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 (’16-’17): Week 5

Let me start by wishing each of you who read this had a wonderful holidays. The holidays were very, very busy … not to mention filled with plenty of basketball! I watched my fair share of games from my iPad or computer from the warmth of a hotel room. I also watched my fair share of results in front of a lovely Christmas tree in my home. It certainly made the last few weeks entertaining. It, however, did not make voting in the men’s Top 25 any easier.

No surprise in this age of parity that there are plenty of losses to contemplate. Of course with losses come wins that need to be analyze as well. Nothing is simple. A win isn’t equal to another win. A loss doesn’t equal another loss. There is a lot to consider especially when there has been two weeks of basketball to consider.

When it comes to the topic of parity, I have talked a lot about it. However, I did like the take from Bob “Titan Q” Quillman on the Top 25 forum on D3boards recently. I won’t share the entire thing, but here is a snippet I thought summed things up well – probably better than I have been able to describe:

“I am confident there is a group of 4-5 teams that are the favorites to win the national championship, but it’s not really even obvious to me who those teams are yet.” Bob then continues, “starting immediately after that “elite tier,” I see a huge pack of extremely even teams that spans from about 5 down to 25. Trying to sort out the Top 25 is always fun but when there is this much parity, I doubt there will be many concrete answers until things get settled in the tournament.”

To read more of Bob’s thoughts, click here.

To Bob’s point, there are a number of teams who can be considered for the Top 25 on any given week. I have had to stop allowing myself to keep expanding my list. Maybe that is stubborn and that effort to put some blinders on to keep from getting distracted may have me miss a team or two, but at the same time I don’t have enough time in a week to allow my list to expand to 50 or more squads. They all have an argument to be on the list. What makes it challenging is they all also have an argument for why they shouldn’t be in the Top 25. Furthermore, an argument that works for Team A doesn’t work for the rest. Just as an argument for Team B doesn’t work for the rest. It is very, very hard to stick to just one set of factors to make determinations.

For me this week, I spent a good amount of time nearly blowing up the ballot. Starting from nearly scratch. You will find that even if teams won in the last two weeks, I may have removed them. Sometimes I asked myself a basic question: would they beat this team or that? That basic question actually had me make some bold moves. I have previously unranked team in my Top 10. I have another just outside the Top 10.

Of course there were some significant losses that dictated a lot of moves I made, though the bottom half of my previous ballot didn’t lose as much as the top half which usually makes it harder to get new teams in. However, there are other factors, results, and details that caused me to make many of my moves.

Getting the opportunity to see Salisbury play Ramapo at the D3hoops.com Classic is invaluable on so many different levels.

I will say one of the biggest advantage any Top 25 voter has is seeing teams in person. It is impossible to see all of them across the country in gyms and arenas and luckily video streaming has become an invaluable tool. As the season progresses, web streams will become my most used tool. However, I do get the advantage of seeing some very good teams in person and this year at the D3hoops.com Classic was no exception. You will see how that impacted my ballot shortly. However, it goes to prove why events like Hoopsville and D3hoops.com Classics and others with top-tier teams are not only great events to attend for teams, but also invaluable for Top 25 voters who choose to show up to such events (more than you may realize). As I have in the past, I have restarted my efforts to mark who I have seen in person in the past year (including the second half of last season) with an “*” next to each one. Maybe at some point this year I will also indicate who I have seen on video, but for now I don’t think it needs to be represented.

With that, let’s get on with the ballot. As with most weeks, I won’t comment on all teams. I will say something for those I think need a snippet or I have a thought on that is relevant this week. Of course as we get started, click here for a reminder of last week’s ballot. Otherwise, here is this week’s:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

Eric Bridgeland’s Whitman squad hasn’t lost and continues to move up the polls. But are they for real?

