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Tis the season. Practices have started, games are a mere weeks away, and the first men’s Top 25 ballot has been cast. The excitement to start the season is certainly amping up and after looking through the teams I considered for my ballot… I am expecting one thing – a wide open season.

Last year one of my most common statements was how much parity there was in Division III, especially when you got outside of the Top 10. This year may see that parity go even further. There are so many good teams that have reloaded, great teams that have lost key personnel, championship favorites who are rebuilding or retooling, and championship favorites who haven’t had to reload – they are already loaded.

There are also teams who are emerging on the radar thanks to putting together several years of consistently better basketball. Their experienced players are juniors or seniors who are poised to make a run. Then there are the usual suspects who have gone through coaching changes or lost a high number of those experienced players after making their run. All of those kinds of teams create a high number of question marks.

Parity is great for Division III basketball. It allows more teams to be in the conversation, it makes the regular season fascinating in terms of match-ups, important games, and outcomes that in mid-November mean something in late February. Thanks to the SOS guidelines and the message that teams have to schedule good teams to make sure they can secure an at-large bid (or hosting opportunity) in the tournament along with the parity, the regular season is exciting.

However selfishly… parity is a pain in the ass for Top 25 voters!

Every year the preseason ballot is the most difficult. Obviously, trying to read tea leaves and understand how returning players, transfers or freshmen, and departing players will impact a team is difficult. Then throw in other variables like coaching changes or the quality of coaching coupled with trends we have seen over the years makes things more challenging. But now that parity has made Division III basketball basically a wide open race, Top 25 voters are left grasping at straws, throwing darts, picking names out of a hat, or whatever random method they want to use to try and pick and place teams.

This year’s preseason ballot was by far the hardest just a year after I thought that preseason ballot was the hardest. I knew who I was going to vote number one practically from the time I walked out of the Salem Civic Center last March – though, I gave myself the flexability to look through everything and everyone first before finalizing that decision. But after nearly an entire day (say six hours?) working on my ballot earlier this week… I had only put in the number one team. The rest of my ballot was blank.

The arguments were endless circles.

  • Do I think Team A is better than Team B? Yes.
  • Do I think Team B is better than Team C? Yes.
  • Do I think Team C is better than Team A? Yes. Damn it.
  • I think Team A should be number five on my ballot. But there are no other teams I think should be above them. The problem is Team A is not a number two team, I don’t think. Well what about Team B? No. Same problem. Team C? Nope. Team D? Heck no. Well, someone has to be number two!
  • How about numbers 20-25… I only have 15 teams to consider here… nope, make it 20. Well, who deserves to be there? No one; all of them. Darn it. Well I have to rank Team M, they are always a Top 25 team. Do they deserve to be in the poll? Um, maybe not?! What about taking a flyier on Team N? Sure, why not? Wait, but why? This isn’t helping.

The inner monologue, that spilled into out loud conversation with myself might have been hysterical – or sad – to listen to for someone on the outside of my head. I talked to a few other Top 25 voters I enjoy chatting with – picking their brain – they were all thinking completely different than I was. One had a team at number two I wasn’t considering higher than 15! That had me do an about face and erase everything and start over only to then realize after doing that a few times that I couldn’t justify that high a jump even though my colleague’s justification made sense especially to him.

Finally, I just decided to buckle up and start plugging away. I was going to leave teams off I didn’t feel comfortable. I was going to include teams I certainly feel are risky. I was also going to put teams too high, too low, or just plainly in the wrong slot. There was nothing I could do about it; my ballot was going to be far from perfect.

Then when I saw the final results and the expanded voting information I chuckled. I wasn’t the only one. EVERYONE struggled with this ballot.

So here is my D3hoops.com Men’s Top 25 Preseason ballot – completely while watching my beloved Cubbies implode (or never lite the fuse) against the Mets. Please understand that I wrote everything about my struggle prior to point out that I am not completely comfortable with my ballot. I am sure that while writing these teams out, I will find ways to argue with what I have done already. So yes, I may have some teams too high and some teams too low. I probably included a team that shouldn’t be there and left another out that is a no-brainer to you. It is what it is now that parity is the only way to describe Division III men’s basketball.

1 – Augustana
I am a little surprised this wasn’t a unanimous decision by the 25 voters (two going with Amherst – more on that later). Anyone who saw Augustana last year, saw them get to the national championship game, and knew they were pretty much bringing back the entire squad probably had Augustana penciled in to the number one slot on their preseason poll the day after last season ended. Augustana isn’t going to get through the season unscathed. The CCIW will be too difficult, but this is now a very experienced team with a deep NCAA tournament run under their belt. They know what needs to get done to bring a national title to the Mississippi River. The only thing that will stop them is themselves.

2 – Elmhurst
Nothing about the following 24 teams is rock solid. I am not positive anyone is in the right position and it start with the Blue Jays. Here is another team that returns nearly everyone after a really good season. Many would say Elmhurst appeared on the radar a year early last season. The advantage that has is this team now has plenty of experience to make them ready for the year. The disadvantage is they are not going to surprise anyone and have a bit of a target on their backs. I thought Elmhurst was maybe number five… but I just couldn’t wrap my head around another team being head of them. When I was able to make that argument, another team would debunk it (see my Team A, Team B, Team C debate above). However, Elmhurst is poised to have a terrific season, but like Augustana just playing in the CCIW could be their downfall.

