Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 5

A reminder that this blog was written based on games played through January 1, 2018 and thoughts on teams through that point in the schedule. For the sake of saving time, there are no comments this week about individual teams in the ballot part of the blog.

If you thought Santa wouldn’t deliver in the past few weeks to the D3hoops.com Top 25, you and I have a different image of Santa. You can look at it several ways, but I prefer to think Santa wanted to give all Division III fans, especially of men’s basketball, the gift that any team has a chance this season. Thus, he seemed to hand out losses to lots of teams during the holidays. Yes, it could be construed by the other voice in my head (and maybe your’s) that Santa just wanted to give us chaos. However, to try and keep myself sane… I’m going with the first option.

In the span of 24 or 48 hours, while I lived in the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Top 25 teams fell left and right – even in front of us at the 8th Annual D3hoops.com Classic. It was almost as comical as Ohio Wesleyan’s three-point shooting for three-quarters of two games (or Nate Axelrod’s and Tim Howell’s individual efforts). It even bled over to the women’s side of things where the number one team in the country, Tufts, was defeated by an unranked opponent.

Happy Holidays to all!

Here’s a loss, there’s a loss, and another loss.

Or maybe it was: you get a big win, you get a big win, you get a big win.

Of course, the other thought on my mind: what kind of ballot am I going to come home to on January 1? I thought about looking at things on the cross-country flight home Sunday, but decided I wanted to relax and enjoy the flight … not continually order drinks to try and subdue the carnage I was wading through.

The craziest thing of all… I decided on some teams on my ballot wouldn’t move despite outcomes, other teams would make significant moves up or down no matter their outcomes, and I would continue to leave teams which at quick-glance had impressive resumes off my ballot … for now.

An example of the first part would be much of my ballot this week. A number of teams especially in the top five didn’t move even though they lost a game. Middlebury lost to York (Pa.), UW-Oshkosh lost, Wash U lost to Augustana, etc. I considered moving them. But where to? Who deserved to move ahead of those teams or others? If I move a team down, I have to replace them. I cannot leave the spot blank (despite repeated requests to be allowed to do so that continually denied).

I also moved teams up and down even though their results were the opposite. I leap-frogged Ohio Wesleyan up four spots despite losing to Whitman. Had they one, I would have considered moving them to two or three – I would have had a reason to drop Middlebury and others for losing. However, they didn’t shoot as well in the second half against Whitman, but that also didn’t make me think they deserved to move down. I have stated repeatedly that if a team ranked below another team on my ballot losses to that higher-ranked team, why would I move them down?  I moved New Jersey City up despite a loss not necessarily because they proved to be better, but because other teams proved to not be as good.

That gets me to teams I moved down. I was asked during the broadcast of Ramapo’s loss to Augsburg if I felt the Roadrunners would drop out of the Top 25 with two losses in Vegas. I didn’t see the question at the time, but made a comment later along the lines that I didn’t think so based simply on the fact that there were already a number of losses in the Top 25. Ramapo’s losses against an all-winning Top 25 might look harsher than one where nearly everyone lost. I did drop Ramapo eight spots because I wasn’t as impressed with Ramapo as I was last season when I was blown away by them in Vegas. The Roadrunners blew a nearly 20-point lead against Central in a game that I pretty much predicted they were about to be in real trouble (when leading by 18 and starting to look too relaxed). They don’t seem to play a full 40-minutes especially against teams that are not as good. They get too distracted and suddenly their lead is gone and they are fighting to get back in the game. Maybe that is why they have struggled to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for … ever. They are very talented. They are very dangerous. But they are their own worst enemy. That all said, I still think they are a Top 25 team and there was plenty of other results to keep them from plummeting too far.

Same goes with other squads. St. Norbert, John Carroll, Skidmore. All with resumes over the holidays that concerned me. St. Norbert once again not taking advantage of a non-conference opportunity to prove they are more than just a MWC dominating program. John Carroll likes to score a lot of points, but they are giving every one of their opponents a chance for the win by not tightening up the defense a bit… and losing to a sub-par Hope squad. And Skidmore that book-ended their holidays with losses to highly-ranked Middlebury and playing-below-expectations Guilford. All three might have dropped out of my poll if there hadn’t been a ton of losses to go with it.

There was also a number of teams I still am not voting for despite gaudy records at nearly the mid-point of the season. Lycoming (13-0) who is undefeated, but has an opponent win-loss percentage of .403, has only played three teams above .500, and played nine of their games at home. Franklin & Marshall (10-1) whose opponent’s mark is .454 (not too low), but also has only played three teams above .500 and lost one of them. Juniata (11-0) whose opponents combine to be 36-73 (.33) and have only played two teams above .500. Nebraska Wesleyan (11-0) who, like Juniata, has an opponent’s win-loss mark at .339 and has only played two teams above .500. Swarthmore (9-1) who at least has a .467 opponent win-loss percentage, but hasn’t really blown me away (Ryan Scott keeps telling me I am missing something; I very well may be and will watch them carefully in the next week or so). Whitworth (10-1) whose opponents win/loss mark is improved (.458), but also dropped a game to Wheaton during the break.

And there are certainly others.

With all of them I faced the very same challenge. Resumes that when you dove into them didn’t really look as good as their records made you think and no results that blew me away. I want to see more. I want to see what conference play brings us. There are plenty of chances in the next week or two to see results that can easily change my mind.

Those teams plus others were also part of a group that if included meant I needed to find room on my ballot. I dropped three teams this week for three new ones. There are six mentioned above. There are at least a handful more. I wasn’t confident in where I could find two more teams I was confident didn’t below on my Top 25 let alone six, eight or more.

There easily could be 40 or more teams that deserve to be in the Top 25. The voters clearly think so. Look at how many teams are being voted for and highly. Lycoming is sixth in the poll… and not getting a single point from me. I might also be looking the wrong way with some teams and will admit it when I become aware of it.

For now… the 25 teams I think are the best in the country don’t include a number of teams I mentioned and didn’t note.

Traditionally, I would now give you my Top 25 ballot for this week and leave a snipet per most teams. I am not going to do that this week because I need to post this and because I could argue myself for and against every team I list and their position. It would get too long. Instead, I am going to give you the Top 25 ballot and leave it at that. Not sure this will be the new norm for this blog (as many have said they like the thoughts on each team), however I think it is best for this week’s.

Here is my ballot for the D3hoops.com Top 25 for Week 5:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
3 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
4 – UW-Oshkosh (Unchanged)
5 – Wash U (Unchanged)
6 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 4)
7 – UW-River Falls (Up 1)
8 – St. John’s (Up 1)
9 – Williams (Down 2)
10 – New Jersey City (Up 1)
11 – Wesleyan (Up 1)
12 – MIT (Up 1)
13 – Wartburg (Up 2)
14 – Ramapo (Down 8)
15 – UW-Whitewater (Up 6)
16 – Nichols (Down 1)
17 – York (Pa.) (Up 6)
18 – Rochester (Down 1)
19 – Wittenberg (Unranked)
20 – Baldwin Wallace (Up 5)
21 – St. Norbert (Down 4)
22 – John Carroll (Down 4)
23 – Skidmore (Down 7)
24 – Albright (Unranked)
25 – Hamilton (Unranked)

Dropped Out:

Marietta (Previously 20)
Hanover (Previously 22)
Eastern Connecticut (Previously 24)

Previous Ballots:
Week 4
Week 3 (Not posted due to a busy Stagg Bowl Week)
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 4

Let me start with an apology. I wanted to post my Week 3 D3hoops.com Top 25 blog, but simply didn’t have time. Stagg Bowl Week takes up a lot of time including being on the road from Tuesday until Saturday (in beautiful, but suddenly always windy Roanoke Valley). I do thank those of you who spotted our Twitter poll (below) asking about these blogs. Not a lot of people, but quite a few said they liked the blog, so we are continuing.

So to start things off, here is my Week 3 ballot along with a notation of where teams moved, if necessary:

Those in Whitman’s huddle haven’t been who we expected this season, but the Blues continue to be Dave’s top squad on his ballot.

