I’ll be honest: I enjoy doing these blogs mainly because it allows me to reexamine my ballot on a weekly basis. Sometimes, as I have been writing these over the past few years and giving my reasons for why a team rose or fell on my ballot, I would change my mind and either go back and adjust my ballot before the deadline or keep my notes in mind during the upcoming week. I also knew that I needed to have valid reasons for my decisions or the public would call me out. But let me even more honest: I have not looked forward to writing this blog this season because the men’s Top 25 is a clustermess. There was no way I could write my thoughts on teams without argue against myself into a never ending pit for every single team in every single position on my poll. I joked with Pat Coleman while putting my pre-season ballot together, and again in Week 1, on whether I could start at number ten and go down from there.
However, it is about time I put my ballot back out for the world to see and I decided a few weeks ago this would be as good a time as any. We are about halfway through the season and at least some things are shaking out. Of course, there is plenty of teams getting Top 25 attention (the last poll had 48 teams receiving votes; this week’s poll probably has even more) and there are plenty of different opinions amongst the 25 voters – my ballot has never looked so completely different than the overall poll in all of my years of voting – but, at this point there is nothing to lose, so here it is.
Now so you can better understand what my voting has been but without breaking down each week, below is a table of each of my ballots from the preseason on:
|Preseason||Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5|
|1||UW-Whitewater||Augustana||Augustana||UW-Whitewater||Wash U.||Wash U.|
|2||Augustana||UW-Whitewater||UW-Whitewater||Amherst||St. Thomas||St. Thomas|
|3||Randolph-Macon||St. Thomas||St. Thomas||St. Thomas||Augustana||Augustana|
|5||St. Thomas||Randolph-Macon||WPI||Wash U.||WPI||WPI|
|9||Calvin||MIT||MIT||Virginia Wesleyan||Virginia Wesleyan||Dickinson|
|10||Albertus Magnus||Chicago||Wash U.||Richard Stockton||Ohio Wesleyan||Wooster|
|11||MIT||Virginia Wesleyan||Wooster||Illinois Wesleyan||Illinois Wesleyan||Albertus Magnus|
|12||Chicago||Wash U.||Randolph-Macon||MIT||Dickinson||Virginia Wesleyan|
|13||Illinois Wesleyan||Cabrini||Richard Stockton||Albertus Magnus||Albertus Magnus||Ohio Wesleyan|
|14||Wash U.||Richard Stockton||Albertus Magnus||Babson||Wooster||Marietta (new)|
|15||Virginia Wesleyan||Albertus Magnus||Babson||Wooster||Amherst||Richard Stockton|
|18||Cabrini||Illinois Wesleyan||Ohio Wesleyan||Scranton||Eastern Connecticut||Husson|
|19||Richard Stockton||Emory (new)||Scranton||Claremont-Mudd-Scripps||Emory||Amherst|
|20||Scranton||Dickinson (new)||Calvin||Eastern Connecticut||Claremont-Mudd-Scripps||Scranton|
|21||Whitworth||Scranton||Claremont-Mudd-Scripps||Emory||Centre||North Central (new)|
|22||Christopher Newport||Stevenson||Dickinson||Dickinson||Bethel (new)||Illinois Wesleyan|
|23||Stevenson||Ohio Wesleyan (new)||Eastern Connecticut (new)||Centre (new)||St. Olaf (new)||Claremont-Mudd-Scripps|
|25||Claremont-Mudd-Scripps||Claremont-Mudd-Scripps||Cabrini||Cabrini||Bates (new)||Franklin & Marshall|
#22 Christopher Newport
|#24 Whitman||#20 Calvin||#12 MIT
Clearly plenty of movement and plenty of turmoil. I am actually surprised I’ve only had three different number one teams. Also, the amount of losses I have racked up in each of these ballots is pretty surprising. For example, there were 15 losses between the preseason and Week 1 polls; there were eight losses between Week 2 and Week 3; and between Week 4 and Week 5 I racked up 14 losses. Sure, some of those had extended periods of time, but that is still a lot of losses.
You are probably wanting to know what I think of each team, because I usually provide those thoughts. Not that I am completely convinced of some of my own arguments, here is the Week 5 ballot in my eyes:
1 – Wash U. (Unchanged)
Talk about meteoric rise for the Bears. They aren’t even picked to win the conference this year and yet they remain undefeated at 11-0, but will get started with conference play this week in a long awaited game against Chicago and then they will face Emory and Rochester the following weekend. Talk about a perfect time to prove whether the Bears are as good as their first half has indicated (which included a win over Wheaton [Ill.], Webster, and Illinois Wesleyan and struggle against sub-par Trinity [Tex.]). We all know Wash U. is a well-coached team, I just didn’t think they had enough talent coming back to be this highly ranked. The next two weeks will be very revealing.