3 – Chicago
I realize I might be buying too much stock in the Maroons. I suspect Mike McGrath will be calling or texting me soon after reading this to either laugh at me or give me all the reasons his team isn’t that good. I get it. I had them in my Top 25 last year in the preseason and thought despite the drawbacks (and injuries) that they were that good. They struggled. But they struggled because honestly this is the season they probably will be the best of the UAA. Number three is high, but like Elmhurst I couldn’t find a reason to keep them lower. I think Chicago will be the clear favorite in a somewhat down – certainly reshuffling – UAA and after dealing with the challenges of last year will be in position to impress this season.

4 – Whitworth
I might be buying too much stock here as well. Despite being more guard orientated than in years past, I think the Pirates could be a really good team this season. They don’t exactly have a challenging start to the season (La Verne, CalTech, and Hamline are part of their Division III non-conference start), but the start could give them a ton of confidence before the middle part of their season when they see Calvin and Mary Hardin-Baylor at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. They do play Colorado College twice (why? No, WHY?!) which tripped them up a few seasons ago, but I don’t see a reason why Whitworth won’t win another conference title and maybe make the run to Salem everyone has been waiting for the last decade.

5 – Amherst
Two voters placed the Lord Jeffs #1. Honestly, I don’t get that. Of course they are going to be good. Last year was an odd year of reloading after a tremendous 2012-13 campaign lead to a national championship in Atlanta and a 2013-14 campaign ended in heartbreak in a dismantling at the hands of Williams in the semifinals. They had some great talent on those teams including Aaron Toomey. They didn’t have that talent, experience, or confidence last year and struggled accordingly. But they still finished second in the conference and made the NCAA tournament. The reason I could NOT vote Amherst number one was simple – they weren’t even on my Top 25 ballot finishing last season (they only got 8 points in the overall poll). They bring everyone back and will be good – because Dave Hixon always puts together good teams – but number five on my ballot feels high, so I’m not sure how anyone voted them #1. That being said, Amherst has proven sceptics wrong many times in the past.

6 – Catholic
The Cardinals have been planning this season for about four years. Last year wasn’t as successful as hoped thanks to injuries and other factors and that is the only reason I am a little apprehensive with this position for Catholic. Steve Howes has a group of athletes who have basically been playing tons of minutes since they were freshmen and made what should have been a deep run in the NCAA tournament in 2013 (before a rough scheduling gave them Williams in the second round and a key injury ruined their chances of winning that game). Last year and prior the team hasn’t lived up to the expectations. There certainly is good reason to think they won’t this year, either. The difference is I think the players themselves have the ability to get over the hump and get through adversity thanks to what they have had to deal with the last two years. The conference is ripe to be taken (Scranton will be down and the rest of the conference has had a ton of turnover) and they have some easy games early in the season to get them rolling.

7 – Mount Union
The Purple Raiders are ready to steal headlines from the football team in November and December… or at least try. I think Mount Union is ready to capitalize on what was a terrific campaign last season and make the OAC a rather interesting conference to watch this year. They have the experience in place, like a lot of teams, to make this season special. Again, they feel too high despite their recent success and current talent, but parity has allowed teams like Mount Union shine when we haven’t seen them in the past.

8 – St. Thomas
The Tommies are the Tommies. Meaning they will compete every year, probably win another conference title, and be a fascinating team to consider in the NCAA tournament. Last year ended with a thud in the first round and sometimes that is the perfect motiviation for a team that maybe expected to always make a deep run. The challenge is the MIAC is not longer a cake walk – which they experienced last season – but that could end up making the Tommies a much more dangerous team. They also start the season at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic along with games against UW-Stevens Point and others that tells me they are ready to test themselves early to be ready for March. The Tommies may be a slight dark horse this year.

9 – Marietta
The only reason I don’t have the Pioneers higher is I am worried about some of the talent they lost and I learned RaNeal Ewing is at least ineligible for the first semester – if he even is available at all this season. Ewing was Marietta’s best player, so consider that another loss – at least temporarily – for a really good team. Marietta will still be a tough team and will be in the national conversation all year. However, they may have a slight challenge to the start of the season with Ewing not on the court let alone the bench. The advantage Marietta has is they have a bit of an easy schedule to start before getting into conference play where John Carroll and Mount Union will make the OAC race one to watch. They also have a possible match-up with Wooster which will give everyone a terrific mid-season barometer of the Great Lakes Region.

10 – Babson
As good as Babson was last year, as terrific a run to Salem as they made, the trick this season will be how do they adjust to losing some key parts from last season and how does Joey Flannery adjust to a massive target on him with maybe less complementing parts to help him out. Flannery is a terrific talent and thanks to the fact the schedule this year is not that challenging nor is the NEWMAC as difficult as in years past (MIT, WPI, and Springfield will all be a bit down from their recent glory), the Beavers could go on a tremendous tear to start the season before facing Amherst in mid-December. That game has been highlighted at least by many as being the litmus test for both programs. Bates will then take three weeks off before facing another Northeast power in Bates. Those two games will give us plenty of information before Babson starts conference play in January.

11 – Virginia Wesleyan
The Marlins are an enigma as much as they are one of the most consistent teams in Division III. Every time Dave Macedo loses tremendous talent it is replaced with nearly as equal the talent either off the bench or fresh to the team. It is unbelievable the program that has been built near the shores of the Cheseapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The challenge this year, probably a far more guard orientated team than in the past (though, a program that has transitioned in that direction in the last few years). Will that leave them exposed in the ODAC which has usually featured a few big men that can change game plans? Will that leave them exposed in the NCAA tournament? It was great to see the Marlins back in Salem (or any ODAC team for that matter) last year. The question I have: is there talent hiding on the bench as there has been in the past that can help them get back there again. I just don’t see it right now.

