Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 1

Delayed from our normal Tuesday morning post. It is a crazy week. Remember, this ballot and my thoughts are based on games through Sunday, Nov. 26.

Just teasing everyone with the look of a delicious turkey dinner with all the fixings.

I’ll be honest. The Thanksgiving holiday was a dangerous one this year. I had to choose carefully when to take a bit of delicious food. If I was checking my Twitter account(s) or the D3hoops.com scoreboard while eating, I risked my life. I lost track of how many times I choked on some turkey, coughed up the mashed potatoes, or spit out the stuffing while reading another shocking score from around Division III men’s basketball. (The women’s results made enjoying a piece of apple pie dangerous as well.) I eventually had to turn my devices off just so I could enjoy a meal.

What a crazy start to the season. I have talked often here and on Hoopsville about the amount of parity. I feel like a broke record. This year reminds me of the same parity argument. I am trying hard not to keep talking about.

Though, there is another factor in place: more teams are willing to play tougher competition early in the season.

I am not sure what exactly started the trend, but understanding how the SOS and Results versus Regionally Ranked Opponents aspects of Regional Ranking (at-large, bracketing, etc.) criteria is being used, analyzed, and more has got to be one of the factors in play. More and more coaches I talk to point out their interest in getting their teams better prepared for a possible NCAA tournament run. That includes not only giving them experience against top competition out of their conferences, but also best positioning the program when it does come to playing in March. As a result, more and more Top 25 teams are playing fellow Top 25 programs. More teams are willing to challenge themselves in the opening weeks against tough opponents. That coupled with parity is resulting in a lot more chaotic results in the opening weeks.

No complaints. I love how many teams are now playing one another. I wish more would do it.

Ok, one complaint. The early-season Top 25 ballots are now insane. There was a time I could just make a few adjustments in the first few in-season ballots and not worry about. Those times are gone and the start of this season is one of the more insane.

But again… I shouldn’t complain. Getting to see this much good basketball early on is fun.

This week’s ballot was tough. Sixteen of the teams on my preseason ballot suffered a loss. There was also a total of 26 losses!

Now some have argued that we (D3hoops.com) should have a poll the first Monday of the season. I am personally glad we don’t. It can be difficult trying to make sense of only a couple of games. I realize that the number of losses on my ballot is reflective of 12 days of competition. That said, the kinds of losses were baffling. There were many situations where Team A beat ranked Team B, but then Team A lost to ranked or unranked Team C who Team B had beaten.

Undefeated Illinois Wesleyan’s early opponents didn’t impress Dave to include them on his ballot. However, the next part of the schedule is outstanding. (Courtesy: Illinois Wesleyan Athletics)

Another interesting item: there are a LOT of teams who are undefeated who basically have played no one. Or at the very least, no one who has any record worth talking about. It is the polar opposite of what I talked about in terms of teams playing better competition early on. I skipped over quite a few undefeated teams when I looked at their schedule and saw they basically had played no one – or at least not much of an opponent’s record.

So, I went with a game plan to tackle this week’s poll ballot:

  • Any team I had in the preseason Top 25 and suffered a single loss, I penciled in to their same spot to start with – no up or down movement.
  • Any team that suffered more than one loss, I shifted downward immediately.
  • Any team who was undefeated needed a win on their schedule against a team above .500 if I was going to move them up or include them on the ballot.

That’s where I started. You will find that at least with the first bullet point that I stuck with that well. There were some occasions, especially with the third point, that I had to get away a bit from the tenant. I had to do something to fill in 25 slots. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have enough teams to fit on my ballot. Too many teams didn’t necessarily below in the Top 25 no matter their record.

I will concede, though, maybe the standards have to be adjusted (you know… parity). I considered that. It only resulted in having far too many teams in the conversation. If I was going to put in Team X, then Team Y, Z, S, T, U, and others needed to be there for the same reasons. That wasn’t going to work.

Did you follow? I totally understand if you didn’t. There is a lot going on and trying to read into results, follow the strings, and decipher the tea leaves can sometimes be a little too “inside politics” – ok, “inside baseball.”

With that in mind, here is my ballot for Week 1. If you missed how voted in the Preseason, click here.

