Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’18-’19): Week 6

Welcome to another installment of showing my D3hoops.com men’s Top 25 ballot. I’ve already failed this new year not getting a blog out last week. I’m trying to do better. 🙂

Before the holidays, I showed how I voted each week so far this season. If you haven’t seen that, click here.

Since I missed last week’s blog, here is how I voted in the first poll after the holidays (Week 5).

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan
2 – Augustana
3 – Whitworth
4 – UW-Oshkosh
5 – Whitman
6 – Williams
7 – Hamilton
8 – MIT
9 – UW-Stevens Point
10 – Marietta
11 – St. John’s
12 – Wittenberg
13 – Randolph-Macon
14 – Loras
15 – Rochester
16 – Plattsburgh
17 – St. Thomas
18 – Wabash
19 – Wheaton (Ill.)
20 – Johns Hopkins
21 – Lynchburg
22 – Salisbury
23 – Scranton
24 – Gordon
25 – Nichols

Remember, this was last week’s ballot (Week 5). How I saw things following the holiday season.

Now with that out of the way, let’s chat about this week. We just got done with a heck of a week of basketball. Some tremendous match-ups from Whitman at Whitworth to Top 25 battles in the WIAC, OAC, and elsewhere. There were even non-Top 25 match-ups in conference play worth tuning into. It felt like on any night there was several games worth watching.

It was fun.

And with parity, I knew there would be outcomes we either didn’t expect or games that would be closer than one would figure. Carthage nearly beat Augustana was one game that jumped out at me. As good as Augustana has proven to be, Carthage had them on the ropes. The rest of the games showed up in the number of Top 25 teams that lost – twelve loses on my ballot out of ten teams and teams seven through ten taking a bump in the night.

But I actually loved it. Well … to a certain point. I feel like I’m back at fishing for teams to fill out my ballot. There are so many teams I think are Top 25 worthy, but when push comes to shove and I have to fill out the ballot there aren’t any easy choices. Too many times I want to chose Team A, but that provides Team B and C an argument to be on the ballot, which then reveals in their resumes that maybe I should consider Team D. However, if I consider (or even insert) that team – or any of the rest – then Teams E & F have valid arguments. It seems to never end. There are no obvious choices. Every team has flaws. Every resume has holes.

Of course, that means we are going to have a thrilling rest of the season and an outstanding March.

Ok … enough of me waxing poetic? Yeah, not so poetic … you want to know my ballot and thoughts, so let’s get to business. Here is my Week 6 D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot:

Zach Hiller is one of five NWU players whose scoring average is in double-figures.

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NC)
There has been little to no reason to consider moving the Prairie Wolves off the top spot. All 25 voters have them number one and there I can’t see why we would move off that choice. Their depth, abilities, and coaching are outstanding. That said, they are a bit hobbled right now which could make them susceptible. They also worry me with their habit of playing to the level of their opponents. They end up winning games big a lot of the time, but some games are closer for all 40 minutes, or are closer than they should be in general, and that worries me.

2 – Augustana (NC)
While Carthage certainly gave the Vikings a moment, it shouldn’t surprise. Augustana will be challenged in the CCIW. They are still a darn good basketball team with plenty of options offensively and a very good defense. I grow more impressed each time I watch the team.

3 – Whitman (Up 2)
The win over Whitworth (and surviving the rest of their schedule last week) was enough for me to move the Blues back up. They still worry me with the same habit of playing to their opponent’s level to some degree. They also allow teams back into games – Whitworth last week after Whitman lead by about 13 late in the game; 1st half against Linfield when it seemed the Blues would blow the Wildcats out of the building. However, they also have plenty of offensive options and are one of the most aggressive defensive teams in the country – and depth is helpful.

Kyle Roach can be a single-man wrecking machine for Whitworth, but he’s also got a lot of teammates who can hit big shots when called upon.

