Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 2

Middlebury didn’t play this past week. That caused Dave to leave them where they were, but others moved the Panthers up. (Courtesy: Middlebury Athletics)

It was another weird week in Division III basketball. I didn’t have 26 loses from 16 teams, but in less games 12 Ls still ended up populating my Top 25.

Maybe I shouldn’t say “weird.” This appears to be the status quo now, so maybe it is actually “normal.”

Either way, the losses coupled by not-so-amazing wins resulted in some of my Top 25 decisions being a breeze. Yeah. Took me nearly no time to get about half to two-thirds of my ballot done. That allowed me to be more energized to tackle the final ten to fifteen spots. I could think more clearly about new teams. I normally feel like I have already whacked my way through a good portion of the jungle before realizing the jungle got thicker. At least this time, I started in a clearing first.

Yes, teams lost. That happens more often now. I’ve talked, a lot, about that. With the mentality that teams losing isn’t that unexpected, especially to good teams, along with others also not playing necessarily challenging squads this week (or all season) led me to not move as many teams around as I expected. In fact, until I realized I needed one particular team higher up my ballot, I had the top 14 teams on last week’s ballot unchanged. I then “woke” (it was a long weekend) and after shifting one team significantly, the rest moved down a spot.

Then came the later half of the ballot. I knew I was going to get some teams wrong last week. The voice in the back of my head had been screaming and for the most part I had ignored it. That voice has been laughing at me ever since.

The real challenge came to getting teams on to the ballot. I wrote 14 teams down that I wanted to consider getting on the ballot plus a couple of others with an outside chance. There was no way I could cram that many in. I ended up starting to whittle down the list of possibles while also looking to find more to cut off my previous week’s ballot. Took me a little longer than I expected as I considered opponent winning percentages and dove deep a bit on results.

Since I didn’t spend that much time on my ballot, let’s not spend too much time in the intro to the ballot and get right to it. A reminder, here is last week’s ballot. And now, this week’s ballot for the D3hoops.com Top 25 with a few notes:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
Puget Sound gave the the Blues a heck of a good game, but that might be more of an indication of UPS than Whitman. The Blues have a large target on them. They are going to take everyone’s best.

Grey Giovanine looks on as the Titans of UW-Oshkosh handed Augustana their first DIII loss of the year.

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
I had to share the picture that was on the front page of D3hoops.com. The look on Grey Giovanine’s face is priceless. One of resignation that of course this would happen. Listen, they lost to a very good, maybe an underrated, Oshkosh team. The loss of Wofford (injury) wasn’t something I thought would be a big deal. I still don’t, but I do realize Jacob Johnson isn’t there to pick up the slack.

3 – Williams (Unchanged)
Their loss to Wesleyan, like in Augustana’s case, may be more about the Cardinals than it is about the Ephs. That or the men’s team was distracted by the women’s soccer team winning their second title in three years. HA! Is Williams the third best team in the country? I don’t know. Not sure who is to be honest.

4 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
Didn’t play this week. Don’t play much between now and New Year’s. That is going to make it tough to truly understand how good the Panthers are between now and when NESCAC action begins.

5 – Marietta (Unchanged)
Yep. I saw the loss to Baldwin Wallace. Tell me if you have heard this before… that might be more of an indication about the Yellow Jackets than… yeah, you know what I am going to say.

6 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 7)
Here is the team I spoke of which I needed to move up the ballot. I rather move the Titans up than Augustana down for that win. Move them ahead of Augustana? Yeah. I considered that. Was 50/50 on it. I did it last week with Hobart (more on that later). Single game results don’t necessarily paint the entire picture, so as a season gets more and more data I am not as jumpy to just lean on that variable. There are also times when it is absolutely relevant and others when other data plays more of a role. In this case, Oshkosh moved up due to their win over Augie, but not ahead of them as of yet.

Ramapo and a host of other schools moved down Dave’s ballot despite winning because room needed to be created for UW-Oshkosh.

7 – Ramapo (Down 1)
This is where we start with a rash of teams who moved down due to Oshkosh being moved up. Here is a prime example to answer the question we always here, “why did ‘my team’ lose points/move down despite not losing and winning X games.” Because nothing is in a vacuum. Other teams movement affects everyone on a ballot. Roadrunners had a good week in the NJAC and wasn’t going to move up or down as a result. I needed to move UWO up, had to find a spot and thus had to move everyone down to make it happen.

8 – UW-Whitewater (Down 1)

9 – Hanover (Down 1)

10 – UW-River Falls (Down 1)

11 – WashU (Down 1)

12 – St. John’s (Down 1)

Ohio Wesleyan was unable to comeback and defeat Hanover, but Dave’s Week 1 ballot predicted that defeat. (Courtesy: Ohio Wesleyan Athletics)

13 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 1)
Many may hear me state (preach) that I am not a fan of teams being “punished,” like the Battling Bishops, when they lose to a higher ranked team. If we trust our own ballots and the poll, then if we say Hanover is better than Ohio Wesleyan and the result is exactly that, then why would anyone then move the losing team down? Yes, a blow out, injuries, or other items may cause that to happen, but many times voters just move a team down for a loss no matter who it is. Ok. Off my soapbox. You may notice that despite my comments Ohio Wesleyan moved down a slot. I refer you back to the Ramapo comment. Everyone from 7 through 13 moved down a slot to free up the spot I needed. OWU was originally penciled in to stay put, thus OWU was going to stay at 12.

14 – Skidmore (Unchanged)

15 – Rochester (Up 1)

16 – New Jersey City (Up 3)
The Gothic Knights are off to their best start in 25 years. Some would argue that Sam Toney could be the best player in the conference and region (back to back 30+ point games; never done in TCNJ NJCU history). Despite what they lost from last year’s squad, this could be a damn good unit. Their opponent winning percentage is currently below .500, so it might be hard to truly gauge. I have also bought in to the Knights and later regretted it. Time will tell.

Wesleyan knocked off Williams in overtime in the past week leap frogging them onto Dave’s ballot. (Courtesy: Wesleyan Athletics)

17 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The result against Williams was exactly what I was waiting for last week. I noticed the Cardinal’s strong start and I also saw what was ahead of them. Jumping them from unranked to the middle of my ballot for an OT win over Williams might be a bit extreme, but I am okay with it … I think. I have been burned by this before. Even more extreme is if I swapped them with Williams. Why didn’t I? I just don’t think from coming off my ballot to a Top 5 team is feasible (though, UMHB in the final ballot of the poll is an exception). There are reasons I have teams off my ballot. There are reasons I have others on my ballot. Teams I have off my ballot don’t jump into a ballot in the Top 5 or 10 based on just one win. I can hear the arguments, but it isn’t my thinking.

18 – Baldwin Wallace (Unranked)
Here is another team I have been keeping a close eye on, but I feel like I have been here before. I think people laughed at me a few years ago when I had the Yellow Jackets in my Top 25 when pretty much no one else did – and I had them pretty high. That didn’t look so smart a few weeks later despite a hot start. This BW team seems different. The win over Marietta – on the road – was impressive even if it did come via a banked, buzzer beater, three. I would have considered them even if they had lost. By the way, BW’s opponent’s record right now is 15-8 and they are 4-1 with wins over UW-River Falls and Marietta. Not bad.

19 – North Central (Up 1)

20 – MIT (Up 4)

21 – Eastern Connecticut State (Up 4)

Lake Forest’s Eric Porter was named the MWC player of the week for his contributions including 11 threes against Grinnell last week. (Courtesy: Lake Forest Athletics)

22 – Lake Forest (Unranked)
No. You are not seeing things. There is something about the Foresters that I am intrigued about. They have beaten a pretty decent Carthage squad, Chicago, and survived against a redesigned Grinnell squad. Their lone loss is to an interesting Loras squad. Lake Forest is off to a pretty good start and I think it is worth of a Top 25 nod.