2 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)
Maybe I am the only one who is seeming something out of the Tommies that deserves this high a ranking, but I like how they are playing. Sure, their loss to Gustavus Adolphus shook my head, but they rebounded to beat St. John’s who has been a thorn in St. Thomas’ side for awhile. They also have a convincing sweep of Whitman and Whitworth on the road and a solid win over UW-Stevens Point. I like the Tommies who, wont’ have a huge challenge for a few weeks when they face Bethel and St. Olaf both improved and both on the road.
3 – Augustana (Unchanged)
The Augies certainly have had a strange season to this point. Losing players to injury, beating Bradley in the preseason, barely beating Albion and MacMurray, losing to Central, knocking off UW-Whitewater… not sure Augustana doesn’t have a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in them this year. This is a talented bunch who has played together for several years now. You can’t help but have high expectations for this squad, but they will get a test in the coming weeks by first taking on Elmhurst (good way to gauge the Blue Jays as well) before then facing North Park, North Central, Wheaton, and Illinois Wesleyan. Let’s see how they do before I feel completely comfortable with number three (I wasn’t even close to comfortable with them number one when I voted them accordingly earlier this season).
4 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)
The Warhawks were my default preseason number one because they were the national champions and I had absolutely no one else to put above them – everyone, including the Warhawks, had more questions than answers. At first I wasn’t going to knock them for losing to a top-level NAIA squad, but some arguments by others convinced me. They then returned to number one right before losing to Augustana on the road. I am not sure if Whitewater is that good or everyone at the top has fallen just a bit towards the middle. Either way, Whitewater is a tough team that is certainly coached well and with the least challenging of the WIAC schedule ahead of them for a few weeks, we will have to wait until the UW-Stevens Point game on January 21 to really get an idea of what kind of team this is (remember, this game was their coming out party last year).
5 – WPI* (Unchanged)
Clearly I am higher on the Engineers than others. I was higher on WPI coming out of the Hoopsville Classic than others on hand. Who knows why, but I can say I like how WPI is playing. They lost a tough game they should have won against Cabrini, but they play good defense, shoot the ball well, and have multiple options on offense. Chris Bartley knows how to get this team ready for anyone and they have beaten Chicago, Tufts, and Williams (who is surging) so far this season. The challenge will be that they are in a very challenging NEWMAC (who is on par with the NESCAC in terms of quality of teams from top to bottom) and will be reminded of that when they play Springfield (home), MIT (away), and Babson (away) in the next week and a half with Emerson and Clark lurking beyond. If the Engineers want to live up to my expectations while proving everyone else wrong, they need to start conference play with a bang.
6 – Babson (Unchanged)
Here’s another team I am clearly higher on than everyone else. Babson has continued to impress especially walking into LeFrak Gymnasium and holding Amherst to 49 points while handing them their second straight home loss by 19 points or more. Babson has beaten an impressive Bates squad along with Bowdoin and Tufts. They have also blown the doors off of some other squads. NEWMAC play, like with WPI, will be their bellwether. They face Emerson (away), Springfield (away), and WPI (home) in the next three games. If they come out of that 3-0 they will have proven themselves and forced me to pick between the two teams I think are the best of New England right now.
7 – Randolph-Macon* (Up 1)
Are you sensing a pattern? I am higher on the Yellow Jackets then many, but I also see how much talent is on this squad and we all know how good a coach Nate Davis has proven to be. Granted, the loss to Christopher Newport at the beginning of the season and then the head-scratcher of a loss at home to Frostburg are enough to give pause, but RMC has also beaten the likes of Virginia Wesleyan and Lynchburg in conference action and survived tests against well coached squads like Mary Washington, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Wittenberg, Cabrini, and others. The true test will always be ODAC play and they have Bridgewater (home), Guilford (home), Hampden-Sydney (away), Roanoke (away), and Virginia Wesleyan (home) in the next five games to prove themselves to others.
8 – Emory (Up 11)
In this case, I am finally joining the rest of the voting bloc. I haven’t been convinced the Eagles were that good this year despite wins over Guilford and Oglethorpe. The loss to Piedmont certainly concerned me and they didn’t exactly impress against Trinity right afterward. However, the break did them some good as they steamrolled Bates and Virginia Wesleyan to give me all the reason I need to push them well up my ballot. Now Emory has Rochester, Wash U, and Chicago all on the road (at some of the most difficult places to play in the UAA) in the next week and a half. Clearly the UAA will have plenty answered in a quick period of time.
