Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 7

Let me start this week’s blog out by apologizing to those who look forward to this series for not producing a blog last week. Things got a bit busy and by the time I had a moment to write it, there was no point (it would have been dated).

So, let’s start this week by looking at last week’s ballot:

Joey Flannery and Babson continue to be my top pick for the best team in the country, but no one is blowing me away with any kind of dominance.

1 – Babson
2 – Whitman
3 – Rochester
4 – Christopher Newport
5 – Amherst
6 – Ramapo
7 – Whitworth
8 – North Park
9 – UW-Eau Claire
10 – Denison
11 – UW-River Falls
12 – New Jersey City
13 – Tufts
14 – Salisbury
15 – St. Norbert
16 – Benedictine
17 – Endicott
18 – Neumann
19 – Hardin-Simmons
20 – Hope
21 – Marietta
22 – Middlebury
23 – Swarthmore
24 – Carthage
25 – Guilford

Dropped Out:
Wesleyan (Previously 10)
Brockport (Previously 22)
Wartburg (Previously 23)
Williams (Previously 24)

With that information now out there, let’s move on to this week, shall we?

The Top 25 continues to be a blood bath. There were 15 losses featuring 13 teams in the overall Week 6 D3hoops.com Top 25. My ballot featured 13 losses amongst 11 teams. In the last two weeks, 28 losses involving 19 teams. I don’t want to go further back and do that math. All in all, it leaves a voter like myself scratching my head so hard I might start losing hair! In the last few weeks, I have also basically thrown a grenade at the entire thing and waited for the dust to settle. I am using too many grenades.

Working on my Top 25 ballot this week. Looks neat, but this is before I got very far into it.

This week I just shook my head, erased the previous week, penciled in the top two and went back to the drawing board. However, I didn’t move teams as much as I thought I would. I noticed that a bulk of the losses have happened at the top of bottom, not in the middle. That ends up providing a bit of a cushion for teams like Amherst who lose two in a row and makes me get aggressive in removing others with only one loss when I want to get new teams on the ballot.

The other challenge is staying consistent on my thinking. I gutted Wesleyan the week before for losing three straight after I put them tenth. This year I have been more aggressive and simply removed the Cardinals from ballot. I have treated those who lose once every week or two a little less harshly, sometimes not moving them at all (depending on the circumstances). Then suddenly I realize they have four or more losses and maybe I haven’t been harsh enough. And how do I treat Amherst who lost twice (including once to Wesleyan)? Harshly like Wesleyan? Gently like Babson? Suddenly the thinking and the plan are being challenged from all directions? Do I change my methods? Do I adapt? Do I just go with what my gut tells me each week? Neither of them make it easy.

Usually, I try and go on a case-by-case basis, but that starts to get murky when you are talking about 30-50 teams, and countless losses or results, under consideration at any one time.

So, I tried a bit of a hybrid. Look at each team on a case-by-case basis, but also have the bigger picture in mind when it comes to consistency. I’ll admit, I am not sure how well I did this week. Like a lot of weeks, I could have gone around and around and around with teams and rankings. I could have changed my ballot every ten minutes and still be doing it right now if there hadn’t been a deadline. I was even thinking about different options while hanging out with my kids at the science center for part of the day on Monday.

Connecticut College defeated Amherst this past weekend continuing the trend that any good team can beat some of the country’s best this season.

The end result is what I am thinking this week, but I may blow it all up again next week and start over. The fact teams at .500 could have a legitimate chance to defeat a Top 10 team used to be pretty rare. It simply isn’t these days. There are very good teams who for whatever reason have taken more losses than expected and pose a real threat to what appear to be dominating teams. At the same time, some of the dominating teams just aren’t as superior as we are accustomed which allows their flaws to be even more revealing.

I cannot say with any confidence I know who the top teams in the country are right now. I can give you who I think they are, but already in the last few weeks those thoughts have been completely second guessed. Marietta is a damn good team, but can you explain why they are 11-4? Amherst has looked good, but suddenly they drop two games in a row! There is a good chance the best teams in the country don’t have a resume to match. Those teams in the 10-20 range very well could be who we see in Salem come the third weekend of March. The teams up top may not have had their “moments” that show us who they really are – stumbling for a few games after being revealed. The trick will be if those “moments” come in the next few weeks or ill-timed in March.

With that in mind, here is my attempt at gauging who the Top 25 teams in the country are.

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)

Sam Borst-Smith may have played well, but Rochester couldn’t escape their own gym without a loss against WashU.

3 – Rochester (Unchanged)
Surprise! Yeah. I didn’t move the Yellow Jackets despite a rough weekend including a loss to WashU. The more I tried to move to Rochester, the less likely it became. I simply don’t see who I would put them behind after just their first loss of the season. Now, I will not say I am comfortable. I have liked Rochester all year, but losing at the Palestra and having to come from behind in the first game of the weekend has me uneasy. It is only going to get tougher from here since they have to travel to Chicago and WashU later in the season… not to mention play the rest of the UAA schedule.

4 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
I’ll be honest. I have seriously thought about moving the Captains down despite the fact they keep winning. However, I keep in mind the fact they only have a second loss because of a lucky heave from Salisbury right before the holiday break. That leaves just a dismantling by Marietta at the beginning of the season. I have tried to take more stock in that loss considering the struggles Marietta is now having, but I have leaned on thinking the Marietta squad I saw then is drastically different than the one currently playing and the same goes for CNU. However, the Captains have their flaws, especially inside and I know their opponents will try and expose those flaws. Top five feels too high.

How good is Denison? Dave has decided to buy in, but we shall see how long this lasts.

5 – Denison (Up 5)
The Big Red have skyrocketed the last few weeks in my poll. I have tried to remain a bit subdued at the fact they have only lost one game, but at the same time there is a thought that if a team has gotten this far in this season without more losses they must be good. This isn’t exactly true across the board. Denison’s strength of schedule right now is surprisingly low. However, while the wins over Wooster, Ohio Wesleyan, and DePauw aren’t staggering… I do know those are good programs who appear to be gaining strength after a difficult start to the season. My thinking is Denison may be better than advertised, so I am riding the wave. Unfortunately, we probably won’t get a chance to see if I am right until February 1-8 when Denison plays at Ohio Wesleyan, vs. Wooster, and at DePauw. The NCAC season will be decided that week.

6 – Ramapo (Unchanged)
Surprise again! Another team takes its first loss and doesn’t move. In this sense, I remain consistent. Like Babson earlier this season, I didn’t punish Ramapo for losing to New Jersey City, on the road, in overtime. Yes, NJCU is not at full strength which some could read into and say that means the Roadrunners aren’t that good if they barely got by the Gothic Knights. However, I also know NJCU will take you out of your offensive game no matter their personnel, so I chalk this up as expected. I did not expect any NJAC team to get through the conference unscathed. That is the case with Ramapo and thus one of the better teams I have seen in person isn’t going to get dinged for taking a loss I pretty much expected.

7 – Whitworth (Unchanged)

8 – North Park (Unchanged)

9 – UW-River Falls (Up 2)

10 – Tufts (Up 3)
Tufts is tough to read. I almost feel like it is smoke and mirrors. Are they really a top ten team as I have had for quite a bit of the season? Or have they just floated there because I have to put someone tenth. The win over Middlebury gave me confidence the Jumbos may be for real, but Wesleyan and Connecticut College loom large this week.

11 – UW-Eau Claire (Down 2)

12 – New Jersey City (Unchanged)
Odd week for the Gothic Knights. Lose earlier to Stockton, but recover to beat Ramapo in overtime at home. NJCU would have gone down based on the loss to Stockton; risen based on the win over Ramapo. Thus, they stay where they are. This might be one of the best defensive teams in the country right now even if they are not at full health. They’ve got a couple of good road tests coming up they need to survive.

