Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Preseason ’17-’18

Preseason Top 25 work featured an extensive Excel spreadsheet, at least two notepads, and plenty of erasers.

The 2017-18 Division III basketball season is around the corner. Retirements, new coaches, transfers, new rules, and plenty more await us on November 15 when things officially get underway. I am certainly excited about the upcoming season, but will admit the last two months have flown by. Last I checked, I was putting some things in order while relaxing at my parent’s place in Down East Maine. Suddenly the season is roughly two weeks away and I don’t feel ready. Not sure how the teams feel!

This men’s basketball season promises to carry on the theme of the last few years: parity. Plenty of parity. That said, I felt I had less teams to consider for the Top 25 than I can remember in a long time. Maybe that’s because of parity. So many teams that have been outstanding are just good or pretty good now. There just doesn’t seem to be many outstanding teams. I felt I was saying, “eh, nope, not a Top 25 team on paper right now,” a lot. I said it to a lot of those perennial favorites as well.

I’ll give a spoiler away now. Amherst, Hope, St. Thomas, Whitworth, and Wooster didn’t even make my ballot. Most of them I didn’t consider after looking them over the first time through. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good teams. It is just so much harder to figure out the Top 25 because we now have a handful of really good teams and a ton of good to pretty good teams. Too many to fit on a ballot.

One other thing that surprised me, I voted for three WIAC, three NESCAC, three USAA, and two CCIW teams. Nothing against those quality conferences, but with so much parity I didn’t think 11 of the 25 slots would got to the four power conferences.

I will also admit, the preseason Top 25 sometimes feels like a crap-shoot. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. It is hard to take information on paper about a team, compare it from what you know (or remember) about the team the previous season, and weigh in factors like transfers, new players, and coaching changes. Those last three factors are nearly impossible to actually truly understand. One person’s “great addition” is another’s “let’s see what he can actually do.”

I am not incredibly confident I have read the tea leaves accurately this year. I stared at my notepads and Excel spreadsheet for long periods of time trying to figure out who really deserved to be, say, the 11th ranked team. Which teams was I completely misreading or misinterpreting. Was the loss of an important player going to hurt or maybe help? How much stock was I putting in historic performances and was that even fair to do?

As I’ve had said in many a preseason, at some point I had to just stick with what I had on paper and stop erasing and rewriting (thank goodness, I do these ballots with a pencil). I could erase and rewrite hundreds of times, but I was never going to feel satisfied with my results. There are teams that I could even argue may be too high, too low, should be ranked, should not be ranked.

Personally, I can’t wait to get a few weeks of basketball underway to better understand what I am reading or hearing.

I won’t bore you with any more of my odd-ball thinking. Let’s get to my ballot. I have included at least a brief note or thought about each team, so this will be lengthy. If you enjoy these kinds of things, have at it. If you rather just see who I ranked where and ignore the rest, I won’t take it personally.

First, here is how my ballot finished last season:

Babson coach Stephen Brennan chatting with me on the Hoopsville Courtside postgame show following the Beavers National Championship victory. (Courtesy: Babson Athletics)

1 – Babson
2 – Whitman
3 – Rochester
4 – Augustana
5 – Middlebury
6 – Marietta
7 – Ramapo
8 – Williams
9 – Hanover
10 – UW-River Falls
11 – Christopher Newport
12 – Hardin-Simmons
13 – Hope
14 – Washington Univ.
15 – Tufts
16 – St. John Fisher
17 – Ohio Wesleyan
18 – Keene State
19 – New Jersey City
20 – Benedictine
21 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
22 – Whitworth
23 – Denison
24 – UW-Whitewater
25 – Susquehanna

Now to my ballot for this season’s D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25 (remember, I am just a single voter of 25 total):

Whitman hopes to take trade in their 2017 Sectional Championship trophy for something with a little more gold in in it.

1 – Whitman
This one was about as slam dunk as they get in recent years. After nearly going undefeated for the entire season with the lone loss being to the eventual national champions in the national semifinals in one of the best games I’ve witnessed… someone else had to impress me to knock the Blues off the top perch on my ballot. Especially considering everyone returns!

2 – Augustana
One theme you are going to hear a lot from me is “this feels a bit high.” Augustana came out of nowhere last season and made it to the national championship for the second time in three years, but they felt at least a season early. The Vikings bring back a lot of talent, but also need to fill some holes. I hope I am not expecting too much from Rock Island.

