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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reminder, here is last week’s ballot.

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

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

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

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Marietta (Unchanged)

3 – Amherst (Unchanged)

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

5 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

6 – Whitman (Up 2)

7 – Whitworth (Up 2)

8 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

9 – Hope (Up 2)

10 – Rochester (Up 3)

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

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

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

12 – Salisbury (Up 3)

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

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

15 – New Jersey City (Up 1)

16 – Skidmore (Up 1)

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

18 – Endicott (Up 4)

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

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

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

20 – Benedictine (Unchanged)

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

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

23 – Emory (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* – 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. 🙂

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 1

Augustana Remains Dave’s #1 Pick

Deep breath.

Two and a half weeks into the season and the first in-season Top 25 is here.

Deep breath.

I knew that the preseason poll would not hold up. There was no way in this era of parity that I could assume most of the Top 25 would go unscathed. But this was brutal.

Deep breath.

The overall D3hoops.com Top 25 went 82-31 (.726) to start the season. Those receiving votes: 88-27 (.765). Ouch.

My preseason Top 25? 83-33 (.716) including a forfeit.

Deep breath.

For those who have read these blogs over the course of last season and this preseason, you know I have spoken a lot about parity in Division III. I mentioned in the preseason blog that “this year may see that parity go even further.”

Yep. It has. And it will.

I continued, “I am expecting one thing – a wide open season.”

Yep. It has been. And it will be.

I pretty much have resigned myself to the fact each week will be a challenging, time consuming process. But as another voter said to me this week while we discussed our thoughts on different teams and the poll overall, “all we need is for someone to win some games to make it a little easier.” Is that so much to ask?

This week all but TWO teams in my preseason poll shifted position. Outside of the top six, it was a free-for-all. I nearly rubbed away all of the paper on my pad from all the erasing I was doing. Insert teams, change my mind, erase, reinsert teams, change my mind, erase, etc., etc., etc. And to prove how wide open things are… there are seven teams in the D3hoops.com Top 25 that I do NOT have on my ballot. SEVEN!

Not much more I can say in this section, because there is plenty to say below each team (expect one – not adding any notes to the most obvious decision on this poll). So, let’s get on to my ballot from the first week of this season.

1 – Augustana^
Any questions? Good.

2 – Whitworth (Up 2)
I had a coach from the west coach reach out to me randomly and part of his email said Whitworth was good. Damn good. Worthy of their overall No. 3 ranking. I take some coaches’ views, especially those I respect their point, very seriously. I get to know who is blowing smoke, who is downplaying things, who is sincere, and who is trying to push an agenda. This coach isn’t even in Whitworth’s conference and called them legit. The Pirates have had some close games, but they also have won those games which is more than you can say for a vast majority of Division III teams already this year.

3 – Hope (Up 13)
The Fighting Dutchmen made a BIG jump thanks to a heck of a start to the season… including a solid victory over defending national championship UW-Stevens Point^ on the road the night after traveling to UW-La Crosse. Yes, Hope lost to Cornerstone, but that is the number one team in NAIA Division II and it took a 9-0 run by the Eagles to defeat Hope by seix. This team is loaded with seniors and juniors who all can score, rebound, play defense, and lead this squad. That is a dangerous combination in Division III, just ask Augustana. This might be the season Hope fans and the rest of the nation has been waiting for from western Michigan. I have a feeling something special is brewing on the shores of Lake Michigan.

St. Thomas’ Cortez Tillman

4 – St. Thomas* (Up 4)
The Tommies are good. Even when they take on a challenge from a David like team, they don’t falter. They weather the storm and push through. I got to see St. Thomas at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic and liked what I saw. Even their game against Southern Vermont* where they were down early showed me they can fight back. And their game against Emory* showed that even when they are struggling they can find answers. They aren’t flashy and they don’t have just one player that dominates making them hard to defend. FOUR guys lead the team in double-figures, though admittedly on the stat sheet there is a noticeable drop-off after those guys (all seniors and juniors). However, two sophomores will eventually start stealing headlines, John Veil and Ryan Boll, along with others as this team improves from what is already a very good start to the season.

