Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’18-’19): Week 10

Dave is watching everything … usually. It isn’t as helpful as one hopes.

Welcome once again to my D3hoops.com men’s Top 25 ballot blog. This is just to try and provide insight on how one, single, voter of 25 tries to understand the landscape of Division III men’s basketball.

This time of year, it becomes understood that teams, many teams, are going to lose especially when conference tournaments are in full swing. It also seems like February brings with it a new “understanding” for teams. With Regional Rankings out, teams have a larger target on their back. At the same time, others realize they are not in as good a position as they may have perceived previously. And conference races and tournaments change the mentality. Teams are fighting to get into tournaments or better seeding.

Now a game that even a month earlier might have had no motivation for the lesser team, suddenly has more incentive and new importance. The top-dog is a sitting duck.

Staying focused can be challenging as the regular season comes to a close.

Then there is the other factor for a lot of teams: wear and tear. Some teams have maybe peaked a little early or have been banged up and vulnerable as the regular season comes to a close. It almost feels like some of the top teams see the end of February coming and let off the gas ever so slightly. They’ve had a good season, so far, and don’t realize it can come unraveled quickly if they don’t stay focused – something that is hard to do when mentally, and physically, worn out from roughly 18 weeks of a 20 week season (it’s 19 weeks officially, but 20 weeks on the calendar to some degree).

It all adds up to a number of normally head-scratching losses and eye opening results. Teams are also stumbling or faltering coming to the finish line. In the meantime, others seem to found a second (or third) wind and are stretching winning streaks into conference changing results. Teams written off a few weeks or months ago are now back in the spotlight and teams thought to be the top of the heap are lost in it.

This week it resulted in a Top 25 ballot I don’t really like. I debated about starting over half a dozen times. I even slept on my initial feelings only to then redo it a number of times over the first cup of coffee of the day. What I submitted, I didn’t like. I wasn’t going to like anything I submitted.

This looks like Dave (yes, he’s that good looking!) contemplating ballot decisions this week (and most weeks).

The strangest thing about this ballot and the number of losses: I only removed one team from my previous ballot. For reasons I may be able to explain below, I didn’t remove any of the four teams that went 0-2 this week. They all came came dangerously close to being punted individually or as a group in one version or another, but I wasn’t that positive of their replacements being any better.

Okay, enough of me rambling on. Let’s get to my Week 10 ballot. As always, here is a reminder of last week’s ballot. (Quick note: I was stunned to see my previous top eight and the Week 9 top eight were identical. I haven’t gone that deep in a very long time where my thinking and the consensus was identical. It went haywire after those eight. LOL This week, just my top five were identical, to no surprise.)

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NC)

2 – Whitman (NC)

3 – UW-Oshkosh (NC)

4 – Augustana (NC)

The Yellow Jackets is now in the Top 5 while securing their spot at the top of the Regional Rankings. (Courtesy: RMC Athletics)

5 – Randolph-Macon (Up 2)
Wow. The Yellow Jackets are top five? Yeah. Considering they have only lost twice this season, haven’t lost since January 5, and have gone through some tough ODAC opponents recently, this is where RMC has risen to on my ballot. It seems high for where I thought they would end up, but I also thought they couldn’t get through ODAC play without more blemishes. This would very much be an “under the radar” team despite their ranking.

6 – Swarthmore (Up 3)

7 – St. Thomas (Down 2)
We should have probably seen a loss coming in MIAC play. There was no way any team in the conference was going to walk away with the season. I also have been waiting for the youth of this team to show their inexperience. I do not think the loss to Augsburg during a three-game week was because of youth, but I am also not surprised the Tommies didn’t get through the week. I moved them down because it is their third defeat and I do worry it could be an opening others can take advantage. I’ll wait and see.

AJ Jurko has been the glue for MIT, but he has also been banged up which has affected their results. (Courtesy: MIT Athletics)

8 – MIT (Down 2)
The Engineers are once again without the services of AJ Jurko who appears to be out with an injury (new or old, I am not sure). While MIT is still a very good team, Jurko seems to be what makes them click as the second leading scorer on the team. If Jurko (and everyone else) is healthy, MIT is going to be very difficult to stop in March. If not, this senior class is unfortunately going to have things end earlier than expected.

9 – Amherst (Up 11)
Yeah. The Mammoths are flying up my ballot (Jumbo reference maybe? Nope, Tufts isn’t in this conversation). I had been debating even having them on my ballot for the last four weeks, but when you reevaluate what they are doing coupled with beating both Middlebury and Williams on the road and Amherst takes on a completely different look. They are going through a very difficult finish to the season and they are the only ones not losing in the NESCAC. One game left, against Hamilton, which has a lot of ramifications – despite the fact Mother Nature is trying to delay it for the second time. However, watch out for what Hixon has been able to get to work, because they could easily be a surprise team in Fort Wayne this year.

10 – Hamilton (Down 2)

11 – St. John’s (Up 1)

12 – Wooster (Down 2)

13 – Capital (Up 1)

Isaiah Hernandez seems to be the go-to guy for the Pirates recently. (Courtesy: Whitworth Athletics).

14 – Whitworth (Down 4)
My concerns the Pirates are “leaking oil” continue. Watching their games against Linfield and George Fox did not help with that worry. Yes, they won, but they barely survived. Compare that to how Whitman played the same two teams and it is night and day. Maybe Whitworth already peaked at the D3hoops.com Classic and though the Whitman loss in early January. The other problem, they may be left out of the NCAA tournament if they don’t win the NWC tournament (beating Whitman most likely) because their best win right now is against Johns Hopkins.

