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

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 4

Let me start with an apology. I wanted to post my Week 3 D3hoops.com Top 25 blog, but simply didn’t have time. Stagg Bowl Week takes up a lot of time including being on the road from Tuesday until Saturday (in beautiful, but suddenly always windy Roanoke Valley). I do thank those of you who spotted our Twitter poll (below) asking about these blogs. Not a lot of people, but quite a few said they liked the blog, so we are continuing.

So to start things off, here is my Week 3 ballot along with a notation of where teams moved, if necessary:

Those in Whitman’s huddle haven’t been who we expected this season, but the Blues continue to be Dave’s top squad on his ballot.

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
3 – Middlebury (Up 1)
4 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 2)
5 – Williams (Down 2)
6 – Ramapo (Up 1)
7 – UW-Rivers Falls (Up 3)
8 – WashU (Up 3)
9 – St. John’s (Up 3)
10 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 3)
11 – Rochester (Up 4)
12 – New Jersey City (Up 4)
13 – Wesleyan (Up 4)
14 – MIT (Up 6)
15 – Skidmore (Down 1)
16 – Wartburg (Up 8)
17 – Marietta (Down 12)
18 – UW-Whitewater (Down 10)
19 – Hanover (Down 10)
20 – Lake Forest (Up 2)
21 – Nichols (Up 4)
22 – St. Norbert (Unranked)
23 – Salem State (Unranked)
24 – Eastern Conn. (Down 3)
25 – Baldwin Wallace (Down 7)

Dropped out:
– North Central (Previously 19)
– Bowdoin (Previously 23rd)

So that is where things started for this week. Not a lot of games to judge on this week thanks to mainly finals, but still a lot of match-ups that allowed for plenty of information for voters. It didn’t result in a lot of movement for a lot of my ballot, but it did make for the last five to ten slots to be very challenging. I ended up with far too many teams for those last ten or so spots. I was caught between being drastic and cutting a lot of teams just to make room – no other reasons – or to get creative. I may not have been as creative as I could be, but I did try and find interesting ways to solve the challenge(s).

Definitely going to start using the famed “pink eraser” from now on. Going through too many top-of-the-pencil erasers!

I also just shook my head and cleaned up the eraser shavings from the multitude of times I changed my mind or didn’t like how I had worked things out. Thank goodness I am at least smart enough to do these in pencil.

I thought by this point in the season there would be enough information to start feeling secure about who I was voting for and why, but I could make an argument against every single team on my ballot and where I have them positioned. From 1 to 25 and beyond. There are arguments that could be made for those not on my ballot for why they should be. It is maddening sometimes.

There are a lot of good teams in Division III men’s basketball. I just don’t think there are a lot, if any, great teams. Everyone has flaws. All teams are susceptible. No team is going to get to the end undefeated, unblemished. That makes for great nights of basketball and incredible match-ups even from games you don’t expect, but it doesn’t make for an easy time on Sunday nights and Mondays putting a Top 25 ballot together.

I did notice one thing… if you want to win in Division III basketball, you might need a W in your name. Counting UW schools as “Wisconsin-so-and-so” and teams with Ws leading any part of a multiple-name school, I have 10 “W” teams (eight if you don’t count the multiple-name schools). I remember one year have five schools in a row on my ballot that all started with “W.” It just felt weird. Like I had done something wrong. However, like possibly needing purple in your school color to win a national championship, maybe you actually need a W to be one of the best at getting Ws.

Okay, I digress.

Here is my Week 4 D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
Admittedly, the Blues have me a little nervous. That said, I have stated as recently as the last episode of Hoopsville that I don’t expect anyone to go undefeated this season. This includes Whitman who is playing without two of last year’s starters (who may be out for the reason; we will learn more soon I am sure), but also has a terrific team attitude that starts on the defensive end. They survived against Occidental, but losing that or another game before the (re)start of the conference schedule would not surprise me.

Augustana remains high on Dave’s ballot despite the challenges. All teams are facing challenges this season.

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
Not sure what I think of the Vikings. They don’t blow me away, but they also continue to get the job done. Again, a loss of Wofford I think is going to be a factor and one they can overcome. CCIW play will not be easy, so I doubt they can survive without one or two more losses.

