Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 11

Three Saturdays in a row I have looked at the D3hoops.com scoreboards and wondered if I was seeing things. SEVEN ranked teams lost this Saturday alone! The opening paragraph of the D3hoops.com write-up for the day, said it all:

At one point Saturday afternoon, York, Swarthmore, Eastern Connecticut and MIT all were losing in the second half, and No. 3 Wittenberg and No. 5 Middlebury had already lost. And that was how the day went in Division III men’s basketball, with seven ranked teams losing to unranked opponents — just in the afternoon games — on a key Saturday with conference schedules winding down.

This is usually the time of the season when voters have pretty much locked down their ballots and are fine tuning things. I feel like each week I’m looking at my ballot and wondering how much time will take to completely start over … again. This is mid-February! We two weeks left in the regular season. Conference tournaments start… in days.

It really is incredible.

I am tempted to do this when I print out the Top 25 ballot information. Not sure I want to even look most weeks.

I once again took some drastic steps this week. I’m not going to go into every single thing I looked at and considered – we don’t have the time – however, I did drop some teams significantly and brought in some non-ranked teams into some relatively high spots.

I want to start leaning on teams that are winning. There is always the adage that if a team continues to win, than they are proving themselves. Of course, the first problem is … who continues to win? The other problem is some of the teams that are winning aren’t exactly getting tested. Those losing, are losing in tough conferences, but you can’t just reward good conferences and look the other way when teams with good schedules only win half the time (that’s for coaches polls in other sports).

Oh, how did my ballot do last week? Not good. 17 losses in total amongst 12 teams. Most of those losses were in my Top 15 (9 losses). If you are wondering, the D3hoops.com Top 25 took 17 losses as well … ALL in the Top 20.

Ryan and I discussed the Top 25 on Hoopsville this past Sunday in the “Top 25 Double-take” segment:

Now, let’s get to this week’s ballot. Here is my Week 10 ballot (and others below) as a reminder. And with that, my D3hoops.com Top 25 Week 11 ballot:

Tim Howell helped lift the Blues past Whitworth by hitting two free-throws with 0.9 seconds remaining. (Courtesy: Whitman Athletics)

1 – Whitman (NC)
As expected, the Blues had a battle on their hands in Spokane against Whitworth this past week. I went in figuring Whitman may lose. That’s what happens in rivalries. However, they battled through some not-so-great play and found answers to pull off the 100-99 win. The only danger Whitman keeps showing me is allowing too many teams to hang around for too long. That could bite them at the wrong time.

2 – WashU (NC)

3 – St. John’s (+1)
The Johnnies are the first team in 12(+?) years to win the MIAC regular season not named St. Thomas. They wrapped up the conference regular season title with a week before the conference tournament. SJU looks really good.

4 – Wittenberg (-1)
I toyed with dropping the Tigers further for losing to Hiram. It is their first loss, but there are several others teams I would expect their first loss to come to. That said, Hiram also beat a stumbling Ohio Wesleyan squad earlier in the week and … did I mention it was Witt’s first loss of the season? So, they didn’t drop that far. There were also a lot of losses below Witt. There was only so far I was willing to drop Wittenberg before encountering squads that I do not consider better than Wittenberg.

5 – UW-Platteville (+1)

6 – Whitworth (+6)
The Pirates showed me something on Tuesday. Well, Kyle Roach showed me something … maybe. They had moments where they looked really good against the top team in the country – and bitter rivals. However, the game also concerned me. Roach can’t be expected to score 45 points and do everything if Whitworth wants to win. He fouled out in the game in Walla Walla … Whitworth lost 91-75. Just writing that makes me wonder why I moved the Pirates up the poll. With so many teams losing, including Whitworth, I decided to at least go with one that didn’t look horrible. 🙂

Psst… Wooster has lost only once in the last 17 games. That dates back to early December. (Courtesy: Wooster Athletics)

7 – Wooster (+8)
The Scots are winning unlike others. They have lost once since December 2 and that loss was to Wittenberg. The rematch comes this weekend and it may be Wooster who is playing better right now.

8 – York (Pa.) (+2)
I didn’t intend to move the Spartans up after losing to Salisbury, but it wasn’t like I could find a way to move them down, either! No. The loss to Salisbury this season isn’t good. It also closed the race at the top of the CAC down to something a little … uncomfortable, especially if you are a YCP fan. I really like the components YCP has to use, but not being deep on the bench concerns me. They still have a game at Christopher Newport this week to close off the CAC regular season. York has put themselves in a tough spot… and I did move them up. The perfect example of how hard this has been this season.

9 – Emory (+2)
I had the Yellow Jackets as my “Dubious” choice in this week’s “Hoopsville Top 25 Double-take” (above) … and I moved them up a couple of spots. SMH Like York, it was mainly thanks to everything else happening in the poll especially in this part of the ballot. I still think they are dubious. I still am not that convinced Emory is better than what we know is very good coaching, but it isn’t like anyone else’s results help make that argument. Emory had two close games against good UAA opponents this week, but Emory needs to put teams away. This week’s results brought back thoughts after losses to Guilford and Hampden-Sydney back to my mind.

10 – Hamilton (+5)
I am constantly trying to reshuffle and lower the NESCAC (like I did the WIAC a few weeks ago), but the conference has been a cluster to hash out. Even they couldn’t do it! Five teams tied for the conference regular season title. (I now have another reason I want the NESCAC to go to a double-round-robin – or something more than a single run through.) Yes, Hamilton lost to Williams, but smoked Middlebury. I moved Midd (see below) and also needed to move some teams ahead of others. How they handled Midd is why I moved the Continentals up.

11 – Williams (+3)
I have had the Ephs all over my ballot this season. This past week, Williams beat Hamilton and lost to Amherst – who was on a Dave Hixon mission. They seem to maybe have solved the Scadlock problem – i.e. finding a solution for losing their best player. I am also seeing signs similar to last year where Kevin App was able to get the Purple Cows moving in a very good direction, so I moved them up this week. For those wondering why I didn’t move them ahead of Hamilton: when considering the bigger picture, I think Hamilton is the better team despite the one outcome. We hopefully have a second game coming next week.

Patron. Jonathan Patron. Remember that name and Plattsburgh when it comes to March. (Courtesy: Plattsburgh State Athletics)

12 – Plattsburgh State (NR)
Hello Cardinals! Yeah. Big move here. I needed a team that appears to be playing well, not losing, and at least appears to be strong. There are also gaps where some teams feel far too high where I have them slotted. Plattsburgh may be one of the better teams no one is talking about. I have been watching Plattsburgh for a couple of weeks and they are impressive. Their last loss was Dec. 8 against Brockport and they have rolled off 15-straight wins since. The biggest reason? Jonathan Patron. He didn’t play the first eight games of the season. Since his season started, he has averaged 22.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, and clearly other tangibles that have the Cardinals rolling.