2 – Whitman (Up 1)
I moved the Blues up a spot after they beat Marietta. In hindsight, maybe I should have just left them at #3, but I thought despite some tight results they have at least beat the competition in front of them and remained undefeated. That all said, I am nervous. Whitman has never been this high in the rankings. Are they really that good? Did getting past Whitworth last season in the NCAA tournament really make that big a difference? Or are they going to peak early and struggle in conference (though, saying that makes me shake my own head). Whitman didn’t blow me away with their win at home against Wooster. However, they got past an admittedly somewhat-struggling Marietta squad. We shall see how things progress. I hope I end up being very comfortable with this in a few weeks.

3 – Amherst* (Down 1)

4 – Christopher Newport* (Up 1)

5 – Whitworth (Up 1)

6 – Rochester* (Up 2)

7 – New Jersey City (Up 4)
What makes the Gothic Knights scary on paper is their defense. Have you seen how much they hold their opponents below their offensive average? In a lot of cases, 20 or more points. However, I feel I might be buying in too much with much of the NJAC schedule including two games against Ramapo ahead. The NJAC has struggled to live up to national expectations this century. In the last ten or so years, only one team has gotten out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. However, the top of the conference is shaping up to be pretty special … and there are voices telling me NJCU may be the best it has been in recent history. Some tough games coming up… I am holding by breathe.

8 – North Park (Up 5)
I don’t have a game to point to for this move. The Cardinals Vikings (SMH, typo on my part) moved up because of a lot of other teams moving around. That said, they have two legitimate All-Americans and the supporting staff is playing extremely well. Many knew North Park would be good this season, but my feeling right now is they are far better than I expected. This team looks scary this season.

Cory Soanes and Ramapo impressed at the D3hoops.com Classic. The Roadrunners and NJCU could have magical seasons ahead.

9 – Ramapo* (Unranked)
This is the biggest move I think I have made on my Top 25 ballot during a season (I moved UMHB up pretty darn high after they were unranked and finished runner-up to Amherst for the national championship in 2013). Ramapo really impressed me in Las Vegas this year. I think this is the best Roadrunners team I have seen at the D3hoops.com Classic and that includes teams who have been national ranked in the past. They play an aggressive and controlled defense, they have several weapons on offense which keeps teams from being able to double-team, and they have plenty of speed. Coach McBreen clearly thinks this team has more to prove, but he is also coaching a squad who is far more ready this time of year than in years past. This team is really scary and really deep. The only challenge is Ramapo has been blowing out a lot of teams this season. Focusing on beating good teams and playing an entire 40 minutes has been a challenge – they allowed Salisbury who was down 12 to get back in the game and nearly beat the Roadrunners. NJAC play could either get them focused on putting away teams or allow a few to get wins they shouldn’t have gotten and put Ramapo in trouble. I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

10 – Wesleyan (Up 7)
Everyone knew the Cardinals had a good test this holiday season after starting the season undefeated. They rose to the challenge including a dominating win over Marietta. Wesleyan’s inside presence is better than I had given them credit. The question remains: will they be exposed in NESCAC play? Right now, I think Joe Reilly’s team may be the biggest surprise. I already had been told the NESCAC could be 7-deep this year on top. I think people expected Wesleyan to be in that group of seven. I don’t think people thought they could end up being the best of the group.

Josh Weix and the Blugolds were one of the best offenses I have seen recently.

11 – UW-Eau Claire* (Unranked)
Here is an example of a team that kept rising on this week’s ballot as I asked the question: “would they beat so-and-so?” This may have been one of the better disciplined offensive teams I have seen in a long time – especially this time of year. Their ball movement was tremendous. They broke the shooting record at the D3hoops.com Classic with a better-than-.630 performance in their first game against Gustavus Adolphus. They have size, outside shooting, and a really good defense. Many had thought UW River Falls would be the class of the WIAC. UW Whitewater is undefeated (though spoiler alert, I am not voting for them as of yet). However, I think the Blugolds may be the best WIAC team this year especially if the lights of conference play don’t distract them.