4 – Whitworth (Down 1)
The Pirates have impressed. Seeing them in Las Vegas was beyond helpful. Seeing their size and speed in person helped translate what I had been seeing on only video. No team is perfect, including Whitworth. I’d love to see them utilize Ben Bishop more, Kyle Roach can sometimes lose focus (which has many different results), and their lack of depth can be a concern. They have seemed gassed in the second half of games and they, sometimes, don’t adjust well to officiating and that means the deep bench is put in at times the coaching staff probably rather not. However, they also proved against Whitman how they can also overcome nearly all of those and still win – or come close in that case. This may be the best Whitworth team I’ve actually ever seen.

5 – UW-Oshkosh (Down 1)
The Titans only moved down a slot because I needed to move Whitman up. UWO has proven that despite a major coaching change in the off-season they are still a very difficult team to face. The challenge is going to be the rest of the WIAC. Getting past UW-Stevens Point the first time around was a good start, but the conference slate is going to be brutal. As long as the Titans can take the lumps and not get too beat up, they will make the run to Fort Wayne rather interesting.

6 – Williams (NC)
The Ephs are off to the best start in program history and that should worry people. They broke the record of 14-straight wins to start which was set in 2002-2003 – when they went on to win a national championship. What is interesting is they start one of the larger five – three forwards, a center, and a guard. It isn’t typical and gives them plenty of advantages. Of course, like most teams, focusing and playing full 40 minutes against every opponent is key, but Williams has shown with two wins over Wesleyan and a successful trip to Maine already they are in a very good place.

David Stokman helps the Johnnies tick. He finds a way to get the job done or find the right guy at the right moment. (Courtesy: SJU Athletics)

7 – St. John’s (Up 4)
I made a significant move up with the Johnnies for several reasons. First, I do think St. John’s is a good basketball team. They have shown that so far this season. The other, so many teams who were ahead of them stumbled this past week and I don’t think are playing as well as SJU right now. The interesting thing about the Johnnies is how I think they are actually flying a bit under the radar. They just may not convince people how good they are until much later in the season.

8 – UW-Stevens Point (Up 1)
Yes, the Pointers lost this past week, but to a team ahead of them in the polls and it doesn’t take away from the fact that UWSP is a good team. One of the trademarks of Bob Semling teams is solid defense. When Semling has a chance to coach a core group for a long time, like four-year seniors, the defense is always ridiculously good. Last time we saw this kind of scenario: 2014-15 and a National Championship. Like for UWO, UWSP has to get through the conference grind.

9 – Hamilton (Down 2)
I wanted to move the Continentals down a little more, but there was only so far I could move them down off a single loss to Wesleyan. The concern is how much Hamilton tends to throw the ball away. Ryan Scott is the first who made me aware of the turnover problems and it causes many games to be far closer than they should be. It also allows opponents like Wesleyan to take full advantage. Hold on to the ball, Hamilton!

UST has returned to Dave’s Top 10 – unexpectedly. Just how good are the Tommies?

10 – St. Thomas (Up 7)
I didn’t think I would have any reason to be voting for the Tommies this season, nor did I expect to jump them into my Top Ten. The scary thing is UST has quietly returned to the fray and every time I look they have surprised me again. Their only flaw is the first game of the season. They have dominated some good teams including UWSP (I may have to move UST above UWSP at some point, FYI). Their battle with Augsburg was one of those classic in-conference games, but may have also shown some flaws with the Tommies. As more attention is given to their program, the question becomes: can they live up to the pressure?

11 – Wabash (Up 7)
Much like St. Thomas, the Little Giants have been impressing at every turn. They have taken on every team in their conference, including Wittenberg, and come away with wins. Their loss to Wilmington is the only question mark I have on their schedule. Can they continue this run? It has been awhile since they were in the national spotlight … and from when the entire conference was gunning for them. As they turn into the second round of conference games, I will be intrigued in how they stand up.

12 – Randolph-Macon (Up 1)
The Yellow Jackets intrigue me. They have some losses that maybe should be expected (parity means losses, right?), but they also have wins that make you turn your head. I am not sure as of yet what they are doing so well or what causes them to derail (like against CNU and Guilford). They are about as high as I feel comfortable voting for them – maybe a little too high – but they do deserve to be here.