Jack Daly and the Panthers are off to a strong start, but only play four more times before the New Year. (Courtesy: Middlebury Athletics

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)

3 – Williams (Unchanged)

4 – Middlebury (Up 3)
The Panthers look good this season. I certainly don’t expect them to tear through the NESCAC this season and their early season games aren’t exactly head-turning. I am sure we will find flaws eventually, but thanks to a number of losses Middlebury rises into the top five. Oddly, there are only four games on the Panthers’ schedule between now and 2018.

Kyle Dixon and the Marietta Pioneers started the season, once again, with impressive wins.

5 – Marietta (Up 9)
This is a bit of a jump, but there was a lot going on to result in this. First off, the Pioneers once again have started a season hot. They dominated Hope, withstood a very well coached St. Thomas team, and most importantly didn’t let down against their next two opponents. Of course, there were a number of teams around and above them that lost as well. Now, I do fear I am going to regret this decision at a later date. Marietta has shown their capabilities of starting a season hot and then hit some kind of lull later; sometimes twice. They are still trying to figure out new pieces and live up to expectations. Maybe they will surprise me and live up to this early season ranking.

6 – Ramapo (Down 2)
Not much to say. I mentioned on Hoopsville that their loss to Randolph-Macon concerned me. It showed again that just went I put my chips in, they struggle and drop a game – like early-round NCAA tournament game. Now, RMC shot the lights out of the building and I was told (from an impartial party) they put on a clinic. That is going to happen and I don’t want to necessarily hold that against the Roadrunners – except that is exactly what they will face in March. Ramapo can’t fall too far thanks to other teams’ results. I hope the RMC game is a reminder early in the season that every opponent has Ramapo as a target.

David Sachs is one of three Warhawks in double-figures early in the season. (Courtesy: UW-Whitewater Athletics)

7 – UW-Whitewater (Up 5)
I have to keep reminding myself that the Warhawks lost four starters from last season. That said, the pieces they have in place appear to make for a dangerous group. The debate I now have going on in my head: have I put far too much stock in Whitewater because I cannot put much stock in anyone else or is UWW back at the top of the conference and this is a horse worth riding. Despite moving them up five slots, I need more info and there wasn’t much to start the season.

8 – Hanover (Unchanged)

9 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)

10 – WashU (Unchanged)

11 – St. John’s (Unchanged)

12 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 4)
The Battling Bishops at least avoided what so many others couldn’t: losing early in the season. They had strong victories over competition that doesn’t seem as strong, but their resume also didn’t provide enough information to make a strong decision. OWU is probably a little too high on my ballot, but someone has to be slotted twelfth.

Ben Boots leads the Titans in scoring. Oshkosh could make the WIAC race a crowded one.

13 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 7)
Very much the same situation as Ohio Wesleyan, I feel the Titans are better than the teams behind them, but not necessarily a Top 15 squad… yet. Their resume included Benedictine, but the same Eagles squad we have known the last few seasons. They also had a win over St. Norbert, who once again seems to just reload faster than anyone else. We are clearly in no-man’s land here.

14 – Skidmore (Up 9)
These moves are directly related to the number of teams who lost not only in the Top 25, but elsewhere. I have stated I like the Thoroughbreds, but this may be too high especially with their same “shrug” resume. They at least won and to start this season that is worth noting. They also dominated a Plattsburgh squad we are used to be at least competitive. So I have Skidmore near the lead after breaking from the gate. When we hit the turn, I will be very curious to see how Skidmore tackles conference play.

Hobart made a splash to start the season defeating two preseason Top 25 squads.

15 – Hobart (Unranked)
Yeah, this is called buying in. My initial instincts when seeing the Statesmen had beaten both St. John Fisher and Rochester was they would absolutely on my ballot, but not in the Top 15. Several factors came into play including the fact that Hobart may be stronger than I gave them credit for in the preseason. They are the squad I hear people talking about in New York, they were picked to win the conference, and they started the season with two statement wins. I ended up moving them because …

16 – Rochester (Down 1)
… I had to get Hobart ahead of Rochester. If you have read these blogs often enough, you know that when Team A beats Team B I don’t necessarily just move A ahead of B. It usually is more complex than that and certainly not in a vacuum. The exception being the beginning of the season. There isn’t much else to compare against. I was nervous I had put too much on the Yellowjackets to start the season, but they impressed me to start including a win over a Stockton squad those in New Jersey keep whispering to me about.

St. Thomas is back on Dave’s ballot. Didn’t take long.

