Two and a half weeks into the season and the first in-season Top 25 is here.
I knew that the preseason poll would not hold up. There was no way in this era of parity that I could assume most of the Top 25 would go unscathed. But this was brutal.
The overall D3hoops.com Top 25 went 82-31 (.726) to start the season. Those receiving votes: 88-27 (.765). Ouch.
My preseason Top 25? 83-33 (.716) including a forfeit.
For those who have read these blogs over the course of last season and this preseason, you know I have spoken a lot about parity in Division III. I mentioned in the preseason blog that “this year may see that parity go even further.”
Yep. It has. And it will.
I continued, “I am expecting one thing – a wide open season.”
Yep. It has been. And it will be.
I pretty much have resigned myself to the fact each week will be a challenging, time consuming process. But as another voter said to me this week while we discussed our thoughts on different teams and the poll overall, “all we need is for someone to win some games to make it a little easier.” Is that so much to ask?
This week all but TWO teams in my preseason poll shifted position. Outside of the top six, it was a free-for-all. I nearly rubbed away all of the paper on my pad from all the erasing I was doing. Insert teams, change my mind, erase, reinsert teams, change my mind, erase, etc., etc., etc. And to prove how wide open things are… there are seven teams in the D3hoops.com Top 25 that I do NOT have on my ballot. SEVEN!
Not much more I can say in this section, because there is plenty to say below each team (expect one – not adding any notes to the most obvious decision on this poll). So, let’s get on to my ballot from the first week of this season.
1 – Augustana^
Any questions? Good.
2 – Whitworth (Up 2)
I had a coach from the west coach reach out to me randomly and part of his email said Whitworth was good. Damn good. Worthy of their overall No. 3 ranking. I take some coaches’ views, especially those I respect their point, very seriously. I get to know who is blowing smoke, who is downplaying things, who is sincere, and who is trying to push an agenda. This coach isn’t even in Whitworth’s conference and called them legit. The Pirates have had some close games, but they also have won those games which is more than you can say for a vast majority of Division III teams already this year.
3 – Hope (Up 13)
The Fighting Dutchmen made a BIG jump thanks to a heck of a start to the season… including a solid victory over defending national championship UW-Stevens Point^ on the road the night after traveling to UW-La Crosse. Yes, Hope lost to Cornerstone, but that is the number one team in NAIA Division II and it took a 9-0 run by the Eagles to defeat Hope by seix. This team is loaded with seniors and juniors who all can score, rebound, play defense, and lead this squad. That is a dangerous combination in Division III, just ask Augustana. This might be the season Hope fans and the rest of the nation has been waiting for from western Michigan. I have a feeling something special is brewing on the shores of Lake Michigan.
4 – St. Thomas* (Up 4)
The Tommies are good. Even when they take on a challenge from a David like team, they don’t falter. They weather the storm and push through. I got to see St. Thomas at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic and liked what I saw. Even their game against Southern Vermont* where they were down early showed me they can fight back. And their game against Emory* showed that even when they are struggling they can find answers. They aren’t flashy and they don’t have just one player that dominates making them hard to defend. FOUR guys lead the team in double-figures, though admittedly on the stat sheet there is a noticeable drop-off after those guys (all seniors and juniors). However, two sophomores will eventually start stealing headlines, John Veil and Ryan Boll, along with others as this team improves from what is already a very good start to the season.
5 – Amherst^ (Unchanged)
The Lord Jeffs once again started the season with a bit of a ho-hum schedule. It’s a trademark of Dave Hixon’s whether it’s intentional or not. Johnson State, Worcester State, and Anna Maria, all of them at home. While I wasn’t impressed with the opponents, I wanted to see how Amherst at least played and how much they won those games by. Nothing was close – 18 points. Amherst is going to be a very good team, once again, from the Northeast. They just need to get some better challenges to prove themselves before conference play begins. We will have to wait until Brandeis (Dec. 8) and Babson (Dec. 10), both on the road, to see that challenge. They also have Rust on their schedule on January 2 – which will be a perfect game to literally shake the rust off a 20-day lay-off between games.
6 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 7)
The Battling Bishops started the season ready to play! The team seemed to start off where last season ended, on a roll. Of note, wins over Calvin, Trine, and Illinois Wesleyan jumped out at me. They are also putting up points (four of the six games 80-plus) and seem ready to live up to expectations that this year could be special. Of course, Wooster is looming. Ohio Wesleyan starts conference action at home against the Scots in what will be the defining game of the early season. However, with two of the three D3hoops.com Preseason All-Americas from the Great Lakes Region belonging to the Battling Bishops… I like their chances this season.
