Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’18-’19): Week 8

Last week was interesting. About midway through the week, it seemed like it might be a somewhat calm week in terms of outcomes and upsets. Then we entered the weekend and it got far more interesting. Big wins, surprising defeats, and incredible endings provided Top 25 voters (in both polls) a lot to contemplate Sunday evening and Monday.

The biggest question: Who should be the number one team in men’s basketball?

This is about the time of a season when the conference grind does present some interesting results. I am no longer surprised when several different outcomes suddenly change how I am voting or how I perceive teams. The challenge really has become determining who really is good and who may be rising thanks to smoke and mirrors.

I appreciate the fact there are 25 different voters from around the country even more in weeks like these as well. We all have different opinions and that not only makes for fascinating decisions, but also great conversation. My chat with Bob Quillman on Sunday’s Hoopsville was helpful and insightful just as my weekly conversations with Ryan Scott has become. It also proves that one can have two completely different viewpoints, and both realize the other could change your opinion.

Bob and I debated the “who is number one” question and I’ll admit, I was thinking about changing my decision after a while. He seemed to indicate the same. It could have gone on for hours, because when you start peeling back more and more layers, the more interesting discoveries and more questions are brought up.

Voting for who should be number one, or should be in any position on the poll, is not cut and dry even when it looks like it should be on paper. It only gets more difficult and more blurred the further down the poll you go. There are legitimately many teams that one could argue deserve to have some attention for the Top 25. There isn’t a single team in the country that isn’t flawed or unbeatable. I’ve said that since Day 1 of this season. I think we are seeing it more now than earlier in the season.

So who is my number one team? Well, I already gave that away multiple times before voting, but here is my ballot for Week 8. Just a reminder, here is how I voted in Week 7.

NWU remains Dave’s #1 pick thanks in part to precedent.

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NC)
I am not going to jump off the Prairie Wolves selection just because they lost. I’ve said from the beginning of the season that no team was going to go undefeated. That included NWU. The fact they lost to the second-best team in the ARC on the road is a large reason why I didn’t feel removing Nebraska Wesleyan from the top spot was necessary. I still think they are the best, deepest, most talented team in the country. I also would be hypocritical as a few years ago when Augustana lost their first game in CCIW play (something, again, that isn’t unexpected), I didn’t move them from number-one either.

2 – Augustana (NC)
I think Bob raised some good points as to why voting for the Vikings to be the top team in the country would make sense. He nearly got me to change my mind. Augustana does seem to be clicking well, but I am still a little leery of close results against teams that should be tight games in conference play. Yes, Augie hasn’t lost in the CCIW this season and that is becoming complicated. If they were to go undefeated (all else being equal), I am telling you now I am going to have to re-examine my vote here. In the meantime, Augustana’s close results in the last few weeks, coupled with a tough stretch ahead (especially on the road), plus the fact Loras has beaten both Nebraska Wesleyan AND Augustana (plus the DII Augustana) this season … gives me confidence in leaving by #1 and #2 picks solid no matter the outcomes this past week.

3 – Whitman (NC)

4 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 1)

5 – St. Thomas (Up 2)

6 – St. John’s (Up 3)

7 – MIT (Up 3)

8 – Randolph-Macon (Up 3)

9 – Williams (Up 3)

Willamette upended Whitworth which caused the Pirates to plunged down Dave’s ballot, but not out of the Top 10. (Courtesy: Willamette Athletics)

10 – Whitworth (Down 4)
I have said before I think this is the best Pirates squad I have seen on the court. Yes. That includes the overall number one team many moons back. I have also said that while they have the talent, I still am concerned about the drop off on the bench and how they can play “down” to their opponents. The NWC has improved and the bottom teams are no longer nearly as bad, however that doesn’t excuse the loss to Willamette (granted on the road). Those are games Whitworth must win to stay in the NCAA conversation AND allow the committee to get their way and split the Whits come NCAA Tournament time. Now there is also more pressure on the Pirates to win, on the road, at Whitman Tuesday night.

11 – Wabash (Down 3)
I didn’t move the Little Giants down as much as some may have expected due to their loss to Wooster for the following reasons: It was on the road at a difficult place to play; I am now more in the camp of understanding Wooster is a good team; there are plenty of teams below Wabash I still think they are better than. I may still have Wabash higher (and Wooster lower) than most, but I also think Wabash is a very good team. They got into a 14-0 hole against the Scots and stormed back. That speaks volumes.

12 – Capital (Up 1)

13 – Marietta (Up 1)

14 – Hamilton (Down 8)
The Continentals made Colby look good … or maybe Colby is good? Hamilton dropped a home game against a team they should have seen coming. The Mules had already knocked off Amherst the night before and had to travel to Clinton, New York. I don’t give Hamilton much slack for losing that game as a result. They didn’t shoot very well, and they struggled to stop a Colby team that clearly was confident, but again Hamilton should have seen coming and was prepared to handle. BTW, 11 turnovers to just five assists… those TOs are hurting Hamilton especially when they are shooting .393 for a game.

The image that has been seen around DIII this past week. Reactions from Loras after defeating previously undefeated NWU. (Courtesy: Loras Athletics)

15 – Loras (Up 1)
The Duhawks basically remained stable despite their win over Nebraska Wesleyan. They had lost to Wartburg earlier in the week which meant the game against NWU was close to a must-win. They also were the one team in conference I felt could beat NWU – that seemed clear after they beat Augustana earlier in the season. Loras’ problem is inconsistency (common refrain for many). They lose to NWU two weeks ago by 18 and then barely get past Coe. They blitz Central and then barely get past Buena Vista and lose to Wartburg. Loras is a good team, but they must buckle down the rest of the way especially considering their rival, Dubuque, who already knocked them off this season is next.

16 – Swarthmore (Up 1)

17 – Lynchburg (Down 2)
I considered dropping the Hornets a few more spots, but kind of ran into a bubble where I didn’t think they were worse than those below them. Losing two games last week is tough, though they lost to Randolph-Macon ranked ahead of them (thus expected) and to Guilford that is proving to be a giant killer in the ODAC (and probably underappreciated; clipped the Hornets twice this season). The only thing that bugs me was both games were at Turner Gymnasium. That feels unacceptable. I am not sure if Lynchburg rose too high too soon, but I will be watching games against Roanoke and others to see how they respond.

The Scots were a jumpin’ after defeating Wabash, at home, to split the series with the Little Giants and get Dave to now buy in. (Courtesy: Wooster Athletics)

18 – Wooster (NR)
Okay, I’m buying in to the Scots, for now. I just haven’t been that impressed in what has been a crazy Great Lakes and NCAC. However, they had a smart game-plan against Wabash and took advantage of opportunities. The stretch of three losses in December clearly was an example of “the reports of Wooster’s death are greatly exaggerated.” The real challenge now is not to let their guard down. Ohio Wesleyan is around the corner and rematch for Wittenberg looks … not to mention the rest of the conference including DePauw which would love nothing more than to knock off Wooster. But I’m buying in …

19 – Nichols (Up 1)

20 – North Central (Ill.) (Up 1)

21 – Pomona-Pitzer (NR)
I am also buying into the Sagehens, for now. There are only two things I chalk up to note worthy so far for Pomona-Pitzer: A double-overtime win over Whitman and having just one loss (to WashU following the Whitman game) on the season at this point. There are more question marks when it comes to their schedule than almost anyone else in the poll or being considered. The SCIAC is hard to grasp as so many teams play schedules unrelatable to the rest of DIII, so is a win over Occidental really all that great? But a 14-game winning streak and solid wins in their last three, including against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, left me very little reason to keep them off my ballot.

