At this point, I am no longer surprised when I see countless losses to breakdown in the Top 25 this week. In the overall D3hoops.com Top 25, there were 13 total losses; in my Top 25 ballot, there were 11 – I consider myself lucky!
Clearly, parity is the name of the game this season. There simply isn’t a top tier that is impressing, there isn’t a middle group that is stepping up, and there are a number of those below that who are sending up flares to get recognized (only to sometimes have those flares snuffed out by a strange loss). It is hard to read the tea leaves this season and thus it is even harder to feel comfortable when compiling a Top 25 ballot.
This week, I removed one team – just one. However, I made a lot of moves inside the other 24 teams. When I was done, I wasn’t satisfied. I thought about blowing the entire thing up and starting over, but then realized I would probably still have the same teams in and out of the poll and I still wouldn’t be satisfied. So, I stuck with what I had and will wait to see what the next week brings.
Before showing you this week’s ballot, here is a reminder of last week’s:
1 – St. Thomas
2 – Augustana
3 – UW-Whitewater
4 – Washington U.
5 – Babson
6 – Emerson
7 – Randolph-Macon
8 – WPI
9 – Dickinson
10 – North Central (Ill.)
11 – Wooster
12 – Albertus Magnus
13 – Virginia Wesleyan
14 – Ohio Wesleyan
15 – Marietta
16 – Chicago
17 – Franklin & Marshall
18 – St. Olaf
19 – Richard Stockton
20 – St. Norbert
21 – Chapman
22 – UW-Stevens Point
23 – Husson
24 – Scranton
25 – Illinois Wesleyan
And now on to this week’s ballot with some explanations for some of the moves:
1 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)
2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
3 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)
4 – Washington U. (Unchanged)
5 – Randolph-Macon* (Up 2)
I cringed a little when I moved the Yellow Jackets up to number five. They just don’t seem like a Top 5 team, but then again who does?! RMC moves up thanks certainly to teams ahead of them losing, but also because they blew out their rivals Hampden-Sydney* on the road and then blew out Roanoke. Clearly, the Yellow Jackets are in sync right now.
6 – WPI* (Up 2)
Nice bounce back by the Engineers to brush off the loss to MIT and beat Babson the next game (and keeping from being the answer to a trivia question: what team lost back-to-back games to coaches who earned their 300th career wins in those games?). The NEWMAC is a really tough league this year, so maybe the Engineers take another loss or two before the end of the season making number six seem a bit high. However, I think WPI has more weapons than people give them credit, they play far better defense than others think, and they are well coached. I just like WPI – what can I say?
7 – Babson (Down 2)
Two spot drop for a loss to another Top 10 team seemed a bit harsh at first, but I needed to get the Beavers behind WPI who needed to stay behind RMC. So here we are. I am not reading too much into Babson’s loss other than it was against one of those favored to win the NEWMAC and the top of the conference is really, really good this season.
8 – Wooster (Up 3)
Yeah… this one makes me nervous. Nothing Wooster has done this season screams they are a Top 10 team to me. However, they blew out Hiram and won in an offensive slugfest with their rival Wittenberg proving they can put up points if they need. A frustrated DePauw squad is on the horizon, so who knows what happens this week, but for now the Fighting Scots are in my Top 10.
9 – Marietta (Up 6)
The biggest mover upward were the Pioneers this week – I even thought about moving them ahead of Wooster. Why? They are undefeated and that is a point I need to stop ignoring. They have also thoroughly handled their opponents recently as they should! Mount Union (who just beat John Carroll) is on the schedule for this week, so we can get a good sense of maybe how good Marietta is this season with that outcome.
10 – Virginia Wesleyan (Up 3)
I wouldn’t say the Marlins did anything specific to move into the Top 10. I would say that part of the movement was to fill in spots of teams who didn’t have a very good week last week. This could be short-lived as well as VWC plays Randolph-Macon (away) and Lynchburg* (home) this week. Or, Dave Macedo’s team will once again prove they are under-appreciated by many.
11 – Dickinson (Down 2)
This might come as a surprise that I didn’t move the Red Devils further down for their loss to Johns Hopkins, but there are several factors at play here. First, Hopkins has won ten straight and may finally be playing at pre-season expectations. Second, a number of teams in this section of the poll loss causing a bit of a cushion. Third, I wasn’t moving teams like Albertus Magnus ahead of them. Many have said this Dickinson team is ranked too high because they aren’t as good as last year’s team. While I might agree, someone has to fill in these slots and so far the Red Devils are playing good enough basketball to be this high on the ballot.
12 – Albertus Magnus (Unchanged)
13 – Chicago* (Up 3)
Home court is so important for everyone; it is even more important if you are in the UAA. Chicago held home-court very nicely this weekend with wins over Rochester and Emory and in the process may have shown they have figured out their point guard situation after their best player was lost to injury at the beginning of the season. The Maroons were picked to win the UAA this season and right now are undefeated with wins over Wash U., Rochester, and Emory all at home. The challenge ahead: not only Case Western Reserve who is playing very well, but the fact the Maroons still have to play Wash U., Rochester, and Emory on the road.
14 – Emory (Down 8)
I didn’t want to knock the Eagles that much for losing on the road to Wash U. and Chicago since all three teams plus Case Western Reserve are clearly the best in this conference this season. However, I had to move Emory behind Chicago and there was only so high I was willing to move the Maroons. Call it bad luck to have to be on the road your first three games at some of the toughest places to play in the conference, but Emory now has visits to Rochester, Wash U., and Chicago behind them. They do have a big challenge at home against Case Western Reserve (who voters can gauge as well this weekend), but I am confident the Eagles will regain their mojo at home in the coming weeks.