12 – Tufts (Down 2)

13 – Salisbury* (Down 4)
Two losses you would think result in a bigger fall than four… and even I took extra time to make sure this was the right move. I actually had them down to 19th at one point, but the same question I asked UWEC I asked Salisbury. I just couldn’t get them lower without putting them behind teams I thought they could beat. Yes, the D3hoops.com Classic was rough, but the Sea Gulls lost to a very good Ramapo squad and Hardin-Simmons (who proved some things to me). They simply ran into a couple of very good teams and tough match-ups while also having to deal with the fact they are adjusting to changes at point guard. Those losses should only make Salisbury a better team. If not, we will know very quickly and my decision to only lower them four spots will be adjusted just as quickly.

St. Norbert once again has more questions than answers as they move into their conference schedule.

14 – St. Norbert (Down 7)
I am going through the usual Q&A with the Green Knights. Nothing on paper blows one away about SNC, however they always show they can keep winning. Sure, their conference isn’t the most difficult, but they control the conference so amazingly well. The loss to UW-Oshkosh isn’t shocking, but it does set-up for a tougher NCAA tournament bracket in March. I may have allowed St. Norbert to float a little too high on my ballot, so the loss and other results allowed me to possibly recheck my expectations a little.

15 – Marietta* (Down 12)
Ouch. Tough few weeks of December for the Pioneers. Lost three out of four and 0-2 in the period of this vote. Yes, they lost to really good teams, so I tried to not to ding them too much for that. However, what got them so high on my ballot is that they had beaten similiar teams so I expected that trend to continue. One thing seems to be coming true, they struggle with any squad that has good size inside who does more than just stand around. Marietta may be learning the hard way that relying on Edwards inside isn’t going to get them far. As good a player as he is, he needs others to step up and be just as dangerous. I sense that when the team loses Edwards as a threat, they lose their offense. I could be wrong, but I plan to watch them very closely the next few weeks to see what adjustments they make to compensate for what John Carroll, Wesleyan, and Whitman exposed.

16 – Benedictine* (Down 2)

17 – Endicott (Up 1)

18 – Denison (Up 2)

19 – Hope (Down 7)
Another holiday period for another team. The Dutchmen probably don’t want to see Williams or Wilkes again, though one of them is likely to be repeated in the future. If Hope had only lost to Williams, so be it. However, the Wilkes loss shocked me the most. Wilkes isn’t bad, but they aren’t necessarily a threat to Top 25 squads unless something is wrong. I probably should have dinged Hope a bit more and moved them further down, but I have too many questions for those below. We shall see how Hope responds from at least one ugly loss. They aren’t going to get necessarily the same challenge from the conference as we have come to expect, so it will be the small things that will be the most important to watch.

Nathaniel Jack and Hardin-Simmons realize it is now or never. Could the Cowboys surprise many this year?

20 – Hardin-Simmons* (Unranked)
I voted for the Cowboys in the preseason and had been scratching my head since. I knew they had lost players, but I didn’t quite grasp what was going on. Turns out they had suffered their fair share of injuries and I was lucky enough to see them back at 100% (virtually) for the first time all season. HSU has a ton of weapons starting with Nathaniel Jack. He not only knows were he needs to be, but he has such amazing court and game awareness that he adds a completely different dimension besides good ball handling and speed to his list of weapons. Mix in Justin Jones inside (6-8 force) along with shooting weapons like Hopper, Dixon, O’Neil, and others and this team could be a surprise come March. They have to stay focused in a conference that might not test them as much as other voters want, but Craig Carse has a scary squad featuring seven seniors who realize it is now or never.

21 – UW-Rivers Falls (Up 3)

22 – Brockport (Unchanged)

23 – Wartburg (Down 4)

24 – Williams (Unranked)
I wasn’t sold on Williams (or much of the rest of the NESCAC like Middlebury), but then they beat Hope. It ended up being a coin-toss between the Ephs and Middlebury and I went with the more southern team (not a decision factor). Williams also leads to a fourth NESCAC team on my ballot which seems pretty incredible, but when those in the conference tell me they think it is a seven-deep conference then maybe this feels right. We shall find out soon enough as conference play begins. Did I pick the right squad to ride?