13 – Capital (NR)
Well hello Crusaders! Wow! I decided to insert them all the way up in 13th on the poll, after not voting for them at all previously, because I felt that I both waited too long to start voting for them and they made a statement this past week. 12-game winning streak with the last three games being wins over Mount Union (home), Marietta (away), and John Carroll (home). The win at Marietta jumped out the most, but to beat two teams at the top of the conference and another who is known for being difficult to play was impressive to me. I did wait to vote on them last week because of this schedule, but I also feel I should have voted for them sooner none-the-less.

14 – Marietta (Down 4)
The Pioneers drop was multi-faceted. The first reason is because they obviously lost to Capital and they had lost two of their last five. I have mentioned previously that in other seasons Marietta seems to have these moments … where they take a few losses and seem to not live up to the hype or ranking. Ryan on Sunday’s Hoopsville put it in a way I think is better to say: The Pioneers sometimes don’t live up to the expectations others (we) set. That is probably a far fairer way of saying it. Per that, I felt I needed to lower the expectations that I have. To not get over-hyped. They are good, but that doesn’t mean the bar gets placed higher and I get disappointed when suddenly they take a loss that doesn’t meet that bar. That’s not their fault. That also doesn’t mean they still aren’t a good team. They seem to have some pieces in place that makes them better than in years past – if that is possible.

Cam Wiley has grabbed plenty of attention over the years for Swarthmore, but this year’s team has a lot of other parts you should be watching. (Courtesy: Swarthmore Athletics)

15 – Swarthmore (NR)
I made a mistake thinking I had voted for the Garnet last week. They certainly were on my list of teams to consider, but I forgot I didn’t put them on my ballot. That was also a mistake. I most likely have been putting too much stock in back-to-back, buzzer-beater, losses in conference earlier in the season. Seeing Swarthmore in person against McDaniel last week impressed me. I realize they may have had the perfect game, but there is more there. They are deeper team than I’ve seen before, their size and skill inside is tough to handle (rebounding and block numbers are insane), their offensive game-plan (especially the inside, outside game) is tough to stay with, and players like Cam Wiley have seemingly settled into roles that actually make them more dangerous. What is the most impressive is the defense. Opponents can’t get good looks inside, they close out on outside shooting very quickly, and they throw curve balls constantly. Their defensive numbers are crazy good, though their steal numbers are shockingly low considering. Swarthmore is better than last year.

16 – Loras (Down 2)
Moving the Duhawks down two spots is simply repositioning them while also moving other teams into the poll. Loras is good, though they are showing some inconsistencies. Losing to Nebraska Wesleyan is the least shocking result to see. Their close game to Coe is a little more interesting. That said, the IIAC, eh, ARC is far more competitive than people may realize. I like the game Loras puts together. They also have very good results including a narrow win to Augustana – that game still impresses me.

17 – MIT (Down 10)
This might surprise people on a team that only lost their second game of the season last week. However, the Engineers are dealing with key injuries. One expected starter hasn’t played the entire season. Another key player has been injured lately and it’s unclear how long he may be out (from what I’ve learned). And a third injury forces the team to go deeper on the roster. That said, they also seem to be a darn good team. The loss to Emerson is odd because I would have thought it would lead to a loss to Wheaton (Mass.), but it didn’t. Larry Anderson is a good coach. I am watching to see how they continue to react to the latest set-back.

18 – Plattsburgh State (Down 2)
The Cardinals moved down, much like Loras, because I was readjusting teams this poll. I can’t put a finger on who Plattsburgh is this season. We all know how good Jonathan Patron is, but I can’t get the memory of how they left the NCAA tournament last season. I am not grading them on that result, but I am trying to figure out just how good Plattsburgh is this season considering there isn’t much to base anything on. Their schedule isn’t one that stands out. The win over Middlebury was good; the loss to Brockport (10-4) is hard to read into right now. I am actually all over the place with Plattsburgh, so I am comfortable with the Cardinals being in a 15-20 slot.

“As goes Francis, so goes Wheaton,” says Dave.

19 – Wheaton (Ill.) (NC)
As goes Francis, so goes the Thunder. That may not be completely fair, but it is pretty close to accurate. Aston Francis has had one of the more amazing seasons, so far, that not many in recent history have had. Incredible, buzzer-beating, game-winning shots, awe-inspiring offensive games, and he is averaging more than 30 points a game! However, no one else is in double-figures offensively. He also leads the team in rebounding as a 6-1 guard. That’s pretty impressive, but I think it also would be concerning. Francis needs a second option that is going to hurt opponents. Until that really develops and is consistent: As goes Francis, so goes the Thunder.