15 – Nichols (Up 3)

16 – Pomona-Pitzer (Up 3)
There really isn’t anything I can say about the Sagehens. I don’t love having them up this high on my ballot. The SCIAC hasn’t really shown to be a beast of a conference and they have one game – one – of note: A win over Whitman back in late November. However, they have risen because while others are taking losses in conference, Pomona-Pitzer has escaped losing that kind of focus at least. I also didn’t feel the teams I slotted behind them have proven they can be as consistent.

17 – Arcadia (Up 5)
The Knights, Captains, and Colonels (what a great trio of mascots!) rise because of a vacuum created a bit last week moved a little down the ballot to this area this week. Those four teams which went 0-2 caused a number of teams to slide up.

18 – Christopher Newport (Up 6)

19 – Centre (Up 6)

The Tigers have stormed back into the national conversation thanks to a win over rival Wooster. (Courtesy: Wittenberg Athletics)

20 – Wittenberg (NR)
I have brought the Tigers back to my ballot thanks to the accurate point by Ryan on Sunday’s Hoopsville. Wittenberg stumbled and looked like they were going to limp to the end of the season, but they seemed to have fixed the flat tire and have come storming back taking out Wooster to split the series this season. They seem to be back to playing good basketball, though I don’t think they are the Top 10 team I thought they were earlier in the season.

21 – Marietta (Down 8)
First team that went 0-2 last week. I saw the loss to Mount Union coming. I think the Raiders are sneaky good. However, that didn’t wake Marietta up and they proceeded to lose to a challenging Wilmington squad as well. This is now three losses (all on the road) in four which probably should have had me pull the rip cord and let the Pioneers go. These kinds of stretches can completely derail a season. Two home games remaining before the conference tournament where Marietta is going to have to win on the road at some point to prove themselves.

22 – North Central (Ill.) (Down 7)
I feared the Cardinals could have a rough stretch. Losses this week to Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton after a big win over Augustana is one thing, but BOTH losses were at HOME! Here was another team I considered just pulling off my ballot altogether, but I wasn’t sure if there was any teams I would replace them with that were absolutely better. We shall see, for now.

Williams has Dave like …

23 – Williams (Down 7)
The Ephs have ephed up things down the stretch. Three losses in a row including home losses to Amherst and Hamilton. If anyone (me) thought the overtime loss, on the road, to Bowdoin would be the perfect wake up call, were wrong. Williams was sitting off my ballot in at least half of my previous versions. I decided to hold off that idea to see what happens in the NESCAC tournament. Williams has a week to compose and find themselves because the very good Williams team of earlier in the season seems like a distant memory right now.

24 – Wabash (Down 7)
The Little Giants are now 3-2 in their last five games including a loss to DePauw this past week. Here is another example of after the fact I am second-guessing the reasons I left a team on my ballot this week. Ultimately, I didn’t think four losses on their resume were worse than other teams’ resumes. I really worry Wabash, as good a season as they have had, peaked early. They are at Wittenberg this week – probably another reason I should have pulled them out this week, right?

25 – Loras (Down 2)
The Duhawks didn’t move down my ballot because of anything negative. I just felt that those ahead of them, despite stumbling, were still better than Loras. Interestingly enough, I may have had Loras higher had I pulled the teams on my ballot out and replaced them with others.

Dropped Out:

Marcus Curry and the Quakers, while off Dave’s ballot, should be watched in the ODAC tournament. (Courtesy: Guilford Athletics)

Guilford (Previously 21)
I still think the Quakers are a good team and playing well, but they were on a short leash to begin with before losing to Roanoke this past week. With so many teams with four or more losses, there are a lot of teams to consider each week and I just felt as good as Guilford had been playing, a loss would indicate they weren’t necessarily better than anyone else.

Previous Ballots:
Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 4
Preseason (Top 10, 11-20, Final Five)

Yep … this sums it up.

As you can see, I am torn with a number of teams. While I only dropped one squad this time around, I probably had a reasonable argument to drop four more. And it came down to this: either I was pulling all five or just pulling one. I couldn’t pull just one or some of the four teams left on my ballot (Marietta, NCC, Williams, and Wabash) without pulling them all because they all had the same reasons for either going or staying.

When I pulled those four teams, I was left trying to find four teams I thought were better. While there are teams with very good (or better) records, their resumes aren’t necessarily better. Or their results are not against the same quality opponent the quad-group faced in their losses. None of them lost to bad teams. Others’ wins over bad teams just do not compare … for now.

With conference tournaments starting this week, a better grasp of who is playing their best is possible. That said, there will be more losses because remember: Parity.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’18-’19): Week 7

Welcome to my D3hoops.com Men’s Top 25 ballot blog. If you are familiar with this and have read it before, thanks for coming back. If you are new, welcome. I try and do this as often as I can – weekly is the goal – to give those interested insight on how at least one voter approaches the time and work to put a ballot together and how this voter ends up voting. A reminder that I am just one voter and I don’t expect any other voters to vote like I do, nor necessarily agree with my approach or reasoning. My take on things may be completely off one week and spot on the next (ok … maybe not that last part LOL).