13 – Eastern Conn. State (NC)

14 – Illinois Wesleyan (-6)
I realize the Titans are going through the tougher part of the CCIW schedule than Augustana – who went through the tougher stretch to start the conference schedule, however I felt after back-to-back losses (before winning against Carroll) just needed a bit of a correction. I know Wheaton played really well against IWU, but add in the Augustana result and it just felt best to make a move.

15 – Augustana (+4)

16 – Cabrini (+3)

17 – Salem State (+5)

18 – Hobart (+5)

19 – Wesleyan (+5)
In my effort to shuffle the NESCAC and bring them down my poll, the Cardinals go and win three times including the only one to beat Amherst this week. Too bad that game didn’t count for conference standings, right Williams, Hamilton, Middlebury? LOL

Marcos Echevarria may be leading Nichols in scoring, but the presence and play of Deante Bruton has been the key to the Bison’s season so far. (Courtesy: Nichols Athletics)

20 – Nichols (NR)
The Bison seem to have their mojo back. After a couple of challenging weeks, the team I think may be the most dangerous in the Northeast seems to be back to showing that.

21 – UW-Stevens Point (-1)

22 – Johns Hopkins (NR)
Incredible what the Blue Jays have done late this season, but especially this past week. When Bill Nelson retired, it wasn’t like he had left the cupboards bare for Josh Loeffler. New coach, new ideas usually takes a little while to gel. Things are going well now. Hopkins could end up being the surprise regular season champions of the Centennial Conference.

23 – Swarthmore (-6)
The Garnet were one of the two victims for JHU last week. Unfortunately for Swat, it has left the chance of winning the regular season and controlling the conference tournament in jeopardy. I like a lot of things about Swarthmore, but their inconsistencies are mind-boggling. They seem tight.

Middlebury has been up and down especially since the holiday break. (Courtesy: Middlebury Athletics)

24 – Middlebury (-19)
I have felt the Panthers have been the best team in the NESCAC, but there have been stretches this season they have been anything but the best. I am sure if Middlebury gets things put together they could go on a spectacular run, but what concerns me is when Midd is off… they are really, really off.

25 – Maryville (NC)

NC – No Change from previous ballot
NR – Not Ranked on previous ballot
+ – Movement up – number of spots – from previous ballot
– – Movement down – number of spots – from the previous ballot

Dropped Out (Previous Ranking):

The injury to Bradley Jomard appears to take the wheels off the MIT bus. (Courtesy: MIT Athletics)

MIT (10)
The Engineers are not the same team without Bradley Jomard. He has been out for three and half games, now, due to some kind of leg injury – looked like an ankle when he got hurt against Babson. I have no idea how long Jomard is out, but I do know that this week confirmed they are not a Top 25 teams without him. He does everything for them and MIT has now lost three of four (and nearly four in a row) without him. It is too bad. MIT seemed to have something special this season.

Emory & Henry (16)
I am not sure what has happened with the Wasps (Colin Molten seems to be out; third highest scorer), but ODAC play has taken it’s toll of late. They have lost four in a row to go from undefeated in conference play to a game back of second.

UW-Whitewater (24)
I probably held on to the Warhawks a week too long. UWW is 5-6 in their last 11 and just haven’t looked like the same squad the beginning of the season showed. That said, maybe I got faked out by the smoke and mirrors. Looking back at their season, there is nothing special about Whitewater’s schedule. I’m chalking this up as a mis-reason on my part and one I will keep in mind and learn from.

Previous Ballot Blogs:
Week 10
Week 9 – not available (see Week 10 blog for ballot)
Week 8
Week 7 – not available (see Week 8 blog for ballot)
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 3 – not available (see Week 4 blog for ballot)
Week 2
Week 1

So there you go. I am sure this blog doesn’t necessarily answer any questions, but I hope at the very least it provides some insight from a single voter (of 25).

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 10

There never seems to be enough time in a week for everything.

Another ballot blog that starts and will include the following items:

  • – Apology to those who find these interesting enough to read for not getting the blog out last week.
  • – Once again, struggled to figure out what to do with teams starting around the fifth spot on down.
  • – Not sure who to include or add to the ballot when dealing with teams that should drop.
  • – Have I mentioned parity?

So yeah… sorry about not getting my ballot out last week. I was even thinking about slamming something together that at least showed you my ballot, but I got tied up prepping for the 5th Annual Hoopsville Marathon. One idea in the future on challenges weeks is to see if a fellow poster would like to write something we can feature instead. That way we don’t leave the blog unwritten for a week.

Before we go any further, here is what my ballot looked like for Week 9 (January 29 ballot) – by the way, new technique on indicating movement; see below the ballot for notations:

WashU continues to be second-ranked on Dave’s ballot, but they may be the strongest team in the country. (Courtesy: WashU Athletics)

1 – Whitman (NC)
2 – WashU
3 – Wittenberg (NC)
4 – St. John’s (NC)
5 – Middlebury (+1)
6 – MIT (+3)
7 – Emory (-2)
8 – Illinois Wesleyan (+6)
9 – Emory & Henry (+1)
10 – York (Pa.) (-2)
11 – UW-Platteville (+6)
12 – Wesleyan (+2)
13 – Swarthmore (+5)
14 – UW-Whitewater (-2)
15 – Hamilton (-4)
16 – Whitworth (+3)
17 – Maryville (+3)
18 – Augustana (-3)
19 – Gwynedd Mercy (+2)
20 – Williams (+3)
21 – Eastern Connecticut (+3)
22 – New Jersey City (-6)
23 – Wooster (NR)
24 – Cabrini (-2)
25 – Baldwin Wallace (-18)

NC – No Change from previous ballot
NR – Not Ranked on previous ballot
+ – Movement up – number of spots – from previous ballot
– – Movement down – number of spots – from the previous ballot

The feeling Dave has some nights when he looks at the D3hoops.com Scoreboard.

Earlier this season, especially in early January, it was all about “Bloody Wednesdays.” On several occasions, Wednesday nights would include a LOT of red (indicating losses) especially in men’s basketball. This past week it appears to have been the weekend instead of Wednesday, primarily …. though, Wednesday was pretty rough as well. My Week 9 ballot saw fifteen losses amongst twelve teams; seven losses amongst eight teams in my Top 15.


It has been like that nearly every week. When doing Week 9’s ballot, my ballot had ten losses amongst eleven teams. That might be the least amount of losses so far.

It has resulted in one major challenge the last few weeks: teams ranked in spots that feel far, far too high. I spoke a few weeks ago that starting at number five just consider everyone five spots lower. That continues. I am not trying to be disrespectful towards any team, it is just that I don’t think their body of work and their play currently represents a team that is, say, tenth best in the country. I am somewhat comfortable with the top four. Once I hit number-five, I don’t think they are the fifth, sixth, seventh, etc. best teams in the country. However, we aren’t allowed to leave spots blank, but we have discussed that before.

And then the other challenge: who should be in the Top 25? Each week, the other big challenge is who to include. Each week teams come off, others are added. The challenge is… how many and who? The further down you go on the ballot, the harder it is to figure things out. That isn’t new, but because of parity the pool has gotten deeper in recent years and in recent weeks. Three, four, five-loss teams and others are a very large group of teams with resumes that run the gamut.