UW-Lacrosse is one of several teams at the bottom of Dave’s ballot who have five losses, but four of the Eagles losses happened in November. (Courtesy: UWL Athletics)

22 – UW-Lacrosse (NR)
Welcome to the “Five-Loss Club” of my ballot. I struggled mightily with this part of my ballot. The Eagles are sitting a game out of first place in the WIAC and any team that high should probably be ranked in the Top 25. That said, their losses this season to Ripon, Central, and Elmhurst make one shake their head – because if they are good enough to be near the top of the WIAC, they should be good enough to win those games. Granted, three of their losses came in a four-game stretch in November, but they still lost to Elmhurst in late December. You then counter that information with wins over Whitewater (twice), Stevens Point, and Platteville in conference play and it change the equation again. So, I’m riding what is happening more now than in November … but UWSP and UWP are the next two games on tap. Take note.

23 – UW-Stevens Point (Down 4)
Despite winning two games this past week, the decision to move the Pointers down was more about where other teams were being positioned. I also felt Lacrosse was playing better than UWSP and I couldn’t justify Stevens Point being higher. So, no fault of their own, but maybe a “heat check” on where I had UWSP in the first place – I didn’t bring them far enough down last week.

24 – Guilford (NR)
Similar to UW-Lacrosse, I felt I needed to recognize the “now” from the Quakers versus the earlier season results. They, too, lost most of their games in November. Four out of five to be exact in a six-game, 15-day span. Those losses were all two-possessions or less as well. Since then, they have lost just one game in 13 and have a sweep of Lynchburg and win over Randolph-Macon. The only reason they aren’t head of Lynchburg with that sweep is that five losses and a loss to Roanoke is holding down. There is a real chance they flip with Lynchburg later.

25 – Wheaton (NC)

Dropped Out:

Rochester has a lot of good weapons at their disposal but 3-3 in their last six games has resulted in coming off Dave’s ballot. (Courtesy: Rochester Athletics)

Rochester (Previously 19)
It almost feels like the old “NYU Effect” with the Yellowjackets, except that I know they played a pretty decent out-of-conference schedule. However, conference play hasn’t been as good. Rochester is 3-3 in their last six games in UAA play and dropped a game this past weekend to, improved, Brandeis. I am just not sure the UAA has a Top 25 team right now. The conference turns the page on the schedule this week and the cream will most likely rise to the top very soon. Then Rochester or whomever (Emory, Chicago, WashU) may reemerge as a Top 25 team.

Amherst (Previously 22)
When there is as much parity and diversity of teams in Division III, I struggle to keep a team in the 20s ranked when they take a loss, I figure, they shouldn’t. Losing to Colby, even if it was the first game, is hard to swallow especially when it comes somewhat on the heels of an emotional win against Williams. Colby was also at LeFrak Gymnasium which makes that loss a bit harder to wrap one’s head around. The NESCAC is always a grind, but these are the games the top teams should be winning.

Many will tell you Arcadia is a very good team that is flying under the radar with a stellar defense. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stop Rosemont. (Courtesy: Arcadia Athletics)

Arcadia (Previously 23)
The Knights lost the day I put them on my ballot. Dropping the game to Rosemont is not a quality result. Nothing against the Ravens who I think haven’t had as good a season as they should be having, but Arcadia should have dominated that game. They then followed it up with a narrow win, on the road, against a depleted Stevenson unit. I still buy in that Arcadia is a darn good defensive team that may make waves in March, but they need to refocus here in January and early February.

Wesleyan (Previously 24)
While the Cardinals dropped their fifth game which puts them in the same company as UWL, UWSP, Guilford, and Wheaton, the difference is Wesleyan did it this past week and the rest of that core did not. Furthermore, the loss to Tufts (10-10) doesn’t look as good as it did in the last few years. The Cardinals continue to be plagued by inconsistency, by my vantage point, and can ill-afford to lose very more games if they have NCAA hopes.

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

There you have it. Yes, there are a lot of teams I don’t have on my ballot that some feel should be there. I feel they have a place as well, but I don’t have more than 25 slots. I went through a lot of versions that had the 18-25 positions constantly being erased and new teams inserted. This was the best I could settle on for this week.

Next week could be a completely different story.

Don’t forget to tune into Hoopsville Thursday and Sunday nights throughout the season. While we are normally on the air 7-9 PM ET those evenings, Thursday this week we have the annual “Marathon Show” which will start at 12pm ET and run until about 8pm. We are also moving Sunday’s show to Monday due to some conflicts (and Super Bowl Sunday) and start at 7pm ET. To watch the show, log onto www.d3hoopsville.com or follow us on Twitter (@d3hoopsville) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/Hoopsville) for direct show links and more information.

“Because if you want to talk about Division III basketball, you’ve got to watch Hoopsville!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NC)

2 – Augustana (NC)

3 – Whitman (NC)

4 – Whitworth (NC)

5 – UW-Oshkosh (NC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 – Randolph-Macon (Up 2)

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

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

13 – Capital (NC)

14 – Marietta (NC)

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

16 – Loras (NC)

17 – Swarthmore (Down 2)

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

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

19 – Rochester (Up 2)

20 – Nichols (Up 3)

21 – North Central (Ill.) (Up 3)

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

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

24 – Wesleyan (Up 1)

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’18-’19): Week 6

Welcome to another installment of showing my D3hoops.com men’s Top 25 ballot. I’ve already failed this new year not getting a blog out last week. I’m trying to do better. 🙂

Before the holidays, I showed how I voted each week so far this season. If you haven’t seen that, click here.

Since I missed last week’s blog, here is how I voted in the first poll after the holidays (Week 5).

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan
2 – Augustana
3 – Whitworth
4 – UW-Oshkosh
5 – Whitman
6 – Williams
7 – Hamilton
8 – MIT
9 – UW-Stevens Point
10 – Marietta
11 – St. John’s
12 – Wittenberg
13 – Randolph-Macon
14 – Loras
15 – Rochester
16 – Plattsburgh
17 – St. Thomas
18 – Wabash
19 – Wheaton (Ill.)
20 – Johns Hopkins
21 – Lynchburg
22 – Salisbury
23 – Scranton
24 – Gordon
25 – Nichols

Remember, this was last week’s ballot (Week 5). How I saw things following the holiday season.

Now with that out of the way, let’s chat about this week. We just got done with a heck of a week of basketball. Some tremendous match-ups from Whitman at Whitworth to Top 25 battles in the WIAC, OAC, and elsewhere. There were even non-Top 25 match-ups in conference play worth tuning into. It felt like on any night there was several games worth watching.

It was fun.

And with parity, I knew there would be outcomes we either didn’t expect or games that would be closer than one would figure. Carthage nearly beat Augustana was one game that jumped out at me. As good as Augustana has proven to be, Carthage had them on the ropes. The rest of the games showed up in the number of Top 25 teams that lost – twelve loses on my ballot out of ten teams and teams seven through ten taking a bump in the night.

