Dave’s Preseason Ballot (’18-’19): Final Five

The start of practices has arrived in Division III basketball. With it, the expectations for a lot of programs either increases or takes its first steps backwards. We won’t know. All of it happening behind the scenes until we see games start being played for real on Nov. 8.

Last week, the D3hoops.com Preseason Men’s Top 25 was revealed and I blogged, twice, part of my ballot. We got through the first 20 spots which leaves five left to be unveiled.

The last five traditionally are the most difficult to slot. There could be an argument for maybe 20 teams. That’s why there are so many teams receiving votes in the preseason tabulation. Voters have a lot of different opinions. Some may seem crazy to me seem logical to that voter. Some of my choices may seem crazy to others. Heck, after I submitted my ballot I was second guessing and wondering if I should have made some changes.

It is just part of the process.

Let’s get to my selections. This blog, we should also take the opportunity to show the entire ballot for the first time.

So here we go starting with my Top 10, followed by my 11-20 group, and then my thoughts on the final five.

Nebraska Wesleyan tops Dave’s ballot as the defending champions return most of their squad for the 2018-19 season.

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan
2 – Whitman
3 – Whitworth
4 – Augustana
5 – UW-Oshkosh
6 – Wittenberg
7 – MIT
8 – Williams
9 – Springfield
10 – Hamilton
11 – UW-Stevens Point
12 – New Jersey City
13 – Maryville
14 – St. John’s
15 – UW-Platteville
16 – Illinois Wesleyan
17 – Johns Hopkins
18 – Plattsburgh State
19 – St. Olaf
20 – Swarthmore

Here is the rest of the ballot:

Jason Beckman averaged 22.2 points a game last season for the Flying Dutchmen. (Courtesy: Hope Athletics)

21 – Hope
The MIAA certainly had an off year last season. Hope and Olivet tied atop the standings with four in-conference losses and Adrian and Trine finished third with six losses. Calvin was fifth with eight! You can’t expect the conference to stay down for long. Despite a 19-10 campaign last year, I think Hope is ready to return to the national spotlight. Four starters and over 75% of the points are back as is 80% of the rebounding. Jason Beckman has found his footing after transferring from Alma. The Flying Dutchmen also have a more experienced Preston Granger who could really start to take over inside. The MIAA will be a battle once again be interesting, but I don’t see any reason why Hope isn’t on top most of the season.

22 – John Carroll
I debated about not including JCU in my Top 25 Preseason ballot. As great as last season was under first-year head coach Pete Moran, the Blue Streaks did lose two key players in Matthew Csuhran (16.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, .401 3PT%, .814 FT), Antonio Vyuanich (13.4 ppg, .377 3PT%), and John Cirillo (12.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, .459 FG%). When I first saw that I erased JCU from consideration. However, when I dug deeper and realized with players like Sean Flannery, Jackson Sartain, Jimmy Berger and others back … John Carroll could be just fine. This is a squad that already plays 13-15 players most games, scores nearly 100 points per game, and limits opponents to nearly 20 points less. I was critical that I didn’t think they were consistent last season, but we will have to wait and see this season if that is still an issue.

23 – Middlebury
I’m going to be blunt … I am not sure the NESCAC is as good as it has been touted over the years. Yes, the top usually produces some national contenders, but I sometimes think the rest is smoke and mirrors. That said, this is my third pick from the conference (tying the WIAC on my ballot) and I included the Panthers because Coach Jeff Brown has produced a program that tends not to disappear from the national stage. Jack Daly and his 15.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg will be missed, but four of the top five in scoring have returned lead by Matt Folger who enters his junior season. There are nine players who played in a vast majority of games returning, six of them played in more than half of games on average. I don’t see why the Panthers won’t be lurking once again this season.

