First of all, let me apologize my Top 25 blog out last week. It was an odd week and having Hoopsville on Monday afternoon to “compliment” the time usually spent the work on my weekly ballot… time got away from me.
It is too bad, because there was a lot to talk about. Most of it can still be covered this week. However, before we get to this week’s ballot, here is last week’s along with notation of any movement related to Week 7‘s ballot:
1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
2 – WashU (Up 1)
3 – Wittenberg (Up 4)
4 – UW-Whitewater (Up 5)
5 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 5)
6 – St. John’s (Up 2)
7 – York (Pa.) (Down 1)
8 – UW-River Falls (Down 3)
9 – MIT (Up 3)
10 – Augustana (Down 8)
11 – Hamilton (Up 9)
12 – Williams (Down 8)
13 – Wesleyan (Down 2)
14 – John Carroll (Up 3)
15 – New Jersey City (Down 1)
16 – Emory (Unranked)
17 – Middlebury (Up 8)
18 – UW-Platteville (Up 5)
19 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 6)
20 – Swarthmore (Up 3)
21 – Whitworth (Unchanged)
22 – Baldwin Wallace (Down 6)
23 – Nichols (Up 1)
24 – Emory & Henry (Unranked)
25 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unranked)
Last week was nuts. I could have ranked teams in the 10 to 25 spots in any order. I wanted to put them all in the 20th slot or maybe the 17th. I found most of them somewhat equal for all kinds of different reasons and was going around and around (and around) in what order to put them. Those high felt too high; those low felt too low. Flip them and they still felt wrong.
On Sunday’s “Top 25 Double-take” on Hoopsville (below), Ryan stated this was maybe his easiest week voting in the Top 25. I didn’t find it easy. His perspective is different. I think he had twice as many teams on his radar than I did (I had 45 in Week 7 that I was considering), so if he does any kind of whittling of his list it is probably going to feel easy. However, Ryan also said he thought his order was more set than in the past. That was me several weeks ago. I thought I had my order and with so many losses happening within the group the way it was ordered, I felt good.
That feeling is gone. I don’t have any sense of order right now. Last week I couldn’t really settle on 10-25 with any satisfaction. This week that got more problematic.
So, I tried to overhaul things. Kind of like blowing up my ballot, but with the element of trying to use information I hadn’t been leaning prior (basically because I didn’t have the time). This week, I talked with some coaches some of whom reached out to me. There are a number of coaches I trust when it comes to their judgement and eye. They are the kind who will be frank and give it to me straight even if it is at the detriment of their team. They might resort to “coach’s speak” when on Hoopsville, but they don’t do that when we talk off-air. I appreciate that and this week I get a little bit of an idea of how some of them saw things. It was invaluable and helped me see things maybe in a different way.
I got more aggressive this week in an effort to find answers to questions that were stumping me. I also was trying to grasp with the WIAC-yness of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. I went deeper outside the Top 25 packet of information, and my radar, to see what I might be missing. This included double-checking some conferences races to see if I had missed a team who had heated up.
The one major problem I ran into: a massive gap in my Top 25. While I was confident in my top nine last week, that was quickly cut to just the top four. After that… I didn’t want to rank anyone until at the least the tenth spot. You might hear me and others say that and think it is just a talking-point used as an example. However, I actually practiced the idea this week. I put down my top four, then skipped to putting teams where I felt they seemed right. I didn’t have any teams until the tenth spot. As I worked through my list of teams, no one made me want to put them in 5-9. I was left with a list that went 1-4 and then 10-whatever (I sometimes rank teams beyond 25 especially when I am looking to move teams in and out of the poll despite decent weeks).
I spent a good amount of time trying to convince myself to move teams into the gap ahead of my teams in 10-15, for example. It wasn’t happening. Yes, I could make arguments for them to move up, but they weren’t convincing and full of holes in my opinion.
