Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 11

You have got to love this time of year. All games seem to take on a different perspective as Regional Rankings start getting rolled out, the end of the season can be seen, and teams are fighting for not only conference playoff positioning, but to make the tournaments in the first place. It seems to drive programs and even those who have struggled seem to find themselves when there is more on the line and the opponent has a bigger target on their back. Of course, the second time through conferences makes a different I am sure.

There is a lot less shaking of my head and lot more inquisitive looking at results. There are more answers despite there being more questions than a month or two, or three, ago. That said, there is far more head banging when it comes to voting in the Top 25 especially with the amount of parity we see around the country. (Have I mentioned parity before, recently?)

This week was a mix of things for me. I remained confident with some teams, I had to make some really hard decisions on who to move up and how far despite less than stellar results. I also had to debate how far to move teams down and despite recent results if a team was still better than the group around where I was slotting them. I also had to move teams into slots I didn’t think they fit – a common theme for months now – while wondering if I was missing something on the outside.

Ohio Wesleyan very nearly made Dave’s ballot this week… and he continues to wonder why he didn’t pull the trigger.

There are actually teams with more losses than on my ballot who I think are playing better than teams with less losses. That is tough to gauge. For example, I seriously considered putting Ohio Wesleyan on my ballot and not in the bottom four slots. Remember, I had the Battling Bishops in my Top 5 in the preseason poll. I like what they have. But when you start 2-3 on the season and 7-6 turning into early January… it’s bad. It certainly isn’t a Top 25 team. Since then, OWU is on a ten-game winning streak and handling their business. But does a 17-6 team seriously have a place in the Top 25 ahead of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 loss teams? I have 6-loss teams on my poll, so why not? I have them ahead of those other types of programs, so why not? I didn’t pull the trigger this week, but as I write this I beg the question why I didn’t do it.

People ask all of the time, is the Top 25 a statement for how a team is doing over the course of the entire season or a snapshot of how they are right now. I personally think it is a combination and what kind of mixture that is is dependent on the team. What I determine for one team is not right for another. There are too many factors involved. One team’s defense may be better and I like that over another whose defense isn’t as good, but whose offense tends to flourish. I also look at schedules and conference foes to get a sense of how competitive games are. For some teams, I need to see dominating wins to have confidence in them. In another team, close finishes tells me more because of who they are playing and where those games are. I don’t have a cut-and-dry formula that works for all and thus why the process is several hours instead of several minutes.

I debate all of those things on a weekly basis. How is a team doing right now, has their season given me concern or confidence no matter the current results, are the current results starting to trump what I have seen on a season-wide scale, what is the conference doing, who is on their schedule, are they in a lull or a peak in conference opponents on their schedule. The questions and analysis are endless. Add in what I have seen in box scores and on video web streams and what people are telling me or answering to my questions. I may have missed on Ohio Wesleyan this week and maybe left a couple of teams in who should be gone, but let’s see what the next week brings to justify my decisions or justify my second-guessing.

As a reminder, here is how I voted the last few weeks:

Now on to my ballot for the D3hoops.com men’s basketball Top 25 with some thoughts, but not a lot (it is a busy week):

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)

3 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

Rochester’s win over WashU was impressive enough to Dave to override the concern the Chicago loss initially created.

4 – Rochester (Down 1)
Yeah, I only moved the Yellowjackets down one despite losing this weekend to Chicago. I made a point of watching as much of the Rochester at WashU game as I could (after realizing it started an hour earlier than I expected). They controlled the Bears. There was no sign to me that Rochester isn’t as good as I expected them to be. They didn’t blow me away as a Top 5 team, but to be honest… NO ONE has blown me away as a Top 5 team besides maybe Babson. My expectations of a Top 5 team from five years ago has to change. There is too much talent across the board in Division III now. Rochester held WashU at arm’s length and didn’t let the game go into the Bears’s control. Their loss to Chicago, let’s be honest, wasn’t all that shocking. The Maroons are a very good team who have just picked up too many losses in a tough schedule. What I saw from Rochester in St. Louis gave me confidence on where I have them in my poll.

5 – Ramapo (Unchanged)

6 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)

7 – Middlebury (Up 6)
The Panthers are surprising me. I know I had heard and read a lot of confidence in Middlebury from people early on this season, but I brushed it aside. There was nothing on this team that impressed me from two 17-win and one 18-win campaign in the last three seasons. I didn’t think they had grown. But in the last few weeks, I have been watching them very closely and they have been putting teams away. Just in the 2017 side of the campaign, they have won their games by a margin of 16.7 points per game while only having two losses and only one of those was bad (Williams: 89-65). They handed Amherst the head of it’s old mascot 106-91 over the weekend before rolling over Trinity. The Panthers are playing really, really well and if they keep this up may be the team no one wants to face come the NCAA tournament… especially as Tufts is banged up, Amherst is reeling, and everyone else in the Northeast except Babson seems to be stumbling.

8 – Whitworth (Up 1)

9 – Washington Univ. (Down 2)
Normally, I don’t move a team down very far when they have lost to a team I, at least, had them ranked behind. However, I thought about moving the Bears down further. I just wasn’t blown away with their effort against Rochester. I think WashU is a good team, but not Top 10 good. Then again, when I don’t think my Top 5 is really Top 5 caliber, maybe WashU being below what I think a Top 10 team goes with the territory. While I have to both get the WashU teams of old out of my head and stop comparing them… I also have to stop looking for something that blows me away. I just didn’t feel like WashU was worse than the teams below them and thus while my thinking was to move them down further… the answer is I couldn’t. So a combination of things including a cushion keeps WashU in my Top 10.