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
3 – Middlebury (Up 1)
4 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 2)
5 – Williams (Down 2)
6 – Ramapo (Up 1)
7 – UW-Rivers Falls (Up 3)
8 – WashU (Up 3)
9 – St. John’s (Up 3)
10 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 3)
11 – Rochester (Up 4)
12 – New Jersey City (Up 4)
13 – Wesleyan (Up 4)
14 – MIT (Up 6)
15 – Skidmore (Down 1)
16 – Wartburg (Up 8)
17 – Marietta (Down 12)
18 – UW-Whitewater (Down 10)
19 – Hanover (Down 10)
20 – Lake Forest (Up 2)
21 – Nichols (Up 4)
22 – St. Norbert (Unranked)
23 – Salem State (Unranked)
24 – Eastern Conn. (Down 3)
25 – Baldwin Wallace (Down 7)

Dropped out:
– North Central (Previously 19)
– Bowdoin (Previously 23rd)

So that is where things started for this week. Not a lot of games to judge on this week thanks to mainly finals, but still a lot of match-ups that allowed for plenty of information for voters. It didn’t result in a lot of movement for a lot of my ballot, but it did make for the last five to ten slots to be very challenging. I ended up with far too many teams for those last ten or so spots. I was caught between being drastic and cutting a lot of teams just to make room – no other reasons – or to get creative. I may not have been as creative as I could be, but I did try and find interesting ways to solve the challenge(s).

Definitely going to start using the famed “pink eraser” from now on. Going through too many top-of-the-pencil erasers!

I also just shook my head and cleaned up the eraser shavings from the multitude of times I changed my mind or didn’t like how I had worked things out. Thank goodness I am at least smart enough to do these in pencil.

I thought by this point in the season there would be enough information to start feeling secure about who I was voting for and why, but I could make an argument against every single team on my ballot and where I have them positioned. From 1 to 25 and beyond. There are arguments that could be made for those not on my ballot for why they should be. It is maddening sometimes.

There are a lot of good teams in Division III men’s basketball. I just don’t think there are a lot, if any, great teams. Everyone has flaws. All teams are susceptible. No team is going to get to the end undefeated, unblemished. That makes for great nights of basketball and incredible match-ups even from games you don’t expect, but it doesn’t make for an easy time on Sunday nights and Mondays putting a Top 25 ballot together.

I did notice one thing… if you want to win in Division III basketball, you might need a W in your name. Counting UW schools as “Wisconsin-so-and-so” and teams with Ws leading any part of a multiple-name school, I have 10 “W” teams (eight if you don’t count the multiple-name schools). I remember one year have five schools in a row on my ballot that all started with “W.” It just felt weird. Like I had done something wrong. However, like possibly needing purple in your school color to win a national championship, maybe you actually need a W to be one of the best at getting Ws.

Okay, I digress.

Here is my Week 4 D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
Admittedly, the Blues have me a little nervous. That said, I have stated as recently as the last episode of Hoopsville that I don’t expect anyone to go undefeated this season. This includes Whitman who is playing without two of last year’s starters (who may be out for the reason; we will learn more soon I am sure), but also has a terrific team attitude that starts on the defensive end. They survived against Occidental, but losing that or another game before the (re)start of the conference schedule would not surprise me.

Augustana remains high on Dave’s ballot despite the challenges. All teams are facing challenges this season.

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
Not sure what I think of the Vikings. They don’t blow me away, but they also continue to get the job done. Again, a loss of Wofford I think is going to be a factor and one they can overcome. CCIW play will not be easy, so I doubt they can survive without one or two more losses.

3 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
When teams are idle for a long time, it gets hard not to move them around. I think the Panthers are a very good squad, but not playing for three weeks concerns me for early January.

4 – UW-Oshkosh (Unchanged)
The Titans are good, but the WIAC is going to be a slug-fest this season. There are so many good teams in the WIAC. I have more faith in UWO… for now.

WashU’s win over Illinois Wesleyan catapulted the Bears up Dave’s ballot. It was a game that was going to affect Dave’s ballot no matter the outcome. (Courtesy: WashU Athletics)

5 – WashU (Up 3)
The game against IWU was what I was waiting for – for both squads. The Bears showed me that just maybe the team I was expecting has arrived. WashU played very well against the Titans which impressed me. WashU may be one of a very few teams I feel comfortable with where I rank them.

6 – Ramapo (Down 1)
The Roadrunners didn’t do anything wrong to slide down a spot. They fell two weeks in a row as I tried to find room for other teams (UW-Oshkosh last week; WashU this week). I still think Ramapo is a very good team, however I think those other teams are better right now.

7 – Williams (Down 2)
The Ephs have also fallen – four spots total – on my ballot in the last two weeks. I am just not as confident in Williams as I was prior. Part of that is the fact they have lost one of their best players in Klye Scadlock (leads the team in ppg, rpg, second in apg). I am just not sure how Williams adjusts. I know they have had two games since the injury and have a few more weeks before their next, but it isn’t like they are in practice every day adjusting.

UW-River Falls’ Alex Herink has sometimes put the Falcons on his shoulders and the squad has responded.

8 – UW-River Falls (Down 1)
Like Ramapo, the Falcons’ slip of a spot is related to moving WashU above them. That said, trailing 41-26 at halftime against Northwestern (Minn.), before rallying for the victory, is something I did take note. I know Northwestern is probably under-appreciated by many, but I still feel a top ten squad shouldn’t find themselves that deep in a whole against a team not close to the Top 25.

9 – St. John’s (Unchanged)
I may be one of a very few voters who likes the Johnnies this much. Top 10 I am sure has some people shaking their head – much like how I feel with Lycoming is in the Top 10 overall. Each voter has their perspective and mine is that SJU is a darn good team who will win the MIAC this year and is far better than others realize. The Johnnies have put up some very impressive performances, though their close game with Hamline gave me a little concern. I know they lost to UW-La Crosse, but again, I’m not expecting perfection this season and UWL isn’t a bad team.

10 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unchanged)
One of the things I did this week was look at the opponent’s winning percentage for every team I was voting for last week and considering for this week’s ballot. The Battling Bishop’s number was surprisingly lower than I expected: 28-49 (.364). That immediately sounded some alarms in my head. You are voting them way too high especially when teams with higher percentages aren’t even on you ballot. That said, I think OWU has some of the best talent in the country and will rise above a crazy NCAC race. Are they a Top 10 team? Maybe not, but there aren’t a lot of Top 10 teams this season. Someone has to be put here.

11 – New Jersey City (Up 1)
When a team has as many close games as the Gothic Knights have had one way of looking at it is they are playing with fire and will be burned. The other is that it shows a team can withstand the pressure and finish a game no matter how bad they play. NJCU fought back against a very good (under-appreciated) Albertus Magnus squad, down 20 in the second half, to win their second game thanks to a buzzer beater this season (see below). I am not sure NJCU is the 11th best team in the country, but again… who really is?

12 – Wesleyan (Up 1)
Three NESCAC teams in the top fifteen seems a bit excessive and the Cardinals have floated up this high thanks to what has been happening around them primarily. I am not sure if Wesleyan will get its’ wings clipped or how badly once the conference schedule begins, but I also feel they have a very well-rounded roster and a program that has been continually building to this type of season for awhile now. Of course like many NESCAC (even Northeast Region) teams… we have to wait a long time to see this squad back in action (21 days between games)

MIT on paper has some scary attributes and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

13 – MIT (Up 1)
This Engineers squad reminds me of the program’s final four squad. Not in a perfect match, per se, but they are building to something special. Like the team that ran to the final four in 2012, this squad’s best players are underclassmen. In fact, there isn’t a senior on the roster! MIT has already played 11 games and now has a long break and I expect when they re-start NEWMAC play they will prove the conference runs through Cambridge, Mass. this season.

14 – Skidmore (Up 1)
The Thoroughbreds feel more like a Top 20 squad, but like I’ve said before… there aren’t a lot of teams that feel right in these spots. They are all too high. Skidmore is good. They have a terrific player in Edvinas Rupkus who is one of several juniors leading this squad (four of the top five scorers are juniors; one other is a sophomore). The Middlebury game may be more helpful than harmful in the long run for Skidmore. That might be the perfect game for them to learn from moving forward.

15 – Warburg (Up 1)
The IIAC could be one of a number of fascinating races this season. I have finally bought in a bit more in Wartburg who will be at the point of that race, but they aren’t alone. Nebraska Wesleyan, Buena Vista, Loras, and others are going to make this a great race in the conference. Wartburg may end up not being the only one ranked this season.

