TAG | Middlebury
That sound you may have heard was me finally doing what I had been debating, and threatening, to do for weeks – blow up my ballot. It wasn’t a complete and devastating destruction, but it was good enough to make me rethink a number of teams, positions, and my thought process behind many. Surprisingly, not as many teams at the top shifted as dramatically as I thought they would in my head. However, the bottom half basically went through a complete make-over including cutting bait with teams because I just couldn’t justify my decisions anymore.
I also dove into more teams than usual this time of year and I dove into more data than I usually like to do. Many know I am not a fan of Massey Ratings, but this is the time of year I do take a look at their numbers to see if there is something I am missing. I don’t end up agreeing with Massey, but it at least forces me to reevaluate a team I am either under- or over-selling and it helps me make sure I am not missing anyone.
Same is true with the NCAA SOS numbers. Of course, we don’t have access to those numbers until Wednesday (when the first Regional Rankings debut), but math-expert Matt Snyder has his own “math” working online, based on the NCAA formula, which gives us at least a good idea of what to expect from the NCAA data (Matt will get a chance to double-check his formula(s) on Wednesday). While I am certainly not ranking my teams per the SOS, it does give me a better insight on what their schedule actually looks like from a data point of view. This sometimes will force me to dive into a team’s schedule further to figure out, maybe, why it doesn’t add up to my expectations (high or low).
As a result of all of this, I ended up writing down a total of 45 teams, including my previous Top 25, to research and analyze. Each week this season I have had between 50-70 teams that have at least crossed my mind, but by the time I get down to researching, I have whittled that number down to 30-35. Also, I will sometimes breeze over teams I have near the top or know well to save myself time. However, this week, there was a solid 45 teams to go through and I went through each of their schedules, games, and notes I have on them in the past few weeks.
That’s what you do when you blow up your ballot.
As a result, my top ten went through a bit of a shuffle – though, it ended up not as severe as it started. I had moved some teams around significantly at the beginning before settling down to a more reserved shuffle in the end. The bottom fifteen, on the other hand, was completely turned on its head. I dropped four teams some of whom might surprise you despite big wins. I nearly dropped a fifth, but ended up deciding to hold on to my 25th team a little longer despite a major voice in the back of head not pleased with the decision.
With that being said, here is my Top 25 (which you can compare to the D3hoops.com Top 25). I am not going to comment on much of the top ten to save time and space. There are moves, they probably make sense. If they don’t, let me know. I wanted to focus my writing time mainly on the moves I made in the bottom half.
1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
2 – Benedictine (Up 2)
3 – John Carroll (Up 2)
4 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)
5 – Whitworth* (Down 3)
6 – Hope (Unchanged)
7 – Christopher Newport (Up 2)
8 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 1)
9 – Elmhurst (Down 1)
10 – Marietta (Unchanged)
11 – Johnson and Wales (Unchanged)
12 – Susquehanna^ (Unchanged)
13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)
14 – Lancaster Bible (Up 4)
This is a big jump in my mind for the Chargers. The simple fact is at this time of the year with an unbeaten team in a sub-par conference I am looking for one thing: domination. Lancaster Bible is dominating the NEAC. They are winning conference games by nearly 27-points this season and haven’t had a game closer than 15 since beating Cairn by four on December 11th. Sure, the conference isn’t giving up much of a fight and there is a really problematic situation coming should they not win the AQ (SOS is .421 and while probably improve slightly; do you leave a one-loss team at home?). However, the Chargers are starting to prove their early season success was just the tip of the iceberg.
15 – Alma (Down 2)
16 – Plattsburgh State (Up 5)
The Cardinals are pulling away from what I thought was going to be a dog-fight of a SUNYAC race. Plattsburgh has won 13 of their last 14 games and now have a 3 ½ game lead on the conference with five games to play. This has been a six-team race at the top not that long ago. Basically, Plattsburgh is proving to be the only team that can win nearly every night in Central and Western New York.
17 – Whitman (Unranked)
I would be lying if I told you I was comfortable with putting Whitman this high on my ballot. Their win over Whitworth certainly gave me reason to include them, but this high? I realize I am one of the last to buy in to the Missionaries, but we have seen this script before. The only team capable of beating Whitworth in conference over the years is Whitman, but only when playing the game at the Sherwood Center on Whitman’s campus. Does that really make Whitman a good team this season versus others? Outside of beating Whitworth, the Missionaries don’t have a significant win on their schedule. While that doesn’t add up to this decision, I do lean on the fact Whitman has only lost three games and at least has played well in conference. I’m buying in… trepidatiously.
18 – Penn State-Behrend (Up 2)
19 – Mount Union (Up 3)
20 – Amherst (Down 6)
The team-formerly-known-as-the-Lord-Jeffs did not play well against Tufts on Saturday. Shot poorly from deep (28%), got out-rebounded, couldn’t hit a free throw (8-16), and allowed Tufts to have a 21-point lead before realizing they were in trouble. I am just not that confident in the purple team from more-central-than-west Massachusetts. When Amherst has been a national power in the past, these games didn’t exist. They have now dropped three games in their last eight with a resurgent Middlebury and scrappy Hamilton squads waiting to close out the regular season.
21 – Northwestern (Minn.) (Down 2)
Northwestern hasn’t done anything to drop two spots, but they haven’t done anything to make me think they are better than 21st. They have hands-down the worse SOS of any of the teams I am considering, and it’s ugly (.408) and they are barely holding on to the lead in the UMAC thanks to a loss already to St. Scholastica (they will play a rematch in the final game of the season). I just don’t think they are as good as I had them ranked.
22 – Wooster (Unranked)
Welcome back Scots. Looks like the team that has been underperforming to normal Wooster expectations may have found their stride. The win over Ohio Wesleyan a few weeks back is certainly a good sign, but they have also won ten of their last eleven and might pull off the surprise and force the NCAC tournament trough Timken Gymnasium! Their offense is scoring far more points in the last several weeks than it has all season while the defense seems to be staying consistent. Maybe Steve Moore has his team peaking during an off-year at just the right time to surprise some people.
