knights up: they do only have one loss; a lot of other teams don’t seem better than St. Norbert right now; there is a lot of grey area in the middle of the poll this year. I just think you can’t ignore if a team continues to win – I just have to be careful because the Midwest Conference doesn’t seem to have a lot of teams that can compete with St. Norbert and that might result in some smoke and mirrors.

12 – Albertus Magnus (Unchanged)
As I have said in the past and will say again: this is the ceiling for the Falcons on my ballot. They can continue to win the rest of the season prior to the NCAA tournament and I am not going to move them up any higher. Their SOS is below .500 which indicates how weak their conference is (though, Johnson and Wales is playing pretty well) and their out-of-conference schedule featured one tough opponent (Richard Stockton: which was a loss). While I will move other teams up with similar or worse records, Albertus Magnus falls short in a lot of categories in comparison and thus will remain at twelve.

13 – Emory (Up 1)
Nice win over Case Western (probably expected) and didn’t have a let-down against Carnegie Mellon. It’s nice to be home again! I like how Emory is playing and they have learned to deal with bad outcomes and move on (i.e. the trip to the Midwest last week). I think the UAA is real challenge this year for teams on the road and honestly that could cost an extra bid to the NCAA tournament. Emory has Brandeis and NYU at home this coming weekend before heading to Boston and New York the following weekend. Emory can take over the conference if they do well the next four games.

14 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 4)
The loss to Randolph-Macon isn’t the main reason the Marlins fell four spots. I was also moving other teams around and Virginia Wesleyan ended up in this spot as a result. I am not surprised they lost to the Yellow Jackets, in fact I suspected they would since the game was on the road and I feel RMC is the better team. The Marlins are clearly good since they dismantled Lynchburg, but they don’t face a real tough game until pretty much the end of the season with Hampden-Sydney and Guilford in their last two games.

15 – New York U.* (Unranked)
This is my biggest and boldest move of the ballot. I got the chance to go see the Wash U vs. NYU double-header in New York City on Friday night and I am so glad I did (for many reasons). New York is far better than I had been giving them credit for and it comes down to one reason: Hakeem Harris. The transfer from Seton Hall completely changes the look and feel of this team. Now the Violets have an outside presence who can not only shoot well, but drive and score or dish as well. You also can’t ignore the presence of Costis Gontikas (I knick-named him NYU’s Gronk) inside and other weapons that make the Violets tough to match-up against. New York shot better than 53% against a pretty good Wash U defense and after jumping out to an 11-0 lead never let the Bears back in the game. Then they turned around and did NOT have a letdown against Chicago, beating the Maroons on Sunday. NYU is going to be a very dangerous team the rest of the season. Clearly this team would like to make the last season in Coles Sports Center a memorable one.

16 – St. John Fisher (Up 8)
Another bold move, but when you look at how the Cardinals are handling teams you have to take notice. St. John Fisher beat Ithaca by 26 on Saturday – just another example of how this team has been dominating others. I have already had one coach explain that he thinks the Cardinals are completely underrated – though not that hard in an average at best East Region. Either way, St. John Fisher is clearly head and shoulders better than those around them.

17 – Whitworth (Unranked)
The start to the season for the Pirates was anything but good and I completely jumped off the ship. They didn’t look good in their loss to Rutgers-Newark and St. Thomas smoked them. However, since then they have rattled off 14 straight wins and may be walking away from what I thought was going to be a competitive Northwest Conference race.

18 – Washington U.* (Down 15)
Yeah, this is a pretty steep drop for only losing one game on the road in the UAA, but the fact the Bears have been dismantled in their two losses in conference action has me concerned. Furthermore, they clearly aren’t seasoned enough to deal with adversity during games – as testament to the fact they didn’t how to rally around the game plan to fight back against NYU culminating in Matt Palucki earning two technical fouls and an official ejection from the bench from three different refs in less than a minute of real time. Many have said Wash U. wasn’t going to be as good as in years passed just based on the youth on the team, but their start to the season certainly helped hide the flaws. Now conference action is showing the challenges.

19 – Elmhurst (Unranked)
The Blue Jays refuse to back down. They lose two of three in close fashion and then respond with three straight including on the road at North Park and at home to Illinois Wesleyan who as coming off a season-defining victory. Elmhurst is having a breakthrough season that has everyone talking and can cement themselves pretty nicely near the top of the CCIW standings with their game at home against Augustana coming up this week.

20 – William Paterson (Unranked)
I could be buying into the Pioneers a little bit too much. The NJAC hasn’t impressed me this season (despite what coaches in the conference say to the contrary) and the struggles of Richard Stockton* lately may make it harder for me to buy in. However, one fellow voter told me William Paterson scares him with how good they are and so I listened. The Pioneers have won 11 straight and a lot in convincing fashion. Their last loss was to a much better Richard Stockton team back in early December. We can get a gauge of the difference in the teams late this week in a rematch on William Paterson’s floor.