Nichols is rising up on Dave’s ballot who likes some of the parts of the Bison and what they could do this season. (Courtesy: Nichols’ Athletics)

16 – Nichols (Up 5)
I really like the Bison. I’ve said that before. I realize I have had them higher, but each time someone who has played or knows them sees where I have them ranked I get a note reaffirming my thinking. That doesn’t mean I am smarter than anyone else, but it does help me feel like I am not out on a limb with this choice. In reality, their conference is not a tough one to win especially this season, however they have five players in double-figures being led by Marcos Echevarria who if you haven’t seen play you need to watch.

17 – St. Norbert (Up 5)
I honestly didn’t think I would be voting for the Green Knights this season, but once again SNC has moved onto my poll in a season I didn’t expect them to retool – let along rebuild. Now, St. Norbert, like Nichols, moved way up this week because I made a more drastic move with teams who had been ahead o them and are now behind them. So, I will admit this slot might seem high. Again… a lot of teams seem high. My curiosity with SNC is can they even win the MWC this season? For the first time in a while, there are other teams in the fray. Lake Forest, Monmouth, Grinnell all look like they could compete for the conference title this year.

John Carroll appears on Dave’s ballot thanks to a win over Marietta and a better-than-expected opponents’ winning percentage. (Courtesy: John Carroll Athletics)

18 – John Carroll (Unranked)
I am taking a bit of a leap of faith here. I have a friend who bleeds Blue Streak who doesn’t miss a chance to remind me of how well JCU is playing (even admits when they stumble), but also admits they haven’t really played anyone of note. What finally was their opponents’ winning percentage: 36-32 (.529). Now some of that is thanks to having Marietta on their schedule, but they beat the Pioneers. 18th is a bit of a jump, but I also wanted to get the Blue Streaks ahead of some teams, like Marietta, if I was going to include them.

19 – Rochester (Down 8)
No, losing to Ithaca was not the main reason Rochester fell eight spots this week. It is part of the reason, but not the entire explanation. There was a pack of squads I felt couldn’t stay as high as they were with two losses especially as other teams needed to move ahead of them because of those losses. The loss to Ithaca may not be as bad as some initially thought (more on that below), but at the same time it does raise concerns for me. Could I be buying in too much? I still think Rochester is a darn good team no matter the turnover from last year, but I also realize I might have bought in too much early on.

20 – Marietta (Down 3)
I have done mental gymnastics with the Pioneers. I have argued I am buying in too much; I have argued I am not giving them enough credit. The trick is, Marietta’s wins early on no longer have the same shine. St. Thomas and Hope are both below .500. In fact, the only win the Pios have against a team above .500 is La Roche. Marietta has a .461 opponents’ winning percentage, but most of that is thanks to the records of the teams that have beaten them. I am torn on whether the Pioneers have shown anything that qualifies them for the Top 25.

UWW has a lot on paper Dave likes and other parts that has him worried he bought in too much. Just how good is Whitewater? (Courtesy: UWW Athletics)

21 – UW-Whitewater (Down 3)
I really think the WIAC race is going to be one of the top five to watch – and there are about ten conferences races that will be fascinating. UWW is going to be involved for sure, but I am concerned I bought in early on a squad that has a lot of new pieces and turnover. I know Pat Miller can coach, we have seen that, but it ultimately comes down to the players. Their opponents are 27-38, which doesn’t give me anything to lean on here.

22 – Hanover (Down 3)
A friend messaged me less than a week after the Panthers lost to Transylvania and  basically say Hanover was pretenders. I understood where he was coming from, but I told him I was going there. I think Hanover, and others, actually show there are a lot of good teams in Division III who easily can have a bad night or two. It is going to happen and Hanover had it happen against Transy. However, the Panthers have won their next two to at least shake off that bad victory. Time will tell if I am right about Hanover still being a Top 25 team.

Matt Hunter has York (Pa.) back in the Top 25 conversation for the first time in more than 10 seasons. (Courtesy: York Athletics)

23 – York (Pa.) (Unranked)
There are a lot of things that have gone right for the Spartans this season … and I love it. An injury last season to Dalton Myers has allowed Matt Hunter to plug two big-men into the lineup this season when he only had expected to have Blayde Reich. Both guys can also step back and shoot from 15-feet making them tough to guard. Add in some solid guard play and York has changed the completion of the CAC for me this season. York will take on Salisbury to start the New Year and then Christopher Newport on January 13. Pencil those games in as ones you have to watch York.

24 – Eastern Conn. (Unchanged)
The Warriors surprisingly dropped out of the Top 25 without playing any games, but I will admit I nearly dropped them myself. It has nothing to do with Eastern Conn. State and everything to do with other teams, especially those in action, voters like myself feel they need to get onto their ballot. There isn’t a lot on their schedule that jumps out at people, but I decided to hold on for now.

25 – Baldwin Wallace (Unchanged)
Here is another team I was debating about dropping, but then I realized that at this point in the season the Yellow Jackets have one of the better opponents’ winning percentages of the teams I am considering: 42-28 (.600). The OAC race, as noted, is insane already this season. Baldwin Wallace looks like one of those who will still be there at the end of the season. The schedule gets interesting in the next few weeks and I am definitely going to catch a few games over the holidays.

Dropped out:

Lake Forest (Previously 20)
It is harsh to drop the Foresters based on one loss compared to others, but the loss came to North Park who is not having a great season. While Lake Forest has some decent wins on their resume so far, those wins indicate they should have beaten North Park. They didn’t and I needed room for others.

Salem State (Previously 22)
I might have been too instinctual with the Vikings last week. I got caught up in their wins over Tufts, Babson, and WPI and thought maybe the loss to MIT was just one of those “bad nights.” They followed it all up with a loss to Endicott, who isn’t bad but is certainly up and down, and they gave up 96 points.

Previous Ballots:
Week 3 (not posted)
Week 2
Week 1

Ithaca is on Dave’s radar which also means several others are being considered.

Now, usually I don’t talk about teams I didn’t vote for (besides those who dropped off my ballot) on any given week. I tried that one or twice and it only caused numerous tweets, emails, messages, etc. about who else I didn’t vote for, who else I might be considering, or those who didn’t understand I can’t mention ALL the teams I consider any given week. So, I stopped. Too much work, anyway.

I am breaking that rule this week to talk about Ithaca and Cortland. After Ithaca’s win over Rochester, I decided I needed to consider Ithaca for my ballot. However, when I researched Ithaca a bit more I noticed they had split with Cortland this season (out of conference opponents; happened more often this season around Division III). Thus, if I was going to consider Ithaca, I needed to also consider Cortland. I couldn’t find a justified reason to include one without the other. That meant dropping two more teams from my ballot. But who? Maybe Eastern Connecticut, but that wasn’t enough. I didn’t like dropping anyone else, though I am sure one could make an argument for a number of squads. So, I ultimately decided to leave Ithaca and Cortland off and drop Rochester (and the group it is hitched to) further down – a move that initially took place to get Ithaca and Cortland on the ballot. I’ll wait a bit longer to see if which team, if not all, continue to play well.

D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas is shaping up to be a very good one. The 8th annual event takes place Dec. 28-30 at South Point Arena.

So there you go. Week 4’s ballot. Now, we voters get to relax for a few weeks. The next D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot won’t happen until January 1 (HAPPY NEW YEAR!). I will not only watch a number of games online, but I can’t wait to see Whitman, Rampao, and Ohio Wesleyan along with Stevens Point and others at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. That event is proving to not only be terrific this season, but more and more popular for top teams around the country each year. That will prove to either help me with my decisions… or make things more muddied. LOL

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and most importantly Happy New Year to one and all. Enjoy it even if you are unable to be with family.

If you are reading this you are most likely a Division III basketball fan, make sure you get out and support these terrific student-athletes and programs even if you don’t have a rooting interest in the team(s) closest to you. It is worth getting to games and supporting them anyway. Make that one of your New Year’s Resolutions.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 1

Babson returns not only Joey Flannery, but 100% of it's scoring from last season.

Babson returns not only Joey Flannery, but 100% of it’s scoring from last season.

There is one thing I can already determine from just the first few weeks of the 2016-17 season… parity has not gone anywhere. If anything, it has gotten more engrained.

No, this is not shocking. I pretty much expected another year of parity on the men’s side of Division III basketball, but something I think many are starting to get used to is seeing top teams taking losses early in the season.