What resulted was a massive jump up into a territory I don’t know is accurate for some teams. Others stayed around where they had been despite not the best of weeks. And others didn’t move down nearly as far as I intended to move them. Even looking back at the ballot 24 hours later, I don’t like the results. It feels like a jumbled mess, but all this time later I don’t have any answers and I don’t have that, dreaded, moment where I realize a solution and made the mistake of not voting accordingly.
With that, here is my D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot for Week 8. Notes for a lot of these teams, which makes the read longer (apologies), but some people seem interested:
1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
The Blues don’t blow me away, but no one has beaten them and they have taken on some solid challenges. I think last year’s squad was better, but that doesn’t mean this year’s team can’t make the same run or even win a championship this time around. The straw that stirs this team’s drink is not Tim Howell. They have other guys who are the keys and the fact they have more than one threat makes them tough to beat.
2 – WashU (Unchanged)
I got a text message out of the blue from a coach who simply said, “this is a final four team.” WashU has incredible senior leadership this season that has been building for the last few years. They are dominating, by their standards, their opponents and it is has been impressive to watch. They are not perfect, clearly, but they seem to be improving when others don’t seem to be. They still have Emory and Rochester ahead in UAA play (twice each, same weekend, both), but I like what the Bears have produced so far.
3 – Wittenberg (Unchanged)
Several coaches and another contact basically didn’t mince words when it came to the Tigers: they are damn good. Maybe this season is happening an year earlier than some expected, but Wittenberg’s coaching staff have a team on their hands that seems nearly unbeatable. I don’t think they get through NCAC play unscathed. I think Ohio Wesleyan could trip them up the second time around and Wooster is improving as well, however Wittenberg should be a team to watch out for especially if they have home court advantage until Salem.
4 – St. John’s (Up 2)
I’ve been high on the Johnnies since the beginning of the year, though nervously. In years past, SJU eventually showed flaws and took hits by this time of the season. Not this year. Last week showed me a lot with a beatdown of Macalester (not looking past the Scots) and then a strong 15-point win over St. Thomas. St. John’s is in the right place to end the Tommies dominance of the MIAC, but the target is only getting bigger.
From this point on, consider teams five spots below where they are on my ballot. That may help you understand where I truly think teams are in the Top 25… not where I had to put them because I needed to fill the gap.
5 – Emory (Up 11)
Yeah. Wow. Big jump here for the Eagles. I know I have them far higher than where they are on the ballot. Seems appropriate for how many teams this situation is flipped. Emory hasn’t lost since their bad loss to Hamden-Sydney at the beginning of December. Emory seems to be getting stronger, much like WashU, and has dispatched teams rather convincingly in a lot of cases. They have a huge test ahead: Chicago and WashU on back-to-back weekends. They at least get to start the home-and-home series in Atlanta.
6 – Middlebury (Up 11)
I have stated a number of times, especially on Hoopsville, that I think Middlebury is the best team in the NESCAC. However, they didn’t seem very good after the holiday break. Losing three of five nearly had them slide right off my ballot. It appears the Panthers have solved their woes and have turned the ship around. Last week saw them beat Williams after a huge battle with tough-to-beat Albertus Magnus. I like Middlebury. I don’t love Middlebury. They may be the best team in a conference that is overrated in terms of top-end strength.
7 – Baldwin Wallace (Up 15)
The win over John Carroll was the result I was looking for from the Yellow Jackets. I know I am higher on BWU than most voters. The loss to Ohio Northern on January 10 probably gave many pause. I get that. I also don’t think they are a Top 10 team, but here they are this week. The road doesn’t get easier, but the difference between this Baldwin Wallace team and others, they are still in the conversation – if not controlling it – in late January.
8 – York (Pa.) (Down 1)
The Spartans have pieces that almost any team in the country would love to have, including two centers/forwards who can play the four position and even step out and shoot the three for percentage. However, they aren’t as deep as I thought they would be. Their starting five all scores in double-figures which is outstanding, but the drop-off after that is significant. In other words, they can’t get into foul trouble. An improving Mary Washington team handed YCP their first loss of the season on the road. Not surprising York lost – they were bound to lose – but, I think it puts far more pressure on them to beat Christopher Newport, also on the road, than it did prior. Let’s see how the Spartans deal with pressure.