20 – Lynchburg (Up 1)
I’ll admit, I don’t know what to make of the Hornets. Their lone loss is to Guilford (what is with the Quakers?!) and they have win over Emory & Henry, but they haven’t played RMC or Roanoke in conference play as of yet. They also have close results against opponents that seem they should have had easier times with (darn paper match ups!). I just can’t figure out if the 15-1 record is for real and I am completely low-balling Lynchburg or if it really is smoke and mirrors. Help!

21 – Rochester (Down 6)
It was a rough weekend for the Yellowjackets in their trip to Chicago and St. Louis. Losing both games caused me to seriously consider removing Rochester from my ballot. That said, I also appreciated that Rochester has had a pretty good season so far. They seem to be one of the more intellectual teams in the Top 25 – that being they sometimes accomplish things because they figure it out on the court, not in a timeout or at practice. They adjust in the moment. It didn’t work out on a rough trip to the Midwest, but that doesn’t discount they may be the best team in the UAA – though, Chicago has made a serious claim for that as well.

Garrisson Duvivier is averaging a double-double (17.2 ppg, 13.0 rpg) to help lead Gordon this season. (Courtesy: Gordon Athletics)

22 – Gordon (Up 2)
The Fighting Scots have impressed. They have rolled through a lot of teams this season including Nichols and Endicott recently. However, a lot of their results are maybe too close and that could bite them. They also don’t have an overwhelming resume which certainly makes me wonder if I am buying stock a little too soon.

23 – Nichols (Up 2)
The CCC having two teams on the ballot is pretty good for the conference, but much like Gordon the Bison have an interesting resume. They got into the headlines for the wrong reasons at the start of the season, but they also have dominated opponents including Trinity and Wesleyan! However, the loss to Salisbury was somewhat surprising and then Gordon nipped them. Honestly, I’m not that sure Nichols isn’t the better team in the CCC despite a Gordon victory and that only one of them should be ranked … but these two have to show me more before I pull that rip cord.

24 – North Central (Ill.) (NR)
Watching the Cardinals in Las Vegas was interesting. I was both impressed and left scratching my head. They dominated an over-matched Husson squad, but then stumbled against a less than stellar Ohio Northern team. They also were seemingly over-matched against Augustana, but they have beaten Illinois Wesleyan, Wheaton (in an emotional game), and others. They also have some darn good talent and seemingly have adapted to well to the loss of Aiden Chang for the season. There is something about NCC …

25 – Wesleyan (NR)
You can’t escape seeing the Cardinals involved in important results every week. They lost games earlier in the season to Nichols and Wesleyan and those results weren’t close, but important none the less. But more recently, they have wins over Plattsburgh State, Middlebury, Hamilton, and Amherst – all in the last six games. A lone loss to Williams in the middle of that stretch. Of their four losses, three of them came in a four-game stretch that encompassed less than two weeks.

Dropped Out:

Wittenberg fell out of Dave’s ballot after a rough stretch the last two weeks.

Wittenberg (Previously No. 12)
Losing three of the last four, I just couldn’t justify holding on to Wittenberg. I, arguably, had them too high to begin with. I have had this mentality that they were a better team and positioned to do great things this season. I don’t know where I had that thinking as I can’t find my notes on it (for some odd reason). They are 11-4 and probably still a good team, but … three losses in four while playing the both the top and bottom of the conference.

Johns Hopkins (Previously No. 20)
I really like the Blue Jays. If I had gotten my blog out last week, you would have read about how impressed I was in Las Vegas (though, you could have heard that on thought on Hoopsville as well). Despite losing two games, I thought they were the best two-loss team we had ever had at the D3hoops.com Classic. They had lost Connor Delaney, but they didn’t seem to show that in Vegas. However, they followed that up with some time off and then a loss to Muhlenberg. I realize the Mules are tough, but it was a home game and that shouldn’t have happened. JHU, though, is on the short list to get back on my ballot. I really like the pieces they have in place under Josh Loeffler.