13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

14 – Endicott (Up 3)

15 – Salisbury (Down 1)
The Sea Gulls are starting to worry me. They seem to struggle to stay focused. Two losses in Las Vegas was shocking, but certainly understandable considering they played two of the better teams there. However, they could have also come out of South Point Arena 2-0. Then they show up at York (Penn.) who is playing without their best player inside and Salisbury rolls over. They should have dominated. Their team is designed to dominate squads like York who are rebuilding. I need to see Salisbury show they can take on all comer before I start thinking about bailing on what I think is a very talented squad.

Mason Reyer and the Quakers have quietly stormed to the top of the ODAC. Courtesy: Guilford Athletics (Ava Nadal)

16 – Guilford (Up 9)
I have been quietly watching the Quakers for weeks now. They, in return, have been quietly cruising through the ODAC and find themselves tied for first place. They have won eight straight including dominating Roanoke. I think a lot of voters don’t know what to do with ODAC for good reason. The top has come back to earth a little bit, so it’s hard to put a lot of faith in the teams at the top. However, Guilford’s two losses are by a combined eight points and when they win, they tend to win easily. The true test may not come until January 28 against Virginia Wesleyan, but keep an eye on this week against Emory and Henry and Hampden-Sydney.

17 – Amherst (Down 12)
Guh. Talk about a bad week for the men’s squad. The loss to Wesleyan, okay. But to compound it with a loss to Connecticut College? The former Lord Jeffs have now lost not only two in a row, but three of their last four and four of their last six! It’s like the Babson game was all they were focused on. And it isn’t going to get any easier. The next four are against Bowdoin, Colby, Williams, and Trinity who all spell blood in the water. I can’t say for sure why Amherst struggled this past weekend, but rest assured the next four opponents have seen why and will try and exploit it as well.

18 – Hardin-Simmons (Up 1)

19 – Hope (Up 1)

Jack Knupp and WashU haven’t blown me away this season, but their win over Rochester is too difficult to ignore. Courtesy: WashU Athletics

20 – Washington Univ. (Unranked)
Ok. I finally voted for the Bears. I know a lot of voters thinking highly of WashU (thus why they are 11th despite my 20th place [previously not on my ballot] vote). I am not sure why. They are 11-3 which is obviously good, but they have lost to UW-Eau Claire by 14, Central by four, and Illinois Wesleyan by a point. They then needed overtime to beat a below-their-average Wooster squad, barely survived a tough Chicago team, and needed to comeback against an overrated (by me previously) Emory team. Yes, UWEC is in my Top 25 and IWU has been in and out (and, spoiler, still flirting). Prior to this weekend, the Bears just didn’t excite me. However, they did beat Rochester on the road (the second game of the Atlanta-Rochester trip to boot) and that got me thinking: sometimes teams don’t win pretty, they win ugly. Maybe WashU is one of those teams. Not sure how much we will learn in the next three weekends should they win (vs. NYU, vs. Brandeis; at Carnegie Mellon, at Case Western Reserve; vs. Carnegie Mellon, vs. Case Western Reserve). Lose? May answer my questions more fully. For now, I’m on the bandwagon. Hope it doesn’t hurt as much as it did for St. Louis Cardinals fans on the Jason Heyward bandwagon last offseason (that’s an inside joke).

21 – Marietta (Unchanged)

22 – Middlebury (Unchanged)

23 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The Cardinals are either suffering from whiplash or learning to play the yo-yo. They went from tenth to unranked to 23rd on my ballot in three weeks. They went from ninth to unranked to 24th on the D3hoops.com poll. Wow, what a ride. But when you beat Amherst and close out the weekend ending your three-game losing streak with a second straight win at Trinity… it is bound to happen. Wonder where they land next week after playing Emmanuel, Tufts, and Bates.

Tahron Harvey and the Eagles suffered their first conference loss in 34 games (conference record) against Concordia (Wis.).

24 – Benedictine (Down 8)
I seriously considered removing the Eagles from the Top 25. Yes, it was a single loss, but it was in conference where to be in the Top 25 they probably should be dominating. I realize it is hard to keep winning in any conference (which makes St. Norbert’s run even more impressive), but I was very concerned with the loss to Concordia (Wis.). The only thing that stopped me from removing them was feeling I might have been too harsh, but more importantly not sure who I would replace them with. Plenty of candidates, that’s for sure. Just not sure if any of them have proven anything more than Benedictine. We shall see.

25 – Neumann (Down 7)
I also nearly removed the Knights as well. This might have been one of the few times I expected a team to keep winning. Or more appropriately, I expected that if Neumann were to lose it would be to Cabrini or Gwynedd Mercy. Not to Rutgers-Camden who was previously 1-9 (now 3-11). Though, I did consider that Camden is playing far better now and nearly knocked off Ramapo as well. However, the last few weeks I have noticed that Neumann’s leading scorer is missing. James Butler hasn’t shown up on a box score in awhile.

Dropped Out:

Cam Wiley and the Garnet lost two last week by an average of 17.5 points dropping them out of my ballot.

Swarthmore (Previously 23)
The Garnet had a rough week. They lost two in a row and neither of the games were close. Johns Hopkins handled them 70-52 in Baltimore and Franklin & Marshall steamrolled the Garnet 83-66 at Swarthmore. Not sure what happened. I don’t see any missing players. This was a chance for Swarthmore to take firm control of an okay Centennial Conference this season and instead it is has turned things into a free-for-all. Maybe I had put too much stock in the Garnet.

Carthage (Previously 24)
Speaking of free-for-all, the CCIW is shaping up that way as well. I thought Carthage was maybe turning into a Cinderella and setting themselves up nicely, but they then lose to Illinois Wesleyan. Not a bad loss, but IWU is without preseason All-American Trevor Seibring (back) right now. Add to the fact that the Red Men barely got past Illinois Tech and I start to see red flags. CCIW is always competitive and good, but maybe this year it doesn’t have a dominating side like in years past.

So, there you go. An interesting week to say the least. There are already losses on my ballot like North Park who lost on Monday night to Manchester. I am sure the losses will mount up once again and I will be back to the drawing board again.

But I do enjoy this. My struggles to find the best 25 teams in Division III men’s basketball means that there is plenty of good basketball to go around. Last March was awesome with how the tournament played out. I can’t imagine this year’s event will be just as exciting. We have a lot of good teams who put on a show each and every night. I am not complaining in the least. Gives us more to talk about.

Previous Ballots:
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 5

Let me start by wishing each of you who read this had a wonderful holidays. The holidays were very, very busy … not to mention filled with plenty of basketball! I watched my fair share of games from my iPad or computer from the warmth of a hotel room. I also watched my fair share of results in front of a lovely Christmas tree in my home. It certainly made the last few weeks entertaining. It, however, did not make voting in the men’s Top 25 any easier.

No surprise in this age of parity that there are plenty of losses to contemplate. Of course with losses come wins that need to be analyze as well. Nothing is simple. A win isn’t equal to another win. A loss doesn’t equal another loss. There is a lot to consider especially when there has been two weeks of basketball to consider.

When it comes to the topic of parity, I have talked a lot about it. However, I did like the take from Bob “Titan Q” Quillman on the Top 25 forum on D3boards recently. I won’t share the entire thing, but here is a snippet I thought summed things up well – probably better than I have been able to describe:

“I am confident there is a group of 4-5 teams that are the favorites to win the national championship, but it’s not really even obvious to me who those teams are yet.” Bob then continues, “starting immediately after that “elite tier,” I see a huge pack of extremely even teams that spans from about 5 down to 25. Trying to sort out the Top 25 is always fun but when there is this much parity, I doubt there will be many concrete answers until things get settled in the tournament.”

To read more of Bob’s thoughts, click here.

To Bob’s point, there are a number of teams who can be considered for the Top 25 on any given week. I have had to stop allowing myself to keep expanding my list. Maybe that is stubborn and that effort to put some blinders on to keep from getting distracted may have me miss a team or two, but at the same time I don’t have enough time in a week to allow my list to expand to 50 or more squads. They all have an argument to be on the list. What makes it challenging is they all also have an argument for why they shouldn’t be in the Top 25. Furthermore, an argument that works for Team A doesn’t work for the rest. Just as an argument for Team B doesn’t work for the rest. It is very, very hard to stick to just one set of factors to make determinations.

