Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staggering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is this week’s ballot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 1

Augustana Remains Dave’s #1 Pick

Deep breath.

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

Deep breath.

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

Deep breath.

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

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

Deep breath.

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

Yep. It has. And it will.

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

Yep. It has been. And it will be.

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

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

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

1 – Augustana^
Any questions? Good.

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

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

St. Thomas’ Cortez Tillman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Wesleyan’s Kaelin Poe

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there you go. Crazy first week.

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

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

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

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

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Recapping the season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave’s Top 25 ballot – Week 12

After the last few weeks and with conference schedules wrapping up and tournaments beginning, I was pretty much expecting my weekly Top 25 efforts to once again be challenging. So I was pleasantly surprised when watching the week and weekend unfold and seeing very little carnage on the men’s side. Of the 25 teams, only seven took losses and all were single losses. It gave me a chance to take a deep breath before what will surely be plenty of carnage for Week 12’s ballot.

It seemed to be a birthday present to me of which I am very grateful!

With the lack of carnage also meant for the first time in weeks I had very few possibilities to bring in a new team to my ballot. That did make it challenging in terms of who to pick from at least ten teams, but it also made selecting who would fall out of the poll a bit easier.

So, here is my Top 25, which you will notice features ten teams that didn’t move up or down and features 24 teams I had in last week’s poll. As we get started, here is a reminder of my rather frustrating ballot last week.

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)

3 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)

4 – Wash U. (Unchanged)

5 – Wooster (Unchanged)

6 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

7 – Amherst (Unchanged)

8 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

9 – Williams (Up 1)

10 – Wesley (Up 1)

11 – WPI (Up 1)

12 – Randolph-Macon (Up 3)
The Yellow Jackets continue to play very good basketball in one of the toughest conference in the country. They had a big rivalry game against Hampden-Sydney and it turned out to be no contest. I think that alone told me a lot about RMC since in any rivalry game and no matter the records going in, things happen.

13 – St. Thomas (Down 4)
A single loss isn’t usually the death nail for a team, but the loss to St. John’s marked a season sweep of the Tommies by the Johnnies. Do you know the last time that happen?! Ok, it’s the second time in three years, but if the Tommies are that good it should never have happened! I am not sure if I have been overrated with the Tommies, but the MIAC tournament will give all of us a better sense of just how good or not St. Thomas really is.

14 – Texas-Dallas (Unchanged)
The Comets take a loss and don’t move in my rankings. I know, even I had to look long and hard at that for a while. The loss was to Mary Hardin-Baylor who have now rattled off eight wins in a row and could cause plenty of problems in the ASC tournament (heard that script before?), so I wasn’t going to knock the Comets too hard for that in the first place. However, I also couldn’t justifying moving them behind teams further down the poll. Many pollsters talk about what I call the pillow effect: a team only falls as far as those below them allows. In some cases, if there are enough losses happening further down the poll, a team can only fall so far. In this case, there are teams behind Texas-Dallas I don’t think are 14th in the country, limiting their fall to… zero.

15 – Mary Washington (Up 3)
This may be a steep rise for the Eagles who seemed in disarray and are only back to their winning ways because they played the bottom of the CAC in the last few weeks, but I also didn’t have a good reason to move teams behind them ahead of them. So consider this filling in the empty spot at 15 instead of my indication that I think everything is okay in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

16 – Albertus Magnus (Up 3)
Another example of maybe too big a leap in my Top 25. I think the Falcons are a good team, but I am not convinced they are world beaters and will go far in the NCAA tournament (they are welcome to prove me wrong). They are moving up, though, thanks to Purchase State losing. Despite a head-to-head win over Albertus Magnus over Purchase State, I had the Falcons behind because of a bad loss in conference. Now Purchase has picked up a similar resume blemish and thus AMC moves ahead.

17 – Centre (Up 4)
Similar to Mary Washington, I was going to move the Colonels up the rankings anyway, they just moved a little further north then I intended. These kind of moves and my concern they are too big a leap further explains why I didn’t feel comfortable moving Texas-Dallas down and opening up the 14-hole.