When it comes down to these teams, one of the things I battle with is whether the team I’m considering can continue playing well and won’t take a loss (ore a series of them) in the near future. I’m not sure if it is the right way to think about it, but I hate the feeling of adding a team to the ballot and the next week immediately removing them. It feels like an “oops.” I have had it happen often, but it doesn’t mean I like it. My mentality is if I select a new team for the Top 25, they are rising and should stay there.

Let’s just get to the ballot for Week 10. A friendly reminder, I am just one of 25 voters, so my ballot only carries the weight of one voter.

Whitman remains the top team on Dave’s ballot. This week features a rematch with Whitworth. Plenty of questions will be answered… hopefully. (Courtesy: Whitman Athletics)

1 – Whitman (NC)

2 – WashU (NC)

3 – Wittenberg (NC)

4 – St. John’s (NC)
Yes, the Johnnies suffered their first loss in the MIAC when St. Olaf took them down. However, I didn’t expect SJU to get through the conference schedule unscathed. St. Olaf did a nice job slowing down a really good offense. I just didn’t feel it meant I needed to drop them into the melee below.

5 – Middlebury (NC)

6 – UW-Platteville (+5)
I realize UW-Stevens Point is leading the conference, but the turnaround and the way the Pioneers are playing this season really impresses me. I do think I have them a bit high, but everyone is high at this point.

7 – York (Pa.) (+3)

IWU’s eight-game win stream came to an end this week, but Dave didn’t move them. (Courtesy: Illinois Wesleyan Athletics)

8 – Illinois Wesleyan (NC)
I know the Titans lost to Augustana, but it was close. Not like the IWU win over Augie earlier this season. Honestly, a narrow loss gives me more confidence in IWU than it makes me confused about the two. If Augie had smoked IWU, I would have put them next to each other … well, that “other” result had something to do with it as well. IWU is good, just not sure just how good.

9 – Hamilton (+6)
I am not thrilled I have two NESCAC teams in my Top 10. Dave Hixon’s thoughts on the Hoopsville Marathon Thursday only confirmed what I had been thinking – the top of the NESCAC may not be great, but the conference is pretty damn good from top to bottom. The Continentals escaped their second weekend in a row in Maine with no losses. They are doing what others are not doing: they keep winning.

10 – MIT (-4)
I am a bit nervous with the Engineers. Jomard suffered what sounds like a significant ankle injury in their loss to Babson. They barely beat Wheaton (Mass.) in overtime the following game, Jomard was out, and they only played seven players. He is their best player. This could leave them exposed especially late in the season. I’m going to watch MIT closely.

11 – Emory (-4)
I have preached that I don’t drop teams if they lose to squads I have ranked higher. However, Emory has now lost on back-to-back weekends to WashU in games that didn’t even feel as close as the score. They also struggled against a better-than-their-record Chicago team. I just feel if Emory is as good as I am ranking them, I’d see maybe a tighter game with WashU and be in more control against Chicago.

12 – Whitworth (+4)

E. Conn moved up Dave’s Bllot considering they continue to win and get the job done. (Courtesy: ECSU Athletics)

13 – Eastern Connecticut (+8)
One thing the Warriors aren’t doing… losing games. I moved EConn up in a big way because there are a number of teams who continue to pick up losses and EConn isn’t. They may be better than I have been giving them credit for this season.

14 – Williams (+6)

15 – Wooster (+8)
It can be understandable if you haven’t been watching the Scots because you are blinded by Wittenberg’s incredible season and the implosion we seem to be seeing out of Ohio Wesleyan. I felt Wooster wasn’t going to put much of a season together. They are playing pretty darn consistent, though. It is hard to ignore.

16 – Emory & Henry (-5)
Talk about a bad week. I considered moving E&H further down after losing to both Roanoke and Lynchburg. Both on the road and as I have said in the past, the top teams in conferences win games on the road in conference.

17 – Swarthmore (-4)
Inconsistent. Lost to Muhlenberg and struggled with McDaniel. Need to tighten things up if they want to be a threat.

18 – Cabrini (+6)

19 – Augustana (-1)

UWSP continues their impressive run in WIAC play. The three-game losing streak in December is long-gone.

20 – UW-Stevens Point (NR)
I still am surprised the Pointers are doing so well in the conference. Clearly, the patented Bob Semling defense is making a significant difference. I am reminding myself that the last title for UWSP featured one of the more smothering defenses I ever seen despite the fact the offense never blew you away. Six losses is a lot; I know that. I witnessed two of those losses in front of me. Continue to lead the WIAC with one loss, I can’t justify not voting for them any more.

21 – Salem State (NR)
I’ve had the Vikings on my radar for several weeks. While the MASCAC is nothing to write home about, Salem State at least is avoiding losing games they are supposed to win. The balance on this team is impressive to see. There just may be something special going on here.

22 – Hobart (NR)
I have struggled to figure out what exactly is going on with the Statesmen, but like others they continue to win. The Liberty League is topsy-turvy this season with Skidmore falling off a cliff and Ithaca not having the same form late in the season as they did early on (losing four straight). Hobart has risen above the fray. Early season losses are still a note, but no longer a concern as we seem to be well past those games (see WashU).

Wesleyan has not made things as easy as a slam dunk of late. (Courtesy: Wesleyan Athletics)

23 – Wesleyan (-11)
I thought about dropping the Cardinals altogether. My opinions on the NESCAC have changed is one factor, but the other is that as many times that Wesleyan has gotten a key win, they have also lost a game that was important (i.e. Purchase and Trinity).

24 – UW-Whitewater (-10)
The big problem with UWW is that they are 3-3 in their last six and 5-4 in their last nine. Those are similar to Amherst’s results last year at this time. Probably should have dropped the Warhawks altogether.

25 – Maryville (-8)
I like what the Saints have put together for a season, but losing to Covenant can’t happen. This is the same argument I’ve made numerous times about making sure to get the job done against opponents you are supposed to get the job done against especially when the challenge is on the road.

Dropped Out (Previous Ranking):

GMC had a rough week at the wrong time. (Courtesy: Gwynedd Mercy Athletics)

Gwynedd Mercy (19)
Two losses in two games including to Lehman. I know that Lehman is at the top of the CUNYAC, but Cabrini won their CUNYAC-CSAC game and GMC missed the chance… especially after coming off a loss against Cabrini earlier in the week. Rough week.

New Jersey City (22)
I know the NJAC can be a tough conference, but the Gothic Knights are letting an incredible opportunity slip through their fingers. NJCU is 8-5 since December 29 and 3-2 in their last five including an inexcusable loss, at home, against Rowan. NJCU needs to stop losing games if they want to be in good shape come March.

Baldwin Wallace (25)
Just when I buy into the Yellow Jackets, they lose three in a row. They are now 4-4 in their last eight and have been swept by Ohio Northern. I knew the OAC race was going to be wide open, but BW has allowed the race to be wide open.