9 – Dickinson (Up 3)
I am very apprehensive over the Red Devils on my ballot at number nine. I didn’t even include them in my preseason poll because I thought they lost far too much talent, especially at the point. However, they continue to win and the victory of North Central certainly showed me they are still capable of playing with the top teams in the country. While they haven’t played a lot of challenging teams outside of NCC, the Centennial will challenge them with a resurgent Franklin & Marshall squad along with a McDaniel, Gettysburg, and Johns Hopkins teams. Dickinson may be too high in the poll, granted, but at this point… everyone might be too high in the poll.
10 – Wooster (Up 4)
I can’t figure out the Scots. Not this year. Not any year. We always know Steve Moore will put together a good team, but this year they have lost to Hanover and Ohio Wesleyan (in back-to-back games) and have also beaten Hope who beat Ohio Wesleyan. In many of their wins they have blown teams out, but Mount Union gave them a hard time. Maybe this is the Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde team! Either way, Wooster has it’s work cut out for themselves in a rather challenging NCAC. There are probably four teams who have a valid opportunity to win this conference and as last year showed, you can’t assume anything on any night in this conference. I am leery Wooster will disappoint yet again, but in the meantime they are 9-2 and again… blowing out a lot of their opponents who are usually pretty good squads.
11 – Albertus Magnus (Up 2)
The Falcons are once again running through their season with reckless abandon and garnering plenty of hype. They at least challenged themselves with Richard Stockton at the beginning of the season, but in what all accounts was an ugly game both in play and in words/actions, AMC couldn’t pull off the victory on the road. Since then they haven’t really played anyone of note (the Purchase State game should have been a good test, but the Panthers were decimated with injuries this year) and have barely won some games they should be winning easier, it is hard to figure out if AMC is really good or it is once again smoke and mirrors. The conference will once again not provide any answers except if the Falcons lose. This is pretty much the ceiling on my ballot for this team.
12 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 3)
The Marlins are probably one of the most consistent teams this century in Division III. It feels weird if I ever consider not putting them in my Top 25. Even if they have lost a bunch of talent, Dave Macedo has someone else in line to take over – consider it their version of the next man up. An early season loss to Randolph-Macon isn’t too concerning and while losing to Emory probably wouldn’t shake any heads, losing by 13 to the Eagles (and it wasn’t even that close) does. I know Virginia Wesleyan will be competing for a conference title, but they have a somewhat easy restart to conference action. First they have a very tough Lynchburg* squad before facing Washington and Lee, Shenandoah, and Emory and Henry. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Marlins return to my top ten relatively quickly.
13 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 1)
Talk about a meteoric rise; a picture of the Battling Bishops would be in the Division III dictionary next to meteoric the way they started the season. That start included a convincing win over Calvin before dispatching Wooster and Denison a few weeks later. Since then, OWU is 2-2 with losses to Trine and Hope in the last month (and the Hope loss was bad). I’m not sure if most of us bought into Mike DeWitt’s squad took much (he certainly thinks we did), but with Wittenberg, Allegheny, and Wabash ahead before facing DePauw, once again our answers will only come if there are losses.
14 – Marietta (Unranked)
I did all I could to avoid putting the Pioneers in my ballot the last few votes. I knew they were undefeated, but it wasn’t like they had anyone that caught my eye on their schedule. Yes a win over Hanover to start the season was note-worthy, but until they spanked John Carroll and beat Eastern Connecticut I wasn’t convinced. They are now 12-0 halfway through the season and if they really are this good they will run through the OAC like a hot knife through butter. That being said and even if they stay undefeated, I’m not sure how much higher I could put Marietta on my ballot considering their SOS isn’t going to be that impressive.
15 – Richard Stockton* (Down 8)
The Osprey were way too highly ranked. I finally get to see Richard Stockton this past weekend and realized that my gut feeling of having them seventh on my last ballot was correct – they were too high. Even if they had beaten Franklin & Marshall on Sunday, they probably would have fallen at least five spots (maybe staying ahead of Ohio Wesleyan). This is a good team with plenty of talent, but they play immaturely, can’t keep their emotions in check, don’t seem to listen to the coaching staff at times (how else do you get a technical for too many men on the court out of a timeout), and don’t have a grasp of the game at other times (you never foul a buzzer beating three point attempt, for example). It is nice to see the Osprey back in the national conversation, but remember this is a very young squad who is probably riding the coattails of last year’s success in the eyes of other voters and has already proven can make a lot of mistakes. Oh, and they lost their point guard a while back and are still searching for that leadership on the court.
