Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’18-’19): Week 10

Dave is watching everything … usually. It isn’t as helpful as one hopes.

Welcome once again to my D3hoops.com men’s Top 25 ballot blog. This is just to try and provide insight on how one, single, voter of 25 tries to understand the landscape of Division III men’s basketball.

This time of year, it becomes understood that teams, many teams, are going to lose especially when conference tournaments are in full swing. It also seems like February brings with it a new “understanding” for teams. With Regional Rankings out, teams have a larger target on their back. At the same time, others realize they are not in as good a position as they may have perceived previously. And conference races and tournaments change the mentality. Teams are fighting to get into tournaments or better seeding.

Now a game that even a month earlier might have had no motivation for the lesser team, suddenly has more incentive and new importance. The top-dog is a sitting duck.

Staying focused can be challenging as the regular season comes to a close.

Then there is the other factor for a lot of teams: wear and tear. Some teams have maybe peaked a little early or have been banged up and vulnerable as the regular season comes to a close. It almost feels like some of the top teams see the end of February coming and let off the gas ever so slightly. They’ve had a good season, so far, and don’t realize it can come unraveled quickly if they don’t stay focused – something that is hard to do when mentally, and physically, worn out from roughly 18 weeks of a 20 week season (it’s 19 weeks officially, but 20 weeks on the calendar to some degree).

It all adds up to a number of normally head-scratching losses and eye opening results. Teams are also stumbling or faltering coming to the finish line. In the meantime, others seem to found a second (or third) wind and are stretching winning streaks into conference changing results. Teams written off a few weeks or months ago are now back in the spotlight and teams thought to be the top of the heap are lost in it.

This week it resulted in a Top 25 ballot I don’t really like. I debated about starting over half a dozen times. I even slept on my initial feelings only to then redo it a number of times over the first cup of coffee of the day. What I submitted, I didn’t like. I wasn’t going to like anything I submitted.

This looks like Dave (yes, he’s that good looking!) contemplating ballot decisions this week (and most weeks).

The strangest thing about this ballot and the number of losses: I only removed one team from my previous ballot. For reasons I may be able to explain below, I didn’t remove any of the four teams that went 0-2 this week. They all came came dangerously close to being punted individually or as a group in one version or another, but I wasn’t that positive of their replacements being any better.

Okay, enough of me rambling on. Let’s get to my Week 10 ballot. As always, here is a reminder of last week’s ballot. (Quick note: I was stunned to see my previous top eight and the Week 9 top eight were identical. I haven’t gone that deep in a very long time where my thinking and the consensus was identical. It went haywire after those eight. LOL This week, just my top five were identical, to no surprise.)

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NC)

2 – Whitman (NC)

3 – UW-Oshkosh (NC)

4 – Augustana (NC)

The Yellow Jackets is now in the Top 5 while securing their spot at the top of the Regional Rankings. (Courtesy: RMC Athletics)

5 – Randolph-Macon (Up 2)
Wow. The Yellow Jackets are top five? Yeah. Considering they have only lost twice this season, haven’t lost since January 5, and have gone through some tough ODAC opponents recently, this is where RMC has risen to on my ballot. It seems high for where I thought they would end up, but I also thought they couldn’t get through ODAC play without more blemishes. This would very much be an “under the radar” team despite their ranking.

6 – Swarthmore (Up 3)

7 – St. Thomas (Down 2)
We should have probably seen a loss coming in MIAC play. There was no way any team in the conference was going to walk away with the season. I also have been waiting for the youth of this team to show their inexperience. I do not think the loss to Augsburg during a three-game week was because of youth, but I am also not surprised the Tommies didn’t get through the week. I moved them down because it is their third defeat and I do worry it could be an opening others can take advantage. I’ll wait and see.

AJ Jurko has been the glue for MIT, but he has also been banged up which has affected their results. (Courtesy: MIT Athletics)

8 – MIT (Down 2)
The Engineers are once again without the services of AJ Jurko who appears to be out with an injury (new or old, I am not sure). While MIT is still a very good team, Jurko seems to be what makes them click as the second leading scorer on the team. If Jurko (and everyone else) is healthy, MIT is going to be very difficult to stop in March. If not, this senior class is unfortunately going to have things end earlier than expected.