3 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
When teams are idle for a long time, it gets hard not to move them around. I think the Panthers are a very good squad, but not playing for three weeks concerns me for early January.

4 – UW-Oshkosh (Unchanged)
The Titans are good, but the WIAC is going to be a slug-fest this season. There are so many good teams in the WIAC. I have more faith in UWO… for now.

WashU’s win over Illinois Wesleyan catapulted the Bears up Dave’s ballot. It was a game that was going to affect Dave’s ballot no matter the outcome. (Courtesy: WashU Athletics)

5 – WashU (Up 3)
The game against IWU was what I was waiting for – for both squads. The Bears showed me that just maybe the team I was expecting has arrived. WashU played very well against the Titans which impressed me. WashU may be one of a very few teams I feel comfortable with where I rank them.

6 – Ramapo (Down 1)
The Roadrunners didn’t do anything wrong to slide down a spot. They fell two weeks in a row as I tried to find room for other teams (UW-Oshkosh last week; WashU this week). I still think Ramapo is a very good team, however I think those other teams are better right now.

7 – Williams (Down 2)
The Ephs have also fallen – four spots total – on my ballot in the last two weeks. I am just not as confident in Williams as I was prior. Part of that is the fact they have lost one of their best players in Klye Scadlock (leads the team in ppg, rpg, second in apg). I am just not sure how Williams adjusts. I know they have had two games since the injury and have a few more weeks before their next, but it isn’t like they are in practice every day adjusting.

UW-River Falls’ Alex Herink has sometimes put the Falcons on his shoulders and the squad has responded.

8 – UW-River Falls (Down 1)
Like Ramapo, the Falcons’ slip of a spot is related to moving WashU above them. That said, trailing 41-26 at halftime against Northwestern (Minn.), before rallying for the victory, is something I did take note. I know Northwestern is probably under-appreciated by many, but I still feel a top ten squad shouldn’t find themselves that deep in a whole against a team not close to the Top 25.

9 – St. John’s (Unchanged)
I may be one of a very few voters who likes the Johnnies this much. Top 10 I am sure has some people shaking their head – much like how I feel with Lycoming is in the Top 10 overall. Each voter has their perspective and mine is that SJU is a darn good team who will win the MIAC this year and is far better than others realize. The Johnnies have put up some very impressive performances, though their close game with Hamline gave me a little concern. I know they lost to UW-La Crosse, but again, I’m not expecting perfection this season and UWL isn’t a bad team.

10 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unchanged)
One of the things I did this week was look at the opponent’s winning percentage for every team I was voting for last week and considering for this week’s ballot. The Battling Bishop’s number was surprisingly lower than I expected: 28-49 (.364). That immediately sounded some alarms in my head. You are voting them way too high especially when teams with higher percentages aren’t even on you ballot. That said, I think OWU has some of the best talent in the country and will rise above a crazy NCAC race. Are they a Top 10 team? Maybe not, but there aren’t a lot of Top 10 teams this season. Someone has to be put here.

11 – New Jersey City (Up 1)
When a team has as many close games as the Gothic Knights have had one way of looking at it is they are playing with fire and will be burned. The other is that it shows a team can withstand the pressure and finish a game no matter how bad they play. NJCU fought back against a very good (under-appreciated) Albertus Magnus squad, down 20 in the second half, to win their second game thanks to a buzzer beater this season (see below). I am not sure NJCU is the 11th best team in the country, but again… who really is?

12 – Wesleyan (Up 1)
Three NESCAC teams in the top fifteen seems a bit excessive and the Cardinals have floated up this high thanks to what has been happening around them primarily. I am not sure if Wesleyan will get its’ wings clipped or how badly once the conference schedule begins, but I also feel they have a very well-rounded roster and a program that has been continually building to this type of season for awhile now. Of course like many NESCAC (even Northeast Region) teams… we have to wait a long time to see this squad back in action (21 days between games)

MIT on paper has some scary attributes and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

13 – MIT (Up 1)
This Engineers squad reminds me of the program’s final four squad. Not in a perfect match, per se, but they are building to something special. Like the team that ran to the final four in 2012, this squad’s best players are underclassmen. In fact, there isn’t a senior on the roster! MIT has already played 11 games and now has a long break and I expect when they re-start NEWMAC play they will prove the conference runs through Cambridge, Mass. this season.