Salisbury (Previously #22)
I wasn’t all that confident voting for the Sea Gulls last week. They ended up being the last team I wrote down. I should have gone with Swarthmore, but after going around and around with it, I went with “one loss to Rowan” over Swarthmore’s double-buzzer-beater results. Probably not a smart choice. Salisbury is having a great season, but I just can’t really buy in. They followed a loss to Mary Washington (who had just lost to Frostburg) with a barely-go-by win at Southern Virginia. I know those are back-to-back tough road trips, but I just can’t buy in.

Scranton (Previously #23)
The Royals were the last undefeated men’s and women’s combo in Division III. Impressive. Also, any time I talked to a coach who had played them or seen them, the quotes were usually “really good” or “impressive.” However, this past week some of those same coaches changed their tune. Seems some injuries have gotten to Scranton and back-to-back losses to Elizabethtown and Moravian weren’t pretty. From all reports, this Scranton team is legit. I am going to dive in deeper soon enough, but I just didn’t feel they were playing their best basketball since the holiday break.

There are a lot of teams I am considering each week. I am also considering a lot of “new” teams which is fun. The last ten slots are always full of question marks, though one could argue the entire Top 25 is full of those as well. There are some teams that feel too high, but those slots have to be filled. I am sure I am missing others, though I do my best to check every conference for an outlier who should be considered. I may be putting too much stock in teams many feel aren’t that good. I am sure I am not putting enough stock in teams others think are stellar. That’s the great thing about this … so many different opinions.

I’m just one vote of a total of 25. For much of this season (and recent seasons), I haven’t seemed to be on the same page for half my ballot. This week, I saw teams I jumped significantly also jump in the polls. Seems maybe I am more in tune with the rest of the voters than I have been prior. It also just could be dumb luck.

There are teams even as I look at my ballot even now I question why I voted for them when there are others sitting on the outside.

Parity has produced not a lot of great teams, but a lot of good teams. Trying to figure out what good teams are Top 25 teams is the most challenging part.

Until next week … enjoy the games! And don’t forget, Hoopsville is on the air Sunday and Thursday nights starting at 7:00 p.m. ET – with Sunday’s show featuring the “Top 25 Double-Take” with Ryan Scott. We will either give you our Dubious, Dark Horse, or Debatable selections each week. Or we will “Buy or Sell” on squads both in and out of the Top 25. For more information on the show, go to www.d3hoopsville.com or follow us on Twitter (@d3hoopsville and #Hoopsville) or on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Hoopsville).

Edit: Earlier version erroneously indicated Williams had beaten Hamilton twice this season. That was supposed to be Wesleyan. It was also indicated Loras narrowly lost to Augustana. That was meant to say “beat.” We also indicated Plattsburgh beat Brockport – NOPE! We know they lost to Brockport, but apparently we shouldn’t be writing this thing late at night. Note taken. Those have been corrected. We apologize for the mistakes.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’18-’19): Week 4

Nate Schimonitz and NWU have been the one constant on Dave’s Top 25 ballots so far this season – #1.

It has been an interesting opening six weeks to the 2018-19 season. Almost every men’s team looks beatable while also showing how good they can and could be. There really isn’t a team I think is dominant. They are all vulnerable. Yes, all of them including Nebraska Wesleyan.

Most know that I blog out every (most) of my ballots every season. So far this season it has been a challenge. Too many, understandable and enjoyable, reasons have kept that from happening since the Preseason ballot(s) (Parts 1, 2, & 3).

Last week, I tweeted that I would make that up to everyone this week. I would at least show everyone how I voted each week and give my thoughts on the season so far.

So how have I voted so far this season? Here are each of my ballots from Preseason to this week’s poll.