9 – Amherst (Up 11)
Yeah. The Mammoths are flying up my ballot (Jumbo reference maybe? Nope, Tufts isn’t in this conversation). I had been debating even having them on my ballot for the last four weeks, but when you reevaluate what they are doing coupled with beating both Middlebury and Williams on the road and Amherst takes on a completely different look. They are going through a very difficult finish to the season and they are the only ones not losing in the NESCAC. One game left, against Hamilton, which has a lot of ramifications – despite the fact Mother Nature is trying to delay it for the second time. However, watch out for what Hixon has been able to get to work, because they could easily be a surprise team in Fort Wayne this year.

10 – Hamilton (Down 2)

11 – St. John’s (Up 1)

12 – Wooster (Down 2)

13 – Capital (Up 1)

Isaiah Hernandez seems to be the go-to guy for the Pirates recently. (Courtesy: Whitworth Athletics).

14 – Whitworth (Down 4)
My concerns the Pirates are “leaking oil” continue. Watching their games against Linfield and George Fox did not help with that worry. Yes, they won, but they barely survived. Compare that to how Whitman played the same two teams and it is night and day. Maybe Whitworth already peaked at the D3hoops.com Classic and though the Whitman loss in early January. The other problem, they may be left out of the NCAA tournament if they don’t win the NWC tournament (beating Whitman most likely) because their best win right now is against Johns Hopkins.

15 – Nichols (Up 3)

16 – Pomona-Pitzer (Up 3)
There really isn’t anything I can say about the Sagehens. I don’t love having them up this high on my ballot. The SCIAC hasn’t really shown to be a beast of a conference and they have one game – one – of note: A win over Whitman back in late November. However, they have risen because while others are taking losses in conference, Pomona-Pitzer has escaped losing that kind of focus at least. I also didn’t feel the teams I slotted behind them have proven they can be as consistent.

17 – Arcadia (Up 5)
The Knights, Captains, and Colonels (what a great trio of mascots!) rise because of a vacuum created a bit last week moved a little down the ballot to this area this week. Those four teams which went 0-2 caused a number of teams to slide up.

18 – Christopher Newport (Up 6)

19 – Centre (Up 6)

The Tigers have stormed back into the national conversation thanks to a win over rival Wooster. (Courtesy: Wittenberg Athletics)

20 – Wittenberg (NR)
I have brought the Tigers back to my ballot thanks to the accurate point by Ryan on Sunday’s Hoopsville. Wittenberg stumbled and looked like they were going to limp to the end of the season, but they seemed to have fixed the flat tire and have come storming back taking out Wooster to split the series this season. They seem to be back to playing good basketball, though I don’t think they are the Top 10 team I thought they were earlier in the season.

21 – Marietta (Down 8)
First team that went 0-2 last week. I saw the loss to Mount Union coming. I think the Raiders are sneaky good. However, that didn’t wake Marietta up and they proceeded to lose to a challenging Wilmington squad as well. This is now three losses (all on the road) in four which probably should have had me pull the rip cord and let the Pioneers go. These kinds of stretches can completely derail a season. Two home games remaining before the conference tournament where Marietta is going to have to win on the road at some point to prove themselves.

22 – North Central (Ill.) (Down 7)
I feared the Cardinals could have a rough stretch. Losses this week to Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton after a big win over Augustana is one thing, but BOTH losses were at HOME! Here was another team I considered just pulling off my ballot altogether, but I wasn’t sure if there was any teams I would replace them with that were absolutely better. We shall see, for now.

Williams has Dave like …

23 – Williams (Down 7)
The Ephs have ephed up things down the stretch. Three losses in a row including home losses to Amherst and Hamilton. If anyone (me) thought the overtime loss, on the road, to Bowdoin would be the perfect wake up call, were wrong. Williams was sitting off my ballot in at least half of my previous versions. I decided to hold off that idea to see what happens in the NESCAC tournament. Williams has a week to compose and find themselves because the very good Williams team of earlier in the season seems like a distant memory right now.