For me this week, I spent a good amount of time nearly blowing up the ballot. Starting from nearly scratch. You will find that even if teams won in the last two weeks, I may have removed them. Sometimes I asked myself a basic question: would they beat this team or that? That basic question actually had me make some bold moves. I have previously unranked team in my Top 10. I have another just outside the Top 10.

Of course there were some significant losses that dictated a lot of moves I made, though the bottom half of my previous ballot didn’t lose as much as the top half which usually makes it harder to get new teams in. However, there are other factors, results, and details that caused me to make many of my moves.

Getting the opportunity to see Salisbury play Ramapo at the D3hoops.com Classic is invaluable on so many different levels.

I will say one of the biggest advantage any Top 25 voter has is seeing teams in person. It is impossible to see all of them across the country in gyms and arenas and luckily video streaming has become an invaluable tool. As the season progresses, web streams will become my most used tool. However, I do get the advantage of seeing some very good teams in person and this year at the D3hoops.com Classic was no exception. You will see how that impacted my ballot shortly. However, it goes to prove why events like Hoopsville and D3hoops.com Classics and others with top-tier teams are not only great events to attend for teams, but also invaluable for Top 25 voters who choose to show up to such events (more than you may realize). As I have in the past, I have restarted my efforts to mark who I have seen in person in the past year (including the second half of last season) with an “*” next to each one. Maybe at some point this year I will also indicate who I have seen on video, but for now I don’t think it needs to be represented.

With that, let’s get on with the ballot. As with most weeks, I won’t comment on all teams. I will say something for those I think need a snippet or I have a thought on that is relevant this week. Of course as we get started, click here for a reminder of last week’s ballot. Otherwise, here is this week’s:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

Eric Bridgeland’s Whitman squad hasn’t lost and continues to move up the polls. But are they for real?

2 – Whitman (Up 1)
I moved the Blues up a spot after they beat Marietta. In hindsight, maybe I should have just left them at #3, but I thought despite some tight results they have at least beat the competition in front of them and remained undefeated. That all said, I am nervous. Whitman has never been this high in the rankings. Are they really that good? Did getting past Whitworth last season in the NCAA tournament really make that big a difference? Or are they going to peak early and struggle in conference (though, saying that makes me shake my own head). Whitman didn’t blow me away with their win at home against Wooster. However, they got past an admittedly somewhat-struggling Marietta squad. We shall see how things progress. I hope I end up being very comfortable with this in a few weeks.

3 – Amherst* (Down 1)

4 – Christopher Newport* (Up 1)

5 – Whitworth (Up 1)

6 – Rochester* (Up 2)

7 – New Jersey City (Up 4)
What makes the Gothic Knights scary on paper is their defense. Have you seen how much they hold their opponents below their offensive average? In a lot of cases, 20 or more points. However, I feel I might be buying in too much with much of the NJAC schedule including two games against Ramapo ahead. The NJAC has struggled to live up to national expectations this century. In the last ten or so years, only one team has gotten out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. However, the top of the conference is shaping up to be pretty special … and there are voices telling me NJCU may be the best it has been in recent history. Some tough games coming up… I am holding by breathe.

8 – North Park (Up 5)
I don’t have a game to point to for this move. The Cardinals Vikings (SMH, typo on my part) moved up because of a lot of other teams moving around. That said, they have two legitimate All-Americans and the supporting staff is playing extremely well. Many knew North Park would be good this season, but my feeling right now is they are far better than I expected. This team looks scary this season.

Cory Soanes and Ramapo impressed at the D3hoops.com Classic. The Roadrunners and NJCU could have magical seasons ahead.

9 – Ramapo* (Unranked)
This is the biggest move I think I have made on my Top 25 ballot during a season (I moved UMHB up pretty darn high after they were unranked and finished runner-up to Amherst for the national championship in 2013). Ramapo really impressed me in Las Vegas this year. I think this is the best Roadrunners team I have seen at the D3hoops.com Classic and that includes teams who have been national ranked in the past. They play an aggressive and controlled defense, they have several weapons on offense which keeps teams from being able to double-team, and they have plenty of speed. Coach McBreen clearly thinks this team has more to prove, but he is also coaching a squad who is far more ready this time of year than in years past. This team is really scary and really deep. The only challenge is Ramapo has been blowing out a lot of teams this season. Focusing on beating good teams and playing an entire 40 minutes has been a challenge – they allowed Salisbury who was down 12 to get back in the game and nearly beat the Roadrunners. NJAC play could either get them focused on putting away teams or allow a few to get wins they shouldn’t have gotten and put Ramapo in trouble. I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

10 – Wesleyan (Up 7)
Everyone knew the Cardinals had a good test this holiday season after starting the season undefeated. They rose to the challenge including a dominating win over Marietta. Wesleyan’s inside presence is better than I had given them credit. The question remains: will they be exposed in NESCAC play? Right now, I think Joe Reilly’s team may be the biggest surprise. I already had been told the NESCAC could be 7-deep this year on top. I think people expected Wesleyan to be in that group of seven. I don’t think people thought they could end up being the best of the group.

Josh Weix and the Blugolds were one of the best offenses I have seen recently.

11 – UW-Eau Claire* (Unranked)
Here is an example of a team that kept rising on this week’s ballot as I asked the question: “would they beat so-and-so?” This may have been one of the better disciplined offensive teams I have seen in a long time – especially this time of year. Their ball movement was tremendous. They broke the shooting record at the D3hoops.com Classic with a better-than-.630 performance in their first game against Gustavus Adolphus. They have size, outside shooting, and a really good defense. Many had thought UW River Falls would be the class of the WIAC. UW Whitewater is undefeated (though spoiler alert, I am not voting for them as of yet). However, I think the Blugolds may be the best WIAC team this year especially if the lights of conference play don’t distract them.

12 – Tufts (Down 2)

13 – Salisbury* (Down 4)
Two losses you would think result in a bigger fall than four… and even I took extra time to make sure this was the right move. I actually had them down to 19th at one point, but the same question I asked UWEC I asked Salisbury. I just couldn’t get them lower without putting them behind teams I thought they could beat. Yes, the D3hoops.com Classic was rough, but the Sea Gulls lost to a very good Ramapo squad and Hardin-Simmons (who proved some things to me). They simply ran into a couple of very good teams and tough match-ups while also having to deal with the fact they are adjusting to changes at point guard. Those losses should only make Salisbury a better team. If not, we will know very quickly and my decision to only lower them four spots will be adjusted just as quickly.

St. Norbert once again has more questions than answers as they move into their conference schedule.

14 – St. Norbert (Down 7)
I am going through the usual Q&A with the Green Knights. Nothing on paper blows one away about SNC, however they always show they can keep winning. Sure, their conference isn’t the most difficult, but they control the conference so amazingly well. The loss to UW-Oshkosh isn’t shocking, but it does set-up for a tougher NCAA tournament bracket in March. I may have allowed St. Norbert to float a little too high on my ballot, so the loss and other results allowed me to possibly recheck my expectations a little.

15 – Marietta* (Down 12)
Ouch. Tough few weeks of December for the Pioneers. Lost three out of four and 0-2 in the period of this vote. Yes, they lost to really good teams, so I tried to not to ding them too much for that. However, what got them so high on my ballot is that they had beaten similiar teams so I expected that trend to continue. One thing seems to be coming true, they struggle with any squad that has good size inside who does more than just stand around. Marietta may be learning the hard way that relying on Edwards inside isn’t going to get them far. As good a player as he is, he needs others to step up and be just as dangerous. I sense that when the team loses Edwards as a threat, they lose their offense. I could be wrong, but I plan to watch them very closely the next few weeks to see what adjustments they make to compensate for what John Carroll, Wesleyan, and Whitman exposed.