7 – Elmhurst (Down 5)
The CCIW coaches might get together and mandate no one is allowed to play any team from the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, especially Benedictine! Elmhurst was one of three CCIW teams (Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton) to lose to the Eagles and they lost to them at home. That almost overshadowed dominating wins over Curry and Westminster along with a surprise System style win over Greenville. They followed up with barely beating Alma which does raise some concerns, unless you talk to those in the MIAA who say Alma could be dangerous (as Greg Mitchell of Hope told me on Sunday’s Hoopsville). I think Elmhurst is a team that will be darn tough this season, but not surprised they will also take a few lumps – I clearly was expecting too much at number two in the preseason.
8 – Marietta (Up 1)
This area (No. 7 on down) is where my ballot starts to feel a little uncomfortable. I don’t have teams I can say confidently are the seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth best and beyond. I can’t. Marietta doesn’t feel like the eighth best team in the country, but no one behind them seems like they are better – which is why they ended up moving up a spot. Nothing about the Pioneers start blows me away. Solid wins over teams you expect them to beat. Barely defeated maybe an overrated Catholic^ squad (more on that later on) and then dropped a game against a tough St. Vincent squad, but one they should have beaten (the Bearcats lost to Hood prior). Marietta gets to start conference play with what was the bottom half of the OAC last season, though watch out for Wilmington… but it only gets tougher from here.
9 – Babson^ (Up 1)
Another team that moved up despite a loss. I like what I see with Babson including word they have some major talent that transferred in. However, they lost to Bowdoin in overtime after starting with an Amherst like schedule and barely getting past Lasell and Becker. Bowdoin isn’t a horrible loss, but with games against Brandeis, Amherst, and Bates still to come plus playing in the NEWMAC… extra losses are not something the Beavers can afford to put on their resume. Can Babson get back to Salem? Probably, but they need to get more dominate on offense.
10 – St. John Fisher* (Up 7)
The Cardinals were the second best team at the Hoopsville Classic (behind St. Thomas). They fought through some challenges, made the right adjustments, and found ways to get their offense in sync. I know they are still finding themselves after losing so many seniors, but when you have a presence like Keegan Ryan (D3hoops.com Second Team All-America) on the inside you are going to be in good shape. One thing the Cardinals will have to be careful about is foul trouble. They like to play aggressive, but Coach Rob Kornaker has stated it publically, they have to adjust to a freer flowing game. If they can make that adjustment while not sacrificing their defensive quality of play, SJF will be a tough team to get through come March.
11 – Stockton^ (Up 1)
Nothing about the Ospreys start to the season makes me sit up and take notice. They started with a loss to a tough Staten Island squad and then rolled over Neumann, Gwynedd Mercy^, and Rowan as they should have. I said in the preseason blog I might be buying in a little too much and I still worry I am. They move up a spot mainly because someone has to fit into the number 11 hole even if the team I put here might be closer to a number 17 squad.
12 – UW-Stevens Point^ (Up 11)
Just writing the words “Up 11” makes me nervous. Yes, the Pointers are off to a good start this season and their only loss is to Hope who ranked higher – though it was by 12 on Stevens Point’s home court. They barely got past Superior, survived against St. Olaf (who was previously ranked), and handled their business against a tough St. Norbert squad. But what makes me nervous, is they will play No. 1 Augustana^ this coming weekend in a rematch of the national title game and I am not sure it will be close. I doubted UWSP last season and didn’t rank them until well into the year. They proved everyone wrong being one of the best defensive teams in recent memory. However, they have really lost a lot from last year’s squad and the entire top of the WIAC is arguably down this season. I am not sure they are the 12th-best team in the country right now; maybe closer to low teens. But here we are again with a team filling a higher hole because I am not allowed to leave these spots simply blank.
13 – Washington Univ.^ (Unranked)
The moment I pressed the “vote” button on Monday, I was second-guessing this decision. I had been second-guessing it the entire day especially after I slotted them in even higher. I quickly erased that idea and moved them down closer to 20. But then I had a large gap where I had no teams, so after a lot of moving around and readjusting… Wash U ended up 13th. What did catch my eye is that they have had a dominating start to the season against opponents they should be dominating. No game has ended closer than 16 (Johns Hopkins^) with most games being 20 points or more. The Bears appear to be playing incredibly good defense (not allowing more than 65 points) which was a major problem last year. However, I may quickly regret this decision as even those who know the program well think my vote is nuts. Illinois Wesleyan and Augustana loom in the next three games. Those two along with Centre (coming up at the end of December) are the best three teams on Wash U’s out-of-conference schedule. They don’t have a tough schedule this year. So this really could just be smoke and mirrors that I am buying into. We will talk about this again next week I am sure.