25 – Neumann (Unchanged)

Dropped Out:
I will preface this segment by saying I had to find teams to remove to get other teams onto the ballot. I wish I had found a few more because I felt there were other deserving teams to vote for as well. While none of the teams below did anything major to drop out, there was enough of an excuse or just an uneasy feeling that had me make the move. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination especially when the lower-half of my Top 25 didn’t take as many losses that make it easy to make these decisions.

North Central’s Connor Raridon is out with a broken hand. Cardinals seem to be missing his shooting presence a lot.

North Central (Ill.) (Previously 15)
There wasn’t a lot the Cardinals did or did not do to drop from 15th to off my ballot, but the fact one of their top weapons, Connor Rairdon, is out with a broken hand concerns me. I think they are a bit more exposed and their offense is going to be easier to defend. I realize they only lost one game since the last poll (to a good UWSP team) and they beat Wartburg (who I still have ranked), but I am not as confident about them as I was prior.

Illinois Wesleyan (Previously 16)
Another example of a team who did a lot to deserve to be dropped out, but something about their result doesn’t blow me away. They beat Chicago, lost to Middlebury. Neither of those teams are currently on my poll. While the Titans appear to be a good team, I am just not blown away. Yes, I could argue that about others as well. For now, IWU is out. Conference play could easily change my mind.

Emory (Previously 21)
Emory actually did NOT lose during the holidays between Top 25 polls, but when I went back and looked through who they have played and what they have done, I just wasn’t impressed. Wins over William Peace, Guilford, and Maryville don’t spur me. Losses to Covenant and LaGrange are not ignorable. On a week I am looking for excuses to drop a team from my ballot, Emory gave me reasons to move them out and nothing to keep them in.

Swarthmore (Previously 23)
Another team that didn’t lose any games and won a tough game in overtime to a squad who may be far better than advertised (Hood), but Swathmore isn’t blowing me away, either. In many ways, it came down to whether I thought Ramapo, UW-Eau Claire, Hardin-Simmons, or Williams would beat Swarthmore (or others on the “Dropped Out” list) and the answer was: yes. I do think Swarthmore would struggle with those squads. For now, they out. We shall see if Centennial play possibly helps them this year.

Previous Ballot blogs:
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17) Week 4

Hotel Roanoke decorated for the Christmas Season. The destination for Stagg Bowl Week and for the men’s Championship Weekend in March.

Hello again! Sorry about not getting my blog/ballot out last week. Stagg Bowl Week is always hectic and considering I have to squeeze my voting in to a window surrounded by packing, preps, and countless coordinating emails and phone calls it is a miracle I remember to vote most Stagg Bowl Weeks!

I intended to write the blog, but didn’t have time. I wanted to write it because I was one of the three voters who stuck with Babson as my number-one team. Why? I didn’t see anything in Babson’s double-overtime, on the road, final-shot-loss to Amherst that proved they weren’t the best team in the country. Yes, they lost. Did you expect the number one team in the country to go undefeated? I didn’t take my vote away from Augustana last year when they lost a conference game. I expected them to lose, especially on the road, in the conference. I wasn’t voting for Babson this year because I thought they would go undefeated. And they played well. Amherst also played well. However, I didn’t think Amherst out-played Babson. I didn’t think Amherst was the better team. They simply won the game. They hit the last shot. So, I stuck with Babson being number one. I felt better with Amherst who I was nervous having at number-three, so moved them to second.

Now to this week. Amherst goes on and losses to Springfield. Ouch. So, they were up for playing at home against Babson and fought to win that, but then weren’t up for playing Springfield? Not good.

Of course, other things took place as well. First, here is a look at what I ballot looked like last week and how they compared to my Week 2 Top 25 ballot:

Babson at Amherst lived up to the hype, but didn’t change my mind as to who the #1 team in the country is right now.