23 – Bowdoin (Down 2)

24 – Wartburg (Unranked)
Ok. I am buying in. Kind of. Yes, talking to Dick Peth helped me understand why this team is actually better than I expected, no matter how they finished last season. It is a far more experienced squad than I had given them credit. Their opponents are a combined 16-10 and that only counts their DIII schedule. Their two wins over Dubuque and Eau Claire is what did it for me this week.

Nichols has already yo-yoed in and out of Dave’s ballot early this season. (Courtesy: Nichols Athletics/Jill Souza)

25 – Nichols (Unranked)
The Bison rolled over Endicott in a game I had circled in preseason and highlighted after the Gulls win over Babson. Nichols is putting up points on just about everyone (except Wesleyan who is also now ranked; one of the reasons Nichols fell off my ballot last week was because I wasn’t going to rank Wesleyan) and have two players who many will be talking about in at least New England this season.

Dropped Out:

Hobart (Previously 15)
This is why sometimes I don’t put teams ahead of others based on a head-to-head win and don’t get too excited about a hot start. I didn’t give my contrarian voice in my head enough credit. I liked Hobart’s start to the season. Beating two preseason Top 25 teams is not something to ignore. However, they then lost two of three last week. If it had just been a loss to Brockport, so be it. However, the loss to Union is not good enough if you have beaten Rochester and St. John Fisher already. Hobart will still be the class of the Liberty League this season. They have time to take over the region.

St. Thomas (Previously 17)
I feel somewhat bipolar with my treatment of the Tommies. I wonder if I will get a text, call, email from anyone in particular for my treatment. I think I went with the masses last week after St. Thomas had a great start including taking Marietta to overtime. I worried about when we might see the youth start to affect things. Maybe that time is now. Several have told me Hamline may be pretty solid this year, but I can’t use that as credit right now. UST is also a victim of wanting to get other teams I felt deserving to be on my ballot. They may have hung on otherwise.

CNU was able to get past Salisbury, but fell to Frostburg last week resulting in moving out of Dave’s ballot. (Courtesy: CNU Athletics/Ashley Oaks-Clary)

Christopher Newport (Previously 18)
I am nervous about what is going on with the Captains. Their backcourt is very banged up. They have a lot of flaws. The win over Salisbury was solid. Maybe Frostburg was a trap game. However, if CNU is a Top 25 team, they should win even a bad trap game.

Emory (Previously 22)
The Eagles lost to Hamden-Sydney?! A few years ago, I would have chalked that up to a solid South Region battle. Not this year. HSU is all over the place this season. Emory should have handled that game even if it was on the road.

Babson (Previously 23)
I let go of the leash. Looks like what the Beavers lost was far more than I appreciated. This team is going to take time to fully come together. Don’t be surprised if Babson is at the top of the NEWMAC thanks to their scheduling, while beating them up now, helps them grow later.

Previously Ballots:
Week 1
Preseason

Not sure what else to say. It was an interesting week and as I go to post this, I have seen other voters had very different thinking than I. That is why there are 25 voters. There isn’t just one opinion on this especially with so many good teams now at our disposal.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Preseason ’17-’18

Preseason Top 25 work featured an extensive Excel spreadsheet, at least two notepads, and plenty of erasers.

The 2017-18 Division III basketball season is around the corner. Retirements, new coaches, transfers, new rules, and plenty more await us on November 15 when things officially get underway. I am certainly excited about the upcoming season, but will admit the last two months have flown by. Last I checked, I was putting some things in order while relaxing at my parent’s place in Down East Maine. Suddenly the season is roughly two weeks away and I don’t feel ready. Not sure how the teams feel!

This men’s basketball season promises to carry on the theme of the last few years: parity. Plenty of parity. That said, I felt I had less teams to consider for the Top 25 than I can remember in a long time. Maybe that’s because of parity. So many teams that have been outstanding are just good or pretty good now. There just doesn’t seem to be many outstanding teams. I felt I was saying, “eh, nope, not a Top 25 team on paper right now,” a lot. I said it to a lot of those perennial favorites as well.

I’ll give a spoiler away now. Amherst, Hope, St. Thomas, Whitworth, and Wooster didn’t even make my ballot. Most of them I didn’t consider after looking them over the first time through. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good teams. It is just so much harder to figure out the Top 25 because we now have a handful of really good teams and a ton of good to pretty good teams. Too many to fit on a ballot.

One other thing that surprised me, I voted for three WIAC, three NESCAC, three USAA, and two CCIW teams. Nothing against those quality conferences, but with so much parity I didn’t think 11 of the 25 slots would got to the four power conferences.

I will also admit, the preseason Top 25 sometimes feels like a crap-shoot. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. It is hard to take information on paper about a team, compare it from what you know (or remember) about the team the previous season, and weigh in factors like transfers, new players, and coaching changes. Those last three factors are nearly impossible to actually truly understand. One person’s “great addition” is another’s “let’s see what he can actually do.”

I am not incredibly confident I have read the tea leaves accurately this year. I stared at my notepads and Excel spreadsheet for long periods of time trying to figure out who really deserved to be, say, the 11th ranked team. Which teams was I completely misreading or misinterpreting. Was the loss of an important player going to hurt or maybe help? How much stock was I putting in historic performances and was that even fair to do?

As I’ve had said in many a preseason, at some point I had to just stick with what I had on paper and stop erasing and rewriting (thank goodness, I do these ballots with a pencil). I could erase and rewrite hundreds of times, but I was never going to feel satisfied with my results. There are teams that I could even argue may be too high, too low, should be ranked, should not be ranked.

Personally, I can’t wait to get a few weeks of basketball underway to better understand what I am reading or hearing.

I won’t bore you with any more of my odd-ball thinking. Let’s get to my ballot. I have included at least a brief note or thought about each team, so this will be lengthy. If you enjoy these kinds of things, have at it. If you rather just see who I ranked where and ignore the rest, I won’t take it personally.

First, here is how my ballot finished last season:

Babson coach Stephen Brennan chatting with me on the Hoopsville Courtside postgame show following the Beavers National Championship victory. (Courtesy: Babson Athletics)

1 – Babson
2 – Whitman
3 – Rochester
4 – Augustana
5 – Middlebury
6 – Marietta
7 – Ramapo
8 – Williams
9 – Hanover
10 – UW-River Falls
11 – Christopher Newport
12 – Hardin-Simmons
13 – Hope
14 – Washington Univ.
15 – Tufts
16 – St. John Fisher
17 – Ohio Wesleyan
18 – Keene State
19 – New Jersey City
20 – Benedictine
21 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
22 – Whitworth
23 – Denison
24 – UW-Whitewater
25 – Susquehanna

Now to my ballot for this season’s D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25 (remember, I am just a single voter of 25 total):

Whitman hopes to take trade in their 2017 Sectional Championship trophy for something with a little more gold in in it.

1 – Whitman
This one was about as slam dunk as they get in recent years. After nearly going undefeated for the entire season with the lone loss being to the eventual national champions in the national semifinals in one of the best games I’ve witnessed… someone else had to impress me to knock the Blues off the top perch on my ballot. Especially considering everyone returns!

2 – Augustana
One theme you are going to hear a lot from me is “this feels a bit high.” Augustana came out of nowhere last season and made it to the national championship for the second time in three years, but they felt at least a season early. The Vikings bring back a lot of talent, but also need to fill some holes. I hope I am not expecting too much from Rock Island.

3 – Williams
Four starters return to a squad that also seemed to be a year early. Ephs seem to finally have rebuilt, but they also lost a lot in two players graduating. Expectations are going to be high in Western Mass.

4 – Ramapo
Nothing shakes my head more than the Roadrunners who had a record season last campaign, but once again seemed to hit the glass ceiling. And when they hit that ceiling they tend to hit it hard. Ramapo brings back a ton from last year’s squad including Mr. Everything Tom Bonacum plus a bevy of transfers, but this squad has got to be focused on the bigger picture. I would have ranked them #2 if I had confidence they could break through when it matters most. I also thought about ranking them lower.