10 – Marietta (Up 1)

Hope’s overtime win to Trine gave Dave pause.

11 – Hope (Down 1)
The overtime game against Trine concerned me. I know Trine and the rest of the MIAA are subtly better than people realized, but I think Hope needs to be a bit more assertive if they are in my Top 10. I also thought Marietta is playing a bit better basketball as of right now, so I shifted the two teams.

12 – Salisbury (Up 2)

13 – St. Norbert (Down 1)
I have been double-guessing this since I submitted my ballot and had been debating this non-stop prior. There is something about the Green Knights I think is good, but they frustratingly don’t always show it. The Grinnell loss bugs me, but I also realized Grinnell might be playing with a little bit of fire after having to forfeit game due to some kind of screwed up paperwork or whatever allowed a player to be playing when he shouldn’t have (is how I read into the explanation). My counter argument is I am putting too much stock in the Grinnell emotions and didn’t pay attention enough to the fact that SNC lost a game they should have won – no matter the style being played… this isn’t new to them. The problem, not many teams below St. Norbert are blowing me away, either. So they “float” here at 13. Probably should be around 20… but this is no-man’s land for my ballot.

14 – Denison (Up 4)
I don’t have a great breakdown for why I moved the Big Red up four spots besides the fact that a number of losses above them coupled with not many teams around or below them blowing me away forced me to put teams in slots that are far higher than I would like (I think I have shown a few examples of this already).

Susquehanna and Steven Weidlich enter Dave’s Top 25 ballot at #15. Courtesy: Susquehanna Athletics

15 – Susquehanna (Unranked)
I missed the chance to see the River Hawks in person this year (due to the Division III soccer championships) and I have been a bit more critical. The Landmark conference is not that amazing at the top this year, though the middle and bottom have become more interesting. Scranton and Catholic are no where close to their NCAA-selves of the past, so should I put that much stock in Susquehanna beating Catholic last week? What got me to put Susq in this slot was (a) every time you think a game will derail them, they come back strong and haven’t had a losing streak all season and (b), they blow Catholic out of the water on Saturday (88-64). This was a tough game schedule wise as Goucher and Drew were on either sides… a loss in this trio of games would not have surprised me. Frank Marcinek really likes this squad and that says a lot. I’ll buy in … for now.

16 – New Jersey City  (Unchanged)

17 – Swarthmore (Up 4)

18 – Benedictine (Up 6)
Last week I indicated I was comfortable with the Eagles near the bottom of my ballot. They hadn’t done anything in conference except lose a game. Then a birdy pointed me to something I should have noticed on my own: in Benedictine’s nine-game winning stream since their loss to Concordia (Wis.), they have beaten their opponents by an average of 25.7 points per game! They have shot .540 in that stretch improving their season shooting to .514! They are only allowing 69.7 ppg which has brought their season average down to 70.8. Something about that game against the Falcons woke this Benedictine squad up. Sometimes there are times we see a “good” loss … this might have been it for a team that I have to remember brought back a ton of talent from last year’s national championship appearance.

19 – Guilford (Down 4)
I’ll be quick, the win over Randolph-Macon was just what the Quakers needed. The loss to Roanoke… ugly.

20 – Tufts (Down 1)

21 – Oswego State (Down 4)
For a team that needs to keep dominating, losing by one to Fredonia and then barely beating Buffalo State by one… not what I wanted to see from the Lakers to remain confident that Sortino and gang can actually get it done.

22 – UW-Whitewater (Down 2)
This breaks my rule about moving teams down when they lose to a team ranked above them. The shift was mainly because of teams I was moving around above and around UWW. Had they won, they probably wouldn’t have moved up very far because of that movement as well. More a testament of where I think the Falcons fit in on this poll and what is happening around them.

Hanover has become a team to watch in the HCAC, but how much do we really know about them? Courtesy: Hanover Athletics

23 – Hanover (Unranked)
I have been debating about the Panthers for weeks. The loss to Rose-Hulman gave me pause. They aren’t blowing their conference competition out of the water, but I also think the HCAC has improved at the top quite a bit (certainly gotten deeper). And they only have three-losses at this point in the season! Granted, I (spoiler alert) punted teams with two and three losses this week, but I think Hanover is playing better than those other squads.

24 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The Cardinals keep yo-yoing on my ballot. However, I can’t ignore they slayed Amherst for the second time this season. I could have easily not voted for them and put another Wesleyan (Ohio) in here in their stead, but the decision with who follows (another spoiler alert) triggered this one. Sometimes deciding where a team goes on my ballot, if they get on it, and if they are taken off of it also depends on other teams. In this case, Wesleyan making the poll was based more on the fact that …

Amherst’s inability to keep a loss from turning into a losing streak concerns Dave who nearly pulled them from his ballot after being in the Top 10. Courtesy: Amherst Athletics