14 –Brooklyn (Unranked)
I know I said this on Hoopsville a few weeks back, but watch out not only for the Bulldogs but the CUNYAC. Brooklyn is coming off of a quiet 23-win season last year, rebounding from consecutive 12-14 seasons. Alum Rich Micallef has had an immediate impact on this squad and they could be the talk of at least the Atlantic Region this season. They have had some dominating wins to start the year (first three games and four of the six were 90+ point performances) against some pretty good talent: Case Western Reserve and William Paterson among others. Again, they feel a little high at 14, but there is a gap in the middle of this ballot for me. However, Brooklyn is a team that could change the tournament landscape come March (if they make it out of a tougher than usual CUNYAC).
15 – William Paterson (Down 1)
I don’t know what to do with the Pioneers. This is the other very talented squad in the Atlantic Region (my how things in this region have changed in a few years), but there is turmoil right now. They started the season with a spanking of Mount Union before having some tough battles to follow. Then they got spanked by Brooklyn on a day/night that eventually would reveal their coach, Jose Rebimbas, had been fired. Was this firing already a distraction leading up? Did the team know the day of the Brooklyn game, Rebimbas’ last? This was followed up with the team walking off the floor before the tip-off against Ramapo (a result that the NCAA still has to weigh in on for multiple reasons). Then it was days of no one knowing if they would show up at Cabrini and play Rosemont two days after Thanksgiving (many didn’t know the morning of the game!). I think William Paterson can be a special team this year, but they have to keep their heads on straight. I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt for now as maybe cooler heads have prevailed and they will fight through this season – maybe even be inspired by what they feel is an unjust firing. However, the moment more chinks in the armor are revealed… I won’t hesitate to bail as I fear this team, as special as it appears, could also unravel in a second. (More of my thoughts on their forfeit and decisions after at the beginning of Sunday’s Hoopsville.)
16 – Benedictine (Unranked)
When you start the season winning three games against CCIW foes, two of them on the road, and both of those being Top 25 programs, you deserve some love and attention. Now, this might be a bit high, but this is where they fit in for now. The Eagles certainly came out guns blazing this season. Yes, they beat Illinois Wesleyan for the second consecutive season, but they followed it up with wins over Wheaton and Elmhurst – they didn’t beat Wheaton last season! The only challenge is going to be their conference and the rest of their schedule. Benedictine has five out of conference games and they are ALL against CCIW teams. Meaning they won’t play a game outside of the NACC or CCIW and they aren’t even picked to win the NACC (something coach Kevin Bunkenburg talked about on Sunday’s Hoopsville)! Maybe this ranking is just a reward for a fabulous and historic start to the season… or it could be a sign that there are some new players in the Central Region that no one would have given any mind to in recent years.
17 – Salisbury* (Unranked)
I wasn’t necessarily convinced I was going to vote for the Sea Gulls following the Hoopsville Classic, but they did do a very good job at Stevenson and then went and knocked off Virginia Wesleyan. Salisbury can be dangerous this season. They aren’t playing with their best player from last season due to injury, but they have the components to beat you inside or outside – heck, did you see what they shot against DeSales*?! I know Christopher Newport is the pick to win the CAC, but I think people didn’t realize how quickly Andy Sachs and the team would jell. They look good and face CNU coming up this week. Great early-season conference game for everyone to gauge things.
18 – Mount Union (Down 11)
Tough to start the season with a shellacking given to you by William Paterson, but to follow that up with a beatdown by North Central is tough. Granted, the Purple Raiders returned the favor in their three other games including against Chicago^, but that only muddied the resume. I debated about giving up completely, but they did show they could win a big game. Of course, that was part of a North Central beats Mount Union who beats Chicago who beats North Central weekend that just made things madly confusing. I think Mount Union will right the ship and be dangerous the rest of the way, but with Baldwin Wallace, Capital, and Ohio Northern part of their four-game start to conference play… they better be ready to fix things now.