1 – Babson (Unchanged)
2 – Amherst (Up 1)
3 – Marietta (Down 1)
4 – Whitman (Up 2)
5 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
6 – Whitworth (Up 1)
7 – St. Norbert (Up 1)
8 – Rochester (Up 3)
9 – Tufts (Down 5)
10 – Salisbury (Up 3)
11 – New Jersey City (Up 4)
12 – Hope (Down 1)
13 – North Central (Down 2)
14 – North Park (Unranked)
15 – Baldwin Wallace (Down 1)
16 – Benedictine (Up 4)
17 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 2)
18 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
19 – Denison (Up 3)
20 – Endicott (Down 2)
21 – Wartburg (Unranked)
22 – Swarthmore (Up 2)
23 – Emory (Unchanged)
24 – Brockport (Unranked)
25 – Neumann (Unranked)

Dropped out:
Wooster (Previously 14)
Skidmore (Previously 16)
St. Thomas (Previously 17)
Lynchburg (Previous 21)
Keene State (Previously 25)

Again, that was LAST week’s Top 25 ballot. Not this week’s. Just giving you a chance to see where I had teams last week.

Now to this week’s ballot:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

Springfield fans storm the court after their upset of then #1 Amherst (Courtesy: The Springfield Student)

2 – Amherst (Unchanged)
In hindsight, I might have been too kind per that loss to Springfield. My initial thought is I wasn’t going to punish the Purple and White because again, I didn’t expect them to go undefeated and I’m not shocked they lost on the road after beating Babson. However, that last part is what really concerns me. If they are that good, they should have beaten Springfield. What it came down to for me was that I didn’t know where I would have put Amherst. Everyone below them, or in the Top 25 in general, is flawed. Trying to figure out who has the least number of flaws is tougher than determining who is better.

3 – Marietta (Unchanged)

4 – Whitman (Unchanged)
I did my best to watch the Blues play Wooster while I was on the air with Hoopsville Sunday. I noticed two things: Whitman at least continued to play well and beat a solid team; Whitman has me nervous because it shouldn’t have been that tight. Yes, Wooster is a good team, but not off to a great start. Whitman is off to a great start and was playing at home (not dealing with travel like Wooster)… but they didn’t dominate or control the game like I expected. Again, I wasn’t able to watch as much as I wanted, but the result did make me nervous that maybe I am riding Whitman too much.

5 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
This might surprise some people (since the Captains fell four spots this week), but I wasn’t about to move CNU because they lost on a half-court heave on the road at another Top 10 team. I am not sure what other voters were expecting besides a win. The game lived up to exactly to the expectations I had including being a defensive battle between two pretty good defensive teams. Now, I do realize I now have a two-loss team in my top five, but those two losses are to fellow top ten teams. I am giving them some leeway because they are that good. I also know Salisbury has to travel to Newport News. That will tell us more about both teams. So far, CNU hasn’t proven they aren’t a very good team this year despite two losses.

6 – Whitworth (Unchanged)

7 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

8 – Rochester (Unchanged)

9 – Salisbury (Up 1)
The Sea Gulls beat CNU. But they aren’t going to move much higher when the win was because the Captains purposely missed a free-throw and Salisbury was able to hit a half-court heave for the win (see below). Let’s not read too much into it other than that. Salisbury won at home against a very good team which will help them down the road, but it doesn’t do more than make me feel more secure with thinking they are a Top 10 teams, right now.

10 – Tufts (Down 1)

11 – New Jersey City (Unchanged)

12 – Hope (Unchanged)

North Park’s Juwan Henry is one of two D3hoops.com Preseason All-Americans who could make this season a special one for the Vikings.

13 – North Park (Up 1)
I didn’t get a chance last week to explain my big jump with the Vikings. I realize they had lost to Carroll coming into last week’s ballot, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that they have two preseason All-Americans who are averaging 20+ points per game each and that North Park could very easily have a magical season on their hands. Previously, I was concerned it was just a two-headed team that would struggle otherwise. However, the rest of the team is clearly contributing and making them a rather deep squad. I may have been late to the party, but I like what I see.

14 – Benedictine (Up 2)

15 – North Central (Down 2)
Not much I can say about the Cardinals except that maybe I expected too much from this team earlier this year. They are coming off a loss to an NAIA team which is usually hard to read in to, however other Division III schools have beaten the same team, so I can read into it a little bit. I guess I am just left with more questions coming the holiday break about NCC than I did in the preseason.