3 – Williams
Four starters return to a squad that also seemed to be a year early. Ephs seem to finally have rebuilt, but they also lost a lot in two players graduating. Expectations are going to be high in Western Mass.

4 – Ramapo
Nothing shakes my head more than the Roadrunners who had a record season last campaign, but once again seemed to hit the glass ceiling. And when they hit that ceiling they tend to hit it hard. Ramapo brings back a ton from last year’s squad including Mr. Everything Tom Bonacum plus a bevy of transfers, but this squad has got to be focused on the bigger picture. I would have ranked them #2 if I had confidence they could break through when it matters most. I also thought about ranking them lower.

5 – North Central (Ill.)
Connor Raridon returns (if you ask some fans, his season-ending injury still affected the team 20 games after the fact) and that means all five starters are back for the Cardinals along with nearly all of the offensive production. It is going to be a battle in the CCIW this season with a lot of good teams (Carthage, IWU among others), so I expect NCC to take some lumps, but they could also turn some heads.

Babson’s national championship came in part to the incredible play, including this championship-winning block, of Joey Flannery.

6 – Babson
When you lose one of the best players to play in Division III to graduation after winning the national championship, the next campaign doesn’t expectations as lofty. I figured I would drop Babson far because I just am not sure you can ever make up for what you lose in Joey Flannery, but once again the Beavers have a wealth of transfers that could keep them atop the NEWMAC, the Northeast, and in the national conversation.

7 – Middlebury
Tough read on the Panthers. Four starters return, but that accounts for only half of their offensive output last season. Losing Matt St. Amour is big; however, it also could make this team come together even more and provide more options and targets. Losing an incredible talent may be the perfect thing to bring it all together.

8 – Hanover
Yeah, I am not sure if this is a bit of a reach or not. The Panthers had a tremendous season last campaign and return four starters, the conference Player of the Year, and nearly 80-percent of their offense. However, will everything ride on Wes McKinney or are their other options to keep Hanover in the conversation? I have more questions than answers and feel I may be putting too much stock in Hanover early.

9 – UW-River Falls
Another team who had a great campaign where I am not sure what to make of the off-season. Lost two starters which accounted for about a third of the team’s points and half the assists. Can UWRF keep the momentum moving forward? Has UWRF permanently changed the conversation atop the WIAC? I think they may have, but the WIAC race will be the toughest it has been in a few years.

10 – Washington Univ.
I haven’t hidden the fact I have not been as impressed with the Bears in recent years. However, it appears what some would call a “rebuilding” or a “retooling” has brought us to this season. The UAA is ripe for the taking and I don’t see why WashU won’t be on top at season’s end. Three starters and 75% of the offense with weapons in all places on the floor. I like how it reads on paper, but want to see how it plays on the court before I move them up higher.

St. John’s sophomore David Stokman looks to continue the rise of the Johnnies in the MIAC.

11 – St. John’s
That is not a typo. The Johnnies showed last year they are ready to dethrone St. Thomas in the MIAC. All five starters return, nearly all the scoring, plus three players in double-figures in the starting five with weapons at guard, forward, and center. I think St. John’s is ready to surprise a lot of people who haven’t been paying attention to anyone but the Tommies in the MIAC.

12 – UW-Whitewater
Is the rebuilding process over? Whitewater has had a few seasons where the team hasn’t been where people are used to them, but it seems that is now in the past. The pieces appear to be there. It feels like Whitewater will make it a thick race atop the conference.

13 – Tufts
What I saw the Jumbos do in the postseason without their center, Tom Palleschi, gives me confidence they will have a strong season this year now that he has graduated. Three starters back including Vincent Pace not to mention a lot of scoring options. I think Tufts is here to stay in the upper echelon of the NESCAC.

14 – Marietta
Here is another team that lost quite a bit, but may surprise. Yes, losing AJ Edwards and others (accounting for over half the points) hurts, but the Pioneers have a transfer from Wooster and Ohio Valley (DII) that seem ready to contribute right away. The start of the season will be very difficult and will prove either I have put too much stock in Marietta or they are going to bounce back nicely.

15 – Rochester
I’ll be blunt: the Yellowjackets lost a lot! I had them in and out of my ballot a dozen times. I still am not sure I should have voted for them, let alone 15th. Sam Borst-Smith, Mack Montague, and Zach Ayers made that offense click and nearly knocked off Whitman in the Elite Eight. They have a lot of talent back and the name recognition helps with recruiting. I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do in the preseason, but the ballot is already in.

Ohio Wesleyan senior guard Nate Axelrod looks to continue the Battling Bishops’ success from the last half of last season.