5 – North Central (Ill.)
Connor Raridon returns (if you ask some fans, his season-ending injury still affected the team 20 games after the fact) and that means all five starters are back for the Cardinals along with nearly all of the offensive production. It is going to be a battle in the CCIW this season with a lot of good teams (Carthage, IWU among others), so I expect NCC to take some lumps, but they could also turn some heads.

Babson’s national championship came in part to the incredible play, including this championship-winning block, of Joey Flannery.

6 – Babson
When you lose one of the best players to play in Division III to graduation after winning the national championship, the next campaign doesn’t expectations as lofty. I figured I would drop Babson far because I just am not sure you can ever make up for what you lose in Joey Flannery, but once again the Beavers have a wealth of transfers that could keep them atop the NEWMAC, the Northeast, and in the national conversation.

7 – Middlebury
Tough read on the Panthers. Four starters return, but that accounts for only half of their offensive output last season. Losing Matt St. Amour is big; however, it also could make this team come together even more and provide more options and targets. Losing an incredible talent may be the perfect thing to bring it all together.

8 – Hanover
Yeah, I am not sure if this is a bit of a reach or not. The Panthers had a tremendous season last campaign and return four starters, the conference Player of the Year, and nearly 80-percent of their offense. However, will everything ride on Wes McKinney or are their other options to keep Hanover in the conversation? I have more questions than answers and feel I may be putting too much stock in Hanover early.

9 – UW-River Falls
Another team who had a great campaign where I am not sure what to make of the off-season. Lost two starters which accounted for about a third of the team’s points and half the assists. Can UWRF keep the momentum moving forward? Has UWRF permanently changed the conversation atop the WIAC? I think they may have, but the WIAC race will be the toughest it has been in a few years.

10 – Washington Univ.
I haven’t hidden the fact I have not been as impressed with the Bears in recent years. However, it appears what some would call a “rebuilding” or a “retooling” has brought us to this season. The UAA is ripe for the taking and I don’t see why WashU won’t be on top at season’s end. Three starters and 75% of the offense with weapons in all places on the floor. I like how it reads on paper, but want to see how it plays on the court before I move them up higher.

St. John’s sophomore David Stokman looks to continue the rise of the Johnnies in the MIAC.

11 – St. John’s
That is not a typo. The Johnnies showed last year they are ready to dethrone St. Thomas in the MIAC. All five starters return, nearly all the scoring, plus three players in double-figures in the starting five with weapons at guard, forward, and center. I think St. John’s is ready to surprise a lot of people who haven’t been paying attention to anyone but the Tommies in the MIAC.

12 – UW-Whitewater
Is the rebuilding process over? Whitewater has had a few seasons where the team hasn’t been where people are used to them, but it seems that is now in the past. The pieces appear to be there. It feels like Whitewater will make it a thick race atop the conference.

13 – Tufts
What I saw the Jumbos do in the postseason without their center, Tom Palleschi, gives me confidence they will have a strong season this year now that he has graduated. Three starters back including Vincent Pace not to mention a lot of scoring options. I think Tufts is here to stay in the upper echelon of the NESCAC.

14 – Marietta
Here is another team that lost quite a bit, but may surprise. Yes, losing AJ Edwards and others (accounting for over half the points) hurts, but the Pioneers have a transfer from Wooster and Ohio Valley (DII) that seem ready to contribute right away. The start of the season will be very difficult and will prove either I have put too much stock in Marietta or they are going to bounce back nicely.

15 – Rochester
I’ll be blunt: the Yellowjackets lost a lot! I had them in and out of my ballot a dozen times. I still am not sure I should have voted for them, let alone 15th. Sam Borst-Smith, Mack Montague, and Zach Ayers made that offense click and nearly knocked off Whitman in the Elite Eight. They have a lot of talent back and the name recognition helps with recruiting. I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do in the preseason, but the ballot is already in.

Ohio Wesleyan senior guard Nate Axelrod looks to continue the Battling Bishops’ success from the last half of last season.

16 – Ohio Wesleyan
The Battling Bishops have one of the best, if not the best, point guards in Division III basketball. Nate Axelrod had an off-season last campaign maybe because he was the focus of every defense. However, it is his senior campaign and he has some more options around him to take the pressure off. I suspect OWU will quietly surprise some people as they did to close out the second half of last season.

17 – Guilford
Admittedly, the ODAC is down. Randolph-Macon could show that last year wasn’t a fluke with far more experience, but I still think the ODAC campaign goes through North Carolina this season. That said, I do wonder if the Quakers are not a little distracted. Administrative changes have removed the AD title from Tom Palombo who was also in the running to be the next Washington & Lee head coach prior to that title change. Or maybe those distractions and less responsibility will galvanize this unit. I’ll be watching Guilford quite a bit this season.

18 – Christopher Newport
It seems the Captains missed their chance last season losing to Keene State in the NCAA third round. They have only lost five total games the last two seasons, but come in to this season banged up and having lost a lot of leadership from last year. Reports are Marcus Carter won’t be back until the second semester after knee surgery and others will be missing as well. The CAC may be easier to win this time around (Salisbury rebuilding and no other serious threats seemingly on the horizon), but on a national level CNU’s performance may not impress many. This is a wait and see season.

CMS’s Michael Scarlett lives up to the name rather well. He is also a dangerous offensive threat who sets his teammates up well.

19 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
It appears CMS has built something for the long run in Southern California. Or at least for consecutive seasons. Michael Scarlett will lead the way with his incredible three-point and free throw shooting along with looking to help others. CMS should roll through the SCIAC and look to finally make a run in March.

20 – UW-Oshkosh
A third team from the WIAC on my ballot… and it isn’t UW-Stevens Point. Oshkosh has been the most consistent in conference the last few seasons, but maybe I am buying too much stock. Three starters and most of their offense is back. As I wrote in my notes, “I like what I see on paper, but…” Not sure what the “but” will produce.

21 – St. John Fisher
Lost their best player in Keegan Ryan and then their coach, Rob Kornaker, announces his resignation (retirement?) shortly before practices begin. Losing those two men alone had me leaning towards not voting for the Cardinals (the pessimistic side of me wondering if Kornaker’s decision to leave was because he knew this campaign wouldn’t be as good despite saying he wanted to see his son play in college). However, I am going with SJF early because they still return four starters and nine players who played more than then minutes a game on average last season. Their assistant coach, who was groomed by Kornaker, takes over. It could still be a good squad in the East.

Adam Gigax and the Emory Eagles hope some time playing in Italy this summer will springboard their upcoming campaign.

22 – Emory
A third team from the UAA in my Top 25. Yeah, I am unsure. This is the area of the ballot where sometimes it might be better to throw darts. The Yellow Jackets should be good. They are one of the most consistent teams in the last six years in the UAA. That said, it seems they haven’t returned to the level we saw from them a few years ago. Another team where I am not sure if I am reading the tea leaves correctly or not.

23 – Skidmore
One of the best players in the East Region and maybe the country returns for the Thoroughbreds who have a lot of talent in a lot of different ways. However, they haven’t been able to put a consistent season together … yet. Maybe I like this team more than I should. Maybe I like and see more in Edvinas Rupkus than I should. I am willing to admit Skidmore has a lot to prove others than it does me and that may mean I have blinders on.

24 – Scranton
The one thing I can absolutely say with certainty about the Royals: they are one of the more consistent programs in Division III men’s basketball. I know they will be at the top of the conference and being considered for Top 25 attention every season. They bring back a lot of weapons, but for the first time in many years I think they are missing a key piece inside (center). How they handle finding the answers down low, so Ethan Danzig doesn’t feel like he has all the pressure on him to produce, will be the key.

Nichols looks to stay a top the CCC and continue to make waves nationally this season. (Courtesy: Nichols Athletics)

25 – Nichols
Here is my wild card. The Bison return nearly everyone from a campaign that turned a lot of heads, including their NCAA tournament appearance (before being crushed by Endicott). Nichols returns four starters and over 80-percent of the points scored from last season including DeAnte Bruton’s 21.3 ppg. However, the Bison have nothing on their schedule that will reveal much about them. Wesleyan, Trinity (Conn.), and Endicott (who lost a lot) are the only games of note. That will make it hard for Nichols to climb my ballot or appear on many others.