Preseason Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
1. Neb. Wesleyan Neb. Wesleyan Neb. Wesleyan Neb. Wesleyan Neb. Wesleyan
2. Whitman Whitworth Whitworth Augustana Augustana
3. Whitworth Augustana Augustana Whitworth Whitworth
4. Augustana UW-Oshkosh UW-Oshkosh UW-Oshkosh UW-Oshkosh
5. UW-Oshkosh Whitman Whitman Whitman Whitman
6. Wittenberg Wittenberg Williams Williams Williams
7. MIT Williams Hamilton Hamilton Hamilton
8. Williams Hamilton Ill. Wesleyan UW-Stevens Point Marietta
9. Springfield UW-Stevens Point UW-Stevens Point Ill. Wesleyan MIT
10. Hamilton Ill. Wesleyan Wittenberg Marietta UW-Stevens Point
11. UW-Stevens Point MIT MIT MIT Wittenberg
12. New Jersey City Wheaton (Ill.) Plattsburgh St. Wittenberg St. John’s
13. Maryville Loras Randolph-Macon St. John’s Loras
14. St. John’s New Jersey City Marietta Wheaton (Ill.) Randolph-Macon
15. UW-Platteville Plattsburgh St. St. John’s Randolph-Macon Wheaton (Ill.)
16. Ill. Wesleyan St. John’s Loras Plattsburgh St. Plattsburgh St.
17. Johns Hopkins Randolph-Macon Rochester Loras Nichols
18. Plattsburgh St. Swarthmore New Jersey City Rochester Rochester
19. St. Olaf Middlebury Nichols Nichols Johns Hopkins
20. Swarthmore John Carroll John Carroll Johns Hopkins Wabash
21. Hope Springfield Johns Hopkins Wabash St. Thomas
22. John Carroll Nazareth Wheaton (Ill.) Scranton Scranton
23. Middlebury Emory & Henry Middlebury Middlebury Middlebury
24. Roanoke Johns Hopkins Montclair St. Montclair St. Montclair St.
25. Nazareth Hope Hope New Jersey City New Jersey City
Out: Maryville (13th)
UW-Platteville (15th)
St. Olaf (19th)
Roanoke (24th)
Swarthmore (18th)
Springfield (21st)
Nazareth (22nd)
Emory & Henry (23rd)
John Carroll (20th)
Hope (25th)
Ill. Wesleyan (9th)

There are a lot of places I could go from here. Explaining all the teams I moved up or down (or out), why I did or didn’t move teams, or why I am or am not voting for teams is one idea – but it would be a lengthy read. That usually works on a week-by-week basis and we can get back to that for the first poll after the holidays (scheduled for Jan. 7).

Nolan Ebel and Augustana are in Dave’s top tier of DIII men’s teams, but the CCIW race will be a definite challenge.

Instead, just a few thoughts … starting with that word we’ve used a lot: parity. Maybe we need to find another way to describe what is going on, but what is clear is there are two basic tiers when it comes to the top teams nationally. There is the top tier which is deeper than in many years and there are no dominating teams in the group. It consists of about fifteen teams and they are very good. They all are favorites to get to Ft. Wayne and win a national championship.

The second tier is pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. They are capable of knocking off those in the top tier, but they are also likely to make you scratch your head with a puzzling loss to a program one wouldn’t consider being in either tier. Consistency is the challenge in the second tier and in an era where no teams seem scared of others, crazy wins and losses run amock at this level.

This all adds up to some fun games on any given night. It also means you can’t take a night off in DIII basketball without something happening.

For voters, it makes for some interesting decisions and choices every voting week. I’ve actually enjoyed it somewhat in the opening six weeks. I’m digging a little deeper than I expected to see if there are teams who are maybe a bit under the radar – because with so many teams on voters’ radars, programs can easily be under the radar for awhile.

Maryville has not had the start to Randy Lambert’s final season as coach as Dave expected.

For some specifics, I do have to admit it looks like I had some misses in my preseason ballot. Maryville (4-4) and St. Olaf (5-4) had rough starts. The Scots lost their first three (they don’t like teams that start with “E”), though they have won three straight to get back to .500. The Oles had a brutal start to the season with four losses to UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stevens Point, Whitworth, & George Fox to start. Now, since then they have won five straight, but they whole has already been dug.

New Jersey City has also struggled out of the gates with three losses. I still have them on my ballot, but I’m concerned NJCU is taking too long to find themselves and consistency is a problem. Having them 12th on my preseason is looking a bit ambitious.

