To be honest, this week’s Top 25 ballot was a pain in the a$$. It wasn’t exactly carnage throughout, but the losses that did pile up caused me to have teams rise into spots in the poll I was just not comfortable with. I certainly could have left teams where they were and had others jump over them, but there wasn’t many arguments for teams behind to jump ahead. It caused for a long 24 hours of constantly plugging away, diving into data, and trying to listen to either my head or my gut… or ignore both.
So I want to publicly thank the following for making the Week 10 Top 25 a pain in the a$$: WPI and Wesley primarily. Couldn’t you guys take care of business? WPI, dropping one game to giant-killer Emerson or to a solid unit in Babson, but both?! Wesley, your performance against York (Pa.) was anything but inspired. It didn’t occur to you that you have to play every game?
Ok, tongue-in-cheek moment over with… those two teams alone caused plenty of chaos with my ballot, but it wasn’t the only challenge I faced. Heck, 24 voters had to reconsider who we thought was the top team in the country and I am sure everyone had a different point of view in how they made that determination. I actually thought about it for five days (thanks in part to UWSP losing on a Wednesday and both teams not playing the rest of the week).
What ended up happening this week was interesting. I made some difficult decisions, I followed by head in some spots and gut in others, and I also punted a few teams and introduced some teams I had been watching for months but didn’t feel deserved to be on my ballot. All in all it sets up for another crazy week and I am not sure I won’t be cursing out a few more teams next week.
As we get started, here is a reminder of last week’s ballot… and on we go:
1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)
I thought long and hard about this and it came down to two things: did I really think the Pointers would get through WIAC play unscathed and did I really think they could go into Whitewater and not lose. First item: no. I was actually pretty surprised that UWSP had gotten this far into the season without losing a game in conference. They have been playing better and better and had been taking care of business like it was their jobs. That gets me to the second item: no. I knew UWW would be ready for UWSP and considering the game was in Whitewater I knew weeks ago there was a very real chance the Pointers would lose. The game goes to overtime and the spread is five points. UWSP ends up being the second-t0-last undefeated team in Division III (see below) and they lost a game I pretty much expected they may lose, so I couldn’t really drop them from the top spot.
2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)
As for why I didn’t change number-one votes, that argument is probably better here with Cabrini. When I thought about the UW-Whitewater game I took into consideration whether I thought Cabrini would have won that same game. The answer was actually pretty simple: no. Considering the game was in Whitewater and Cabrini would have played the game either without or with a much hobbled Aaron Walton-Moss, I cannot say with any confidence Cabrini would have won that game, either. So if I can’t say they would have won that game, I can’t then move them ahead of UW-Stevens Point. The other challenge is the fact Cabrini ended up playing no games last week thanks to three postponements including one everyone was looking forward to seeing. The game against Wesley on Monday would have helped voters gauge how good Cabrini really was at this point in the season especially with an injured Walton-Moss. However, weather got in the way of that game a second time (and pretty much won’t be made up) and then got in the way twice of Cabrini’s game with Immaculata (power problems on Cabrini’s campus). Now the challenge for the Cavaliers is the fact they have to play four games in six days this week three of which will be on the road with back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday. Despite the competition not being that challenging, I will be impressed if Cabrini gets through this week unscathed… though Mother Nature may have another postponement looming for the Cavs: a major nor’easter is being forecast for their game against … wait for it … Immaculata. (Shaking my head.)
3 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 1)
4 – Wash U (Up 1)
This is one of those teams I am not very comfortable with this high, but not sure I could default by moving other teams ahead of them – though I nearly did with UW-Whitewater. I was reluctant with the Bears earlier this season and kept them low and I may have ignored that feeling and went with the data a bit too much… we shall see.
5 – Wooster (Up 1)
6 – UW-Whitewater (Up 2)
After beating UW-Stevens Point, I nearly jumped the Warhawks up to fifth or fourth and even considered a move to third. However, the fact they had to have overtime to beat the Pointers at home gave me pause. That fact isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t the defining argument I needed to make such a bold move. Had the game been at Stevens Point, I would have felt differently. Maybe the Warhawks should be higher, but I had my reasons for them being behind IWU, Wash U., and Wooster before the week began and the win over UW-Stevens Point didn’t change that opinion for me.
7 – Amherst (Up 2)
8 – St. Norbert (Up 2)
Here is another team I am not comfortable with in the Top 10. You know I think the Green Knights are a sleeper (despite their ranking) and depending on how the NCAA tournament gets bracketed could have a break-through post-season, but that doesn’t mean I think they are the eighth best team in the country. However, I need to put some team in this slot and I didn’t have an argument for anyone behind them to jump them. St. Norbert is steamrolling their way through the conference and right now that is the biggest determining factor for me. That have sometimes struggled in their conference, but they are taking care of business this year and doing so impressively. One person pointed out their loss to UW-Whitewater probably makes them at best the third-best team in the WIAC. I agree… and thus they are third on the list compared to those teams.