24 – Wabash (Down 7)
The Little Giants are now 3-2 in their last five games including a loss to DePauw this past week. Here is another example of after the fact I am second-guessing the reasons I left a team on my ballot this week. Ultimately, I didn’t think four losses on their resume were worse than other teams’ resumes. I really worry Wabash, as good a season as they have had, peaked early. They are at Wittenberg this week – probably another reason I should have pulled them out this week, right?

25 – Loras (Down 2)
The Duhawks didn’t move down my ballot because of anything negative. I just felt that those ahead of them, despite stumbling, were still better than Loras. Interestingly enough, I may have had Loras higher had I pulled the teams on my ballot out and replaced them with others.

Dropped Out:

Marcus Curry and the Quakers, while off Dave’s ballot, should be watched in the ODAC tournament. (Courtesy: Guilford Athletics)

Guilford (Previously 21)
I still think the Quakers are a good team and playing well, but they were on a short leash to begin with before losing to Roanoke this past week. With so many teams with four or more losses, there are a lot of teams to consider each week and I just felt as good as Guilford had been playing, a loss would indicate they weren’t necessarily better than anyone else.

Previous Ballots:
Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 4
Preseason (Top 10, 11-20, Final Five)

Yep … this sums it up.

As you can see, I am torn with a number of teams. While I only dropped one squad this time around, I probably had a reasonable argument to drop four more. And it came down to this: either I was pulling all five or just pulling one. I couldn’t pull just one or some of the four teams left on my ballot (Marietta, NCC, Williams, and Wabash) without pulling them all because they all had the same reasons for either going or staying.

When I pulled those four teams, I was left trying to find four teams I thought were better. While there are teams with very good (or better) records, their resumes aren’t necessarily better. Or their results are not against the same quality opponent the quad-group faced in their losses. None of them lost to bad teams. Others’ wins over bad teams just do not compare … for now.

With conference tournaments starting this week, a better grasp of who is playing their best is possible. That said, there will be more losses because remember: Parity.


NCAA Regional Rankings: The dry run that isn’t

On Wednesday the NCAA released its first set of regional rankings, which provide a look at teams have the best chance of receiving at-large bids to the 2019 NCAA Tournament if they fail to win their conference’s automatic qualifying bid.

If you want to dig into the ranking process, here are a few shovels to get you started.

NCAA Tournament FAQs
Discuss Regional Rankings on the message board
Regional ranking archive

The first set of publicly released regional rankings is sometimes described as a dry run because it doesn’t include one important criterion, records against regionally ranked opponents. It’s hard for the eight geographically based regional ranking committees to take that into consideration because they don’t know which teams are being ranked in other regions. And while you eventually can solve that through an iterative process on Selection Sunday, that’s not worthwhile for this first set.

But to what degree is first set of regional rankings a good predictor of which teams will eventually get one of the coveted at-large bids? I made a list of all the at-large selections over the last five seasons on the men’s side and then compared that to their regional rankings. You can download and play with that data here.

I don’t know how well the first set of regional rankings predicts which teams will get the at-large bids but it’s a very good predictor of which ones won’t. If your team wasn’t listed in the first set regional rankings, it’s almost certain they aren’t getting one of those bids, no matter what happens over the next three weeks.

For a large part of Division III, this is a missive from Captain Obvious. By virtue of their relatively low winning percentage or their weak strength of schedule, a lot of teams should already know their only path to the NCAA Tournament is the conference’s automatic qualifying bid.

But for those teams that weren’t ranked on Wednesday and are nursing hopes that they are right on the cusp of being in the at-large conversation — if they can just get hot and the right teams above them get cold – recent history is not on their side.

Over the last five seasons only three teams ultimately received at-large bids despite not appearing in the first set of regional rankings:

New York University received an at-large bid in 2016 despite not being in the first set of East Region rankings. The East Region was also one of Division III’s smallest, so there were only six teams ranked in the East that year.

Endicott received an at-large bid in 2017 despite not being in the first set of Northeast rankings. The Northeast is Division III’s largest region so they ranked 11 teams in 2017. The Gulls were unranked in the first set and then only ranked 10th in the next three sets of rankings. The National Committee went deep into the list of Northeast candidates that year, including taking Keene State at No. 9.