But I actually loved it. Well … to a certain point. I feel like I’m back at fishing for teams to fill out my ballot. There are so many teams I think are Top 25 worthy, but when push comes to shove and I have to fill out the ballot there aren’t any easy choices. Too many times I want to chose Team A, but that provides Team B and C an argument to be on the ballot, which then reveals in their resumes that maybe I should consider Team D. However, if I consider (or even insert) that team – or any of the rest – then Teams E & F have valid arguments. It seems to never end. There are no obvious choices. Every team has flaws. Every resume has holes.

Of course, that means we are going to have a thrilling rest of the season and an outstanding March.

Ok … enough of me waxing poetic? Yeah, not so poetic … you want to know my ballot and thoughts, so let’s get to business. Here is my Week 6 D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot:

Zach Hiller is one of five NWU players whose scoring average is in double-figures.

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NC)
There has been little to no reason to consider moving the Prairie Wolves off the top spot. All 25 voters have them number one and there I can’t see why we would move off that choice. Their depth, abilities, and coaching are outstanding. That said, they are a bit hobbled right now which could make them susceptible. They also worry me with their habit of playing to the level of their opponents. They end up winning games big a lot of the time, but some games are closer for all 40 minutes, or are closer than they should be in general, and that worries me.

2 – Augustana (NC)
While Carthage certainly gave the Vikings a moment, it shouldn’t surprise. Augustana will be challenged in the CCIW. They are still a darn good basketball team with plenty of options offensively and a very good defense. I grow more impressed each time I watch the team.

3 – Whitman (Up 2)
The win over Whitworth (and surviving the rest of their schedule last week) was enough for me to move the Blues back up. They still worry me with the same habit of playing to their opponent’s level to some degree. They also allow teams back into games – Whitworth last week after Whitman lead by about 13 late in the game; 1st half against Linfield when it seemed the Blues would blow the Wildcats out of the building. However, they also have plenty of offensive options and are one of the most aggressive defensive teams in the country – and depth is helpful.

Kyle Roach can be a single-man wrecking machine for Whitworth, but he’s also got a lot of teammates who can hit big shots when called upon.

4 – Whitworth (Down 1)
The Pirates have impressed. Seeing them in Las Vegas was beyond helpful. Seeing their size and speed in person helped translate what I had been seeing on only video. No team is perfect, including Whitworth. I’d love to see them utilize Ben Bishop more, Kyle Roach can sometimes lose focus (which has many different results), and their lack of depth can be a concern. They have seemed gassed in the second half of games and they, sometimes, don’t adjust well to officiating and that means the deep bench is put in at times the coaching staff probably rather not. However, they also proved against Whitman how they can also overcome nearly all of those and still win – or come close in that case. This may be the best Whitworth team I’ve actually ever seen.

5 – UW-Oshkosh (Down 1)
The Titans only moved down a slot because I needed to move Whitman up. UWO has proven that despite a major coaching change in the off-season they are still a very difficult team to face. The challenge is going to be the rest of the WIAC. Getting past UW-Stevens Point the first time around was a good start, but the conference slate is going to be brutal. As long as the Titans can take the lumps and not get too beat up, they will make the run to Fort Wayne rather interesting.

6 – Williams (NC)
The Ephs are off to the best start in program history and that should worry people. They broke the record of 14-straight wins to start which was set in 2002-2003 – when they went on to win a national championship. What is interesting is they start one of the larger five – three forwards, a center, and a guard. It isn’t typical and gives them plenty of advantages. Of course, like most teams, focusing and playing full 40 minutes against every opponent is key, but Williams has shown with two wins over Wesleyan and a successful trip to Maine already they are in a very good place.

David Stokman helps the Johnnies tick. He finds a way to get the job done or find the right guy at the right moment. (Courtesy: SJU Athletics)

7 – St. John’s (Up 4)
I made a significant move up with the Johnnies for several reasons. First, I do think St. John’s is a good basketball team. They have shown that so far this season. The other, so many teams who were ahead of them stumbled this past week and I don’t think are playing as well as SJU right now. The interesting thing about the Johnnies is how I think they are actually flying a bit under the radar. They just may not convince people how good they are until much later in the season.

8 – UW-Stevens Point (Up 1)
Yes, the Pointers lost this past week, but to a team ahead of them in the polls and it doesn’t take away from the fact that UWSP is a good team. One of the trademarks of Bob Semling teams is solid defense. When Semling has a chance to coach a core group for a long time, like four-year seniors, the defense is always ridiculously good. Last time we saw this kind of scenario: 2014-15 and a National Championship. Like for UWO, UWSP has to get through the conference grind.

9 – Hamilton (Down 2)
I wanted to move the Continentals down a little more, but there was only so far I could move them down off a single loss to Wesleyan. The concern is how much Hamilton tends to throw the ball away. Ryan Scott is the first who made me aware of the turnover problems and it causes many games to be far closer than they should be. It also allows opponents like Wesleyan to take full advantage. Hold on to the ball, Hamilton!

UST has returned to Dave’s Top 10 – unexpectedly. Just how good are the Tommies?

10 – St. Thomas (Up 7)
I didn’t think I would have any reason to be voting for the Tommies this season, nor did I expect to jump them into my Top Ten. The scary thing is UST has quietly returned to the fray and every time I look they have surprised me again. Their only flaw is the first game of the season. They have dominated some good teams including UWSP (I may have to move UST above UWSP at some point, FYI). Their battle with Augsburg was one of those classic in-conference games, but may have also shown some flaws with the Tommies. As more attention is given to their program, the question becomes: can they live up to the pressure?

11 – Wabash (Up 7)
Much like St. Thomas, the Little Giants have been impressing at every turn. They have taken on every team in their conference, including Wittenberg, and come away with wins. Their loss to Wilmington is the only question mark I have on their schedule. Can they continue this run? It has been awhile since they were in the national spotlight … and from when the entire conference was gunning for them. As they turn into the second round of conference games, I will be intrigued in how they stand up.

12 – Randolph-Macon (Up 1)
The Yellow Jackets intrigue me. They have some losses that maybe should be expected (parity means losses, right?), but they also have wins that make you turn your head. I am not sure as of yet what they are doing so well or what causes them to derail (like against CNU and Guilford). They are about as high as I feel comfortable voting for them – maybe a little too high – but they do deserve to be here.

13 – Capital (NR)
Well hello Crusaders! Wow! I decided to insert them all the way up in 13th on the poll, after not voting for them at all previously, because I felt that I both waited too long to start voting for them and they made a statement this past week. 12-game winning streak with the last three games being wins over Mount Union (home), Marietta (away), and John Carroll (home). The win at Marietta jumped out the most, but to beat two teams at the top of the conference and another who is known for being difficult to play was impressive to me. I did wait to vote on them last week because of this schedule, but I also feel I should have voted for them sooner none-the-less.