This week I found my ballot had developed at least three “sections.” A top tier of team I am very comfortable knowing are some of the best in the country. A second tier I think are teams who are very good and could compete with the top tier but have shown flaws or inconsistencies so far this season – or I am just not sure are as good as their resume seems to indicate. Then a third tier of teams that are flawed, are not rising to their potential, or are difficult to truly grasp how good they are … or are not!

Whitman Blues are one of five teams Dave is comfortable saying are the best in the country.

One thing that has developed for quite a few weeks, I’m pretty set with my top five. They have shown to be the best in the country and no other teams have shown they should be in that group. It is the ballot spots after the top five where things get more interesting.

I can explain it more later, but I found myself in an endless loop near the end with the final five, maybe eight, poll positions. I could insert a number of teams that both felt like Top 25 teams, but also didn’t feel like squads that should be there. There are probably 15-20 teams I could slot into those five to eight spots and no combination was going to make me feel I had the right teams in the right spots.

In the last few blogs, I shared my thoughts on all the teams on my ballot. I won’t be doing that moving forward. I will select a few based on either movement up or down, being added or removed. If you are interested in my thoughts on teams, I have links shared with each ballot throughout and at the bottom of each blog.

The one thing I do feel comfortable saying: there are a lot of very good teams in Division III men’s basketball. We expected that fact this season and while some teams haven’t lived up to expectations, others have emerged who we are now talking about. March is going to be wide-open and the national committee is going to face a real challenge trying to balance the bracket the best they can with the limitations they are given.

Allen County War Memorial Coliseum – destination for DIII men’s basketball this season.

I was talking with a voter and another person familiar with the process recently and we all agreed, there are 12, maybe more, teams who could get to Fort Wayne and battle for a national title. Whoever wins this year will not have taken an easy road – no matter where they are in the country.

With that, let’s get to my Week 7 ballot. As a reminder, here is how I voted last week. For reference: NC (No Change); NR (Not Ranked).

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NC)

2 – Augustana (NC)

3 – Whitman (NC)

4 – Whitworth (NC)

5 – UW-Oshkosh (NC)

6 – Hamilton (Up 3)
I didn’t want to move the Continentals up at all, but I due to other results and decisions someone had to fill the six-spot. Hamilton got passed SUNY Geneseo in non-conference action, but their only conference game, against Amherst, had to be postponed due to the massive winter storm (I don’t follow the winter storm names, crap; read more why here). That game would have been very helpful and Hamilton benefits as the result of there being no game. Turnovers are still a concern for me especially in conference play.

UST has skyrocketed up Dave’s ballot and are once again back in the conversation atop the MIAC. (Courtesy: Ryan Coleman, D3photography.com

7 – St. Thomas (Up 3)
The Tommies continue their meteoric rise on my ballot (and the overall Top 25 poll) thanks to other results and John Tauer’s ability to get the most out of his team … and get them to focus on doing just that much better than their opponent. UST being back in the picture really makes the Central/West Region national conversation more interesting and complicated. Voters cast their ballots before St. Thomas’ game against St. John’s Monday evening. Tommies prevailed in overtime, but the two teams proved to me why the MIAC has two serious national contenders this season.

8 – Wabash (Up 3)
The Little Giants moved up, like others, mainly because of other results with other programs. I think Wabash is a good team, but this is starting to feel a little too high. I am not sure they are a top ten program. I might be wrong, but I am still leery with this position. These kinds of developments, along with Hamilton’s positioning, usually leads me to completely blow up my ballot in the near future.

9 – St. John’s (Down 2)
The Johnnies are a good team, but they didn’t have a good game against Carleton on Saturday. Stokman, one of the better guards in the country, was 0-10 from the field! Just one or two shots made and SJU is headed into their game with St. Thomas 14-1! I still think, despite their ranking, St. John’s is an under-appreciated program who should prove that between now and March. Of course, SJU ends up losing to UST in their first rivalry game of the season on Monday evening. My thoughts, compiled before the game, aren’t changed too much with that result. However, it did change my thoughts on the control St. John’s has on the MIAC and if they can use the home court to their advantage.

MIT’s AJ Jurko returned from what appeared to be a very scary injury to pour in 37-points against Babson in an OT win. (Courtesy: MIT Athletics)

10 – MIT (Up 7)
For most, the “yo-yo effect” talks about losing and gaining weight. In my voting world, it refers to a team I have all over my ballot from week to week. The Engineers fit that bill currently. If you have read these blogs or listened to Hoopsville, you know I think MIT is a very good team this season. However, they have been dealing with injuries especially with their core five all season. I dropped them significantly last week mainly because three guys were out, and it wasn’t clear when they would return. Don’t look now, two of the three are back including AJ Jurko whose injury against Coast Guard looked severe enough to not only be back boarded to an ambulance and on to the hospital, but also ended the game with just under three minutes to play. His return: 37-point explosion in an overtime win against Babson on Saturday. Hamilton Forsythe has also returned after missing most of the season and reports are Cameron Korb will be back this week – meaning MIT is going to be back at relatively “full strength.”

11 – Randolph-Macon (Up 2)

Williams dropped two games last week to Amherst and Middlebury which caused them to tumble a bit on Dave’s ballot.

12 – Williams (Down 6)
The Ephs had a bad week. First, they dropped their rivalry game at Amherst on Wednesday. Okay. That happens. One should expect that in their rivalry. It ended their unbeaten streak to start the season. I wouldn’t have done much with that. However, Williams then played host to Middlebury and lost that as well. That one is harder to figure, especially coming after a loss when you expect teams to be more focused on being sure to play well.