UW-Oshkosh received an at-large bid in 2017 despite not being ranked in the first set of regional rankings. The Titans weren’t ranked in the second set of rankings either. They are the unicorn of the at-large selection process, earning an at-large bid despite finishing with double-digit losses.

Last season was unusual in that it had two teams that appeared in the first set of regional rankings, dropped out in the second and still earned an at-large bid less than two weeks later – North Central did that in the Central and LeTourneau did that in the South.

The cut-off point for being a strong at-large candidate also differs by region. The Atlantic Region has only had four at-large bids in the last five years and only one of those bid recipients was ranked lower than third in the first set of rankings.

Based on the historical data, here are the apparent cut-off points within each region.

• Atlantic: 4 at-large bids with an average ranking of 2.8; lowest bid recipient was 2017 New Jersey City (5th)

• Central: 15 bids with an average ranking of 4.4; lowest recipient was 2017 Oshkosh (unranked)

• East: 9 bids with an average ranking of 3.3; lowest recipient was 2016 New York U (unranked)

• Great Lakes: 14 bids with an average ranking of 3.6; lowest recipient was 2015 John Carroll (8th)

• Mid Atlantic: 13 bids with an average ranking of 3.8; lowest recipient was 2018 Franklin and Marshall (7th)

• Northeast: 27 bids with an average ranking of 4.3; lowest recipient was 2017 Endicott (unranked)

• South: 8 bids with an average ranking of 4.3; lowest recipient was 2018 LeTourneau (8th)

• West: 10 bids with an average ranking of 2.4; lowest recipient was 2018 St. Olaf (4th)

So in the West region it’s not just a matter of whether you’re ranked, but whether you’re ranked in the top four teams.

Turns out that dry run is a pretty good predictor of which teams aren’t going to cross the line.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’18-’19): Week 9

Welcome to my weekly (kind of) blog that breaks down my D3hoops.com Top 25 men’s ballot. I apologize for being a little late on this. UW-Stevens Point Investigation had me a bit “distracted” earlier in the week.

This week featured a lovely vacuum in the middle of by ballot. Losses by each of the teams from 9 to 13 on my ballot from last week plus other losses and such created a huge hole where I wasn’t really sure where to put teams.

12 teams on my ballot (yeah half) suffered 13 losses. That results in a lot of questions, research, moving of teams, and other considerations. I like Ryan Scott’s approach where he basically started from scratch each week. However, I don’t like going completely from scratch. I have moved from being more slaved to my previous order to a hybrid effort. Some teams I feel comfortable with I move around accordingly. Other teams and sections of the ballot I don’t hold firm to where teams were previously placed.

In the past, I certainly was more prone to simply move teams, that continued to win, up when there were holes by losing teams ahead of them. It wasn’t the best idea and I didn’t do it all the time, but it was an inappropriate habit that didn’t necessarily create the best ballot. As the years have gone on, I have changed my voting habits many times. I am now to the point where, with some teams, I move them up because that’s where they fit. Other teams either don’t move at all despite spaces open above them, some are added anywhere on the ballot if that’s where they seem appropriate (I would only add in the bottom in the early days), and I leap-frog teams a lot more than in the past. I will even move teams down despite the fact they are winning.

Ok… that was a lot. My basic point is that this week I ran into a circumstance where the middle of my previous ballot had faltered, and I wasn’t really that confident with what teams to fill those spots. Moving some teams up didn’t feel like the right decision, but that would mean teams I no longer felt were the “x” ranked team would not move at all. It caused me to seriously scratch my head and come up with some interesting decisions.

With that, let’s just get to the ballot. I may not put in a lot of thoughts for these teams, but it can still give you an idea how this single voter is considering things.

A reminder, here is last week’s ballot.

Now on to my Week 9 ballot:

1 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NC)

2 – Whitman (Up 1)

3 – UW-Oshkosh (Up 1)

Augustana was tripped up in the CCIW which should have surprised no one.