Roanoke’s Josh Freund averaged a double-double (184 ppg, 104 rpg) last season. (Courtesy: Roanoke Athletics)

24 – Roanoke
The Old Dominion Athletic Conference hasn’t been what we all have grown accustomed to in the last few years. One would argue it may not be one of the top five conferences currently due to the lack of national powers. However, the ODAC is still one of the deepest conferences in the country arguably leaving it as a top five conference. Last season, Randolph-Macon and certainly Emory & Henry got most of the attention. However, it was Roanoke that quietly finished 20-8 including 11 in a row at the end of the season before losing to E&H in the conference finals. The Maroons also featured the conference player of the year in Josh Freund (18.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, .601 FG including 15 double-doubles). Of the top seven scorers for Roanoke last season … six of them return including Freund. Of those who played in 10 or minutes per game on average, nine of them return. I may actually have Roanoke too low on my ballot.

Nazareth looking to make waves this season including repeating as Empire 8 champions.

25 – Nazareth
The reigning Empire 8 champions … will not be going away anytime soon. The Golden Flyers returned to the 20-win plateau last season for the first time since 2007-2008 winning the Empire 8 conference along the way. Returning are all five starters and nearly 100% of the scoring. The team is senior loaded with four of the five starters heading into their final campaigns. Tyler Stenglein will lead the way and could be the program’s leading the scorer along the way (needs 546 points; scored 497 last season). Nazareth is one of those programs that is hard to read in the East Region, so I will be watching carefully, but hard to ignore all of that experience coming back to a program that did so well last season.

There is my Top 25.

Now, before any of you start losing your minds because your team isn’t listed … let’s take a step back. I considered a number of other teams and already admitted that I thought about making a number of changes to this ballot – especially the bottom five – after I submitted it. I may actually agree with you, but this is how I chose to vote.

Who am I also considering? There was a time when I used to list those teams. The problem with it was (a) I couldn’t list every team I was debating about or the blog would be too long and thus (b) people were further insulted that I wasn’t even considering their team. Not much was being accomplished with me spending time talking about even more teams.

The preseason information given to us included 50 teams in alphabetical order (for those wondering). I had a handful others added on my own. So over 50 teams considered for only 25 spots. There was a lot of information out there and tough decisions made by all voters, but interestingly this may have been one of the more

I’m not the only one thinking that, here is a friend and very knowledgeable DIII mind Bob Quillman in a recent post on D3boards.com (Top 25 discussion):

There are a few teams I think received too many poll points, and a few with too little, but overall I think this is a rock-solid preseason poll – maybe the best I can remember. I like that teams seem to be generally lined up in the correct order within conferences and regions in terms of preseason expectations. And there is not a head-scratching team in the Top 25.

Who knows what we may think a few weeks into the season or at the end, but at least you now know what teams you should be keeping an eye on this season. Others will make their selves known soon enough.

And now we get ready to get the games underway. That includes getting Hoopsville ready to air. Get your calendars out, because we preview the season on Sunday, November 4. That will be the 16th Season Debut. More information to come.

Enjoy, everyone!

Dave’s Preseason Ballot (’18-’19): The Top 10

Dave McHugh, Ryan Scott, and Pat Coleman on the “Hoopsville Courtside” set in the Salem Civic Center (Courtesy: Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com)

Welcome to the 2018-19 season. I cannot believe we are already here in mid-October and the season starts officially in less than a month. Feels like yesterday I was packing up and walking out of the Salem Civic Center.

If anyone listened to Hoopsville any of the last two seasons, one theme was clear: there is a ton of parity in men’s basketball. Anyone who has read these blogs has seen another part of that theme: it is hard to gauge who really is a Top 10, Top 15, etc. team. Many times, I commented that I had a team in, say, the tenth spot that in any “normal” year they would be further down. They didn’t seem like a ten-spot team, but I had to put someone in there. That I could realistically go from 5 to 15 and not slot anyone. There have been a lot of good teams, but just not a lot of great teams.