23 – Emory* (Unranked)
Welcome back Eagles. The last two weeks in the UAA have been unbelievable. Emory was a game back of Chicago before playing their home-and-home series over the last two weekends. Now Emory has won six-straight, has a one-game lead on Rochester*, and Chicago has fallen to three-games back. Emory may have a young team, but they are proving they can now win the close games and beat some very good teams while they are at it. By the way, Emory has a ridiculous SOS (.634 unofficially) meaning they could get into the NCAA tournament once again and throw a monkey-wrench into bracketing like they did in 2014.
24 – Aurora (Unranked)
I realize the Spartans lost to Benedictine this week, but have you seen how Aurora has been playing prior? If Benedictine wasn’t undefeated, people would probably be talking about Aurora. Since they lost three of four prior to the holiday break, they won ten in a row before facing Benedictine (now 11 of their past 12) and winning pretty confidently. Of course, maybe Aurora also looks better thanks to pretty much only losing to Benedictine this season. However, a .537 SOS surprised me, but that forced me to look at the schedule and remember a win over North Central (Ill.) and notice they have been putting up points all season.
25 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 1)
I almost cut the Diplomats. I know they are winning, but I am not impressed for some reason. I guess I don’t buy in as much as people would expect. But, I have watched the team for so many years and I just don’t think this team is quite where it can be to be a Top 25 team. The conference is also down (despite a good Swarthmore team who has emerged) and that doesn’t allow F&M to shine as much as they could. I actually had the Diplomats out of my ballot several times and was going to keep it that way until I voted. Then I changed my mind and left them in. Seems weird if they only have three-losses that I don’t have them in my Top 25 despite what that voice in the back of my head is yelling.
WPI^ (Previously 16)
The Engineers have lost three in a row. That’s pretty much the reason I dropped them. It is just so hard to buy in to WPI when they always seem to peak early and go through a stretch late in the season like this. The loss to Babson was their second to them and handed the Beavers the NEWMAC lead, but it was the end of three in a row that saw WPI lose to 9-12 (now) Springfield and Emerson.
Chicago^ (Previously 17)
The Maroons have now lost four in a row, all to Rochester and Emory including an unbelievable loss to the Yellow Jackets on a purposely missed free-throw, rebound, and three-pointer at the buzzer. It is amazing how fast a season can change. Chicago is basically in a must-win situation the rest of the season. Any loss will pretty much eliminate them from winning the UAA crown and throw them into a very crowded Central Region that will make getting an at-large bid very difficult. I really like Chicago and have for years… but this is not good.
Tufts (Previously 23)
I realize the Jumbos beat Amherst, but they also lost to Trinity this week. No, not a bad loss and certainly a good win, but in a shake-up of my Top 25 I couldn’t hold on to them. They have previous losses to Wesleyan and Middlebury in the last few weeks and just don’t seem to be playing very consistently – they are all over the place. I might be wrong on this, but I just don’t like the look. Plus the fact, if you are good enough to beat Amherst… you should be good enough to be Trinity.
Texas Lutheran (Previously 25)
I was ready to pull this trigger last week, but held on. But a loss to Trinity this past weekend was the straw that broke the back. I don’t doubt the Bulldogs are a very good team this year and could make a bit of a run in the NCAA tournament if the bracket lines up right for them (like East Texas Baptist last year), but it is a crowded field for those worthy of being a Top 25 team and I think Texas Lutheran isn’t fitting the mold right now.
* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season
It certainly is interesting right now. Sometimes the Top 25 settles down a little bit by this time of the year, but not this season. That isn’t overly surprising. There are a lot of good teams across the country and probably some that are flying under the radar. I know I spotted a few that I hadn’t taken as seriously as before in this process of blowing up my radar. Some made my ballot, some others are still off the ballot. There certainly isn’t a shortage of teams who can make arguments they are the best 25 in the country.\
For comparison’s sake, you can also check out Ira Thor’s Top 25 ballot here.
Alma · Amherst · Augustana · Aurora · Babson · basketball · Benedictine · CCIW · Chicago · d3hoops · Dave McHugh · Division III · Elmhurst · Emory · Franklin and Marshall · Hoopsville · Hope · Illinois Wesleyan · John Carroll · Johnson and Wales · Lancaster Bible · Marietta · Middlebury · Mount Union · NCAA · NCAA Tournament · NESCAC · Northwestern (Minn.) · Ohio Wesleyan · Penn State-Behrend · Plattsburgh State · Regional rankings · Rochester · St. Norbert · St. Thomas · Susquehanna · UW-Stevens Point · UW-Whitewater · Washington U. · Whitman · Whitworth · WIAC · Wooster · WPI
It was an interesting week for the D3hoops.com Top 25 – at least I thought so. We are getting to the point where things appear to be getting more stable. I didn’t think we would ever get to that point and having said that I have probably jinxed myself for the rest of the season. However, I think myself and other voters are starting to feel more comfortable with far more of the ballot. It used to be just the top five, then maybe eight or nine, but now I feel like the top fifteen or more are a bit more solid and I am just working on filling out the rest. In other words, this week’s ballot felt more like ballots of seasons past!
Unfortunately, I did not get to see as many games online as I normally do this past week. Despite the fact a blizzard kept me indoors over the weekend, it didn’t mean I had all of this free time to just watch games. When you are expecting two to three feet of snow, you spend part of that time shoveling during the storm so you can open your doors and have less to break your back over after the storm. Thank goodness I got out a few times during the storm as three feet is what ended up falling on us and I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle that all at once (I am still shoveling three days later!).
As a result, I have concentrated my efforts a little more on posts on the Posting Up boards from those who see teams in action and know them the best. You have to be careful with this tactic as you will get some very different points of view from two people who were at the same game – seen through whatever tint their glasses are per their rooting interests. However, there are a number of solid posters who continually give great accounts of games or input that you can’t always appreciate watching a game online. I will admit, I am not great at breaking a game down through written word, so I truly appreciate those who do.
There still remains one major challenge: There are a number of deserving or seem-to-be-deserving teams worthy of Top 25 love, but not enough spots to put them in. Each week I struggle to figure out how to get teams on my ballot and figure out who to remove. In weeks past when there were losses-a-plenty, it was a little bit easier. However, the last few weeks have seen a downward trend in losses on my ballot meaning I have less teams I am willing to dump for others.