4 – Augustana (Down 3)
The Vikings losing in the CCIW is the least surprising news this year. Of course they were going to lose in the conference. I am not surprised they lost at North Central. Per that, though, the reason I moved them down is games have been a bit closer than I would have expected in the last few weeks. Some games have been in hand, but games against Carroll, Elmhurst, and Carthage give me pause. It was nice to see the Vikings explode against North Park.

5 – St. Thomas (NC)
I write something here only to say, I never considered moving the Tommies into my Top 4 despite Augustana’s loss. I think the top four are their own entity. Losses in that group, unless getting to excess, will most likely result in just a rotation in that top four. St. Thomas is good, but I am also nervous that this young team is flying a little too close to the sun.

6 – MIT (Up 1)

7 – Randolph-Macon (Up 1)

8 – Hamilton (Up 6)
Yeah… the Continentals are all over my ballot and I couldn’t really tell you why. Depends on when you ask me the question. There are times I am bullish on only two losses, outscoring opponents by 20+ points, and other strong “on paper” items. There are other times that I am more bearish on what Hamilton is doing this season. Results against opponents I didn’t think should be close (Tufts) or turnover-plagued games concern me. And sometimes, I probably just over think it. Hamilton jumps up thanks to the fact that I am more bullish right now and the vacuum allowed significant jumps.

9 – Swarthmore (Up 7)
Ryan describe Swarthmore well on Hoopsville Monday night – saying a lot of how I feel. They are a darn good team, but sometimes they don’t seem to be in the right gear on offense. Having seen them, I have the pieces of a very dangerous team that could get to Fort Wayne … but then they have results like a loss to Ursinsus (who is good, but …) and a close game to Haverford causes me to shake my head. The Garnet is very good … trust me.

Wooster has skyrocketed up Dave’s ballot as he has bought in on the Scots in the last few weeks. (Courtesy: Wooster Athletics)

10 – Wooster (Up 8)
The vacuum on my ballot really cased some craziness. Heck, the Scots weren’t even on my ballot a few weeks ago (they were on my radar). I am finally bought in. Here is another example of a great conversation with Ryan on Monday’s Hoopsville. We finally see the Scots are actually for real and understand the three-game losing streak in December was just … weird.

11 – Whitworth (Down 1)
The Pirates might be leaking oil. No, a loss to Whitman didn’t surprise me. Basically not being in that game (until late) and then nearly dropping the game against Lewis & Clark later in the week is surprising. I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s wrong. Illness certainly could be a factor as Kyle Roach wasn’t himself against Willamette (though, he played 32 minutes) and he didn’t seem 100% against Whitman, but coaches will tell you that isn’t an excuse (Logie actually did say that on the Hoopsville Marathon). I just am worried Whitworth has boxed themselves into a corner. A win over Whitman would have been huge this season. They might not only play themselves out of giving the national committee a chance to shift them somewhere in the country the first weekend, but they may be in danger of not even making the tournament as an at-large team.

12 – St. John’s (Down 6)
Could the Johnnies have peaked too soon? It’s a thought I’ve had recently. Losses to Carleton and Bethel are … they can’t happen. Coupled with a loss to St. Thomas already and SJU is in a spot where they now have to win out to be in a good position in the MIAC race AND stay in the conversation about even hosting, or being in a good pod, the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Four losses … for a team that is far better than that.

13 – Marietta (NC)

14 – Capital (Down 2)

North Central has been relying heavily on Connor Rairdon due to other injuries this season. (Courtesy: North Central Athletics)

15 – North Central (Up 5)
I should probably just direct you to my comments on Monday’s Hoopsville where I picked the Cardinals as my Dubious selection. I know they got a win over Augustana at home and they only have a few losses, but it feels like they are just getting by. A close win to Millikin throws up flags for me. And I know it took place a month ago, but I still can’t the loss to Ohio Northern out of my head.

16 – Williams (Down 7)
The loss to Bowdoin bugs me. That shouldn’t have been a game if the Ephs are as good as they have seemed. It was a great game by the Polar Bears, but it went to overtime and Williams allowed that to come down to a last second shot in the corner. Middlebury played the same two teams this weekend (in reverse order) and didn’t seem to have as much trouble. Maybe I am overacting. I just feeling somewhat bearish and have for a while.