And before I sign off, let’s be clear on something – I do NOT expect anyone to be undefeated this season. Nebraska Wesleyan is my top pick, but they will lose this season. The American Rivers Conference (formerly Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) is far deeper and Loras and others have already shown they are playing well this season. NWU has also seemed to have a penance for playing “down” (or “up”) to their opponents and that can get them in trouble as well.

Look for a weekly blog on my thoughts starting with the first D3hoops.com Top 25 poll in January. In the meantime, have a safe, merry, and hopefully relaxing holiday season.

Oh and be sure to tune into Hoopsville Sundays and Thursdays throughout the basketball season.

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

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

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

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

It is just part of the process.

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

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

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

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

Here is the rest of the ballot:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is my Top 25.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy, everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple of notes before we get started:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 5

A reminder that this blog was written based on games played through January 1, 2018 and thoughts on teams through that point in the schedule. For the sake of saving time, there are no comments this week about individual teams in the ballot part of the blog.

If you thought Santa wouldn’t deliver in the past few weeks to the D3hoops.com Top 25, you and I have a different image of Santa. You can look at it several ways, but I prefer to think Santa wanted to give all Division III fans, especially of men’s basketball, the gift that any team has a chance this season. Thus, he seemed to hand out losses to lots of teams during the holidays. Yes, it could be construed by the other voice in my head (and maybe your’s) that Santa just wanted to give us chaos. However, to try and keep myself sane… I’m going with the first option.

In the span of 24 or 48 hours, while I lived in the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Top 25 teams fell left and right – even in front of us at the 8th Annual D3hoops.com Classic. It was almost as comical as Ohio Wesleyan’s three-point shooting for three-quarters of two games (or Nate Axelrod’s and Tim Howell’s individual efforts). It even bled over to the women’s side of things where the number one team in the country, Tufts, was defeated by an unranked opponent.

Happy Holidays to all!

Here’s a loss, there’s a loss, and another loss.

Or maybe it was: you get a big win, you get a big win, you get a big win.

Of course, the other thought on my mind: what kind of ballot am I going to come home to on January 1? I thought about looking at things on the cross-country flight home Sunday, but decided I wanted to relax and enjoy the flight … not continually order drinks to try and subdue the carnage I was wading through.

The craziest thing of all… I decided on some teams on my ballot wouldn’t move despite outcomes, other teams would make significant moves up or down no matter their outcomes, and I would continue to leave teams which at quick-glance had impressive resumes off my ballot … for now.

An example of the first part would be much of my ballot this week. A number of teams especially in the top five didn’t move even though they lost a game. Middlebury lost to York (Pa.), UW-Oshkosh lost, Wash U lost to Augustana, etc. I considered moving them. But where to? Who deserved to move ahead of those teams or others? If I move a team down, I have to replace them. I cannot leave the spot blank (despite repeated requests to be allowed to do so that continually denied).

I also moved teams up and down even though their results were the opposite. I leap-frogged Ohio Wesleyan up four spots despite losing to Whitman. Had they one, I would have considered moving them to two or three – I would have had a reason to drop Middlebury and others for losing. However, they didn’t shoot as well in the second half against Whitman, but that also didn’t make me think they deserved to move down. I have stated repeatedly that if a team ranked below another team on my ballot losses to that higher-ranked team, why would I move them down?  I moved New Jersey City up despite a loss not necessarily because they proved to be better, but because other teams proved to not be as good.

That gets me to teams I moved down. I was asked during the broadcast of Ramapo’s loss to Augsburg if I felt the Roadrunners would drop out of the Top 25 with two losses in Vegas. I didn’t see the question at the time, but made a comment later along the lines that I didn’t think so based simply on the fact that there were already a number of losses in the Top 25. Ramapo’s losses against an all-winning Top 25 might look harsher than one where nearly everyone lost. I did drop Ramapo eight spots because I wasn’t as impressed with Ramapo as I was last season when I was blown away by them in Vegas. The Roadrunners blew a nearly 20-point lead against Central in a game that I pretty much predicted they were about to be in real trouble (when leading by 18 and starting to look too relaxed). They don’t seem to play a full 40-minutes especially against teams that are not as good. They get too distracted and suddenly their lead is gone and they are fighting to get back in the game. Maybe that is why they have struggled to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for … ever. They are very talented. They are very dangerous. But they are their own worst enemy. That all said, I still think they are a Top 25 team and there was plenty of other results to keep them from plummeting too far.

