Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 7

Last week I was on the verge of gutting my Top 25 and starting over. It is something I do a couple times a year and it certainly looked like I was heading down that road again, but then something strange happened: teams settled down and won games – at least in the top half of my ballot. What I did consider doing was blowing up the bottom half of my Top 25 and starting over there… but that will have ramifications on the top half. Meaning? If I was going to blow up the ballot, I had to do the entire thing. So I passed on the idea.

This week I readily thought I would have a lot of movement, but once again either teams didn’t back up a big win or didn’t exceed expectations. It isn’t like there weren’t any games that could make a case: if DePauw had beaten Ohio Wesleyan, Stevenson lost to Lycoming, Bowdoin beat Williams, Virginia Wesleyan lost either one of their games, etc. As a result, I actually introduced just one new team in my Top 25, though I have about ten serious contenders on the outside looking in right now.

So, let’s get to my ballot. As a reminder, here is my ballot from last week and thoughts I had on some of the teams then. There is one major downward move in this ballot that may surprise some people, but make sure you read the reasons why before you think I am being too harsh.

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)

3 – Wooster (Unchanged)

4 – WPI (Unchanged)

5 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)

6 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

7 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

8 – Amherst (Unchanged)

9 – Williams (Unchanged)

10 – Wash U. (Up 2)
The Bears got through their first significant challenge in the UAA schedule rather nicely. The game on Sunday against NYU was more of a test for the Violets than the Bears, but I still wanted to see how the Bears would handle the first two-game weekend of the conference season. I think they solidified a Top 10 spot as a result (NYU didn’t help any chance of me considering them for the Top 25).

11 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

12 – Augustana (Up 2)
I certainly considered moving the Vikings even further up my ballot, but there wasn’t much argument to slot them ahead of others right now. This is a very young team that is playing like veterans. I am really impressed with what Grey Giovanine has been able to do with this unit. And one tidbit to consider… every time Augustana takes an international trip during the summer (no more than once every three years by NCAA rules) they have turned that into very impressive seasons. Last time they finished 27-4 and lost in the elite eight to eventual national champions St. Thomas.

13 – Wesley (Up 2)
Here is another team I considered moving up higher after they beat St. Mary’s on the road. The Wolverines are taking everyone’s best shot and winning. What is even scarier is they are getting big wins on the road against the top teams in the conference. Meaning the likes of St. Mary’s and Christopher Newport still have to go to Dover, Delaware and play in Wesley’s rather tight and very home-friendly confines. Getting big wins on the road in the CAC while holding court at home is going to make a big difference for Wesley. Too bad that gym comes nowhere close to NCAA regulations for hosting tournament play.

14 – Oglethorpe (Up 2)

15 – Messiah (Up 4)
Yeah… this is a strange move, I will admit. The Falcons lost to Stevenson on the road in double-overtime and I moved them up in my poll. Normally most voters would at least move them down a couple of spots, but I had two factors at play. First, having seen Messiah in person, this team is a legitimate NCAA threat. They are very well disciplined, play incredible defense, move the ball swiftly and on point, and don’t back down. Messiah could get a chance to host games in the NCAA tournament, but proved they can go on the road and play tough as well. Messiah actually proved how good they were to me in a tough loss. And the other factor: so many teams in this area didn’t live up to expectations and someone had to fill the hole in this area.

16 – Mary Washington (Up 4)
The Eagles continue to play well and may be getting better as the season goes along. They haven’t had this good a record in a very, very long time and they don’t seem to have any major flaws in their game. However, they are in what has become one of the toughest and best years in Capital Athletic Conference history, so there is more to gauge this team by.

17 – Virginia Wesleyan (Up 8)
I pretty much expected the Marlins to split the week with Hampden-Sydney and Guilford on their schedule in a battle for the top of the ODAC, but instead Virginia Wesleyan beats HSC on the road (short drive down the interstate) and man-handles Guilford at home. The Marlins do have a tough road battle with Randolph-Macon this week, but Virginia Wesleyan may have risen up at just the right time to take control of the conference and their own destiny.