17 – Wabash (Down 6)
I can’t keep writing about every team, but some of these squads I am losing faith in how I felt previously. The Little Giants’ loss to Allegheny … was … it just … I mean … really? The follow up to a big game, and loss, to Wooster was a loss to Allegheny? By 12? I am very glad Wabash refocused to get past Hiram, but the damage has already been done.

18 – Nichols (Up 1)

19 – Pomona-Pitzer (Up 2)

Amherst is back on Dave’s ballot after going through the week unscathed. (Courtesy: Amherst Athletics)

20 – Amherst (NR)
I am so undecided about the Mammoths. I had them ranked two weeks ago, then they lost, so I removed them from my ballot. Then this past week Amherst blows through Tufts and Bates, but that wasn’t really something that I would rank them. I got to a point in this level of the ballot where there were not a lot of great options. I looked at a lot of teams and

didn’t feel comfortable with a majority of them being consider “Top 25 squads.” Amherst feels more like a Top 25 team right now than the others.

21 – Guilford (Up 3)

22 – Arcadia (NR)
Just read the Amherst reasoning and consider Arcadia. I like the Knights and really like their defense. That said, I still don’t love their close results this past week. I actually second guessed this decision after the poll was released and it was too late to change my vote. That said, I am not really sure who I would have replaced Arcadia with.

23 – Loras (Down 8)
You cannot defeat the (then) number one team in the country and it is the FILLING to a loss-sandwich (Wartburg and Dubuque before and after). You also cannot lose to a team like Dubuque, rival notwithstanding, for the second time in the season. I know very well that Loras is a good team, but they are the definition of inconsistent right now. I was very tempted to drop them altogether, but a five-loss team that has recently defeated one of the top team in the country is going to get the benefit of the doubt, slightly, from me right now.

Christopher Newport appears on Dave’s ballot of the first time this season. (Courtesy: CNU Athletics)

24 – Christopher Newport (NR)
So, I am now voting for the Captains, but I don’t have to like it! I am sure they are thrilled to read that. Some of the reasons I think CNU has the record they have is they are in what is a down Capital Athletic Conference. Their losses aren’t bad, but for some reason I can’t figure out what is about this team that makes them a Top 25 team (considering their ranking leading up to this week). Maybe I am missing it, but this week I voted because I had a spot and CNU was better than others I was considering – I think. Hopefully, I can learn more about the Captains on Thursday’s Hoopsville when John Krikorian joins us (knock on wood).

25 – Centre (NR)
I’ve been keeping an eye on the Colonels for a while now. Much like CNU and others, I am just not sure if Centre is that good or if the conference is a by-product of their success. Meaning: the wins are coming from a conference that isn’t able to compete. Centre also has a bad loss to Augustana, but I have also chalked that up to a team in this part of my Top 25 is probably not supposed to be on the same level as those in the top four or five. Thus, that result isn’t really a surprise.

Dropped Out:

Lynchburg (Previously 17)
This is going to be short and simple: The Hornets have lost four in a row. No chance I can keep them on my ballot with those circumstances.

UW-Lacrosse (Previously 22)
With the Eagles it came down to this: The win over Stevens Point was very good, but the loss to Platteville not-so-much. That isn’t to say that the Pioneers aren’t good enough that it’s consider a bad loss, but for me it was the wrong game to lose last week. The WIAC is difficult, but the best teams need to rise above it. With a sixth loss, I’m a little nervous.

UW-Stevens Point dropped off Dave’s ballot in part to the fact that UW-Lacrosse also dropped off. (Courtesy: UWSP Athletics)

UW-Stevens Point (Previously 23)
The Pointers at least didn’t lose the wrong game last week (River Falls), but they did lose to Lacrosse. The decision came down to this: I removed Lacrosse and I couldn’t justify also leaving UWSP on the ballot; 14-6 is a hard record to keep on a ballot despite how difficult the record.