5 – Amherst^ (Unchanged)
The Lord Jeffs once again started the season with a bit of a ho-hum schedule. It’s a trademark of Dave Hixon’s whether it’s intentional or not. Johnson State, Worcester State, and Anna Maria, all of them at home. While I wasn’t impressed with the opponents, I wanted to see how Amherst at least played and how much they won those games by. Nothing was close – 18 points. Amherst is going to be a very good team, once again, from the Northeast. They just need to get some better challenges to prove themselves before conference play begins. We will have to wait until Brandeis (Dec. 8) and Babson (Dec. 10), both on the road, to see that challenge. They also have Rust on their schedule on January 2 – which will be a perfect game to literally shake the rust off a 20-day lay-off between games.

6 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 7)
The Battling Bishops started the season ready to play! The team seemed to start off where last season ended, on a roll. Of note, wins over Calvin, Trine, and Illinois Wesleyan jumped out at me. They are also putting up points (four of the six games 80-plus) and seem ready to live up to expectations that this year could be special. Of course, Wooster is looming. Ohio Wesleyan starts conference action at home against the Scots in what will be the defining game of the early season. However, with two of the three D3hoops.com Preseason All-Americas from the Great Lakes Region belonging to the Battling Bishops… I like their chances this season.

7 – Elmhurst (Down 5)
The CCIW coaches might get together and mandate no one is allowed to play any team from the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, especially Benedictine! Elmhurst was one of three CCIW teams (Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton) to lose to the Eagles and they lost to them at home. That almost overshadowed dominating wins over Curry and Westminster along with a surprise System style win over Greenville. They followed up with barely beating Alma which does raise some concerns, unless you talk to those in the MIAA who say Alma could be dangerous (as Greg Mitchell of Hope told me on Sunday’s Hoopsville). I think Elmhurst is a team that will be darn tough this season, but not surprised they will also take a few lumps – I clearly was expecting too much at number two in the preseason.

8 – Marietta (Up 1)
This area (No. 7 on down) is where my ballot starts to feel a little uncomfortable. I don’t have teams I can say confidently are the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth best and beyond. I can’t. Marietta doesn’t feel like the eighth best team in the country, but no one behind them seems like they are better – which is why they ended up moving up a spot. Nothing about the Pioneers start blows me away. Solid wins over teams you expect them to beat. Barely defeated maybe an overrated Catholic^ squad (more on that later on) and then dropped a game against a tough St. Vincent squad, but one they should have beaten (the Bearcats lost to Hood prior). Marietta gets to start conference play with what was the bottom half of the OAC last season, though watch out for Wilmington… but it only gets tougher from here.

9 – Babson^ (Up 1)
Another team that moved up despite a loss. I like what I see with Babson including word they have some major talent that transferred in. However, they lost to Bowdoin in overtime after starting with an Amherst like schedule and barely getting past Lasell and Becker. Bowdoin isn’t a horrible loss, but with games against Brandeis, Amherst, and Bates still to come plus playing in the NEWMAC… extra losses are not something the Beavers can afford to put on their resume. Can Babson get back to Salem? Probably, but they need to get more dominate on offense.

St. John Fisher was the class of the Hoopsville Classic.

10 – St. John Fisher* (Up 7)
The Cardinals were the second best team at the Hoopsville Classic (behind St. Thomas). They fought through some challenges, made the right adjustments, and found ways to get their offense in sync. I know they are still finding themselves after losing so many seniors, but when you have a presence like Keegan Ryan (D3hoops.com Second Team All-America) on the inside you are going to be in good shape. One thing the Cardinals will have to be careful about is foul trouble. They like to play aggressive, but Coach Rob Kornaker has stated it publically, they have to adjust to a freer flowing game. If they can make that adjustment while not sacrificing their defensive quality of play, SJF will be a tough team to get through come March.