18 – Whitworth (Down 2)
Losing to Lewis and Clark on the road in overtime probably deserved a bigger drop, but there is only so far I can drop the Pirates before I run into teams I think Whitworth would beat on any court. The loss doesn’t bode well for Whitworth’s post-season aspirations of playing deep into March, but it could also be the spark that finally ignites a team I think has been playing below-par all season.

19 – Purchase State (Down 2)
Again… I can only drop Purchase State so far before there are teams I don’t think they deserve to be behind on the ballot. Their loss this past week to St. Joseph’s (Long Island) is unforgiveable and is not going to help them when it comes down to possible hosting opportunities in the NCAA tournament, but maybe they can use the loss as the motivation they need to focus on the task at hand.

(Side note: Does anyone else find it interesting that Albertus Magnus and Purchase State both lost to St. Joseph’s teams in their conference? AMC to St. Joe’s of Main and Purchase to St. Joe’s of Long Island. Fascinating.)

20 – Hope (Unranked)
There are plenty of teams I thought about bringing on to my ballot with better records, but Hope is playing better than most, I think. The Flying Dutchmen have won 11 in a row and are blowing teams out in their conference. They have a season sweep of Calvin and are very highly ranked by the NCAA regional (and national) committee. I have honestly been waiting for the shoe (pun intended) to drop thus why I have been leery about putting Hope on my ballot. However, they appear to be getting stronger and could end up being a surprise in the NCAA tournament after their season started 1-4 and 3-5!

21 – Brockport State (Down 8)
Yes, the Golden Eagles went 2-1 with just that lone loss to a good Oswego State squad, but they are playing without their best player who may be out for the reason of the season with a knee injury. John Ivy is a tremendous player, but his status is known (I have heard nothing official from anyone) and I have to work under the assumption he is out for the year. That changes this squad completely and I don’t think they are nearly as good as they were with him in the line-up. Brockport will make the NCAA 7tournament, but without Ivy they are not a Top 15 team.

22 – Staten Island (Up 1)

23 – Scranton (Up 1)

24 – Rose-Hulman (Down 2)
The Engineers eight-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of Mount St. Joseph’s (what’s with the St. Joe’s-named teams?!), but I don’t think that is a horrible loss for Rose-Hulman. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they had the conference regular season wrapped up and were going to host the conference semifinals and championship no matter the outcome (they had swept Defiance this season).

25 – Richard Stockton (Unchanged)

Dropped out:

Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 20)
I don’t know what to make of the Battling Bishops or for that matter the NCAC. After DePauw looked great, they fell apart. After Wittenberg looked great, they have struggled. Now Ohio Wesleyan looked great and they seem to be unraveling. Mike DeWitt’s team is 3-3 in the last six games. I just don’t think they are playing like a Top 25 team.

Other ballots:
Week 11
Week 10
Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 3
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 11

I have no confidence in about 99% of the Division III teams, right now. None.

I talked to a few of the Top 25 voters this week as either I reached out to them to get their take on a few teams or they reached out to me and the one thing I quickly figured out: this is getting harder and harder. That may not mean something to non-voters or general Division III fans, but trust me when I say that this time of the season usually means less work on the Top 25 because teams have proven themselves and are ready for the last few weeks of the season.

Not this year.

I have almost no faith in my picks anymore. I have no confidence that where I have a team slotted is actually where they should be. I have a lot of confidence that I have some teams too high on my ballot and as a result I find myself stuck in no-man’s-land when dealing with losses even if a host of teams behind a team that has lost didn’t lose (see Cabrini).

I joked with one pollster that I want to submit my ballot with UW-Stevens Point number one… and leave the rest of the ballot blank. Not that no other team is a Top 25 squad, but because none of the teams I have in my Top 25 really seem like they deserve their ranking – they all may be too high!