The other challenge comes with squads people think deserve to be in the Top 25 because they got a big win or two. One such team came up in conversation on Twitter recently:
— 757Basketball (@757Basketball) January 24, 2016
While the tweet wasn’t directed at me, I saw it and it made me think. Wesleyan has been on my radar for weeks, but I keep having problems with some of their results. This past week they beat up on Amherst and beat Tufts as well. Pretty good week, right? But prior to that they had lost three of four games including Amherst beating up on them in a game that actually counted for the NESCAC. (Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams all play a second round of games against each other for Little Three bragging rights. The first Amherst-Wesleyan game counted for NESCAC play: Amherst won. The second game counted for the Little Three only: Wesleyan won.) By the way, when I say they beat each other up, Amherst won the first game by 24 and Wesleyan won the second game by 27. And then there is that Lyndon State (6-9) game the very first game of the season which Wesleyan lost by 2. While it was the first game of the season, it is still a loss I struggle to understand other than it was the first game of the season.
In my back and forth Twittersation with 757Basketball, they expressed bewilderment as to why Wesleyan wouldn’t be getting love for winning the NESCAC title last season. This is the funniest part because I can’t tell you how many people will tell me they want me voting on only this year’s results, while another set of people understands if I take history into account (not winning a title, but trends and consistency), and other set of people want me to lean heavily on history. I can’t win! LOL
Wesleyan is ranked in the Top 25 on this week’s D3hoops poll, but I will break the suspense and tell you they are not on my ballot below. The Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde routine of the past three weeks doesn’t make make comfortable putting them on my ballot just yet. However, the Cardinals have some solid opponents coming up in the final five games of the season. Play well and I am sure I can find room on a crowded ballot.
One more thing before I continue on with this week’s ballot, I want to recognize Ira Thor and Ryan Scott. Last week Ira started blogging his ballot for the world to see and Ryan Scott followed suit with his blog this week. They both recognized the fact I am doing it as part of the reason they are being transparent and I congratulate them for taking what is honestly a bold step forward in revealing their voting and even thinking behind their decisions. It only helps to give people a better understanding of how different voters vote because there are 25 completely different voters with very different mindsets and interpretations. Some of us might chat with one another, but we certainly don’t all vote the same way. To see their ballots, you can click here for Ira’s and click here for Ryan’s.
Now on to my ballot from this week (forgive the lack of brevity for some of these, not a lot of time this week for writing):
1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
2 – Whitworth* (Up 1)
3 – St. Thomas* (Up 1)
4 – Benedictine (Up 1)
5 – John Carroll (Up 1)
6 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 1)
7 – Elmhurst (Down 5)
My point a few weeks ago when Augustana lost to Elmhurst on the road was that I expected the Vikings to lose a game in CCIW play. It’s been 43 seasons since someone went through conference play undefeated and I didn’t expect it to happen this year. As a result, I did not and I have not moved Augustana off of my top spot. So Elmhurst losing to North Central, on the road, isn’t all that surprising in the fact that I didn’t expect the Blue Jays to go undefeated in the CCIW either (or they would have been my number one team!). However, it was an 18-point loss not a two-point, overtime loss like Augustana’s. North Central shot very well and Elmhurst was average. So I knew I was going to drop the Blue Jays a couple of spots. They fell a few extra spots only because I couldn’t argue they were better than the teams ahead of them right now. So, five spots is a tough drop for a road loss in conference, but to be honest I expect them to lose another road game this week (Augustana).
For those wondering, no, North Central did not make my ballot this week. I only have one five-loss team on my ballot and seriously considered dropping them off this week as well. It is a decision I am not exactly sure of even as I write this, but it is the decision I went with when it click “submit.”
8 – Hope (Unchanged)
9 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
10 – Susquehanna* (Up 1)
11 – Marietta (Up 1)
12 – Chicago^ (Up 1)
13 – Johnson and Wales (Up 2)
The Wildcats continue to dominate in their conference. I am serious when I say even Albertus Magnus didn’t dominate the GNAC like this in the last few years. 36 points per game! But for those who have followed my blog over the years, you will notice J&W is in about the same spot as AMC has been this time of the year almost every season.
14 – WPI (Up 2)
15 – Amherst (Down 6)
Not a good week for the Lord Jeffs – and the final time I will probably be uttering those two words. I’m not sure the ramping up style of scheduling Amherst has done over the last few years (starting with easier opponents and working towards more challenging ones before conference play) is working out this season. That coupled with the fact the NESCAC is a far deeper conference than in years past contributed to a 1-2 week for Amherst. Wesleyan, as noted earlier, and then Colby nipped the purple team from central Massachusetts. The only bright spot, a thorough thumping of Bowdoin in the middle of a three-game road trip. It won’t get any easier for Amherst, maybe, as they continue what is a five game road stretch with games at Williams (12-6) and Trinity (14-4) this week. Amherst is clearly not as good as what voter’s thought in the preseason (#3) nor I (#5). I will be watching very closely to see how Dave Hixon’s squad responds this week.
16 – Alma (Up 2)
17 – Texas Lutheran (Up 2)
18 – Lancaster Bible (Up 2)
19 – St. Norbert (Unranked)
I am making up for last week’s mistake of accidently leaving St. Norbert off my ballot. However, it might have been a blessing in disguise. It forced me to reevaluate the Green Knights since I had them off my ballot. I needed to find a spot to place them and maybe broke up a rut I was in with SNC. I didn’t seem to be able to move them out of the twenties. This might get me moving them around a bit more since with two-losses they are playing better than expectations – AGAIN. I could have moved them up further as well, but at least they are back on the poll where they deserve to be!
20 – Roanoke (Up 3)
21 – Northwestern (Up 3)
22 – Brooklyn (Up 3)
23 – Mount Union (Down 9)
I’ll be brutally honest, despite having them 14th and losing to a team I and the D3hoops.com voting group had ranked ahead of them (Marietta), I almost pulled the plug on the Purple Raiders. Five losses are the most any team has on my ballot. It is also the most on the overall poll, but that team is North Central. I realize Mount Union has played a very difficult schedule, in what has become a fascinatingly tough OAC race, but at some point I have expected UMU to beat a ranked team! They have a win over Chicago, but they have losses to William Paterson (once ranked), North Central, John Carroll, and Marietta (last two in back-to-back games). What is worse, when Mount Union losses it isn’t close. The average spread in a loss is 13.8 with six being the closest in a game against Colby. I decided to hold on just a little longer because I think the Purple Raiders are a very good team, but they won’t get another “big” game until Feb. 17 against John Carroll. I expect them to win every game between then to be blunt.