11 – Stockton^ (Up 1)
Nothing about the Ospreys start to the season makes me sit up and take notice. They started with a loss to a tough Staten Island squad and then rolled over Neumann, Gwynedd Mercy^, and Rowan as they should have. I said in the preseason blog I might be buying in a little too much and I still worry I am. They move up a spot mainly because someone has to fit into the number 11 hole even if the team I put here might be closer to a number 17 squad.

12 – UW-Stevens Point^ (Up 11)
Just writing the words “Up 11” makes me nervous. Yes, the Pointers are off to a good start this season and their only loss is to Hope who ranked higher – though it was by 12 on Stevens Point’s home court. They barely got past Superior, survived against St. Olaf (who was previously ranked), and handled their business against a tough St. Norbert squad. But what makes me nervous, is they will play No. 1 Augustana^ this coming weekend in a rematch of the national title game and I am not sure it will be close. I doubted UWSP last season and didn’t rank them until well into the year. They proved everyone wrong being one of the best defensive teams in recent memory. However, they have really lost a lot from last year’s squad and the entire top of the WIAC is arguably down this season. I am not sure they are the 12th-best team in the country right now; maybe closer to low teens. But here we are again with a team filling a higher hole because I am not allowed to leave these spots simply blank.

13 – Washington Univ.^ (Unranked)
The moment I pressed the “vote” button on Monday, I was second-guessing this decision. I had been second-guessing it the entire day especially after I slotted them in even higher. I quickly erased that idea and moved them down closer to 20. But then I had a large gap where I had no teams, so after a lot of moving around and readjusting… Wash U ended up 13th. What did catch my eye is that they have had a dominating start to the season against opponents they should be dominating. No game has ended closer than 16 (Johns Hopkins^) with most games being 20 points or more. The Bears appear to be playing incredibly good defense (not allowing more than 65 points) which was a major problem last year. However, I may quickly regret this decision as even those who know the program well think my vote is nuts. Illinois Wesleyan and Augustana loom in the next three games. Those two along with Centre (coming up at the end of December) are the best three teams on Wash U’s out-of-conference schedule. They don’t have a tough schedule this year. So this really could just be smoke and mirrors that I am buying into. We will talk about this again next week I am sure.

14 –Brooklyn (Unranked)
I know I said this on Hoopsville a few weeks back, but watch out not only for the Bulldogs but the CUNYAC. Brooklyn is coming off of a quiet 23-win season last year, rebounding from consecutive 12-14 seasons. Alum Rich Micallef has had an immediate impact on this squad and they could be the talk of at least the Atlantic Region this season. They have had some dominating wins to start the year (first three games and four of the six were 90+ point performances) against some pretty good talent: Case Western Reserve and William Paterson among others. Again, they feel a little high at 14, but there is a gap in the middle of this ballot for me. However, Brooklyn is a team that could change the tournament landscape come March (if they make it out of a tougher than usual CUNYAC).

William Paterson walks off court in protest of Jose Rebimbas’ firing. Picture courtesy of Instragram video.

15 – William Paterson (Down 1)
I don’t know what to do with the Pioneers. This is the other very talented squad in the Atlantic Region (my how things in this region have changed in a few years), but there is turmoil right now. They started the season with a spanking of Mount Union before having some tough battles to follow. Then they got spanked by Brooklyn on a day/night that eventually would reveal their coach, Jose Rebimbas, had been fired. Was this firing already a distraction leading up? Did the team know the day of the Brooklyn game, Rebimbas’ last? This was followed up with the team walking off the floor before the tip-off against Ramapo (a result that the NCAA still has to weigh in on for multiple reasons). Then it was days of no one knowing if they would show up at Cabrini and play Rosemont two days after Thanksgiving (many didn’t know the morning of the game!). I think William Paterson can be a special team this year, but they have to keep their heads on straight. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt for now as maybe cooler heads have prevailed and they will fight through this season – maybe even be inspired by what they feel is an unjust firing. However, the moment more chinks in the armor are revealed… I won’t hesitate to bail as I fear this team, as special as it appears, could also unravel in a second. (More of my thoughts on their forfeit and decisions after at the beginning of Sunday’s Hoopsville.)