13 – Capital (NC)

14 – Marietta (NC)

15 – Lynchburg (Up 5)
I have probably been soft pedaling the Hornets for a few weeks now. I haven’t really bought in until now, though they are also in the midst of a very challenging stretch of games. They have gotten through Virginia Wesleyan, Washington & Lee, and Eastern Mennonite. However, the stretch continues with Guilford, Randolph-Macon, and Roanoke in the next three. (The ODAC’s demise is greatly exaggerated.) One little bird shared with me that Lynchburg reminds them of Ramapo from last season. It’s an interesting comment. I look forward to watching at least the next three games.

16 – Loras (NC)

17 – Swarthmore (Down 2)

Bob Semling always seems to have a team clicking defensively, but it seems the Pointers are off their defensive game lately.

18 – UW-Stevens Point (Down 10)
Williams wasn’t the only team who had a rough week. UWSP has had a rough two weeks. They have lost three of their last four to Oshkosh, La Crosse, and Platteville. Sure, the WIAC is the toughest conference in the country currently. Losses aren’t a surprise, so dropping a game to UWO was expected. The UWL outcome was a bit of a surprise, but the Eagles are also having a very good season. It was the UWP defeat that raised my eyebrows. The Pioneers were expected to be a good team this year (I had them on my ballot early in the season), but they have been very inconsistent. Having lost two of three heading into the UWP game, I figured UWSP would respond and show their medal. It didn’t happen. Feels like the rip cord suddenly got pulled. I may have been completely wrong when I felt this team was reminding me of the 2015 national champion squad. Ryan and I discussed the Pointers during the “Top 25 Double-Take” segment on Hoopsville this past Sunday night.

19 – Rochester (Up 2)

20 – Nichols (Up 3)

21 – North Central (Ill.) (Up 3)

22 – Amherst (NR)
The win over Williams gave me some reassurance that the Mammoths were maybe as good as advertised. I just really wish they had the Hamilton game to at least finish off the week and give me a result to counter-act the Williams game. Would they fall trap to Hamilton after the emotional win against the Ephs? Would they actually finish the week with another strong victory? How would it all play out? Amherst didn’t have the game thanks to Mother Nature, and it left me a little leery with this selection … for now. Side note: Our thoughts are with Dave Hixon and his family as they mourn the death of his mother last week.

23 – Arcadia (NR)
The Knights are one of those teams that has been flying under the radar for a while now. They are in one of the most competitive conferences in the country (MAC Commonwealth) that just hasn’t produced a national power. When talking to those who play against Arcadia, they site their solid defense, senior core, and a sophomore who may be the best player in the conference. The challenge with Arcadia is that their schedule doesn’t reveal a lot. You actually get more out of their losses to Salisbury and Swarthmore than their wins. My voting luck can be wrapped up with Arcadia quite well: I buy in and put the Knights on my ballot, and they follow it up immediately with a loss to Rosemont Monday night. This is why voting near the bottom of the ballot can cause one to pull their hair out.

24 – Wesleyan (Up 1)

25 – Wheaton (Ill.) (Down 6)
Those who know me might be surprised I dropped the Thunder so severely when they lost to second-ranked Augustana. As I mentioned last week, the Thunder are living and dying on the play of Aston Francis. He played well. That isn’t the issue. It’s the fact that Wheaton now has four losses on the season, and I am expecting a few more before things are all said and done. At some point, I want to see them beat a significant team. They upset UW-Oshkosh early this season which put the Thunder on everyone’s radar (along with Francis’ play). Since then, Wheaton hasn’t beaten a significant team while mixing in losses to Illinois Tech and North Park (4-14!) – they escaped NPU (82-75) in their rematch last week. Can I keep voting for a team which only has one significant result on it’s resume?

Dropped Out:

Plattsburgh’s Jonathan Patron is most likely not as happy with the position the Cardinals currently find themselves in the SUNYAC.

Plattsburgh State (Previously 18)
Going 0-2 in conference games last week was enough for me to step away from the Cardinals. Jonathan Patron is an outstanding talent, but teams seem to have clipped Plattsburgh’s wings. They just don’t feel like the same, strong team we saw last season. They now have three losses in the SUNYAC which puts them 2.5 games back of first place (Oswego State) and tied with Cortland who just beat them. All three teams in the top four (Oswego, Brockport, & Cortland) have defeated the Cardinals so far this season. Coincidentally, Plattsburgh was another team Ryan and I discussed in the “Top 25 Double-Take” on Hoopsville back on January 13.

Gordon (Previously 22)
I mentioned my nervousness last week about the Fighting Scots. The win over Nichols was good, but they had a lot of results that were tighter than I was comfortable with for a Top 25 team from the CCC. Gordon lost to Western New England this week and I decided it was enough to pull them from my ballot. You could say I was looking for an excuse, but harder to make that excuse when a team keeps winning.

As I indicated above, the last five to eight slots on by ballot could be a mixture including ten to twenty different teams. I have gone ‘round and ‘round this week and in the last few trying to determine who I think should be in those slots. I know other voters are doing the same, though I am surprised there aren’t more teams getting votes each week as a result of those debates. And of course, my luck showed with the choice of Arcadia only to have them promptly lose to Rosemont on Monday evening. Those are literally head-shaking moments for me as a voter.