14 – Marietta (Down 4)
The Pioneers drop was multi-faceted. The first reason is because they obviously lost to Capital and they had lost two of their last five. I have mentioned previously that in other seasons Marietta seems to have these moments … where they take a few losses and seem to not live up to the hype or ranking. Ryan on Sunday’s Hoopsville put it in a way I think is better to say: The Pioneers sometimes don’t live up to the expectations others (we) set. That is probably a far fairer way of saying it. Per that, I felt I needed to lower the expectations that I have. To not get over-hyped. They are good, but that doesn’t mean the bar gets placed higher and I get disappointed when suddenly they take a loss that doesn’t meet that bar. That’s not their fault. That also doesn’t mean they still aren’t a good team. They seem to have some pieces in place that makes them better than in years past – if that is possible.

Cam Wiley has grabbed plenty of attention over the years for Swarthmore, but this year’s team has a lot of other parts you should be watching. (Courtesy: Swarthmore Athletics)

15 – Swarthmore (NR)
I made a mistake thinking I had voted for the Garnet last week. They certainly were on my list of teams to consider, but I forgot I didn’t put them on my ballot. That was also a mistake. I most likely have been putting too much stock in back-to-back, buzzer-beater, losses in conference earlier in the season. Seeing Swarthmore in person against McDaniel last week impressed me. I realize they may have had the perfect game, but there is more there. They are deeper team than I’ve seen before, their size and skill inside is tough to handle (rebounding and block numbers are insane), their offensive game-plan (especially the inside, outside game) is tough to stay with, and players like Cam Wiley have seemingly settled into roles that actually make them more dangerous. What is the most impressive is the defense. Opponents can’t get good looks inside, they close out on outside shooting very quickly, and they throw curve balls constantly. Their defensive numbers are crazy good, though their steal numbers are shockingly low considering. Swarthmore is better than last year.

16 – Loras (Down 2)
Moving the Duhawks down two spots is simply repositioning them while also moving other teams into the poll. Loras is good, though they are showing some inconsistencies. Losing to Nebraska Wesleyan is the least shocking result to see. Their close game to Coe is a little more interesting. That said, the IIAC, eh, ARC is far more competitive than people may realize. I like the game Loras puts together. They also have very good results including a narrow win to Augustana – that game still impresses me.

17 – MIT (Down 10)
This might surprise people on a team that only lost their second game of the season last week. However, the Engineers are dealing with key injuries. One expected starter hasn’t played the entire season. Another key player has been injured lately and it’s unclear how long he may be out (from what I’ve learned). And a third injury forces the team to go deeper on the roster. That said, they also seem to be a darn good team. The loss to Emerson is odd because I would have thought it would lead to a loss to Wheaton (Mass.), but it didn’t. Larry Anderson is a good coach. I am watching to see how they continue to react to the latest set-back.

18 – Plattsburgh State (Down 2)
The Cardinals moved down, much like Loras, because I was readjusting teams this poll. I can’t put a finger on who Plattsburgh is this season. We all know how good Jonathan Patron is, but I can’t get the memory of how they left the NCAA tournament last season. I am not grading them on that result, but I am trying to figure out just how good Plattsburgh is this season considering there isn’t much to base anything on. Their schedule isn’t one that stands out. The win over Middlebury was good; the loss to Brockport (10-4) is hard to read into right now. I am actually all over the place with Plattsburgh, so I am comfortable with the Cardinals being in a 15-20 slot.

“As goes Francis, so goes Wheaton,” says Dave.

19 – Wheaton (Ill.) (NC)
As goes Francis, so goes the Thunder. That may not be completely fair, but it is pretty close to accurate. Aston Francis has had one of the more amazing seasons, so far, that not many in recent history have had. Incredible, buzzer-beating, game-winning shots, awe-inspiring offensive games, and he is averaging more than 30 points a game! However, no one else is in double-figures offensively. He also leads the team in rebounding as a 6-1 guard. That’s pretty impressive, but I think it also would be concerning. Francis needs a second option that is going to hurt opponents. Until that really develops and is consistent: As goes Francis, so goes the Thunder.

20 – Lynchburg (Up 1)
I’ll admit, I don’t know what to make of the Hornets. Their lone loss is to Guilford (what is with the Quakers?!) and they have win over Emory & Henry, but they haven’t played RMC or Roanoke in conference play as of yet. They also have close results against opponents that seem they should have had easier times with (darn paper match ups!). I just can’t figure out if the 15-1 record is for real and I am completely low-balling Lynchburg or if it really is smoke and mirrors. Help!

21 – Rochester (Down 6)
It was a rough weekend for the Yellowjackets in their trip to Chicago and St. Louis. Losing both games caused me to seriously consider removing Rochester from my ballot. That said, I also appreciated that Rochester has had a pretty good season so far. They seem to be one of the more intellectual teams in the Top 25 – that being they sometimes accomplish things because they figure it out on the court, not in a timeout or at practice. They adjust in the moment. It didn’t work out on a rough trip to the Midwest, but that doesn’t discount they may be the best team in the UAA – though, Chicago has made a serious claim for that as well.

Garrisson Duvivier is averaging a double-double (17.2 ppg, 13.0 rpg) to help lead Gordon this season. (Courtesy: Gordon Athletics)

22 – Gordon (Up 2)
The Fighting Scots have impressed. They have rolled through a lot of teams this season including Nichols and Endicott recently. However, a lot of their results are maybe too close and that could bite them. They also don’t have an overwhelming resume which certainly makes me wonder if I am buying stock a little too soon.

23 – Nichols (Up 2)
The CCC having two teams on the ballot is pretty good for the conference, but much like Gordon the Bison have an interesting resume. They got into the headlines for the wrong reasons at the start of the season, but they also have dominated opponents including Trinity and Wesleyan! However, the loss to Salisbury was somewhat surprising and then Gordon nipped them. Honestly, I’m not that sure Nichols isn’t the better team in the CCC despite a Gordon victory and that only one of them should be ranked … but these two have to show me more before I pull that rip cord.

24 – North Central (Ill.) (NR)
Watching the Cardinals in Las Vegas was interesting. I was both impressed and left scratching my head. They dominated an over-matched Husson squad, but then stumbled against a less than stellar Ohio Northern team. They also were seemingly over-matched against Augustana, but they have beaten Illinois Wesleyan, Wheaton (in an emotional game), and others. They also have some darn good talent and seemingly have adapted to well to the loss of Aiden Chang for the season. There is something about NCC …

25 – Wesleyan (NR)
You can’t escape seeing the Cardinals involved in important results every week. They lost games earlier in the season to Nichols and Wesleyan and those results weren’t close, but important none the less. But more recently, they have wins over Plattsburgh State, Middlebury, Hamilton, and Amherst – all in the last six games. A lone loss to Williams in the middle of that stretch. Of their four losses, three of them came in a four-game stretch that encompassed less than two weeks.

Dropped Out:

Wittenberg fell out of Dave’s ballot after a rough stretch the last two weeks.

Wittenberg (Previously No. 12)
Losing three of the last four, I just couldn’t justify holding on to Wittenberg. I, arguably, had them too high to begin with. I have had this mentality that they were a better team and positioned to do great things this season. I don’t know where I had that thinking as I can’t find my notes on it (for some odd reason). They are 11-4 and probably still a good team, but … three losses in four while playing the both the top and bottom of the conference.