24 – Tufts (Down 7)
I nearly pulled the plug here as well. The Jumbos have lost two of their last four including to starting-to-get-hot Middlebury and schizophrenic Wesleyan. At least the games have been close, but as NESCAC play has intensified Tufts seems to be wilting a little. They only beat Conn College by two the other day on the road. Interestingly, Tufts has two non-conference games in the next three which might not tell us anything, so I wait patiently.
25 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 4)
The Diplomats only ended up playing one game due to the Blizzard last week and lost to Gettysburg (they have since beaten McDaniel in a twice-postponed-game). While F&M made a run in the second half to try and make it interesting, the Bullets pulled away in the end and left F&M floundering with 57 points. This is the same point in the season last year when the unexpectedly hot season fizzled on the Diplomats. They had started 14-0 and 7-0 in conference before losing their first game on January 17. They would go on to lose six of their final twelve games of the season and miss out on the NCAA Tournament. This is basically the same team, expect supposedly with more experience. However, the conference isn’t scared of the Diplomats and with Dickinson looking to prove they are still good coming up and a tough finishing set of games remaining, F&M needs to put the blinders on and focus on the task at hand – securing home-court advantage for the Centennial playoffs or this season is going to end just as suddenly as last year’s.
Trine (Previously 22)
I did to Trine what I nearly did to Mount Union. After starting the season 10-1, the Thunder have gone 3-3 in their last six and now sit 3-3 in the conference race in a three-way tie for third. Furthermore, they haven’t beaten the really good or ranked teams on their schedule. They have lost to Ohio Wesleyan, Calvin, Hope, and Alma. Three of those teams ranked and all three conference losses to teams ahead of tied with them in the standings. Trine needs to man-up and get a significant win. They have a home game against Calvin coming up this week which can help them greatly (since they are tied with the Knights in third place), but Hope and Alma won’t show up on the schedule for a few more weeks.
* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season
So, only one team entered the ballot (with one team dropping out) and it’s the first team to re-enter my ballot this season. They also shouldn’t have been off my ballot in the first place!
There are still probably 20 or so teams I have “on my radar” that I spend the most time on each week trying to figure out if they deserve to be on my ballot or not. And if they do, who should be removed.
Sometimes I blow up my ballot because I have gotten into ruts and teams probably should be moved more drastically then I am allowing in its current structure. Other times I blow it up is when I feel like I have put myself in a corner and can’t find good enough reasons to move teams on or off accordingly. This week with the bottom third of the ballot feeling somewhat set, I feel a ballot blow up coming… just to shake up my thinking.
Albertus Magnus · Alma · Amherst · Augustana · basketball · Benedictine · Brooklyn · Calvin · CCIW · Chicago · Christopher Newport · d3hoops · Dave McHugh · Dickinson · Division III · Elmhurst · Franklin and Marshall · Hoopsville · Hope · John Carroll · Johnson and Wales · Lancaster Bible · Marietta · Middlebury · Mount Union · NCAA · NCAA Tournament · NESCAC · Northwestern (Minn.) · Ohio Wesleyan · Roanoke · St. Norbert · St. Thomas · Susquehanna · Texas Lutheran · Trine · Tufts · Washington U. · Whitworth · Williams · WPI
Another week, another challenging D3hoops.com Top 25 to consider. The top of the poll is somewhat solid. Not many changes, some shuffling, but the top fourteen spots didn’t take much time to decide on. It was the next eleven spots which are difficult, especially the massive vacuum that seems to reside in that area. Not the kind of vacuum that sucks everything up, but the kind of vacuum that is an empty, devoid space.
There have been a few vacuums this season on my ballot. At the beginning it resided between 5-10 on the poll. It has steadily moved down the poll as some of the good teams I had reservations about have proven themselves pretty strong. It has been starting around 12-15 for a few weeks now.
That’s the complication. There are a high number of teams who certainly can make arguments to be Top 25 teams – I’ve said probably up to 70 teams some weeks. But there is a place on the poll each week where it doesn’t feel like teams are good enough to be ranked there, but no one else should be there either. It’s a vacuum.
I have dealt with these vacuums in two ways this season: moved teams from below up into the ranks to fill the hole; inserted teams unranked before to fill the hole. The first option I used when the vacuum was further up in the Top 10. I didn’t have teams unranked the week prior who could just jump into a slot in the range of five to ten. However, as the vacuum has shifted further down, I have inserted unranked teams into as high as 15, I believe. Neither option feels comfortable because I am basically putting teams where I don’t think they fit. But again, there is a vacuum I need to fill and it may have backfired on me last week.
None the less, there is a vacuum for me starting right at number fifteen. I went with the “unranked last week” plan of attack yet again and took a risk.
With that all said… let’s get to the ballot! But first, a shout-out to my fellow voter Ira Thor who decided to reveal his Top 25 as well. I applaud him for deciding to be transparent. I know others who will tell you their ballot should you ask (being transparent) and I think it’s good to help people understand what voters are thinking.
1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
No reason to change my mind here, though it has been an interesting to see how the first place votes have been breaking down and the reactions to those votes.
2 – Elmhurst (Unchanged)
3 – Whitworth* (Unchanged)
4 – St. Thomas* (Up 1)
Three-game week resulted in no losses and included a solid win over Augsburg and an import win over St. John’s.
5 – Benedictine (Up 1)
The Eagles continue to avoid what I worry about the most: a conference loss which could spiral into a couple of losses quickly. In games they should win, they dominated at least one of them this past week.
6 – John Carroll (Up 4)
The Blue Streaks are proving they are for real this season. You will remember I have been nervous of what was really going on in University Heights, Ohio, but a high-scoring 116-93 win over ranked Mount Union was what I was looking for on my personal litmus test for the team. Granted, it was a litmus test across the board for John Carroll, but I was very interested not only if John Carroll could win the game, but would they do it on their own terms – high scoring game tells me it was on their own terms. Now the target is squarely on JCU. They have wins over Marietta and Mount Union, but they won those games at home. They have ten games remaining for the conference tournament and have to play Marietta and Mount Union on the road… in back-to-back games in February.