So, the bottom five to eight can basically “represent” the third tier of men’s basketball which includes several teams and not all can be fit in. That’s little solace to those fans (even coaches) who want to see their team on someone’s ballot and especially the poll, but we can’t vote for everyone. Some may notice there are several one, two, and three loss teams I am not voting for that I have lumped into this third tier. Those teams just haven’t convinced me they are as good as gaudy records seem to indicate. Time will tell which is more accurate, I’m wrong or the records are gaudy, with each individual team.

Previous Blogs:
Week 6
Week 4
Preseason: Final Five
Preseason: 11-20
Preseason: The Top 10

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’18-’19): Week 4

Nate Schimonitz and NWU have been the one constant on Dave’s Top 25 ballots so far this season – #1.

It has been an interesting opening six weeks to the 2018-19 season. Almost every men’s team looks beatable while also showing how good they can and could be. There really isn’t a team I think is dominant. They are all vulnerable. Yes, all of them including Nebraska Wesleyan.

Most know that I blog out every (most) of my ballots every season. So far this season it has been a challenge. Too many, understandable and enjoyable, reasons have kept that from happening since the Preseason ballot(s) (Parts 1, 2, & 3).

Last week, I tweeted that I would make that up to everyone this week. I would at least show everyone how I voted each week and give my thoughts on the season so far.

So how have I voted so far this season? Here are each of my ballots from Preseason to this week’s poll.

Preseason Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
1. Neb. Wesleyan Neb. Wesleyan Neb. Wesleyan Neb. Wesleyan Neb. Wesleyan
2. Whitman Whitworth Whitworth Augustana Augustana
3. Whitworth Augustana Augustana Whitworth Whitworth
4. Augustana UW-Oshkosh UW-Oshkosh UW-Oshkosh UW-Oshkosh
5. UW-Oshkosh Whitman Whitman Whitman Whitman
6. Wittenberg Wittenberg Williams Williams Williams
7. MIT Williams Hamilton Hamilton Hamilton
8. Williams Hamilton Ill. Wesleyan UW-Stevens Point Marietta
9. Springfield UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point Ill. Wesleyan MIT
10. Hamilton Ill. Wesleyan Wittenberg Marietta UW-Stevens Point
11. UW-Stevens Point MIT MIT MIT Wittenberg
12. New Jersey City Wheaton (Ill.) Plattsburgh St. Wittenberg St. John’s
13. Maryville Loras Randolph-Macon St. John’s Loras
14. St. John’s New Jersey City Marietta Wheaton (Ill.) Randolph-Macon
15. UW-Platteville Plattsburgh St. St. John’s Randolph-Macon Wheaton (Ill.)
16. Ill. Wesleyan St. John’s Loras Plattsburgh St. Plattsburgh St.
17. Johns Hopkins Randolph-Macon Rochester Loras Nichols
18. Plattsburgh St. Swarthmore New Jersey City Rochester Rochester
19. St. Olaf Middlebury Nichols Nichols Johns Hopkins
20. Swarthmore John Carroll John Carroll Johns Hopkins Wabash
21. Hope Springfield Johns Hopkins Wabash St. Thomas
22. John Carroll Nazareth Wheaton (Ill.) Scranton Scranton
23. Middlebury Emory & Henry Middlebury Middlebury Middlebury
24. Roanoke Johns Hopkins Montclair St. Montclair St. Montclair St.
25. Nazareth Hope Hope New Jersey City New Jersey City
Out: Maryville (13th)
UW-Platteville (15th)
St. Olaf (19th)
Roanoke (24th)
Swarthmore (18th)
Springfield (21st)
Nazareth (22nd)
Emory & Henry (23rd)
John Carroll (20th)
Hope (25th)
Ill. Wesleyan (9th)

There are a lot of places I could go from here. Explaining all the teams I moved up or down (or out), why I did or didn’t move teams, or why I am or am not voting for teams is one idea – but it would be a lengthy read. That usually works on a week-by-week basis and we can get back to that for the first poll after the holidays (scheduled for Jan. 7).

Nolan Ebel and Augustana are in Dave’s top tier of DIII men’s teams, but the CCIW race will be a definite challenge.

Instead, just a few thoughts … starting with that word we’ve used a lot: parity. Maybe we need to find another way to describe what is going on, but what is clear is there are two basic tiers when it comes to the top teams nationally. There is the top tier which is deeper than in many years and there are no dominating teams in the group. It consists of about fifteen teams and they are very good. They all are favorites to get to Ft. Wayne and win a national championship.

The second tier is pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. They are capable of knocking off those in the top tier, but they are also likely to make you scratch your head with a puzzling loss to a program one wouldn’t consider being in either tier. Consistency is the challenge in the second tier and in an era where no teams seem scared of others, crazy wins and losses run amock at this level.

This all adds up to some fun games on any given night. It also means you can’t take a night off in DIII basketball without something happening.

For voters, it makes for some interesting decisions and choices every voting week. I’ve actually enjoyed it somewhat in the opening six weeks. I’m digging a little deeper than I expected to see if there are teams who are maybe a bit under the radar – because with so many teams on voters’ radars, programs can easily be under the radar for awhile.

Maryville has not had the start to Randy Lambert’s final season as coach as Dave expected.

For some specifics, I do have to admit it looks like I had some misses in my preseason ballot. Maryville (4-4) and St. Olaf (5-4) had rough starts. The Scots lost their first three (they don’t like teams that start with “E”), though they have won three straight to get back to .500. The Oles had a brutal start to the season with four losses to UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stevens Point, Whitworth, & George Fox to start. Now, since then they have won five straight, but they whole has already been dug.