Sometimes in the past I have revealed other teams I have on my radar. Other years I have not. I debated long and hard about doing it this year and decided not. Too many people think if I don’t mention a team even on my radar that I am somehow slighting them or the squad when there is absolutely no way I can list every single team I can or did consider in some manner or way.

And with that, this preseason ballot vote is done. Plenty of questions, not a lot of answers, and still two weeks until we see any meaningful basketball played. I look forward to seeing what teams I gauged correctly and which ones I completely missed on. Believe it or not, even when I am wrong I am delighted with the process. Voting in the only Division III men’s basketball ballot is an honor and it allows me to better understand programs, conferences, regions, and much more far better than I could otherwise.

Enjoy the season, folks, and don’t forget to join me on Hoopsville starting Thursday, November 16 – it is out 15th Season Debut! I can’t imagine doing anything else this time of year.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17) Week 4

Hotel Roanoke decorated for the Christmas Season. The destination for Stagg Bowl Week and for the men’s Championship Weekend in March.

Hello again! Sorry about not getting my blog/ballot out last week. Stagg Bowl Week is always hectic and considering I have to squeeze my voting in to a window surrounded by packing, preps, and countless coordinating emails and phone calls it is a miracle I remember to vote most Stagg Bowl Weeks!

I intended to write the blog, but didn’t have time. I wanted to write it because I was one of the three voters who stuck with Babson as my number-one team. Why? I didn’t see anything in Babson’s double-overtime, on the road, final-shot-loss to Amherst that proved they weren’t the best team in the country. Yes, they lost. Did you expect the number one team in the country to go undefeated? I didn’t take my vote away from Augustana last year when they lost a conference game. I expected them to lose, especially on the road, in the conference. I wasn’t voting for Babson this year because I thought they would go undefeated. And they played well. Amherst also played well. However, I didn’t think Amherst out-played Babson. I didn’t think Amherst was the better team. They simply won the game. They hit the last shot. So, I stuck with Babson being number one. I felt better with Amherst who I was nervous having at number-three, so moved them to second.

Now to this week. Amherst goes on and losses to Springfield. Ouch. So, they were up for playing at home against Babson and fought to win that, but then weren’t up for playing Springfield? Not good.

Of course, other things took place as well. First, here is a look at what I ballot looked like last week and how they compared to my Week 2 Top 25 ballot:

Babson at Amherst lived up to the hype, but didn’t change my mind as to who the #1 team in the country is right now.

1 – Babson (Unchanged)
2 – Amherst (Up 1)
3 – Marietta (Down 1)
4 – Whitman (Up 2)
5 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
6 – Whitworth (Up 1)
7 – St. Norbert (Up 1)
8 – Rochester (Up 3)
9 – Tufts (Down 5)
10 – Salisbury (Up 3)
11 – New Jersey City (Up 4)
12 – Hope (Down 1)
13 – North Central (Down 2)
14 – North Park (Unranked)
15 – Baldwin Wallace (Down 1)
16 – Benedictine (Up 4)
17 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 2)
18 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
19 – Denison (Up 3)
20 – Endicott (Down 2)
21 – Wartburg (Unranked)
22 – Swarthmore (Up 2)
23 – Emory (Unchanged)
24 – Brockport (Unranked)
25 – Neumann (Unranked)

Dropped out:
Wooster (Previously 14)
Skidmore (Previously 16)
St. Thomas (Previously 17)
Lynchburg (Previous 21)
Keene State (Previously 25)

Again, that was LAST week’s Top 25 ballot. Not this week’s. Just giving you a chance to see where I had teams last week.

Now to this week’s ballot:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

Springfield fans storm the court after their upset of then #1 Amherst (Courtesy: The Springfield Student)

2 – Amherst (Unchanged)
In hindsight, I might have been too kind per that loss to Springfield. My initial thought is I wasn’t going to punish the Purple and White because again, I didn’t expect them to go undefeated and I’m not shocked they lost on the road after beating Babson. However, that last part is what really concerns me. If they are that good, they should have beaten Springfield. What it came down to for me was that I didn’t know where I would have put Amherst. Everyone below them, or in the Top 25 in general, is flawed. Trying to figure out who has the least number of flaws is tougher than determining who is better.

3 – Marietta (Unchanged)

4 – Whitman (Unchanged)
I did my best to watch the Blues play Wooster while I was on the air with Hoopsville Sunday. I noticed two things: Whitman at least continued to play well and beat a solid team; Whitman has me nervous because it shouldn’t have been that tight. Yes, Wooster is a good team, but not off to a great start. Whitman is off to a great start and was playing at home (not dealing with travel like Wooster)… but they didn’t dominate or control the game like I expected. Again, I wasn’t able to watch as much as I wanted, but the result did make me nervous that maybe I am riding Whitman too much.

5 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
This might surprise some people (since the Captains fell four spots this week), but I wasn’t about to move CNU because they lost on a half-court heave on the road at another Top 10 team. I am not sure what other voters were expecting besides a win. The game lived up to exactly to the expectations I had including being a defensive battle between two pretty good defensive teams. Now, I do realize I now have a two-loss team in my top five, but those two losses are to fellow top ten teams. I am giving them some leeway because they are that good. I also know Salisbury has to travel to Newport News. That will tell us more about both teams. So far, CNU hasn’t proven they aren’t a very good team this year despite two losses.

6 – Whitworth (Unchanged)

7 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

8 – Rochester (Unchanged)

9 – Salisbury (Up 1)
The Sea Gulls beat CNU. But they aren’t going to move much higher when the win was because the Captains purposely missed a free-throw and Salisbury was able to hit a half-court heave for the win (see below). Let’s not read too much into it other than that. Salisbury won at home against a very good team which will help them down the road, but it doesn’t do more than make me feel more secure with thinking they are a Top 10 teams, right now.

10 – Tufts (Down 1)

11 – New Jersey City (Unchanged)

12 – Hope (Unchanged)

North Park’s Juwan Henry is one of two D3hoops.com Preseason All-Americans who could make this season a special one for the Vikings.

13 – North Park (Up 1)
I didn’t get a chance last week to explain my big jump with the Vikings. I realize they had lost to Carroll coming into last week’s ballot, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that they have two preseason All-Americans who are averaging 20+ points per game each and that North Park could very easily have a magical season on their hands. Previously, I was concerned it was just a two-headed team that would struggle otherwise. However, the rest of the team is clearly contributing and making them a rather deep squad. I may have been late to the party, but I like what I see.

14 – Benedictine (Up 2)

15 – North Central (Down 2)
Not much I can say about the Cardinals except that maybe I expected too much from this team earlier this year. They are coming off a loss to an NAIA team which is usually hard to read in to, however other Division III schools have beaten the same team, so I can read into it a little bit. I guess I am just left with more questions coming the holiday break about NCC than I did in the preseason.

16 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 1)

Wesleyan has stormed out to a 9-0 start, but there are plenty of questions about the Cardinals. NESCAC play in 2017 will be telling. (Courtesy: Wesleyan Athletics)

17 – Wesleyan (Up 1)
I might be giving a little too much credit to the Cardinals. I would be lying if I think I have bought in too much here. Wesleyan is undefeated and we know they have been building this squad for years. However, they have two wins of note over Williams and Hartwick who have good records, but have mainly beaten teams with below .500 records. Matt Noonan shared his thoughts with me on Hoopsville Sunday night. Certainly worth considering. But for now, Wesleyan looks to be playing well. Let’s see what happens in 2017.

18 – Endicott (Up 2)

19 – Wartburg (Up 2)
There are a few teams in the IIAC that may be worth considering this season. The conference out-of-conference success this season has been impressive. Could the conference finally be in a position to break through to the next level? Well, we won’t know until March, but in the mean time I like what I see from Wartburg to start the season and they have a few others in the conference worth keeping an eye on.