9 – MIT (Unchanged)
The loss to Springfield surprised me. Springfield has been all over the map, literally, this season. They have one of the best guards in New England, but they haven’t been able to raise their game against top competition. I figured, the Engineers would get a battle against the Pride, but not to be down big and have to rally back … and lose by three. MIT has a lot of what makes York dangerous and hearkens back to the couple-year run MIT had that saw them get to Salem. That makes them dangerous, but they also prove that anyone can beat anyone this year.
10 – Emory & Henry (Up 14)
Another big move up the poll for a team and one many probably aren’t talking about. However, this past week the Wasps took full control of the ODAC and I believe firmly entered the national conversation. Okay, maybe didn’t firmly take control of the ODAC, but certainly made the conference take notice. Wins over Lynchburg and Randolph-Macon have given E&H not only a one-game lead in the conference, but also a six game winning streak since their only loss of the season (Wooster). Also, wins over Maryville, Transylvania, and others are starting to look better and better as those teams continue to do well.
11 – Hamilton (Unchanged)
I hinted at it earlier. The national strength of the NESCAC might be overrated and the Continentals may have given everyone a sneak peak at that this week. No, they didn’t change spots, but I had intended to move them down (technically, they slipped five spots on my ballot originally). Hamilton was handed their first loss of the season by Amherst and it wasn’t close. Coach Adam Stockwell, though, made an interesting point on Hoopsville Sunday night, and I am paraphrasing: our team can beat anyone in the Top 100 on any given night. Now, don’t focus on “Top 100” and think of the bottom. Think of the top. This year especially, they very well could have a team that could beat Whitman – they also have a team that Amherst is able to beat. There are a lot of teams who could beat anyone in the Top 100. I’d argue anyone in the Top 100 could beat anyone (i.e. 100 could beat 1). So, Hamilton could be a damn good team, or more likely is just as good as everyone else, but not great. That leads to whether the NESCAC might be overrated… you have to wait for more on that.
12 – UW-Whitewater (Down 8)
Getting my first chance to tackle the WIAC here. As with the NESCAC, I’ll break it down in several sections, but with none of my Top 25 candidates even leading the conference, I had to change my evaluation of the conference. I have said many times I think the WIAC is the best race in the country and thus the best conference this year. Top to bottom it is insane. Anyone can apparently beat anyone on any given night. I thought UW-Stout was damn good when I saw them in Las Vegas, but I couldn’t come to terms with the idea they may not be in the top four. Whitewater and the rest have not had a great start to the conference schedule, but that might be because the conference is very, very good… but not great. Like the NESCAC. Maybe the top isn’t as great as I had considered previously, but have a ton of good teams and the result will just be the conference beating each other to a pulp. Despite not leading the conference, I think Whitewater is the best team in the WIAC and of those I’m voting for the better team.
13 – Wesleyan (Unchanged)
This coming out less than 24-hours after Wesleyan lost on a buzzer beater to SUNY Purchase is what is called horrible timing. I’m losing confidence in the Cardinals, as I have with the NESCAC. Honestly, Wesleyan should have rolled over Purchase if they truly are a Top 25 team. No, I am not trying to diminish Purchase who was 9-6 entering that game. I realize this may be further proof of just how deep the parity is in Division III this season. However, these are the games Wesleyan has to win if they are as good as others say. The problem is, Wesleyan has now lost four of their last eight with a crazy win over Middlebury being the lone highlight. I voted prior to the Purchase game which left Wesleyan on my ballot. Next week they most likely won’t be here.
14 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 11)
Here I enter a hornet’s nest. I am not sure what to do with the Titans. In the last few weeks, I have torn my hair out. Part of me screams that IWU is damn good and going to be in play for the CCIW championship. The other part points to inconsistencies I’ve seen this season and reasons I’ve hesitated to vote for them in the past. Last week, I slotted them on my ballot 25th – their first appearance. I didn’t like, but I had so much trouble finding a spot I liked for them. I took the time to chat with some people who have seen then to try and get a better sense of what I was missing. I even read the CCIW-boards, not always helpful but usually decent insight. It honestly made me more confused. I like Illinois Wesleyan. I think they are a good team. 14th good? Eh. The difference for me right now is that their losses to WashU and Emory are becoming less damaging and their current run through the conference more impressive. That loss to Carthage, though… still tough to deal with… and I have to wait until February 17 to see the return match.