New Jersey City has also struggled out of the gates with three losses. I still have them on my ballot, but I’m concerned NJCU is taking too long to find themselves and consistency is a problem. Having them 12th on my preseason is looking a bit ambitious.

And before I sign off, let’s be clear on something – I do NOT expect anyone to be undefeated this season. Nebraska Wesleyan is my top pick, but they will lose this season. The American Rivers Conference (formerly Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) is far deeper and Loras and others have already shown they are playing well this season. NWU has also seemed to have a penance for playing “down” (or “up”) to their opponents and that can get them in trouble as well.

Look for a weekly blog on my thoughts starting with the first D3hoops.com Top 25 poll in January. In the meantime, have a safe, merry, and hopefully relaxing holiday season.

Oh and be sure to tune into Hoopsville Sundays and Thursdays throughout the basketball season.

Dave’s Preseason Ballot (’18-’19): Final Five

The start of practices has arrived in Division III basketball. With it, the expectations for a lot of programs either increases or takes its first steps backwards. We won’t know. All of it happening behind the scenes until we see games start being played for real on Nov. 8.

Last week, the D3hoops.com Preseason Men’s Top 25 was revealed and I blogged, twice, part of my ballot. We got through the first 20 spots which leaves five left to be unveiled.

The last five traditionally are the most difficult to slot. There could be an argument for maybe 20 teams. That’s why there are so many teams receiving votes in the preseason tabulation. Voters have a lot of different opinions. Some may seem crazy to me seem logical to that voter. Some of my choices may seem crazy to others. Heck, after I submitted my ballot I was second guessing and wondering if I should have made some changes.

It is just part of the process.

Let’s get to my selections. This blog, we should also take the opportunity to show the entire ballot for the first time.

So here we go starting with my Top 10, followed by my 11-20 group, and then my thoughts on the final five.

Nebraska Wesleyan tops Dave’s ballot as the defending champions return most of their squad for the 2018-19 season.

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan
2 – Whitman
3 – Whitworth
4 – Augustana
5 – UW-Oshkosh
6 – Wittenberg
7 – MIT
8 – Williams
9 – Springfield
10 – Hamilton
11 – UW-Stevens Point
12 – New Jersey City
13 – Maryville
14 – St. John’s
15 – UW-Platteville
16 – Illinois Wesleyan
17 – Johns Hopkins
18 – Plattsburgh State
19 – St. Olaf
20 – Swarthmore

Here is the rest of the ballot:

Jason Beckman averaged 22.2 points a game last season for the Flying Dutchmen. (Courtesy: Hope Athletics)

21 – Hope
The MIAA certainly had an off year last season. Hope and Olivet tied atop the standings with four in-conference losses and Adrian and Trine finished third with six losses. Calvin was fifth with eight! You can’t expect the conference to stay down for long. Despite a 19-10 campaign last year, I think Hope is ready to return to the national spotlight. Four starters and over 75% of the points are back as is 80% of the rebounding. Jason Beckman has found his footing after transferring from Alma. The Flying Dutchmen also have a more experienced Preston Granger who could really start to take over inside. The MIAA will be a battle once again be interesting, but I don’t see any reason why Hope isn’t on top most of the season.

22 – John Carroll
I debated about not including JCU in my Top 25 Preseason ballot. As great as last season was under first-year head coach Pete Moran, the Blue Streaks did lose two key players in Matthew Csuhran (16.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, .401 3PT%, .814 FT), Antonio Vyuanich (13.4 ppg, .377 3PT%), and John Cirillo (12.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, .459 FG%). When I first saw that I erased JCU from consideration. However, when I dug deeper and realized with players like Sean Flannery, Jackson Sartain, Jimmy Berger and others back … John Carroll could be just fine. This is a squad that already plays 13-15 players most games, scores nearly 100 points per game, and limits opponents to nearly 20 points less. I was critical that I didn’t think they were consistent last season, but we will have to wait and see this season if that is still an issue.

23 – Middlebury
I’m going to be blunt … I am not sure the NESCAC is as good as it has been touted over the years. Yes, the top usually produces some national contenders, but I sometimes think the rest is smoke and mirrors. That said, this is my third pick from the conference (tying the WIAC on my ballot) and I included the Panthers because Coach Jeff Brown has produced a program that tends not to disappear from the national stage. Jack Daly and his 15.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg will be missed, but four of the top five in scoring have returned lead by Matt Folger who enters his junior season. There are nine players who played in a vast majority of games returning, six of them played in more than half of games on average. I don’t see why the Panthers won’t be lurking once again this season.

Roanoke’s Josh Freund averaged a double-double (184 ppg, 104 rpg) last season. (Courtesy: Roanoke Athletics)

24 – Roanoke
The Old Dominion Athletic Conference hasn’t been what we all have grown accustomed to in the last few years. One would argue it may not be one of the top five conferences currently due to the lack of national powers. However, the ODAC is still one of the deepest conferences in the country arguably leaving it as a top five conference. Last season, Randolph-Macon and certainly Emory & Henry got most of the attention. However, it was Roanoke that quietly finished 20-8 including 11 in a row at the end of the season before losing to E&H in the conference finals. The Maroons also featured the conference player of the year in Josh Freund (18.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, .601 FG including 15 double-doubles). Of the top seven scorers for Roanoke last season … six of them return including Freund. Of those who played in 10 or minutes per game on average, nine of them return. I may actually have Roanoke too low on my ballot.