16 – Chicago* (Unchanged)
I am probably higher on the Maroons then they are of themselves. I am sure Mike McGrath is shaking his head that I have had Chicago as high as seven on a ballot this season. However, the UAA is full of good coaches and if they think Chicago is the team to beat, I take note. Yes, they couldn’t get past WPI and barely survived against Stevenson at the Hoopsville Classic, but that’s where I thought they proved things to me. Their losses to Wheaton and Illinois Wesleyan were disappointing, especially how much both squads are struggling right now, but they have a lot of good talent that seems to be coming together. Of course with Wash U, Rochester, and Emory coming to the Ratner Center in the next week and a half, this is the perfect time to prove themselves. Or maybe they are a year away from really being at their best.
17 – Eastern Connecticut (Up 1)
The Warriors are proving once again they are a very good team. They will most likely have their sixth straight 20-win season and top the Little East, but I wasn’t willing to jump on board at first when they lost to Hartwick near the beginning of the season. However, they have beaten some good teams like Stevenson, York (N.Y.), Rhode Island College, and Messiah since while barely losing to a clearly good team in Marietta. The Warriors are playing well and have a great test against Amherst that will have all kinds of regional implications coming up Tuesday.
18 – Husson* (unranked)
The Eagles had everything to prove and lose at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas and they proved everyone wrong, so welcome to the Top 25 Husson. Not only did they play extremely well against Scranton to earn the victory in their first game, they held strong against a very challenging Hampden-Sydney team and came away with a thrilling, buzzer beater win to close out day two at the South Point Arena. Warren Caruso has plenty of talent and many options on this squad whose only loss to Bates probably has done more to show how good Bates is as a team. Husson has Colby ahead before getting back into conference play. Conceivably the Eagles could go the rest of the season without a loss and will then look back on their Las Vegas experience when they enter the NCAA tournament – because they will have to prove people wrong once again.
19 – Amherst* (Down 4)
The Lord Jeffs are far younger than I kept reminding myself. Not sure how I ever convinced myself they should have been as high as number two – though, I know I kept telling myself how good a coach Dave Hixon is an how much he gets out of his players. The problem is, Aaron Toomey was just that good and it at least got me spoiled into thinking everyone else was that good, too. Amherst is a very good team with plenty of talent to watch out for, but they are not the same team as they have been the last three or so years. I saw them lose a 16-point second half lead and need a buzzer beating three just to tie Goucher (2-9) and force overtime. They had barely survived against a tough Drew squad before that. And we all remember what happened in their final two home games before the holiday break. Amherst may be the team to beat in the NESCAC, but despite two wins I moved them down because they are not as great a team as I was giving them credit.
20 – Scranton* (Down 4)
The Royals are once again a very consistent and challenging team. They just aren’t as good as I was indicating in my previous ballots. The loss to Misericordia now makes more sense to me after seeing them play Husson and Hanover in Las Vegas and then watching them barely survive against King’s and Wilkes this past weekend. Scranton seems to never put together 40 minutes of basketball and certainly can’t do it over a multiple-game spread. I think they are well coached and I think they have plenty of talent, but that talent never gels on the same day. If Ross Danzig is hitting shots early, you better watch out; if he is cold early, his decision making process goes cold as well. Brendan Boken is a very talented post player with great, quick moves, but if you take him out of his game like Husson did, Scranton struggles to find other options. Scranton is going to win the Landmark conference and make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. However, the Royals have got to figure out how to play consistent basketball game in and game out before they are going to be a real threat.
21 – North Central (Ill.) (Unranked)
I just haven’t been convinced the Cardinals were that good this season. They beat UW-Stevens Point and I told myself UWSP isn’t that good this year. They then faced Dickinson and if they had won I was prepared to argue that proved the Red Devils weren’t as good as others thought they were. But now they have beaten Illinois Wesleyan (to complete a rare Cardinals sweep of the Titans in men’s and women’s basketball) and coupled with the fact they have found ways to win throughout the season and I can’t ignore NCC. They have Milikin and Wheaton ahead, but the games I am keying on are January 14 and 17. They will play Augustana and Elmhurst respectively. That will help me get a better gauge of the Cardinals along with the rest of the CCIW this season.
22 – Illinois Wesleyan (Down 11)
Talk about a rough holiday break for the Titans. Did they get coal in their stockings? Illinois Wesleyan blitzed Nazareth and then apparently forgot to show up against Cal Lutheran the next night. They followed that up with a loss at North Central in an important opening game to CCIW play. Some of the comments Ron Rose said of his team, especially after the Cal Lutheran game, should cause concern especially since I don’t think the team headed those words before facing North Central. I am not sure what to make of Illinois Wesleyan right now and with games against Wheaton, Carthage, Milikin, and North Park to come… we might not get a better understanding until they face Augustana on January 21.