16 – Ohio Wesleyan
The Battling Bishops have one of the best, if not the best, point guards in Division III basketball. Nate Axelrod had an off-season last campaign maybe because he was the focus of every defense. However, it is his senior campaign and he has some more options around him to take the pressure off. I suspect OWU will quietly surprise some people as they did to close out the second half of last season.

17 – Guilford
Admittedly, the ODAC is down. Randolph-Macon could show that last year wasn’t a fluke with far more experience, but I still think the ODAC campaign goes through North Carolina this season. That said, I do wonder if the Quakers are not a little distracted. Administrative changes have removed the AD title from Tom Palombo who was also in the running to be the next Washington & Lee head coach prior to that title change. Or maybe those distractions and less responsibility will galvanize this unit. I’ll be watching Guilford quite a bit this season.

18 – Christopher Newport
It seems the Captains missed their chance last season losing to Keene State in the NCAA third round. They have only lost five total games the last two seasons, but come in to this season banged up and having lost a lot of leadership from last year. Reports are Marcus Carter won’t be back until the second semester after knee surgery and others will be missing as well. The CAC may be easier to win this time around (Salisbury rebuilding and no other serious threats seemingly on the horizon), but on a national level CNU’s performance may not impress many. This is a wait and see season.

CMS’s Michael Scarlett lives up to the name rather well. He is also a dangerous offensive threat who sets his teammates up well.

19 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
It appears CMS has built something for the long run in Southern California. Or at least for consecutive seasons. Michael Scarlett will lead the way with his incredible three-point and free throw shooting along with looking to help others. CMS should roll through the SCIAC and look to finally make a run in March.

20 – UW-Oshkosh
A third team from the WIAC on my ballot… and it isn’t UW-Stevens Point. Oshkosh has been the most consistent in conference the last few seasons, but maybe I am buying too much stock. Three starters and most of their offense is back. As I wrote in my notes, “I like what I see on paper, but…” Not sure what the “but” will produce.

21 – St. John Fisher
Lost their best player in Keegan Ryan and then their coach, Rob Kornaker, announces his resignation (retirement?) shortly before practices begin. Losing those two men alone had me leaning towards not voting for the Cardinals (the pessimistic side of me wondering if Kornaker’s decision to leave was because he knew this campaign wouldn’t be as good despite saying he wanted to see his son play in college). However, I am going with SJF early because they still return four starters and nine players who played more than then minutes a game on average last season. Their assistant coach, who was groomed by Kornaker, takes over. It could still be a good squad in the East.

Adam Gigax and the Emory Eagles hope some time playing in Italy this summer will springboard their upcoming campaign.

22 – Emory
A third team from the UAA in my Top 25. Yeah, I am unsure. This is the area of the ballot where sometimes it might be better to throw darts. The Yellow Jackets should be good. They are one of the most consistent teams in the last six years in the UAA. That said, it seems they haven’t returned to the level we saw from them a few years ago. Another team where I am not sure if I am reading the tea leaves correctly or not.

23 – Skidmore
One of the best players in the East Region and maybe the country returns for the Thoroughbreds who have a lot of talent in a lot of different ways. However, they haven’t been able to put a consistent season together … yet. Maybe I like this team more than I should. Maybe I like and see more in Edvinas Rupkus than I should. I am willing to admit Skidmore has a lot to prove others than it does me and that may mean I have blinders on.

24 – Scranton
The one thing I can absolutely say with certainty about the Royals: they are one of the more consistent programs in Division III men’s basketball. I know they will be at the top of the conference and being considered for Top 25 attention every season. They bring back a lot of weapons, but for the first time in many years I think they are missing a key piece inside (center). How they handle finding the answers down low, so Ethan Danzig doesn’t feel like he has all the pressure on him to produce, will be the key.

Nichols looks to stay a top the CCC and continue to make waves nationally this season. (Courtesy: Nichols Athletics)

25 – Nichols
Here is my wild card. The Bison return nearly everyone from a campaign that turned a lot of heads, including their NCAA tournament appearance (before being crushed by Endicott). Nichols returns four starters and over 80-percent of the points scored from last season including DeAnte Bruton’s 21.3 ppg. However, the Bison have nothing on their schedule that will reveal much about them. Wesleyan, Trinity (Conn.), and Endicott (who lost a lot) are the only games of note. That will make it hard for Nichols to climb my ballot or appear on many others.