14 – Skidmore (Up 1)
The Thoroughbreds feel more like a Top 20 squad, but like I’ve said before… there aren’t a lot of teams that feel right in these spots. They are all too high. Skidmore is good. They have a terrific player in Edvinas Rupkus who is one of several juniors leading this squad (four of the top five scorers are juniors; one other is a sophomore). The Middlebury game may be more helpful than harmful in the long run for Skidmore. That might be the perfect game for them to learn from moving forward.

15 – Warburg (Up 1)
The IIAC could be one of a number of fascinating races this season. I have finally bought in a bit more in Wartburg who will be at the point of that race, but they aren’t alone. Nebraska Wesleyan, Buena Vista, Loras, and others are going to make this a great race in the conference. Wartburg may end up not being the only one ranked this season.

Nichols is rising up on Dave’s ballot who likes some of the parts of the Bison and what they could do this season. (Courtesy: Nichols’ Athletics)

16 – Nichols (Up 5)
I really like the Bison. I’ve said that before. I realize I have had them higher, but each time someone who has played or knows them sees where I have them ranked I get a note reaffirming my thinking. That doesn’t mean I am smarter than anyone else, but it does help me feel like I am not out on a limb with this choice. In reality, their conference is not a tough one to win especially this season, however they have five players in double-figures being led by Marcos Echevarria who if you haven’t seen play you need to watch.

17 – St. Norbert (Up 5)
I honestly didn’t think I would be voting for the Green Knights this season, but once again SNC has moved onto my poll in a season I didn’t expect them to retool – let along rebuild. Now, St. Norbert, like Nichols, moved way up this week because I made a more drastic move with teams who had been ahead o them and are now behind them. So, I will admit this slot might seem high. Again… a lot of teams seem high. My curiosity with SNC is can they even win the MWC this season? For the first time in a while, there are other teams in the fray. Lake Forest, Monmouth, Grinnell all look like they could compete for the conference title this year.

John Carroll appears on Dave’s ballot thanks to a win over Marietta and a better-than-expected opponents’ winning percentage. (Courtesy: John Carroll Athletics)

18 – John Carroll (Unranked)
I am taking a bit of a leap of faith here. I have a friend who bleeds Blue Streak who doesn’t miss a chance to remind me of how well JCU is playing (even admits when they stumble), but also admits they haven’t really played anyone of note. What finally was their opponents’ winning percentage: 36-32 (.529). Now some of that is thanks to having Marietta on their schedule, but they beat the Pioneers. 18th is a bit of a jump, but I also wanted to get the Blue Streaks ahead of some teams, like Marietta, if I was going to include them.

19 – Rochester (Down 8)
No, losing to Ithaca was not the main reason Rochester fell eight spots this week. It is part of the reason, but not the entire explanation. There was a pack of squads I felt couldn’t stay as high as they were with two losses especially as other teams needed to move ahead of them because of those losses. The loss to Ithaca may not be as bad as some initially thought (more on that below), but at the same time it does raise concerns for me. Could I be buying in too much? I still think Rochester is a darn good team no matter the turnover from last year, but I also realize I might have bought in too much early on.

20 – Marietta (Down 3)
I have done mental gymnastics with the Pioneers. I have argued I am buying in too much; I have argued I am not giving them enough credit. The trick is, Marietta’s wins early on no longer have the same shine. St. Thomas and Hope are both below .500. In fact, the only win the Pios have against a team above .500 is La Roche. Marietta has a .461 opponents’ winning percentage, but most of that is thanks to the records of the teams that have beaten them. I am torn on whether the Pioneers have shown anything that qualifies them for the Top 25.