Previous Ballot Blogs:
Week 9 – not available (see above)
Week 8
Week 7 – not available (see Week 8 blog for ballot)
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 3 – not available (see Week 4 blog for ballot)
Week 2
Week 1

There are a number of teams not on my ballot that I am strongly considering, but it sometimes feels like a crap shoot. Some I wanted to see go one more week due to some key match-ups coming. Others are in reserve for those in the rankings who have big weeks coming up as well.

For those wondering, I do look at the NCAA SOS numbers, but don’t weight them heavily right now. I like to see those numbers settle down a little before I read into them too much (much like Massey and Bennett). I’m already reserving time next week to do a deep dive into everyone now that all those numbers are a bit more solid to consider. However, they won’t replace any of my other items I use to consider.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 8

Joey Hewitt and Whitman continue to be Dave’s top pick in his Top 25 ballot.

First of all, let me apologize my Top 25 blog out last week. It was an odd week and having Hoopsville on Monday afternoon to “compliment” the time usually spent the work on my weekly ballot… time got away from me.

It is too bad, because there was a lot to talk about. Most of it can still be covered this week. However, before we get to this week’s ballot, here is last week’s along with notation of any movement related to Week 7‘s ballot:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
2 – WashU (Up 1)
3 – Wittenberg (Up 4)
4 – UW-Whitewater (Up 5)
5 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 5)
6 – St. John’s (Up 2)
7 – York (Pa.) (Down 1)
8 – UW-River Falls (Down 3)
9 – MIT (Up 3)
10 – Augustana (Down 8)
11 – Hamilton (Up 9)
12 – Williams (Down 8)
13 – Wesleyan (Down 2)
14 – John Carroll (Up 3)
15 – New Jersey City (Down 1)
16 – Emory (Unranked)
17 – Middlebury (Up 8)
18 – UW-Platteville (Up 5)
19 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 6)
20 – Swarthmore (Up 3)
21 – Whitworth (Unchanged)
22 – Baldwin Wallace (Down 6)
23 – Nichols (Up 1)
24 – Emory & Henry (Unranked)
25 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unranked)

Actual GIF of Dave at his desk last week doing his ballot (ok, not really, but pretty good impersonation!)

Last week was nuts. I could have ranked teams in the 10 to 25 spots in any order. I wanted to put them all in the 20th slot or maybe the 17th. I found most of them somewhat equal for all kinds of different reasons and was going around and around (and around) in what order to put them. Those high felt too high; those low felt too low. Flip them and they still felt wrong.

On Sunday’s “Top 25 Double-take” on Hoopsville (below), Ryan stated this was maybe his easiest week voting in the Top 25. I didn’t find it easy. His perspective is different. I think he had twice as many teams on his radar than I did (I had 45 in Week 7 that I was considering), so if he does any kind of whittling of his list it is probably going to feel easy. However, Ryan also said he thought his order was more set than in the past. That was me several weeks ago. I thought I had my order and with so many losses happening within the group the way it was ordered, I felt good.

That feeling is gone. I don’t have any sense of order right now. Last week I couldn’t really settle on 10-25 with any satisfaction. This week that got more problematic.

So, I tried to overhaul things. Kind of like blowing up my ballot, but with the element of trying to use information I hadn’t been leaning prior (basically because I didn’t have the time). This week, I talked with some coaches some of whom reached out to me. There are a number of coaches I trust when it comes to their judgement and eye. They are the kind who will be frank and give it to me straight even if it is at the detriment of their team. They might resort to “coach’s speak” when on Hoopsville, but they don’t do that when we talk off-air. I appreciate that and this week I get a little bit of an idea of how some of them saw things. It was invaluable and helped me see things maybe in a different way.

I got more aggressive this week in an effort to find answers to questions that were stumping me. I also was trying to grasp with the WIAC-yness of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. I went deeper outside the Top 25 packet of information, and my radar, to see what I might be missing. This included double-checking some conferences races to see if I had missed a team who had heated up.

That look Dave gets when dealing with a “gap” in the ballot and UWSP leading the WIAC by two games. LOL

The one major problem I ran into: a massive gap in my Top 25. While I was confident in my top nine last week, that was quickly cut to just the top four. After that… I didn’t want to rank anyone until at the least the tenth spot. You might hear me and others say that and think it is just a talking-point used as an example. However, I actually practiced the idea this week. I put down my top four, then skipped to putting teams where I felt they seemed right. I didn’t have any teams until the tenth spot. As I worked through my list of teams, no one made me want to put them in 5-9. I was left with a list that went 1-4 and then 10-whatever (I sometimes rank teams beyond 25 especially when I am looking to move teams in and out of the poll despite decent weeks).

I spent a good amount of time trying to convince myself to move teams into the gap ahead of my teams in 10-15, for example. It wasn’t happening. Yes, I could make arguments for them to move up, but they weren’t convincing and full of holes in my opinion.

What resulted was a massive jump up into a territory I don’t know is accurate for some teams. Others stayed around where they had been despite not the best of weeks. And others didn’t move down nearly as far as I intended to move them. Even looking back at the ballot 24 hours later, I don’t like the results. It feels like a jumbled mess, but all this time later I don’t have any answers and I don’t have that, dreaded, moment where I realize a solution and made the mistake of not voting accordingly.

With that, here is my D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot for Week 8. Notes for a lot of these teams, which makes the read longer (apologies), but some people seem interested:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
The Blues don’t blow me away, but no one has beaten them and they have taken on some solid challenges. I think last year’s squad was better, but that doesn’t mean this year’s team can’t make the same run or even win a championship this time around. The straw that stirs this team’s drink is not Tim Howell. They have other guys who are the keys and the fact they have more than one threat makes them tough to beat.

WashU has impressed and moved up to be knocking on the door of No. 1 on Dave’s ballot (shh, he’s even considered them for the top spot!).

2 – WashU (Unchanged)
I got a text message out of the blue from a coach who simply said, “this is a final four team.” WashU has incredible senior leadership this season that has been building for the last few years. They are dominating, by their standards, their opponents and it is has been impressive to watch. They are not perfect, clearly, but they seem to be improving when others don’t seem to be. They still have Emory and Rochester ahead in UAA play (twice each, same weekend, both), but I like what the Bears have produced so far.

3 – Wittenberg (Unchanged)
Several coaches and another contact basically didn’t mince words when it came to the Tigers: they are damn good. Maybe this season is happening an year earlier than some expected, but Wittenberg’s coaching staff have a team on their hands that seems nearly unbeatable. I don’t think they get through NCAC play unscathed. I think Ohio Wesleyan could trip them up the second time around and Wooster is improving as well, however Wittenberg should be a team to watch out for especially if they have home court advantage until Salem.

4 – St. John’s (Up 2)
I’ve been high on the Johnnies since the beginning of the year, though nervously. In years past, SJU eventually showed flaws and took hits by this time of the season. Not this year. Last week showed me a lot with a beatdown of Macalester (not looking past the Scots) and then a strong 15-point win over St. Thomas. St. John’s is in the right place to end the Tommies dominance of the MIAC, but the target is only getting bigger.