7 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unchanged)
8 – Hope (Down 4)
The Dutchmen’s fall of four spots to a pretty good Alma team is three-fold: they did lose a game granted on the road, they haven’t looked all that strong in the last few weeks, and the movement of other teams didn’t find a hole until number eight. I still think Hope is a dangerous team who has a chance at being very special this season, but since returning from the holiday break, they barely beat Albion at home (68-65), had a tougher-than-expected game at Olivet (79-64), and the loss on the road to Alma. They backed that up with an emphatic win over Trine (74-51) which probably should have kept them from falling four spots. However, I don’t think they are playing better than the teams ahead of them and when I moved John Carroll up four spots the only opening I had left was here at eight. I just want to see Hope start to play a little more consistently at a high-level that I have become accustom to this season.
9 – Amherst (Unchanged)
10 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
Quick comment on the Captains – they are playing some really good basketball. The CAC has been an interesting conference where almost anyone can rise to the occasion to beat someone on top, but Christopher Newport has been dominating everyone. They haven’t had a conference game in single-digits at the end all season. The closest anyone has come has been Salisbury (71-60) and Marymount (68-58) at the beginning of December. This might be a team who will quietly go far into the tournament this year before anyone realizes what is actually happening.
11 – Susquehanna* (Down 4)
This has been a magical season for the Crusaders and going undefeated in the conference was certainly on everyone’s mind no matter how unrealistic it may have been an expectation. But when they beat-up on Scranton on the road and having already beaten Catholic at home, that expectation began to take root. Was I surprised they lost? No. However, I didn’t think they would lose to a team in the bottom two-thirds, or so, of the conference. I figured Catholic or Scranton would eventually trip them up. Drew is a good team, but that was a road game Susquehanna should have won to remain a Top Ten squad.
12 – Marietta (Unchanged)
13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)
14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)
15 – Johnson and Wales (Unranked)
And here we enter the vacuum of my poll right now. I am going with a risk with Johnson and Wales here because… have you seen the Wildcats this season? We had Coach Jamie Benton on Hoopsville earlier this season when they got out to a good start. Should they keep this up, he will appear again to talk about dancing in the NCAA Tournament. They are not only 9-0 in the GNAC, a conference Albertus Magnus has dominated the last few season, but they dismantled a rebuilding, but still good (11-3), AMC squad 113-58 at home last week. They are beating conference teams by an average of 37.6 points per game! For comparison, Albertus Magnus beat their conference opponents by 18.8 ppg last season. J&W’s one loss this season? Linfield in the opening game of the season at Lewis and Clark. Considering the travel alone for that game, I am going to give the Wildcats a pass. I just don’t know if going from unranked to 15th is a smart move on my part.
16 – WPI (Down 1)
A loss to Babson isn’t a surprise expect that it was a home loss. The worry I have is the Engineers didn’t play well on the road against Emerson in the next game. I wasn’t buying into WPI early on. Now I have and it looks like they have hit a funk. We shall see.
17 – Tufts (Down 1)
18 – Alma (Unranked)
I had bracketed this past week for Alma several weeks ago. At home against Hope and then on the road against Calvin. This was a true test. Boy were the Scots ready! They beat Hope by 11 in a game they clearly were the better team and then beat-up on Calvin by 22. This squad is not a surprise in the conference. You might remember Hope’s Greg Mitchell talking about them earlier this season on Hoopsville, Kevin Vande Streek talked about them with me at the D3hoops.com Classic, and others have talked about how Alma (and Trine) were going to reshape the top of the MIAA. Alma is proving those thoughts accurate. But there is a lot of basketball to go including on the road against Trine this week and a road Hope, home Calvin set of games in early February.
19 – Texas Lutheran (Down 2)
The Bulldogs didn’t do anything to fall two spots, but they aren’t exactly a team I felt comfortable moving up into the 15th hole (per my previous handling of vacuum problems). But I am also getting nervous I am reading too much into the squad. When I talk to those who have seen them in action, they don’t speak as highly about them as I expect. One voter’s thoughts to me were, “they are good, just good.” I wanted badly to see them this past week when I was in San Antonio, but my schedule didn’t allow it. They do have a win over Alma and are now ranked in my poll behind them. That’s because I think Alma is playing better now than in late December and it was a one-point win in the first place. The other problem: the losses to Pacific Lutheran, Illinois Wesleyan, and Texas-Tyler are not looking as good or strong as they have in the past. The shine just doesn’t seem to be there for me anymore
20 – Lancaster Bible (Unranked)
As with Alma, I had this past weekend bracketed for Lancaster Bible and they delivered. They had their toughest, conference road trip of the season ahead of them and they dominated with wins over Cazenovia (92-77) and Morrisville State (97-66). Morrisville State has been the class of the NEAC for several years, so to go into their place – even if they are having a down year – and beat them my 31 is more than impressive. That coupled with the fact they already have a dominating win over Franklin & Marshall and I am ready to buy in. The only trick is the Chargers are just hitting the midway point of the season. Unlike most teams, they have 13 games to fit into roughly a four-week period (January 22 to February 20). That schedule may take a toll, though eight of the final thirteen games are at home.
21 – Franklin & Marshall^ (Up 4)
The Diplomats have not let Glenn Robinson’s chase for 900 career wins or passing Bobby Knight on the all-time list distract them – nor would he let them for anyone who knows them. However, it can be a very distracting thing. Instead, F&M is in the midst of a six game winning streak. I would rank the squad higher, but they aren’t dominating teams, they are having games finish close that shouldn’t, and they aren’t exactly putting 40 minutes of complete basketball together every night – if they have done it at all this season. But they are good and seemingly deserve to be ranked.
22 – Trine (Down 1)
To be honest, I probably should have pulled Trine out of my ranking. I didn’t expect them to beat Hope especially after the Dutchmen got beat by Alma earlier in the week. But to lose by 23? Ouch. They have also now lost two in the last four games against two of the four teams battling for the top of the conference and with Alma looming on Wednesday, I am nervous that Trine is not going to pass its toughest test of the season (Calvin, Hope, and Alma in five games – 14 days). In hindsight, I might have had a better team to take their place or keep one of those I ejected this week in the poll.