Sometimes in the past I have revealed other teams I have on my radar. Other years I have not. I debated long and hard about doing it this year and decided not. Too many people think if I don’t mention a team even on my radar that I am somehow slighting them or the squad when there is absolutely no way I can list every single team I can or did consider in some manner or way.

And with that, this preseason ballot vote is done. Plenty of questions, not a lot of answers, and still two weeks until we see any meaningful basketball played. I look forward to seeing what teams I gauged correctly and which ones I completely missed on. Believe it or not, even when I am wrong I am delighted with the process. Voting in the only Division III men’s basketball ballot is an honor and it allows me to better understand programs, conferences, regions, and much more far better than I could otherwise.

Enjoy the season, folks, and don’t forget to join me on Hoopsville starting Thursday, November 16 – it is out 15th Season Debut! I can’t imagine doing anything else this time of year.


For now, the banners still hang at UWSP

The investigation into the UW-Stevens Point men’s basketball program has dragged on much longer than anticipated, longer than we were told to expect.

This is almost certainly a bad sign — not just for the obvious reasons, either.

It had been expected that the NCAA investigation into recent Pointers’ seasons and preseason practices would wrap up by April, perhaps May. The fact that no resolution has been announced means that this cloud of suspicion, this uncertainty, continues to hang over the program, and did so through the recruiting season. But secondly, the timeline suggests that the school and the NCAA are trying to come to an agreement over what the punishment will be.

In the interim, the athletic department suspended coach Bob Semling for the final 13 games of the season, and kept the program out of the WIAC tournament. (The Pointers finished 14-10, 8-6 in the WIAC and would have otherwise been the fourth seed in the conference tournament.) This was the second self-imposed punishment for the same violation. .

Semling spoke recently with Alexis Geffen, of Stevens Point’s WAOW 9, saying: “The final report’s going to go through the committee … by the end of July. I would hope by the end of August, start of September, start of school, that we would find out that this is resolved.”

Semling maintains that for the type of violation that has been described, suspending the coach is about as far as one would go. But with the same NCAA committee on infractions having stripped Thomas More of a national title in Division III women’s basketball less than a year ago, it’s fair to consider that a Pointers’ national title could be at stake here as well. And if suspending the coach is sufficient, it’s hard to understand what is holding this process up.

The NCAA committee could instead call for a show-cause ruling on Semling. This would require any school employing him to go through significant procedures and paperwork with the NCAA, all but ending his coaching career.

For now, four banners hang in Quandt Fieldhouse and four national championship trophies still sit in the trophy case outside the entrance. Semling’s name is still on the door of the men’s basketball head coach office. I was there at the end of May to confirm these were true. But for how long those all remain true, it’s hard to know.

Apparently Salem’s ‘facilities’ are to blame

Salem Civic Center prior to the 2017 men’s basketball semifinals. Courtesy: d3photography.com

The NCAA, or more particularly the particular sports committees, are going to regret the decision to leave Salem, Virginia.

I will admit, that may be pretty blunt and may come from a bias point of view. I have traveled to the Roanoke Valley for NCAA championships since March of 2001. I was introduced to the Salem Civic Center the first season we to put Hoopsville on the air. Pat Coleman invited Jared Rosenbaum and me to what had become the mecca of Division III basketball. Pat’s alma mater which happened to be my alma mater’s biggest rival, Catholic, won the national title that year. It didn’t take anything away from my experience.

I haven’t missed a trip to Salem for basketball since. I have also added a few other trips as well and have now been to over 25 Division III championships in the Roanoke Valley. 17 men’s basketball, 7 football, and 2 soccer. By the time Salem “loses” the football and men’s basketball championships, that total may be 28 or more.

In all those events, not once did I ever think, “I wish the championships had a better place to be. I wish the facilities were better. D-III deserves a better place.”

Not once.

UW-Oshkosh football teams runs out of the tunnel and shower of fireworks onto the field at Salem Stadium in Stagg Bowl 44 last Decemeber. Courtesy: Larry Radloff, d3photography.com

But the men’s basketball and football committees has apparently decided that there are better “facilities” to visit with the championships then Salem. At least, that is what I have been told. “Facilities” was the reason for the decision to leave Salem with football and men’s basketball after 25 and 23 years (following next season) respectively.

Fine. There are flashy new stadiums and arenas to visit. There are apparently members on the men’s basketball committee, at least, who seem to want newer and maybe bigger facilities among other arguments.

Are Salem’s facilities old? Sure. Are they bad? Not in the least. I fear members of the men’s basketball committee have lost focus of the bigger picture while wishing for “better” facilities.