12 – Stockton
Maybe I am buying in a little too much in the Ospreys, but something tells me last year’s good season won’t be disappearing any time soon. They did lose the NJAC Player of the Year, but they bring back talent that scored in double-figures. The challenge for Stockton is to stay consistent and not let things get to them. I witnessed the inconsistency and lack of mental stability last year first hand in the middle of the season which seemed to derail them for a few weeks. If they want people to fear them and the rest of the NJAC, they have got to take care of business both in and out of the conference or any love for Stockton will erode quickly.

13 – Ohio Wesleyan
The Battling Bishops had some struggles last year, but seemed to find their mojo at just the right time during conference play and seemed to have the NCAC in control – until the NCAC got really interesting late. What is scary is that Ohio Wesleyan pretty much brings back the entire squad (91% of the scoring) including conference scoring leader Claude Gray. The only reason I didn’t put the Battling Bishops any higher was the concern about consistent basketball. They need to play well against what will be a tough out of conference schedule before starting an always challenging NCAC schedule. If Ohio Wesleyan plays well against the likes of Capital, Calvin, and Illinois Wesleyan before facing Wooster in early Decemeber, they could get on a roll that will have them being one of the scarier teams this season.

14 – William Paterson
To be honest, I would love to see the Pioneers do well this season. After a few inconsistent seasons, William Paterson seems to have gotten back into the conversation and helped bring the NJAC back as one of the tougher conferences. But inconsistencies have been their arch nemesis. Losses against teams they should be dominating and apparent lack of focus in conference play (losing four out of five to close conference play last season was poor – they lost five of their last seven overall) kills any thoughts of jumping on the bandwagon. Their schedule this year starts with a big game against Mount Union, otherwise nothing about their out of conference schedule will give us any indication of how good they may really be.

15 – Emory
Despite what the Eagles have lost, something tells me this program isn’t going away. The have consistently won 19 or more games the last five seasons and Jason Zimmerman seems to get the most out of his players. They also don’t shy away from a challenge as they will take on St. Thomas and Stevenson at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic before facing off against Guilford, Oglethorpe, Maryville, and Virginia Wesleyan to name a few before conference play begins. I know they lost some terrific talent, but Emory seems to find new talent more often and once again could be a factor come NCAA tournament time.

16 – Hope
The Flying Dutchmen may finally be back as a team to watch out for. They return nearly the entire squad and nearly all their points and rebounds to a team that despite some tough points last season, battled to the very end under new head coach Greg Mitchell. Now he is more settled and I know working to improve his squad and who they play (especially getting rid of some non-Division III opponents) and could be worth watching this year. Opponents like UW-Stevens Point, Wheaton (Ill.), Carthage, UW-Platteville, and Messiah will have them ready for conference play to be sure.

17 – St. John Fisher
Here’s another team that has lost a bit of talent off a very good team from last year, but speculation is they will once again be the cream of the crop in the Empire 8. They too will test themselves early at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic along with a possible match-up with Ohio Wesleyan on the road. To be honest, I don’t expect the conference or the region to be overly challenging (though the E8 always produces a surprise team that you have to be concerned about), so the Cardinals have to prove themselves out of conference and they certainly have the schedule to do that. Some early success could bode well for some personal in new or larger roles.

18 – Dickinson
The Red Devils are very much like the St. John Fisher Cardinals in how much they have lost versus how much they still have that no one realizes along with what has been rumored as being a strong recruiting class that could make an immediate impact. Sure, the D3hoops.com Player of the Year is gone, but anyone who knows the Dickinson team will tell you that Gerry Wixted wasn’t the only threat. Remember, this Red Devils squad lost Adam Honig the year before after getting to the elite eight. They nearly repeated that feat last season. Dickinson is also not shying away from a test in the non-conference part of the schedule with St. John Fisher and Stevenson at the Hoopsville Classic followed by Catholic and Guilford later in the season. The question will be how will they do against Franklin and Marshall, Johns Hopkins, McDaniel and others in conference.

19 – East Texas Baptist
I realize I am one of 12 voters – half the poll – who voted for the Tigers. It’s at this point in the poll where I really started to struggle about who should be in and out of my Top 25. One part of me sees a lot of talent coming back to a squad that certainly impressed last season (and was the first omen of things to come at the final four with teams facing UW-Stevens Point). Another part of me worries they may have lost a little too much. They have a 22-game home winning streak still intact and with eight of their first 11 games being at home could use that as momentum to get the season rolling in the right direction. The Tigers aren’t exactly going to play anyone challenging except Hardin-Simmons early on, so that could help them as well. But I suspect conference play will be a bit tough because of teams like Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Louisiana College.

20 – Eastern Connecticut
The talk I’ve been hearing in the coaching ranks is the Warriors have a really good team this year. I’m a little nervous to jump on board considering how many 20+ win seasons Eastern Connecticut has had in the last seven years (seven to be exact), but nothing that jumps out of me in the NCAA tournament – seemingly going backwards (three third round appearances [’10, ’11, ’12], two second round appearances [’13, ’14], and a first round appearance [‘15]). What is really interesting with the Tigers this year is they start the season with three straight tournaments on the first three weekends of the season – all of them on the road. They then play a fourth tournament on the road right before Christmas. Those tournaments will include games against WPI and possibly Ramapo along with Trinity (Conn.) and Amherst mixed in. They will certainly have plenty of back-to-back experience should they make the NCAA tournament.