23 – Roanoke (Down 3)
This is what happens it seems more than I can count. You finally buy into a team, rank them, and they go out and lay an egg. When I quickly chatted, via text, with Page Moir about the Maroons loss to Hampden-Sydney, he said it was a bad shooting night. I didn’t know the score at the time, just that they lost (I was with ODAC members at the NCAA Convention at the time). I looked later and saw the score: 100-92. Bad shooting night and still put 92 points on the board?! Let me tell you the number of coaches would love to have that problem! That is why I am not bailing on Roanoke. They are still playing their game and a bad shooting night is the reason they lost, not the reason they aren’t a Top 25 team. They are still the fourth-highest scoring team in the country (100.0 ppg) and one of those teams hasn’t really played a Division III schedule (Nebraska Wesleyan 100.3 ppg). The other two: Greenville (5-10; 111.7 ppg) and Grinnell (7-7; 106.4 ppg).
24 – Northwestern (Down 5)
I don’t like the loss to St. Scholastica to be blunt. I realize the Saints are 10-6 on the season, but it isn’t a good loss in my mind for the Eagles. I seriously thought about ejecting them from the Top 25 and there could be a strong argument later to have done it. The Eagles have now lost twice in a conference they went undefeated in last season and lost two of their last five games. I might be giving them too much credit for being a tough squad.
25 – Brooklyn (Down 2)
The Bulldogs didn’t do anything necessarily to fall two spots – they beat Hunter in their only game of the week. They just shuffled down two spots due to movement of teams above and around them. I still don’t love their loss to Baruch despite how tough the CUNYAC really is and the fact everyone knows Baruch is one of the tougher match-ups, no matter the record. But they are still a team I think will surprise some people come March.
UW-Whitewater (Previously 17)
I can’t say I have ever put a team into my Top 25, especially that high on the ballot after being unranked, and then removed them the next week. Bad week for the Warhawks. Lost to River Falls and Oshkosh Guh. I don’t really have anything to say. I thought they were coming together as a team especially considering how many transfers had come onto the program, but I must have read more into it than there needed to be. I will say last year’s experience of not ranking UW-Stevens Point until even later than this point in the season was in the back of my head, but this was just buying in too soon. This is also an example of why sometimes I am gun-shy about teams that are playing well above my expectations and thus why I tend to be a little slower than some to buy in.
Bethel (Previously 22)
I circled this decision for a very long time. I am still not so sure I got this right. I realize they lost to Augsburg, but let’s not pretend that isn’t a good Aggies squad there in Minneapolis. But when Augsburg got thumped in their next game to St. John’s it had a trickle down affect to Bethel. Despite going 2-1 on the week and being what I feel is the second best team in the MIAC, I decided to take them out of the poll and give someone else a chance for right now.
St. Norbert (Previously 24)
The Green Knights slipped past me. Plain and simple. I was moving so many parts around (see above) along with considering so many other teams outside my ballot, I simply lost track of St. Norbert. Their win over Beloit didn’t do anything for me (they should be Beloit by 26!), though their win over Knox certainly raised my eyebrow (only scoring 56 points – thirty less than against Beloit – only winning by 3 to a one-win squad). I had not planned to removed St. Norbert from my Top 25, but in my back and forth thinking about Northwestern and with other squads I thought deserved to be in there, SNC simply fell off my ballot and I didn’t really notice it until writing this blog. Probably a mistake I will have to fix next week.
* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season
So there you have it. I am still keeping up with my removal of at least three teams from my Top 25, and shuffling teams around quite a bit. However, this week felt a little less stressful. That or I have gotten so used to the hours of work and hair pulling that it didn’t bother me as much this week. I am leaning towards that second thought.
I have also been knocking on the door of a full ballot blow-up and am kind of shocked I didn’t force it in the last few weeks. This week will be revealing if that kind of shake-up is needed in the near future.
Albertus Magnus · Alma · Amherst · Augustana · Babson · basketball · Benedictine · Brooklyn · Calvin · Catholic · CCIW · Chicago · Christopher Newport · d3hoops · Dave McHugh · Division III · Elmhurst · Franklin and Marshall · Hampden-Sydney · Hoopsville · Hope · Illinois Wesleyan · John Carroll · Johnson and Wales · Lancaster Bible · Marietta · Middlebury · NCAA · NCAA Tournament · NESCAC · Northwestern (Minn.) · Ohio Wesleyan · Roanoke · St. Norbert · St. Thomas · Susquehanna · Texas Lutheran · Trine · Tufts · UW-Stevens Point · UW-Whitewater · Washington U. · Whitworth · WIAC · WPI
I’d be lying if I told you I don’t think about my Top 25 ballot throughout the week. I think about the next ballot from about the moment I submit the current week’s ballot until I vote the following week. However, I don’t think I have focused on my ballot more during any week than I did this week. For obvious reasons.
On Wednesday night, I watched one of the more exciting and well played in-season basketball games in a long time. That or the fact I got to see two top five programs dual it out into overtime two days after a classic of a game between #1 and #2 in Division I swayed me. Either way, Augustana and Elmhurst played a whale of a game that needed five more minutes and smart officiating to be decided.
I knew from the moment the game ended and Elmhurst won that there was a lot to think about. And it would have ramifications all the way down the ballot. I hinted at my thinking then on Thursday night’s Hoopsville and talked about the debate I had going on in my head not only about who do I consider voting for number one, but how other teams who didn’t even play in the game factor in.
It was also another crazy week in terms of losses. The top two-thirds of my ballot was relatively quiet (thank you gentlemen!), but the last eleven teams accounted for nine losses. Nine of the entire ten in my ballot (the tenth being Augustana). That caused me to go out on some limbs, get aggressive with some cuts, and debate about blowing the entire thing up. However, considering the top 14 teams did not lose (outside of Augustana), blowing up the entire ballot didn’t seem like the right thing to do.