16 – Benedictine (Unranked)
When you start the season winning three games against CCIW foes, two of them on the road, and both of those being Top 25 programs, you deserve some love and attention. Now, this might be a bit high, but this is where they fit in for now. The Eagles certainly came out guns blazing this season. Yes, they beat Illinois Wesleyan for the second consecutive season, but they followed it up with wins over Wheaton and Elmhurst – they didn’t beat Wheaton last season! The only challenge is going to be their conference and the rest of their schedule. Benedictine has five out of conference games and they are ALL against CCIW teams. Meaning they won’t play a game outside of the NACC or CCIW and they aren’t even picked to win the NACC (something coach Kevin Bunkenburg talked about on Sunday’s Hoopsville)! Maybe this ranking is just a reward for a fabulous and historic start to the season… or it could be a sign that there are some new players in the Central Region that no one would have given any mind to in recent years.

17 – Salisbury* (Unranked)
I wasn’t necessarily convinced I was going to vote for the Sea Gulls following the Hoopsville Classic, but they did do a very good job at Stevenson and then went and knocked off Virginia Wesleyan. Salisbury can be dangerous this season. They aren’t playing with their best player from last season due to injury, but they have the components to beat you inside or outside – heck, did you see what they shot against DeSales*?! I know Christopher Newport is the pick to win the CAC, but I think people didn’t realize how quickly Andy Sachs and the team would jell. They look good and face CNU coming up this week. Great early-season conference game for everyone to gauge things.

18 – Mount Union (Down 11)
Tough to start the season with a shellacking given to you by William Paterson, but to follow that up with a beatdown by North Central is tough. Granted, the Purple Raiders returned the favor in their three other games including against Chicago^, but that only muddied the resume. I debated about giving up completely, but they did show they could win a big game. Of course, that was part of a North Central beats Mount Union who beats Chicago who beats North Central weekend that just made things madly confusing. I think Mount Union will right the ship and be dangerous the rest of the way, but with Baldwin Wallace, Capital, and Ohio Northern part of their four-game start to conference play… they better be ready to fix things now.

19 – Chicago^ (Down 16)
Yeah, I must have drank some kind of Kool-Aid with the Maroons… and no, that drink was not coming from Chicago’s campus. The last two seasons there is something about Chicago I really like, but either I am completely losing my mind or they simply aren’t living up to expectations. Many would probably say I am nuts – and I probably was – for having them third in my preseason poll. However, I think they are talented enough to be a Top 10 team – thus maybe they aren’t living up to the expectations. Who knows? Chicago looked sluggish against North Park and gave the game away in the end. They didn’t look good against Mount Union before looking much better against North Central. The Northwest trip certainly did them good, but they have a couple of really tough tests ahead with Wheaton and Illinois Wesleyan in their next four games. Maybe I bought in too soon – like last season.

20 – Catholic^ (Down 14)
I said in my preseason poll I was apprehensive with where I positioned the Cardinals No. 6, but I didn’t foresee this start to the season. I also said that previous years Catholic hadn’t lived up to expectations… it certainly looks like that could be true again this year. The only problem I have had with CUA over the course of many years… they don’t live up to expectations. Maybe they have to come into a season with no expectations. That’s what they did in 2012 when they shocked everyone at the Hoopsville Classic started what would be a magical year which ended in a tough NCAA Round 2 loss at Williams. Granted, they have lost two games on last second shots and won another by two. They have had close games. But they shouldn’t be close against Washington and Lee and maybe Wesley^. The Cardinals have Susquehanna^ (picked to finish second in the Landmark) ahead this week. Their out of conference games coming up against St. Vincent and Dickinson* will be telling. If Catholic doesn’t dominate an easy-to-dominate Landmark, they are going to fall short.