21 – Bates
I could have gone with Trinity (Conn.) here as well (I realize the Bantams are 12th overall, but I didn’t vote for them) and probably should have in hindsight. Something about how Bates was built last year gave me confidence. I know they return less of their scoring than Trinity does, but I like the fact Mike Boornazian, Marcus Delpeche, and Malcolm Delpeche are part of that trio returning. They all contributed solid points and having an actual center makes a big difference in Division III. It came down to a coin flip between the two squads and I went with Bates.

22 – Hardin-Simmons
I think the Cowboys are going to be dangerous and will make the ASC a heck of a fight all the way through February. Now, because of their conference schedule and the inability to get out of Texas this season (we have talked to them about coming to the Hoopsville Classic) they aren’t able to really test themselves. Trinity (Texas), Southwestern (twice), Schreiner, and Texas Lutheran are their out of conference games, so I will be both studying those results in a finer degree of latitude along with keeping an early eye on their conference games. Another interesting note about their schedule – not one weekend tournament. Those events tend to be pretty helpful to have under your belt come March.

23 – Wooster
I’m going to be blunt… it’s time for the Scots to stop being just the winningest team in Division III this century and live up to expectations that the title partly instills. Wooster once again loses good talent from a program that once again fell short last season. I don’t know the last time they didn’t win 20+ games, but last season the conference gave them fits and they eventually lost to streaking DePauw in the NCAC title game and fell short to Marietta in the NCAA Round of 16. I just feel Wooster is always in the Top 25 and rises steadily in the polls through the early part of the season only to lose a couple of games or not make waves in the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis. This year has an interesting bag of games against teams who in the past have been good, but will either be down this year or are emerging with unknown expectations. They also have a conference that is quite competitive and once again may not go through Wooster’s home gym.

24 – UW-Stevens Point
Last year I didn’t have the Pointers in my Top 25 for about two-thirds of the season. They didn’t start off with guns blazing, but they eventually got into a groove and what they were doing defensively was impressive. I didn’t buy in until late January, if memory serves. They had lost quite a few of their talent from the year before and I didn’t expect them to do much in 2014-15 – they of course won the national championship with one of the best defensive units and performances I have ever seen at this level. Lesson learned. Despite the fact Stevens Point has lost a TON from last year’s squad… I will at least give them and Bob Semling the benefit of the doubt and leave them on my ballot. They have a challenging schedule this year, so we will learn early if they remain.

25 – Southern Vermont
This is the latest Albertus Magnus squad from New England. Tons of talent, gaudy record, but very weak conference means they are playing on a knife’s edge at the end of the season. The difference in the past is that AMC has made sure to win the conference tournament to assure themselves a berth to the NCAA tournament. Southern Vermont had a terrific opportunity last year to prove naysayers wrong, but lost in the conference title game and didn’t even sniff the NCAA tournament. Now they return everyone and are challenging themselves with an appearance at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic which will feature St. Thomas as one of their games. They also have Bates and Middlebury and some other good games on their schedule (along with some easier games like two against Massachusetts College) before starting conference play. If the Mountaineers want to be talked about nationally, Dan Engelstad knows this is the season to do it.

Now, I could go on and list all the other teams I considered. The list could range as high as 25 additional teams. However, I have learned in the past that a) people don’t appreciate the added information, they think of it as a further snub to their team and b) that I always end up leaving out other worthy programs I could mention as well. So to save myself the headache of writing them all down now and the headache from responding to complaints later… here is where we will start.

I will finish on this note. There are a TON of good teams this year who deserve to at least be considered for the Top 25. Almost everyone in the Top 25 and being considered have flaws. The hard part is going to figure out who has the least amount of flaws, are challenging themselves or at least playing better than expected, and who are just throwing up smoke and mirrors.

It promises to be another very exciting year in Division III men’s basketball. Which means it also promises to be long Mondays for Top 25 voters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)

3 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)

4 – Wash U. (Unchanged)

5 – Wooster (Unchanged)

6 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

7 – Amherst (Unchanged)

8 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

9 – Williams (Up 1)

10 – Wesley (Up 1)

11 – WPI (Up 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 – Staten Island (Up 1)

23 – Scranton (Up 1)

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

25 – Richard Stockton (Unchanged)

Dropped out:

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

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

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This is getting to be a bit out of control. I easily have 40 teams I could have a valid argument to place on my Top 25 ballot. I have probably only 15 or so teams I am absolutely confident are must Top 25 teams. That means I have 25 teams I am trying to slot into 10 or so spots. I could go round and round and round on this and still not be satisfied with my ballot. I stared at the 17 hole for hours wondering who I should put in that spot. In fact, I probably was thinking that as high as 15. There is just a large gap in the middle of my poll where teams are placed only because I have to fill the spots – they seem to high. That being said, the teams behind them don’t deserve to be that high either, so it becomes a circle of constant questions and not a lot of answers.

Thankfully, or maybe unfortunately, conference schedules are now in full swing. Some of the teams that have had great out-of-conference starts are showing if those results are indicative of how good they really are. Usually that means questions are being answered… but this year I seem to be gathering more questions as another week comes and goes. And that usually means I am on the doorstep and probably knocking on what will mean a complete overhaul of my ballot. In fact, I probably should have considered it more this week. In fact as I look more and more at my entire ballot, I wish I had. You know what that means? I better carve out plenty of time this week or next for an overhaul.

But instead, here is a look at my ballot this week. If you want to get an idea of what I think of teams I may not comment on below, here is last week’s ballot.

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Up 1)
The Cavaliers have certainly not played anyone challenging in recent weeks thanks to their game against Wesley being postponed, so they are creeping rather high on the ballot. That being said, they may have the best player in the nation and sounds like they got a really good transfer from the state of Florida. Unfortunately, we may have to wait until February 3 to find out if Cabrini is really this good.