25 – Amherst (Down 17)
… that the purple As didn’t fall off my ballot. I debated a long time on this. I seriously contemplated dropping Amherst from my ballot despite them being 8th the week prior. The four-losses in six games in late January/early February gave me pause and I dropped them. They then moved up the poll and into the Top 10 after getting back to their winning ways (six straight) while other teams fell around them. I didn’t love them in my Top 10 – but that has been discussed. They then lost two in a row (OT against Wesleyan before being handled by MIidlebury) and I nearly gave up. What is odd is the concerns I had at the beginning of the season, that I nearly forgot, seem to be cropping up now. They proved me to me earlier that those concerns were hog-wash… until now. I just don’t think they are as strong or as deep as we are used from the LeFrak residents. So why didn’t I just simply remove them? I do still think Amherst has the ability to make a run in the NCAA tournament if they get back in the right mindset  – though, not Salem this year (and yes, I didn’t think they could have gotten to Salem last year if Babson had Flannery at 100%… or even 75%) and THAT is why I dropped them. However, if I think they can make a deep run, I can’t remove them. Furthermore, if I drop Amherst then I drop Wesleyan leaving me two spots open. I have already admitted I would have put Ohio Wesleyan in in that case, but I don’t know who my second team was. I wouldn’t have left in any of the teams I dropped and the others I was considering didn’t make as strong a case in my opinion. So, Amherst (and Wesleyan by default right now) stay… and I second-guess myself the rest of the week.

Dropped Out:

Neumann (Previously 22)
This was the only team that had a chance to stay on my ballot, honestly. But the loss to Rosemont kills me. This is not a shot at the Ravens who I think is a very improved team, but to stay on my ballot from the CSAC, you have to dominate the conference. The loss to Rosemont doesn’t prove that to me. As good as Neumann is, it seems they are still trying to figure out personnel and maybe overlooking opponents. Both of those are red flags for me.

St. Thomas return to Dave’s Top 25 was short-lived.

St. Thomas (Previously 23)
I seriously considered replacing the Tommies with Carleton which would have been that second team I mentioned I was looking for to replace Amherst and Wesleyan (to go along with OWU). Carleton beat St. Thomas to end their eight-game winning streak and extend  the Knights, then, 10-game winning streak. For St. Thomas, that loss concerned me for a squad that had turned it around and looked to be on it’s way to another MIAC regular season title. And I didn’t want to vote for Carleton, because I was worried the win would be the emotional climax and they would stumble after it. Interestingly, St. Thomas lost their next game maybe revealing their emotional climax had been reached and Carleton dominated in their next game maybe revealing a new team for my ballot next week.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Previously 25)
I knew this would happen. Almost immediately after putting CMS back on my ballot for the second time this season and just after convincing myself they were going to continue dominating the SCIAC… they lost to Pomonoa-Pitzer and before they could stop the bleeding La Verne knocked them down another peg. Just can’t vote for CMS who went from having a Pool C chance if they needed it… to having to now win to get in to the NCAA tournament.

I think that about covers it. Don’t forget Hoopsville will be on air Wednesday afternoon shortly after the Regional Rankings are published and will be on air Thursday and Sunday nights starting at 7:00PM. Also, please consider donating to the Hoopsville Fundraising efforts. We want to stay on the air for years to come and your public television-esque support is very much appreciated.

And if you are looking for my thoughts from earlier in the year, here you go:
Week 10
Week 7
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 10

Did you watch the Hoopsville Marathon? You can catch up On Demand by clicking the picture.

Well, let me start by apologizing for those who like to read these blogs for not getting you one the last few weeks. I had other obligations or items on my plate the last few weeks that didn’t allow me the time to post. I have also been under the weather dealing with a cold and exhaustion (notice, Hoopsville was canceled Sunday) which hasn’t helped.

Many of you might be curious how I voted, so let’s start there:

Week 8 Week 9
1 Babson Babson
2 Whitman Whitman
3 Rochester Ramapo
4 Chris. Newport Rochester
5 Denison Chris. Newport
6 Ramapo UW-River Falls
7 Whitworth Denison
8 UW-River Falls Washington Univ.
9 Tufts Tufts
10 New Jersey City New Jersey City
11 Salisbury Amherst
12 Amherst Whitworth
13 Washington Univ. Hope
14 Hope Salisbury
15 Marietta Marietta
16 St. Norbert St. Norbert
17 Hardin-Simmons Guilford
18 Guilford Middlebury
19 UW-Eau Claire North Park
20 Augustana Hardin-Simmons
21 Middlebury Ripon
22 Wesleyan Wesleyan
23 North Park Oswego State
24 Benedictine Benedictine
25 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Neumann
Dropped Out Endicott (#14), Neumann (#25) UW-Eau Claire (#19), Augustana (#20), Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (#25)

As you can see, movement in a few different places. I toyed with some teams in and out despite maybe not losing. I also made some serious shifts to those who seem to be struggling especially in conference play.

While things have been a little less volatile in the Top 25 – if not the entire division – it doesn’t make things easier. I think there is a significant cap in the area of 7-15. I am not comfortable with a number of teams where I have them ranked. Many are too high. However, I have to put someone in those slots. I have to fill in the holes. So teams are going to rise further up than I want them, but I don’t have anyone better to put in those slots.

This week as was the same. Teams in spots I am not convinced are deserving of that ranking, but I can explain that with those individual teams. So without further delay, here is my ballot for this week’s D3hoops.com Top 25:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)
I’ve got nothing to add here. I think they are the best in the country being led by arguably the best player in the country. Haven’t changed my mind all season.