And Cabrini really had me debating. Not necessarily because they lost, but because of who was behind them and how that would impact where they sat in the rankings. I actually changed my mind at least four times and came up with four different solutions… not liking any of them. I ended up staying pat with last week in hopes the coming week can give some better clarity.

As I begin, here is a reminder of last week’s ballot.

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)
This will shock people and I really don’t know what to say. I could explain it six ways to Sunday and still not necessarily agree with it myself. It came down to a few things: was the loss to Baptist Bible bad? Yes. Was the last two weeks for Cabrini strange? Yes. Are they getting healthy again? Seem to be. Am I comfortable bringing other teams up to the number-two spot? No. Aaron Walton-Moss appears to be headed back from his injury and to paraphrase Mike Show from Baptist Bible, he is still a very dangerous player even on just one leg. This team does have a weak conference and their SOS shows that, but a weak schedule hasn’t stopped the Cavs from being minutes away from a national championship two years ago and making a challenging run to the elite eight last season. I am willing to trust my gut and Coach Markus Kahn on this one, but could I regret this decision in a week? Yes.

3 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)
Yeah, the Titans were knocking on the door of number-two thanks to Cabrini’s loss, but I just don’t feel they are the second-best team in the country… or even third-best. They have three-losses all in conference and could even lose the regular-season title to quirky Wheaton (Ill.) should they lose to the Thunder this week. Can I really be comfortable putting the Titans that far up my ballot if they may not even be the one-seed in their own conference tournament to a team I have on the outside-looking-in of my ballot? Yikes.
(EDIT: I mistakenly stated IWU has three-losses in conference, they indeed have two. I was thinking if they lost to Wheaton, they would pick up a third loss and incorrectly added that to their total. Furthermore, I should state that saying “they would lose the regular-season title” I meant they would lose the #1 seed. My good friend Bob Quillman pointed out my mistakes and I am grateful.)

4 – Wash U. (Unchanged)
More of the same with the Bears of Washington University. I have stated in past weeks I am nervous with this team this far up in ballot and I know I am not the only one thinking that. Again, had I moved Cabrini down it probably would have resulted in Wash U. moving up to number three and that simply makes me cringe. I like how the Bears are playing and they are rolling away with the UAA title, but I am not sure their conference standing is a sign of how good the Bears are or proves that the rest of the UAA took a step back (or for some more than one) this season.

5 – Wooster (Unchanged)
I seriously considered moving Wooster down this week not for what they did on the court, but for what the rest of the conference did – or didn’t do. The Scots now have a two-game lead in a conference that doesn’t have anyone really stepping up at this point in the season. If ever I would to demote a team for what the rest of the conference was doing, this would be it. However, I also thought it wouldn’t be fair to Wooster… for now.

6 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

7 – Amherst (Unchanged)

8 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

9 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

10 – Williams (Unchanged)

11 – Wesley (Unchanged)

12 – WPI (Unchanged)

13 – Brockport State (Up 2)

14 – Texas-Dallas (Up 2)
Here is about the point in the ballot I am ready to throw things around and scream bloody murder… and maybe it actually starts with Brockport State as well. These teams seem too high up. In fact, they probably are too high up. Texas-Dallas is having a good year, but honestly their only resume highlight is that they are cruising in their conference. They also probably have to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA tournament thanks to the new 22-game schedule the ASC has implemented (though the Comets are #2 in the South Regional Rankings in Week 1). The second half of my ballot is nuts.

15 – Randolph-Macon (Down 1)
This may surprise people since the Yellow Jackets lost to Eastern Mennonite this past week, but to me I considered a couple of things. This was RMC’s first loss since losing a close game at Cabrini on December 18, Eastern Mennonite actually has some solid wins this season, the game was on the road, and the ODAC has probably more parity from top to bottom this season then in a long time (ten of the twelve teams have above-.500 records right now). Coach Nathan Davis has proven he can get his team clicking late in the season, so I can’t fault a single loss in the last fifteen games. One other factor, there was enough turmoil in the lower half of my Top 25 ballot that there was only so far for the Yellow Jackets to fall.