Nazareth looking to make waves this season including repeating as Empire 8 champions.

25 – Nazareth
The reigning Empire 8 champions … will not be going away anytime soon. The Golden Flyers returned to the 20-win plateau last season for the first time since 2007-2008 winning the Empire 8 conference along the way. Returning are all five starters and nearly 100% of the scoring. The team is senior loaded with four of the five starters heading into their final campaigns. Tyler Stenglein will lead the way and could be the program’s leading the scorer along the way (needs 546 points; scored 497 last season). Nazareth is one of those programs that is hard to read in the East Region, so I will be watching carefully, but hard to ignore all of that experience coming back to a program that did so well last season.

There is my Top 25.

Now, before any of you start losing your minds because your team isn’t listed … let’s take a step back. I considered a number of other teams and already admitted that I thought about making a number of changes to this ballot – especially the bottom five – after I submitted it. I may actually agree with you, but this is how I chose to vote.

Who am I also considering? There was a time when I used to list those teams. The problem with it was (a) I couldn’t list every team I was debating about or the blog would be too long and thus (b) people were further insulted that I wasn’t even considering their team. Not much was being accomplished with me spending time talking about even more teams.

The preseason information given to us included 50 teams in alphabetical order (for those wondering). I had a handful others added on my own. So over 50 teams considered for only 25 spots. There was a lot of information out there and tough decisions made by all voters, but interestingly this may have been one of the more

I’m not the only one thinking that, here is a friend and very knowledgeable DIII mind Bob Quillman in a recent post on D3boards.com (Top 25 discussion):

There are a few teams I think received too many poll points, and a few with too little, but overall I think this is a rock-solid preseason poll – maybe the best I can remember. I like that teams seem to be generally lined up in the correct order within conferences and regions in terms of preseason expectations. And there is not a head-scratching team in the Top 25.

Who knows what we may think a few weeks into the season or at the end, but at least you now know what teams you should be keeping an eye on this season. Others will make their selves known soon enough.

And now we get ready to get the games underway. That includes getting Hoopsville ready to air. Get your calendars out, because we preview the season on Sunday, November 4. That will be the 16th Season Debut. More information to come.

Enjoy, everyone!

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 12

WashU is one of the strongest teams in the country with results in the first half that make you look twice. (Courtest: WashU Athletics)

The regular season is coming to a close and I think there are still plenty of questions as to who are the top 25 teams in the country. There could be arguments made for a number of teams to be in the poll and a number of arguments against those in the poll (or being discussed). That’s because there are a lot of good teams, not a lot of great teams, and a number of teams can beat others on any given night. That also makes comparing games, like second conference matchups, more complicated.

The other complication I have noticed this season is the dramatic difference between the beginning of the season and the end. We are all used to teams improving from start to finish, but it feels this season there are a number of squads who are completely different than they were in November and December. Sometimes looking back at those games to get a sense of a team is beneficial. This season it just makes one scratch their head more. WashU is one of the strongest teams in the country right now, but they were dominated by Augustana earlier this year. Granted, Augie is no longer at full-strength, but WashU doesn’t even seem to resemble that previous squad. Plattsburgh State has a player now playing who missed the first eight games that makes their squad completely different. There are plenty of other examples. The difference between the first half and second half seems more extreme this season.

Now, for those of you who are screaming I shouldn’t worry about the first half when ranking the Top 25 because the poll should be about now, not cumulative, I hear you. I am not indicating I am ranking based on November. However, early season results also gives you an understanding of where this team has been, where they have come, and most importantly the type of team they are against other opposition. I may lean more on the last few weeks currently, but the entire season provides insight… usually.

Of course, Sunday on Hoopsville Ryan Scott and I discussed the poll in the “Top 25 Double-take.” You can watch the segment below (just click on play; segment is cued up):

The fascinating part about the ballot work this week was … this was the easiest week of the season for me. I had teams to drop and needed to find teams to replace them, that wasn’t easy, however the vast majority of the ballot work was somewhat easy. I moved a few teams around, but it seemed more obvious this week. There were only seven losses amongst seven teams on my ballot this week – that is a piece of cake in comparison to the rest of the season. I know full well there will be more losses next week, but we know that most of the ballot will lose in the final week.

Since I got through my ballot quickly, we might as well wrap up this blog quickly. Let’s get to how I ranked teams. A reminder, here is last week’s ballot. And with that, here is my D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot for Week 12:

UW-Platteville has had a tremendous turn-around from last season.

1 – Whitman (NC)

2 – WashU (NC)

3 – St. John’s (NC)

4 – UW-Platteville (+1)

5 – Wittenberg (-1)
I am a little nervous about the Tigers. Lost two in a row before pulling off a spectacular win over Wooster in the regular season finale. The loss to Hiram I worried opened up the flood gates. It was followed by a loss to Heidelberg, who has beaten some very good teams on the road this season, which seemed to show the dam coming apart. However, Witt got back on top of things against Wooster. The simple fact it was a close game made me breathe a sigh of relief. I’m still nervous that the late season losses could bring the season to a close with a thud.