17 – St. Thomas (Unranked)
The Tommies can sometimes just baffle me… in a good way. I am also fully aware that sometimes teams are so well coached at they can end up coming out of the gates very well. It is when the season becomes a grind that young, inexperienced teams can then show their cracks. Those cracks are what I expected to see early on for UST. However, one of the best coaches in the country is at the helm. I should have remembered that.

18 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)

19 – New Jersey City (Unranked)
Hmm… even writing this makes me nervous. Yes, the Gothic Knights have started 5-0, however let’s be frank… they haven’t really played anyone. That said, their mid-season schedule is pretty solid and they at least avoided that thing we keep talking about – losses. The NJAC race is going to be once again a real battle. Maybe I am putting stock in NJCU too early, but they also have one of the more dynamic players in the region. They could be fun to watch.

20 – North Central (Ill.) (Down 15)
Wow. This was a rough start for the Cardinals. Who knows why, but losing to Heidelberg and Whitworth surprised me. Maybe Whitworth can be understandable if it was the only loss, however they already took the hit from Heidelberg, so I would have expected them to be more prepared for their trip to Hawaii (I need to find a way to run a tournament there!).

Bowdoin’s Hugh O’Neil earned a double-double in the Polar Bear’s win over defending national champions Babson. (Courtesy: Bowdoin Athletics0

21 – Bowdoin (Unranked)
This decision may be based only the fact the Polar Bears beat Babson. I watched a good part of that game and liked how Bowdoin played. While Babson isn’t as good as I expected, Bowdoin appears better than I figured.

22 – Emory (Unchanged)

23 – Babson (Down 17)
There is plenty of justification to simply remove the Beavers from my ballot. I guess I’m just not ready to do that. There are some who will never vote for anyone but the defending championship number one in the preseason. I don’t believe in that, but I could be guilty of giving a defending champ a little more leash at the start of a season. I like the pieces and the schedule is always one of the best. However, Babson didn’t look good in their losses to Endicott or Bowdoin.

MIT enters Dave’s ballot despite the loss to Keene State. (Courtesy: MIT Athletics)

24 – MIT (Unranked)
Despite taking a loss, I liked what I see from this Beavers squad. MIT has good, what appears to be talented, size inside and from those I listen to who have watched them more than I they are on a different level this season. Their win over Tufts made me notice; they loss to Keene State made me scratch my head – that’s going to happen a lot this season.

25 – Eastern Connecticut (Unranked)
The Warriors had a terrific start to the season. Their 5-0 start included wins over WPI, Montclair State, and Colby. That is at least a resume I can appreciate more than most early in the season. I had a lot of choices down in this part of the ballot and went with Eastern Connecticut because something about how they are playing intrigues me.

Dropped Out:

Tuft’s Vincent Pace has eclipsed the 1,000 career point plateau, but Tufts is off to a rougher start than Dave expected. (Courtesy: Tufts Athletics)

Tufts (Previously 13)
I had the Jumbos on my ballot pretty much until the very end. Despite a 2-3 record and having never voted for a team below .500 (I rail on coaches’ polls in other sports that always insist on having below .500 teams on their polls), I felt Tufts still have some terrific weapons and the ability to play with the best in the country. Then it occurred to me: they may have those pieces, but they still had a rough start to the season. They lost to a very good WashU squad and clearly a solid MIT team. They will return to my ballot should they put this stretch behind them. This could be temporary.

Guilford (Previously 17)
I am confident the Quakers are going to be the team to beat in the ODAC, but they didn’t start the season very strong. Their losses actually raise more questions about their opponents than it does about Guilford.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Previously 19)
Missed this one. Big time. I would love to tell those who are wondering what is going on with the Stags something I have learned. I don’t know. All I know is that their preseason All-American, Michael Scarlett, is dressed but not playing – no idea why. CMS has lost their first four games of the season and they just do not look good. I just do not know what to make of it except… this one feels like a big miss right now.

St. John Fisher looks like they have the right pieces to be in the national conversation this season despite early season losses. (Courtesy: St. John Fisher Athletics)

St. John Fisher (Previously 21)
I will freely admit I may have been too confident about the Cardinals. Despite a coaching change and losing a darn good center, I thought SJF would still be a team to reckon with. They are still good, but it is going to take time to get all of these pieces in place and clicking. Their win over Wooster actually kept the Scots off my ballot. Their loss to Hope is what took the Cardinals off my ballot.