The reason Salem is so well regarded and loved had nothing to do with the facilities. It was because of the experience, especially for the student-athletes, was the best of the best.

As my broadcast partner the last two seasons in Salem for the men’s basketball championships, Lincoln Rose, said during halftime of this year’s men’s title game, Salem “create(s) a national stage, a spotlight for student-athletes who put in put in just as much hours and sweat-equity as well as balance that with academics and you really reward them for all of their hard work and give them a memory they can take with them.”

I couldn’t say it better myself. Salem has provided one of the most amazing championship experiences not only in Division III but in Division II as well. I’d even argue they beat out some of the D-I experiences that I have been part of as well.

Babson men’s basketball practicing at Salem Civic Center (Courtesy: Babson Athletics)

Salem has made sure the student-athletes feel special. Salem has put in place things that are now standard for all Division III championships: mementos for the student-athletes, community service events, host families for each team, and more. What Salem has started and created is now standard for all Division III championships and even other events throughout the NCAA. And Salem is never satisfied with the status quo.

By the way, “Salem” is an easy catch-all for a lot of individuals. Carey Harveycutter, the director of tourism for the City of Salem, is a huge advocate of student-athletes, highly respected in the NCAA. John Saunders was Harveycutter’s right-hand man until he recently retired and has made sure things run smoothly behind the scenes. Brad Bankston is one of the most respected individuals in Division III as the long time commissioner of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and works to put out any fires. J.J. Nekeloff does more than his assistant commissioner and SID role for the ODAC would imply, running media operations like a well oiled machine. And there are more from the ODAC (including member institutions) and the Salem Civic Center event staff who help in small and large ways. I haven’t even mentioned the countless numbers of volunteers who are everywhere and always with a smile on their faces.

I never hear anyone complain. I never see someone roll their eyes. I see ridiculously long hours and incredible pride.

And while “facilities” is the reasoning, Salem has always worked to improve their facilities and experience. Every single seat in the Salem Civic Center has been replaced, the signage and accents around the walls have all been changed and upgraded, they have replaced the arena’s lighting system, brought in spotlights, even toyed with specialty, show lighting in past years. This is the second or third basketball floor in 23 years, there are tunnels for the teams to run through, video screens to add to the crowd atmosphere, and this year we saw video score tables at center court.

Roanoke College’s Kerr Stadium, site of the Division III men’s and women’s soccer championships in 2016. Courtesy: NCAA.com

Did you know Salem has been using whistle timing systems for more than 15 years? They have finally made their way into the D-I basketball tournaments in the last few years, but Salem made sure the refs whistle stopped the clock for a long time. It is that kind of forward thinking that has made Salem special and made them a championship city.

The city’s respect in the NCAA is so high they were chosen to host the soccer championships with about two months warning when the event was pulled out of Greensboro, N.C. due to the state’s infamous “bathroom bill.” What is significant is Roanoke College’s field is turf. The soccer championships had never been held on anything but natural grass. There were other sites in consideration that had natural grass. The NCAA chose Salem because they knew the experience for the student-athletes wouldn’t be affected.

Outside the Salem Civic Center in 2017.

The student-athlete experience is more important than anything else. In 2013, the men’s championship game was taken to Atlanta, along with D-II, to be part of the 75th anniversary of men’s basketball in the NCAA. Salem was getting the short end of the stick since they had been awarded the bid to host the championship that year. But Salem was asked to do something else: host the quarterfinals and semifinals and do it a week later than scheduled. Anyone who understands how facilities are used and rented knows moving an event by a week is hard to do. Most facilities like the Salem Civic Center have their dates (especially weekends) locked in years in advance. But Salem moved the weekend and easily hosted the elite eight. It was so well done and such a tremendous experience there has been serious conversations of making the elite eight an annual thing in the future. Well… until now.

But the story doesn’t end there. Harveycutter, Bankston, Nekeloff, and others headed to Atlanta to help put the championship game on in ATL. And they brought some ideas back to southwest Virginia with them.

The next December Harveycutter mentioned had an idea for the men’s basketball championship banquet and wondered if I might be available. He had seen the celebration event Division I did featuring Jim Nantz chatting with the coaches and then the student-athletes from each team in a low-key, conversational setting. Harveycutter wanted to do that in Salem, replacing speeches from a player and coach from each team. That made its debut the next year in Salem and lasted for several years, then was replaced with yet another change to the banquet to allow it to be fun and low-key for the student-athletes.