UWW has a lot on paper Dave likes and other parts that has him worried he bought in too much. Just how good is Whitewater? (Courtesy: UWW Athletics)

21 – UW-Whitewater (Down 3)
I really think the WIAC race is going to be one of the top five to watch – and there are about ten conferences races that will be fascinating. UWW is going to be involved for sure, but I am concerned I bought in early on a squad that has a lot of new pieces and turnover. I know Pat Miller can coach, we have seen that, but it ultimately comes down to the players. Their opponents are 27-38, which doesn’t give me anything to lean on here.

22 – Hanover (Down 3)
A friend messaged me less than a week after the Panthers lost to Transylvania and  basically say Hanover was pretenders. I understood where he was coming from, but I told him I was going there. I think Hanover, and others, actually show there are a lot of good teams in Division III who easily can have a bad night or two. It is going to happen and Hanover had it happen against Transy. However, the Panthers have won their next two to at least shake off that bad victory. Time will tell if I am right about Hanover still being a Top 25 team.

Matt Hunter has York (Pa.) back in the Top 25 conversation for the first time in more than 10 seasons. (Courtesy: York Athletics)

23 – York (Pa.) (Unranked)
There are a lot of things that have gone right for the Spartans this season … and I love it. An injury last season to Dalton Myers has allowed Matt Hunter to plug two big-men into the lineup this season when he only had expected to have Blayde Reich. Both guys can also step back and shoot from 15-feet making them tough to guard. Add in some solid guard play and York has changed the completion of the CAC for me this season. York will take on Salisbury to start the New Year and then Christopher Newport on January 13. Pencil those games in as ones you have to watch York.

24 – Eastern Conn. (Unchanged)
The Warriors surprisingly dropped out of the Top 25 without playing any games, but I will admit I nearly dropped them myself. It has nothing to do with Eastern Conn. State and everything to do with other teams, especially those in action, voters like myself feel they need to get onto their ballot. There isn’t a lot on their schedule that jumps out at people, but I decided to hold on for now.

25 – Baldwin Wallace (Unchanged)
Here is another team I was debating about dropping, but then I realized that at this point in the season the Yellow Jackets have one of the better opponents’ winning percentages of the teams I am considering: 42-28 (.600). The OAC race, as noted, is insane already this season. Baldwin Wallace looks like one of those who will still be there at the end of the season. The schedule gets interesting in the next few weeks and I am definitely going to catch a few games over the holidays.

Dropped out:

Lake Forest (Previously 20)
It is harsh to drop the Foresters based on one loss compared to others, but the loss came to North Park who is not having a great season. While Lake Forest has some decent wins on their resume so far, those wins indicate they should have beaten North Park. They didn’t and I needed room for others.

Salem State (Previously 22)
I might have been too instinctual with the Vikings last week. I got caught up in their wins over Tufts, Babson, and WPI and thought maybe the loss to MIT was just one of those “bad nights.” They followed it all up with a loss to Endicott, who isn’t bad but is certainly up and down, and they gave up 96 points.

Previous Ballots:
Week 3 (not posted)
Week 2
Week 1

Ithaca is on Dave’s radar which also means several others are being considered.

Now, usually I don’t talk about teams I didn’t vote for (besides those who dropped off my ballot) on any given week. I tried that one or twice and it only caused numerous tweets, emails, messages, etc. about who else I didn’t vote for, who else I might be considering, or those who didn’t understand I can’t mention ALL the teams I consider any given week. So, I stopped. Too much work, anyway.

I am breaking that rule this week to talk about Ithaca and Cortland. After Ithaca’s win over Rochester, I decided I needed to consider Ithaca for my ballot. However, when I researched Ithaca a bit more I noticed they had split with Cortland this season (out of conference opponents; happened more often this season around Division III). Thus, if I was going to consider Ithaca, I needed to also consider Cortland. I couldn’t find a justified reason to include one without the other. That meant dropping two more teams from my ballot. But who? Maybe Eastern Connecticut, but that wasn’t enough. I didn’t like dropping anyone else, though I am sure one could make an argument for a number of squads. So, I ultimately decided to leave Ithaca and Cortland off and drop Rochester (and the group it is hitched to) further down – a move that initially took place to get Ithaca and Cortland on the ballot. I’ll wait a bit longer to see if which team, if not all, continue to play well.