This season will be the opposite, and probably to the other extreme. There are so many teams entering this season that appear to be loaded, stacked, etc. The talent level on rosters is incredible and there are teams who showed last year they are going to be difficult to stop. We are still in an era of parity, but the level of that parity has taken a significant step upwards. There are a lot of teams one could argue (and will as we progress this season) are top ten squads, but there just isn’t enough room for them all. There will be teams left out of the Top 25 or my ballot who probably should be Top 25 teams, but there just isn’t enough room for them all.

With that in mind, I tried not to spend too much time on the Preseason Top 25 this year. I’m not saying I just rushed through it, but I really didn’t want to get bogged down in it, either. Bogging down just ends up not helping me nor making my ballot any better than it might have been spending half the time.

Nebraska Wesleyan is the Preseason #1 pick in the D3hoops.com Top 25. Is that a good thing?

A couple of notes before we get started:

  • I am not including last year’s final ballot (sorry for not posting that or my final regular season ballot; I was far too busy). I just don’t think it is relevant and I have been somewhat guilty of relying, or leaning, on it too much in the past. I feel the new season should be somewhat new in terms of analysis as well (though, past seasons are important barometers and information)
  • In a twist, I am not releasing my entire ballot with this blog. This is one of three I will publish breaking up my ballot, so they aren’t too long to read. We will stick to one blog per ballot during the regular season (when time allows)
  • Did you know, never in the history of the D3hoops.com Men’s Top 25 has a team held the top ranking from the preseason all the way through the final poll? WashU (twice) and Stevens Point won the national titles after being Preseason #1 picks, but they didn’t hold that spot the entire season. Um, bad news Nebraska Wesleyan?
  • Hamilton and NJCU have hit their highest rankings … ever in the overall Top 25.
  • Of the ten teams that have been ranked the most often in the poll’s history, eight are ranked again (Amherst and St. Thomas being the only two not ranked).

With that, here is my D3hoops.com Top 25 Preseason Ballot … starting with the Top 10:

Jack Hiller is one of four starters returning to a very talented Nebraska Wesleyan squad who are the defending national champions.

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan
This seems obvious. The Prairie Wolves are the defending national champions, return basically the entire squad (85% of their points) AND bring in two all-GPAC (NAIA) conference selections as transfers. This might have been the only thing I knew about the upcoming season leaving Salem last season. Nebraska Wesleyan will have a target on their backs, but their offense can score points quickly and their defense can snuff out a small wildfire. I cannot imagine NWU isn’t a favorite to get to the championship weekend once again.

2 – Whitman
If anyone listened to Hoopsville the second half of last season, they would have heard a common refrain: Whitman is going to be better despite losing Tim Howell. The super guard has left, but the entire rest of the team returns including two players, Harrison and Wiggins who played extensively on the national runner-up squad, who return from injury. They also bring in a wealth of talent which also features some size inside. The Blues have lost a total of three games in two years; two of those coming in the Sweet 16 or Final Four to the eventual champions. They also have one of the more suffocating defenses in the country. There is nothing I see that says they won’t be in the national championship weekend conversation again this season – well except for bracketing. Head’s up national championship committee… there is a serious problem brewing come March (more on the first Hoopsville episode this season).

3 – Whitworth
Well, the Pirates will have something to say about whether Whitman wins another NWC title. Whitworth made sure Whitman didn’t have the easiest of times last season, winning the conference title game in Walla Walla (and ending a seven-game losing streak to the Blues as well). They return… everyone and everything from last year’s squad including Kyle Roach who is a beast. That said, I feel Whitworth needs to get the inside game going a bit more and that means more scoring from Ben Bishop. If they get the inside-outside game clicking, they are going to be nearly impossible to stop.

Augustana’s Crishawn Orange is part of a loaded Vikings squad who will try and make Rock Island the destination for most this season.

