Top 25 News and Notes–Week 8

Chaos is the rule, not the exception, in the top 25 polls this week. Losses by four of the men’s top 10 teams last week means that this week’s top 10 has three new members; and losses by three of the top 4 women’s teams caused havoc in the upper echelon of the women’s poll, although the top 11 remained the top 11.

In the women’s poll, Scranton ascends to the #1 spot for the second time this season and the third time overall, joining an elite group of just 20 teams (8 women, 12 men) to reach the top of the poll at least three times. However, as Pat Coleman noted in his blog entry yesterday, the loss last night by the Royals likely means they will enter an even more elite group, joining the Wooster men as the only teams to surrender the #1 spot after just one week on three separate occasions. Last week’s #1 team, Bowdoin, benefitted by losses by Hope and Rochester (twice) to remain at #2, just two points from the top and in a prime position to regain their perch next week. Bowdoin’s vanquisher, Maine Maritime, came close to setting a new record for teams that had no points in the previous week, debuting in the top 25 at #19 with 195 points. (The women’s record for such a jump during the regular season is 199 points, set by Wheaton [IL] in 2002.)

On the men’s side, the loss by St. Thomas to rival St. John’s dropped the Tommies to #6 and helped to establish a distinct lead group of four teams: UW-Stevens Point, Amherst, Wooster, and defending champion Virginia Wesleyan. These are four teams that have had considerable recent success and are well-separated geographically; it would seem more likely than not that they will end up in different sectional brackets, and in my opinion would make an outstanding Final Four. The gap between #4 VWC and #5 Mississippi College is 48 points, or approximately two ballot positions. Losses by Wittenberg, Ohio Northern, and Elmhurst sent them tumbling out of the top 10, replaced by UW-Oshkosh, Hope, and Washington U. in the 8-10 spots. ONU is just 3-3 since defeating Wittenberg, Wooster, and UW-La Crosse and reaching the #2 slot three polls ago.

Women: #3 Messiah is a vote-getter for the 100th time. Congratulations to the Falcons! #8 Rochester and #14 Hardin-Simmons have each been in the top 25 for 10 straight weeks. Wheaton (IL) saw a 31-week voting streak go by the boards this week, and #11 Hope bade farewell to a 15-week string of top 10 appearances..
Men: #3 Wooster is a member of the top 25 for the 70th straight week, remaining two weeks shy of the continuing recordholder, #2 Amherst. Fourth-ranked Virginia Wesleyan has received voting support for 20 consecutive weeks, and Utica is a vote-getter for the tenth straight week since their debut in the final poll last season. #16 Wittenberg saw a 29-week string of top 10 appearances come to an end, and Baldwin-Wallace dropped out of the voting for the first time in 25 polls.

Women: #11 Hope is mentioned among the vote-getters for the 110th time, and Bridgewater (VA) is on the list for the 25th time. #10 DePauw is in the top 10 for the 30th time, and #18 Baldwin-Wallace is a ranked team for the 90th time.
Men: #10 Washington U. rejoins the top 10 this week, their 40th week as a member of this august group. #16 Wittenberg is a top 25 team for the 80th time, while #18 Aurora is ranked for the 10th time. Top-ranked UW-Stevens Point received votes for the 110th time this week; Chicago is a vote-getter for the 40th time; and (as noted above) Utica attracted votes for the 10th week, all of them consecutively.

Women: #19 Maine Maritime leapt from zero week 7 points to #19 in the week 8 poll, their first ranking ever. #4 Chicago parlayed a victory over then-#2 Rochester into the Maroons’ first-ever top 10 appearance.
Men: none.

High-Water Marks:
Women: For the eighth consecutive week, Howard Payne University set a new all-time high ranking, this time at #6. Close on their heels, #4 Chicago reached a new high for the seventh straight week. Other team reaching their highest ranking in the eight-year history of the poll include #7 Calvin, #16 Illinois Wesleyan, and #21 Kean (tying their debut ranking of last week.)
Men: #5 Mississippi College broke into the top 5 for the first time ever. They are joined in the high-water category by #18 Aurora.