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)
I’ll be honest, I am nervous now. The Blue nearly lost to Linfield. I had said on Hoopsville recently that I thought the past weekend could easily be overlooked by Whitman after beating Whitworth for the second weekend. However, I thought they would have struggled with Pacific though their struggles with Linfield maybe makes more sense. The Blues can’t overlook even the weakest of opponents. Teams this high in the rankings don’t do that.

3 – Rochester (Up 1)
I didn’t like the Yellowjackets prior weekend in the UAA and was nervous with the immediate turn around against the same opponents it would not end well. Rochester actually put their foot down. I’ve been worried they might fade like they did last season, but maybe that isn’t going to happen. That said, EPIC showdown with Washington University this weekend that could determine the conference automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but Rochester cannot overlook Chicago this weekend as well.

Despite CNU’s success, Dave is wondering what’s been going on with Marcus Carter. Courtesy: CNU Athletics

4 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
The Captains look strong, but I would feel a lot more confident if their All-American Marcus Carter was having an All-American type season. My concern is he hasn’t looked nearly as strong this year and that could turn into a liability moving forward especially if the Captains hope to get back to Salem.

5 – Ramapo (Down 2)
Maybe I got a little too overzealous moving the Roadrunners to No. 3 overall last week. I liked what I was seeing. They were controlling their opponents in a usually tough NJAC. And while the NJAC hasn’t been as strong this year, I didn’t expect Ramapo to struggle against TCNJ this past week. Oops. Ramapo is a very good team, but they can’t allow dings like they experienced this past week. I was willing to move them further down the poll, but they ran into an area where a lot of losses had taken place and moving them behind teams below them didn’t work – they aren’t worse than those teams.

6 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)
Despite the fact the Falcons took their first WIAC loss of the season to Oshkosh, I didn’t move them. The main reason is I didn’t have any where further down to put them. The second reason is I would have been shocked to see any team go undefeated in the WIAC. I do think the loss to Oshkosh is a little concerning considering how UWRF has been handling the rest of their conference schedule. However, Oshkosh is a good team and certainly capable of getting that win. The biggest surprise was it was on the Falcons’ home court.

Dave isn’t that sold on WashU, but this weekend’s clash with Rochester will help him answer questions for both teams. Courtesy: WashU Athletics

7 – Washington Univ. (Up 1)
Now we enter the area I am not comfortable with in terms of where teams are ranked. I know a lot of people are impressed with WashU… I am not blown away with them. I feel they are a 10-15 ranked team who is certainly having a good season. My concerns were made clear in their game at Case Western Reserve when the Bears basically blew a 16-point lead with a CRWU team that just wasn’t close to 100%. The odd part is WashU had a number of missing players the second time around with CRWU and the game was over early (correction, I have this confused with the Case missing players against Chicago; I apologize). Big match-up coming against Rochester with Emory lurking as well. I will be watching this weekend’s games closely.

8 – Amherst (Up 2)
No surprise the Lord Jeffs got past Tufts this weekend. And Amherst has done nothing but win since they lost to Wesleyan and Trinity a few weekends prior, but this is another team that right now I feel more comfortable between 10-15. The conference has exposed some flaws and I am just not as sold on the purple As as I used to be – heck, I wasn’t even that sold when they were in the 2-slot on my ballot. Maybe chalk all of this up to how crazy parity has become that there aren’t any bad losses anymore.

9 – Whitworth (Up 3)
Their loss to Whitman basically sealed the fact to me that the Pirates are the same dominating force we have grown accustom to, so their ranking in the Top 10 is an uneasy one. I like them closer to 15, but had to move them up to 9. They had a far more solid weekend than Whitman, but maybe realizing they can’t control the conference has taken some of the pressure off. This just isn’t as strong a squad as I am used to, so a Top 10 ranking seems strange to me.

Hope cracks into the D3hoops.com Top 25 despite the fact Dave has them tenth on his ballot.

10 – Hope (Up 3)
I may be higher on the Dutchmen than others. There is something about this squad I like. I can’t put an exact finger on it, but the fact they are staying above the fray in the rest of the MIAA may have something to do with it. Who knows. Again, maybe not a Top 10 squad, but I like what I see.

11 – Marietta (Up 3)
The Pioneers seem to be getting their swagger back, but I am not convinced they have solved the problems that plagued them in the middle of the season. The recent win over John Carroll gave me hope they found some answers, but I still think they can be exposed by team who has quality players inside. I don’t love Marietta this high right now until I see how they finish the season, but here is where I have to put them.

12 – St. Norbert (Up 4)
The Green Knights did a nice job to avenge their lone conference loss in … years. I think they are a quality team, but not sure they aren’t more like 15th or 16th in the country. That said, they are proving to be a tough out and once again control how the MWC will be determined this season.

Middlebury could turn out to be the most dangerous team in the NESCAC.

13 – Middlebury (Up 5)
The Panthers have quietly been assassins. They have been rolling over teams that leading up to the game looked like they might be formidable. Just look at the recent game against Hamliton! I wasn’t really buying in to Middlebury earlier this season, but they actually might be the most dangerous team in the NESCAC. Forget Tufts and Amherst or even Trinity, Middlebury could control this conference before things are settled.

14 – Salisbury (Unchanged)
I wasn’t as aggressive with the Seagulls because I think they are playing with fire. This is a team that sometimes plays too close to their opponent’s level than they should. York (Pa.) beat them earlier this season and Salisbury barely got past them the second time on the Seagulls home floor. I just don’t think they know how to put teams away and that will mean teams hanging around and maybe knocking Salisbury off one or two more times this season (not counting a third game with CNU). I would feel far more comfortable if Salisbury actually blew the doors off more of their opponents like they are capable of doing.