16 – Benedictine* (Down 2)

17 – Endicott (Up 1)

18 – Denison (Up 2)

19 – Hope (Down 7)
Another holiday period for another team. The Dutchmen probably don’t want to see Williams or Wilkes again, though one of them is likely to be repeated in the future. If Hope had only lost to Williams, so be it. However, the Wilkes loss shocked me the most. Wilkes isn’t bad, but they aren’t necessarily a threat to Top 25 squads unless something is wrong. I probably should have dinged Hope a bit more and moved them further down, but I have too many questions for those below. We shall see how Hope responds from at least one ugly loss. They aren’t going to get necessarily the same challenge from the conference as we have come to expect, so it will be the small things that will be the most important to watch.

Nathaniel Jack and Hardin-Simmons realize it is now or never. Could the Cowboys surprise many this year?

20 – Hardin-Simmons* (Unranked)
I voted for the Cowboys in the preseason and had been scratching my head since. I knew they had lost players, but I didn’t quite grasp what was going on. Turns out they had suffered their fair share of injuries and I was lucky enough to see them back at 100% (virtually) for the first time all season. HSU has a ton of weapons starting with Nathaniel Jack. He not only knows were he needs to be, but he has such amazing court and game awareness that he adds a completely different dimension besides good ball handling and speed to his list of weapons. Mix in Justin Jones inside (6-8 force) along with shooting weapons like Hopper, Dixon, O’Neil, and others and this team could be a surprise come March. They have to stay focused in a conference that might not test them as much as other voters want, but Craig Carse has a scary squad featuring seven seniors who realize it is now or never.

21 – UW-Rivers Falls (Up 3)

22 – Brockport (Unchanged)

23 – Wartburg (Down 4)

24 – Williams (Unranked)
I wasn’t sold on Williams (or much of the rest of the NESCAC like Middlebury), but then they beat Hope. It ended up being a coin-toss between the Ephs and Middlebury and I went with the more southern team (not a decision factor). Williams also leads to a fourth NESCAC team on my ballot which seems pretty incredible, but when those in the conference tell me they think it is a seven-deep conference then maybe this feels right. We shall find out soon enough as conference play begins. Did I pick the right squad to ride?

25 – Neumann (Unchanged)

Dropped Out:
I will preface this segment by saying I had to find teams to remove to get other teams onto the ballot. I wish I had found a few more because I felt there were other deserving teams to vote for as well. While none of the teams below did anything major to drop out, there was enough of an excuse or just an uneasy feeling that had me make the move. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination especially when the lower-half of my Top 25 didn’t take as many losses that make it easy to make these decisions.

North Central’s Connor Raridon is out with a broken hand. Cardinals seem to be missing his shooting presence a lot.

North Central (Ill.) (Previously 15)
There wasn’t a lot the Cardinals did or did not do to drop from 15th to off my ballot, but the fact one of their top weapons, Connor Rairdon, is out with a broken hand concerns me. I think they are a bit more exposed and their offense is going to be easier to defend. I realize they only lost one game since the last poll (to a good UWSP team) and they beat Wartburg (who I still have ranked), but I am not as confident about them as I was prior.

Illinois Wesleyan (Previously 16)
Another example of a team who did a lot to deserve to be dropped out, but something about their result doesn’t blow me away. They beat Chicago, lost to Middlebury. Neither of those teams are currently on my poll. While the Titans appear to be a good team, I am just not blown away. Yes, I could argue that about others as well. For now, IWU is out. Conference play could easily change my mind.

Emory (Previously 21)
Emory actually did NOT lose during the holidays between Top 25 polls, but when I went back and looked through who they have played and what they have done, I just wasn’t impressed. Wins over William Peace, Guilford, and Maryville don’t spur me. Losses to Covenant and LaGrange are not ignorable. On a week I am looking for excuses to drop a team from my ballot, Emory gave me reasons to move them out and nothing to keep them in.

Swarthmore (Previously 23)
Another team that didn’t lose any games and won a tough game in overtime to a squad who may be far better than advertised (Hood), but Swathmore isn’t blowing me away, either. In many ways, it came down to whether I thought Ramapo, UW-Eau Claire, Hardin-Simmons, or Williams would beat Swarthmore (or others on the “Dropped Out” list) and the answer was: yes. I do think Swarthmore would struggle with those squads. For now, they out. We shall see if Centennial play possibly helps them this year.

Previous Ballot blogs:
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 9

Dave tore up his ballot this week and tried to start over.

BOOM!

That sound you may have heard was me finally doing what I had been debating, and threatening, to do for weeks – blow up my ballot. It wasn’t a complete and devastating destruction, but it was good enough to make me rethink a number of teams, positions, and my thought process behind many. Surprisingly, not as many teams at the top shifted as dramatically as I thought they would in my head. However, the bottom half basically went through a complete make-over including cutting bait with teams because I just couldn’t justify my decisions anymore.

I also dove into more teams than usual this time of year and I dove into more data than I usually like to do. Many know I am not a fan of Massey Ratings, but this is the time of year I do take a look at their numbers to see if there is something I am missing. I don’t end up agreeing with Massey, but it at least forces me to reevaluate a team I am either under- or over-selling and it helps me make sure I am not missing anyone.

Same is true with the NCAA SOS numbers. Of course, we don’t have access to those numbers until Wednesday (when the first Regional Rankings debut), but math-expert Matt Snyder has his own “math” working online, based on the NCAA formula, which gives us at least a good idea of what to expect from the NCAA data (Matt will get a chance to double-check his formula(s) on Wednesday). While I am certainly not ranking my teams per the SOS, it does give me a better insight on what their schedule actually looks like from a data point of view. This sometimes will force me to dive into a team’s schedule further to figure out, maybe, why it doesn’t add up to my expectations (high or low).

This week’s ballot started with a completely blank piece of paper.

As a result of all of this, I ended up writing down a total of 45 teams, including my previous Top 25, to research and analyze. Each week this season I have had between 50-70 teams that have at least crossed my mind, but by the time I get down to researching, I have whittled that number down to 30-35. Also, I will sometimes breeze over teams I have near the top or know well to save myself time. However, this week, there was a solid 45 teams to go through and I went through each of their schedules, games, and notes I have on them in the past few weeks.

That’s what you do when you blow up your ballot.

As a result, my top ten went through a bit of a shuffle – though, it ended up not as severe as it started. I had moved some teams around significantly at the beginning before settling down to a more reserved shuffle in the end. The bottom fifteen, on the other hand, was completely turned on its head. I dropped four teams some of whom might surprise you despite big wins. I nearly dropped a fifth, but ended up deciding to hold on to my 25th team a little longer despite a major voice in the back of head not pleased with the decision.

With that being said, here is my Top 25 (which you can compare to the D3hoops.com Top 25). I am not going to comment on much of the top ten to save time and space. There are moves, they probably make sense. If they don’t, let me know. I wanted to focus my writing time mainly on the moves I made in the bottom half.

John Carroll moved up to No. 3 on Dave’s ballot this week.

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)

2 – Benedictine (Up 2)

3 – John Carroll (Up 2)

4 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)

5 – Whitworth* (Down 3)

6 – Hope (Unchanged)

7 – Christopher Newport (Up 2)

8 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 1)

9 – Elmhurst (Down 1)

10 – Marietta (Unchanged)

11 – Johnson and Wales (Unchanged)

12 – Susquehanna^ (Unchanged)

13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

The Chargers have jumped up Dave’s ballot thanks to dominating wins in NEAC play.

14 – Lancaster Bible (Up 4)
This is a big jump in my mind for the Chargers. The simple fact is at this time of the year with an unbeaten team in a sub-par conference I am looking for one thing: domination. Lancaster Bible is dominating the NEAC. They are winning conference games by nearly 27-points this season and haven’t had a game closer than 15 since beating Cairn by four on December 11th. Sure, the conference isn’t giving up much of a fight and there is a really problematic situation coming should they not win the AQ (SOS is .421 and while probably improve slightly; do you leave a one-loss team at home?). However, the Chargers are starting to prove their early season success was just the tip of the iceberg.