Movers and Shakers:
Women: Maine Maritime made the biggest move of the week, gaining (all of their) 195 points and leaping into the poll at #19. Fourth-ranked Chicago soared 148 points and 7 poll placements. Giving ground was Rochester, who lost twice and dropped 176 points and 6 placements. #11 Hope (-143 points/-7 spots) and #18 Baldwin-Wallace (-129/-6) also fell back this week.
Men: Two teams sustained enormous drops this week: #16 Wittenberg lost at Ohio Wesleyan and divested itself of 255 points and 10 spots in the poll, while then-#16 UW-La Crosse dropped two WIAC contests, costing them their position in the poll as well as 212 points. Most everyone that did not lose moved up modestly; the biggest gainers were #15 Occidental (+96 points/+2 position) and #8 UW-Oshkosh (+94/+4).

Still the One?

For a little while now we’ve been down to one undefeated team on the men’s side, Amherst. And by that I mean one team with no loses at all, not teams without losses to Division III opponents. Sorry, UW-Stevens Point – more on you in a bit.

But does being the last undefeated team correlate with a deep run into the tournament? Maybe its better to be ranked number 1, which accounts for strength of schedule and other factors beyond win-loss percentages. Or maybe neither means all that much. After all, last year’s champion Virginia Wesleyan lost its first game of the year and was ranked 23rd at this point last season.

Here is how the last undefeated team and the team ranked No. 1 in Week 8 have fared in recent years. The national champion and their record in Week 8 are also noted.

Last undefeated: Lawrence (starting 25-0) loses first game to Illinois Wesleyan in regional semifinals.
No. 1: Wittenberg (16-1) finishes season with a loss in the national finals to Virginia Wesleyan.
Eventual champion: Virginia Wesleyan (16-3) was ranked 23rd.

Last undefeated: St. John Fisher (starting 28-0) loses first game to Potsdam State in regional finals.
No. 1: UW-Stevens Point (13-1) wins the national championship.
Eventual champion: See above

Last undefeated: Rochester (starting 19-0) loses first game to Washington University on February 8 and finishes the year losing in the regional semifinals to Keene State.
No. 1: Amherst (13-0) loses to Williams in the national semifinals.
Eventual champion: UW-Stevens Point (12-3) was ranked 14th.

Last undefeated: Washington University (23-0) loses first game to Rochester on Feb. 23 and finishes the year losing its first NCAA Tournament game to Illinois Wesleyan
No. 1: Washington U was ranked No. 1.
Eventual champion: Eventual champion Williams (14-1) was ranked 7th.

So there you have it — undeniable proof that it’s better to be neither undefeated nor ranked number one at this point in the season. In fact, averaging the ranking of the eventual champions, it looks like the magic ranking to have is about No. 11. Good news for you Elmhurst fans!

Or maybe this just proves that it’s just better to be UW-Stevens Point since they’ve won half the titles in this too-tiny sample.

Or maybe it proves that I have too much free time on my hands.

No. 1 with a … well, scratch that

I was planning to write tonight about my thought process for voting for No. 1 and go through the pluses and minuses for each of the seven-odd candidates. Unfortunately, or fortunately if you’re from Newburgh, N.Y., Mount St. Mary made that a moot point.

David Collinge will be posting his Top 25 milestones review later tomorrow but I can’t help but think that Scranton has extended a streak it certainly doesn’t want — most one-and-out appearances as No. 1. Scranton was in the top spot going into the 2005 NCAA Tournament, again in the preseason this year, and this week. They are likely destined to miss being No. 1 for a second consecutive poll again.

I told listeners to Hoopsville on Sunday night that I was leaving my No. 1 spot open next week for the possibility that Howard Payne goes up to Abilene and sweeps Hardin-Simmons and McMurry. If they do that, I’d be willing to give them my No. 1 spot, even if Messiah doesn’t lose. To a lesser extent, I might be willing to hand it over to Chicago if it beats NYU and Brandeis at home, though they have to face the same two on the road the next week.

Yes, I voted for Messiah over Scranton. I talked to another voter who has seen them play and thinks Messiah is better, plus I look at the fact that Messiah handled DeSales on the road, while Scranton struggled with DeSales at home.

At the time I voted, I chalked that up in part to the fact that DeSales always seems to give a little extra when playing Scranton.

After Monday night’s game, though, perhaps I should’ve taken it as a sign.