From this point on, consider teams five spots below where they are on my ballot. That may help you understand where I truly think teams are in the Top 25… not where I had to put them because I needed to fill the gap.

Emory skyrocketed up Dave’s ballot, thanks to good play and a huge gap that needed to be filled. (Courtesy: Emory Athletics)

5 – Emory (Up 11)
Yeah. Wow. Big jump here for the Eagles. I know I have them far higher than where they are on the ballot. Seems appropriate for how many teams this situation is flipped. Emory hasn’t lost since their bad loss to Hamden-Sydney at the beginning of December. Emory seems to be getting stronger, much like WashU, and has dispatched teams rather convincingly in a lot of cases. They have a huge test ahead: Chicago and WashU on back-to-back weekends. They at least get to start the home-and-home series in Atlanta.

6 – Middlebury (Up 11)
I have stated a number of times, especially on Hoopsville, that I think Middlebury is the best team in the NESCAC. However, they didn’t seem very good after the holiday break. Losing three of five nearly had them slide right off my ballot. It appears the Panthers have solved their woes and have turned the ship around. Last week saw them beat Williams after a huge battle with tough-to-beat Albertus Magnus. I like Middlebury. I don’t love Middlebury. They may be the best team in a conference that is overrated in terms of top-end strength.

7 – Baldwin Wallace (Up 15)
The win over John Carroll was the result I was looking for from the Yellow Jackets. I know I am higher on BWU than most voters. The loss to Ohio Northern on January 10 probably gave many pause. I get that. I also don’t think they are a Top 10 team, but here they are this week. The road doesn’t get easier, but the difference between this Baldwin Wallace team and others, they are still in the conversation – if not controlling it – in late January.

8 – York (Pa.) (Down 1)
The Spartans have pieces that almost any team in the country would love to have, including two centers/forwards who can play the four position and even step out and shoot the three for percentage. However, they aren’t as deep as I thought they would be. Their starting five all scores in double-figures which is outstanding, but the drop-off after that is significant. In other words, they can’t get into foul trouble. An improving Mary Washington team handed YCP their first loss of the season on the road. Not surprising York lost – they were bound to lose – but, I think it puts far more pressure on them to beat Christopher Newport, also on the road, than it did prior. Let’s see how the Spartans deal with pressure.

9 – MIT (Unchanged)
The loss to Springfield surprised me. Springfield has been all over the map, literally, this season. They have one of the best guards in New England, but they haven’t been able to raise their game against top competition. I figured, the Engineers would get a battle against the Pride, but not to be down big and have to rally back … and lose by three. MIT has a lot of what makes York dangerous and hearkens back to the couple-year run MIT had that saw them get to Salem. That makes them dangerous, but they also prove that anyone can beat anyone this year.

Emory & Henry is a squad that may be playing better than people realize. Picked to finish 4th in ODAC, they have a one-game currently. (Courtesy: Emory & Henry Athletics)

10 – Emory & Henry (Up 14)
Another big move up the poll for a team and one many probably aren’t talking about. However, this past week the Wasps took full control of the ODAC and I believe firmly entered the national conversation. Okay, maybe didn’t firmly take control of the ODAC, but certainly made the conference take notice. Wins over Lynchburg and Randolph-Macon have given E&H not only a one-game lead in the conference, but also a six game winning streak since their only loss of the season (Wooster). Also, wins over Maryville, Transylvania, and others are starting to look better and better as those teams continue to do well.

11 – Hamilton (Unchanged)
I hinted at it earlier. The national strength of the NESCAC might be overrated and the Continentals may have given everyone a sneak peak at that this week. No, they didn’t change spots, but I had intended to move them down (technically, they slipped five spots on my ballot originally). Hamilton was handed their first loss of the season by Amherst and it wasn’t close. Coach Adam Stockwell, though, made an interesting point on Hoopsville Sunday night, and I am paraphrasing: our team can beat anyone in the Top 100 on any given night. Now, don’t focus on “Top 100” and think of the bottom. Think of the top. This year especially, they very well could have a team that could beat Whitman – they also have a team that Amherst is able to beat. There are a lot of teams who could beat anyone in the Top 100. I’d argue anyone in the Top 100 could beat anyone (i.e. 100 could beat 1). So, Hamilton could be a damn good team, or more likely is just as good as everyone else, but not great. That leads to whether the NESCAC might be overrated… you have to wait for more on that.

12 – UW-Whitewater (Down 8)
Getting my first chance to tackle the WIAC here. As with the NESCAC, I’ll break it down in several sections, but with none of my Top 25 candidates even leading the conference, I had to change my evaluation of the conference. I have said many times I think the WIAC is the best race in the country and thus the best conference this year. Top to bottom it is insane. Anyone can apparently beat anyone on any given night. I thought UW-Stout was damn good when I saw them in Las Vegas, but I couldn’t come to terms with the idea they may not be in the top four. Whitewater and the rest have not had a great start to the conference schedule, but that might be because the conference is very, very good… but not great. Like the NESCAC. Maybe the top isn’t as great as I had considered previously, but have a ton of good teams and the result will just be the conference beating each other to a pulp. Despite not leading the conference, I think Whitewater is the best team in the WIAC and of those I’m voting for the better team.

13 – Wesleyan (Unchanged)
This coming out less than 24-hours after Wesleyan lost on a buzzer beater to SUNY Purchase is what is called horrible timing. I’m losing confidence in the Cardinals, as I have with the NESCAC. Honestly, Wesleyan should have rolled over Purchase if they truly are a Top 25 team. No, I am not trying to diminish Purchase who was 9-6 entering that game. I realize this may be further proof of just how deep the parity is in Division III this season. However, these are the games Wesleyan has to win if they are as good as others say. The problem is, Wesleyan has now lost four of their last eight with a crazy win over Middlebury being the lone highlight. I voted prior to the Purchase game which left Wesleyan on my ballot. Next week they most likely won’t be here.

Illinois Wesleyan has gone from unranked to well up Dave’s ballot in quick order, but not with plenty of pulled hair. (Courtesy: Dean Reid, D3photography.com)

14 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 11)
Here I enter a hornet’s nest. I am not sure what to do with the Titans. In the last few weeks, I have torn my hair out. Part of me screams that IWU is damn good and going to be in play for the CCIW championship. The other part points to inconsistencies I’ve seen this season and reasons I’ve hesitated to vote for them in the past. Last week, I slotted them on my ballot 25th – their first appearance. I didn’t like, but I had so much trouble finding a spot I liked for them. I took the time to chat with some people who have seen then to try and get a better sense of what I was missing. I even read the CCIW-boards, not always helpful but usually decent insight. It honestly made me more confused. I like Illinois Wesleyan. I think they are a good team. 14th good? Eh. The difference for me right now is that their losses to WashU and Emory are becoming less damaging and their current run through the conference more impressive. That loss to Carthage, though… still tough to deal with… and I have to wait until February 17 to see the return match.