20 – Denison (Down 1)

21 – Emory (Up 2)

22 – Brockport (Up 2)
The SUNYAC is a conference worth watching once again this season. It could be an epic regular season battle and very easily could be the reason some Pool C team has their bubble burst thanks to someone unexpected winning the conference tournament. I have had quite a few people tell me Brockport is far better than you can see on paper or even video. The funny thing is I didn’t think Brockport would be the team to beat in the SUNYAC – I thought that would be Oswego State. And there are several other teams in the conference we could talk about. For now, I like what I see from Brockport maybe others will earn their way on my ballot as well.

23 – Swarthmore (Down 1)

24 – UW-River Falls (Unranked)
I finally got a WIAC team on my ballot. No, it wasn’t a mission or goal or anything. Just making note. I thought UW-Eau Claire would be the team to watch in this conference this year, but River Falls seems to have had a better start to the season. Maybe we will get that two-horse race at the top of the conference after all, just not from the duo we are used to. I look forward to seeing UW-Eau Claire at the D3hoops.com Classic which I hope helps me get a sense of whether this vote for River Falls is a good one.

Neumann. Are they really that good? Several say yes. We shall see. (Courtesy: Neumann Athletics)

25 – Neumann (Unchanged)
This vote for Neumann could be for a dozen teams. I could vote for so many instead of Neumann and still feel the same way. Unsure. Neumann? Neumann. Can’t tell you how many have been in my ear telling me about this squad from the pre-season until now. I am willing to give them the 25th spot for now. But, Neumann? Yeah. They apparently have put together that good a team while we were all distracted with Cabrini and even Gwynedd-Mercy over the last few years.

Dropped Out:

Baldwin Wallace (Previously 15)
I feel like I bought in too quick and too much with the Yellow Jackets. Three losses later and I am pulling the plug. Maybe I am being too extreme, but I was extreme in voting for them and then moving them up my ballot as high as 14. Are they good? I think so. Are they one of the best in the Great Lakes Region? Maybe. And that last part is what makes me pull them from my ballot. I need to see more. I may have gotten too excited on a couple of big wins at a time of the year when lots of teams get big wins. How many times have we seen a team start really well only to then take a loss and it all falls a part? I am not saying it will fall apart with Baldwin Wallace, but maybe I was too reactionary.

So there you go. My Week 4’s Top 25 ballot. There are a lot of teams I can’t get on my ballot. There are a lot of teams to consider – as many as 50 total. So many of them have unanswered questions or flaws that are tough to get a grip on. Am I missing someone that should be on my ballot? Sure. Are there teams on my ballot that you could argue shouldn’t be? Sure. That is why I am just one voter of 25. That is why opinions are great. That is why watching games each week is so much fun. I can’t wait to see what happens over the next few weeks and tackle this again with fresher eyes come 2017.

Previous Ballots:
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 2

Denison enters Dave's Top 25 ballot this week, but not without some second guessing.

Denison enters Dave’s Top 25 ballot this week, but not without some second guessing.

Another interesting week of games to mull over as a D3hoops.com Top 25 voter. The top held firm for the most part, but there were still some surprising results to try and figure out.

At the same time, there are large number of teams who are showing early they may be pretty good. That is the part that is so difficult to figure out early in a season. Are these teams legit? Are their schedules an indication of strength? Are these results smoke and mirrors? When does reality set in (if it is different than what we are seeing)?

I think that is the most difficult part of voting this early in any season, but especially now with so much parity (are you tired of hearing about parity?). A lot of teams start 5-0, 6-0, etc., but not all of them truly are Top 25 teams. Just because you start a season undefeated doesn’t mean you are one of the Top 25 teams in the country.

As an example, there are 24 teams without a loss in Division III men’s basketball through Monday, December 5. Prior to December 1? 38!

Not all teams or schedules are created equal. So, weeding through who is undefeated and why, along with who have lost games and why, is challenging. Even more so when on top of the 24 teams who are undefeated who have 77 who have suffered a single loss, and more than 165 with two losses (80 with a winning percentage of .750 or better).

There simply isn’t enough room to honor everyone. I also have tried very hard not to fall back on the “usual suspects,” not when there are so many teams who have entered the mix. But that is what makes it harder. As a voter, you understand who the WashUs, Woosters, IWUs, UW-Whitewaters of the Division III world have done over the years. It is probably easier to plug them into a Top 25 based on a good start than it is to look at the Denisons, Swarthmores, Endicotts, Keene States and understand the significance of their seasons. It is harder to go with what you don’t know as well than what you do know.

That was a lot of what was on my mind as I tackled my voting. Trying to better understand programs, schedules, and not go with the “usual suspects.”

A reminder, here is last week’s ballot.

And here is this week’s (with far less capsules on teams to avoid being repetitive):

Tufts is being led by Vincent Page (16.0 ppg) and despite the loss remained in place on Dave's ballot this week.

Tufts is being led by Vincent Page (16.0 ppg) and despite the loss remained in place on Dave’s ballot this week.

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Marietta (Unchanged)

3 – Amherst (Unchanged)

4 – Tufts (Unchanged)
I will be brief with this. By my previous ballot, Tufts v Babson was predicted to be a Babson win. Tufts held strong and played well. I am not going to then move them down my poll if my previous ballot predicted the Jumbos would lose. Though, it was a good week for Tufts – I had the honor of calling the Division III men’s soccer championship weekend for NCAA.com and the Jumbos won their second title in three years in double-overtime over Calvin. Congrats to Tufts! (OK, shameless plug finished).

5 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

6 – Whitman (Up 2)

7 – Whitworth (Up 2)

8 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

9 – Hope (Up 2)

10 – Rochester (Up 3)

NCC's Conor Rairdon was 5-15 (12 points) from the field in 39 minutes in the Cardinales concerning 57-40 loss to UW-Platteville.

NCC’s Conor Rairdon was 5-15 (12 points) from the field in 39 minutes in the Cardinales concerning 57-40 loss to UW-Platteville.

11 – North Central (Down 6)
The Cardinals only have lost once and did a nice job to beat Illinois Wesleyan following that loss, but I can’t get the performance against UW-Platteville out of my head. From all accounts and from reading what I could, it was a bad game. But it also may not be a game NCC can avoid in the future. There may be some telling problems that could be exposed later in the season especially against the tough CCIW.

12 – Salisbury (Up 3)

13 – Wooster (Down 6)
This would be one of those “usual suspects.” After I voted, but before crafting this blog, I did have a discussion with someone who raised something that has been in my head for years: find it frustrating that Wooster gets a certain “benefit of the doubt.” I know over the last few years I have made a similar point, but not as perfectly said. This is not to take away from Wooster, but it is to raise the question in my own head – I am just plugging the Scots in because it says “Wooster” on my sheet? Am I putting them too high for the same reason? Denison beat them (now twice in a row; more on them later) and the Scots have two losses albeit to two apparently very good teams (we know Marietta is good). I initially only brought Wooster down a few slots. I then realized I was being a little too kind. But there is an argument Wooster should be further down in this and the overall poll.

14 – Baldwin Wallace (Unchanged)
As with Tufts, my poll predicted Baldwin Wallace would lose to Hope Marietta (my apologies over the mistaken opponent), so I haven’t moved them. That said, this is one of those teams you try and better understand despite not being from a group you know well. I nervously watch to see if the shoe will drop on the Yellow Jackets. Shamelessly, I hope they continue to have a great season.

15 – New Jersey City (Up 1)

16 – Skidmore (Up 1)

17 – St. Thomas (Down 5)
A surprising loss to Augsburg certainly had me take notice. Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe the Tommies were as good as last year, but they have proven over the years to always been a solid Top 25 team (no, not just a plug-them-in squad). I was also reminded that they had a surprisingly lost last year to Carleton at the same time of the year (second game of conference play). I will be watching to see how they do against St. John’s and UW-Stevens Point coming up to truly get a pulse on this revamped squad.

18 – Endicott (Up 4)

IWU's Trevor Seibring is one of five players averaging double-figures in points for the Titans.

IWU’s Trevor Seibring is one of five players averaging double-figures in points for the Titans.