Ryan Scott, D3hoops.com’s new Around the Nation’s columnist, wrote an article last week talking about how much the 70% rule has changed scheduling across Division III. More and more teams are willing to not only challenge themselves by improving their schedules, but also travel to do that. Events like the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic are spurring teams to do both (yeah I know, shameless plug). All of this is adding up to one thing: far better teams are facing each other earlier in the season which adds up to many more losses especially when there are far more good teams around the country than there used to be.

What’s my point? It is going to be another very difficult year trying to figure out who the best 25 teams in the country are every week. Don’t get me wrong, I love filling out my ballot each week and taking longer look at teams than many people in Division III ever consider doing. However, sometimes I just wouldn’t mind having the chance to rubber stamp most of my selections like they can in football most weeks (side-shot at my football brethren just because I can).

Anyway, there are many who probably just want to see my ballot(s). I was far too busy to get my pre-season ballot blog written (it wasn’t going to break down my selections, anyway), so first here is my preseason ballot just for those who are curious:

Many have Amherst number one, I just can't buy in when Babson looks like the better team even on paper.

Many have Amherst number one, I just can’t buy in when Babson looks like the better team even on paper.

1 – Babson
2 – Christopher Newport
3 – Ohio Wesleyan
4 – Amherst
5 – St. Norbert
6 – Tufts
7 – Wooster
8 – John Carroll
9 – North Central (Ill.)
10 – Emory
11 – St. Thomas
12 – Whitworth
13 – Whitman
14 – Benedictine
15 – Alma
16 – Marietta
17 – Hope
18 – Skidmore
19 – Oswego State
20 – Hardin-Simmons
21 – New Jersey City
22 – Salisbury
23 – Virginia Wesleyan
24 – Lynchburg
25 – Rochester

Before you ask: yes, there were a number of schools I considered. Yes, it was very difficult. Yes, I am fully aware before the season started I may have misjudged a number of teams on and off my ballot. Yes, it felt a little like a crap shoot. I did try to take a little different tactic with my preseason ballot and not take nearly as much time. I couldn’t make the argument that spending two more hours working through details would make that large a difference in the end. Who knows, I might have a different point of view next year.

And yes, my ballot took a pounding in the opening weeks of the season. The overall D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25 had 25 losses in it. Mine: 27.

So, I got back to work and tried to weed through probably 50 teams all with varying arguments to be considered. No, I am not promising I have this figured out. Remember, I am just one voter with one train of thinking – even if that thinking is derailed from team to team. I will say this; I am not a fan of large shifts on my ballot. People may not agree with me and that is fine – not going to change my feelings about it. When I make large shifts (as you will see this week especially) I am either usually blowing up my ballot or I get uneasy. It makes me worry I am being too reactionary; like a gunshot wedding. Yeah, I understand there will be people who shake their head and say I should make drastic moves, but there are times I feel if I do I will only regret it later when the team doesn’t live up to the move up or only returns to where I would have put them anyway.

Ok… I’m rambling now. It might only make sense in my head, so let’s just get on with my ballot for this week:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)
To be blunt, the Beavers have a lot on paper that looks really good. Returning everyone from a team I feel would have been in Salem had Flannery not been injured early in the NCAA tournament. They are also compressing a third or more of their season into the first quarter and so far, living to tell about it. I know I am part of the minority right now, but I will get to that later.

Marietta's AJ Edwards has helped lead his team to the most impressive start to the year of any team.

Marietta’s AJ Edwards has helped lead his team to the most impressive start to the year of any team.

2 – Marietta (Up 14)
The Pioneers are good. Damn good. I watched them dismantle Christopher Newport in a game I had been highly anticipating after hoping to have seen it last year in the national quarterfinals. They then didn’t let down against Wooster and handed them the bus keys at halftime. But no, they are not my number one team – they didn’t beat my top team and I think Babson is deeper with possibly more threats inside. That isn’t a shot against AJ Edwards who is a deserving preseason first-team All-American. However, I do think Edwards will need help as they get deep into conference play. I also hope Marietta isn’t peaking too soon, but that might be that other voice in my head who doesn’t like the fact I moved a team up 14 spots (ha!).

3 – Amherst (Up 1)
I know most voters have the purple and white number one, but I’m not there. First of all, I don’t think they get past Babson last year if Flannery is 100%. Secondly, they lost one of their most important players from last year’s squad Conner Green who could take over a game if needed. That isn’t to say Amherst isn’t very good, I just can’t buy in to the number one team right now. And nothing about their early season schedule would change my mind. Just a note of comparison: Amherst beat Anna Maria (0-5) by 11-points while shooting 51-percent while Babson beat the same Amcats by 50 while shooting 70+ percent.

4 – Tufts (Up 1)
I am a little nervous about the Jumbos being this high, but they have a really good team back from a tremendous run last season. I can’t see any reason to expect them to not have another good season with so many of the pieces from last year’s squad back, but as with most NESCAC teams I am going to have to wait a little longer until their schedule toughens up – this week.

5 – North Central (Up 4)
The Cardinals have replaced Augustana (and Elmhurst) as the top dog in the CCIW this season. North Central showed last year that they had retooled quickly and would be right back in the fray. They already started with a win over Benedictine and Alma, though that later one isn’t as great as previously expected. However, we get to see just how good NCC is this week with three straight CCIW opponents starting with Illinois Wesleyan on December 3.

CNU may need to rely more on Aaron McFarland to help Tim Daly and Marcus Carter succeed this season.

CNU may need to rely more on Aaron McFarland to help Tim Daly and Marcus Carter succeed this season.

6 – Christopher Newport (Down 4)
The Captains game against Marietta shocked me. I expected the game to be nip and tuck most of the way and coming down to the wire. It was over fairly early. That may be more of a sign of how good Marietta is early this season, but at the same time it might be CNU trying to readjust roles to a team that made a run to Salem last season. Most of the parts are back, but when players graduated it doesn’t matter how many return, sometimes there are growing pains. Recovering to handle Dickinson in their next game is a good sign John Krikorian’s squad got the message. But CNU will be involved in one of the more difficult conference battles in the country this year, so this promises to be a long season.

7 – Wooster (Unchanged)
Last year the Scots showed they could fly a little under the radar and still put together a heck of a season. So, expectations are probably pretty high in central Ohio. The loss to Marietta is going to sting, but the Pioneers have had their way of Wooster the last three games, so maybe it was expected. That said, the NCAC will be an interesting battle this year so Wooster needs to be on their toes in every game. This may be a year I am willing to buy in with Wooster after several years of not being sold.

8 – Whitman (Up 5)
I will be honest, I am unsure what to make of the Missionaries. They made a great run in the NCAA tournament last year including beating their arch-nemisis in Whitworth, but Eric Bridgeland’s group never seems to live up to expectations in the past. Can that change? Absolutely. Has it? Not sure, yet. I have seen years when I thought they would finally step up to the next level and they failed in front of my eyes. The start to this season at least has shown me maybe they are finally there. Their win over Texas Lutheran, granted without TLU’s best player being at his best, was far more impressive than Whitworth’s the next day. The best part: we get to see just how good they may be with their first battle with Whitworth just over a week away. Call it a must watch game for Division III fans so plan to stay up!

9 – Whitworth (Up 3)
In the preseason poll, I had the Pirates ranked ahead of Whitman despite the NCAA result last season. The past has always said Whitworth has been the better team, but maybe not this year. As good as Matt Logie’s squad has been, they just might be a step behind Whitman this year. And yes, two NWC teams in the Top 10 isn’t that far off – it isn’t that surprising on the women’s side, after all. The difference is this is the year the NWC needs to finally prove it when March rolls around.

10 – St. Norbert (Down 5)
One of the most consistent teams in the Central Region, if not the entire country, the last five years has been the Green Knights. They have torn through their conference and held their own for the most part against others in their region, despite some tough, early-round, match-ups in the NCAA tournament. But consistency along with bringing back a solid core from last year’s squad (94% or better of their scoring, rebounding, assists, etc.) should have people take notice. Of course, starting the season with a loss to UW-Eau Claire may give people pause, except the Blugolds might be the class of the WIAC this year.