16 – Whitworth (Up 2)
Guh… I am pretty sure this is too high for the Bucs. I like how Whitworth plays and they are well coached, but my concerns coming out of Las Vegas have not changed. They are short on the bench, especially on the inside, and they sometimes lack the fire power they need to put teams away. Those concerns had me keeping Whitworth low on my ballot ever since. Now they are sneaking up and I am not thrilled. Sure, I am not surprised George Fox took them to the wire, but that is a game Whitworth needed to make a statement with.

17 – Purchase State (Up 3)

18 – Mary Washington (Down 5)
Frederick, the Eagles have landed! Mary Washington has lost three straight games in conference action and each of those losses I have a problem with. Salisbury: sure the Seagulls are tough, but if the Eagles are that good they win. Christopher Newport: a game that Mary Washington needed to use as a way to forget about Salisbury and stay in great position on top of the conference. Wesley: certainly not a surprise that the Wolverines won, but Mary Washington didn’t even look like a factor in the game. Maybe Mary Washington has peaked too early and if that is the case it is a shame because Mary Washington had been having one of the best seasons in program history. Oh, and they only feel five spots because I couldn’t imagine teams behind them ahead of them.

19 – Albertus Magnus (Up 3)

20 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 3)
I will admit, along with Mary Washington, I may have had the Battling Bishops up too high. Just the single loss to Wabash may not have resulted in dropping three spots, but Ohio Wesleyan is now 2-2 in the last four and if you look at their overtime win, it was to 5-18 Alleghany. Maybe the NCAC race was too good to be true.

21 – Centre (Down 2)

22 – Rose-Hulman (Unranked)
Believe it or not, the Engineers have won 16 of their last 17 games and seem to be playing the best basketball when it counts the most. They also have a potential All-American in Julian Strickland leading the way with more than 25 points a game and leading in almost every other category as well. Rose-Hulman had a disappointing finish to last season, but this is an experienced squad who may be a dark horse depending on the set-up in the NCAA tournament.

23 – Staten Island (Up 2)

24 – Scranton (Unranked)
Against my better judgment, I placed the Royals into my ballot. I know they have only lost three games this season and their SOS is surprisingly high, but if there is one conference I know very, very well… it is the Landmark and nothing impresses me about this conference this season. Juniata has disappointed, Catholic has not been as good as expected, and the rest of the conference is playing at about an “ok” level. Certainly there is more parity this season in the conference, but that doesn’t mean the teams are good. Welcome to my Top 25 Royals, just don’t let me regret the decision (I am already regretting being a Top 25 voter this season).

25 – Richard Stockton (Unranked)
WHAT AM I DOING?! I am getting desperate, I think, to find teams that seem to fit in the Top 25. I have been watching the Ospreys for a while, but just have not been impressed with their resume, the NJAC, or anything else for that matter. However, they have won 20 games and are now at least tied for the top of the conference. I just have a feeling I am grasping at straws and happen to grab Richard Stockton’s from the other fifteen potential candidates.

Dropped Out:

Messiah (Previously 21)
Considering who I put into my Top 25, maybe pulling the Falcons out was too rash. However, they lost their second game to Stevenson (this time at home) and now all of their losses are conference losses. Messiah has had the chance several times this year to put their stamp on the conference, but can’t seem to put teams away and may have more match-up problems than I realized when watching them last month. Time will tell if this was a rash decision.

Bowdoin (Previously 23)
I really like how the Polar Bears have played this season, but the loss to Tufts coupled with the fact it was their second loss in three games makes me concerned the Polar Bears are on thin ice. Could they have peaked too early? They can prove myself and others wrong or right by how they perform in the NESCAC tournament which starts this weekend.

Dubuque (Previously 24)
I should have seen this coming. The only other time I placed Dubuque in my Top 25, they promptly lost. This time they lost both games (Loras and Central) and now probably won’t make the NCAA tournament unless they win their conference. I wanted to route for the underdog here, but they are making it hard to believe they can meet the challenge.

Other ballots:
Week 10
Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 3
Week 1