15 – Guilford (Up 2)
The ODAC is not something to write home about this season. Competitive, sure, but not top notch. That said, Guilford is quietly having a pretty impressive season. The loss to Hampdon-Sydney did more than concern me, but the Quakers are back in control of the ODAC which could have a lot of ramifications later. The biggest trick, Guilford cannot rest on their laurels. There is an argument that only one team from the ODAC will make the NCAA tournament this year no matter how things turn out (I don’t agree, but the argument is a good one). Guilford has to not trip up between now and February 26.

16 – New Jersey City (Down 6)
What the Gothic Knights did this past week is exactly what I said they and others in the NJAC can’t afford to do this season. Prior to seeing the SOS numbers last week, I thought NJAC was in good shape to have two teams in the NCAA tournament. But the recent SOS numbers (not from the NCAA, but pretty accurate) tell a different story. With numbers that low, a team like NJCU cannot lose to a team like Rowan. I don’t care how good people say teams in the NJAC are, the top teams have to keep beating the teams behind them or this is once again going to be a one-bid conference especially in a year where the middle and bottom haven’t ended up being as good as expected. The loss to Rowan could ended up being bad for many reasons besides me losing confidence that the Gothic Knights were underappreciated… not to mention a squad with such a good defense gives up 90+ in the loss. Not good. Not good at all.

Brian Sortino and Oswego State are once again proving to be a dangerous second-half team. Courtesy: Oswego State Athletics

17 – Oswego State (Up 5)
Tell me if you have heard this story before? Oswego State has some questionable results early in the season, people forget about them, and they come storming back in the second half of the season. The Lakers now have control of the SUNYAC thanks to their recent win over Brockport. However, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. This team is full of talent, but there are teams that tend to leave me wanting more and Oswego has been one of those teams… will they do it again?

18 – Denison (Down 11)
Ouch. Losers of three straight and seeing their two-game advantage in the NCAC disappear completely the Big Red now find themselves a game back of Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan with losses to those two in this stretch. Not good. Denison, I feel, has been a very good team who has taken advantage of Ohio Wesleyan’s disastrous start to the season and a below-par-Wooster squad. However, they had gotten to February still playing terrific basketball. This is the worse time possible for a meltdown. I hope Denison is able to figure things out, because they are also dealing with a shockingly low SOS which means these losses could ended up costing them a chance at returning to the NCAA tournament.

19 – Tufts (Down 10)
Normally a single loss to a conference foe, especially a very good one like Amherst, wouldn’t drop a team ten spots. However, Tufts is having to play with their most important player: Tom Palleschi. His presence inside makes the Jumbos a difficult team to play and beat. Without him, the squad has been exposed to the tune of three losses in four games. Will Palleschi return? Not sure. He might be back in two or so weeks… he might be done for the season. Sadly, the season may go down with their player. That is sad to say for a team that played above expectations last season and seemed to be above the NESCAC fray all season.

UW-Whitewater gets on Dave’s ballot for the first time this season. Are the Warhawks really that good this year? Courtesy: UW-Whitewater Athletics

20 – UW-Whitewater (Unranked)
This is the first time I am voting for the Warhawks and I don’t love the vote. Sorry. The out-of-conference schedule was nothing to be proud of and the three-game losing streak to start conference play was what I thought would happen – bringing UWW back to earth. However, they have gotten back to flying and have won seven straight with four of those being on the road. The toughest test will be this week at UW-Stevens Point and at UW-River Falls. After this week I will either be comfortable with Whitewater on my ballot or shaking my head as to why I chose them over someone else. Looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

21 – Swarthmore (Unranked)
As strange as this is going to sound, I was impressed with the Garnet’s overtime win at McDaniel. I saw the game in person and really liked what I saw from Swarthmore. McDaniel has a habit of playing to the level of it’s opponent which in this case meant playing a far better game than they have shown in the past, so I didn’t knock Swarthmore for having to go into overtime against the Green Terror – especially at McDaniel. The Garnet’s inside game is better than I expected, though their bigs may have to play a little quicker for them to be more dangerous in March.

22 – Neumann (Up 3)
I am not blown away with Neumann, but they keep winning especially as the target gets bigger and bigger. I can’t figure out their personnel changes in the second semester, but they keep winning. One-loss overall and playing in the CSAC makes it hard to stand out, but I had been told at the beginning of the season to keep an eye on Neumann and so far watching them has been good enough to get them ranked… even move them up this week. I had actually sold them when they had a couple of close games they shouldn’t have had in conference, but I am also willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point.

St. Thomas is back in the conversation and in control of the MIAC race after a less-than-Tommies start to the season.

23 – St. Thomas (Unranked)
Well, the Tommies are back. After a near-disastrous start that had them in the middle of the MIAC pack, St. Thomas has regained control of the conference and seem to be playing on a different level. Who knows what Coach John Tauer has psychologically down with his program, but it has worked! Great turn around that I just couldn’t keep unranked any more. The finish to the season is not going to be easy, but with two wins over both Bethel and St. John’s already in the Tommies’ pocket, UST is in the driver’s seat once again.