11 – Hope (Up 6)
Lose a game and move up six spots? Yeah odd, I know. The loss to Cornerstone is like all results against non-Division III teams in Hope’s region – hard to truly gauge especially for those outside of the area. Hope has a good team who should be able to build on last season. They may not get much of a battle in the MIAA with Calvin and possibly Alma all being down, but John Carroll, UW-Lacrosse, Stevens Point ahead in the next three games will be a great test.

The defending national champions may have lost a lot of players from last year, but John Tauer always seems to have the answers to stay in the national conversation.

The defending national champions may have lost a lot of players from last year, but John Tauer always seems to have the answers to stay in the national conversation.

12 – St. Thomas (Down 1)
I can hear many say it, I have the Tommies too high. The defending national champions lost a lot in the off-season thanks to graduation (damn graduations in college sports LOL). However, the one thing St. Thomas has always done is reload, retool, re-whatever very, very well. They have not won 11 straight conference regular season titles for any other reason. That said, the conference has become far more difficult in the last few years as proof of the Tommies losing the conference title game to St. Olaf last year. But I am not about to just write-off St. Thomas because they lost a bunch of players. John Tauer has one major weapon back, Grant Shaeffer, and any team would love to have him on their squad.

13 – Rochester (Up 12)
First, I think the Yellow Jackets may be a sleeping giant or a dark horse this season. The second half of last season saw Rochester quietly storm through the UAA with nine straight wins including sweeping Wash U and Chicago on back-to-back weekends before they stubbed their toe on the final weekend. Rochester brought back a lot of that squad with regained confidence. Rochester very well could win the UAA this season, but that gets me to my second though – this is a large jump up the poll for me. Twelve spots based on six wins over an interesting collection of teams – none of them upper echelon teams, necessarily. Outside of St. John Fisher, Rochester doesn’t have a lot tests on their schedule before getting into the UAA schedule. They may have to stay undefeated for others to buy in.

14 – Baldwin Wallace (Unranked)
I heard a few people mention to me they liked the Yellow Jackets (is there a hive on this ballot or in Division III?) when I asked around this off season. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But wins over St. Mary’s (Md.) and New Jersey City made me take notice after Baldwin Wallace rolled through Case Western Reserve to start the season. Maybe I am jumping on this one too hard (and not others hard enough), but I like the fact BW is back in the national conversation. There is something about how they are made up that makes me think they could make some waves and keep John Carroll honest in the OAC.

15 – Salisbury (Up 7)
Here is another team I think is far more dangerous than people realize. Not only do they return most of last year’s squad who ran second to Christopher Newport in the Capital Athletic Conference and got to the second round of the NCAA tournament, but they also return one of the program’s best players who was out last season with an injury (though, one could argue who is the best player since they could have two All-Americans on the squad by the end of the season). The Sea Gulls will be part of a crazy battle this season in the CAC with CNU as well as a resurgent St. Mary’s and Mary Washington among others that could make the CAC the best conference to watch this year. Andy Sach’s squad has started the season with a win over Virginia Wesleyan, Johns Hopkins, and Staten Island and will head to D3hoops.com Classic to play Ramapo and Hardin-Simmons but not before playing CNU in an early season must-watch game.

Jalen Harris is leading the Gothic Knights in scoring on a squad many think could be one of the best in program history.

Jalen Harris is leading the Gothic Knights in scoring on a squad many think could be one of the best in program history.

16 – New Jersey City (Up 5)
I keep hearing the Gothic Knights could potentially have the program’s best season in a long time – I am looking forward to seeing if this does indeed happen. However, they need to make sure to handle their out of conference schedule. They have already lost once to Baldwin Wallace, who I now have ranked ahead of them. Considering they may take some lumps in the NJAC (as the conference likes to eat it’s young), NJCU has got to focus on the last few games of their out-of-conference schedule over the holidays. But before they get there, they run through four conference opponents starting this week.

17 – Skidmore (Up 1)
I like the Thoroughbreds. They have a terrific core back on the floor with their All-American talent, Aldin Medunjanin, back from injury, so similar to Salisbury they are in a position to have a special season. However, as Joe Burke admitted in a recent history with me on Hoopsville, this program has been knocking on the door to the next level. Remember Skidmore has first round wins the last few years and then narrow second-round losses to good squads like Johns Hopkins and Tufts at their places. This has to be the year to push through. Not sure how the conference schedule will help or hurt, so Skidmore has to remain strong and maybe even dominate teams when possible.

18 – Lynchburg (Up 6)
I realize the Hornets lost a good group from last year’s record-setting year, but I don’t think Lynchburg will fall off that much. Hillary Scott has done a very good job bringing Lynchburg back to the top of the ODAC and they have broken through. The loss to UW-Stevens Point was interesting at the Hoopsville Classic. However, I think that was more of a testament of showing off just how well UWSP can play defense when needed. Lynchburg will use that game as motivation and an example the rest of the season.

19 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unranked)
In the preseason, I wasn’t sure what to make of the Titans. I only had one team from the CCIW ranked which felt odd (though, not as odd as not having any WIAC teams), but despite the fact IWU had been picked to finish second in the conference I wasn’t sure how that translated to the Top 25. A 5-0 start with some solid wins answered some of those questions. I do wonder if the Titans are really that good in the long run, but it will be fun to see a little more green in the national conversation.

20 – Benedictine (Down 6)
The Eagles had nothing short of a magical run last year. To be the only team in all of NCAA men’s basketball to nearly go undefeated for the season was incredible, but they didn’t lose as much from that team as people thought. They also had a tough slate to start the season and had some close losses. I suspect Benedictine will remain in the national conversation this year.

Ryan Cain is no longer the interim head coach of Keene State and the team has rewarded him by possibly improving on last year.

Ryan Cain is no longer the interim head coach of Keene State and the team has rewarded him by possibly improving on last year.

21 – Keene State (Unranked)
The Owls were the surprise of the NCAA tournament last year. Under, then, interim coach Ryan Cain suddenly Keene State was in the second weekend. But does that really mean they are one of the best teams in the country? I was a bit skeptical in the pre-season. Everyone knows about the Owls now, but they started strong with wins over (depleted) Southern Vermont, Hartwick, and Springfield to name a few. No, none of them are world beaters, but Keene State has won in dominating fashion. Maybe the Northeast has a few new teams to look at outside of the NESCAC and NEWMAC.

22 – Endicott (Unranked)
Speaking of new teams in the Northeast, hello Endicott! I didn’t want to drink the Kool-Aid in the preseason, but can’t ignore the fact Gulls have done well to start the year. A narrow loss to my number-one Babson and a win over then-nationally ranked Middlebury. Couple those with how they finished the season and what they have back and Endicott looks like a fresh face to watch in New England as well. The challenge now: there aren’t a lot of games the rest of the season to truly gauge Endicott.

23 – Emory (Down 13)
I may have whiffed on a few teams in the pre-season, may have … it is still to be determined … the Yellow Jackets (seriously, is there a hive here?) may be one of them. Emory was strong last year though retooling from previous powerful teams. I thought reading the tea leaves an listening to those I trust that Emory would be right back in the conversation nationally. Maybe not. A loss to start the season against Covenant and then another to LaGrange are head scratchers. They also narrowly snuck past Guilford in double-overtime. Maybe I should have just dropped Emory, but I felt like holding on. We shall see. This wasn’t the start I expected for an out-of-conference schedule that is not as challenging as it has been in the past for Emory.

24 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 21)
Any feel that breeze? I may have swung hard and missed on a slow-pitch softball pitch. My back might be hurting. What is going on with the Battling Bishops? When I voted they had lost two straight to Capital and Illinois Wesleyan (who dominated). As I finish writing this blog, they have now lost to Otterbein. I know Mike DeWitt likes his team this year. I liked what I saw. Three first-team NCAC players returning to a squad that got to the Sweet 16 last year and looked really, really good. Sometimes a new season doesn’t necessarily bring the same chemistry. Might need to head back to the science lab to figure this one out in Delaware, Ohio because the Battling Bishops have already used up a lot of wiggle room for any selection criteria in the first six games of the season.

John Carroll has started the season by seemingly looking up at everyone else.

John Carroll has started the season by seemingly looking up at everyone else.

25 – John Carroll (Down 17)
When Mike Moran announced this would be his last season you had to figure the squad would respond and create a magical finish for the long-time coach. Not sure this is how anyone thought the season would begin. Two-straight losses to Mt. St. Joseph’s and Hanover to start the season and now a loss to Hope (after we voted and before I was finishing this blog post). Guh. I may have swung and missed here as well. Maybe the Blue Streaks are distracted more with the future than the present. Who knows, but this is not what I expected for a squad who looked so good last year and brought back so many of those same parts.