15 – Augustana (Down 5)
I had Augustana well ahead (in poll terms) than IWU last week. Those on the CCIW boards didn’t like that. So be it. No one saw the dozen or so versions prior to my last ballot that had these two teams swapping places multiple times. Hard to prove that kind of thing. I think Augustana is still the best team in the CCIW, but they probably aren’t showing that right now. That very well could be they haven’t found a solution for the loss of Wofford. I have spoken before about my concern on this. At first, I wasn’t concerned, then I remember that last year’s go-to guy after Wofford departed was Jacob Johnson and … he isn’t around any more. I finally decided to lean more on the loss to Wheaton (who has been sporadic this season) and the near loss to Carroll despite them being the previous week. Wheaton lays ahead and so does IWU before the end of the month. I will feel a little more confident in the CCIW race in about a week’s time.

16 – New Jersey City (Down 1)
Here I am blogging about a team that may not be on my ballot next week – thus the disadvantage of not getting these blogs done earlier (may need to find a way to change the timing). I’ve like the Gothic Knights and especial Sam Toney, but once again an NJAC team is showing inconsistencies. Most in the region will say the NJAC is a tough conference and they beat each other up. I get that. Not disagreeing, but if an NJAC team wants to prove they are one of the best in the country… they have to step above that fray and put conference opponents behind them. NJCU has now lost three of their last seven – all to conference opponents. They have lost control of the top of the conference and sit two games behind TCNJ and Ramapo – who they have split with so far. Prior to the Monday night loss to TCNJ, I would have said I liked NJCU, but they need to start controlling their destiny. Now, I will tell you they have to buckle down and prove they are as good as they claim to be. TCNJ, Montclair, and Ramapo all still to play.

Dave is buying in that UW-Platteville is a Top 25 team, but there are seven squads in the WIAC who could probably make at least a claim to the idea. (Courtesy: UW-Platteville Athletics)

17 – UW-Platteville (Up 1)
I like what the Pioneers are doing more than others in the WIAC. Of course, they have been a victim of Stevens Point just like nearly all the rest. THey have beaten Oshksoh along with Stout, Eau Claire, and La Crosse (not something everyone can say they have done). I find themselves tied for second with Whitewater in the WIAC race … for now. They still have two with Whitewater to play and maybe there is more to prove, but for not I like how the Pioneers are playing more than others. Maybe it is just the timing of the conference schedule more than anything.

18 – Swarthmore (Up 2)
I am confused by the Garnet. I saw them in person, granted against struggling McDaniel, and really liked what I saw. Deep team, plenty of talent. Good inside-outside capabilities. Too many threats to be able to stop all of them, no matter how much McDaniel tried to shut down Wiley. However, their loss to F&M still bugs me (considering the Diplomats had a loss to Muhlenberg prior and followed the Swat win with a loss to Dickinson). Swarthmore followed the loss to F&M with an OT battle with Haverford (6-11) and a tight game with Dickinson (908 including a loss to resurgent Washington). With nearly the entire second half of the conference slate ahead… the Garnet aren’t showing me they are that strong. Thus why I originally had them 23rd.

19 – Whitworth (Up 2)
I am not going to take anything way from the Pirates and what they have for talent. They are young and the Northwest race for the next few years is going to be on another level, but I don’t think they are outstandingly good this year. The Whitman game was … okay. And they struggled this past weekend with Linfield and Willamette. I figured Linfield would give them a game (they did the same to Whitman), but to only beat Willamette by two and turn around and not put away Linfield only made me feel more confident Whitworth is a 20-25 team this season. Granted, they are the team I have picked to beat Whitman when they face the Blues in Spokane, but that doesn’t make them a Top 10 team this year. Doesn’t mean I’m right… just may take on it at this point.

Maryville’s Colt Nokes is one of four players (nearly five) in double-figures for the Scots who have been playing very well in the USA South.

20 – Maryville (Tenn.) (Unranked)
Here we get to teams I did a deep dive on and … feel like I was missing something prior. The Scots may seem like a surprise pick, but when I realized how they’ve been playing of late, I kind of liked them here. They shutdown the once-DII Pfeiffer squad that has been blitzing through the schedule so far (though, waiting to hear something major for Pfeiffer that would change my mind about this game). Their only other loss in 2018 was to Brevard – who like Pfeiffer still has some DII in them. Maryville also has losses to Emory and Emory and Henry (psst, stay away from “Emory” teams!) which on my ballot looks okay. Yes, the loss to Centre (10-7) to start isn’t pretty, but that is becoming less of a factor for me. They are in control of their side of the USA South – and probably the entire conference thanks to their win over Methodist as well. By the way, Maryville’s DIII opponents’ winning percentage: 148-117 (.559). Pretty good. The Scots may be better than people are giving them credit.

21 – Gwynedd Mercy (Unranked)
I’ve had my eye on the Griffins for a large part of the season. They are playing better than I expected and when I saw them in person realized they have a multi-faceted offense. I didn’t jump too soon. I wasn’t going to be able extrapalate much with their game against Goucher, but then they up-ended Cabrini and I put them on my list for consideration. They have made up for their one-point loss to Immactulata (8-8) and have a strong win over Neumann. They force bad match-ups and go up-tempo or slow down. They can go big or small on the court. Just seems John Baron has a squad that is only getting stronger.

22 – Cabrini (Unranked)
Yeah, I decided to double-dip in the CSAC. Cabrini has been playing weel for some time, though their loss to Neumann the night the poll is released is going to make this pick look … strange. It very well could be another team I remove from my ballot next week thanks to a Monday night loss (hey, teams… stop playing games on Monday nights when the poll is released! Thanks! LOL). Prior to the Neumann result, I liked how Cabirni was playing. The win over Eastern Connecticut (see below) was noteworthy and I wasn’t getting the Cavs in if I didn’t like Gwynedd Mercy as well (Cavs lost in OT to the Griffins). I am not reevaluating this one.

23 – Williams (Down 11)
This is part of the “NESCAC may be overrated” part. I want to repeat, I think the NESCAC is a very tough conference from top to bottom, I am just starting to think maybe the top isn’t as good as I thought it was. Doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the best conferences in the country, but Williams is the barometer for me. They still seem to now know how to replace Scadlock who they lost weeks ago to a season-ending injury. They played Middlebury tough and that’s why they are still on my ballot, but they have lost two of their last five including to Tufts (13-5) who hasn’t seemed like the Tufts of old this season. Easier opponents like Mass College, Yeshiva, Vassar, Westfield St, Fitchburg St., etc. can sometimes make things confusing. Gaudy record, but against who? The loss to Hamline (9-8) still bugs me. Time will tell if my thinking on the Ephs and the NESCAC bears out… or I am on a island on my own.

24 – Eastern Connecticut (Unranked)
I have voted for the Warriors off and on this season. Something about what they are putting together has caught my eye. Their losses are to WPI (10-7) and Cabrini. I felt I had to put the Cavs on my ballot to return EConn as well. Not sure how Cabrini’s loss this week will affect my thinking here. However, the Warriors also have wins over WPI (yeah, played twice; lost the second game), Montclair State, Amherst, and Keene State. Those are note-worthy in my book. At least I am not the only one.