Johns Hopkins (Previously No. 20)
I really like the Blue Jays. If I had gotten my blog out last week, you would have read about how impressed I was in Las Vegas (though, you could have heard that on thought on Hoopsville as well). Despite losing two games, I thought they were the best two-loss team we had ever had at the D3hoops.com Classic. They had lost Connor Delaney, but they didn’t seem to show that in Vegas. However, they followed that up with some time off and then a loss to Muhlenberg. I realize the Mules are tough, but it was a home game and that shouldn’t have happened. JHU, though, is on the short list to get back on my ballot. I really like the pieces they have in place under Josh Loeffler.

Salisbury (Previously #22)
I wasn’t all that confident voting for the Sea Gulls last week. They ended up being the last team I wrote down. I should have gone with Swarthmore, but after going around and around with it, I went with “one loss to Rowan” over Swarthmore’s double-buzzer-beater results. Probably not a smart choice. Salisbury is having a great season, but I just can’t really buy in. They followed a loss to Mary Washington (who had just lost to Frostburg) with a barely-go-by win at Southern Virginia. I know those are back-to-back tough road trips, but I just can’t buy in.

Scranton (Previously #23)
The Royals were the last undefeated men’s and women’s combo in Division III. Impressive. Also, any time I talked to a coach who had played them or seen them, the quotes were usually “really good” or “impressive.” However, this past week some of those same coaches changed their tune. Seems some injuries have gotten to Scranton and back-to-back losses to Elizabethtown and Moravian weren’t pretty. From all reports, this Scranton team is legit. I am going to dive in deeper soon enough, but I just didn’t feel they were playing their best basketball since the holiday break.

There are a lot of teams I am considering each week. I am also considering a lot of “new” teams which is fun. The last ten slots are always full of question marks, though one could argue the entire Top 25 is full of those as well. There are some teams that feel too high, but those slots have to be filled. I am sure I am missing others, though I do my best to check every conference for an outlier who should be considered. I may be putting too much stock in teams many feel aren’t that good. I am sure I am not putting enough stock in teams others think are stellar. That’s the great thing about this … so many different opinions.

I’m just one vote of a total of 25. For much of this season (and recent seasons), I haven’t seemed to be on the same page for half my ballot. This week, I saw teams I jumped significantly also jump in the polls. Seems maybe I am more in tune with the rest of the voters than I have been prior. It also just could be dumb luck.

There are teams even as I look at my ballot even now I question why I voted for them when there are others sitting on the outside.

Parity has produced not a lot of great teams, but a lot of good teams. Trying to figure out what good teams are Top 25 teams is the most challenging part.

Until next week … enjoy the games! And don’t forget, Hoopsville is on the air Sunday and Thursday nights starting at 7:00 p.m. ET – with Sunday’s show featuring the “Top 25 Double-Take” with Ryan Scott. We will either give you our Dubious, Dark Horse, or Debatable selections each week. Or we will “Buy or Sell” on squads both in and out of the Top 25. For more information on the show, go to www.d3hoopsville.com or follow us on Twitter (@d3hoopsville and #Hoopsville) or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Hoopsville).

Edit: Earlier version erroneously indicated Williams had beaten Hamilton twice this season. That was supposed to be Wesleyan. It was also indicated Loras narrowly lost to Augustana. That was meant to say “beat.” We also indicated Plattsburgh beat Brockport – NOPE! We know they lost to Brockport, but apparently we shouldn’t be writing this thing late at night. Note taken. Those have been corrected. We apologize for the mistakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 8

Joey Hewitt and Whitman continue to be Dave’s top pick in his Top 25 ballot.

First of all, let me apologize my Top 25 blog out last week. It was an odd week and having Hoopsville on Monday afternoon to “compliment” the time usually spent the work on my weekly ballot… time got away from me.

It is too bad, because there was a lot to talk about. Most of it can still be covered this week. However, before we get to this week’s ballot, here is last week’s along with notation of any movement related to Week 7‘s ballot:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
2 – WashU (Up 1)
3 – Wittenberg (Up 4)
4 – UW-Whitewater (Up 5)
5 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 5)
6 – St. John’s (Up 2)
7 – York (Pa.) (Down 1)
8 – UW-River Falls (Down 3)
9 – MIT (Up 3)
10 – Augustana (Down 8)
11 – Hamilton (Up 9)
12 – Williams (Down 8)
13 – Wesleyan (Down 2)
14 – John Carroll (Up 3)
15 – New Jersey City (Down 1)
16 – Emory (Unranked)
17 – Middlebury (Up 8)
18 – UW-Platteville (Up 5)
19 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 6)
20 – Swarthmore (Up 3)
21 – Whitworth (Unchanged)
22 – Baldwin Wallace (Down 6)
23 – Nichols (Up 1)
24 – Emory & Henry (Unranked)
25 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unranked)

Actual GIF of Dave at his desk last week doing his ballot (ok, not really, but pretty good impersonation!)

Last week was nuts. I could have ranked teams in the 10 to 25 spots in any order. I wanted to put them all in the 20th slot or maybe the 17th. I found most of them somewhat equal for all kinds of different reasons and was going around and around (and around) in what order to put them. Those high felt too high; those low felt too low. Flip them and they still felt wrong.

On Sunday’s “Top 25 Double-take” on Hoopsville (below), Ryan stated this was maybe his easiest week voting in the Top 25. I didn’t find it easy. His perspective is different. I think he had twice as many teams on his radar than I did (I had 45 in Week 7 that I was considering), so if he does any kind of whittling of his list it is probably going to feel easy. However, Ryan also said he thought his order was more set than in the past. That was me several weeks ago. I thought I had my order and with so many losses happening within the group the way it was ordered, I felt good.

That feeling is gone. I don’t have any sense of order right now. Last week I couldn’t really settle on 10-25 with any satisfaction. This week that got more problematic.

So, I tried to overhaul things. Kind of like blowing up my ballot, but with the element of trying to use information I hadn’t been leaning prior (basically because I didn’t have the time). This week, I talked with some coaches some of whom reached out to me. There are a number of coaches I trust when it comes to their judgement and eye. They are the kind who will be frank and give it to me straight even if it is at the detriment of their team. They might resort to “coach’s speak” when on Hoopsville, but they don’t do that when we talk off-air. I appreciate that and this week I get a little bit of an idea of how some of them saw things. It was invaluable and helped me see things maybe in a different way.

I got more aggressive this week in an effort to find answers to questions that were stumping me. I also was trying to grasp with the WIAC-yness of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. I went deeper outside the Top 25 packet of information, and my radar, to see what I might be missing. This included double-checking some conferences races to see if I had missed a team who had heated up.

That look Dave gets when dealing with a “gap” in the ballot and UWSP leading the WIAC by two games. LOL

The one major problem I ran into: a massive gap in my Top 25. While I was confident in my top nine last week, that was quickly cut to just the top four. After that… I didn’t want to rank anyone until at the least the tenth spot. You might hear me and others say that and think it is just a talking-point used as an example. However, I actually practiced the idea this week. I put down my top four, then skipped to putting teams where I felt they seemed right. I didn’t have any teams until the tenth spot. As I worked through my list of teams, no one made me want to put them in 5-9. I was left with a list that went 1-4 and then 10-whatever (I sometimes rank teams beyond 25 especially when I am looking to move teams in and out of the poll despite decent weeks).