15 – Augustana (Down 5)
I had Augustana well ahead (in poll terms) than IWU last week. Those on the CCIW boards didn’t like that. So be it. No one saw the dozen or so versions prior to my last ballot that had these two teams swapping places multiple times. Hard to prove that kind of thing. I think Augustana is still the best team in the CCIW, but they probably aren’t showing that right now. That very well could be they haven’t found a solution for the loss of Wofford. I have spoken before about my concern on this. At first, I wasn’t concerned, then I remember that last year’s go-to guy after Wofford departed was Jacob Johnson and … he isn’t around any more. I finally decided to lean more on the loss to Wheaton (who has been sporadic this season) and the near loss to Carroll despite them being the previous week. Wheaton lays ahead and so does IWU before the end of the month. I will feel a little more confident in the CCIW race in about a week’s time.
16 – New Jersey City (Down 1)
Here I am blogging about a team that may not be on my ballot next week – thus the disadvantage of not getting these blogs done earlier (may need to find a way to change the timing). I’ve like the Gothic Knights and especial Sam Toney, but once again an NJAC team is showing inconsistencies. Most in the region will say the NJAC is a tough conference and they beat each other up. I get that. Not disagreeing, but if an NJAC team wants to prove they are one of the best in the country… they have to step above that fray and put conference opponents behind them. NJCU has now lost three of their last seven – all to conference opponents. They have lost control of the top of the conference and sit two games behind TCNJ and Ramapo – who they have split with so far. Prior to the Monday night loss to TCNJ, I would have said I liked NJCU, but they need to start controlling their destiny. Now, I will tell you they have to buckle down and prove they are as good as they claim to be. TCNJ, Montclair, and Ramapo all still to play.
17 – UW-Platteville (Up 1)
I like what the Pioneers are doing more than others in the WIAC. Of course, they have been a victim of Stevens Point just like nearly all the rest. THey have beaten Oshksoh along with Stout, Eau Claire, and La Crosse (not something everyone can say they have done). I find themselves tied for second with Whitewater in the WIAC race … for now. They still have two with Whitewater to play and maybe there is more to prove, but for not I like how the Pioneers are playing more than others. Maybe it is just the timing of the conference schedule more than anything.
18 – Swarthmore (Up 2)
I am confused by the Garnet. I saw them in person, granted against struggling McDaniel, and really liked what I saw. Deep team, plenty of talent. Good inside-outside capabilities. Too many threats to be able to stop all of them, no matter how much McDaniel tried to shut down Wiley. However, their loss to F&M still bugs me (considering the Diplomats had a loss to Muhlenberg prior and followed the Swat win with a loss to Dickinson). Swarthmore followed the loss to F&M with an OT battle with Haverford (6-11) and a tight game with Dickinson (908 including a loss to resurgent Washington). With nearly the entire second half of the conference slate ahead… the Garnet aren’t showing me they are that strong. Thus why I originally had them 23rd.
19 – Whitworth (Up 2)
I am not going to take anything way from the Pirates and what they have for talent. They are young and the Northwest race for the next few years is going to be on another level, but I don’t think they are outstandingly good this year. The Whitman game was … okay. And they struggled this past weekend with Linfield and Willamette. I figured Linfield would give them a game (they did the same to Whitman), but to only beat Willamette by two and turn around and not put away Linfield only made me feel more confident Whitworth is a 20-25 team this season. Granted, they are the team I have picked to beat Whitman when they face the Blues in Spokane, but that doesn’t make them a Top 10 team this year. Doesn’t mean I’m right… just may take on it at this point.