6 – Whitworth (NC)

7 – Wooster (NC)

8 – Emory (+1)

9 – Hamilton (+1)

10 – Williams (+1)

11 – Plattsburgh State (+1)

12 – Eastern Conn. State (+1)

13 – Illinois Wesleyan (+1)

York (Pa.) has lost two of their last three and four of their last nine. Not the best of finishes for the Spartans. (Courtesy: YCP Athletics)

14 – York (Pa.) (-6)
I said weeks ago that the final game of the regular season at Christopher Newport would be a bell-weather for the Spartans. Unfortunately, it was even more important after a couple of additional losses in the conference season. York ended up squandering away the home-court advantage in the loss to CNU and with it I worry have put themselves in a tough spot this season. It has been a magical season and I still love what they have in their starting five – but they are exposed if they have to go to the bench.

15 – Cabrini (+1)

16 – Augustana (-1)
The Vikings appear to have lost another starter for the rest of the season. I debated about moving them down further on that news, but thought it be more fair to see how they perform this week. Sadly, I am not seeing a lot of signs that a return to Salem is in the cards with this latest injury, but I do want to see how they respond.

17 – Salem State (NC)

18 – Wesleyan (+1)

19 – Nichols (+1)

Hobart’s 15-game winning streak came to an end against Union in the regular season finale. (Courtesy: Hobart Athletics)

20 – Hobart (-1)
The Statesmen finished the regular season with a loss to Union. Ok then. Not exactly a sign of strength in my opinion. The loss ended a 15 game winning streak. I realize Union is decent this year (16-8 overall), but I expected a win to finish things there. Maybe the loss will be well timed. We shall see.

21 – Johns Hopkins (+1)

22 – Swarthmore (+1)

NWU has a schedule that leaves lots of questions. Are they as good as many expected? (Courtesy: Nebraska Wesleyan Athletics)

23 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NR)
I have said several times I am not in love with the Prairie Wolves schedule. Their out of conference schedule left a lot to be desired and not a lot to truly gauge. They then entered IIAC play and immediately got thumped by Buena Vista. Just when it seemed they shook that off, they have a head-scratching loss to Simpson. So why did I vote for them? I’ve been turning towards teams that have at least still winning late in the season. NWU returned the favor on BVU (on the road) and then handled Loras and Wartburg in their last few. I have plenty of questions still, but Nebraska Wesleyan is doing more than most right now.

24 – Christopher Newport (NR)
Ryan Scott reminded me of the Captains when he brought them up on Hoopsville Sunday (see above). I have seen CNU in person this year and while they aren’t the squad we expected, they are playing well and those who weren’t going to get any experience are very seasoned now. They defeated York to finish the season and now control the CAC playoffs through southeastern Virginia. I am not sure if CNU is nearly at the same level as the last few years, but they are returning to form with new players.

Marietta is back in Dave’s ballot because someone from the OAC should be. (Courtesy: Marietta Athletics)

25 – Marietta (NR)
I have to vote for some OAC team. The conference has been too competitive not to, but I really struggled as to who to vote for this week. I had John Carroll on my short list for a few weeks. I had been voting for Baldwin Wallace (pretty high recently) before they become unglued. I’ve been watching Marietta much of the season and they haven’t been blowing me away, but they seem to be more consistent than others right now. Some could argue JCU is the better team and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but the lost to Capital to finish the regular season resulted in my selection of the PIoneers and not the Blue Streaks.

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):

UW-Stevens Point (21)
The Pointers have been the talk of the WIAC the entire conference season. They have surprised all with how well they have played, but their loss to Eau Claire was maybe more surprising considering their success to date. The BluGolds were 3-10 in the conference (all in the 2018) before that game and got past the Pointers by a point. SMH Maybe UWSP comes back roaring and will be just as dangerous, but that finish had me remove them from my Top 25.

Middlebury (24)
Three losses in a row and I can’t keep riding the Panthers. I get that they have done this before this season, but that is the problem… this is the second time they have gone through this kind of rough spot. They went from having the NESCAC tournament come through Vermont for the very first time to losing the hosting and out of the tournament in a week’s time. Now they sit for two-weeks before probably playing in the NCAA tournament. Like UWSP, this may be well timed. I’m not that confident.

Maryville (25)
I like the Scots, but I am not sure they finished the season strong, either. Last week they had three games and only lost one, but it was to Huntingdon and – again – not the team to lose to if you are proving you are that good. Maybe well timed (did I mention that?), but we have to wait to see

Previous Ballot Blogs:
Week 11
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
Preseason

There is one more poll coming before we head into the NCAA tournament (with the final poll coming after the championships are handed out). I am sure there will be a ton of different results to sift through next week. Ryan has already said he is blowing up the entire ballot (see above). I am quite sure I will do something of the same, though I will be very busy at the same time.

Speaking of which, don’t forget there are a few must-watch items coming up in the next week:

  • Hoopsville Thursday Edition – Thursday, Feb. 22 at 7:00 PM ET
  • Hoopsville: Selection Sunday Special – Sunday, February 25 at 6:00 PM ET (or earlier)
  • NCAA Men’s Bracket Reveal – Monday, February 26 at 12:30 PM ET*
  • NCAA Women’s Bracket Reveal – Monday, February 26 at 2:30 PM ET*
  • Hoopsville Bracket Breakdown – Monday, February 26 at 3:30 PM ET
  • * – times may adjust

Follow Hoopsville on Twitter (@d3hoopsville), Instragram (@d3hoopsville), and Facebook (www.facebook.com/Hoopsville) along with D3hoops.com on Twitter and Facebook and the front page for more information on all of those shows.

It is a very exciting part of the season. Allow us to help guide you through the craziness!