I spent a good amount of time trying to convince myself to move teams into the gap ahead of my teams in 10-15, for example. It wasn’t happening. Yes, I could make arguments for them to move up, but they weren’t convincing and full of holes in my opinion.

What resulted was a massive jump up into a territory I don’t know is accurate for some teams. Others stayed around where they had been despite not the best of weeks. And others didn’t move down nearly as far as I intended to move them. Even looking back at the ballot 24 hours later, I don’t like the results. It feels like a jumbled mess, but all this time later I don’t have any answers and I don’t have that, dreaded, moment where I realize a solution and made the mistake of not voting accordingly.

With that, here is my D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot for Week 8. Notes for a lot of these teams, which makes the read longer (apologies), but some people seem interested:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
The Blues don’t blow me away, but no one has beaten them and they have taken on some solid challenges. I think last year’s squad was better, but that doesn’t mean this year’s team can’t make the same run or even win a championship this time around. The straw that stirs this team’s drink is not Tim Howell. They have other guys who are the keys and the fact they have more than one threat makes them tough to beat.

WashU has impressed and moved up to be knocking on the door of No. 1 on Dave’s ballot (shh, he’s even considered them for the top spot!).

2 – WashU (Unchanged)
I got a text message out of the blue from a coach who simply said, “this is a final four team.” WashU has incredible senior leadership this season that has been building for the last few years. They are dominating, by their standards, their opponents and it is has been impressive to watch. They are not perfect, clearly, but they seem to be improving when others don’t seem to be. They still have Emory and Rochester ahead in UAA play (twice each, same weekend, both), but I like what the Bears have produced so far.

3 – Wittenberg (Unchanged)
Several coaches and another contact basically didn’t mince words when it came to the Tigers: they are damn good. Maybe this season is happening an year earlier than some expected, but Wittenberg’s coaching staff have a team on their hands that seems nearly unbeatable. I don’t think they get through NCAC play unscathed. I think Ohio Wesleyan could trip them up the second time around and Wooster is improving as well, however Wittenberg should be a team to watch out for especially if they have home court advantage until Salem.

4 – St. John’s (Up 2)
I’ve been high on the Johnnies since the beginning of the year, though nervously. In years past, SJU eventually showed flaws and took hits by this time of the season. Not this year. Last week showed me a lot with a beatdown of Macalester (not looking past the Scots) and then a strong 15-point win over St. Thomas. St. John’s is in the right place to end the Tommies dominance of the MIAC, but the target is only getting bigger.

From this point on, consider teams five spots below where they are on my ballot. That may help you understand where I truly think teams are in the Top 25… not where I had to put them because I needed to fill the gap.

Emory skyrocketed up Dave’s ballot, thanks to good play and a huge gap that needed to be filled. (Courtesy: Emory Athletics)

5 – Emory (Up 11)
Yeah. Wow. Big jump here for the Eagles. I know I have them far higher than where they are on the ballot. Seems appropriate for how many teams this situation is flipped. Emory hasn’t lost since their bad loss to Hamden-Sydney at the beginning of December. Emory seems to be getting stronger, much like WashU, and has dispatched teams rather convincingly in a lot of cases. They have a huge test ahead: Chicago and WashU on back-to-back weekends. They at least get to start the home-and-home series in Atlanta.

6 – Middlebury (Up 11)
I have stated a number of times, especially on Hoopsville, that I think Middlebury is the best team in the NESCAC. However, they didn’t seem very good after the holiday break. Losing three of five nearly had them slide right off my ballot. It appears the Panthers have solved their woes and have turned the ship around. Last week saw them beat Williams after a huge battle with tough-to-beat Albertus Magnus. I like Middlebury. I don’t love Middlebury. They may be the best team in a conference that is overrated in terms of top-end strength.

7 – Baldwin Wallace (Up 15)
The win over John Carroll was the result I was looking for from the Yellow Jackets. I know I am higher on BWU than most voters. The loss to Ohio Northern on January 10 probably gave many pause. I get that. I also don’t think they are a Top 10 team, but here they are this week. The road doesn’t get easier, but the difference between this Baldwin Wallace team and others, they are still in the conversation – if not controlling it – in late January.

8 – York (Pa.) (Down 1)
The Spartans have pieces that almost any team in the country would love to have, including two centers/forwards who can play the four position and even step out and shoot the three for percentage. However, they aren’t as deep as I thought they would be. Their starting five all scores in double-figures which is outstanding, but the drop-off after that is significant. In other words, they can’t get into foul trouble. An improving Mary Washington team handed YCP their first loss of the season on the road. Not surprising York lost – they were bound to lose – but, I think it puts far more pressure on them to beat Christopher Newport, also on the road, than it did prior. Let’s see how the Spartans deal with pressure.

9 – MIT (Unchanged)
The loss to Springfield surprised me. Springfield has been all over the map, literally, this season. They have one of the best guards in New England, but they haven’t been able to raise their game against top competition. I figured, the Engineers would get a battle against the Pride, but not to be down big and have to rally back … and lose by three. MIT has a lot of what makes York dangerous and hearkens back to the couple-year run MIT had that saw them get to Salem. That makes them dangerous, but they also prove that anyone can beat anyone this year.

Emory & Henry is a squad that may be playing better than people realize. Picked to finish 4th in ODAC, they have a one-game currently. (Courtesy: Emory & Henry Athletics)

10 – Emory & Henry (Up 14)
Another big move up the poll for a team and one many probably aren’t talking about. However, this past week the Wasps took full control of the ODAC and I believe firmly entered the national conversation. Okay, maybe didn’t firmly take control of the ODAC, but certainly made the conference take notice. Wins over Lynchburg and Randolph-Macon have given E&H not only a one-game lead in the conference, but also a six game winning streak since their only loss of the season (Wooster). Also, wins over Maryville, Transylvania, and others are starting to look better and better as those teams continue to do well.

11 – Hamilton (Unchanged)
I hinted at it earlier. The national strength of the NESCAC might be overrated and the Continentals may have given everyone a sneak peak at that this week. No, they didn’t change spots, but I had intended to move them down (technically, they slipped five spots on my ballot originally). Hamilton was handed their first loss of the season by Amherst and it wasn’t close. Coach Adam Stockwell, though, made an interesting point on Hoopsville Sunday night, and I am paraphrasing: our team can beat anyone in the Top 100 on any given night. Now, don’t focus on “Top 100” and think of the bottom. Think of the top. This year especially, they very well could have a team that could beat Whitman – they also have a team that Amherst is able to beat. There are a lot of teams who could beat anyone in the Top 100. I’d argue anyone in the Top 100 could beat anyone (i.e. 100 could beat 1). So, Hamilton could be a damn good team, or more likely is just as good as everyone else, but not great. That leads to whether the NESCAC might be overrated… you have to wait for more on that.

12 – UW-Whitewater (Down 8)
Getting my first chance to tackle the WIAC here. As with the NESCAC, I’ll break it down in several sections, but with none of my Top 25 candidates even leading the conference, I had to change my evaluation of the conference. I have said many times I think the WIAC is the best race in the country and thus the best conference this year. Top to bottom it is insane. Anyone can apparently beat anyone on any given night. I thought UW-Stout was damn good when I saw them in Las Vegas, but I couldn’t come to terms with the idea they may not be in the top four. Whitewater and the rest have not had a great start to the conference schedule, but that might be because the conference is very, very good… but not great. Like the NESCAC. Maybe the top isn’t as great as I had considered previously, but have a ton of good teams and the result will just be the conference beating each other to a pulp. Despite not leading the conference, I think Whitewater is the best team in the WIAC and of those I’m voting for the better team.