24 – Benedictine (Unchanged)
I don’t have much to say here. The Eagles have been stuck in the 24-slot for weeks with me. Their first conference loss didn’t give me much hope, but they also continue to show they may be as good as last year’s team. No, I am not ranking them accordingly because I feel there may be some smoke and mirrors, but in the meantime I keep watching with no reason to move them up … or down.

25 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Unranked)
CMS and Neumann have been in and out of my ballot for a few weeks. They are both 1-loss teams I can’t figure out. CMS first got on the ballot when they easily handled their first above .500 squads of the season. They came off when they barely got passed Caltech. They continue to win and a one-loss team looks better than some of the three, four, five, even six-loss teams. Not sure where CMS is going to go this season should they make the NCAA tournament, but here’s hoping they show how good they seem to be instead of it just being the usual beat-down of West Coast teams.

Dropped Out:

North Park’s Juwan Henry has missed the last few games for the Vikings who have now lost three of their last six.

North Park (Previously #19):
Injuries and losses are revealing the North Park team I thought we were going to see. They have two preseason All-Americans (only two to have that this year), but one appears out with an injury and the rest of the supporting casts doesn’t seem able to produce like they have in the first-half of the season. The Vikings are 3-3 in their last 6 and 6-4 since the New Year. Not that impressive anymore.

Hardin-Simmon (Previously #20):
I have really liked the Cowboys, but two losses in a row (before a win to stop the bleeding) did not impress me. They have some of the best talent in the country, but they may have just set-up the “win-or-go-home” scenario for the conference playoffs. Not sure how HSU gets in the NCAA tournament unless they win out – though, we haven’t seen the first regional rankings to better understand their situation.

Ripon (Previously #21):
Just when I buy in to the Ty Sabin-led squad, they lose two in a row. I wasn’t surprised when St. Norbert beat them, though the 17-point spread was eyebrow-raising, but to then follow that with a loss to Lake Forest was disappointing. The giveth and they taketh away.

Wesleyan (Previously #22):
The Cardinals are a team I have said was worth watching in what is the deepest and craziest NESCAC we have seen in quite some time, but they are in the same boat as others in terms of not losing games they shouldn’t. Williams nipped Wesleyan in the only game the Cardinals had last week! That speaks louder to me – just one game and lose it – than anything else. There was no other game to distract the team – just one – and they lost. Wesleyan is still dangerous, but not as fearful as beforehand.

There you have it. Another week down. Couple more to go and we will be talking about who is in and out of the NCAA tournament. I will hopefully have time get you those ballots as they are filed each week.

Don’t forget to tune into Hoopsville the rest of the season! We will be on air for a special Regional Rankings show on Wednesday afternoon along with our usual Thursday and Sunday night coverage starting at 7PM those nights.

Other ballots:
Week 7
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 2

St. John Fisher had a rough week at the Wendy's Classic and plummeted down my ballot.

St. John Fisher had a rough week at the Wendy’s Classic and plummeted down my ballot.

Another week… another head-scratching, paper-worn-through-by-eraser, want-to-throw-darts-instead voting job. It isn’t a surprise, but I do need to consider either stronger paper to deal with all of the erasing… or another note taking, scribbling plan.

This is kind of fun. It is nice to know there are plenty of teams who actually deserve to be considered, though that is evenly weighed by the fact there are is a sizable part of the poll no teams seem to fit.

The thing is… the beginning of this season is so wide open it is hard to really gauge who is who, what is what, and why is why. There are some teams I can not figure out what is going on with. There are others I fear are just smoke and mirrors. Then there are those who clearly are not living up to even their own expectations. The challenge is to weed out the smoke and mirrors and look at what is really going on with teams both excelling and struggling.

There are plenty of teams who are undefeated, but that doesn’t mean they are the best 25 teams in the country. There are also plenty of teams who have one, two, three, even four losses, but that doesn’t mean a team taking losses isn’t good. Schedules are not equal. Most people realize that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get emails or tweets (even just mentions) suggesting a team who is 7-0 is probably worthy despite the fact they have played just one team above .500 and most of their opponents would be considered in the bottom quarter of the entire division. I applaud the great start to the season, but the Top 25 has rooms for just 5.9% of the programs who play Division III men’s basketball. If you really think about that… that really is a small number. If you see 17 different teams in a season per year, you on average see just one Top 25 team (if you see that much variety in teams).

What I am trying to say is with parity clearly a major factor, there are plenty of teams people think are Top 25 worthy based on simple things like a great record or a significant win. There are also plenty of teams who in a normal year might not normally deserve to be in a Top 25 right now, but considering the playing field has been far rockier they are still part of the conversation.

OK… let’s get to my ballot. Like last week, I feel pretty comfortable for the top six spots… after that, it’s a free-for-all. There are absolutely teams higher than I feel comfortable with, but there is a large gap between 7 and probably 15 where, as I have said repeatedly in the past, you have to slot teams. My number ten team may not really feel the tenth best in the country, but neither does anyone else… but someone has to be number ten – those are the rules.

So with that… here we go. Some teams won’t need or get any comments for varying reasons (I can’t write a synopsis on every single team each week), but those who made significant moves will certainly get a comment.

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
Not that I need to make a comment here, but did you see what Augustana did against UW-Whitewater (2014’s national champs) and UW-Stevens Point (2015’s national champs)?! While it was a UWW lead at halftime, it was over once the second half started. And UWSP just couldn’t keep pace in what is believed to be the first championship game, regular season rematch since 2001 (William Paterson and Catholic). Augustana is good.