3 – Wooster (Up 1)

4 – WPI (Up 1)
The Engineers continue to impress me. Wins over Springfield and MIT (in a series that dates back to 1902!) shows me this team may actually be as good as I figured. Of course, WPI rose in my rankings like this last year and failed to get out of the second round thanks to suddenly hot Randolph-Macon squad, but I have a feeling that lose and the adjustments early in the season after losing their top guard may have done them more favors than many realize.

5 – Illinois Wesleyan (Down 3)
Last year it took until the last game of the regular season for the Titans to lose their first CCIW game; this year it took until the second game of conference play before Augustana tripped up IWU. By all reports, IWU just had a bad night that is to take nothing away from the Vikings. Can’t punish IWU that much when you lose against a very good Augustana squad… so three spots feels right especially when I think this Titans squad is a serious threat for Salem.

6 – St. Thomas (Up 1)

7 – UW-Whitewater (Up 1)

8 – Amherst (Up 1)
It was an impressive win over Williams to start NESCAC play. The Lord Jeffs look sluggish at times this season, but Dave Hixon always seems to get his team ready for the really big games and a rivalry game against Williams is really big.

9 – Williams (Down 3)
First loss in conference play is against your arch rival on the road and you get dinged three spots. Maybe that is not entirely fair, but IWU lost on the road as well and I couldn’t keep Williams ahead of Amherst after the loss.

10 – St. Mary’s (Unchanged)

11 – Wittenberg (Unchanged)

12 – Wash U. (Up 1)

13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)
This may be the unsung team of the Midwest Region and Wisconsin. The Green Knights just look good right now. The problem is they never get a break since they play in a conference that is middle of the pack and sit in a geographical area where they know the first weekend of the NCAA tournament is going to be anything but a cupcake. I like St. Norbert because I think they are sneaky good… time will tell if that gut feeling is right.

14 – Augustana (Down 2)
This one gave me plenty of angst. The Vikings beat Illinois Wesleyan at home, but then lose Wheaton (Ill.) on the road three days later. I also know there were probably plenty of distractions on Saturday with a family matter for Grey Giovanine. I wanted to leave them be at number 12, but I felt like the lose to Wheaton – who I also have ranked – needed to be that game the Vikings won to really take hold of their season. This is one of those moves that gets me thinking about blowing up my ballot and starting over.

15 – Wesley (Up 1)

16 – Oglethorpe (Up 1)
Wow… what a week for Oglethorpe! They win two games that both go into double overtime! Certainly people will say that may mean they aren’t as good as I have them ranked, but I would say that means they can fight out tough games especially considering they hadn’t played a game in nearly two weeks when practically everyone else is playing. This Petrels team impressed me this week.

17 – Whitworth (Up 2)

18 – Messiah (Up 5)
This is about where I started second guessing myself about my ballot a lot. It isn’t that Messiah isn’t a good team who continues to prove themselves, I just wonder if I am setting myself up for disappointment here. Messiah did beat an underachieving Lycoming before then beating handily a very underachieving Alvernia squad both at home. However, they face Stevenson squad in a gym the Mustangs have only lost in once this season. They then have a trap game in Arcadia looming.

19 – Bowdoin (Unranked)
I can’t ignore the Polar Bears any longer. Well it wasn’t like I was actually ignoring them, but I was leery it could be a lot of smoke and mirrors. However, Bowdoin beat Connecticut College and Wesleyan to start their NESCAC season and did so in somewhat convincing fashion at least against Conn College. The Polar Bears may be the real surprise of the NESCAC this season.

20 – Mary Washington (Unchanged)

21 – Dickinson (Unranked)
I have had the Red Devils on my radar for a very long time and was ready to pull the trigger for last week’s poll until they couldn’t follow up the Guilford win with a victory against Randolph-Macon. Having seen Dickinson in person and play impressively without their two best players… this Dickinson squad is living up to the high expectations many in the Centennial and the Mid-Atlantic Region had for them in October.

22 – Calvin (Down 9)
I realize the Knights may be banged up right now and I realize Hope was gunning for them to help jumped start their season, but right now things don’t look good. Calvin has lost two of their last three including a big rivalry game against Hope and they barely beat then 1-11 Alma at home. Calvin isn’t getting many votes in the Top 25 to begin with and honestly I probably am being too kind keeping them on my ballet.

23 – Wheaton (Ill.) (Up 2)
The win over Augustana was a nice touch for a team I nearly dropped out of my Top 25 ballet last week. However, they have Carthage and Illinois Wesleyan ahead of them this week, so this could be short lived. I am just not convinced Wheaton is really a Top 25 team, but a win over Augustana keeps them here.

24 – Stevenson (Down 3)
I realize I am the only voter with the Mustangs on my ballot and I said up until Sunday I wasn’t going to keep them, but the results of others kept me from pulling the trigger. The problem I have and I know others probably have is that this team just can’t prove they can win on the road. Stevenson lost to Albright who is underperforming in a game that could come back to bite the Mustangs when it comes to home court advantage in the conference tournament. So far Stevenson has proven they are one of the toughest teams to beat at home – though no lead seems to be safe. However, they have got to win the winnable games and win a couple of tough games on the road for anyone to take them seriously.

25 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 3)
I realize I am one of a few voters not convinced with the Marlins and this week didn’t help their cause. They are a deep team with plenty of weapons, but they can’t go and lose to Bridgewater (Va.) especially in a game that ended up not being close. I left the Marlins on my ballot because I know what they are capable of, but Hampden-Sydney (away), Guildford (home), and Randolph-Macon (away) are their next three games. This could be a make or break seven days.