19 – Chicago^ (Down 16)
Yeah, I must have drank some kind of Kool-Aid with the Maroons… and no, that drink was not coming from Chicago’s campus. The last two seasons there is something about Chicago I really like, but either I am completely losing my mind or they simply aren’t living up to expectations. Many would probably say I am nuts – and I probably was – for having them third in my preseason poll. However, I think they are talented enough to be a Top 10 team – thus maybe they aren’t living up to the expectations. Who knows? Chicago looked sluggish against North Park and gave the game away in the end. They didn’t look good against Mount Union before looking much better against North Central. The Northwest trip certainly did them good, but they have a couple of really tough tests ahead with Wheaton and Illinois Wesleyan in their next four games. Maybe I bought in too soon – like last season.
20 – Catholic^ (Down 14)
I said in my preseason poll I was apprehensive with where I positioned the Cardinals No. 6, but I didn’t foresee this start to the season. I also said that previous years Catholic hadn’t lived up to expectations… it certainly looks like that could be true again this year. The only problem I have had with CUA over the course of many years… they don’t live up to expectations. Maybe they have to come into a season with no expectations. That’s what they did in 2012 when they shocked everyone at the Hoopsville Classic started what would be a magical year which ended in a tough NCAA Round 2 loss at Williams. Granted, they have lost two games on last second shots and won another by two. They have had close games. But they shouldn’t be close against Washington and Lee and maybe Wesley^. The Cardinals have Susquehanna^ (picked to finish second in the Landmark) ahead this week. Their out of conference games coming up against St. Vincent and Dickinson* will be telling. If Catholic doesn’t dominate an easy-to-dominate Landmark, they are going to fall short.
21 – Virginia Wesleyan^ (Down 10)
I didn’t have the Marlins as high up as a lot of voters in the preseason ballot, but that doesn’t mean their start wasn’t disappointing. The tip-in loss to Wesley was one thing, but to get smacked by Salisbury probably revealed more about VWC than many realized. However, Dave Macedo is known for always reloading his squad – they never rebuild. They dominated what appears to be a pretty good Averett squad and took care of business against MSOE, Emory and Henry, and N.C. Wesleyan as expected. But the next three games will be telling: Washington & Lee, Christopher Newport, and Mary Washington. Come out of that unscathed is a good sign. Come out of that run with bruises and it might not be as grand a year as some expected. Overall the top of the ODAC is down this year (that parity thing, again), so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised the top team in the conference is struggling as well. Maybe they didn’t reload as much as many expected they would.
22 – John Carroll (Unranked)
Could the Blue Streak be the real deal this season? I know expectations in the conference are high after their first 20-win season in five years and they have started the season 5-0. My only concern is they didn’t exactly play a who’s who of teams this season – this list is a who’s who from seasons past: Transylvania, St. Mary’s (Md.), Birmingham-Southern. There is also Rust and La Roche. Of those five games, the only one close was the last one to La Roche and John Carroll has put up an average of 103.2 points per game (while allowing 85.4)! That’s some good offensive numbers. They start conference action with Wilmington and Marietta in the next four games… so now things get real for John Carroll. Maybe they are for real.
23 – East Texas Baptist (Down 4)
Eh. This wasn’t the team I figured I would be left with from the Texas area in my Top 25. A close win over Rhodes and a one-point loss to Texas Lutheran (who I am still trying to get a read on) just makes things confusing. Plenty of good games on the horizon for the Tigers (McMurry, Hardin-Simmons, Louisiana College) to get a better idea of how good they could potentially be this season.
24 – Wooster (Down 1)
I said in the preseason poll I was tempted not to even include the Scots on my ballot. Clearly other voters feel the same way. They lost to certainly a good team in Skidmore, but not a Top 25 team at this point. The game against Silver Lake does nothing for me – it’s a waste of a game in my opinion. Then Wooster dominated Cabrini^ to no surprise. For now I will leave Wooster on my ballot as I don’t have anything to sway me otherwise. However, Ohio Wesleyan, DePauw, and Wabash are ahead and that will make or break what I expect of Wooster this year.
25 – Northwestern (Unranked)
There were a LOT of teams I could have slotted in here. I actually probably should have gone with Oswego State, but the Eagles are off to a strong 5-0 start following an incredible finish to last season (remember they made the Sweet 16 with wins over St. Thomas and Elmhurst). I don’t love who they beat, but I don’t hate the schedule either. A good test against Bethel is coming up before a long break and conference action. We shall see how long I ride with Northwestern, but they certainly have been a fun team to watch the last nine months (and even longer).