19 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)
See my notes on Tufts and Baldwin Wallace. The Titans were predicted in my poll to lose to North Central. Yes, the Cardinals did fall based on their loss to UW-Platteville, but they didn’t fall in my mind below IWU prior to their game.

20 – Benedictine (Unchanged)

21 – Lynchburg (Down 3)
The loss to Shenandoah gave me pause, even if it was an overtime battle. Have I misread the Hornets? I have seen them in person and usually I will pick out concerns. However, I liked what I saw with Lynchburg. But there is the question of who might be the best in the ODAC and others are coming to light like Emory and Henry that have given me pause.

22 – Denison (Unranked)
Per the conversation about Wooster, there is a point here that maybe I have Denison FAR too low. They beat Wooster already this season and who can forget their upset of the Scots in the NCAC playoffs last season? From some reports (received after I voted), Denison is for real but there could be an argument they are suffering from the “usual suspects” conundrum. After a few conversations, I did wonder if I have the Big Red far too low on my ballot.

23 – Emory (Unchanged)

Zach Yonda and Swarthmore have entered the D3hoops.com Top 25 for the first time in program history. (Courtesy: Swarthmore Athletics)

Zach Yonda and Swarthmore have entered the D3hoops.com Top 25 for the first time in program history. (Courtesy: Swarthmore Athletics)

24 – Swarthmore (Unranked)
I had a trusted colleague basically whisper in my ear in the month before season started that Swarthmore was going to win the Centennial and they would be very good. I was skeptical. I don’t think the top of the Centennial will be world beaters this year (F&M will struggle far more than people realize). However, the Garnet had a big win over Dickinson and seem to be playing well. I do struggle to read into their schedule with the likes of PSU-Abington, Centenary (N.J.), and Washington College (who has an upset win over Gettysburg). But the wins over Misericord and Dickinson do cause me to take note. Ursinus and Rowan ahead will be a good barometer.

25 – Keene State (Down 4)
Could the limelight be too bright for the Owls? Maybe. Suffered their first loss to Mass-Dartmouth last week. People forget the Corsairs were very much in the LEC conversation last year with an improved squad. So, I am giving Keene State the benefit of the doubt. There is a far larger target on their backs this year thanks to that incredible NCAA tournament last season. How they respond to the loss will be my litmus test.

Dropped Out:

Nate Axelrod (seen last year against Benedictine in NCAA tournament) and Ohio Wesleyan are off to a tough start to the season.

Nate Axelrod (seen last year against Benedictine in NCAA tournament) and Ohio Wesleyan are off to a tough start to the season.

Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 24)
Another loss for the Battling Bishops who appear to be battling team chemistry and expectations this season. Three in a row to Capital, Illinois Wesleyan, and Otterbein before finally righting the ship (maybe temporarily) against DePauw. There are a number of good tests ahead in and out of conference for OWU, here is hoping they haven’t used up their at-large flexibility before December even started. In the meantime, my preseason #3 pick will sit off my ballot for a while before I can believe they were as good as I expected.

John Carroll (Previously 25)
What is going on in University Heights? Is the team distracted by the incredible season the football squad is having (if you don’t know, you really should check it out on D3football.com)? Could Mike Moran be trying to hand the reigns to his son ahead of time to try and slide the job to him? Could that be screwing up chemistry? Ok, so that last part probably isn’t the case, but I would be lying if it hasn’t crossed my mind a few times. Outside shooting is clearly off and the team is clearly struggling. Losses to Hanover, La Roche, Hope, and Muskingum (undefeated!) have put the Blue Streaks season in peril. Marietta is looming along with some other challenges. I will be a bit over-the-top by saying: things aren’t looking good.

A gentle reminder that I am just one of 25 voters in the D3hoops.com Top 25. I represent one opinion. I am completely fine with those who disagree – there are 24 other voters who disagree because only four others have the same first-place team and I bet anything no one has the exact same Top 25. Just remember, though, just because I have a different opinion doesn’t mean I am right. I will admit when I am wrong as I have already this year. So be gentle when commenting. HA!

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 1

Babson returns not only Joey Flannery, but 100% of it's scoring from last season.

Babson returns not only Joey Flannery, but 100% of it’s scoring from last season.

There is one thing I can already determine from just the first few weeks of the 2016-17 season… parity has not gone anywhere. If anything, it has gotten more engrained.

No, this is not shocking. I pretty much expected another year of parity on the men’s side of Division III basketball, but something I think many are starting to get used to is seeing top teams taking losses early in the season.

Ryan Scott, D3hoops.com’s new Around the Nation’s columnist, wrote an article last week talking about how much the 70% rule has changed scheduling across Division III. More and more teams are willing to not only challenge themselves by improving their schedules, but also travel to do that. Events like the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic are spurring teams to do both (yeah I know, shameless plug). All of this is adding up to one thing: far better teams are facing each other earlier in the season which adds up to many more losses especially when there are far more good teams around the country than there used to be.

What’s my point? It is going to be another very difficult year trying to figure out who the best 25 teams in the country are every week. Don’t get me wrong, I love filling out my ballot each week and taking longer look at teams than many people in Division III ever consider doing. However, sometimes I just wouldn’t mind having the chance to rubber stamp most of my selections like they can in football most weeks (side-shot at my football brethren just because I can).

Anyway, there are many who probably just want to see my ballot(s). I was far too busy to get my pre-season ballot blog written (it wasn’t going to break down my selections, anyway), so first here is my preseason ballot just for those who are curious:

Many have Amherst number one, I just can't buy in when Babson looks like the better team even on paper.

Many have Amherst number one, I just can’t buy in when Babson looks like the better team even on paper.

1 – Babson
2 – Christopher Newport
3 – Ohio Wesleyan
4 – Amherst
5 – St. Norbert
6 – Tufts
7 – Wooster
8 – John Carroll
9 – North Central (Ill.)
10 – Emory
11 – St. Thomas
12 – Whitworth
13 – Whitman
14 – Benedictine
15 – Alma
16 – Marietta
17 – Hope
18 – Skidmore
19 – Oswego State
20 – Hardin-Simmons
21 – New Jersey City
22 – Salisbury
23 – Virginia Wesleyan
24 – Lynchburg
25 – Rochester

Before you ask: yes, there were a number of schools I considered. Yes, it was very difficult. Yes, I am fully aware before the season started I may have misjudged a number of teams on and off my ballot. Yes, it felt a little like a crap shoot. I did try to take a little different tactic with my preseason ballot and not take nearly as much time. I couldn’t make the argument that spending two more hours working through details would make that large a difference in the end. Who knows, I might have a different point of view next year.

And yes, my ballot took a pounding in the opening weeks of the season. The overall D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25 had 25 losses in it. Mine: 27.

So, I got back to work and tried to weed through probably 50 teams all with varying arguments to be considered. No, I am not promising I have this figured out. Remember, I am just one voter with one train of thinking – even if that thinking is derailed from team to team. I will say this; I am not a fan of large shifts on my ballot. People may not agree with me and that is fine – not going to change my feelings about it. When I make large shifts (as you will see this week especially) I am either usually blowing up my ballot or I get uneasy. It makes me worry I am being too reactionary; like a gunshot wedding. Yeah, I understand there will be people who shake their head and say I should make drastic moves, but there are times I feel if I do I will only regret it later when the team doesn’t live up to the move up or only returns to where I would have put them anyway.

Ok… I’m rambling now. It might only make sense in my head, so let’s just get on with my ballot for this week:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)
To be blunt, the Beavers have a lot on paper that looks really good. Returning everyone from a team I feel would have been in Salem had Flannery not been injured early in the NCAA tournament. They are also compressing a third or more of their season into the first quarter and so far, living to tell about it. I know I am part of the minority right now, but I will get to that later.

Marietta's AJ Edwards has helped lead his team to the most impressive start to the year of any team.

Marietta’s AJ Edwards has helped lead his team to the most impressive start to the year of any team.