So there were two major shuffles: at the top where deciding on the number one team had ramifications all the way down to the ninth spot on the ballot; at the bottom where the final eleven spots saw four new teams and a bit of back-and-forth as to where to slot people.
With that in mind… let’s get to the ballot!
1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
My thoughts on Thursday’s Hoopsville (further explained on Sunday’s show) ended up holding true. I thought about this several times a day since they lost on Wednesday. As I stated in last week’s blog, I knew Augustana was not going to get through the CCIW schedule undefeated (there is a reason no one has since 1973).
“Will Augustana go unfazed through conference action – NO! I expect Augustana to take a loss or two before we get to the NCAA tournament, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t think they are the best team in the country.”
If I knew that, then I am expecting my number one team to lose. Considering they lost to the second best team in the conference, on the road, by two points, in overtime said a lot to me. The Vikings had lost a game that no one should be surprised they lost. This isn’t a loss at home to Millikin or Carthage. It’s to a team I had second in my pre-season ballot and furthermore it was on the road for Augustana. And I’ve said this before, I don’t believe that just because a team wins a single game head-to-head that they automatically should be considered the better team. I still think Augustana is the best team in the country.
2 – Elmhurst (Up 5)
Beat the number one team in the country, on your floor, and in overtime… well done. THIS is the Blue Jays squad I expected in the pre-season. Not the team that lost to Benedictine by 20 (more on that shortly). Elmhurst played extremely well and deserve the victory. They came from behind in the second half and overtime while also giving up leads throughout the game. What do you expect from two very, very good basketball teams? I debated about making Elmhurst number one, but I don’t feel they can repeat this feat at Augustana nor do I feel if this game had been at Augustana the outcome, a win, would have been repeated. If played ten times, I think Augustana wins a majority of the games so thus, Elmhurst is number two.
3 – Whitworth* (Down 1)
It’s not what the Pirates did or didn’t do, it’s what Elmhurst did that precipitated this move. I did consider Whitworth for the top slot. However, I have seen the Pirates in person this year and Augustana both on video this year and in person at the Championship Weekend last year. I just don’t think Whitworth would be able to beat Augustana right now. They may have to do it in the NCAA tournament (because the Pirates always ended up in the toughest bracket), but right now they move down a spot just so I can put Elmhurst number two.
4 – Hope (Down 1)
Same as Whitworth; needed to find room for Elmhurst. Another team I certainly considered, but if I had them behind Whitworth and said not to the Pirates, I don’t feel Hope has done anything as of late to change my mind.
5 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)
I feel like copying and pasting what I said for Whitworth and Hope and pasting it in here. Same reason(s). A win over Bethel is a nice feather, but expected. Not enough to warrant leap-frogging those ahead of them last week.
6 – Benedictine (Up 3)
Here is the most challenging team on my ballot. The Eagles are undefeated and they beat Elmhurst by 20. At least one voter decided they were worthy enough to get a number one vote. I can only assume that is based on the Benedictine beat Carthage, Carthage beat Augustana, thus Benedictine would also beat Augustana theory. It is a theory I just can’t buy into. I realize there are a ton of factors at play with every single game making no game equal. So, I am not one to buy into head-to-head should trump all or that you can play the Team A beat Team B, Team B beat Team C, thus Team A is better than Team C game. Benedictine is clearly a good team, but in a sub-par conference. They clearly have gotten it done out of conference (five games, five opponents from the CCIW). My concern is someone in their conference is going to beat them and that will raise more questions than it answers. I also don’t think Benedictine would be able to beat Augustana. So I moved the Eagles up, but I’m not sure I can move them much higher.
7 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 2)
More moving of teams to find slots. I needed to get Elmhurst and Benedictine higher, so Ohio Wesleyan moved down. It has nothing to do with the Battling Bishops except I think those other two squads are better right now.
8 – Susquehanna^ (Unchanged)
9 – Amherst (Down 2)
Again, moving down to create room. I am not blown away by the Lord Jeffs this season, but it isn’t like Dave Hixon doesn’t put together a solid program. Top 10 feels safe.
10 – John Carroll (Unchanged)
11 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
12 – Marietta (Unchanged)
13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)
14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)
15 – WPI (Up 3)
At this point in my ballot last week is where teams started to lose thus creating a vacuum. WPI is having a good season, better than I expected which makes me leery. I know others are buying in. I am being cautious with the Engineers for right now. Granted, a win over an also-better-than-expected MIT squad was a good sign this week.
16 – Tufts (Unranked)
I have had my eye on Tufts for a while, but was sure if they were as good as advertised. The season started “eh” with losses to MIT and WPI and close games against opponents I figured they would dominate… so I waited. Then they beat Babson^, but I waited some more. Then they beat Whitman in a very high-scoring affair and I got intrigued, but wasn’t buying in. This week they rolled over Bowdoin and creamed Colby, two teams who have been getting Top 25 attention and are having very good seasons, especially Colby, and I decided to buy in. Now jumping to the 16th spot is a big jump for a team I was waiting on, but that vacuum created in this area of the poll needed to be filled. Their two wins I thought were better than what those lower on this ballot had put together for resume points, so here the Jumbos sit. Middlebury, Hamilton, and Wesleyan ahead.
17 – UW-Whitewater (Unranked)
Getting a bunch of transfers in to replace a ton of talent may be the new way to go in the WIAC! It clearly seems things are coming together nicely now for the Warhawks as they steamrolled through UW-Stout and then handed UW-Stevens Point their second loss in a row. My thinking has been the top of the WIAC has come down a bit this season, but the Warhawks are proving there may be a national contender in the making after all from the state of Wisconsin.
18 – Texas Lutheran (Up 2)
Winning the games in conference they are supposed to win. I am hoping to see them this coming weekend in person, but it is looking doubtful due to schedule conflicts.
19 – Northwestern (Up 2)
Also continue to win the games they are supposed to win. I appreciate that when it happens as it is easy to get complacent and trip up.