Scranton (Previously 24)
Ouch. That may have been the roughest start I have seen from the Royals … ever. The loss to York – ok. The Spartans are a team people will be talking more about later in the season. The loss to Wilkes – interesting. Not sure what to make of the Colonels right now. Then there is the loss to Widener – guh. I have mentioned I worry about Scranton’s inside presence, but now I am worried something else might be amiss.

Nichols (Previously 25)
The Bison are a good team with some very good talent. Remember that. Their one loss was to Wesleyan which initially wasn’t going to result in demoting Nichols. However, to make that move I needed to put Wesleyan onto my ballot (i.e. my Hobart move). I am not ready to move Wesleyan. So, for now, the Bison are off my ballot. I doubt it will be for long.

So, there you go. A bit of a topsy-turvy Top 25 ballot. I am sure there will be quite a few more of these this season. In reality, this is a good thing. We get to enjoy interesting matchups and a lot of nights have games worth checking out. Certainly makes the beginning of the season far more fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, here is how my ballot finished last season:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 – Whitworth (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 – Elmhurst (Unchanged)

8 – Marietta (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

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

13 – Benedictine (Up 3)

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

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

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

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

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

19 – Virginia Wesleyan^ (Up 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 – Wooster (Down 1)

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

Previous Ballots:
Week 1
Preseason

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

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

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

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.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Preseason 2016

Tis the season. Practices have started, games are a mere weeks away, and the first men’s Top 25 ballot has been cast. The excitement to start the season is certainly amping up and after looking through the teams I considered for my ballot… I am expecting one thing – a wide open season.

Last year one of my most common statements was how much parity there was in Division III, especially when you got outside of the Top 10. This year may see that parity go even further. There are so many good teams that have reloaded, great teams that have lost key personnel, championship favorites who are rebuilding or retooling, and championship favorites who haven’t had to reload – they are already loaded.

There are also teams who are emerging on the radar thanks to putting together several years of consistently better basketball. Their experienced players are juniors or seniors who are poised to make a run. Then there are the usual suspects who have gone through coaching changes or lost a high number of those experienced players after making their run. All of those kinds of teams create a high number of question marks.

Parity is great for Division III basketball. It allows more teams to be in the conversation, it makes the regular season fascinating in terms of match-ups, important games, and outcomes that in mid-November mean something in late February. Thanks to the SOS guidelines and the message that teams have to schedule good teams to make sure they can secure an at-large bid (or hosting opportunity) in the tournament along with the parity, the regular season is exciting.

However selfishly… parity is a pain in the ass for Top 25 voters!

Every year the preseason ballot is the most difficult. Obviously, trying to read tea leaves and understand how returning players, transfers or freshmen, and departing players will impact a team is difficult. Then throw in other variables like coaching changes or the quality of coaching coupled with trends we have seen over the years makes things more challenging. But now that parity has made Division III basketball basically a wide open race, Top 25 voters are left grasping at straws, throwing darts, picking names out of a hat, or whatever random method they want to use to try and pick and place teams.

This year’s preseason ballot was by far the hardest just a year after I thought that preseason ballot was the hardest. I knew who I was going to vote number one practically from the time I walked out of the Salem Civic Center last March – though, I gave myself the flexability to look through everything and everyone first before finalizing that decision. But after nearly an entire day (say six hours?) working on my ballot earlier this week… I had only put in the number one team. The rest of my ballot was blank.

The arguments were endless circles.

  • Do I think Team A is better than Team B? Yes.
  • Do I think Team B is better than Team C? Yes.
  • Do I think Team C is better than Team A? Yes. Damn it.
  • I think Team A should be number five on my ballot. But there are no other teams I think should be above them. The problem is Team A is not a number two team, I don’t think. Well what about Team B? No. Same problem. Team C? Nope. Team D? Heck no. Well, someone has to be number two!
  • How about numbers 20-25… I only have 15 teams to consider here… nope, make it 20. Well, who deserves to be there? No one; all of them. Darn it. Well I have to rank Team M, they are always a Top 25 team. Do they deserve to be in the poll? Um, maybe not?! What about taking a flyier on Team N? Sure, why not? Wait, but why? This isn’t helping.

The inner monologue, that spilled into out loud conversation with myself might have been hysterical – or sad – to listen to for someone on the outside of my head. I talked to a few other Top 25 voters I enjoy chatting with – picking their brain – they were all thinking completely different than I was. One had a team at number two I wasn’t considering higher than 15! That had me do an about face and erase everything and start over only to then realize after doing that a few times that I couldn’t justify that high a jump even though my colleague’s justification made sense especially to him.

Finally, I just decided to buckle up and start plugging away. I was going to leave teams off I didn’t feel comfortable. I was going to include teams I certainly feel are risky. I was also going to put teams too high, too low, or just plainly in the wrong slot. There was nothing I could do about it; my ballot was going to be far from perfect.

Then when I saw the final results and the expanded voting information I chuckled. I wasn’t the only one. EVERYONE struggled with this ballot.

So here is my D3hoops.com Men’s Top 25 Preseason ballot – completely while watching my beloved Cubbies implode (or never lite the fuse) against the Mets. Please understand that I wrote everything about my struggle prior to point out that I am not completely comfortable with my ballot. I am sure that while writing these teams out, I will find ways to argue with what I have done already. So yes, I may have some teams too high and some teams too low. I probably included a team that shouldn’t be there and left another out that is a no-brainer to you. It is what it is now that parity is the only way to describe Division III men’s basketball.

1 – Augustana
I am a little surprised this wasn’t a unanimous decision by the 25 voters (two going with Amherst – more on that later). Anyone who saw Augustana last year, saw them get to the national championship game, and knew they were pretty much bringing back the entire squad probably had Augustana penciled in to the number one slot on their preseason poll the day after last season ended. Augustana isn’t going to get through the season unscathed. The CCIW will be too difficult, but this is now a very experienced team with a deep NCAA tournament run under their belt. They know what needs to get done to bring a national title to the Mississippi River. The only thing that will stop them is themselves.

2 – Elmhurst
Nothing about the following 24 teams is rock solid. I am not positive anyone is in the right position and it start with the Blue Jays. Here is another team that returns nearly everyone after a really good season. Many would say Elmhurst appeared on the radar a year early last season. The advantage that has is this team now has plenty of experience to make them ready for the year. The disadvantage is they are not going to surprise anyone and have a bit of a target on their backs. I thought Elmhurst was maybe number five… but I just couldn’t wrap my head around another team being head of them. When I was able to make that argument, another team would debunk it (see my Team A, Team B, Team C debate above). However, Elmhurst is poised to have a terrific season, but like Augustana just playing in the CCIW could be their downfall.

3 – Chicago
I realize I might be buying too much stock in the Maroons. I suspect Mike McGrath will be calling or texting me soon after reading this to either laugh at me or give me all the reasons his team isn’t that good. I get it. I had them in my Top 25 last year in the preseason and thought despite the drawbacks (and injuries) that they were that good. They struggled. But they struggled because honestly this is the season they probably will be the best of the UAA. Number three is high, but like Elmhurst I couldn’t find a reason to keep them lower. I think Chicago will be the clear favorite in a somewhat down – certainly reshuffling – UAA and after dealing with the challenges of last year will be in position to impress this season.

4 – Whitworth
I might be buying too much stock here as well. Despite being more guard orientated than in years past, I think the Pirates could be a really good team this season. They don’t exactly have a challenging start to the season (La Verne, CalTech, and Hamline are part of their Division III non-conference start), but the start could give them a ton of confidence before the middle part of their season when they see Calvin and Mary Hardin-Baylor at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. They do play Colorado College twice (why? No, WHY?!) which tripped them up a few seasons ago, but I don’t see a reason why Whitworth won’t win another conference title and maybe make the run to Salem everyone has been waiting for the last decade.

5 – Amherst
Two voters placed the Lord Jeffs #1. Honestly, I don’t get that. Of course they are going to be good. Last year was an odd year of reloading after a tremendous 2012-13 campaign lead to a national championship in Atlanta and a 2013-14 campaign ended in heartbreak in a dismantling at the hands of Williams in the semifinals. They had some great talent on those teams including Aaron Toomey. They didn’t have that talent, experience, or confidence last year and struggled accordingly. But they still finished second in the conference and made the NCAA tournament. The reason I could NOT vote Amherst number one was simple – they weren’t even on my Top 25 ballot finishing last season (they only got 8 points in the overall poll). They bring everyone back and will be good – because Dave Hixon always puts together good teams – but number five on my ballot feels high, so I’m not sure how anyone voted them #1. That being said, Amherst has proven sceptics wrong many times in the past.

6 – Catholic
The Cardinals have been planning this season for about four years. Last year wasn’t as successful as hoped thanks to injuries and other factors and that is the only reason I am a little apprehensive with this position for Catholic. Steve Howes has a group of athletes who have basically been playing tons of minutes since they were freshmen and made what should have been a deep run in the NCAA tournament in 2013 (before a rough scheduling gave them Williams in the second round and a key injury ruined their chances of winning that game). Last year and prior the team hasn’t lived up to the expectations. There certainly is good reason to think they won’t this year, either. The difference is I think the players themselves have the ability to get over the hump and get through adversity thanks to what they have had to deal with the last two years. The conference is ripe to be taken (Scranton will be down and the rest of the conference has had a ton of turnover) and they have some easy games early in the season to get them rolling.

7 – Mount Union
The Purple Raiders are ready to steal headlines from the football team in November and December… or at least try. I think Mount Union is ready to capitalize on what was a terrific campaign last season and make the OAC a rather interesting conference to watch this year. They have the experience in place, like a lot of teams, to make this season special. Again, they feel too high despite their recent success and current talent, but parity has allowed teams like Mount Union shine when we haven’t seen them in the past.

8 – St. Thomas
The Tommies are the Tommies. Meaning they will compete every year, probably win another conference title, and be a fascinating team to consider in the NCAA tournament. Last year ended with a thud in the first round and sometimes that is the perfect motiviation for a team that maybe expected to always make a deep run. The challenge is the MIAC is not longer a cake walk – which they experienced last season – but that could end up making the Tommies a much more dangerous team. They also start the season at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic along with games against UW-Stevens Point and others that tells me they are ready to test themselves early to be ready for March. The Tommies may be a slight dark horse this year.

9 – Marietta
The only reason I don’t have the Pioneers higher is I am worried about some of the talent they lost and I learned RaNeal Ewing is at least ineligible for the first semester – if he even is available at all this season. Ewing was Marietta’s best player, so consider that another loss – at least temporarily – for a really good team. Marietta will still be a tough team and will be in the national conversation all year. However, they may have a slight challenge to the start of the season with Ewing not on the court let alone the bench. The advantage Marietta has is they have a bit of an easy schedule to start before getting into conference play where John Carroll and Mount Union will make the OAC race one to watch. They also have a possible match-up with Wooster which will give everyone a terrific mid-season barometer of the Great Lakes Region.

10 – Babson
As good as Babson was last year, as terrific a run to Salem as they made, the trick this season will be how do they adjust to losing some key parts from last season and how does Joey Flannery adjust to a massive target on him with maybe less complementing parts to help him out. Flannery is a terrific talent and thanks to the fact the schedule this year is not that challenging nor is the NEWMAC as difficult as in years past (MIT, WPI, and Springfield will all be a bit down from their recent glory), the Beavers could go on a tremendous tear to start the season before facing Amherst in mid-December. That game has been highlighted at least by many as being the litmus test for both programs. Bates will then take three weeks off before facing another Northeast power in Bates. Those two games will give us plenty of information before Babson starts conference play in January.

11 – Virginia Wesleyan
The Marlins are an enigma as much as they are one of the most consistent teams in Division III. Every time Dave Macedo loses tremendous talent it is replaced with nearly as equal the talent either off the bench or fresh to the team. It is unbelievable the program that has been built near the shores of the Cheseapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The challenge this year, probably a far more guard orientated team than in the past (though, a program that has transitioned in that direction in the last few years). Will that leave them exposed in the ODAC which has usually featured a few big men that can change game plans? Will that leave them exposed in the NCAA tournament? It was great to see the Marlins back in Salem (or any ODAC team for that matter) last year. The question I have: is there talent hiding on the bench as there has been in the past that can help them get back there again. I just don’t see it right now.

12 – Stockton
Maybe I am buying in a little too much in the Ospreys, but something tells me last year’s good season won’t be disappearing any time soon. They did lose the NJAC Player of the Year, but they bring back talent that scored in double-figures. The challenge for Stockton is to stay consistent and not let things get to them. I witnessed the inconsistency and lack of mental stability last year first hand in the middle of the season which seemed to derail them for a few weeks. If they want people to fear them and the rest of the NJAC, they have got to take care of business both in and out of the conference or any love for Stockton will erode quickly.