Dropped out:
Christopher Newport (Previously 17)
Four things happened to the Captains this past week and three of them were not good. First they lose to Wesley which at first doesn’t seem that bad. The problem was Christopher Newport was at home and they only scored 46 points. Now that alone wouldn’t have dropped them out of the poll, but they followed up that loss with a road loss to Penn-State Harrisburg (a win so big the local news covered it in Harrisburg). Now reports indicate the Captains are banged up, so with games against the bottom of the CAC coming up the time is now to right the ship and get back on course before facing the top of the conference again including a very difficult trip to Wesley.

Middlebury (Previously 24)
I don’t know what is up with the Panthers, but they lost to start the week against Plattsburgh State and then split their opening weekend in the NESCAC with a loss to Bates and a win over Tufts in a game that was far closer than the final score indicated. Before the Tufts win, Middlebury had lost three in a row. It almost seems like the Panthers are not improving as the season wears on and teams who see something on tape from earlier in the year are able still beat them because Middlebury isn’t fixing flaws. The one thing I do know… Middlebury is 7-5 and probably playing themselves right out of an NCAA opportunity.

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Well the holidays are over and the second part of the basketball season is starting. All of that combined makes this Top 225 ballot and the next few the most interesting. First off, voters end up learning a bit more about the teams when we have a couple weeks of games to consider over the holiday break. Secondly, when conference schedules really ramp up those teams that looked good in the first two months plus will either continue to excel or show their true flaws. This can be very rewarding to Top 25 voters when teams they think are good prove they are or very demoralizing when a voter has to feel like they have to blow their ballot up and start over (which happens to me at least twice a year).

This week’s ballot was full of questions and second-guessing for me. The bounty of games since the last vote helped me understand some teams better while at the same time revealed a major “hole” in the middle of by ballot. I have teams sitting in the 10-15 slot that I just don’t feel should be there, but someone has to occupy those ballot positions. Furthermore, I always find it hard to move teams up when they have lost a game, but this is the type of week where a loss can be easily outweighed by three or four wins or by what other teams are doing around them on my ballot. At least three teams moved up despite losing a game while another didn’t move at all. At the same time, some teams who lost a game feel further down than others and one team that didn’t lose any games still slide down.

Before we get to this week’s ballot, here is a look at what my Top 25 looked like for Week 4 which was posted on December 16:

1 – UW-Stevens Point
2 – Illinois Wesleyan
3 – Williams
4 – Cabrini
5 – Wooster
6 – Amherst
7 – St. Thomas
8 – WPI
9 – Calvin
10 – UW-Whitewater
11 – St. Mary’s
12 – Middlebury
13 – Wittenberg
14 – Wheaton (Ill.)
15 – Augustana
16 – Guilford
17 – Wash U.
18 – Virginia Wesleyan
19 – Wesley
20 – St. Norbert
21 – Eastern Connecticut St.
22 – Whitworth
23 – Stevenson
24 – Christopher Newport
25 – UW-Stout

Now to this week’s ballot:

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)
Having now seen the Pointers in person, I am more convinced they are the number one team in the country. They have had battles against UW-Whitewater, St. Thomas, Whitworth, Whitman, North Central and UW-La Crosse in six of the last seven games and found a way to win. Even when Tillema isn’t playing well, Haas is. They have incredible role players that can step out when needed and they don’t panic (heck, Coach Semling stands during most games with his hands in his pockets even if the team is trailing late). This team kind of reminds me of the back-to-back championship teams who were lead by Jason Kalsow and Nick Bennett and that should give everyone pause.

2 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)
The Titans continue to win. They have a lunch pail mentality and blew through some teams during the holidays. This Titan squad looks better than last year’s team that nearly went undefeated in the CCIW.

3 – Cabrini (Up 1)
The Cavaliers just keep winning and they have one of the best players in the country in Aaron Walton-Moss who is playing the entire season this year. The Mid-Atlantic is also talking about the fact Cabrini may have once again brought in a key player during the semester break which could make a difference in the last three months (remember Walton-Moss’ impact two years ago?). The Cavaliers now enter a part of the season where they may not lose another game before entering the NCAA tournament. They do have a game to make-up, we hope, with Wesley which could be the only real challenge they see along with two games against Keystone.

4 – Wooster (Up 1)
I am not sure why Wooster decided to go to Arizona and play two NAIA schools, but they did and came out of the trip 1-1. I struggle to gauge a team that loses to an NAIA team because no matter how much research I do (and maybe waste) on NAIA teams, I don’t really trust what I am reading or understanding. Did the loss by two to Arizona Christian who is 13-1 show Wooster is that good? Or is Arizona Christian overrated? Ask ten people you will probably get ten different points of view. I moved Wooster up one spot because Arizona Christian is 13-1 after all and the Scots where playing them on the second of back-to-back days. Wooster looks good this season, but with two games against Wittenberg looming and a conference that includes Ohio Wesleyan looking to knock the Scots off… their season is really only beginning.

5 – WPI (Up 3)
The Engineers continue to win despite not having their best player the entire season, but I am nervous with them this high in my poll. The win after the break against cross-town rival Becker was a good way to get back into things, but their next five games are against the top of the NEWMAC (Springfield, MIT, Babson, Emerson, and Clark. I think the Engineers are going to be just as good as last year, if not better, but they have to get through these next five as unscathed as possible. Win all of them and my concern with them being this high will ease.