16 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 1)

Wesleyan has stormed out to a 9-0 start, but there are plenty of questions about the Cardinals. NESCAC play in 2017 will be telling. (Courtesy: Wesleyan Athletics)

17 – Wesleyan (Up 1)
I might be giving a little too much credit to the Cardinals. I would be lying if I think I have bought in too much here. Wesleyan is undefeated and we know they have been building this squad for years. However, they have two wins of note over Williams and Hartwick who have good records, but have mainly beaten teams with below .500 records. Matt Noonan shared his thoughts with me on Hoopsville Sunday night. Certainly worth considering. But for now, Wesleyan looks to be playing well. Let’s see what happens in 2017.

18 – Endicott (Up 2)

19 – Wartburg (Up 2)
There are a few teams in the IIAC that may be worth considering this season. The conference out-of-conference success this season has been impressive. Could the conference finally be in a position to break through to the next level? Well, we won’t know until March, but in the mean time I like what I see from Wartburg to start the season and they have a few others in the conference worth keeping an eye on.

20 – Denison (Down 1)

21 – Emory (Up 2)

22 – Brockport (Up 2)
The SUNYAC is a conference worth watching once again this season. It could be an epic regular season battle and very easily could be the reason some Pool C team has their bubble burst thanks to someone unexpected winning the conference tournament. I have had quite a few people tell me Brockport is far better than you can see on paper or even video. The funny thing is I didn’t think Brockport would be the team to beat in the SUNYAC – I thought that would be Oswego State. And there are several other teams in the conference we could talk about. For now, I like what I see from Brockport maybe others will earn their way on my ballot as well.

23 – Swarthmore (Down 1)

24 – UW-River Falls (Unranked)
I finally got a WIAC team on my ballot. No, it wasn’t a mission or goal or anything. Just making note. I thought UW-Eau Claire would be the team to watch in this conference this year, but River Falls seems to have had a better start to the season. Maybe we will get that two-horse race at the top of the conference after all, just not from the duo we are used to. I look forward to seeing UW-Eau Claire at the D3hoops.com Classic which I hope helps me get a sense of whether this vote for River Falls is a good one.

Neumann. Are they really that good? Several say yes. We shall see. (Courtesy: Neumann Athletics)

25 – Neumann (Unchanged)
This vote for Neumann could be for a dozen teams. I could vote for so many instead of Neumann and still feel the same way. Unsure. Neumann? Neumann. Can’t tell you how many have been in my ear telling me about this squad from the pre-season until now. I am willing to give them the 25th spot for now. But, Neumann? Yeah. They apparently have put together that good a team while we were all distracted with Cabrini and even Gwynedd-Mercy over the last few years.

Dropped Out:

Baldwin Wallace (Previously 15)
I feel like I bought in too quick and too much with the Yellow Jackets. Three losses later and I am pulling the plug. Maybe I am being too extreme, but I was extreme in voting for them and then moving them up my ballot as high as 14. Are they good? I think so. Are they one of the best in the Great Lakes Region? Maybe. And that last part is what makes me pull them from my ballot. I need to see more. I may have gotten too excited on a couple of big wins at a time of the year when lots of teams get big wins. How many times have we seen a team start really well only to then take a loss and it all falls a part? I am not saying it will fall apart with Baldwin Wallace, but maybe I was too reactionary.

So there you go. My Week 4’s Top 25 ballot. There are a lot of teams I can’t get on my ballot. There are a lot of teams to consider – as many as 50 total. So many of them have unanswered questions or flaws that are tough to get a grip on. Am I missing someone that should be on my ballot? Sure. Are there teams on my ballot that you could argue shouldn’t be? Sure. That is why I am just one voter of 25. That is why opinions are great. That is why watching games each week is so much fun. I can’t wait to see what happens over the next few weeks and tackle this again with fresher eyes come 2017.

Previous Ballots:
Week 2
Week 1