Wheaton (Ill.) (Previously 25)
As goes Francis, so goes the Thunder. I’ve said that before, but it isn’t entirely true. Francis continues to play well, but Wheaton has gotten to a point in the season where they needed to have another option to keep opponents from only focusing Francis. That said, losing to Carroll could be a season-shortening result. There were points in the second half Wheaton was down double-digits. Inexcusable. Unacceptable.

Previous Ballots:
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 4
Preseason (Top 10, 11-20, Final Five)

Not sure if I learned anything this week let alone you as the reader. Heading into the first Regional Rankings and the final few weeks of the season, I am not sure anything is clearer as to who are the top teams in the country. A number of teams seem to be fading, others surging, and some just coasting along. Best I can tell you is outside of the top four, I am not really sure I have my finger on things properly. I may have a completely different point of view next week and change all these positions radically.


Greenville coach’s take on the run to 200

Greenville coach George Barber has seen and heard it all about his team’s 200-point outing on Saturday, and how the team got to that final point total. He shared his thoughts with D3hoops.com, and they run below, unedited.

With 173 points and with roughly 6 minutes to go, I said “Go for it.” I had never seen that many points on a scoreboard with that much time left in the game.

I knew I would take heat; I deserve any scorn people might have, and hope I respond well. I said, “If they keep trying to score, we will keep trying to score.”

There was a palpable shift in the crowd in the final minutes from “Will they win?”, to “Will they get 200?” You could feel it.

With 10 seconds to go, opponent’s ball and at 198 points, I called time out. I told the team, “You will never be this close again. Never. So go for a steal or foul but give yourself a chance. If we don’t get it (200) no problem, but being this close, you will regret if you don’t try.”

They got it.

A lot of the angst centers around winning and losing, and where sportsmanship fits in once one of those possibilities is certain. This brings up a point we make with our team all the time. Is winning an idol? We have a wallpaper sign in our locker room that says: “De-emphasize the Win, Play with Freedom.” If you take away the possibility of winning, (or losing) will you still play hard? Is it only about winning and losing? With our style we can be up 30 and lose, down 30 and come back and win, and even if there is no possibility of one or the other, will you give it your best? Will you give it your absolute best?

This was a conference game against a team that has beaten us often. Earlier in January we beat them by 12, and were losing with about 10 minutes to play.

I was nervous because it was Senior Day with a lot of distractions and was just hoping we would play well. One of my starting point guards (we rotate 10-15 players a game and call anyone in the top 10 a starter) was out with an injury (he literally told me as we sent him to the scorer’s table checking in – I can’t go). So instead, we played a JV point guard (2nd Varsity game ever) all game. We had suspensions, ineligibility due to lack of financial aid and unpaid bills, and academic dismissals, etc. The bench was full of guys in street clothes. I was just hoping to survive. We caught fire from the three, and as the game wound down, I remember thinking, I’ve never seen a score this high (173), with this much time on the clock (just over 6 mins) and that’s when I made a decision: If they (opponents) keep trying to score, we’ll keep trying to score and see what happens. I knew some people would crucify me, but with seniors playing in front of their parents, some for the first time live in a college uniform, we would go for it. I emphasized trying (for the goal), not necessarily getting it (the 200), in the last five minutes.

After the game we had, as I expected, some negative feedback. I deserved all of that. After the time out with 10 seconds to go (we rarely call a time out in System play) I told the team to, by all means, possible (steal or foul) get the ball back and to give yourselves a chance to get 200. As I sat down beside my assistant after the time out, I said, “No matter what the outcome, I will never regret calling that time out. I want to give the kids a chance to do something amazing.”

At that point I felt 198 to whatever the opponents had would not have been as memorable as 200 would be.

We had no idea that the D-III record was 201, and didn’t care and still don’t. As a System coach, pushing the edges of what’s possible you wonder if that’s possible. System Patriarchs ask that question about scoring 200 in the book “The System,” and in calls. The authors said they never got 200, although they tried, but never were able to achieve it, so that’s all we were going for when it got close. As long as they kept trying to score (and they did) we would keep trying to score as well. That was the only way we would go for it. It’s like doing anything extraordinary you have to have co-facilitators, otherwise it’s not any fun, or as legit. Since this was a conference game, and against a team that beat us last year in a double overtime NCAA combined scoring record setting game, and not in any way an inferior team we scheduled to run the score up against, I thought, this is as legit as it gets. It’s as fair as it gets, it’s how we play, it’s the last 5 or 6 minutes of the game and we are close enough for me to say, “I’ll let the kids go for it.”