6 – Williams (Down 3)
Not the start I was looking for from the Ephs coming out of their holiday break. They won all of the games during the break, but they didn’t show me they are in sync. Only beating Washington College (3-7) by eight, Washington & Lee (4-7) by two and Hampden-Sydney (7-4) by two is not what I expect from a Top 5 or a Top 10 team. However, they didn’t lose so I didn’t slide them down too far. However, I now wonder if the Ephs are bit overrated.

7 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)
The Tommies only played one game in the last few weeks and it was against UW-Stevens Point… a game they lost by 13. Considering how well UWSP is playing and that at the time it was the second closest game the Pointers had played actually tells me more about St. Thomas. This is a group that has been playing very well for a number of years including knocking on the door of a championship game last season. St. Thomas may have lost a number of key guys from that squad, but they continue to find talent and play good basketball night in and night out. St. Thomas may surprise some people come the end of the season.

8 – UW-Whitewater (Up 2)
The Warhawks are up two spots thanks to their loss to UW-Stevens Point not looking too shabby and the fact they went 5-0 during the break though none of the teams jumps out on paper – Warhawks did dominate most of the games. UW-Whitewater is going to be a handful this season and after watching three WIAC schools in Vegas I am now very comfortable considering them a Top 10 team.

9 – Amherst (Down 3)
How do you read into a loss to Nova Southeastern which is a Division II school especially when the score is 105-101. Knocking the Lord Jeffs down three spots is hard when they are playing a higher division opponent, but the move down isn’t really about the Lord Jeffs as it is about the teams ahead and around them. I moved Williams down who I think is even or slightly better than Amherst and the teams around them I think have proven they are playing better basketball. Also, where was the defense for Amherst against Nova Southeastern? I still think Amherst is a Top 10 team, but I expected a better result against a 3-9 opponent.

10 – St. Mary’s (Md.) (Up 1)
Talk about a rough first half of the season. The Seahawks played some very difficult opponents and loss more than I expected, but they also showed they are going to be a tough team to beat. I think so voters knocked them too hard for their loss to Mary Washington, though the loss to DeSales is inexcusable. They recovered with a win in conference against a tough Marymount squad. I moved them up, though, based more on those who fell around them.

11 – Wittenberg (Up 2)
The Tigers just can’t be beat right now. They are steal rolling through opponents which you would expect considering their opponents’ records are not that great. However, I have said before that these are the kind of results voters are looking for when you play sub-par teams. Wittenberg looks good so far this season and will give Wooster a run for their money, but first they will have to deal with a resurgent Ohio Wesleyan squad.

12 – Augustana (Up 3)
I am worried I am buying in a little too much with the Vikings. 11-1 is a terrific start to the year and their wins over two WIAC schools was very good. Then they beat Carthage who is always tough. I like how Augustana is playing and making sure to finish games, but I will really get better answers when they face Illinois Wesleyan this week.

13 – Wash U. (Up 4)
I haven’t been that convinced about Wash U. this season, but they continue to win except for Illinois Wesleyan and Carthage. During the break they even beat Wheaton (Ill.) showing me they came back ready for the rest of the season. Of course, the UAA schedule lays ahead with a test against Chicago this week. Are the Bears for real? I don’t feel comfortable with the Bears this far up my poll, but this is also right in the area where I have teams far higher than I would like… because someone has to fill in these spots.

14 – Calvin (Down 5)
What is going on in Grand Rapids, Michigan? I know it has been brutally cold and very snowy, but to lose to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and by 16 just doesn’t add. I am not saying CMS isn’t a good team and yes the Knights were on the road, but if you are a Top 10 team… or even a Top 25 team… that is a game you must win. It was even a tight game against Redlands two days beforehand. Let’s see how the team responds against Alma as they enter conference action.

15 – St. Norbert (Up 5)
Honestly, St. Norbert is too high in my poll right now… but again, someone has to fill this spot on the ballot. The team hasn’t really played and beaten anyone of note except they played Whitewater and lost. Their conference isn’t going to really challenge them (except a team I am not going to mention), so I am going to have to be careful not to move St. Norbert up the poll in the coming weeks just because they are winning.

16 – Wesley (Up 3)
I would have moved the Wolverines further up the poll if they had a) played and beaten Cabrini (game was postponed) and b) I felt comfortable doing so. Wesley is having a surprisingly good season after losing one of the best players in program history… but that may be the reason they are playing so well. However, with a couple of games postponed and entering a tough CAC schedule… I want to see more from Wesley before I even feel comfortable saying they are a Top 16 team.

17 – Christopher Newport (Up 7)
The Captains make a major move up the polls thanks in part to who else entered my poll and how Christopher Newport’s opponents have panned out. The Captains have one loss to Emory and while John Krikorian says they need to still work on a number of things, they have beaten Randolph-Macon and Virginia Wesleyan while playing very well in their first ever games in the CAC. They do have Wesley looming thisd week, but at least their first battle with the Wolvernies this season will be in Newport News.

18 – Oglethorpe (Unranked)
I can’t keep ignoring the Stormy Petrels. While they haven’t beaten any big names most of the season, a hard fought victory over an underrated Stevenson squad certainly eliminated any excuses I had to keep them out of my poll. Now they enter conference play with the travel and two-games-a-weekend schedule. What I can say with certainty is that Oglethorpe has changed the complexion of the SAA. Most eyes have been on last year’s champion Centre and a resurgent Birmingham-Southern. Should those two teams continue to play well along with Oglethorpe… the SAA could have three teams in the NCAA tournament since all will be picked as Pool B selections.