13 – Wesleyan (Unchanged)
This coming out less than 24-hours after Wesleyan lost on a buzzer beater to SUNY Purchase is what is called horrible timing. I’m losing confidence in the Cardinals, as I have with the NESCAC. Honestly, Wesleyan should have rolled over Purchase if they truly are a Top 25 team. No, I am not trying to diminish Purchase who was 9-6 entering that game. I realize this may be further proof of just how deep the parity is in Division III this season. However, these are the games Wesleyan has to win if they are as good as others say. The problem is, Wesleyan has now lost four of their last eight with a crazy win over Middlebury being the lone highlight. I voted prior to the Purchase game which left Wesleyan on my ballot. Next week they most likely won’t be here.

Illinois Wesleyan has gone from unranked to well up Dave’s ballot in quick order, but not with plenty of pulled hair. (Courtesy: Dean Reid, D3photography.com)

14 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 11)
Here I enter a hornet’s nest. I am not sure what to do with the Titans. In the last few weeks, I have torn my hair out. Part of me screams that IWU is damn good and going to be in play for the CCIW championship. The other part points to inconsistencies I’ve seen this season and reasons I’ve hesitated to vote for them in the past. Last week, I slotted them on my ballot 25th – their first appearance. I didn’t like, but I had so much trouble finding a spot I liked for them. I took the time to chat with some people who have seen then to try and get a better sense of what I was missing. I even read the CCIW-boards, not always helpful but usually decent insight. It honestly made me more confused. I like Illinois Wesleyan. I think they are a good team. 14th good? Eh. The difference for me right now is that their losses to WashU and Emory are becoming less damaging and their current run through the conference more impressive. That loss to Carthage, though… still tough to deal with… and I have to wait until February 17 to see the return match.

15 – Augustana (Down 5)
I had Augustana well ahead (in poll terms) than IWU last week. Those on the CCIW boards didn’t like that. So be it. No one saw the dozen or so versions prior to my last ballot that had these two teams swapping places multiple times. Hard to prove that kind of thing. I think Augustana is still the best team in the CCIW, but they probably aren’t showing that right now. That very well could be they haven’t found a solution for the loss of Wofford. I have spoken before about my concern on this. At first, I wasn’t concerned, then I remember that last year’s go-to guy after Wofford departed was Jacob Johnson and … he isn’t around any more. I finally decided to lean more on the loss to Wheaton (who has been sporadic this season) and the near loss to Carroll despite them being the previous week. Wheaton lays ahead and so does IWU before the end of the month. I will feel a little more confident in the CCIW race in about a week’s time.

16 – New Jersey City (Down 1)
Here I am blogging about a team that may not be on my ballot next week – thus the disadvantage of not getting these blogs done earlier (may need to find a way to change the timing). I’ve like the Gothic Knights and especial Sam Toney, but once again an NJAC team is showing inconsistencies. Most in the region will say the NJAC is a tough conference and they beat each other up. I get that. Not disagreeing, but if an NJAC team wants to prove they are one of the best in the country… they have to step above that fray and put conference opponents behind them. NJCU has now lost three of their last seven – all to conference opponents. They have lost control of the top of the conference and sit two games behind TCNJ and Ramapo – who they have split with so far. Prior to the Monday night loss to TCNJ, I would have said I liked NJCU, but they need to start controlling their destiny. Now, I will tell you they have to buckle down and prove they are as good as they claim to be. TCNJ, Montclair, and Ramapo all still to play.

Dave is buying in that UW-Platteville is a Top 25 team, but there are seven squads in the WIAC who could probably make at least a claim to the idea. (Courtesy: UW-Platteville Athletics)

17 – UW-Platteville (Up 1)
I like what the Pioneers are doing more than others in the WIAC. Of course, they have been a victim of Stevens Point just like nearly all the rest. THey have beaten Oshksoh along with Stout, Eau Claire, and La Crosse (not something everyone can say they have done). I find themselves tied for second with Whitewater in the WIAC race … for now. They still have two with Whitewater to play and maybe there is more to prove, but for not I like how the Pioneers are playing more than others. Maybe it is just the timing of the conference schedule more than anything.

18 – Swarthmore (Up 2)
I am confused by the Garnet. I saw them in person, granted against struggling McDaniel, and really liked what I saw. Deep team, plenty of talent. Good inside-outside capabilities. Too many threats to be able to stop all of them, no matter how much McDaniel tried to shut down Wiley. However, their loss to F&M still bugs me (considering the Diplomats had a loss to Muhlenberg prior and followed the Swat win with a loss to Dickinson). Swarthmore followed the loss to F&M with an OT battle with Haverford (6-11) and a tight game with Dickinson (908 including a loss to resurgent Washington). With nearly the entire second half of the conference slate ahead… the Garnet aren’t showing me they are that strong. Thus why I originally had them 23rd.

19 – Whitworth (Up 2)
I am not going to take anything way from the Pirates and what they have for talent. They are young and the Northwest race for the next few years is going to be on another level, but I don’t think they are outstandingly good this year. The Whitman game was … okay. And they struggled this past weekend with Linfield and Willamette. I figured Linfield would give them a game (they did the same to Whitman), but to only beat Willamette by two and turn around and not put away Linfield only made me feel more confident Whitworth is a 20-25 team this season. Granted, they are the team I have picked to beat Whitman when they face the Blues in Spokane, but that doesn’t make them a Top 10 team this year. Doesn’t mean I’m right… just may take on it at this point.

Maryville’s Colt Nokes is one of four players (nearly five) in double-figures for the Scots who have been playing very well in the USA South.

20 – Maryville (Tenn.) (Unranked)
Here we get to teams I did a deep dive on and … feel like I was missing something prior. The Scots may seem like a surprise pick, but when I realized how they’ve been playing of late, I kind of liked them here. They shutdown the once-DII Pfeiffer squad that has been blitzing through the schedule so far (though, waiting to hear something major for Pfeiffer that would change my mind about this game). Their only other loss in 2018 was to Brevard – who like Pfeiffer still has some DII in them. Maryville also has losses to Emory and Emory and Henry (psst, stay away from “Emory” teams!) which on my ballot looks okay. Yes, the loss to Centre (10-7) to start isn’t pretty, but that is becoming less of a factor for me. They are in control of their side of the USA South – and probably the entire conference thanks to their win over Methodist as well. By the way, Maryville’s DIII opponents’ winning percentage: 148-117 (.559). Pretty good. The Scots may be better than people are giving them credit.

21 – Gwynedd Mercy (Unranked)
I’ve had my eye on the Griffins for a large part of the season. They are playing better than I expected and when I saw them in person realized they have a multi-faceted offense. I didn’t jump too soon. I wasn’t going to be able extrapalate much with their game against Goucher, but then they up-ended Cabrini and I put them on my list for consideration. They have made up for their one-point loss to Immactulata (8-8) and have a strong win over Neumann. They force bad match-ups and go up-tempo or slow down. They can go big or small on the court. Just seems John Baron has a squad that is only getting stronger.