15 – Alma (Down 2)

16 – Plattsburgh State (Up 5)
The Cardinals are pulling away from what I thought was going to be a dog-fight of a SUNYAC race. Plattsburgh has won 13 of their last 14 games and now have a 3 ½ game lead on the conference with five games to play. This has been a six-team race at the top not that long ago. Basically, Plattsburgh is proving to be the only team that can win nearly every night in Central and Western New York.

Whitman proved once again they can beat Whitworth when wearing their home white jerseys.

17 – Whitman (Unranked)
I would be lying if I told you I was comfortable with putting Whitman this high on my ballot. Their win over Whitworth certainly gave me reason to include them, but this high? I realize I am one of the last to buy in to the Missionaries, but we have seen this script before. The only team capable of beating Whitworth in conference over the years is Whitman, but only when playing the game at the Sherwood Center on Whitman’s campus. Does that really make Whitman a good team this season versus others? Outside of beating Whitworth, the Missionaries don’t have a significant win on their schedule. While that doesn’t add up to this decision, I do lean on the fact Whitman has only lost three games and at least has played well in conference. I’m buying in… trepidatiously.

18 – Penn State-Behrend (Up 2)

19 – Mount Union (Up 3)

20 – Amherst (Down 6)
The team-formerly-known-as-the-Lord-Jeffs did not play well against Tufts on Saturday. Shot poorly from deep (28%), got out-rebounded, couldn’t hit a free throw (8-16), and allowed Tufts to have a 21-point lead before realizing they were in trouble. I am just not that confident in the purple team from more-central-than-west Massachusetts. When Amherst has been a national power in the past, these games didn’t exist. They have now dropped three games in their last eight with a resurgent Middlebury and scrappy Hamilton squads waiting to close out the regular season.

21 – Northwestern (Minn.) (Down 2)
Northwestern hasn’t done anything to drop two spots, but they haven’t done anything to make me think they are better than 21st. They have hands-down the worse SOS of any of the teams I am considering, and it’s ugly (.408) and they are barely holding on to the lead in the UMAC thanks to a loss already to St. Scholastica (they will play a rematch in the final game of the season). I just don’t think they are as good as I had them ranked.

Has Wooster reemerged as the best team in the Great Lakes?

22 – Wooster (Unranked)
Welcome back Scots. Looks like the team that has been underperforming to normal Wooster expectations may have found their stride. The win over Ohio Wesleyan a few weeks back is certainly a good sign, but they have also won ten of their last eleven and might pull off the surprise and force the NCAC tournament trough Timken Gymnasium! Their offense is scoring far more points in the last several weeks than it has all season while the defense seems to be staying consistent. Maybe Steve Moore has his team peaking during an off-year at just the right time to surprise some people.

23 – Emory* (Unranked)
Welcome back Eagles. The last two weeks in the UAA have been unbelievable. Emory was a game back of Chicago before playing their home-and-home series over the last two weekends. Now Emory has won six-straight, has a one-game lead on Rochester*, and Chicago has fallen to three-games back. Emory may have a young team, but they are proving they can now win the close games and beat some very good teams while they are at it. By the way, Emory has a ridiculous SOS (.634 unofficially) meaning they could get into the NCAA tournament once again and throw a monkey-wrench into bracketing like they did in 2014.

If Benedictine wasn’t undefeated, we probably would be talking more about Aurora and the NACC. Courtesy: Aurora University Athletics

24 – Aurora (Unranked)
I realize the Spartans lost to Benedictine this week, but have you seen how Aurora has been playing prior? If Benedictine wasn’t undefeated, people would probably be talking about Aurora. Since they lost three of four prior to the holiday break, they won ten in a row before facing Benedictine (now 11 of their past 12) and winning pretty confidently. Of course, maybe Aurora also looks better thanks to pretty much only losing to Benedictine this season. However, a .537 SOS surprised me, but that forced me to look at the schedule and remember a win over North Central (Ill.) and notice they have been putting up points all season.

25 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 1)
I almost cut the Diplomats. I know they are winning, but I am not impressed for some reason. I guess I don’t buy in as much as people would expect. But, I have watched the team for so many years and I just don’t think this team is quite where it can be to be a Top 25 team. The conference is also down (despite a good Swarthmore team who has emerged) and that doesn’t allow F&M to shine as much as they could. I actually had the Diplomats out of my ballot several times and was going to keep it that way until I voted. Then I changed my mind and left them in. Seems weird if they only have three-losses that I don’t have them in my Top 25 despite what that voice in the back of my head is yelling.

Dropped Out:

WPI^ (Previously 16)
The Engineers have lost three in a row. That’s pretty much the reason I dropped them. It is just so hard to buy in to WPI when they always seem to peak early and go through a stretch late in the season like this. The loss to Babson was their second to them and handed the Beavers the NEWMAC lead, but it was the end of three in a row that saw WPI lose to 9-12 (now) Springfield and Emerson.

Chicago has lost four in a row and put themselves in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament. Courtesy: Univ. of Chicago Athletics

Chicago^ (Previously 17)
The Maroons have now lost four in a row, all to Rochester and Emory including an unbelievable loss to the Yellow Jackets on a purposely missed free-throw, rebound, and three-pointer at the buzzer. It is amazing how fast a season can change. Chicago is basically in a must-win situation the rest of the season. Any loss will pretty much eliminate them from winning the UAA crown and throw them into a very crowded Central Region that will make getting an at-large bid very difficult. I really like Chicago and have for years… but this is not good.

Tufts had a tough battle this week, but despite beating Amherst fell out of Dave’s Top 25.

Tufts (Previously 23)
I realize the Jumbos beat Amherst, but they also lost to Trinity this week. No, not a bad loss and certainly a good win, but in a shake-up of my Top 25 I couldn’t hold on to them. They have previous losses to Wesleyan and Middlebury in the last few weeks and just don’t seem to be playing very consistently – they are all over the place. I might be wrong on this, but I just don’t like the look. Plus the fact, if you are good enough to beat Amherst… you should be good enough to be Trinity.

Texas Lutheran (Previously 25)
I was ready to pull this trigger last week, but held on. But a loss to Trinity this past weekend was the straw that broke the back. I don’t doubt the Bulldogs are a very good team this year and could make a bit of a run in the NCAA tournament if the bracket lines up right for them (like East Texas Baptist last year), but it is a crowded field for those worthy of being a Top 25 team and I think Texas Lutheran isn’t fitting the mold right now.

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season

Previous Ballots:

Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

It certainly is interesting right now. Sometimes the Top 25 settles down a little bit by this time of the year, but not this season. That isn’t overly surprising. There are a lot of good teams across the country and probably some that are flying under the radar. I know I spotted a few that I hadn’t taken as seriously as before in this process of blowing up my radar. Some made my ballot, some others are still off the ballot. There certainly isn’t a shortage of teams who can make arguments they are the best 25 in the country.\

For comparison’s sake, you can also check out Ira Thor’s Top 25 ballot here.

Dave’s Top 25 Blog: Week 7

Kenny Love and the overall #1 Whitworth Pirates moved back into second spot on my ballot.

It was an interesting week for the D3hoops.com Top 25 – at least I thought so. We are getting to the point where things appear to be getting more stable. I didn’t think we would ever get to that point and having said that I have probably jinxed myself for the rest of the season. However, I think myself and other voters are starting to feel more comfortable with far more of the ballot. It used to be just the top five, then maybe eight or nine, but now I feel like the top fifteen or more are a bit more solid and I am just working on filling out the rest. In other words, this week’s ballot felt more like ballots of seasons past!

Unfortunately, I did not get to see as many games online as I normally do this past week. Despite the fact a blizzard kept me indoors over the weekend, it didn’t mean I had all of this free time to just watch games. When you are expecting two to three feet of snow, you spend part of that time shoveling during the storm so you can open your doors and have less to break your back over after the storm. Thank goodness I got out a few times during the storm as three feet is what ended up falling on us and I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle that all at once (I am still shoveling three days later!).