D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas is shaping up to be a very good one. The 8th annual event takes place Dec. 28-30 at South Point Arena.

So there you go. Week 4’s ballot. Now, we voters get to relax for a few weeks. The next D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot won’t happen until January 1 (HAPPY NEW YEAR!). I will not only watch a number of games online, but I can’t wait to see Whitman, Rampao, and Ohio Wesleyan along with Stevens Point and others at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. That event is proving to not only be terrific this season, but more and more popular for top teams around the country each year. That will prove to either help me with my decisions… or make things more muddied. LOL

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and most importantly Happy New Year to one and all. Enjoy it even if you are unable to be with family.

If you are reading this you are most likely a Division III basketball fan, make sure you get out and support these terrific student-athletes and programs even if you don’t have a rooting interest in the team(s) closest to you. It is worth getting to games and supporting them anyway. Make that one of your New Year’s Resolutions.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’17-’18): Week 2

Middlebury didn’t play this past week. That caused Dave to leave them where they were, but others moved the Panthers up. (Courtesy: Middlebury Athletics)

It was another weird week in Division III basketball. I didn’t have 26 loses from 16 teams, but in less games 12 Ls still ended up populating my Top 25.

Maybe I shouldn’t say “weird.” This appears to be the status quo now, so maybe it is actually “normal.”

Either way, the losses coupled by not-so-amazing wins resulted in some of my Top 25 decisions being a breeze. Yeah. Took me nearly no time to get about half to two-thirds of my ballot done. That allowed me to be more energized to tackle the final ten to fifteen spots. I could think more clearly about new teams. I normally feel like I have already whacked my way through a good portion of the jungle before realizing the jungle got thicker. At least this time, I started in a clearing first.

Yes, teams lost. That happens more often now. I’ve talked, a lot, about that. With the mentality that teams losing isn’t that unexpected, especially to good teams, along with others also not playing necessarily challenging squads this week (or all season) led me to not move as many teams around as I expected. In fact, until I realized I needed one particular team higher up my ballot, I had the top 14 teams on last week’s ballot unchanged. I then “woke” (it was a long weekend) and after shifting one team significantly, the rest moved down a spot.

Then came the later half of the ballot. I knew I was going to get some teams wrong last week. The voice in the back of my head had been screaming and for the most part I had ignored it. That voice has been laughing at me ever since.

The real challenge came to getting teams on to the ballot. I wrote 14 teams down that I wanted to consider getting on the ballot plus a couple of others with an outside chance. There was no way I could cram that many in. I ended up starting to whittle down the list of possibles while also looking to find more to cut off my previous week’s ballot. Took me a little longer than I expected as I considered opponent winning percentages and dove deep a bit on results.

Since I didn’t spend that much time on my ballot, let’s not spend too much time in the intro to the ballot and get right to it. A reminder, here is last week’s ballot. And now, this week’s ballot for the D3hoops.com Top 25 with a few notes:

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
Puget Sound gave the the Blues a heck of a good game, but that might be more of an indication of UPS than Whitman. The Blues have a large target on them. They are going to take everyone’s best.

Grey Giovanine looks on as the Titans of UW-Oshkosh handed Augustana their first DIII loss of the year.

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
I had to share the picture that was on the front page of D3hoops.com. The look on Grey Giovanine’s face is priceless. One of resignation that of course this would happen. Listen, they lost to a very good, maybe an underrated, Oshkosh team. The loss of Wofford (injury) wasn’t something I thought would be a big deal. I still don’t, but I do realize Jacob Johnson isn’t there to pick up the slack.

3 – Williams (Unchanged)
Their loss to Wesleyan, like in Augustana’s case, may be more about the Cardinals than it is about the Ephs. That or the men’s team was distracted by the women’s soccer team winning their second title in three years. HA! Is Williams the third best team in the country? I don’t know. Not sure who is to be honest.

4 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
Didn’t play this week. Don’t play much between now and New Year’s. That is going to make it tough to truly understand how good the Panthers are between now and when NESCAC action begins.