15 – North Central (Ill.) (Down 5)
When I moved the Cardinals up swiftly last week and knew they had Augustana and Elmhurst on the schedule for the week ahead, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous I was too bold in my move. Boy did that come true. The loss to Augustana could be considered expected since they were behind Augie in both the D3hoops.com poll and my own ballot. However, I thought they would prove themselves against Elmhurst but instead lost both games at home. Tough week to be sure and while Carthage and North Park don’t seem like world beaters in the week ahead, another tough week could all but sink North Central at a very important stretch of the season.
16 – St. Olaf (Up 2)
17 – St. Norbert (Up 3)
18 – Chapman (Up 3)
19 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 5)
The enigma that is the Battling Bishops continues. They lost to Wabash on Wednesday and then beat DePauw handily on Saturday. I just can’t get a good read on Ohio Wesleyan. We all know Mike DeWitt is a good coach. We all know that Ohio Wesleyan has proven themselves with their wins this season. We just don’t know how to read into their losses and thus the rest of the NCAC or Great Lakes Region. Oberlin and Denison are ahead and any loss here will mean to me this team can’t put 40 minutes together every night and are not a Top 25 team. Two wins? Not sure what that means, yet.
20 – UW-Stevens Point (Up 2)
21 – Franklin & Marshall* (Down 4)
No, I am not surprised the Diplomats finally lost a game. No, I am not surprised they lost at McDaniel* (many saw this coming). No, I didn’t consider dropping F&M out of my Top 25 (despite the fact I wasn’t sold on them at 17, either). The trick here is this… who ever watches the game tape to see what Kevin Curley and his Green Terror squad did to the Diplomats is going to have a very good game plan to work with. I am not sure F&M is seasoned or experienced enough to adjust to what clearly worked and they will probably see a lot more of defensively. Also, F&M has got to figure out how to win outside of the Mayser Center. Those who know the Diplomats program know they are tough to beat at home, but when you get them on the road especially in conference play they are vulnerable. This week they are on the road at Dickinson and a tough Haverford squad… time will tell.
22 – Husson* (Up 1)
23 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 2)
24 – St. John Fisher (Unranked)
What is in the water in Pittsford, New York? I had a coach in the East Region tell me a few weeks back that the Cardinals were the best team he had seen in New York. Maybe that isn’t saying a whole lot since this isn’t exactly the season of stellar play anywhere in the country, but it stuck with me. I focused a bit on St. John Fisher to see what come of that statement. SJF has pretty much handled any team they have seen on the court. The Cardinals are winning by double-figures usually and just put up 102 points on Hartwick beating them by 37! Who knows what is in the water, but right now it as the Cardinals flying high.
25 – Case Western Reserve (Unranked)
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I think the Spartans are on my ballot just a little bit early. Call it the NYU affect: play really well in the non-conference part of your season while not playing too many good teams and start the season on a roll only to jump into conference play and fall apart. The difference so far in this plan: Case Western Reserve is 3-0 in UAA action. Now granted, the Spartans have played Carnegie Mellon, NYU, and Brandeis – not exactly the top of the conference – and needed overtime to beat the Judges, but I do like what I am seeing so far. Of course, Emory and Rochester this weekend before Chicago and Wash U the following weekend ALL on the road. This could either be a very brief visit on my ballot or could be confirmation of a really special team at CWR this season.
Richard Stockton* (Previously 19)
When I first submitted my ballot, Richard Stockton was 24. While writing this blog, I got to the Osprey and was nearly done writing when something changed my mind. The result: I dropped them. Why? The high-wire act is not something a Top 25 team should be performing. Last Monday, that act finally caught up to Richard Stockton when I watched them lose to Ramapo at home in a rather uninspired performance. How did the Osprey respond? By barely getting passed Montclair State two days later. I know the NJAC likes to talk about how difficult the conference is especially that the bottom teams are better than people know. However, the top of this conference is not as good as those in the NJAC would like you to believe and Stockton is proving that right now. They have been on a high-wire for a while and have not looked good in the last few weeks. They have escaped time and time again with wins before Ramapo got them. If Stockton is truly a Top 25 team, they would handle teams they should be head-and-shoulders above. Otherwise, they are a good team but not a Top 25 squad.
Scranton* (Previously 24)
Speaking of another team that has been performing on the high-wire, it’s the Royals. Scranton has also apparently been playing without a net. According to what I learned, they lost their number one guy Ross Danzig to a severe ankle injury (severity unconfirmed) seconds into their overtime loss to Ithaca though he was back against Catholic*. If Scranton is a Top 25 team, they should have easily handled Ithaca and then beat the Cardinals. It marked just the third time in the last 18 games CUA has beaten Scranton. If Danzig’s injury plagues him, Scranton is in a lot of trouble. While they don’t necessarily have a true point guard, Danzig is their leader and can be dangerous from outside. I liked Scranton for a while this season, but once again I don’t think the Royals are capable of putting it together for an entire season.
(Edit: I have since been told Ross Danzig did NOT get injured this past week. I apologize for any confusion to the contrary. This is an example of how hard it is to follow teams night in and night out. His alleged injury wasn’t the reason Scranton came out of the poll – two losses were the reasons – but the concern over his injury I thought was something that could be a challenge down the road. Since he isn’t injured, the fact they are struggling and have been playing on a high-wire is more concerning from a team point of view.)
* – seen in person this season.