2 – Whitworth (Unchanged)

3 – Hope (Unchanged)
The Wheaton (Ill.) game was worrisome, sure. But Hope also showed it is capable of fighting back and earning a victory even if they aren’t on their game.

Mike DeWitt's Ohio Wesleyan squad is off to a terrific start after beating Wooster last week.

Mike DeWitt’s Ohio Wesleyan squad is off to a terrific start after beating Wooster last week.

4 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 2)
A pretty dominating win over Wooster certainly allowed me to feel more comfortable with how high I had them in the first place, but it also allowed me to move the Battling Bishops up thanks to a loss by another team. Add to what I said last week, there aren’t any coaches or anyone else I’ve talked to about Ohio Wesleyan who doesn’t praise how good they are.

5 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)
I certainly didn’t expect the Tommies to go undefeated this season nor in what is a far deeper MIAC than it was three, maybe five, years ago. However, I did expect them to hold court in the conference at least to the bottom two-thirds to three-quarters. I know Carleton is a much improved team, but St. Thomas was exposed a bit especially after a bit of a break following the Hoopsville Classic (they played Concordia-Moorehead three days prior, but had been off for 11 days prior).

6 – Amherst^ (Down 1)
The only reason I knocked the Lord Jeffs down was simply because they don’t exactly have the world’s most stellar out-of-conference schedule to-date. So yes, Amherst is undefeated, but they should be – and the games haven’t been close. However, I still think St. Thomas is a better team than Amherst because the Lord Jeffs haven’t exactly shown otherwise.

7 – Elmhurst (Unchanged)

8 – Marietta (Unchanged)

9 – Brooklyn (Up 5)
Yeah… big jump for a team who wasn’t even in my preseason Top 25. They have gone from off my Top 25 into my Top 10 – big jump. Not sure Brooklyn is a Top 10 squad, but as I indicated earlier… teams have to fill these slots. I also might be buying in a little bit too much, but I got a chance to watch them online this past weekend I was pretty impressed. Also similar to Ohio Wesleyan, when I talk to coaches and others in the Atlantic Region, they talk pretty well about the Bulldogs.

10 – Babson^ (Down 2)
Another loss has me a little concerned. This might be a bit of team chemistry as Joey Flannery gets used to having different responsibilities and looking to new teammates to relieve the pressure. He also has teammates getting used to new roles and a transfer who everyone is adjusting to. The loss this past week was to a pretty decent Tufts squad and in overtime, so I am not panicking.

Mount Union has gone up and down on my ballot mainly thanks to just not being able to figure out 7-25.

11 – Mount Union (Up 7)
The Purple Raiders have been on my personal yo-yo so far this season. Preseason #7; Week 1 #18. This is more the result of what is going on around Mount Union then themselves. They are 5-2 (at voting time), but seem to be getting over their early struggles. Again, they probably aren’t the eleventh best team in the country… but who really is.

12 – Christopher Newport (Unranked)
Well hello Captains! Yeah… another big jump especially for a team unranked prior. However, I realized about 24 hours after I posted my Top 25 that I probably should have found a way to include Christopher Newport on my ballot last week. It isn’t like they aren’t good, haven’t been good, and aren’t beating normally good teams. Yes, those they have beaten seem to be off to tough starts… but many have especially those who are going out there and challenging themselves early in their seasons. However, they beat a very good Salisbury team and looked good doing it. Again, probably not truly the twelfth best team, but… I’m repeating myself.

13 – Benedictine (Up 3)

14 – Chicago^ (Up 5)
A major move up for the Maroons, I know. It is more about those moving around them and filling in spots, plenty more about the fact I am not sure those behind them are better or playing better than Chicago, sprinkled in with the fact many still feel the Maroons will win the UAA.

15 – John Carroll (Up 7)
I am leery about how high I put the Blue Streaks. I am just not ready to buy in to what hasn’t been there for awhile. However, they are still winning (7-0 at voting time) while those around them are not necessarily winning. So upward they… streak?

16 – Salisbury* (Up 1)
Ha… these are those moments that have happened a few times early this season where a team loses and moves up (hint, there is at least one more coming on this ballot). The Sea Gulls moved up for three reasons: they lost to a team I realized should have been on my ballot in the first place, the team they lost to (Christopher Newport) is now ranked ahead of them, and I’m not exactly sure any program behind them should be ahead of them.

17 – UW-Stevens Point^ (Down 4)
I realize the Pointers lost to the number one team in the country and I just moved Salisbury up after losing a game, but UW-Stevens Point were just too high on my ballot. Augustana controlled the game (something they didn’t have a prayer of doing in Salem for the title) and Stevens Point was just unable to make Augustana not play their game (from what I could see while watching online sitting courtside at the 50th Wendy’s College Classic). UWSP probably is still a valid Top 25 team, but not sure they are a Top 15 program right now – remember, they are young this season.

18 – Stockton^ (Down 7)
I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. The NJAC is off to a crazy start. I almost just want to remove all NJAC teams, let them get through the first half of the double-round-robin, and then go back and take a look. If only the Ospreys could win the games you expect them to. There is a better chance Coach Gerry Matthews will stand up during a game than apparently Stockton wins a game they should win (just kidding, Stockton fans and Coach Matthews… I just get a kick out of watching him on the sidelines). Nothing like starting conference play already behind the eight-ball.