18 – Stevenson (Up 6)
I was a little worried for the Mustangs heading into the week. Not only did they have undefeated Messiah visiting, but they had a trap game in Lycoming to follow what win or lose would be an emotional game. Stevenson got the job done against probably the best team they have played this year in Messiah. While it wasn’t a dominating win at home, they gutted it out in a game that never saw a lead bigger than two possessions. Of course, against Lycoming they once again nearly blew a 20+ point lead and gave their fans a cardiac moment near the end. Stevenson is going to go as far as they will allow themselves to go. Honestly, they will lose when they beat themselves more than another team beating them. However, big win over Messiah pushes them up the poll.

19 – Wittenberg (Down 8)
It was a tough week for the Tigers. I don’t think I would have punished them that much for two losses in a tough stretch of NCAC games, except they got completely dominated in their game against DePauw. 46 total points for a team that has been playing so well. Then for most of the game against Wooster (on Wittenberg’s court) they were being dominated yet again. A great run to finish the game made the outcome more respectable, but Wittenberg didn’t do themselves any favors. Still have to play these teams and Ohio Wesleyan again and the second time around could be tougher than the first.

20 – Bowdoin (Down 1)

21 – Dickinson (Unchanged)

22 – Calvin (Unchanged)

23 – St. Mary’s (Md.) (Down 13)
They lose to ranked Wesley and plummet in the polls… doesn’t sound right, does it? The problem is St. Mary’s has now lost their second game of the season at home, lost to a team they have to play on the road near the end of the season, and racked up their fourth loss overall. I had a lot of faith in the Seahawks, but their weaknesses are clearly being exploited and four losses at this point means they have to button things up the rest of the way in the CAC or they could be out of NCAA contention. The other problem, where in the world do I put them higher up in the poll? Everyone above them except for Calvin has fewer losses; everyone above them is playing better basketball; everyone above them is taking care of their home court. I still think St. Mary’s is a dangerous team thanks to their experience, but they need to go on a run and gain some more confidence.

24 – Dubuque (Unranked)
If you are undefeated at this point in the season, I don’t care what conference you are in, you deserve to be recognized in the Top 25. Certainly their schedule is not something to cheer about, but it does include a win over Carthage. Who knows what IIAC truly has in store for the Spartans (Loras looming), but Dubuque is 15-0 with just ten games remaining. Could they be the dark horse of the West Region?

25 – Whitworth (Down 8)
I am losing confidence in the Pirates. They lost on the road to George Fox who I know is a good team, but I think the game showed more problems. Whitworth is not that deep off the bench, especially in the post position (where they go in trouble against UW-Stevens Point) and isn’t able to control the game like they want to. The real test will be Tuesday when Whitworth is on the road at Whitman. At this point I think the game is Whitman’s to lose.

Dropped out:
Wheaton (Ill.) (Previously 23)
Two losses are two losses, especially when you lose games you need to win to stay near the top of the CCIW. Carthage and Illinois Wesleyan dispatched the visiting Thunder leaving Wheaton 3-2 in the conference and 10-6 overall. Wheaton still has time to make up for lost ground, but they will have to do it on the road against Augustana to make waves.

ODACcess: A big man who does the little things (Lynchburg @ Washington and Lee)

“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
― Edward Everett Hale

LEXINGTON, Va. — Fans often develop powerful feelings towards their favorite athletes, particularly when those athletes exhibit qualities we wish to emulate. But to emotionally invest in an athlete is to open oneself to heartbreak if that athlete crashes down to earth. For example, while the passage of time has allowed us to become detached baseball observers and somewhat rationally debate the Hall of Fame candidacies of McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, and so forth, for those of us who idolized these players in their steroid-fueled primes it is hard to forget how crushed we felt when we learned they had cheated. Even more disheartening is the disgraced athlete who inspired us. Lance Armstrong gave hope to millions afflicted with cancer, but rather than standing as a symbol of triumphant victory over a terrible illness, today Armstrong is shorthand for modern-day, Greek-tragedy-level hubris.