Emory* (Previously 15)
Following the Hoopsville Classic, I thought the Eagles were the third-best team there. They were in no danger of falling off my ballot. But they lost to Marville and LaGrange to follow the trip to Baltimore and I had no choice. Not a good start to the season. Emory has a lot of good tools and talent on this squad, but they are clearly searching for their identity. Replacing Alex Foster and others was obviously going to be tough, but maybe we thought after years of replacing talented stars that Emory could rebound well. Compound things with injuries and Emory has had a tough start to the year. They will reemerge in the national conversation as they battle in the UAA, but in the meantime they are off my ballot and will have to really get rolling before they can probably return.
Dickinson* (Previously 18)
Even after the Hoopsville Classic I was thinking about dropping them from my poll. They struggled against Stevenson* and couldn’t find their rhythm against St. John Fisher*. I really thought the Red Devils would still be a Top 25 caliber team until I saw them against McDaniel*. The Green Terror came out fast and forced Dickinson to make massive changes in the first half including going to a zone defense. The result was Dickinson getting back into the game and leading. But they couldn’t readjust in the second half and McDaniel was able to make adjustments and ended up leaving Dickinson in their dust. Alan Seretti says he doesn’t want to see me any more this season (seen three of their four games, only one was a win and I only saw the second half of that one) and I can’t blame him. Dickinson has a lot more to fix and replace than maybe a lot of thought they would. It turns out, losing Gerry Wixted and his class was far more devastating than losing Adam Honig the season prior.
Eastern Connecticut (Previously 20)
Maybe the Warriors aren’t ready for prime time? Losses to WPI (who may be better than anyone expected they would be) and Johnson and Wales (who certainly could be position to win the GNAC this season) didn’t impress me. Not for a team that should be far better than that. They did get dominating wins over Western New England, Ramapo, and Hamilton, so I will keep them on my radar. But I really wasn’t expecting a 3-2 start from Eastern Connecticut this season.
Bates (Previously 21)
I probably voted for the wrong NESCAC team in the preseason poll anyway. I probably should have gone with Trinity (Conn.), but that is in the past. Bates in the meantime lost in shootouts with Southern Maine and University of New England – both teams off to terrific starts (4-2 and 5-2 respectively), but also teams I thought Bates could have beaten. They have some interesting tests upcoming before conference play: Husson^, St. Joesph’s (Maine), Colby (non-conference), Southern Vermont*, WPI, Babson^, Brandeis, and either Springfield or Husson (again) all before NESCAC action begins. If the Bobcats are for real this season and able to back-up last season’s great run, it’s this out-of-conference schedule that is very important.
Hardin-Simmons (Previously 22)
I thought this was supposed to be the Cowboys’ big season, but a 3-3 start is ugly. Especially when the losses include Southwestern and Schreiner. Their two wins? Schreiner (2-4) and winless Trinity (Texas). Not good. Now maybe they are missing a player(s) or something else that I haven’t been able to pick up on box scores or on D3boards.com (I can’t keep everything I read retained). If that is the case, we have an explanation. If that is not the case, I have no idea what is going on in Abilene, Texas.
Southern Vermont* (Previously 25):
I knew the task we gave the Mountaineers at the Hoopsville Classic, but I was hopeful they would emerge 1-1. However, they went 0-2 including a controversial loss to Salisbury. Despite the fact I thought they played very well, especially against St. Thomas* and despite the fact they have plenty of talent, it is hard to keep a 2-2 team who started 25th on my ballot… on my ballot. However, Southern Vermont is worth watching this season. They don’t have a tremendously challenging schedule except games against Bates and Middlebury to bookend Christmas, but they are a very talented team who should once again steamroll their way through the conference. They just have to stay focused on the big picture and know that despite the losses at the Hoopsville Classic… they will only serve to help them come February and maybe March.
* – teams I have seen in person this season.
^ – teams I have seen in person in the last 12 months.
So there you go. Crazy first week.
I normally won’t write as much as I did on this one. As the season goes along and less teams move in and out of my ballot or up and down, there will be less to recap.
I will say there were at least 50 teams I considered for my ballot. The 25 voters in total voted for 59 teams and ten new teams jumped into the poll. That’s a lot of movement. That’s a lot of questions. That’s a lot of parity.
Parity is great for Division III. It means more teams are competitive and more games will be exciting. It means we can’t expect outcomes and any game we are watching can turn out as a win or loss for our favorite team. Anything goes.
Parity isn’t great for Top 25 voters trying to read the tea-leaves, but to be honest… I wouldn’t want it any other way. Division III basketball is exciting to watch, so don’t miss out.