5 – Marietta (Unchanged)
Yep. I saw the loss to Baldwin Wallace. Tell me if you have heard this before… that might be more of an indication about the Yellow Jackets than… yeah, you know what I am going to say.

6 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 7)
Here is the team I spoke of which I needed to move up the ballot. I rather move the Titans up than Augustana down for that win. Move them ahead of Augustana? Yeah. I considered that. Was 50/50 on it. I did it last week with Hobart (more on that later). Single game results don’t necessarily paint the entire picture, so as a season gets more and more data I am not as jumpy to just lean on that variable. There are also times when it is absolutely relevant and others when other data plays more of a role. In this case, Oshkosh moved up due to their win over Augie, but not ahead of them as of yet.

Ramapo and a host of other schools moved down Dave’s ballot despite winning because room needed to be created for UW-Oshkosh.

7 – Ramapo (Down 1)
This is where we start with a rash of teams who moved down due to Oshkosh being moved up. Here is a prime example to answer the question we always here, “why did ‘my team’ lose points/move down despite not losing and winning X games.” Because nothing is in a vacuum. Other teams movement affects everyone on a ballot. Roadrunners had a good week in the NJAC and wasn’t going to move up or down as a result. I needed to move UWO up, had to find a spot and thus had to move everyone down to make it happen.

8 – UW-Whitewater (Down 1)

9 – Hanover (Down 1)

10 – UW-River Falls (Down 1)

11 – WashU (Down 1)

12 – St. John’s (Down 1)

Ohio Wesleyan was unable to comeback and defeat Hanover, but Dave’s Week 1 ballot predicted that defeat. (Courtesy: Ohio Wesleyan Athletics)

13 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 1)
Many may hear me state (preach) that I am not a fan of teams being “punished,” like the Battling Bishops, when they lose to a higher ranked team. If we trust our own ballots and the poll, then if we say Hanover is better than Ohio Wesleyan and the result is exactly that, then why would anyone then move the losing team down? Yes, a blow out, injuries, or other items may cause that to happen, but many times voters just move a team down for a loss no matter who it is. Ok. Off my soapbox. You may notice that despite my comments Ohio Wesleyan moved down a slot. I refer you back to the Ramapo comment. Everyone from 7 through 13 moved down a slot to free up the spot I needed. OWU was originally penciled in to stay put, thus OWU was going to stay at 12.

14 – Skidmore (Unchanged)

15 – Rochester (Up 1)

16 – New Jersey City (Up 3)
The Gothic Knights are off to their best start in 25 years. Some would argue that Sam Toney could be the best player in the conference and region (back to back 30+ point games; never done in TCNJ NJCU history). Despite what they lost from last year’s squad, this could be a damn good unit. Their opponent winning percentage is currently below .500, so it might be hard to truly gauge. I have also bought in to the Knights and later regretted it. Time will tell.

Wesleyan knocked off Williams in overtime in the past week leap frogging them onto Dave’s ballot. (Courtesy: Wesleyan Athletics)

17 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The result against Williams was exactly what I was waiting for last week. I noticed the Cardinal’s strong start and I also saw what was ahead of them. Jumping them from unranked to the middle of my ballot for an OT win over Williams might be a bit extreme, but I am okay with it … I think. I have been burned by this before. Even more extreme is if I swapped them with Williams. Why didn’t I? I just don’t think from coming off my ballot to a Top 5 team is feasible (though, UMHB in the final ballot of the poll is an exception). There are reasons I have teams off my ballot. There are reasons I have others on my ballot. Teams I have off my ballot don’t jump into a ballot in the Top 5 or 10 based on just one win. I can hear the arguments, but it isn’t my thinking.

18 – Baldwin Wallace (Unranked)
Here is another team I have been keeping a close eye on, but I feel like I have been here before. I think people laughed at me a few years ago when I had the Yellow Jackets in my Top 25 when pretty much no one else did – and I had them pretty high. That didn’t look so smart a few weeks later despite a hot start. This BW team seems different. The win over Marietta – on the road – was impressive even if it did come via a banked, buzzer beater, three. I would have considered them even if they had lost. By the way, BW’s opponent’s record right now is 15-8 and they are 4-1 with wins over UW-River Falls and Marietta. Not bad.