2 – Marietta (Up 14)
The Pioneers are good. Damn good. I watched them dismantle Christopher Newport in a game I had been highly anticipating after hoping to have seen it last year in the national quarterfinals. They then didn’t let down against Wooster and handed them the bus keys at halftime. But no, they are not my number one team – they didn’t beat my top team and I think Babson is deeper with possibly more threats inside. That isn’t a shot against AJ Edwards who is a deserving preseason first-team All-American. However, I do think Edwards will need help as they get deep into conference play. I also hope Marietta isn’t peaking too soon, but that might be that other voice in my head who doesn’t like the fact I moved a team up 14 spots (ha!).

3 – Amherst (Up 1)
I know most voters have the purple and white number one, but I’m not there. First of all, I don’t think they get past Babson last year if Flannery is 100%. Secondly, they lost one of their most important players from last year’s squad Conner Green who could take over a game if needed. That isn’t to say Amherst isn’t very good, I just can’t buy in to the number one team right now. And nothing about their early season schedule would change my mind. Just a note of comparison: Amherst beat Anna Maria (0-5) by 11-points while shooting 51-percent while Babson beat the same Amcats by 50 while shooting 70+ percent.

4 – Tufts (Up 1)
I am a little nervous about the Jumbos being this high, but they have a really good team back from a tremendous run last season. I can’t see any reason to expect them to not have another good season with so many of the pieces from last year’s squad back, but as with most NESCAC teams I am going to have to wait a little longer until their schedule toughens up – this week.

5 – North Central (Up 4)
The Cardinals have replaced Augustana (and Elmhurst) as the top dog in the CCIW this season. North Central showed last year that they had retooled quickly and would be right back in the fray. They already started with a win over Benedictine and Alma, though that later one isn’t as great as previously expected. However, we get to see just how good NCC is this week with three straight CCIW opponents starting with Illinois Wesleyan on December 3.

CNU may need to rely more on Aaron McFarland to help Tim Daly and Marcus Carter succeed this season.

CNU may need to rely more on Aaron McFarland to help Tim Daly and Marcus Carter succeed this season.

6 – Christopher Newport (Down 4)
The Captains game against Marietta shocked me. I expected the game to be nip and tuck most of the way and coming down to the wire. It was over fairly early. That may be more of a sign of how good Marietta is early this season, but at the same time it might be CNU trying to readjust roles to a team that made a run to Salem last season. Most of the parts are back, but when players graduated it doesn’t matter how many return, sometimes there are growing pains. Recovering to handle Dickinson in their next game is a good sign John Krikorian’s squad got the message. But CNU will be involved in one of the more difficult conference battles in the country this year, so this promises to be a long season.

7 – Wooster (Unchanged)
Last year the Scots showed they could fly a little under the radar and still put together a heck of a season. So, expectations are probably pretty high in central Ohio. The loss to Marietta is going to sting, but the Pioneers have had their way of Wooster the last three games, so maybe it was expected. That said, the NCAC will be an interesting battle this year so Wooster needs to be on their toes in every game. This may be a year I am willing to buy in with Wooster after several years of not being sold.

8 – Whitman (Up 5)
I will be honest, I am unsure what to make of the Missionaries. They made a great run in the NCAA tournament last year including beating their arch-nemisis in Whitworth, but Eric Bridgeland’s group never seems to live up to expectations in the past. Can that change? Absolutely. Has it? Not sure, yet. I have seen years when I thought they would finally step up to the next level and they failed in front of my eyes. The start to this season at least has shown me maybe they are finally there. Their win over Texas Lutheran, granted without TLU’s best player being at his best, was far more impressive than Whitworth’s the next day. The best part: we get to see just how good they may be with their first battle with Whitworth just over a week away. Call it a must watch game for Division III fans so plan to stay up!

9 – Whitworth (Up 3)
In the preseason poll, I had the Pirates ranked ahead of Whitman despite the NCAA result last season. The past has always said Whitworth has been the better team, but maybe not this year. As good as Matt Logie’s squad has been, they just might be a step behind Whitman this year. And yes, two NWC teams in the Top 10 isn’t that far off – it isn’t that surprising on the women’s side, after all. The difference is this is the year the NWC needs to finally prove it when March rolls around.

10 – St. Norbert (Down 5)
One of the most consistent teams in the Central Region, if not the entire country, the last five years has been the Green Knights. They have torn through their conference and held their own for the most part against others in their region, despite some tough, early-round, match-ups in the NCAA tournament. But consistency along with bringing back a solid core from last year’s squad (94% or better of their scoring, rebounding, assists, etc.) should have people take notice. Of course, starting the season with a loss to UW-Eau Claire may give people pause, except the Blugolds might be the class of the WIAC this year.

11 – Hope (Up 6)
Lose a game and move up six spots? Yeah odd, I know. The loss to Cornerstone is like all results against non-Division III teams in Hope’s region – hard to truly gauge especially for those outside of the area. Hope has a good team who should be able to build on last season. They may not get much of a battle in the MIAA with Calvin and possibly Alma all being down, but John Carroll, UW-Lacrosse, Stevens Point ahead in the next three games will be a great test.

The defending national champions may have lost a lot of players from last year, but John Tauer always seems to have the answers to stay in the national conversation.

The defending national champions may have lost a lot of players from last year, but John Tauer always seems to have the answers to stay in the national conversation.

12 – St. Thomas (Down 1)
I can hear many say it, I have the Tommies too high. The defending national champions lost a lot in the off-season thanks to graduation (damn graduations in college sports LOL). However, the one thing St. Thomas has always done is reload, retool, re-whatever very, very well. They have not won 11 straight conference regular season titles for any other reason. That said, the conference has become far more difficult in the last few years as proof of the Tommies losing the conference title game to St. Olaf last year. But I am not about to just write-off St. Thomas because they lost a bunch of players. John Tauer has one major weapon back, Grant Shaeffer, and any team would love to have him on their squad.

13 – Rochester (Up 12)
First, I think the Yellow Jackets may be a sleeping giant or a dark horse this season. The second half of last season saw Rochester quietly storm through the UAA with nine straight wins including sweeping Wash U and Chicago on back-to-back weekends before they stubbed their toe on the final weekend. Rochester brought back a lot of that squad with regained confidence. Rochester very well could win the UAA this season, but that gets me to my second though – this is a large jump up the poll for me. Twelve spots based on six wins over an interesting collection of teams – none of them upper echelon teams, necessarily. Outside of St. John Fisher, Rochester doesn’t have a lot tests on their schedule before getting into the UAA schedule. They may have to stay undefeated for others to buy in.

14 – Baldwin Wallace (Unranked)
I heard a few people mention to me they liked the Yellow Jackets (is there a hive on this ballot or in Division III?) when I asked around this off season. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But wins over St. Mary’s (Md.) and New Jersey City made me take notice after Baldwin Wallace rolled through Case Western Reserve to start the season. Maybe I am jumping on this one too hard (and not others hard enough), but I like the fact BW is back in the national conversation. There is something about how they are made up that makes me think they could make some waves and keep John Carroll honest in the OAC.

15 – Salisbury (Up 7)
Here is another team I think is far more dangerous than people realize. Not only do they return most of last year’s squad who ran second to Christopher Newport in the Capital Athletic Conference and got to the second round of the NCAA tournament, but they also return one of the program’s best players who was out last season with an injury (though, one could argue who is the best player since they could have two All-Americans on the squad by the end of the season). The Sea Gulls will be part of a crazy battle this season in the CAC with CNU as well as a resurgent St. Mary’s and Mary Washington among others that could make the CAC the best conference to watch this year. Andy Sach’s squad has started the season with a win over Virginia Wesleyan, Johns Hopkins, and Staten Island and will head to D3hoops.com Classic to play Ramapo and Hardin-Simmons but not before playing CNU in an early season must-watch game.

Jalen Harris is leading the Gothic Knights in scoring on a squad many think could be one of the best in program history.

Jalen Harris is leading the Gothic Knights in scoring on a squad many think could be one of the best in program history.