George Barber and his seniors, who were honored before the game. (Greenville athletics photo)

They (the team) hate it when I pull the press off. We don’t even practice, ever, defense without a press.

Side note, a couple of weeks ago, we were up 40 with 10 mins to go and my assistant said maybe we should consider taking off the press. I agreed and you could see a real let down in the kids. I told them we don’t want any hard feeling with the opponent’s coach. The opponent from that point on stormed back in the game, however we held on to win by 12 or 13. In that game, we had two players in the same shift (unusual) with a lot of points. One had over 30, and one had 28. I asked the one with 28 (and the entire team) not to shoot allowing him to go for 30. He was frustrated, but he complied and dribbled out the last 30 seconds. I felt bad for him, but was so proud of his compliance and deference to me and my decision to put team goals and relationships above his personal goals.

In the 200 point game, I wondered if people might understand the desire to reach that goal. Some do not, at least for now. I truly feel bad about that because I think preserving relationships is important. I just felt I would take that risk since 200 was such a “way out there, number.”

After the game, we introduced parents and guests, and follow that our usual “Put-up’s” (we do this whether we win or lose), where we let players give each other compliments about things they did well during the game, followed by an “ATTAWAAAY!” cheer from the team. After our Put-Up’s I told them, “You just went to the moon! Not very many people get to go to the moon! (Scoring 200) Also, not everyone likes it that you went to the moon. Their will be some that don’t like it and will say negative things. Our job will be to respond graciously to both compliments and negative comments.” They all nodded, we had a little further conversation, and it was a great teaching moment.

I almost feel like I have to apologize for doing this, and certainly that’s fair for some to think. I remember the first time we played System basketball, and the agonizing decisions I had to make after thoroughly researching this style of play before making that decision to go for it. I knew, once we went for it, there was no going back. On long, silent, in the dark early morning jogs, trying to contemplate all the implications of playing this style of basketball, and fully aware of the possible negative reactions, I decided to paint Picasso style. I felt we needed it in our game and at least for me and our program. It had the possibility to take some of the holy emphasis off winning. It could “release” the energy of the young people, as opposed to “harnessing” that energy. It would increase participation from traditional 8-man rotations to possibly double that number. I felt all these were positive things. Plus, I felt it would be exciting and fun. It would require super buy-in (a good thing), require super unselfishness (a good thing), and allow more people to get on the floor and in the game when the game was on the line. Increased participation would allow me to at least engage more guys, believe in more guys, and have ministry with more guys.

When we unfurled The System for the first time to an unsuspecting Illinois Wesleyan team coached by my friend Ron Rose in the Shirk Center in Bloomington. I had a prepared apology for Ron after the game. We lost 150 something to 117, and as planned, I apologized in the line shaking hands after the game. To my surprise Ron hugged me and said, “This looked good, keep it up!”. That was a great encouragement to me. I wondered if he would have said that if somehow, we would have come out victorious over the Titans. Either way, it meant a lot to me. After the game, in the locker room at IWU, I said, “I know you lost by 30-something, but I am proud of how you fought the entire game! And, you just set a record for the most points scored by an opponent in the Shirk Center.” It was a start!

Another weird side note. During President Lincoln’s tenure, Secretary of War Stanton has to order executions for deserters. I read that wives, mothers, and children would go to his office to plea for a pardon. He felt though that to keep discipline and for the larger purpose, he would not choose to give the pardon. As he families left, he would retreat to a back room and weep. I made the decision to let my guys go for 200, because in the end I thought it would be special. Some may disagree with what I did, and I have to take that responsibility and shoulder that reality. I do not want it to permanently damage relationships, and would weep about that. I hope I respond graciously to both those who agree and those that disagree with what I did.