19 – North Central (Up 1)

20 – MIT (Up 4)

21 – Eastern Connecticut State (Up 4)

Lake Forest’s Eric Porter was named the MWC player of the week for his contributions including 11 threes against Grinnell last week. (Courtesy: Lake Forest Athletics)

22 – Lake Forest (Unranked)
No. You are not seeing things. There is something about the Foresters that I am intrigued about. They have beaten a pretty decent Carthage squad, Chicago, and survived against a redesigned Grinnell squad. Their lone loss is to an interesting Loras squad. Lake Forest is off to a pretty good start and I think it is worth of a Top 25 nod.

23 – Bowdoin (Down 2)

24 – Wartburg (Unranked)
Ok. I am buying in. Kind of. Yes, talking to Dick Peth helped me understand why this team is actually better than I expected, no matter how they finished last season. It is a far more experienced squad than I had given them credit. Their opponents are a combined 16-10 and that only counts their DIII schedule. Their two wins over Dubuque and Eau Claire is what did it for me this week.

Nichols has already yo-yoed in and out of Dave’s ballot early this season. (Courtesy: Nichols Athletics/Jill Souza)

25 – Nichols (Unranked)
The Bison rolled over Endicott in a game I had circled in preseason and highlighted after the Gulls win over Babson. Nichols is putting up points on just about everyone (except Wesleyan who is also now ranked; one of the reasons Nichols fell off my ballot last week was because I wasn’t going to rank Wesleyan) and have two players who many will be talking about in at least New England this season.

Dropped Out:

Hobart (Previously 15)
This is why sometimes I don’t put teams ahead of others based on a head-to-head win and don’t get too excited about a hot start. I didn’t give my contrarian voice in my head enough credit. I liked Hobart’s start to the season. Beating two preseason Top 25 teams is not something to ignore. However, they then lost two of three last week. If it had just been a loss to Brockport, so be it. However, the loss to Union is not good enough if you have beaten Rochester and St. John Fisher already. Hobart will still be the class of the Liberty League this season. They have time to take over the region.

St. Thomas (Previously 17)
I feel somewhat bipolar with my treatment of the Tommies. I wonder if I will get a text, call, email from anyone in particular for my treatment. I think I went with the masses last week after St. Thomas had a great start including taking Marietta to overtime. I worried about when we might see the youth start to affect things. Maybe that time is now. Several have told me Hamline may be pretty solid this year, but I can’t use that as credit right now. UST is also a victim of wanting to get other teams I felt deserving to be on my ballot. They may have hung on otherwise.

CNU was able to get past Salisbury, but fell to Frostburg last week resulting in moving out of Dave’s ballot. (Courtesy: CNU Athletics/Ashley Oaks-Clary)

Christopher Newport (Previously 18)
I am nervous about what is going on with the Captains. Their backcourt is very banged up. They have a lot of flaws. The win over Salisbury was solid. Maybe Frostburg was a trap game. However, if CNU is a Top 25 team, they should win even a bad trap game.

Emory (Previously 22)
The Eagles lost to Hamden-Sydney?! A few years ago, I would have chalked that up to a solid South Region battle. Not this year. HSU is all over the place this season. Emory should have handled that game even if it was on the road.

Babson (Previously 23)
I let go of the leash. Looks like what the Beavers lost was far more than I appreciated. This team is going to take time to fully come together. Don’t be surprised if Babson is at the top of the NEWMAC thanks to their scheduling, while beating them up now, helps them grow later.

Previously Ballots:
Week 1

Not sure what else to say. It was an interesting week and as I go to post this, I have seen other voters had very different thinking than I. That is why there are 25 voters. There isn’t just one opinion on this especially with so many good teams now at our disposal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – Whitman (Unchanged)

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)

3 – Williams (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 – Hanover (Unchanged)

9 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)

10 – WashU (Unchanged)

11 – St. John’s (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

22 – Emory (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

Dropped Out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, here is how my ballot finished last season:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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