Dropped Out:

Alma (Previously 15)
I knew the Scots had lost a few pieces from a terrific team last year, but I also knew who was back. I also knew they lost a guard who seemed to be good off the bench (Beckman) who decided to try and go to a higher division (and transferred to Hope just to go to school; not playing), but I read that as maybe a gain, not a loss (he wasn’t buying in any way since he thought he was better than Division III). But I did NOT know they had two of their most important parts suffer injuries in the pre-season and wouldn’t be back anytime soon. I wouldn’t have voted for Alma in the preseason with that information. Now four-straight losses off a single win to start the season… Alma will be playing for an automatic-bid the rest of the way.

Oswego State (Previously 19)
The SUNYAC may be one of the top three conference races to watch this season and there were many who thought the Lakers could be a special team this year. Not only did they have a lot of parts from last year’s NCAA second-weekend team returning including pre-season All-American Brian Sortino, but they got some heralded transfers. But Oswego State has stumbled once again to start a season. I need to keep this fact in mind. I haven’t seen the Lakers get through the first half of a season without stubbing their toe. I just can’t keep them in my Top 25 with losses to Nazareth and Hamilton and no significant wins. We shall see what conference play reveals.

The Cowboys really look like a good team, but Coach Carse's squad hasn't shown it in the box scores as of yet.

The Cowboys really look like a good team, but Coach Carse’s squad hasn’t shown it in the box scores as of yet.

Hardin-Simmons (Previously 20)
I like what Hardin-Simmons has in a team. Last year they struggled and I think you can make a direct correlation of their struggles to Craig Carse’s health last year. He’s back. The team is back. But they started the year 2-2. But there isn’t a coach I talk to who has watched them or seen tape who doesn’t like what they see. Going to wait for now. I’ll get to see them in person against some decent competition in Las Vegas. I’ll reevaluate then.

Virginia Wesleyan (Previous 23)
The one thing I have gotten very used to is that Dave Macedo never reloads – he constantly has parts to put into what we all consider holes. He has one of the deepest rosters in the country and he finds talent in places no one else is able. But could parity be taking a bite out of the Marlins? For a program that is routinely in the Top 25 for the past decade, they seem to struggle to dominate out of conference now. That is where parity could be playing role. It could also be an example of stronger out-of-conference scheduling. The loss to Salisbury wasn’t that bad. The loss to Emory & Henry? Not sure what to make there. There are some who think E&H is poised to appear on top of the ODAC. I am not so sure. Thus, I have knocked VWC out for now. I’ll see them on Sunday and can reevaluate before the next poll.

I apologize for the length of this post. Future blogs will be shorter as I won’t write capsules on each team. We are also discussing an idea of altering this to a video-based post, a Hoopsville vignette as it where, in the future.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot – Week 10

Whitworth moved up in another shake up of Dave’s Top 10 – and the rest of the Top 25


It always seems that once a year the day Regional Rankings are released there is carnage… or at least the week of that release. But I did NOT see last Wednesday coming or what would result the rest of the week. I figured we had another week before things might get a little crazy as teams are focused on conference postseasons and such.

Nope. Last week was brutal.

You may remember last week I blew up my ballot, considered at least 20 teams outside of my Top 25, shook up most of the ballot, and replaced four of the teams on my ballot. Whelp, this week was nearly the same. I ended up writing down and diving deep into 23 teams (meaning I was seriously considering 48 teams!), reshuffled nearly the entire Top 10, and blew up basically everything from about 17 down. It results in replacing five teams and shaking my head quite a bit.

I keep threatening to throw darts. I am not sure why I didn’t resort to that this week.

Not much else I can say. I saw a lot of games this week in person or online (though, I missed an awesome opportunity to see a Top 10 battle, which I talked about on Hoopsville Sunday) and really tried to give as many teams I have questions about a fair shake. It is just amazing how many teams that ends up including.

Plenty more to say about a lot of the teams on my ballot, and who fell off, so here we go:

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)

2 – Benedictine (Unchanged)

3 – Whitworth* (Up 2)

Christopher Newport has a lot of good pieces, including on the bench, which make them dangerous. Courtesy: Christopher Newport Athletics

4 – Christopher Newport* (Up 3)
I got a chance to see the Captains in person this weekend. Damn they are good. Granted, the York (Pa.) game isn’t exactly the best place to compare against, especially since YCP played hard in the second half to make it interesting for a brief moment. However, Christopher Newport has a ton of weapons and to paraphrase Scott Guise at YCP they have players coming off the bench who could start for a lot of teams in the Mid-Atlantic. I agree with Ryan Scott who said recently this is a team who could make serious run for Salem considering the bracket they will probably run through.

5 – Marietta (Up 5)
The Pioneers put their foot down on the Great Lakes region this past week. Beating both Mount Union and John Carroll, they proved that the OAC and possibly those wanting to go to Salem via the Great Lakes will have to go through Marietta to get it done. Very impressive. Certainly a statement week. Here’s hoping the Pioneers use it to keep themselves motivated, versus losing focus after two major games.

6 – St. Thomas* (Down 2)

7 – Hope (Down 1)

John Carroll lost control of their season, ever so slightly, last week.

8 – John Carroll (Down 5)
Rough week for the Blue Streaks… who saw their 21-game win-streak to start the season come to an end. I wouldn’t have dinged them too much for losing to Baldwin Wallace first, though not the team I expected them to lose to, but they couldn’t regain their footing before Marietta kept them streaking in the wrong direction. I still think John Carroll is a dangerously good team, but they have to forget about these two losses with Mount Union up next and then a good showing needed in the conference tournament if they want to enter the NCAA Tournament strong.

9 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 1)
I thought about moving the Battling Bishops down a little further after another odd loss, this time to Wabash, but there is a buffer below them where I don’t think the teams below are better. However, it is another head-scratching loss for Ohio Wesleyan. I hope they haven’t peaked too early and are running out of gas. A lot of teams this part of the season are licking their wounds from the grind and OWU is clearly in that boat, but they have to find a way to recover, rest, and respond… because they missed a prime opportunity to regain first place in the NCAC for themselves by losing to Wabash.

10 – Elmhurst (Down 1)

St. Norbert is still undefeated in conference. A feat that has them readily moving up the IIAC.

11 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

12 – Lancaster Bible (Up 2)

13 – Johnson and Wales (Down 2)
I actually figured the way the Wildcats were blistering the conference they would go undefeated in the GNAC. They proved that point by thumping Lasell (who is second in the conference) earlier last week, but Albertus Magnus made up for a 55-point beatdown earlier in the season with a confident eight-point win on Saturday. I give AMC’s Mitch Oliver most of the credit for that win considering his ability to adjust, but the Wildcats need to be a bit like Teflon and let that loss slide off and get back to work in the final week of the season before the conference tournament begins.

14 – Susquehanna^ (Down 2)

15 – Alma (Unchanged)

16 – Whitman (Up 1)

17 – Amherst^ (Up 3)

Plattsburgh State wants to make sure they are wearing white during the SUNYAC tournament.

18 – Plattsburgh State (Down 2)
Wow! The Cardinals got blitzed by Oswego State! At first, I thought about dropping Plattsburgh State significantly as a result, but then I considered two things: Oswego is playing really well (though digging out of an early season hole) and there really aren’t that many teams below Plattsburgh I would feel comfortable putting ahead of them. That one loss doesn’t change the fact they are in control of the SUNYAC which will mean a lot of teams making a very long trip to try and knock them off.

North Central (Ill.) finally cracked into Dave’s Top 25.

19 – North Central (Ill.) (Unranked)
OK… I am ranking the Cardinals. I still have some reservations with North Central, but they finally got a win I have been waiting for. NCC has played a lot of good teams this season, which means their have an incredible SOS, a respectable number of regionally ranked opponents, and more. However, they can’t seem to get a significant win until last week and some of their resume has faded near the end of the season (Chicago, Mount Union, etc.). So, I am ranking North Central this week, but I am rather confident they will lose at least one more game in the next two weeks (in the CCIW tournament) if they don’t do it first on the road against North Park this weekend.