Virginia Wesleyan’s Kaelin Poe

21 – Virginia Wesleyan^ (Down 10)
I didn’t have the Marlins as high up as a lot of voters in the preseason ballot, but that doesn’t mean their start wasn’t disappointing. The tip-in loss to Wesley was one thing, but to get smacked by Salisbury probably revealed more about VWC than many realized. However, Dave Macedo is known for always reloading his squad – they never rebuild. They dominated what appears to be a pretty good Averett squad and took care of business against MSOE, Emory and Henry, and N.C. Wesleyan as expected. But the next three games will be telling: Washington & Lee, Christopher Newport, and Mary Washington. Come out of that unscathed is a good sign. Come out of that run with bruises and it might not be as grand a year as some expected. Overall the top of the ODAC is down this year (that parity thing, again), so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised the top team in the conference is struggling as well. Maybe they didn’t reload as much as many expected they would.

22 – John Carroll (Unranked)
Could the Blue Streak be the real deal this season? I know expectations in the conference are high after their first 20-win season in five years and they have started the season 5-0. My only concern is they didn’t exactly play a who’s who of teams this season – this list is a who’s who from seasons past: Transylvania, St. Mary’s (Md.), Birmingham-Southern. There is also Rust and La Roche. Of those five games, the only one close was the last one to La Roche and John Carroll has put up an average of 103.2 points per game (while allowing 85.4)! That’s some good offensive numbers. They start conference action with Wilmington and Marietta in the next four games… so now things get real for John Carroll. Maybe they are for real.

23 – East Texas Baptist (Down 4)
Eh. This wasn’t the team I figured I would be left with from the Texas area in my Top 25. A close win over Rhodes and a one-point loss to Texas Lutheran (who I am still trying to get a read on) just makes things confusing. Plenty of good games on the horizon for the Tigers (McMurry, Hardin-Simmons, Louisiana College) to get a better idea of how good they could potentially be this season.

24 – Wooster (Down 1)
I said in the preseason poll I was tempted not to even include the Scots on my ballot. Clearly other voters feel the same way. They lost to certainly a good team in Skidmore, but not a Top 25 team at this point. The game against Silver Lake does nothing for me – it’s a waste of a game in my opinion. Then Wooster dominated Cabrini^ to no surprise. For now I will leave Wooster on my ballot as I don’t have anything to sway me otherwise. However, Ohio Wesleyan, DePauw, and Wabash are ahead and that will make or break what I expect of Wooster this year.

25 – Northwestern (Unranked)
There were a LOT of teams I could have slotted in here. I actually probably should have gone with Oswego State, but the Eagles are off to a strong 5-0 start following an incredible finish to last season (remember they made the Sweet 16 with wins over St. Thomas and Elmhurst). I don’t love who they beat, but I don’t hate the schedule either. A good test against Bethel is coming up before a long break and conference action. We shall see how long I ride with Northwestern, but they certainly have been a fun team to watch the last nine months (and even longer).

Dropped Out:

Emory* (Previously 15)
Following the Hoopsville Classic, I thought the Eagles were the third-best team there. They were in no danger of falling off my ballot. But they lost to Marville and LaGrange to follow the trip to Baltimore and I had no choice. Not a good start to the season. Emory has a lot of good tools and talent on this squad, but they are clearly searching for their identity. Replacing Alex Foster and others was obviously going to be tough, but maybe we thought after years of replacing talented stars that Emory could rebound well. Compound things with injuries and Emory has had a tough start to the year. They will reemerge in the national conversation as they battle in the UAA, but in the meantime they are off my ballot and will have to really get rolling before they can probably return.

Dickinson’s Ted Hinnenkamp leads team with 17.0 ppg and 8.5 rpg.