23 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Down 3)
The Stags are clearly on everyone’s radar, but I think everyone is trying to figure out what to make of CMS. They started the season with a strange loss to Ohio Northern, but then when on a tear before losing to UW-Stevens Point. They clearly have a talented squad, but with so many games against questionable teams or non-Division III teams (three), the Stags are putting themselves on an even bigger island than they and the rest of the SCIAC already are. Chapman (10-0) is another SCIAC who is off to a great start, but it is so hard to figure these teams out. (Tournaments like the D3hoops.com Classic could really help teams in the SCIAC.) I liked CMS in the preseason, so I am riding them for now.
24 – St. Olaf (Down 1)
The Oles got on my radar when they beat UW-Stevens Point and only had Bethel as their lone loss. They certainly got on other radars as well and when I was looking for new teams a few weeks back to add to my ballot, they got the nod. However, I am leery. They just haven’t played anyone of note besides UWSP and Bethel. Conference action will certainly help answer some questions especially when they play Augsburg and St. Thomas in the coming weeks. Could the Oles really be that good?
25 – Franklin & Marshall* (Unranked)
I could make arguments for why the Diplomats should be higher; I could make arguments for why the Diplomats shouldn’t even be ranked. After watching them on Saturday, I didn’t think they stood a chance against Richard Stockton. Then watching them get a 20 point lead into the second half I couldn’t believe what I was watching. They pretty much blew that lead and needed to hold on to dear life to win. This is a squad that is very young and is still looking for not only its identity, but some leadership. Clearly Glenn Robinson has gotten some talent on this squad that will contribute for some time to come, but I can’t help but think the Centennial schedule is going to rear its head against F&M. No longer are people in awe when they arrive at Mayser Center and no longer is F&M the team to beat in the conference. Dickinson, Johns Hopkins, Gettysburg, and McDaniel all will get additional shots at the Diplomats and should F&M come out of that relatively unblemished and can keep their heads at places like Swarthmore and Washington College, then I will tell you publically F&M is a team to worry about come March.
Centre (Previously #21)
The Colonels are a good team, but when you lose two of your last three to Johns Hopkins and Sewanee, I can’t keep you in my Top 25. I have mentioned Hopkins a few times as teams in the Centennial will have to deal with, but on a national scale Top 25 teams should beat the Blue Jays. And then Centre lost to Sewanee on the road starting conference play on a real rough note.
Bethel (Previously #22)
I just don’t know what to make of the Royals. They lost to a very good Buena Vista squad (picked to win the IIAC) and they beat St. Olaf earlier in the year. But they lost to St. John’s in a game that clearly would have stated Bethel was ready for conference action. Not sure they have a resume to keep them on a Top 25 ballot.
Stevenson* (Previously #24)
I have liked the style of play the Mustangs play for a while now. They are very well coached by Gary Stewart, but the loss to Albright after barely beating Macalester on the road and having a tougher battle than I expected against Allegheny is cause for concern. They had previously beaten Widener is what can only be described as an ugly game. Now they have Messiah, Alvernia, and Hood ahead who are all well coached and all have the capabilities, even if they aren’t the same squads as last year, of getting a quality win over Stevenson. The next few weeks are critical for the Mustangs if they hope to win the conference and ever return to the NCAA tournament.
Bates (Previously #25)
I took a flier on the Bobcats in the last poll because they were undefeated with wins over Babson, Husson, and Bowdoin. And while I think they are still very good team, they lost back-to-back games to Emory and Birmingham-Southern while in Atlanta. If they had gone 1-1 with their lone loss to Emory, I would have left them on my ballot. They have some really good tests ahead with Brandeis and Middlebury in their next two games and of course the rest of NESCAC action ahead. The Bobcats may still be a Top 25 team, they just have to prove they can recover from their Atlanta trip.
* – teams I have seen in person. I am not indicating who I have watched online as they are too numerous to keep track of accurately.
There you have it. I could make arguments for teams I left in my Top 25 to be taken off the poll. I could make arguments for teams I have been considering, but just haven’t placed on the ballot as of yet. I could argue I have teams too high, too low, etc. There are undefeated teams who haven’t played anyone of note. There are teams with three or more losses who have played a litany of good teams. It is a challenging year to vote in the men’s Top 25 and I don’t think it is going to get any easier as the season moves forward.
In the meantime, I will stew over this ballot for the next week and figure out what I am missing or over analyzing. Who knows… I might blow the whole things up in the coming weeks.