20 – Maryville (Tenn.) (Unranked)
Here we get to teams I did a deep dive on and … feel like I was missing something prior. The Scots may seem like a surprise pick, but when I realized how they’ve been playing of late, I kind of liked them here. They shutdown the once-DII Pfeiffer squad that has been blitzing through the schedule so far (though, waiting to hear something major for Pfeiffer that would change my mind about this game). Their only other loss in 2018 was to Brevard – who like Pfeiffer still has some DII in them. Maryville also has losses to Emory and Emory and Henry (psst, stay away from “Emory” teams!) which on my ballot looks okay. Yes, the loss to Centre (10-7) to start isn’t pretty, but that is becoming less of a factor for me. They are in control of their side of the USA South – and probably the entire conference thanks to their win over Methodist as well. By the way, Maryville’s DIII opponents’ winning percentage: 148-117 (.559). Pretty good. The Scots may be better than people are giving them credit.
21 – Gwynedd Mercy (Unranked)
I’ve had my eye on the Griffins for a large part of the season. They are playing better than I expected and when I saw them in person realized they have a multi-faceted offense. I didn’t jump too soon. I wasn’t going to be able extrapalate much with their game against Goucher, but then they up-ended Cabrini and I put them on my list for consideration. They have made up for their one-point loss to Immactulata (8-8) and have a strong win over Neumann. They force bad match-ups and go up-tempo or slow down. They can go big or small on the court. Just seems John Baron has a squad that is only getting stronger.
22 – Cabrini (Unranked)
Yeah, I decided to double-dip in the CSAC. Cabrini has been playing weel for some time, though their loss to Neumann the night the poll is released is going to make this pick look … strange. It very well could be another team I remove from my ballot next week thanks to a Monday night loss (hey, teams… stop playing games on Monday nights when the poll is released! Thanks! LOL). Prior to the Neumann result, I liked how Cabirni was playing. The win over Eastern Connecticut (see below) was noteworthy and I wasn’t getting the Cavs in if I didn’t like Gwynedd Mercy as well (Cavs lost in OT to the Griffins). I am not reevaluating this one.
23 – Williams (Down 11)
This is part of the “NESCAC may be overrated” part. I want to repeat, I think the NESCAC is a very tough conference from top to bottom, I am just starting to think maybe the top isn’t as good as I thought it was. Doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the best conferences in the country, but Williams is the barometer for me. They still seem to now know how to replace Scadlock who they lost weeks ago to a season-ending injury. They played Middlebury tough and that’s why they are still on my ballot, but they have lost two of their last five including to Tufts (13-5) who hasn’t seemed like the Tufts of old this season. Easier opponents like Mass College, Yeshiva, Vassar, Westfield St, Fitchburg St., etc. can sometimes make things confusing. Gaudy record, but against who? The loss to Hamline (9-8) still bugs me. Time will tell if my thinking on the Ephs and the NESCAC bears out… or I am on a island on my own.
24 – Eastern Connecticut (Unranked)
I have voted for the Warriors off and on this season. Something about what they are putting together has caught my eye. Their losses are to WPI (10-7) and Cabrini. I felt I had to put the Cavs on my ballot to return EConn as well. Not sure how Cabrini’s loss this week will affect my thinking here. However, the Warriors also have wins over WPI (yeah, played twice; lost the second game), Montclair State, Amherst, and Keene State. Those are note-worthy in my book. At least I am not the only one.
25 – Lycoming (Unranked)
Hello Warriors. I am finally voting for you, but in a moment you readers are going to realize it might be by mistake. I have not been high on Lyco. Their opponents’ winning percentage continues to be pretty low (132-156 .458) and I peaked at Matt Snyder’s (@FFTMAG/KnightSlappy) NCAA SOS numbers out of curiousity and saw it was .506. That’s okay, but their non-conference SOS is .422. Not great. However, it came down to an adage many a coach has said to me on many an occasion: no matter the schedule, if a team keeps winning you should take note. Lycoming continues to win. They are now 6-1 versus teams with above .500 records – a significant change in a few weeks – and despite a loss to a pretty good Lebanon Valley team have at least won the games they should. Who else can you say that about? Not many.