22 – Cabrini (Unranked)
Yeah, I decided to double-dip in the CSAC. Cabrini has been playing weel for some time, though their loss to Neumann the night the poll is released is going to make this pick look … strange. It very well could be another team I remove from my ballot next week thanks to a Monday night loss (hey, teams… stop playing games on Monday nights when the poll is released! Thanks! LOL). Prior to the Neumann result, I liked how Cabirni was playing. The win over Eastern Connecticut (see below) was noteworthy and I wasn’t getting the Cavs in if I didn’t like Gwynedd Mercy as well (Cavs lost in OT to the Griffins). I am not reevaluating this one.

23 – Williams (Down 11)
This is part of the “NESCAC may be overrated” part. I want to repeat, I think the NESCAC is a very tough conference from top to bottom, I am just starting to think maybe the top isn’t as good as I thought it was. Doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the best conferences in the country, but Williams is the barometer for me. They still seem to now know how to replace Scadlock who they lost weeks ago to a season-ending injury. They played Middlebury tough and that’s why they are still on my ballot, but they have lost two of their last five including to Tufts (13-5) who hasn’t seemed like the Tufts of old this season. Easier opponents like Mass College, Yeshiva, Vassar, Westfield St, Fitchburg St., etc. can sometimes make things confusing. Gaudy record, but against who? The loss to Hamline (9-8) still bugs me. Time will tell if my thinking on the Ephs and the NESCAC bears out… or I am on a island on my own.

24 – Eastern Connecticut (Unranked)
I have voted for the Warriors off and on this season. Something about what they are putting together has caught my eye. Their losses are to WPI (10-7) and Cabrini. I felt I had to put the Cavs on my ballot to return EConn as well. Not sure how Cabrini’s loss this week will affect my thinking here. However, the Warriors also have wins over WPI (yeah, played twice; lost the second game), Montclair State, Amherst, and Keene State. Those are note-worthy in my book. At least I am not the only one.

Lycoming makes their first appearance on Dave’s ballot… maybe by mistake? Dave is still nervous, but the Warriors also keep winning no matter what. (Courtesy: Lycoming Athletics)

25 – Lycoming (Unranked)
Hello Warriors. I am finally voting for you, but in a moment you readers are going to realize it might be by mistake. I have not been high on Lyco. Their opponents’ winning percentage continues to be pretty low (132-156 .458) and I peaked at Matt Snyder’s (@FFTMAG/KnightSlappy) NCAA SOS numbers out of curiousity and saw it was .506. That’s okay, but their non-conference SOS is .422. Not great. However, it came down to an adage many a coach has said to me on many an occasion: no matter the schedule, if a team keeps winning you should take note. Lycoming continues to win. They are now 6-1 versus teams with above .500 records – a significant change in a few weeks – and despite a loss to a pretty good Lebanon Valley team have at least won the games they should. Who else can you say that about? Not many.

Dropped Out:

UW-Oshkosh (Previously 5)
This was part of my effort to recalibrate the WIAC in my head. Yes, I understand UW-Stevens Point leads the conference by two (though, will play Oshkosh for the first time this week). However, I am not prepared to vote for UWSP as of yet on my ballot (I’ve talked about it on Hoopsville of late). As a result, maybe my thinking on the WIAC is … out of wack. Maybe it is a darn competitive and good conference, but the teams aren’t as good as I had been giving them credit. I readjusted this week and after going 0-2 with losses to Platteville and Eau Claire to go along with four losses in their last seven, I decided to drop Oshkosh from my ballot. Time will tell if I am overreacting or not.

UW-River Falls (Previously 8)
Another WIAC team I felt I needed to aggressively adjust. They, too, have lost to Stevens Point (just this past week) and now have lost three of six including to the previously named Oshkosh. If I was going to drop UWO, I had to drop UWRF. Not sure either team is playing their best right now, anyway.

Oops. Dave didn’t intend not to vote for John Carroll. Maybe something subconscious? (Courtesy: John Carroll Athletics)

John Carroll (Previously 14)
I am going to admit something maybe I shouldn’t: I screwed up. I had intended to leave John Carroll on my ballot, but they got lost in my efforts to look outside my radar for teams I may have been missing. I actually check-mark teams from my old ballot and on my info-sheet when I have slotted them on my ballot. Even taking the steps to go back and erase check-marks when I start to make changes. JCU’s initial check-mark was erased. Then as I got caught up in my research and efforts to fill slots, I never confirmed what I had done with the Blue Streaks. That all said, they were in this position on my ballot of being left off because I am not as confident as others with JCU. They can score, seemingly, at will and I have had several coaches tell me why they like them – especially their former DII point guard. However, I have stated (as you saw in the Top 25 Double-take) that their defense concerns me. I know they play 94-feet and in a team’s face, but they also still give up points when they need to get stops. The loss to Baldwin Wallace honestly told me more about BWU than it did about JCU, but it didn’t help JCU’s cause – who have they really beaten? Marietta? Ohio Northern? Their resume is harder to defend.

It appears Ohio Wesleyan’s hot shooting and playing has cooled off significantly since the D3hoops.com Classic. Maybe it stayed in Vegas? (Courtesy: Larry Radloff, D3photography.com)

Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 19)
I can’t believe that just a few weeks after seeing the Battling Bishops in Las Vegas, I would be removing them from my Top 25 ballot. However, OWU has not been playing at the same caliber I saw at the D3hoops.com Classic. Not sure if the “fame” of dismantling Ramapo and nearly knocking of No. 1 Whitman got to their heads or not, but they seemed to have gotten stuck in gear. Three losses in four game and four in six (before beating DePauw) are eye-opening. Yes, One of those four-out-of-six losses is to Whitman, but of the three out of four, one is to Hiram and another to Wooster. I can forgive the Wittenberg loss, except it was by 21! If OWU was as good as I saw in Vegas, they maybe only loss to Wittenberg since I saw them. The Bishops are simply not playing well together and are in jeopardy of quickly realizing they have to win the conference AQ or they won’t even see the NCAA tournament. Say what?!

Nichols (Previously 23)
No. The Bison did not lose this past week. They have not lost since Jan. 6 to Western New England in overtime. However, they too are not playing the same they were earlier in the season. What once was a dominating squad (including a 19 point win over Wesleyan) has turned into a squad who is barely getting past Eastern Nazarene and Roger Williams. If Nichols is as good as I thought, those games aren’t close. They got their point guard, DeAnte Burton, back from injury, but that hasn’t seemed to make them better. They have now, since I voted, lost to Univ. of New England making my decision better understood.

Previous Ballots:
Week 7 – No blog; see ballot above
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 3 – No blog; Stagg Bowl Week
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

In the future, I do hope to talk to more coaches I know have a good sense of what they are seeing not only on the court in front of them, but even on web streams around the country. I realize I shook up my ballot quite a bit this week and even took some turns not many others are taking. Maybe it will open eyes to other great pretty good teams in the country or maybe I will be proven to have lost my mind this week. However, just realize that these decisions aren’t made on a whim. I make them after following what my research says and what those I trust say. I may like a team and want to vote for them, even after seeing them in person or having them on Hoopsville, but that doesn’t always mean when I do my research it adds up.