19 – Whitworth (Up 3)
Here is another team that lost, but moved up. Of course the loss for Whitworth came against the number one team in the country in a game that was nip and tuck for the first 34 minutes. If the Pirates had been better managing fouls and their key players understood the officiating better, Whitworth would have been the first to push Stevens Point the full 40 and not their NWC brethren Whitman. Whitworth does suffer from a short bench especially in the paint, but I like what Coach Logie has going there and their game against UW-Platteville was masterful. The NWC is going to change the complexion of the West Region this year and in years to come just as the women have already done.

20 – Mary Washington (Unranked)
Admittedly, I have been very leery of any good start from the Eagles this century. They just never live up to the hype, expectations and start. However, Mary Washington doesn’t look like they are going away. Certainly I would love to have held out another week to see how they do this week in the CAC (Salisbury and Wesley followed by Christopher Newport), but when you beat two teams ranked at the time in the Top 10 (overall poll) you can’t keep ignoring one of the best starts in program history. Again, the CAC has turned into a surprising battle this year thanks to the play of Mary Washington and others. I look forward to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks.

21 – Stevenson (Up 2)
Another team with a loss who moves up… but they lost to Oglethorpe who I know have ranked ahead of them. I quietly inserted the Mustangs into my poll after they beat Alvernia to start MAC Commonwealth play. I see a lot of the Mustangs and think they are far better than advertised. However, I am not the only one starting to notice their play. They did blow a 20-point lead to Widener the other night before eventually winning the game 105-100… but it was the fact they scored 100+ plus in two of the last three games that made me take note. If Stevenson can win away from their own gym, the MAC Commonwealth and Mid-Atlantic Region are in for a major change.

22 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 4)
Yeah, I know I am being harsh with the Marlins by moving them down four spots with a 2-1 record during the break. I am also very aware I moved other teams like Stevenson up despite losses. In fact, I am so aware of these facts that I nearly wore through an entire eraser because I was constantly moving Virginia Wesleyan and others around. The short answer is this: the Marlins are victims of other teams entering the poll and other teams shifting. Mary Washington beat VWC and moved into my poll this week – I can’t keep VWC head of UMW. Christpher Newport beat VWC and moved up, but I couldn’t find a spot higher up for Mary Washington. The Marlins are a good team, maybe surprisingly good considering how much they lost from last year. Are they better than 22nd in the country? Maybe… I would be hard pressed to argue against that line of thinking. However, there are a lot of teams in this area of my poll that can move around and I would have different answers depending on what decisions I make. For now… the Marlins are down to 22nd.

23 – Messiah (Unranked)
I told a Messiah supporter the other day I probably wasn’t going to put the Falcons on my ballot until they got through at least part of the next five games… and then they beat Guilford by ten (it wasn’t that close) on the road in North Carolina. This is the best start in program history and they have won some good games so far. The real test and the reason I wanted to wait is because they play Lycoming (home), Alvernia (home), Stevenson (away) and Widener (away) in four of the next five games. That is going to be a tough stretch, so I would lying if I told you I am nervous to put Messiah in my poll this week – but they are undefeated with a team that a few years ago everyone knew was too young.

24 – Middlebury (Down 12)
Even as I write this I worry I have treated the Panthers too harshly. Like many teams they only lost one game during the break. However, they go a month between games in which they barely beat Skidmore and then lose by 7 to Salve Regina (not a bad team, mind you) and I stated last month I was already fearful Middlebury was a bit too much smoke and mirrors. The loss to Salve Regina gives me more pause that I have been overrating this team despite watching them in two games at the beginning of the season. I still think they battle for the NESCAC, but I don’t think they have the pieces to win the conference.

25 – Wheaton (Ill.) (Down 11)
Another team where the reaction is I treated them too harshly. But, let’s be real… Wheaton has lost four games this season and while they are almost all against Top 25 teams… they are starting to prove they can’t win the big games. Of their wins, none are to Top 25 teams and their losses, albeit close, indicate they can’t close games out. Sure, there is something to be said that they are playing tough opponents, but to be honest they are losing to their tough opponents and beating the easy ones. That alone doesn’t qualify as a Top 25 team in many books. For now, Wheaton stays in my Top 25… but there are a number of teams on my pad for consideration that I will drop Wheaton for in a second.

Dropped out:
Guilford (Ranked 16)
I know it is their first losses of the season, but you can’t lose three in a row and expect to stay ranked. Virginia Wesleyan went through nearly this exact same scenario last season at this time. Guilford may right the ship and head into ODAC play as one of the better teams in the conference, but when you lose at on a neutral court twice and at home… I just can’t keep the Quakers in my Top 25.

Eastern Connecticut State (Ranked 21)
The Warriors traveled to Orlando and lost to both CCIW teams they faced: North Central and Carthage. Certainly, those are tough opponents and Eastern Connecticut lost by a total of four points, but with so many teams deserving a place on my ballot I have to make decisions some place. There isn’t much room to fall when you started 21st on my ballot. I will keep my eye on the Warriors especially in conference play.

UW-Stout (Ranked 25)
Another team that makes the trip to Florida and comes away with two losses. However, this squad losses by 12 to a Milikin team and by 22 to Plattsburgh State! Despite responding with a win against UW-Eau Claire, those losses are not what a Top 25 caliber team should be doing.

Teams I am consider:
I can’t get every team I want into my Top 25 and I won’t tell you this list every week, but with a break for the holidays and starting into conference play, here are the teams I have my eye on and thought about adding to my ballot:

– Babson
– Birmingham-Southern
– Brockport State
– Dickinson
– Marietta
– Ohio Wesleyan
– Richard Stockton
– Springfield
– St. Vincent
– SUNY Purchase
– William Paterson

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