Lycoming makes their first appearance on Dave’s ballot… maybe by mistake? Dave is still nervous, but the Warriors also keep winning no matter what. (Courtesy: Lycoming Athletics)

25 – Lycoming (Unranked)
Hello Warriors. I am finally voting for you, but in a moment you readers are going to realize it might be by mistake. I have not been high on Lyco. Their opponents’ winning percentage continues to be pretty low (132-156 .458) and I peaked at Matt Snyder’s (@FFTMAG/KnightSlappy) NCAA SOS numbers out of curiousity and saw it was .506. That’s okay, but their non-conference SOS is .422. Not great. However, it came down to an adage many a coach has said to me on many an occasion: no matter the schedule, if a team keeps winning you should take note. Lycoming continues to win. They are now 6-1 versus teams with above .500 records – a significant change in a few weeks – and despite a loss to a pretty good Lebanon Valley team have at least won the games they should. Who else can you say that about? Not many.

Dropped Out:

UW-Oshkosh (Previously 5)
This was part of my effort to recalibrate the WIAC in my head. Yes, I understand UW-Stevens Point leads the conference by two (though, will play Oshkosh for the first time this week). However, I am not prepared to vote for UWSP as of yet on my ballot (I’ve talked about it on Hoopsville of late). As a result, maybe my thinking on the WIAC is … out of wack. Maybe it is a darn competitive and good conference, but the teams aren’t as good as I had been giving them credit. I readjusted this week and after going 0-2 with losses to Platteville and Eau Claire to go along with four losses in their last seven, I decided to drop Oshkosh from my ballot. Time will tell if I am overreacting or not.

UW-River Falls (Previously 8)
Another WIAC team I felt I needed to aggressively adjust. They, too, have lost to Stevens Point (just this past week) and now have lost three of six including to the previously named Oshkosh. If I was going to drop UWO, I had to drop UWRF. Not sure either team is playing their best right now, anyway.

Oops. Dave didn’t intend not to vote for John Carroll. Maybe something subconscious? (Courtesy: John Carroll Athletics)

John Carroll (Previously 14)
I am going to admit something maybe I shouldn’t: I screwed up. I had intended to leave John Carroll on my ballot, but they got lost in my efforts to look outside my radar for teams I may have been missing. I actually check-mark teams from my old ballot and on my info-sheet when I have slotted them on my ballot. Even taking the steps to go back and erase check-marks when I start to make changes. JCU’s initial check-mark was erased. Then as I got caught up in my research and efforts to fill slots, I never confirmed what I had done with the Blue Streaks. That all said, they were in this position on my ballot of being left off because I am not as confident as others with JCU. They can score, seemingly, at will and I have had several coaches tell me why they like them – especially their former DII point guard. However, I have stated (as you saw in the Top 25 Double-take) that their defense concerns me. I know they play 94-feet and in a team’s face, but they also still give up points when they need to get stops. The loss to Baldwin Wallace honestly told me more about BWU than it did about JCU, but it didn’t help JCU’s cause – who have they really beaten? Marietta? Ohio Northern? Their resume is harder to defend.

It appears Ohio Wesleyan’s hot shooting and playing has cooled off significantly since the D3hoops.com Classic. Maybe it stayed in Vegas? (Courtesy: Larry Radloff, D3photography.com)

Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 19)
I can’t believe that just a few weeks after seeing the Battling Bishops in Las Vegas, I would be removing them from my Top 25 ballot. However, OWU has not been playing at the same caliber I saw at the D3hoops.com Classic. Not sure if the “fame” of dismantling Ramapo and nearly knocking of No. 1 Whitman got to their heads or not, but they seemed to have gotten stuck in gear. Three losses in four game and four in six (before beating DePauw) are eye-opening. Yes, One of those four-out-of-six losses is to Whitman, but of the three out of four, one is to Hiram and another to Wooster. I can forgive the Wittenberg loss, except it was by 21! If OWU was as good as I saw in Vegas, they maybe only loss to Wittenberg since I saw them. The Bishops are simply not playing well together and are in jeopardy of quickly realizing they have to win the conference AQ or they won’t even see the NCAA tournament. Say what?!

Nichols (Previously 23)
No. The Bison did not lose this past week. They have not lost since Jan. 6 to Western New England in overtime. However, they too are not playing the same they were earlier in the season. What once was a dominating squad (including a 19 point win over Wesleyan) has turned into a squad who is barely getting past Eastern Nazarene and Roger Williams. If Nichols is as good as I thought, those games aren’t close. They got their point guard, DeAnte Burton, back from injury, but that hasn’t seemed to make them better. They have now, since I voted, lost to Univ. of New England making my decision better understood.

Previous Ballots:
Week 7 – No blog; see ballot above
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 3 – No blog; Stagg Bowl Week
Week 2
Week 1

In the future, I do hope to talk to more coaches I know have a good sense of what they are seeing not only on the court in front of them, but even on web streams around the country. I realize I shook up my ballot quite a bit this week and even took some turns not many others are taking. Maybe it will open eyes to other great pretty good teams in the country or maybe I will be proven to have lost my mind this week. However, just realize that these decisions aren’t made on a whim. I make them after following what my research says and what those I trust say. I may like a team and want to vote for them, even after seeing them in person or having them on Hoopsville, but that doesn’t always mean when I do my research it adds up.

Owenby’s perfect night

Maryville (Tenn.) Daily Times writer Marcus Fitzsimmons should be a familiar name to hard-core Division III fans. Here’s a feature he wrote from Wednesday’s Maryville-Greensboro game:

Owenby’s perfect night goes for naught

By Marcus Fitzsimmons

Ever hit the trash can with a coke can when you knew you should have missed?

Lewis Owenby had that kind of feeling for a full game.

The junior for Greensboro College went 12-for-12 from the floor Wednesday night against Maryville in a 93-78 loss to the Scots in Boydson Baird Gymnasium.

“The first one I put up just bounced in off the glass and I was like, ‘woah’,” said Owenby.

Battling Maryville’s Greg Hernandez the Black Mountain, N.C., product found himself nearer the foul line than the basket early but scrapped that strategy with his second kiss-off-the-glass jumper.

“We didn’t do a good job defending him at all,” said Maryville head coach Randy Lambert. “But to his credit he knocked down some of those shots from outside the paint.”

Adding to his range was something Owenby admits working on over the summer, but he never imagined a night like Wednesday.

“I was just playing within our game,” said Owenby. “I didn’t really think about it until after the game.”

The junior left the floor after picking up his fifth personal with 2:53 remaining and not even the coaches were aware of the performance until a miscredited miss at the 1:58 mark was corrected on the box score.

“That kind of night on that many shots in this game, its just unheard of to have a perfect night,” said Greensboro coach Bryan Galuski. “It was obviously a great shooting night for him.”