21 – Chicago* (Down 8)
I seriously considered dropping the Maroons altogether from my ballot. They lost two straight this weekend blowing a lead to Brandeis in the process. This after they held home-court the previous weekend and stood atop the UAA standings. The reason I didn’t drop them: the fact one of their losses was a close one to NYU who I catapulted onto my ballot. Maybe I am buying too much into the UAA who legitimately has five good teams on top of the conference and I need to leave more room on my ballot for other teams. Or this conference is better than even in years past and while there is no dominating team to point to they are all really good. The problem with that: it could cost them tournament bids.

22 – Johns Hopkins* (Unranked)
There is nothing flashy about the Blue Jays. They have a blue-color worker feel to the team (ironic considering those who graduate from Hopkins tend not to be blue-color) and they are somewhat cold in their execution. They had to travel to Washington and Muhlenberg* this last week and got the job done after the spotlight became far brighter by being ranked for the first time in nearly seven years. JHU has now won 12 straight and are not doing it with any pop – they are just getting the job done with at least two players who could be All-Americans.

23 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)
I really didn’t know what to do with the Titans this time around. Their win, on the road, against Augustana was impressive. The problem was they didn’t follow it up against Elmhurst. If you beat the then-number one team in the country you need to follow that performance up the next game. The Titans didn’t. I thought about dropping them from my poll, but the simple fact they beat Augustana made me hesitate. Illinois Wesleyan might be the best example of the challenges in the Top 25 this year: really good teams are flawed and no one is great.

24 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 2)
After the dismantling by Dickinson to make it two straight losses, I thought about dropping the Diplomats. They recovered and won against Haverford, but they should have won that game no matter the circumstances. F&M is a good team which clearly has the parts for the future. My concern has been that one loss could derail the season. Losing to Dickinson seemed to prove that concern as it was the second straight loss for the Diplomats. However, I expected F&M to lose that game and they did stop the bleeding against Haverford. I’ll keep them in the Top 25 for now.

25 – Case Western Reserve (Unchanged)
You lose to a team ranked ahead of you… it shouldn’t mean you get punished. Yes, other teams have fallen as a result of losses to teams ahead of them, but I didn’t find a reason to knock Case Western out especially since they are now on top of the UAA by a game after this weekend’s results. Again, I might be buying too much into the UAA – I get that. CWR did lose in Atlanta and then win in Pittsburg. Let’s see what the Spartans have in their tank as they travel to Chicago and Wash U who clearly want to send a message following this past weekend.

Dropped out:

North Central (Ill.) (Previously 15)
Have the Cardinals wings been clipped? They have lost three of four in what was going to be a tough stretch even on paper. However, Top 25 teams don’t come out of that run looking beat up. Top 25 teams don’t finish that run by laying an egg to the last place team in the conference (it doesn’t matter the conference). NCC better figure it out quick. Very-confident Millikin is up next before Wheaton both at home… then Augustana and Illinois Wesleyan.

St. Olaf (Previously 16)
I wasn’t going to drop the Oles from my ballot for losing to St. Thomas and even for their loss to Bethel, but if I was going to keep them in I was going to have to find a slot for Bethel and I didn’t have one. As a result, St. Olaf is out. I think the Oles are a good team as their losses were close, but there are a lot of good teams this year and there are still only 25 slots. We shall see how St. Olaf responds in the next few games.

Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 19)
Inconsistency was the key to this decision. I think Ohio Wesleyan also has a good team and if I hadn’t been blowing up the ballot in the first place they probably would have stayed in my Top 25 despite the loss to Denison. However, the Battling Bishops haven’t won more than two games in a row since losing to Trine in early December. It is hard to keep voting for a team who has lost game after every two-game win “streak.”

UW-Stevens Point (Previously 20)
Yes, they lost to UW-Whitewater and beat UW-Oshkosh, but they weren’t in the game in the second half (19 points in the half) against the Warhawks and had a miracle half-court buzzer-beater in double-overtime be the reason they finally beat the Titans. The Pointers are also without the services of Stephen Pelkofer who apparently is out with an injury and that could be why they seem off synch.

Husson (Previously 22)
The Eagles made a splash in Las Vegas before losing to Colby and I still thought high of them. I figured they could glide through their conference and be on a roll come NCAA tournament time. Nope. Husson lost to Lyndon State (5-11) 101-85 on Saturday pretty much ending my thoughts they are still a Top 25 team. Not sure what to think of the rest of the season, but it is going to take a nice run in the NCAA tournament before I reconsider Husson.

* – teams I have seen in person.

Previous ballots:
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7