19 – Virginia Wesleyan^ (Up 2)

20 – Washington Univ.^ (Down 7)
I actually debated about removing the Bears from ballot altogether. They looked horrible against Illinois Wesleyan. It was an ugly game. There just isn’t any way to sugar coat it. I don’t like throwing my vote around to teams and I worry I got a little to enthusiastic last week with Wash U. I said just as much last week. But they had been winning and looking good doing it… but man did they not look good or win against IWU. And I can’t tell you how many people, especially those who know the program well, who say they aren’t a Top 25 team. I get it… but I am keeping them here for now. It isn’t like it they can avoid playing in the UAA, right?

Texas Lutheran is backing up their first NCAA appearance with a terrific start to the season.

Texas Lutheran is backing up their first NCAA appearance with a terrific start to the season.

21 – Texas Lutheran (Unranked)
I thought about this for a really long time. The Bulldogs were not going to be on my ballot until pretty much the last minute. They are off to a terrific start after winning the SCAC and earning their first NCAA tournament appearance in program history. They are also being guided by second-year coach Jimmy Smith who is also only in his fourth year coaching period. So yes… they have plenty of youth and inexperience. However, they have beaten Hardin-Simmons, East Texas Baptist, and Mary Hardin-Baylor (Smith’s alma mater) in their last four games. That isn’t bad considering two of them were on my Top 25 ballot so far this season and the other isn’t that far removed from a national championship game appearance. Now, their only blemish is to Pacific Lutheran who isn’t ranked (outside of TLU, PLU hasn’t really played anyone besides TLU and Chicago and are 1-1 in those games). Could I be throwing my vote around here? Maybe, but there are a LOT of teams to consider at this point of the ballot.

22 – East Texas Baptist (Up 1)
Ha… here we are again! Lose a game and move up. Well, ETBU lost to TLU who is now ranked ahead of them… and I needed to create a little bit more room below.

23 – St. John Fisher* (Down 13)
Ouch. The Cardinals will probably be happy never to see the Wendy’s Classic again. I really liked what I saw at the Hoopsville Classic. Not sure I can say the same from now from afar. I know they are playing without one of their key returnees due to injury, but even a banged-up St. John Fisher squad should have been able to figure out how to beat RIT and probably Brockport (who does look better than expected). However, it was the fact they lost by 17 to Brockport that was disturbing. Hopefully the Cardinals can get back to more consistent winning ways or they could be making post-season plans far more difficult.

24 – Oswego State (Unranked)
Surprise! Lose a game and ENTER the Top 25. Not the most shocking thing ever, but at this point in the poll I’m looking at another 15 teams and none of them felt as “comfortable” as the rest. Sure, the loss to Buffalo State wasn’t ideal, but you don’t talk to people in the East Region without the Lakers being brought up in conversation when chatting about the best teams. The SUNYAC will once again be a challenge, but Oswego has been pointing to this season for awhile.

25 – Wooster (Down 1)

Dropped Out:

William Paterson (Previously 15)
Not much I am going to say here. I said quite a bit last week. Here is a team that could do some special things this season, but they seem to be letting other things distract them. Yes, their coach has been fired and appeal is underway, but that is something to rally behind… not let the wheels come off the truck. Four losses already (one being a forfeit the NCAA has officially ruled as a 2-0 loss) have put the Pioneers so far in the hole, they probably have ruined what could have been a terrific season. I hope it was worth it, seniors.

Catholic’s Bryson Fonville has 18.0 ppg (2nd), but the team is giving up 76.1 ppg, the most allowed this century by a Cardinals squad.

Catholic^ (Previously 20)
No idea what to say. The Cardinals obviously have a big target on them this season, thus they are taking everyone’s best shots, but they aren’t doing anything about it. If you read the D3boards you will see people comment that defense has been apparently optional by the starting five. There was even a question about shaking up the starting lineup and getting deeper into the bench. I have no clue what is really going on, but defense certainly looks to be lacking. And instead of starting conference play by stamping their authority on things, they have started with a whimper.

Northwestern (Previously 25)
The Eagles didn’t exactly do anything horrible to come off my ballot except lose to Bethel (who is undefeated). However, there are a lot of questions to ask and try and find answers the further down you get on a ballot and I just didn’t feel as strongly about Northwestern this week as I did last week.

Previous Ballots:
Week 1
Preseason

* – teams I have seen in person this season.
^ – teams I have seen in person in the last 12 months.

So, there you have it. I will say, and as I have said, I don’t feel comfortable with my Top 25. I could change it over and over and over and… again. At some point, you just have to stop and hit “submit” and move on. I was talking to JC DeLass (who will tell you he is a Top 25 voter as well) for Hoopsville Sunday when I was in Rochester for the Wendy’s Classic and he mentioned how many voters don’t feel comfortable with who are the top twenty-five schools in the country for a few more weeks. I shuttered when he said it because I usually feel like I want to have an accurate ballot each week. Despite losses and surprises, I do want to feel like I am reading the tea leaves correctly and not vote for a ballot that has teams on it that simply don’t deserve to be there. However, JC’s point is accurate and one I have become comfortable with… this is not even close to an exact science. Should I take it seriously enough to make sure my ballot is not just wild guesses? No. Should I accept the fact that this time of a season especially with so much parity you might read a team wrong? Yes… it is going to happen.

So… I/we will keep trying to read the tea leaves and weed throw the smoke and mirrors… and not miss something we should notice while falling for something we should be ignoring. Let’s see how things feel next Monday. 🙂