4 – Augustana
Hard to not expect the Vikings to be not only at the top of the CCIW, but national rankings as well. Four starters and nine players who played more than ten minutes return including Pierson Wofford who has only been stopped by injury or off-court distractions. Augustana should be tough to stop and are extremely deep, talented, and experienced. I don’t expect them to go unscathed through the CCIW race (no one does that, anyway), but the Central(ish) region will have to go through Augustana this year.

5 – UW-Oshkosh
Finish national runner up, bring back a huge portion of the team, but lose their head coach to a dream job. That’s where I find myself with the Titans. I expect Oshkosh to be good. They have the talent and experience, but how different will this season be? New head coach (I know he was an assistant; personal experience says that doesn’t always pan out as it says on paper), but also a LARGE target on their backs. The WIAC may end up being, once again, the most difficult and bone crushing conference in the country. The question will be if UWO can stay above the fray or fall victim to it.

6 – Wittenberg
By Matt Croci’s own admission on the show, the Tigers were a year early in their success last season. That isn’t a knock, that’s a warning. Witt returns four of their starters, eight players who played more than half a game on average, and 81% of their scoring. They are also not senior laden as their starting lineup will probably only feature one senior – the rest are juniors. I also don’t think Wittenberg will get as much of a battle in the NCAC to beat them up making them possibly fresher come March.

Al Jurko was the second leading scorer on an MIT squad that nearly made the final four with their best player hobbled by injury.

7 – MIT
Watching this, under-appreciated, team in the NCAA playoffs last season was incredible. They were a shot away from returning to Salem with a squad no one had given much of a chance. They are back-to-back NEWMAC champions, return 93% of their scoring including six starters and a player to watch in Bradley Jomard (who was recovering from injury during that NCAA tournament run). They also feature two former Defensive Players of the Year in the NEWMAC and have one of the more talented, and highly sought after, coaches in the country in Larry Anderson. This Engineers squad may be better than their Final Four squad of 2011-2012 which only lost two games and finished in the national semifinals.

8 – Williams
I didn’t expect to have the Ephs this high when I started this process. Williams has seemed somewhat of an enigma. It isn’t like they haven’t been good, but we can all point to results that make you question everything. This Williams team does feature four returning starters, seven who have played more than half of games on average, and three-quarters of the points. They also return Scadlock (edit: previous version said “Scadlove,” we are still determining how that happened. LOL) who missed most of last season (injury) which could result in a trio of Ephs players that will eclipse the 1,000-career point mark this season. The more I looked and examined what Williams had on the roster, the more I realized this could be a special season in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

9 – Springfield
Originally, I was convinced I would have the Pride in my Top 5 when thinking about it the last few months. With Jake Ross back, there was just NO way they would be any lower. Now, don’t for one moment think that because I have then in the 8-spot that I think less of Springfield. Ross is one of the better players in Division III, but they did lose a couple of key pieces from last season’s headline-making squad. That gave me a little pause especially since Springfield started 6-6 last season before going on a tear. That said, the Pride will still be a very good team and their battles against MIT will be must-watch.

Hamilton’s Michael Grassey is one of four seniors returning to a squad looking to take the next step forward from last year’s success.

10 – Hamilton
Last season, I was leery at times about the Continentals. I just felt like maybe it was smoke and mirrors. I saw them courtside in the NCAA and certainly was impressed with what I saw. However, rightly or wrongly I still feel like I’m being fooled somehow. They return four starters, all average in double-digits in scoring, along with eight players who played half of most games … AND that all equals more than 80% of their scoring offense. Seriously?! That’s a lot of fire power returning. Plus, Hamilton shoots the lights out of the building especially from deep. The race at the top of the NESCAC is going to be fun to watch from the western side of the conference.

There is my Top 10. Yes, I am sure there are some of you wondering why your team didn’t make it into my list. Not to worry, first off, I will release another part of my ballot soon enough. Secondly, I have already admitted there are more teams than there are spots for the Top 10.

Stay tuned!