UW-Oshkosh (Previously 5)
This was part of my effort to recalibrate the WIAC in my head. Yes, I understand UW-Stevens Point leads the conference by two (though, will play Oshkosh for the first time this week). However, I am not prepared to vote for UWSP as of yet on my ballot (I’ve talked about it on Hoopsville of late). As a result, maybe my thinking on the WIAC is … out of wack. Maybe it is a darn competitive and good conference, but the teams aren’t as good as I had been giving them credit. I readjusted this week and after going 0-2 with losses to Platteville and Eau Claire to go along with four losses in their last seven, I decided to drop Oshkosh from my ballot. Time will tell if I am overreacting or not.
UW-River Falls (Previously 8)
Another WIAC team I felt I needed to aggressively adjust. They, too, have lost to Stevens Point (just this past week) and now have lost three of six including to the previously named Oshkosh. If I was going to drop UWO, I had to drop UWRF. Not sure either team is playing their best right now, anyway.
John Carroll (Previously 14)
I am going to admit something maybe I shouldn’t: I screwed up. I had intended to leave John Carroll on my ballot, but they got lost in my efforts to look outside my radar for teams I may have been missing. I actually check-mark teams from my old ballot and on my info-sheet when I have slotted them on my ballot. Even taking the steps to go back and erase check-marks when I start to make changes. JCU’s initial check-mark was erased. Then as I got caught up in my research and efforts to fill slots, I never confirmed what I had done with the Blue Streaks. That all said, they were in this position on my ballot of being left off because I am not as confident as others with JCU. They can score, seemingly, at will and I have had several coaches tell me why they like them – especially their former DII point guard. However, I have stated (as you saw in the Top 25 Double-take) that their defense concerns me. I know they play 94-feet and in a team’s face, but they also still give up points when they need to get stops. The loss to Baldwin Wallace honestly told me more about BWU than it did about JCU, but it didn’t help JCU’s cause – who have they really beaten? Marietta? Ohio Northern? Their resume is harder to defend.
Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 19)
I can’t believe that just a few weeks after seeing the Battling Bishops in Las Vegas, I would be removing them from my Top 25 ballot. However, OWU has not been playing at the same caliber I saw at the D3hoops.com Classic. Not sure if the “fame” of dismantling Ramapo and nearly knocking of No. 1 Whitman got to their heads or not, but they seemed to have gotten stuck in gear. Three losses in four game and four in six (before beating DePauw) are eye-opening. Yes, One of those four-out-of-six losses is to Whitman, but of the three out of four, one is to Hiram and another to Wooster. I can forgive the Wittenberg loss, except it was by 21! If OWU was as good as I saw in Vegas, they maybe only loss to Wittenberg since I saw them. The Bishops are simply not playing well together and are in jeopardy of quickly realizing they have to win the conference AQ or they won’t even see the NCAA tournament. Say what?!
Nichols (Previously 23)
No. The Bison did not lose this past week. They have not lost since Jan. 6 to Western New England in overtime. However, they too are not playing the same they were earlier in the season. What once was a dominating squad (including a 19 point win over Wesleyan) has turned into a squad who is barely getting past Eastern Nazarene and Roger Williams. If Nichols is as good as I thought, those games aren’t close. They got their point guard, DeAnte Burton, back from injury, but that hasn’t seemed to make them better. They have now, since I voted, lost to Univ. of New England making my decision better understood.
In the future, I do hope to talk to more coaches I know have a good sense of what they are seeing not only on the court in front of them, but even on web streams around the country. I realize I shook up my ballot quite a bit this week and even took some turns not many others are taking. Maybe it will open eyes to other
great pretty good teams in the country or maybe I will be proven to have lost my mind this week. However, just realize that these decisions aren’t made on a whim. I make them after following what my research says and what those I trust say. I may like a team and want to vote for them, even after seeing them in person or having them on Hoopsville, but that doesn’t always mean when I do my research it adds up.