Same goes with other squads. St. Norbert, John Carroll, Skidmore. All with resumes over the holidays that concerned me. St. Norbert once again not taking advantage of a non-conference opportunity to prove they are more than just a MWC dominating program. John Carroll likes to score a lot of points, but they are giving every one of their opponents a chance for the win by not tightening up the defense a bit… and losing to a sub-par Hope squad. And Skidmore that book-ended their holidays with losses to highly-ranked Middlebury and playing-below-expectations Guilford. All three might have dropped out of my poll if there hadn’t been a ton of losses to go with it.

There was also a number of teams I still am not voting for despite gaudy records at nearly the mid-point of the season. Lycoming (13-0) who is undefeated, but has an opponent win-loss percentage of .403, has only played three teams above .500, and played nine of their games at home. Franklin & Marshall (10-1) whose opponent’s mark is .454 (not too low), but also has only played three teams above .500 and lost one of them. Juniata (11-0) whose opponents combine to be 36-73 (.33) and have only played two teams above .500. Nebraska Wesleyan (11-0) who, like Juniata, has an opponent’s win-loss mark at .339 and has only played two teams above .500. Swarthmore (9-1) who at least has a .467 opponent win-loss percentage, but hasn’t really blown me away (Ryan Scott keeps telling me I am missing something; I very well may be and will watch them carefully in the next week or so). Whitworth (10-1) whose opponents win/loss mark is improved (.458), but also dropped a game to Wheaton during the break.

And there are certainly others.

With all of them I faced the very same challenge. Resumes that when you dove into them didn’t really look as good as their records made you think and no results that blew me away. I want to see more. I want to see what conference play brings us. There are plenty of chances in the next week or two to see results that can easily change my mind.

Those teams plus others were also part of a group that if included meant I needed to find room on my ballot. I dropped three teams this week for three new ones. There are six mentioned above. There are at least a handful more. I wasn’t confident in where I could find two more teams I was confident didn’t below on my Top 25 let alone six, eight or more.

There easily could be 40 or more teams that deserve to be in the Top 25. The voters clearly think so. Look at how many teams are being voted for and highly. Lycoming is sixth in the poll… and not getting a single point from me. I might also be looking the wrong way with some teams and will admit it when I become aware of it.

For now… the 25 teams I think are the best in the country don’t include a number of teams I mentioned and didn’t note.

Traditionally, I would now give you my Top 25 ballot for this week and leave a snipet per most teams. I am not going to do that this week because I need to post this and because I could argue myself for and against every team I list and their position. It would get too long. Instead, I am going to give you the Top 25 ballot and leave it at that. Not sure this will be the new norm for this blog (as many have said they like the thoughts on each team), however I think it is best for this week’s.

Here is my ballot for the D3hoops.com Top 25 for Week 5:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
3 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
4 – UW-Oshkosh (Unchanged)
5 – Wash U (Unchanged)
6 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 4)
7 – UW-River Falls (Up 1)
8 – St. John’s (Up 1)
9 – Williams (Down 2)
10 – New Jersey City (Up 1)
11 – Wesleyan (Up 1)
12 – MIT (Up 1)
13 – Wartburg (Up 2)
14 – Ramapo (Down 8)
15 – UW-Whitewater (Up 6)
16 – Nichols (Down 1)
17 – York (Pa.) (Up 6)
18 – Rochester (Down 1)
19 – Wittenberg (Unranked)
20 – Baldwin Wallace (Up 5)
21 – St. Norbert (Down 4)
22 – John Carroll (Down 4)
23 – Skidmore (Down 7)
24 – Albright (Unranked)
25 – Hamilton (Unranked)

Dropped Out:

Marietta (Previously 20)
Hanover (Previously 22)
Eastern Connecticut (Previously 24)

Previous Ballots:
Week 4
Week 3 (Not posted due to a busy Stagg Bowl Week)
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason