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 (’16-’17): Week 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)

3 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

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

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

5 – Ramapo (Unchanged)

6 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)

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

8 – Whitworth (Up 1)

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

10 – Marietta (Up 1)

Hope’s overtime win to Trine gave Dave pause.

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

12 – Salisbury (Up 2)

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

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

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

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

16 – New Jersey City  (Unchanged)

17 – Swarthmore (Up 4)

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

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

20 – Tufts (Down 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reminder, here is last week’s ballot.

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

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

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

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Marietta (Unchanged)

3 – Amherst (Unchanged)

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

5 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

6 – Whitman (Up 2)

7 – Whitworth (Up 2)

8 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

9 – Hope (Up 2)

10 – Rochester (Up 3)

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

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

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

12 – Salisbury (Up 3)

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

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

15 – New Jersey City (Up 1)

16 – Skidmore (Up 1)

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

18 – Endicott (Up 4)

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

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

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

20 – Benedictine (Unchanged)

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

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

23 – Emory (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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