16 – New Jersey City (Up 5)
I keep hearing the Gothic Knights could potentially have the program’s best season in a long time – I am looking forward to seeing if this does indeed happen. However, they need to make sure to handle their out of conference schedule. They have already lost once to Baldwin Wallace, who I now have ranked ahead of them. Considering they may take some lumps in the NJAC (as the conference likes to eat it’s young), NJCU has got to focus on the last few games of their out-of-conference schedule over the holidays. But before they get there, they run through four conference opponents starting this week.

17 – Skidmore (Up 1)
I like the Thoroughbreds. They have a terrific core back on the floor with their All-American talent, Aldin Medunjanin, back from injury, so similar to Salisbury they are in a position to have a special season. However, as Joe Burke admitted in a recent history with me on Hoopsville, this program has been knocking on the door to the next level. Remember Skidmore has first round wins the last few years and then narrow second-round losses to good squads like Johns Hopkins and Tufts at their places. This has to be the year to push through. Not sure how the conference schedule will help or hurt, so Skidmore has to remain strong and maybe even dominate teams when possible.

18 – Lynchburg (Up 6)
I realize the Hornets lost a good group from last year’s record-setting year, but I don’t think Lynchburg will fall off that much. Hillary Scott has done a very good job bringing Lynchburg back to the top of the ODAC and they have broken through. The loss to UW-Stevens Point was interesting at the Hoopsville Classic. However, I think that was more of a testament of showing off just how well UWSP can play defense when needed. Lynchburg will use that game as motivation and an example the rest of the season.

19 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unranked)
In the preseason, I wasn’t sure what to make of the Titans. I only had one team from the CCIW ranked which felt odd (though, not as odd as not having any WIAC teams), but despite the fact IWU had been picked to finish second in the conference I wasn’t sure how that translated to the Top 25. A 5-0 start with some solid wins answered some of those questions. I do wonder if the Titans are really that good in the long run, but it will be fun to see a little more green in the national conversation.

20 – Benedictine (Down 6)
The Eagles had nothing short of a magical run last year. To be the only team in all of NCAA men’s basketball to nearly go undefeated for the season was incredible, but they didn’t lose as much from that team as people thought. They also had a tough slate to start the season and had some close losses. I suspect Benedictine will remain in the national conversation this year.

Ryan Cain is no longer the interim head coach of Keene State and the team has rewarded him by possibly improving on last year.

Ryan Cain is no longer the interim head coach of Keene State and the team has rewarded him by possibly improving on last year.

21 – Keene State (Unranked)
The Owls were the surprise of the NCAA tournament last year. Under, then, interim coach Ryan Cain suddenly Keene State was in the second weekend. But does that really mean they are one of the best teams in the country? I was a bit skeptical in the pre-season. Everyone knows about the Owls now, but they started strong with wins over (depleted) Southern Vermont, Hartwick, and Springfield to name a few. No, none of them are world beaters, but Keene State has won in dominating fashion. Maybe the Northeast has a few new teams to look at outside of the NESCAC and NEWMAC.

22 – Endicott (Unranked)
Speaking of new teams in the Northeast, hello Endicott! I didn’t want to drink the Kool-Aid in the preseason, but can’t ignore the fact Gulls have done well to start the year. A narrow loss to my number-one Babson and a win over then-nationally ranked Middlebury. Couple those with how they finished the season and what they have back and Endicott looks like a fresh face to watch in New England as well. The challenge now: there aren’t a lot of games the rest of the season to truly gauge Endicott.

23 – Emory (Down 13)
I may have whiffed on a few teams in the pre-season, may have … it is still to be determined … the Yellow Jackets (seriously, is there a hive here?) may be one of them. Emory was strong last year though retooling from previous powerful teams. I thought reading the tea leaves an listening to those I trust that Emory would be right back in the conversation nationally. Maybe not. A loss to start the season against Covenant and then another to LaGrange are head scratchers. They also narrowly snuck past Guilford in double-overtime. Maybe I should have just dropped Emory, but I felt like holding on. We shall see. This wasn’t the start I expected for an out-of-conference schedule that is not as challenging as it has been in the past for Emory.

24 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 21)
Any feel that breeze? I may have swung hard and missed on a slow-pitch softball pitch. My back might be hurting. What is going on with the Battling Bishops? When I voted they had lost two straight to Capital and Illinois Wesleyan (who dominated). As I finish writing this blog, they have now lost to Otterbein. I know Mike DeWitt likes his team this year. I liked what I saw. Three first-team NCAC players returning to a squad that got to the Sweet 16 last year and looked really, really good. Sometimes a new season doesn’t necessarily bring the same chemistry. Might need to head back to the science lab to figure this one out in Delaware, Ohio because the Battling Bishops have already used up a lot of wiggle room for any selection criteria in the first six games of the season.

John Carroll has started the season by seemingly looking up at everyone else.

John Carroll has started the season by seemingly looking up at everyone else.

25 – John Carroll (Down 17)
When Mike Moran announced this would be his last season you had to figure the squad would respond and create a magical finish for the long-time coach. Not sure this is how anyone thought the season would begin. Two-straight losses to Mt. St. Joseph’s and Hanover to start the season and now a loss to Hope (after we voted and before I was finishing this blog post). Guh. I may have swung and missed here as well. Maybe the Blue Streaks are distracted more with the future than the present. Who knows, but this is not what I expected for a squad who looked so good last year and brought back so many of those same parts.

Dropped Out:

Alma (Previously 15)
I knew the Scots had lost a few pieces from a terrific team last year, but I also knew who was back. I also knew they lost a guard who seemed to be good off the bench (Beckman) who decided to try and go to a higher division (and transferred to Hope just to go to school; not playing), but I read that as maybe a gain, not a loss (he wasn’t buying in any way since he thought he was better than Division III). But I did NOT know they had two of their most important parts suffer injuries in the pre-season and wouldn’t be back anytime soon. I wouldn’t have voted for Alma in the preseason with that information. Now four-straight losses off a single win to start the season… Alma will be playing for an automatic-bid the rest of the way.

Oswego State (Previously 19)
The SUNYAC may be one of the top three conference races to watch this season and there were many who thought the Lakers could be a special team this year. Not only did they have a lot of parts from last year’s NCAA second-weekend team returning including pre-season All-American Brian Sortino, but they got some heralded transfers. But Oswego State has stumbled once again to start a season. I need to keep this fact in mind. I haven’t seen the Lakers get through the first half of a season without stubbing their toe. I just can’t keep them in my Top 25 with losses to Nazareth and Hamilton and no significant wins. We shall see what conference play reveals.

The Cowboys really look like a good team, but Coach Carse's squad hasn't shown it in the box scores as of yet.

The Cowboys really look like a good team, but Coach Carse’s squad hasn’t shown it in the box scores as of yet.

Hardin-Simmons (Previously 20)
I like what Hardin-Simmons has in a team. Last year they struggled and I think you can make a direct correlation of their struggles to Craig Carse’s health last year. He’s back. The team is back. But they started the year 2-2. But there isn’t a coach I talk to who has watched them or seen tape who doesn’t like what they see. Going to wait for now. I’ll get to see them in person against some decent competition in Las Vegas. I’ll reevaluate then.

Virginia Wesleyan (Previous 23)
The one thing I have gotten very used to is that Dave Macedo never reloads – he constantly has parts to put into what we all consider holes. He has one of the deepest rosters in the country and he finds talent in places no one else is able. But could parity be taking a bite out of the Marlins? For a program that is routinely in the Top 25 for the past decade, they seem to struggle to dominate out of conference now. That is where parity could be playing role. It could also be an example of stronger out-of-conference scheduling. The loss to Salisbury wasn’t that bad. The loss to Emory & Henry? Not sure what to make there. There are some who think E&H is poised to appear on top of the ODAC. I am not so sure. Thus, I have knocked VWC out for now. I’ll see them on Sunday and can reevaluate before the next poll.

I apologize for the length of this post. Future blogs will be shorter as I won’t write capsules on each team. We are also discussing an idea of altering this to a video-based post, a Hoopsville vignette as it where, in the future.