As a result, I have concentrated my efforts a little more on posts on the Posting Up boards from those who see teams in action and know them the best. You have to be careful with this tactic as you will get some very different points of view from two people who were at the same game – seen through whatever tint their glasses are per their rooting interests. However, there are a number of solid posters who continually give great accounts of games or input that you can’t always appreciate watching a game online. I will admit, I am not great at breaking a game down through written word, so I truly appreciate those who do.

There still remains one major challenge: There are a number of deserving or seem-to-be-deserving teams worthy of Top 25 love, but not enough spots to put them in. Each week I struggle to figure out how to get teams on my ballot and figure out who to remove. In weeks past when there were losses-a-plenty, it was a little bit easier. However, the last few weeks have seen a downward trend in losses on my ballot meaning I have less teams I am willing to dump for others.

The other challenge comes with squads people think deserve to be in the Top 25 because they got a big win or two. One such team came up in conversation on Twitter recently:

While the tweet wasn’t directed at me, I saw it and it made me think. Wesleyan has been on my radar for weeks, but I keep having problems with some of their results. This past week they beat up on Amherst and beat Tufts as well. Pretty good week, right? But prior to that they had lost three of four games including Amherst beating up on them in a game that actually counted for the NESCAC. (Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams all play a second round of games against each other for Little Three bragging rights. The first Amherst-Wesleyan game counted for NESCAC play: Amherst won. The second game counted for the Little Three only: Wesleyan won.) By the way, when I say they beat each other up, Amherst won the first game by 24 and Wesleyan won the second game by 27. And then there is that Lyndon State (6-9) game the very first game of the season which Wesleyan lost by 2. While it was the first game of the season, it is still a loss I struggle to understand other than it was the first game of the season.

Rashid Epps and Wesleyan have had an up and down three weeks. Credit: Wesleyan Athletics

In my back and forth Twittersation with 757Basketball, they expressed bewilderment as to why Wesleyan wouldn’t be getting love for winning the NESCAC title last season. This is the funniest part because I can’t tell you how many people will tell me they want me voting on only this year’s results, while another set of people understands if I take history into account (not winning a title, but trends and consistency), and other set of people want me to lean heavily on history. I can’t win! LOL

Wesleyan is ranked in the Top 25 on this week’s D3hoops poll, but I will break the suspense and tell you they are not on my ballot below. The Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde routine of the past three weeks doesn’t make make comfortable putting them on my ballot just yet. However, the Cardinals have some solid opponents coming up in the final five games of the season. Play well and I am sure I can find room on a crowded ballot.

One more thing before I continue on with this week’s ballot, I want to recognize Ira Thor and Ryan Scott. Last week Ira started blogging his ballot for the world to see and Ryan Scott followed suit with his blog this week. They both recognized the fact I am doing it as part of the reason they are being transparent and I congratulate them for taking what is honestly a bold step forward in revealing their voting and even thinking behind their decisions. It only helps to give people a better understanding of how different voters vote because there are 25 completely different voters with very different mindsets and interpretations. Some of us might chat with one another, but we certainly don’t all vote the same way. To see their ballots, you can click here for Ira’s and click here for Ryan’s.

Now on to my ballot from this week (forgive the lack of brevity for some of these, not a lot of time this week for writing):

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)

2 – Whitworth* (Up 1)

3 – St. Thomas* (Up 1)

4 – Benedictine (Up 1)

5 – John Carroll (Up 1)

6 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 1)

Elmhurst last unbeaten to lose in the CCIW this season.

7 – Elmhurst (Down 5)
My point a few weeks ago when Augustana lost to Elmhurst on the road was that I expected the Vikings to lose a game in CCIW play. It’s been 43 seasons since someone went through conference play undefeated and I didn’t expect it to happen this year. As a result, I did not and I have not moved Augustana off of my top spot. So Elmhurst losing to North Central, on the road, isn’t all that surprising in the fact that I didn’t expect the Blue Jays to go undefeated in the CCIW either (or they would have been my number one team!). However, it was an 18-point loss not a two-point, overtime loss like Augustana’s. North Central shot very well and Elmhurst was average. So I knew I was going to drop the Blue Jays a couple of spots. They fell a few extra spots only because I couldn’t argue they were better than the teams ahead of them right now. So, five spots is a tough drop for a road loss in conference, but to be honest I expect them to lose another road game this week (Augustana).

For those wondering, no, North Central did not make my ballot this week. I only have one five-loss team on my ballot and seriously considered dropping them off this week as well. It is a decision I am not exactly sure of even as I write this, but it is the decision I went with when it click “submit.”

8 – Hope (Unchanged)

9 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

10 – Susquehanna* (Up 1)

11 – Marietta (Up 1)

12 – Chicago^ (Up 1)

13 – Johnson and Wales (Up 2)
The Wildcats continue to dominate in their conference. I am serious when I say even Albertus Magnus didn’t dominate the GNAC like this in the last few years. 36 points per game! But for those who have followed my blog over the years, you will notice J&W is in about the same spot as AMC has been this time of the year almost every season.

14 – WPI (Up 2)

Lord Jeff no more at Amherst. Just part of a rough week on campus. Credit: Independent Journal

15 – Amherst (Down 6)
Not a good week for the Lord Jeffs – and the final time I will probably be uttering those two words. I’m not sure the ramping up style of scheduling Amherst has done over the last few years (starting with easier opponents and working towards more challenging ones before conference play) is working out this season. That coupled with the fact the NESCAC is a far deeper conference than in years past contributed to a 1-2 week for Amherst. Wesleyan, as noted earlier, and then Colby nipped the purple team from central Massachusetts. The only bright spot, a thorough thumping of Bowdoin in the middle of a three-game road trip. It won’t get any easier for Amherst, maybe, as they continue what is a five game road stretch with games at Williams (12-6) and Trinity (14-4) this week. Amherst is clearly not as good as what voter’s thought in the preseason (#3) nor I (#5). I will be watching very closely to see how Dave Hixon’s squad responds this week.

16 – Alma (Up 2)

17 – Texas Lutheran (Up 2)

18 – Lancaster Bible (Up 2)

19 – St. Norbert (Unranked)
I am making up for last week’s mistake of accidently leaving St. Norbert off my ballot. However, it might have been a blessing in disguise. It forced me to reevaluate the Green Knights since I had them off my ballot. I needed to find a spot to place them and maybe broke up a rut I was in with SNC. I didn’t seem to be able to move them out of the twenties. This might get me moving them around a bit more since with two-losses they are playing better than expectations – AGAIN. I could have moved them up further as well, but at least they are back on the poll where they deserve to be!

20 – Roanoke (Up 3)

21 – Northwestern (Up 3)

22 – Brooklyn (Up 3)

Mount Union needs to win a big game other than Chicago earlier this season.

23 – Mount Union (Down 9)
I’ll be brutally honest, despite having them 14th and losing to a team I and the D3hoops.com voting group had ranked ahead of them (Marietta), I almost pulled the plug on the Purple Raiders. Five losses are the most any team has on my ballot. It is also the most on the overall poll, but that team is North Central. I realize Mount Union has played a very difficult schedule, in what has become a fascinatingly tough OAC race, but at some point I have expected UMU to beat a ranked team! They have a win over Chicago, but they have losses to William Paterson (once ranked), North Central, John Carroll, and Marietta (last two in back-to-back games). What is worse, when Mount Union losses it isn’t close. The average spread in a loss is 13.8 with six being the closest in a game against Colby. I decided to hold on just a little longer because I think the Purple Raiders are a very good team, but they won’t get another “big” game until Feb. 17 against John Carroll. I expect them to win every game between then to be blunt.

24 – Tufts (Down 7)
I nearly pulled the plug here as well. The Jumbos have lost two of their last four including to starting-to-get-hot Middlebury and schizophrenic Wesleyan. At least the games have been close, but as NESCAC play has intensified Tufts seems to be wilting a little. They only beat Conn College by two the other day on the road. Interestingly, Tufts has two non-conference games in the next three which might not tell us anything, so I wait patiently.