Owenby had been averaging 8.8 points per game and had a season high 17 on 7-for-9 shooting against LaGrange before his 27-point performance Wednesday. His only weak spot was the foul line, where he was a merely human 3-for-5.

Greensboro opens USA South play at Averett on Saturday.

Marcus Fitzsimmons is a sports writer for The (Maryville) Daily Times covering Maryville College, the GSAC and USA South.

Happy new season!

Last night eager Americans celebrated the beginning of a new Division III basketball season by dropping a ball covered with electric lights, eating lots of finger foods and celebrating with Dick Clark. Okay, maybe I’m slightly off on my holiday celebrations. We actually toss the ball up to start play, there are no lights on it and Dick Clark is not involved (though Dickinson and Clark may be).

And we actually started the basketball season on Saturday, November 15th, well before the calendar flipped over to 2009. But if you were busy with the holidays, college football or putting snow chains on the car, maybe you’re just getting into the 2008 – 2009 season. If that’s the case, here are nine story lines to follow – one for each region with a bonus – for men’s Division III hoops in 2009.

No. 1 – Northeast: Is Amherst overrated or underrated?

The Lord Jeffs finished second in the nation last year, are one year removed from a national championship and are undefeated this season. And yet there’s a chance they won’t get a single number 1 vote in the next Top 25 poll. That’s because the Lord Jeffs only returned one starter (Brian Baskauskas) from last year’s squad. Amherst hasn’t lost yet, but did have close calls against Emmanuel (2-7) and Skidmore (5-3). Despite the history of success, questions about the Lord Jeffs may linger. With Brandeis and Williams unranked, Amherst only has one opponent currently receiving Top 25 votes, Middlebury, and they won’t play each other until the regular season finale.

No. 2 – East: How long can Ithaca stay unbeaten?

At No. 17 Ithaca has achieved its highest ranking in the eight-plus years of our Top 25. The Bombers weren’t completely off the radar to start the season. Empire 8 coaches tabbed them as the conference’s preseason favorite. They’ve already won at Rochester and on the long, snowy road trip to St. Lawrence. Around the Nation talked with Coach Mullins and Company about Ithaca’s best start since 1941. Could the Bombers duplicate conference foe St. John Fisher’s 2005 accomplishment with an undefeated regular season?

No. 3 – Atlantic: Will more than one NJAC team make the NCAA tournament?

The NJAC hasn’t put more than one team in the tournament since Montclair State and Ramapo made the field in 2003. New Jersey City and Ramapo made the tournament in 2005 but the Gothic Knights were in Pool B. Conference play usually leaves even the better NJAC teams with a couple loses, but those teams also haven’t rolled up the impressive regional winning percentage needed to secure an at-large bid. This year No. 14 Richard Stockton and William Paterson have one regional loss each and only play each other once in the regular season.

No. 4 – Mid-Atlantic: Will No. 25 DeSales finally make the NCAA tournament?

Year after year the Bulldogs have been tantalizing close to making the NCAA tournament only to miss it in heart-breaking fashion. Last year they had 19 wins but lost to King’s in the MAC-Freedom championship. They had 20 wins but lost to King’s in the title game in 2005. They missed the tournament with 22 wins in 2004 and were conference runners-up again in 2003. This year’s edition is led by Darnell Braswell (16.5 ppg) and Brian Hunter, a transfer from Division I Lehigh. DeSales is undefeated with nine wins to start the year. But last year Elizabethtown started 10-0, mashed DeSales in a January match up and didn’t even make its conference tournament.

No. 5 – South: Which slow-starting preseason favorite will have the biggest turnaround?

If this question asked for the “fastest” turnaround, Randolph-Macon would have already won that honor. The preseason favorite in the ODAC started 1-3 before ripping off six straight victories, including the 75-63 win over No. 13 Ursinus. Two of the Tigers’ three loses are out of region but they still have plenty of competition among teams needing a turn around. Preseason No. 10 Mary-Hardin Baylor lost its first three games but got a nice win over No. 6 UW-Whitewater to move back to .500. You can even throw Maryville (Tenn.) in the mix as the Scots are 4-6 after last night’s loss at No. 18 Centre. All those loses are in region and the Scots are battling with several teams they don’t play, like Chapman and the Landmark members, to secure a bid through Pool B.

No. 6 – Great Lakes: Will we really have a post-season in which Wooster, Wittenberg, Hope and Calvin aren’t featured prominently?

A combination of youth, injuries and a relative drop off in Wittenberg’s success have left these four teams just 20-19 to start the year. Hope is still a question mark since the Flying Dutchmen have only played two Division III opponents (loses to Wheaton (Ill.) and Carthage). It’s not unreasonable to think that even these storied teams need to reload. But it would be strange not to see at least one of them advance far into the tournament. At least one has reached the regional finals every year since 2002. They have combined for 17 appearances in the last 6 tournaments.

No. 7 – Midwest: How many CCIW teams will make the NCAA tournament?

The CCIW has three teams in the Top 10 (Wheaton, Elmhurst and Augustana), four in the Top 20 (add Illinois Wesleyan) and a fifth that is unranked but undefeated (Millikin). Those five teams have four regional loses combined but soon head into grueling (for them) and entertaining (for us) conference play. The rest of the CCIW is a combined 13 games over .500 so there are no assured victories. Since only four teams make the CCIW tournament, there will be a lot on the line every game.

No. 8 – West: Who is more likely to secure home court advantage on the road to Salem – UW-Platteville, St. Thomas or Buena Vista?

This question isn’t about winning the conference or making the playoffs. It’s about rolling up enough wins and having the logistical advantage that factor into host site selections. I’m assuming geography and budget restrictions keep the NWC champion out of this conversation. UW-Platteville has the toughest hill to climb given the WIAC’s history of bruising play. Buena Vista has a regional loss but will be the prohibitive favorite to win the IIAC. Ditto for St. Thomas in the MIAC, minus the regional loss. And maybe the geographically isolated SCIAC champion could host the first and second rounds if the Conference puts two in the tournament and Chapman grabs a Pool B bid.

No. 9 – National: Are pollsters too focused on the CCIW and WIAC?

Seven teams in the Top 25 are from those two conferences. That’s a lot but not entirely unusual. Six teams from the CCIW and WIAC were ranked in the Top 25 at this point in 2007 and 2008. Maybe the voters are hedging their bets by picking multiple teams and figuring at least one will advance deep in the tournament. The CCIW and WIAC actually haven’t had an inordinate number of Final Four appearances with three each. That’s not bad but it isn’t more than the MIAA, NESCAC, NCAC, OAC, ODAC and UAA. The CCIW and WIAC sometimes meet in the tournament and cancel each other out, but not always. Last year the representatives were eliminated by teams from the MIAA (Hope), IIAC (Buena Vista and Loras) and UAA (Wash U.). In 2007 they were done in by the UAA (Wash U.) and MWC (Carroll). So are the voters (including me) missing the boat by putting so many in the Top 25?

Feel free to comment on these or any other story lines and happy new season!