20 – Rochester* (Unranked)
The UAA is just crazy this year! This was Chicago’s to take just a few weeks ago and all of the sudden it is Rochester who has won eight straight and sits in a tie with Emory on top of the rankings. And with three games to play, NYU and Chicago are only two games back waiting for Rochester and Emory to stumble. But back to the Yellow Jackets who, like I said, have won eight straight including beating NYU who beat Emory this weekend. Rochester is also well positioned in the first regional rankings and after this weekend I can’t imagine that changes … meaning if the UAA is going to get an extra bid to the NCAA Tournament, Rochester might be their best bet – if they don’t surprisingly win the conference!

Babson returns to Dave’s ballot thanks to winning 11 of their last 12 games.

21 – Babson^ (Unranked)
Hard to ignore the Beavers any more. They have won seven straight and 11 of their last 12 and taken firm control of the NEWMAC race. In the grand scheme of things, their five losses aren’t bad, though only one or two are “good” (Amherst and Tufts). However, this is how I expected this team to play this season and maybe they have found themselves at the perfect time to make a respectable run back to Salem.

22 – Virginia Wesleyan^ (Unranked)
Quietly, the Marlins are reemerging as the team to beat out of the South Region. Dave Macedo has gotten the squad pointed in the right direction and they have now won 9 of their last 10 (though, Randolph-Macon trounced them) and 12 of their last 14. But, I am a little nervous. They are still not dominating teams, though it looks like they have figured out how to scrap for wins and win tight games which where letting slip through their hands earlier this season. They are also now on top of the ODAC.. but that doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things because no match-up at the Salem Civic Center appears to be easy this year – or any year for that matter.

Tufts will due battle in the NESCAC conference tournament starting this weekend.

23 – Tufts (Unranked)
I have been watching Tufts for weeks. And while they have a recent loss to Trinity that has me uneasy (and debating about putting Trinity here instead), there is something about how Bob Sheldon’s team is play – including an impressive win over Amherst recently – that I like. Though, I will admit I didn’t like it necessarily last week. They have at least followed up the win with more wins. Coincidently they finished with a win on the road at Williams Saturday and will have a rematch this Saturday in the NESCAC quarterfinals (at Trinity). That is something that could easily derail the Jumbos if they don’t watch out.

24 – Northwestern (Minn.) (Down 3)
No major reasons I have been moving Northwestern down my ballot except I have been making room for teams I think are better than the Eagles. However, I will say when I see their SOS this week is unofficially** a .399 I get very concerned. Northwestern has basically played no one, especially in the UMAC. And while that didn’t mean much last season leading them to an incredible run in the NCAA Tournament… I think it is a telling sign this season. They also are not going to get into the tournament unless they take care of business in the UMAC tournament.

PSU-Behrend nearly dropped out of Dave’s Top 25 after losing to Medaille last week.

25 – PSU-Behrend (Down 7)
Not only did they lose a conference game they shouldn’t be losing, but there are other teams surging that need to get put ahead of them in the poll – thus a drop of seven spots for the Lions. Here is another team basically in a win-the-conference-or-go-home boat – as they were last year when they missed out on the tournament. They may only have two losses, but Behrend doesn’t feel like a Top 25 team anymore… though I am staying with them for right now.

Dropped Out:

Mount Union (Previously 19)
For as good a week as Marietta had, Mount Union and John Carroll had the opposite. The problem with the Purple Raiders is they now have seven losses and are 4-4 in their last eight. Three HUGE games coming up including against John Carroll. If Mount Union wants to put together any hope for an at-large argument (assuming, thus, they have lost in the conference tournament), they cannot lose those three. (Of course, after I wrote this blog, but before i posted it, they lost to Muskingum on Monday night.)

Wooster (Previously 22)
Just when I thought the Scots had figured things out, they stumble again. You quickly forget about wins over Ohio Wesleyan when you come back and lose to Hiram. I know Hiram is a much improved team, that isn’t the issue. The issue is Wooster isn’t consistent this season and thus I am not comfortable with them in my Top 25.

Emory let the UAA lead slip out of their grip, but three games remain in what can only be described as a chaotic conference race.

Emory (Previously 23)
Just when I buy in, they stumble, too. I am not one of those voters who thinks NYU is a great team (or at least a Top 25 team), thus the loss by Emory is not a good one in my book. They had a chance to keep control of the UAA, but now put themselves in a must-win situation. Their saving grace is their insane SOS (.600) which will probably still keep them in the at-large conversation in a very loss-heavy South Region in less than two weeks.

Aurora (Previously 24)
Eh. Another team I buy into and suffers a loss I can’t explain or understand. It isn’t that Concordia (Wis.) is a bad team, but if Aurora is a Top 25 team they win that game. I like Aurora, but I don’t like that loss. It was part of the carnage, I realize. But when you are at the bottom of a voter’s ballot, any slip up will most likely cost you.

F&M is still a work in progress for a program that has been maybe over achieving since last season.

Franklin & Marshall* (Previously 25)
I got a chance to finally see the Diplomats in person this year (I usually see them at least once, more likely twice a season; saw a lot of them on video streams this year) and I wasn’t impressed. What I saw equaled what the voice in the back of my head had been saying for a long time. They have some nice players, but the starting five has a few holes and they cannot play consistent or a full 40 minutes. I saw a team that got frustrated at the drop of a hat and Johns Hopkins (who they were playing against) took full advantage when their only true inside presence had to take a break for foul trouble. What is also telling: when F&M fans I know tell me they don’t think the Diplomats are a Top 25 team, either (no, I am not going to name names).

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season
** – the number comes from Matt Snyder’s SOS math which last week was proven to be nearly identical to the NCAA’s data. You can find it here along with his regional predictions based on that data here.

Previous Ballots:

Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

So now that we have gotten that out of the way, how this season has played out so far… I am bound to replace half of this Top 25 in the next two weeks as conference seasons come to a close and conference tournaments turn everything on its head. It has been an unbelievable year so far… why wouldn’t the last two weeks of the regular season be any different.

Buckle up… this is going to be fun… and insane.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 9

Dave tore up his ballot this week and tried to start over.


That sound you may have heard was me finally doing what I had been debating, and threatening, to do for weeks – blow up my ballot. It wasn’t a complete and devastating destruction, but it was good enough to make me rethink a number of teams, positions, and my thought process behind many. Surprisingly, not as many teams at the top shifted as dramatically as I thought they would in my head. However, the bottom half basically went through a complete make-over including cutting bait with teams because I just couldn’t justify my decisions anymore.

I also dove into more teams than usual this time of year and I dove into more data than I usually like to do. Many know I am not a fan of Massey Ratings, but this is the time of year I do take a look at their numbers to see if there is something I am missing. I don’t end up agreeing with Massey, but it at least forces me to reevaluate a team I am either under- or over-selling and it helps me make sure I am not missing anyone.

Same is true with the NCAA SOS numbers. Of course, we don’t have access to those numbers until Wednesday (when the first Regional Rankings debut), but math-expert Matt Snyder has his own “math” working online, based on the NCAA formula, which gives us at least a good idea of what to expect from the NCAA data (Matt will get a chance to double-check his formula(s) on Wednesday). While I am certainly not ranking my teams per the SOS, it does give me a better insight on what their schedule actually looks like from a data point of view. This sometimes will force me to dive into a team’s schedule further to figure out, maybe, why it doesn’t add up to my expectations (high or low).

This week’s ballot started with a completely blank piece of paper.

As a result of all of this, I ended up writing down a total of 45 teams, including my previous Top 25, to research and analyze. Each week this season I have had between 50-70 teams that have at least crossed my mind, but by the time I get down to researching, I have whittled that number down to 30-35. Also, I will sometimes breeze over teams I have near the top or know well to save myself time. However, this week, there was a solid 45 teams to go through and I went through each of their schedules, games, and notes I have on them in the past few weeks.

That’s what you do when you blow up your ballot.

As a result, my top ten went through a bit of a shuffle – though, it ended up not as severe as it started. I had moved some teams around significantly at the beginning before settling down to a more reserved shuffle in the end. The bottom fifteen, on the other hand, was completely turned on its head. I dropped four teams some of whom might surprise you despite big wins. I nearly dropped a fifth, but ended up deciding to hold on to my 25th team a little longer despite a major voice in the back of head not pleased with the decision.