25 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 4)
The Diplomats only ended up playing one game due to the Blizzard last week and lost to Gettysburg (they have since beaten McDaniel in a twice-postponed-game). While F&M made a run in the second half to try and make it interesting, the Bullets pulled away in the end and left F&M floundering with 57 points. This is the same point in the season last year when the unexpectedly hot season fizzled on the Diplomats. They had started 14-0 and 7-0 in conference before losing their first game on January 17. They would go on to lose six of their final twelve games of the season and miss out on the NCAA Tournament. This is basically the same team, expect supposedly with more experience. However, the conference isn’t scared of the Diplomats and with Dickinson looking to prove they are still good coming up and a tough finishing set of games remaining, F&M needs to put the blinders on and focus on the task at hand – securing home-court advantage for the Centennial playoffs or this season is going to end just as suddenly as last year’s.

Dropped Out:

Trine’s undoing started with a loss at Calvin. Courtesy: Trine Athletics

Trine (Previously 22)
I did to Trine what I nearly did to Mount Union. After starting the season 10-1, the Thunder have gone 3-3 in their last six and now sit 3-3 in the conference race in a three-way tie for third. Furthermore, they haven’t beaten the really good or ranked teams on their schedule. They have lost to Ohio Wesleyan, Calvin, Hope, and Alma. Three of those teams ranked and all three conference losses to teams ahead of tied with them in the standings. Trine needs to man-up and get a significant win. They have a home game against Calvin coming up this week which can help them greatly (since they are tied with the Knights in third place), but Hope and Alma won’t show up on the schedule for a few more weeks.

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season

Previous Ballots
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

So, only one team entered the ballot (with one team dropping out) and it’s the first team to re-enter my ballot this season. They also shouldn’t have been off my ballot in the first place!

There are still probably 20 or so teams I have “on my radar” that I spend the most time on each week trying to figure out if they deserve to be on my ballot or not. And if they do, who should be removed.

Sometimes I blow up my ballot because I have gotten into ruts and teams probably should be moved more drastically then I am allowing in its current structure. Other times I blow it up is when I feel like I have put myself in a corner and can’t find good enough reasons to move teams on or off accordingly. This week with the bottom third of the ballot feeling somewhat set, I feel a ballot blow up coming… just to shake up my thinking.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 6

Will Starks and John Carroll moved up on Dave's ballot thanks to a big win over Mount Union.

Will Starks and John Carroll moved up on Dave’s ballot thanks to a big win over Mount Union.

Another week, another challenging D3hoops.com Top 25 to consider. The top of the poll is somewhat solid. Not many changes, some shuffling, but the top fourteen spots didn’t take much time to decide on. It was the next eleven spots which are difficult, especially the massive vacuum that seems to reside in that area. Not the kind of vacuum that sucks everything up, but the kind of vacuum that is an empty, devoid space.

There have been a few vacuums this season on my ballot. At the beginning it resided between 5-10 on the poll. It has steadily moved down the poll as some of the good teams I had reservations about have proven themselves pretty strong. It has been starting around 12-15 for a few weeks now.

That’s the complication. There are a high number of teams who certainly can make arguments to be Top 25 teams – I’ve said probably up to 70 teams some weeks. But there is a place on the poll each week where it doesn’t feel like teams are good enough to be ranked there, but no one else should be there either. It’s a vacuum.

I have dealt with these vacuums in two ways this season: moved teams from below up into the ranks to fill the hole; inserted teams unranked before to fill the hole. The first option I used when the vacuum was further up in the Top 10. I didn’t have teams unranked the week prior who could just jump into a slot in the range of five to ten. However, as the vacuum has shifted further down, I have inserted unranked teams into as high as 15, I believe. Neither option feels comfortable because I am basically putting teams where I don’t think they fit. But again, there is a vacuum I need to fill and it may have backfired on me last week.

None the less, there is a vacuum for me starting right at number fifteen. I went with the “unranked last week” plan of attack yet again and took a risk.

With that all said… let’s get to the ballot! But first, a shout-out to my fellow voter Ira Thor who decided to reveal his Top 25 as well. I applaud him for deciding to be transparent. I know others who will tell you their ballot should you ask (being transparent) and I think it’s good to help people understand what voters are thinking.

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
No reason to change my mind here, though it has been an interesting to see how the first place votes have been breaking down and the reactions to those votes.

2 – Elmhurst (Unchanged)

3 – Whitworth* (Unchanged)

4 – St. Thomas* (Up 1)
Three-game week resulted in no losses and included a solid win over Augsburg and an import win over St. John’s.

Luke Johnson and Benedictine continue to avoid an in-conference hiccup.

5 – Benedictine (Up 1)
The Eagles continue to avoid what I worry about the most: a conference loss which could spiral into a couple of losses quickly. In games they should win, they dominated at least one of them this past week.

6 – John Carroll (Up 4)
The Blue Streaks are proving they are for real this season. You will remember I have been nervous of what was really going on in University Heights, Ohio, but a high-scoring 116-93 win over ranked Mount Union was what I was looking for on my personal litmus test for the team. Granted, it was a litmus test across the board for John Carroll, but I was very interested not only if John Carroll could win the game, but would they do it on their own terms – high scoring game tells me it was on their own terms. Now the target is squarely on JCU. They have wins over Marietta and Mount Union, but they won those games at home. They have ten games remaining for the conference tournament and have to play Marietta and Mount Union on the road… in back-to-back games in February.

7 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unchanged)

8 – Hope (Down 4)
The Dutchmen’s fall of four spots to a pretty good Alma team is three-fold: they did lose a game granted on the road, they haven’t looked all that strong in the last few weeks, and the movement of other teams didn’t find a hole until number eight. I still think Hope is a dangerous team who has a chance at being very special this season, but since returning from the holiday break, they barely beat Albion at home (68-65), had a tougher-than-expected game at Olivet (79-64), and the loss on the road to Alma. They backed that up with an emphatic win over Trine (74-51) which probably should have kept them from falling four spots. However, I don’t think they are playing better than the teams ahead of them and when I moved John Carroll up four spots the only opening I had left was here at eight. I just want to see Hope start to play a little more consistently at a high-level that I have become accustom to this season.

9 – Amherst (Unchanged)

Tim Daly and Christopher Newport are quietly putting together one of their best seasons in program history. Courtesy: Christopher Newport Athletics/Keller Gabriel

10 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
Quick comment on the Captains – they are playing some really good basketball. The CAC has been an interesting conference where almost anyone can rise to the occasion to beat someone on top, but Christopher Newport has been dominating everyone. They haven’t had a conference game in single-digits at the end all season. The closest anyone has come has been Salisbury (71-60) and Marymount (68-58) at the beginning of December. This might be a team who will quietly go far into the tournament this year before anyone realizes what is actually happening.

11 – Susquehanna* (Down 4)
This has been a magical season for the Crusaders and going undefeated in the conference was certainly on everyone’s mind no matter how unrealistic it may have been an expectation. But when they beat-up on Scranton on the road and having already beaten Catholic at home, that expectation began to take root. Was I surprised they lost? No. However, I didn’t think they would lose to a team in the bottom two-thirds, or so, of the conference. I figured Catholic or Scranton would eventually trip them up. Drew is a good team, but that was a road game Susquehanna should have won to remain a Top Ten squad.

12 – Marietta (Unchanged)

13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)

14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)

Quarry Greenaway and J&W are blowing out teams in conference by more than 36 points per game! Courtesy: Johnson and Wales Athletics

15 – Johnson and Wales (Unranked)
And here we enter the vacuum of my poll right now. I am going with a risk with Johnson and Wales here because… have you seen the Wildcats this season? We had Coach Jamie Benton on Hoopsville earlier this season when they got out to a good start. Should they keep this up, he will appear again to talk about dancing in the NCAA Tournament. They are not only 9-0 in the GNAC, a conference Albertus Magnus has dominated the last few season, but they dismantled a rebuilding, but still good (11-3), AMC squad 113-58 at home last week. They are beating conference teams by an average of 37.6 points per game! For comparison, Albertus Magnus beat their conference opponents by 18.8 ppg last season. J&W’s one loss this season? Linfield in the opening game of the season at Lewis and Clark. Considering the travel alone for that game, I am going to give the Wildcats a pass. I just don’t know if going from unranked to 15th is a smart move on my part.