13 – Ohio Wesleyan
The Battling Bishops had some struggles last year, but seemed to find their mojo at just the right time during conference play and seemed to have the NCAC in control – until the NCAC got really interesting late. What is scary is that Ohio Wesleyan pretty much brings back the entire squad (91% of the scoring) including conference scoring leader Claude Gray. The only reason I didn’t put the Battling Bishops any higher was the concern about consistent basketball. They need to play well against what will be a tough out of conference schedule before starting an always challenging NCAC schedule. If Ohio Wesleyan plays well against the likes of Capital, Calvin, and Illinois Wesleyan before facing Wooster in early Decemeber, they could get on a roll that will have them being one of the scarier teams this season.

14 – William Paterson
To be honest, I would love to see the Pioneers do well this season. After a few inconsistent seasons, William Paterson seems to have gotten back into the conversation and helped bring the NJAC back as one of the tougher conferences. But inconsistencies have been their arch nemesis. Losses against teams they should be dominating and apparent lack of focus in conference play (losing four out of five to close conference play last season was poor – they lost five of their last seven overall) kills any thoughts of jumping on the bandwagon. Their schedule this year starts with a big game against Mount Union, otherwise nothing about their out of conference schedule will give us any indication of how good they may really be.

15 – Emory
Despite what the Eagles have lost, something tells me this program isn’t going away. The have consistently won 19 or more games the last five seasons and Jason Zimmerman seems to get the most out of his players. They also don’t shy away from a challenge as they will take on St. Thomas and Stevenson at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic before facing off against Guilford, Oglethorpe, Maryville, and Virginia Wesleyan to name a few before conference play begins. I know they lost some terrific talent, but Emory seems to find new talent more often and once again could be a factor come NCAA tournament time.

16 – Hope
The Flying Dutchmen may finally be back as a team to watch out for. They return nearly the entire squad and nearly all their points and rebounds to a team that despite some tough points last season, battled to the very end under new head coach Greg Mitchell. Now he is more settled and I know working to improve his squad and who they play (especially getting rid of some non-Division III opponents) and could be worth watching this year. Opponents like UW-Stevens Point, Wheaton (Ill.), Carthage, UW-Platteville, and Messiah will have them ready for conference play to be sure.

17 – St. John Fisher
Here’s another team that has lost a bit of talent off a very good team from last year, but speculation is they will once again be the cream of the crop in the Empire 8. They too will test themselves early at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic along with a possible match-up with Ohio Wesleyan on the road. To be honest, I don’t expect the conference or the region to be overly challenging (though the E8 always produces a surprise team that you have to be concerned about), so the Cardinals have to prove themselves out of conference and they certainly have the schedule to do that. Some early success could bode well for some personal in new or larger roles.

18 – Dickinson
The Red Devils are very much like the St. John Fisher Cardinals in how much they have lost versus how much they still have that no one realizes along with what has been rumored as being a strong recruiting class that could make an immediate impact. Sure, the D3hoops.com Player of the Year is gone, but anyone who knows the Dickinson team will tell you that Gerry Wixted wasn’t the only threat. Remember, this Red Devils squad lost Adam Honig the year before after getting to the elite eight. They nearly repeated that feat last season. Dickinson is also not shying away from a test in the non-conference part of the schedule with St. John Fisher and Stevenson at the Hoopsville Classic followed by Catholic and Guilford later in the season. The question will be how will they do against Franklin and Marshall, Johns Hopkins, McDaniel and others in conference.

19 – East Texas Baptist
I realize I am one of 12 voters – half the poll – who voted for the Tigers. It’s at this point in the poll where I really started to struggle about who should be in and out of my Top 25. One part of me sees a lot of talent coming back to a squad that certainly impressed last season (and was the first omen of things to come at the final four with teams facing UW-Stevens Point). Another part of me worries they may have lost a little too much. They have a 22-game home winning streak still intact and with eight of their first 11 games being at home could use that as momentum to get the season rolling in the right direction. The Tigers aren’t exactly going to play anyone challenging except Hardin-Simmons early on, so that could help them as well. But I suspect conference play will be a bit tough because of teams like Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Louisiana College.