Dickinson* (Previously 18)
Even after the Hoopsville Classic I was thinking about dropping them from my poll. They struggled against Stevenson* and couldn’t find their rhythm against St. John Fisher*. I really thought the Red Devils would still be a Top 25 caliber team until I saw them against McDaniel*. The Green Terror came out fast and forced Dickinson to make massive changes in the first half including going to a zone defense. The result was Dickinson getting back into the game and leading. But they couldn’t readjust in the second half and McDaniel was able to make adjustments and ended up leaving Dickinson in their dust. Alan Seretti says he doesn’t want to see me any more this season (seen three of their four games, only one was a win and I only saw the second half of that one) and I can’t blame him. Dickinson has a lot more to fix and replace than maybe a lot of thought they would. It turns out, losing Gerry Wixted and his class was far more devastating than losing Adam Honig the season prior.

Eastern Connecticut (Previously 20)
Maybe the Warriors aren’t ready for prime time? Losses to WPI (who may be better than anyone expected they would be) and Johnson and Wales (who certainly could be position to win the GNAC this season) didn’t impress me. Not for a team that should be far better than that. They did get dominating wins over Western New England, Ramapo, and Hamilton, so I will keep them on my radar. But I really wasn’t expecting a 3-2 start from Eastern Connecticut this season.

Bates (Previously 21)
I probably voted for the wrong NESCAC team in the preseason poll anyway. I probably should have gone with Trinity (Conn.), but that is in the past. Bates in the meantime lost in shootouts with Southern Maine and University of New England – both teams off to terrific starts (4-2 and 5-2 respectively), but also teams I thought Bates could have beaten. They have some interesting tests upcoming before conference play: Husson^, St. Joesph’s (Maine), Colby (non-conference), Southern Vermont*, WPI, Babson^, Brandeis, and either Springfield or Husson (again) all before NESCAC action begins. If the Bobcats are for real this season and able to back-up last season’s great run, it’s this out-of-conference schedule that is very important.

Hardin-Simmons (Previously 22)
I thought this was supposed to be the Cowboys’ big season, but a 3-3 start is ugly. Especially when the losses include Southwestern and Schreiner. Their two wins? Schreiner (2-4) and winless Trinity (Texas). Not good. Now maybe they are missing a player(s) or something else that I haven’t been able to pick up on box scores or on D3boards.com (I can’t keep everything I read retained). If that is the case, we have an explanation. If that is not the case, I have no idea what is going on in Abilene, Texas.

Southern Vermont* (Previously 25):
I knew the task we gave the Mountaineers at the Hoopsville Classic, but I was hopeful they would emerge 1-1. However, they went 0-2 including a controversial loss to Salisbury. Despite the fact I thought they played very well, especially against St. Thomas* and despite the fact they have plenty of talent, it is hard to keep a 2-2 team who started 25th on my ballot… on my ballot. However, Southern Vermont is worth watching this season. They don’t have a tremendously challenging schedule except games against Bates and Middlebury to bookend Christmas, but they are a very talented team who should once again steamroll their way through the conference. They just have to stay focused on the big picture and know that despite the losses at the Hoopsville Classic… they will only serve to help them come February and maybe March.

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

So there you go. Crazy first week.

I normally won’t write as much as I did on this one. As the season goes along and less teams move in and out of my ballot or up and down, there will be less to recap.

I will say there were at least 50 teams I considered for my ballot. The 25 voters in total voted for 59 teams and ten new teams jumped into the poll. That’s a lot of movement. That’s a lot of questions. That’s a lot of parity.

Parity is great for Division III. It means more teams are competitive and more games will be exciting. It means we can’t expect outcomes and any game we are watching can turn out as a win or loss for our favorite team. Anything goes.

Parity isn’t great for Top 25 voters trying to read the tea-leaves, but to be honest… I wouldn’t want it any other way. Division III basketball is exciting to watch, so don’t miss out.