With that being said, here is my Top 25 (which you can compare to the D3hoops.com Top 25). I am not going to comment on much of the top ten to save time and space. There are moves, they probably make sense. If they don’t, let me know. I wanted to focus my writing time mainly on the moves I made in the bottom half.

John Carroll moved up to No. 3 on Dave’s ballot this week.

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)

2 – Benedictine (Up 2)

3 – John Carroll (Up 2)

4 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)

5 – Whitworth* (Down 3)

6 – Hope (Unchanged)

7 – Christopher Newport (Up 2)

8 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 1)

9 – Elmhurst (Down 1)

10 – Marietta (Unchanged)

11 – Johnson and Wales (Unchanged)

12 – Susquehanna^ (Unchanged)

13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

The Chargers have jumped up Dave’s ballot thanks to dominating wins in NEAC play.

14 – Lancaster Bible (Up 4)
This is a big jump in my mind for the Chargers. The simple fact is at this time of the year with an unbeaten team in a sub-par conference I am looking for one thing: domination. Lancaster Bible is dominating the NEAC. They are winning conference games by nearly 27-points this season and haven’t had a game closer than 15 since beating Cairn by four on December 11th. Sure, the conference isn’t giving up much of a fight and there is a really problematic situation coming should they not win the AQ (SOS is .421 and while probably improve slightly; do you leave a one-loss team at home?). However, the Chargers are starting to prove their early season success was just the tip of the iceberg.

15 – Alma (Down 2)

16 – Plattsburgh State (Up 5)
The Cardinals are pulling away from what I thought was going to be a dog-fight of a SUNYAC race. Plattsburgh has won 13 of their last 14 games and now have a 3 ½ game lead on the conference with five games to play. This has been a six-team race at the top not that long ago. Basically, Plattsburgh is proving to be the only team that can win nearly every night in Central and Western New York.

Whitman proved once again they can beat Whitworth when wearing their home white jerseys.

17 – Whitman (Unranked)
I would be lying if I told you I was comfortable with putting Whitman this high on my ballot. Their win over Whitworth certainly gave me reason to include them, but this high? I realize I am one of the last to buy in to the Missionaries, but we have seen this script before. The only team capable of beating Whitworth in conference over the years is Whitman, but only when playing the game at the Sherwood Center on Whitman’s campus. Does that really make Whitman a good team this season versus others? Outside of beating Whitworth, the Missionaries don’t have a significant win on their schedule. While that doesn’t add up to this decision, I do lean on the fact Whitman has only lost three games and at least has played well in conference. I’m buying in… trepidatiously.

18 – Penn State-Behrend (Up 2)

19 – Mount Union (Up 3)

20 – Amherst (Down 6)
The team-formerly-known-as-the-Lord-Jeffs did not play well against Tufts on Saturday. Shot poorly from deep (28%), got out-rebounded, couldn’t hit a free throw (8-16), and allowed Tufts to have a 21-point lead before realizing they were in trouble. I am just not that confident in the purple team from more-central-than-west Massachusetts. When Amherst has been a national power in the past, these games didn’t exist. They have now dropped three games in their last eight with a resurgent Middlebury and scrappy Hamilton squads waiting to close out the regular season.

21 – Northwestern (Minn.) (Down 2)
Northwestern hasn’t done anything to drop two spots, but they haven’t done anything to make me think they are better than 21st. They have hands-down the worse SOS of any of the teams I am considering, and it’s ugly (.408) and they are barely holding on to the lead in the UMAC thanks to a loss already to St. Scholastica (they will play a rematch in the final game of the season). I just don’t think they are as good as I had them ranked.

Has Wooster reemerged as the best team in the Great Lakes?

22 – Wooster (Unranked)
Welcome back Scots. Looks like the team that has been underperforming to normal Wooster expectations may have found their stride. The win over Ohio Wesleyan a few weeks back is certainly a good sign, but they have also won ten of their last eleven and might pull off the surprise and force the NCAC tournament trough Timken Gymnasium! Their offense is scoring far more points in the last several weeks than it has all season while the defense seems to be staying consistent. Maybe Steve Moore has his team peaking during an off-year at just the right time to surprise some people.

23 – Emory* (Unranked)
Welcome back Eagles. The last two weeks in the UAA have been unbelievable. Emory was a game back of Chicago before playing their home-and-home series over the last two weekends. Now Emory has won six-straight, has a one-game lead on Rochester*, and Chicago has fallen to three-games back. Emory may have a young team, but they are proving they can now win the close games and beat some very good teams while they are at it. By the way, Emory has a ridiculous SOS (.634 unofficially) meaning they could get into the NCAA tournament once again and throw a monkey-wrench into bracketing like they did in 2014.

If Benedictine wasn’t undefeated, we probably would be talking more about Aurora and the NACC. Courtesy: Aurora University Athletics

24 – Aurora (Unranked)
I realize the Spartans lost to Benedictine this week, but have you seen how Aurora has been playing prior? If Benedictine wasn’t undefeated, people would probably be talking about Aurora. Since they lost three of four prior to the holiday break, they won ten in a row before facing Benedictine (now 11 of their past 12) and winning pretty confidently. Of course, maybe Aurora also looks better thanks to pretty much only losing to Benedictine this season. However, a .537 SOS surprised me, but that forced me to look at the schedule and remember a win over North Central (Ill.) and notice they have been putting up points all season.

25 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 1)
I almost cut the Diplomats. I know they are winning, but I am not impressed for some reason. I guess I don’t buy in as much as people would expect. But, I have watched the team for so many years and I just don’t think this team is quite where it can be to be a Top 25 team. The conference is also down (despite a good Swarthmore team who has emerged) and that doesn’t allow F&M to shine as much as they could. I actually had the Diplomats out of my ballot several times and was going to keep it that way until I voted. Then I changed my mind and left them in. Seems weird if they only have three-losses that I don’t have them in my Top 25 despite what that voice in the back of my head is yelling.

Dropped Out:

WPI^ (Previously 16)
The Engineers have lost three in a row. That’s pretty much the reason I dropped them. It is just so hard to buy in to WPI when they always seem to peak early and go through a stretch late in the season like this. The loss to Babson was their second to them and handed the Beavers the NEWMAC lead, but it was the end of three in a row that saw WPI lose to 9-12 (now) Springfield and Emerson.

Chicago has lost four in a row and put themselves in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament. Courtesy: Univ. of Chicago Athletics

Chicago^ (Previously 17)
The Maroons have now lost four in a row, all to Rochester and Emory including an unbelievable loss to the Yellow Jackets on a purposely missed free-throw, rebound, and three-pointer at the buzzer. It is amazing how fast a season can change. Chicago is basically in a must-win situation the rest of the season. Any loss will pretty much eliminate them from winning the UAA crown and throw them into a very crowded Central Region that will make getting an at-large bid very difficult. I really like Chicago and have for years… but this is not good.

Tufts had a tough battle this week, but despite beating Amherst fell out of Dave’s Top 25.

Tufts (Previously 23)
I realize the Jumbos beat Amherst, but they also lost to Trinity this week. No, not a bad loss and certainly a good win, but in a shake-up of my Top 25 I couldn’t hold on to them. They have previous losses to Wesleyan and Middlebury in the last few weeks and just don’t seem to be playing very consistently – they are all over the place. I might be wrong on this, but I just don’t like the look. Plus the fact, if you are good enough to beat Amherst… you should be good enough to be Trinity.

Texas Lutheran (Previously 25)
I was ready to pull this trigger last week, but held on. But a loss to Trinity this past weekend was the straw that broke the back. I don’t doubt the Bulldogs are a very good team this year and could make a bit of a run in the NCAA tournament if the bracket lines up right for them (like East Texas Baptist last year), but it is a crowded field for those worthy of being a Top 25 team and I think Texas Lutheran isn’t fitting the mold right now.

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

Previous Ballots:

Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

It certainly is interesting right now. Sometimes the Top 25 settles down a little bit by this time of the year, but not this season. That isn’t overly surprising. There are a lot of good teams across the country and probably some that are flying under the radar. I know I spotted a few that I hadn’t taken as seriously as before in this process of blowing up my radar. Some made my ballot, some others are still off the ballot. There certainly isn’t a shortage of teams who can make arguments they are the best 25 in the country.\

For comparison’s sake, you can also check out Ira Thor’s Top 25 ballot here.