16 – WPI (Down 1)
A loss to Babson isn’t a surprise expect that it was a home loss. The worry I have is the Engineers didn’t play well on the road against Emerson in the next game. I wasn’t buying into WPI early on. Now I have and it looks like they have hit a funk. We shall see.

17 – Tufts (Down 1)

Sam Hargraves and the Scots are in the D3hoops.com Top 25 for the first time in program history. Courtesy: Alma Athletics

18 – Alma (Unranked)
I had bracketed this past week for Alma several weeks ago. At home against Hope and then on the road against Calvin. This was a true test. Boy were the Scots ready! They beat Hope by 11 in a game they clearly were the better team and then beat-up on Calvin by 22. This squad is not a surprise in the conference. You might remember Hope’s Greg Mitchell talking about them earlier this season on Hoopsville, Kevin Vande Streek talked about them with me at the D3hoops.com Classic, and others have talked about how Alma (and Trine) were going to reshape the top of the MIAA. Alma is proving those thoughts accurate. But there is a lot of basketball to go including on the road against Trine this week and a road Hope, home Calvin set of games in early February.

19 – Texas Lutheran (Down 2)
The Bulldogs didn’t do anything to fall two spots, but they aren’t exactly a team I felt comfortable moving up into the 15th hole (per my previous handling of vacuum problems). But I am also getting nervous I am reading too much into the squad. When I talk to those who have seen them in action, they don’t speak as highly about them as I expect. One voter’s thoughts to me were, “they are good, just good.” I wanted badly to see them this past week when I was in San Antonio, but my schedule didn’t allow it. They do have a win over Alma and are now ranked in my poll behind them. That’s because I think Alma is playing better now than in late December and it was a one-point win in the first place.  The other problem: the losses to Pacific Lutheran, Illinois Wesleyan, and Texas-Tyler are not looking as good or strong as they have in the past. The shine just doesn’t seem to be there for me anymore

Herbie Brown and Lancaster Bible survived the toughest travel weekend of the season.

20 – Lancaster Bible (Unranked)
As with Alma, I had this past weekend bracketed for Lancaster Bible and they delivered. They had their toughest, conference road trip of the season ahead of them and they dominated with wins over Cazenovia (92-77) and Morrisville State (97-66). Morrisville State has been the class of the NEAC for several years, so to go into their place – even if they are having a down year – and beat them my 31 is more than impressive. That coupled with the fact they already have a dominating win over Franklin & Marshall and I am ready to buy in. The only trick is the Chargers are just hitting the midway point of the season. Unlike most teams, they have 13 games to fit into roughly a four-week period (January 22 to February 20). That schedule may take a toll, though eight of the final thirteen games are at home.

21 – Franklin & Marshall^ (Up 4)
The Diplomats have not let Glenn Robinson’s chase for 900 career wins or passing Bobby Knight on the all-time list distract them – nor would he let them for anyone who knows them. However, it can be a very distracting thing. Instead, F&M is in the midst of a six game winning streak. I would rank the squad higher, but they aren’t dominating teams, they are having games finish close that shouldn’t, and they aren’t exactly putting 40 minutes of complete basketball together every night – if they have done it at all this season. But they are good and seemingly deserve to be ranked.

22 – Trine (Down 1)
To be honest, I probably should have pulled Trine out of my ranking. I didn’t expect them to beat Hope especially after the Dutchmen got beat by Alma earlier in the week. But to lose by 23? Ouch. They have also now lost two in the last four games against two of the four teams battling for the top of the conference and with Alma looming on Wednesday, I am nervous that Trine is not going to pass its toughest test of the season (Calvin, Hope, and Alma in five games – 14 days). In hindsight, I might have had a better team to take their place or keep one of those I ejected this week in the poll.

Roanoke was unable to beat Hamden-Sydney, but still played their style of game. Courtesy: Roanoke College Athletics

23 – Roanoke (Down 3)
This is what happens it seems more than I can count. You finally buy into a team, rank them, and they go out and lay an egg. When I quickly chatted, via text, with Page Moir about the Maroons loss to Hampden-Sydney, he said it was a bad shooting night. I didn’t know the score at the time, just that they lost (I was with ODAC members at the NCAA Convention at the time). I looked later and saw the score: 100-92. Bad shooting night and still put 92 points on the board?! Let me tell you the number of coaches would love to have that problem! That is why I am not bailing on Roanoke. They are still playing their game and a bad shooting night is the reason they lost, not the reason they aren’t a Top 25 team. They are still the fourth-highest scoring team in the country (100.0 ppg) and one of those teams hasn’t really played a Division III schedule (Nebraska Wesleyan 100.3 ppg). The other two: Greenville (5-10; 111.7 ppg) and Grinnell (7-7; 106.4 ppg).

24 – Northwestern (Down 5)
I don’t like the loss to St. Scholastica to be blunt. I realize the Saints are 10-6 on the season, but it isn’t a good loss in my mind for the Eagles. I seriously thought about ejecting them from the Top 25 and there could be a strong argument later to have done it. The Eagles have now lost twice in a conference they went undefeated in last season and lost two of their last five games. I might be giving them too much credit for being a tough squad.

25 – Brooklyn (Down 2)
The Bulldogs didn’t do anything necessarily to fall two spots – they beat Hunter in their only game of the week. They just shuffled down two spots due to movement of teams above and around them. I still don’t love their loss to Baruch despite how tough the CUNYAC really is and the fact everyone knows Baruch is one of the tougher match-ups, no matter the record. But they are still a team I think will surprise some people come March.

Dropped Out:

UW-Whitewater (Previously 17)
I can’t say I have ever put a team into my Top 25, especially that high on the ballot after being unranked, and then removed them the next week. Bad week for the Warhawks. Lost to River Falls and Oshkosh Guh. I don’t really have anything to say. I thought they were coming together as a team especially considering how many transfers had come onto the program, but I must have read more into it than there needed to be. I will say last year’s experience of not ranking UW-Stevens Point until even later than this point in the season was in the back of my head, but this was just buying in too soon. This is also an example of why sometimes I am gun-shy about teams that are playing well above my expectations and thus why I tend to be a little slower than some to buy in.

Bridgeport Tusler scored 18 against Augsburg, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the loss for Bethel. Courtesy: Bethel Athletics

Bethel (Previously 22)
I circled this decision for a very long time. I am still not so sure I got this right. I realize they lost to Augsburg, but let’s not pretend that isn’t a good Aggies squad there in Minneapolis. But when Augsburg got thumped in their next game to St. John’s it had a trickle down affect to Bethel. Despite going 2-1 on the week and being what I feel is the second best team in the MIAC, I decided to take them out of the poll and give someone else a chance for right now.

St. Norbert (Previously 24)
The Green Knights slipped past me. Plain and simple. I was moving so many parts around (see above) along with considering so many other teams outside my ballot, I simply lost track of St. Norbert. Their win over Beloit didn’t do anything for me (they should be Beloit by 26!), though their win over Knox certainly raised my eyebrow (only scoring 56 points – thirty less than against Beloit – only winning by 3 to a one-win squad). I had not planned to removed St. Norbert from my Top 25, but in my back and forth thinking about Northwestern and with other squads I thought deserved to be in there, SNC simply fell off my ballot and I didn’t really notice it until writing this blog. Probably a mistake I will have to fix next week.

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season

Previous Ballots

Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

So there you have it. I am still keeping up with my removal of at least three teams from my Top 25, and shuffling teams around quite a bit. However, this week felt a little less stressful. That or I have gotten so used to the hours of work and hair pulling that it didn’t bother me as much this week. I am leaning towards that second thought.

I have also been knocking on the door of a full ballot blow-up and am kind of shocked I didn’t force it in the last few weeks. This week will be revealing if that kind of shake-up is needed in the near future.