20 – Eastern Connecticut
The talk I’ve been hearing in the coaching ranks is the Warriors have a really good team this year. I’m a little nervous to jump on board considering how many 20+ win seasons Eastern Connecticut has had in the last seven years (seven to be exact), but nothing that jumps out of me in the NCAA tournament – seemingly going backwards (three third round appearances [’10, ’11, ’12], two second round appearances [’13, ’14], and a first round appearance [‘15]). What is really interesting with the Tigers this year is they start the season with three straight tournaments on the first three weekends of the season – all of them on the road. They then play a fourth tournament on the road right before Christmas. Those tournaments will include games against WPI and possibly Ramapo along with Trinity (Conn.) and Amherst mixed in. They will certainly have plenty of back-to-back experience should they make the NCAA tournament.

21 – Bates
I could have gone with Trinity (Conn.) here as well (I realize the Bantams are 12th overall, but I didn’t vote for them) and probably should have in hindsight. Something about how Bates was built last year gave me confidence. I know they return less of their scoring than Trinity does, but I like the fact Mike Boornazian, Marcus Delpeche, and Malcolm Delpeche are part of that trio returning. They all contributed solid points and having an actual center makes a big difference in Division III. It came down to a coin flip between the two squads and I went with Bates.

22 – Hardin-Simmons
I think the Cowboys are going to be dangerous and will make the ASC a heck of a fight all the way through February. Now, because of their conference schedule and the inability to get out of Texas this season (we have talked to them about coming to the Hoopsville Classic) they aren’t able to really test themselves. Trinity (Texas), Southwestern (twice), Schreiner, and Texas Lutheran are their out of conference games, so I will be both studying those results in a finer degree of latitude along with keeping an early eye on their conference games. Another interesting note about their schedule – not one weekend tournament. Those events tend to be pretty helpful to have under your belt come March.

23 – Wooster
I’m going to be blunt… it’s time for the Scots to stop being just the winningest team in Division III this century and live up to expectations that the title partly instills. Wooster once again loses good talent from a program that once again fell short last season. I don’t know the last time they didn’t win 20+ games, but last season the conference gave them fits and they eventually lost to streaking DePauw in the NCAC title game and fell short to Marietta in the NCAA Round of 16. I just feel Wooster is always in the Top 25 and rises steadily in the polls through the early part of the season only to lose a couple of games or not make waves in the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis. This year has an interesting bag of games against teams who in the past have been good, but will either be down this year or are emerging with unknown expectations. They also have a conference that is quite competitive and once again may not go through Wooster’s home gym.

24 – UW-Stevens Point
Last year I didn’t have the Pointers in my Top 25 for about two-thirds of the season. They didn’t start off with guns blazing, but they eventually got into a groove and what they were doing defensively was impressive. I didn’t buy in until late January, if memory serves. They had lost quite a few of their talent from the year before and I didn’t expect them to do much in 2014-15 – they of course won the national championship with one of the best defensive units and performances I have ever seen at this level. Lesson learned. Despite the fact Stevens Point has lost a TON from last year’s squad… I will at least give them and Bob Semling the benefit of the doubt and leave them on my ballot. They have a challenging schedule this year, so we will learn early if they remain.

25 – Southern Vermont
This is the latest Albertus Magnus squad from New England. Tons of talent, gaudy record, but very weak conference means they are playing on a knife’s edge at the end of the season. The difference in the past is that AMC has made sure to win the conference tournament to assure themselves a berth to the NCAA tournament. Southern Vermont had a terrific opportunity last year to prove naysayers wrong, but lost in the conference title game and didn’t even sniff the NCAA tournament. Now they return everyone and are challenging themselves with an appearance at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic which will feature St. Thomas as one of their games. They also have Bates and Middlebury and some other good games on their schedule (along with some easier games like two against Massachusetts College) before starting conference play. If the Mountaineers want to be talked about nationally, Dan Engelstad knows this is the season to do it.

Now, I could go on and list all the other teams I considered. The list could range as high as 25 additional teams. However, I have learned in the past that a) people don’t appreciate the added information, they think of it as a further snub to their team and b) that I always end up leaving out other worthy programs I could mention as well. So to save myself the headache of writing them all down now and the headache from responding to complaints later… here is where we will start.

I will finish on this note. There are a TON of good teams this year who deserve to at least be considered for the Top 25. Almost everyone in the Top 25 and being considered have flaws. The hard part is going to figure out who has the least amount of flaws, are challenging themselves or at least playing better than expected, and who are just throwing up smoke and mirrors.

It promises to be another very exciting year in Division III men’s basketball. Which means it also promises to be long Mondays for Top 25 voters.