9 – St. Thomas (Up 2)
10 – Williams (Up 2)
11 – Wesley (Down 4)
I won’t repeat my tongue-and-cheek comment above, but wow did the Wolverines play completely uninspired basketball against now four-win York (Pa.) on Thursday night. I realize the game was delayed, but 48 points on 1-15 shooting late in the game is bad… just bad. I watched most of the last half and it just was bad. Wesley probably would have moved further down my ballot except for two major factors: they recovered to beat Christopher Newport on Saturday and the number of losses and adjustments below this point in the poll caused a bit of a pillow to break their fall. That being said, Wesley has got to learn to play better on the road because their NCAA tournament hopes will ride on it: they aren’t getting a home game at any point in the tournament.
12 – WPI (Down 9)
Emerson has now proven they can beat Top 5 teams. First it was then-number one Amherst and now then-number three WPI. But that should have been the wake-up call. Instead, the Engineers then lost to Babson two days later. Yes, Babson is a very good team this year and it was on the road, but the home loss to Emerson should have at least had WPI ready for Babson, instead they take their second loss in a row. As with Wesley, WPI would have fallen even further down my ballot except they also benefited from the pillow-effect.
13 – Mary Washington (Down 1)
The Eagles almost put St. Mary’s on life-support with their win earlier in the week, but followed it up with a loss to Salisbury at home by ten. Talk about another team apparently not ready for their opponent. Mary Washington has one of, if not the best team in program history, but the target on their back is very large. Salisbury is a good team despite their record, so I wasn’t shocked by the loss. However, the Eagles have to realize at this point in the season every game matters.
14 – Randolph-Macon (Up 3)
15 – Brockport State (Down 1)
16 – Texas-Dallas (Up 4)
17 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 2)
18 – Whitworth (Up 3)
19 – Centre (Up 2)
20 – Purchase State (Unranked)
Here is the first of several teams I have been holding out of my Top 25 and make an appearance this week. The Panthers continue to play well and beat anyone in front of them. In fact, they only have one loss at it was on the road against Albertus Magnus. Their perceived SOS numbers are not that bad and they will probably be ranked number-one in the first regional rankings. I like what Coach Charney has put together at Purchase and there is no reason, anymore, they shouldn’t be in my Top 25.
21 – Messiah (Down 5)
Since going undefeated into mid-January, the Falcons have stumbled in places they shouldn’t be stumbling and struggling on the road. Messiah is a dangerous team, but the loss to Lycoming is inexcusable – not because Lyco isn’t a challenging team, but because if you are as good as I know Messiah to be… that is a game you put away. Big rematch with a struggling Stevenson squad looking to jump-start their season looms on Wednesday… that is going to be a major factor for my ballot next week.
22 – Albertus Magnus (Unranked)
Here is the second team I have been holding out on. I will be blunt: the loss to St. Joseph’s (Maine) is a nasty blemish on their record, but a lot of teams in my Top 25 have some questionable blemishes as well. The Falcons are once again heading down the road of maybe hosting the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and they have to take advantage of that opportunity. I think they have the capabilities to make the second weekend, but results like those against St. Joe’s and close games like that against Anna Maria this week make me nervous this team is just smoke and mirrors – thus why it has taken me this long to put them on my ballot.
23 – Bowdoin (Down 5)
Probably a bit of a harsh demotion for the Polar Bears for their loss to Middlebury, but I had trouble slotting them in any higher. I am certainly not faulting the team for how they lost to Middlebury, but I am faulting them for not beating the Panthers. Middlebury is not the fearsome team of the last few years and if Bowdoin is really that good a squad, that game should not have come down to a last-second three-pointer to tie it and then an unfortunate timeout call.
24 – Dubuque (Unranked)
For the second time this year, I am putting the Spartans into my Top 25 ballot. The simple fact is, no matter who they have played or the strength (or lack of) of their conference, Dubuque is 20-1. You have to be doing something right to get to this point in the season and only have one loss.
25 – Staten Island (Unranked)
Here is the final team I have been holding out on. Just like Purchase State and Albertus Magnus, I am not sure just how good Staten Island is. They are playing well with their last loss coming in the third game of the season – that’s 19 straight wins. The Dolphins could be a sleeper and will probably get a chance to host games in the NCAA tournament, but they may have to be ready to play on the road to prove anything.
Virginia Wesleyan (Previously 19)
The yo-yo the Marlins had been doing for a few weeks finally broke. The loss at home against Eastern Mennonite was finally the last straw for me. I kept buying in to a team that in year’s past I was reluctant about. Now they are a few games out of first place in their conference and I can’t keep a five-loss team in the Top 25 when I don’t even have teams ahead of them in the conference on my ballot (except for Randolph-Macon). The Marlins could still be a dangerous squad come March, but they have to start putting some things together and get used to playing on the road.
Eastern Connecticut (Previously 23)
I may have bought into the Warriors a bit too much. Their loss early in the week against Wesleyan disappointed me. If they were as good as I thought the information and what I saw indicated, that isn’t even a game.
Oglethorpe (Previously 24)
As you know, I don’t treat a ranked team who losses to team ranked above them too harshly. However, the Stormy Petrels just didn’t have a lot of room to play with sitting 24th when they lost to Centre (season sweep). They got knocked a few spots like others would have, it just so happened that meant coming off my ballot.
Augustana (Previously 25)
As I have said, the Vikings probably shouldn’t have been in my Top 25 last week especially when I didn’t expect them to get through this past week unscathed. The loss to Illinois Wesleyan was an excuse I didn’t need to have, but to lose in such a non-competitive manner didn’t help the cause even if they did beat Carthage the next game.