20 – Roanoke (Unranked)
I’ve been watching what the Maroons have been up to since the beginning of the season, but didn’t want to buy in ahead of a major victory. They got that last week. Page Moir’s squad is clicking on all cylinders. They even beat a Division I opponent which counts as a loss for North Carolina A&T, but not for the Maroons (exhibition). In almost all of those games, Roanoke has put up 100+ points (eight of their 13 games). And then they went and beat Virginia Wesleyan AT the Fish Tank! Roanoke is on top of the ODAC and playing some of the best basketball I have seen from this program in a very long time. I am actually excited just writing this because Page Moir is one of the best guys in Division III and I couldn’t have been happier to write down “Roanoke” on my ballot. Now the tough part: The target is on their back with Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon coming up this week.
21 – Trine (Down 2)
Trine didn’t win both of their games this past week, but considering their loss was to a better-than-their-record Calvin squad, I am not surprised. What stood out to me was a comment by a MIAA follower on D3boards.com that stated Trine was “everything they said they are” which I took as a compliment. The MIAA race is deeper at the top than I expected, though I can’t see Hope not winning it, and it’s because teams like Trine have developed incredibly well while everyone has been watching Hope and Calvin.
22 – Bethel (Unchanged)
According to the polls (mine and the D3hoops.com poll from last week) the loss to St. Thomas was expected. Thus, no changes here.
23 – Brooklyn (Down 8)
For as great a start to the season it was for the Bulldogs, they aren’t stay very consistent right now. The eight spots is a bit harsh, but the vacuum created by them and others further up caused a bit of a fall after their loss to Baruch. I am just not seeing the same dominance they showed at the beginning of the season. Granted, the CUNYAC is far more difficult that people are giving it credit for this season. However, Brooklyn needs to focus on winning the games they should if they want to secure an at-large bid should Lehman or others win the conference AQ.
24 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)
25 – Franklin & Marshall^ (Unranked)
I am slipping the Diplomats onto my poll, though nervously. I have not bought in as many other voters have with this squad. I still see a number of weaknesses and I am not sure they can dominate a sub-par, compared to seasons past, Centennial Conference as they seem to be doing right now. However, I watched most of their game against up-and-coming Swarthmore and was impressed with how composed they were and how much they willed themselves to victory over a team that wouldn’t quit. Now, they were also playing to get Glenn Robinson his 900th victory (congratulations once again), so that may have been the driving force. And that is what worries me. They have hit the milestone mark that was on this season’s schedule. Can they continue to win now that the emotional mark has been passed?
Stockton^ (Previously 16)
Losing three in a row, no longer the leader of a crazy NJAC, and certainly not looking like their dominating selves, it was time to punt on the Ospreys. There just isn’t anyone in the NJAC worth noting in the Top 25 right now because they are beating themselves up. Even conference leader New Jersey City (6-1) has an “eh” overall record of 8-5. Stockton could have taken advantage of William Paterson’s major stumble at the beginning of the season, but in turn has stumbled themselves. Conference coaches may be right that the NJAC is the most difficult conference top to bottom, one through ten, but they are not the best conference nationally if the top of the conference can’t at least be a dominating team(s).
Oswego State (Previously 17)
I debated about this. The Lakers lost only the second game going into this poll, but they lost by 38 to Oneonta State. Ugly isn’t the right word. I have been high on Oswego for most of the season, but they are in the middle of what is now a crowded race in the SUNYAC which sees two-thirds of the conference fighting it out at the top. If I am voting for Oswego, then I have to find room for Cortland, Plattsburgh, Buffalo State, Oneonta, etc. They all have nine-wins (Oswego with eight) and no more than three losses. But there isn’t enough room for those four squads, so Oswego comes out and I watch the SUNYAC race ever closer to try and figure out who is playing the best basketball amongst a lot of very good teams.
Scranton* (Previously 23)
Three games in the Landmark Conference this past week was a true test. It wrapped up six games in twelve days for the Royals who came out of it 5-1. So why drop the Royals from my ballot? It was a hard debate, but at least I got to see Scranton in person before making my decision. It came down to the fact they lost to Susquehanna on their home court by 15. The result was expected per the poll, but you can’t lose that game by 15 in your own gum. Then the Royals played one of the more incredible games shooting wise against Goucher on the road and had to come from 13 down in the second half along with getting bailed out thanks to a dumb foul by a Goucher played in the final five seconds to pull off a one-point victory. I am not faulting them for the game at Goucher as both teams shot over 57% for the game, but I saw some inconsistencies that worried me – mainly, the ability to get into an offense that is dominating and then as quickly as they got into it go away from it for no reason taking their foot off an opponent’s throat. I also saw Catholic this past week and think in many ways, but for different reasons, the two squads are evenly matched (yet again) and don’t feel comfortable voting for both. Scranton is out for now, but with Catholic on the horizon, they could easily be back in the poll soon.
Pacific Lutheran* (Previously 25)
Well that didn’t last long. I thought the Lutes looked really good at the D3hoops.com Classic. They then laid an egg twice against Linfield and George Fox both on the road. Not pretty. Those two losses are going to stick with me for a while should I ever consider Pacific Lutheran again.
* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I saw in person last season
Another crazy week in the Top 25. The middle of my ballot seems pretty solid, right now, which is saying a lot considering how wide open it had been from about number six down. Of course, that could change next week completely. Moving forward I have probably 70 teams I am watching to some degree and constantly realize I need to add another team to the list. There is only so much time I can give to these votes, so having a team slip through isn’t unheard of nor unexpected. At the same time, this is the time of year when usually I can start narrowing the list dramatically since the grind of conference season will weed out the pretenders. That being said, this year has proven to not fit any of the usual voting rhythms, so I am sure I will be on a plane headed back from Texas next Sunday wondering how much of Monday will be spent tearing my ballot a part.
Amherst · Augustana · Babson · basketball · Benedictine · Bethel · Brooklyn · Calvin · Catholic · CCIW · Chicago · Christopher Newport · d3hoops · Dave McHugh · Division III · Elmhurst · Franklin and Marshall · Hampden-Sydney · Hoopsville · John Carroll · Marietta · Middlebury · Mount Union · NCAA · NCAA Tournament · NESCAC · Northwestern (Minn.) · Ohio Wesleyan · Randolph-Macon · Roanoke · St. Norbert · St. Thomas · Susquehanna · Texas Lutheran · Trine · Tufts · UW-Whitewater · Virginia Wesleyan · Whitworth · WIAC · WPI
Two and a half weeks into the season and the first in-season Top 25 is here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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* (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.
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