In light of these scandals, it is reasonable (though unfortunate) that many of us have built an emotional firewall between ourselves and narratives about athletes overcoming adversity. We have been burned one too many times. When one encounters a truly inspiring athlete, then, the challenge to one’s carefully-developed emotional cynicism can be uncomfortable–at least at first.

This is the story of Washington and Lee captain Jim Etling. By the numbers, the 6-foot-7 junior is a pedestrian backup forward: 5.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game off the bench. His ODAC-leading 94.3% clip on free-throw attempts raises an eyebrow, particularly for a relative big man, but other than that Etling’s statistical output is unremarkable. The fact that he gets on the court at all should be remarkable, though, because Etling, who was not recruited out of high school and proved himself enough on the practice squad to make the team as a freshman, has epilepsy.


Now, we don’t want to oversell this. Etling himself played it down in his postgame interview, focusing more on his approach to balancing athletics with the rigorous academics at Washington and Lee than on the extra effort he has to take to manage his health. And at least some research has indicated that, rather than causing epileptic seizures as once assumed, contact sports may actually decrease seizure frequency for those at risk. However, the importance of Jim Etling to his team shines through in the words of Generals head coach Adam Hutchinson.

When ODACcess interviewed Hutchinson after the game, we began with the standard questions asked of a coach following a close loss. His replies were equally standard; for instance, he talked about how his team’s desire to win caused a few mistakes down the stretch, and how he was proud of them for really caring whether they win or lose. His answers were calm, professional, and measured. When we asked the coach what Etling means to the team, however, his dispassionate demeanor changed.

Hutchinson paused for several seconds to find the right words. “Jim’s one of those teammates that affects your heart when you watch him compete,” he began, in a slow but subtly passionate tone evidencing the truth, the real emotion, behind his words.

“He inspires me with his commitment to his teammates, with his work ethic, with his mental toughness. And you know, there’s a lot of guys who, when things are going right for them, or even right for the team, they’re–yeah, you want them with you. Jim’s a guy you want with you when stuff’s going wrong.”


As he continued Hutchinson’s body language became more expressive and his voice quickened, exuding a fervent earnestness. “He really believes in playing the game the right way. He is committed to doing it, and he does it. He does it without waver. First practice of the year, last practice of the year. Last minute of a game, first minute of a game. Jim Etling’s the same guy. He’s going to box out, he’s going to rebound, he’s going to communicate, take charges, et cetera.”

“Honestly, I think everybody on our team is probably well-served modeling themselves after Jim.” He smiled, pausing for effect. “And that includes our coaching staff.”

The coach made no mention of Etling’s condition. And for good reason: when a player–when a person–works so hard and contributes so many intangibles absent from the score sheet, while simultaneously being so unselfish, none of the background stuff should matter.

With under 15 seconds to play and the Generals trailing by six, Patrick O’Connor drove into the lane, drawing Lynchburg defenders into the paint before kicking it out to an open Etling beyond the arc. Etling–4-for-23 on three-point attempts entering the contest–swished his second trey of the afternoon on his second try. The Hornets were already in the double bonus, and so barring a quick steal or consecutive missed free-throws his shot wouldn’t end up affecting who won (and it didn’t). But you would never have known that from his teammates’ reactions. The bench rose in unison and the players on the court enthusiastically slapped high fives with Etling as he was subbed out. In a way, this result is more befitting of our story than a Hollywood ending where the challenged underdog comes out on top, because from what we can gather, for Etling the goal is process–methodical, intense, yeoman-like process–not just outcome.

Jim Etling will never be a professional basketball player, but he will be an example for those who value dedication over making excuses, even when the excuse would be perfectly understandable. In short, he is a role model, stats and cynicism be damned.


  • Final: Lynchburg Hornets 71 (11-4, 4-2 ODAC), Washington & Lee Generals 66 (5-10, 2-4)
  • Player of the Game: Drew Kimberly (W&L) (18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks)
  • Relive the game from our seats: check out our @ODACcess livetweets on Storify and our photos on Flikr
  • Mileage Tracker: 1363 miles
  • Next Stop: Washington and Lee at Roanoke, January 25