One of the mementos given to the teams who made it to the 2013 quarterfinals in Salem, Virginia.

There are about 500 teams who have been on the “Road to Salem” and not returned with a championship. Do you think those teams have anything bad to say about the experience outside of not coming home with the Walnut and Bronze? I’m confident no one complained about facilities. No one looks around the Salem Civic Center and thinks we are in a crappy situation. No one looks around Salem Stadium and worries the stands aren’t big enough or they are going to collapse. No one. Never. But apparently “facilities” is more important to the Division III committees (and maybe in some part the NCAA) then the overall experience these championships have created over decades.

In the meantime, the “Road to Salem” will lose its luster. The “Road to Somewhere” will mean less especially to the student-athletes who know nothing else.  The student-athletes playing today weren’t even born the last time Salem didn’t host the semifinals. This means something to them. This means something to Division III and because “facilities” aren’t up to someone’s par the experience will take at least a four-year hiatus – if not more.

Colton Hunt, left, awarded the Jostens Trophy in 2013 in Salem, Virginia. He is accompanied by then Randolph coach Clay Nunley. Courtesy: Randolph Athletics

In addition, I have to wonder what the NABC does to run their All-Star Game. Salem had a pivotal role in that game every year. And the Jostens Trophy is handed out each year in Salem, but more importantly it is given out by the Salem Rotary Club and administrated by Bankston, Nekeloff, and others.

Starting in December 2018, football and then men’s basketball will have new hosts for at least four years. Good luck to them. They are going to have to replace the hospitality, community experience, and more that Salem has made the standard. I guess they will have some incredible facilities, but I won’t be looking at that. When I watch games, I look at the court and the student-athletes on that court. When I am in a community, I look at what is going on around the game and the experience those teams are having. As Pat Coleman points out, these new sites will have to live up to a pretty high bar, but I guess their new facilities will have them one step ahead in the eyes of some on the committees.

I won’t use the words I am really thinking about this decision. Instead I will say this. I’m disappointed.


Lancaster Bible: Go undefeated or go home

We have arrived at an interesting crossroads in Division III men’s basketball. Every year there are good teams who need to win their conference tournaments to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. But this year, we see a very good team who actually has to win their conference tournament just to make sure they go undefeated.

Over the last few seasons we have commented, argued, lamented, and even shaken our heads that Albertus Magnus would have to win their conference to get into the NCAA Tournament despite two or three losses. But we also understood it. Teams like Albertus Magnus, Southern Vermont, PSU-Behrend, St. Vincent, Northwestern (Minn.) and others who have been nationally ranked need to prove themselves outside of their conference and usually stumble at that task. These teams are all losing usually their third game in a conference tournament (or championship) which everyone tends to agree is the death nail.

But to lose your first game in the conference tournament and not get in? How did we get here?

I am not sure I know where to put a finger on it, but we can certainly start pointing at when the Strength of Schedule (SOS) numbers started to be trusted and more of the old guard who leaned heavily on win-loss percentage (WL) started to rotate off committees. After what had been a horrific experience with the Quality of Wins Index, the SOS was born and evolved, but it wasn’t trusted. Why would you trust another strength metric when the previous one had gone down in flames? But as the SOS evolved and people better understood how it worked and it more importantly proved to be consistent, those on committees started to buy in. The moment we should have realized the SOS was going to play a major role a few years ago when the men (and other committees around Division III) decided to add in a multiplier for home and away games.

The evolution of the multiplier was because some coaches either for a long time had been parking themselves at home, acting like a dictator, making sure anyone who wanted to play them out of conference came to their gym. Or coaches figured out that it would be easier for them to not travel and instead play at home to bolster their SOS – less risk. This resulted in a few years where the SOS wasn’t adding up to what everyone knew and felt about teams and schedules and it was giving some teams a major advantage to remain at home for both weekends of the NCAA Tournament (thanks to the inflated SOS they had built without leaving their gym in the first place). The multiplier was added and it quickly made an impact. Sure, it was heavy handed at first with 1.4 for road games and .60 for away games, but that was soon adjusted to 1.25 and .75. But no matter, the multiplier and thus the SOS shook up Division III basketball. (It also coincided with more games being counted as in-region and that helped bolster scheduling as well.)

As the SOS gained momentum and trust, it also started to take over conversations on Regional Advisory Committees (RAC) and on the national level. Soon we all could see teams seemed to be ranked higher more because of their SOS than their WL. But we also saw the internal fights not only on the RACs, but between RACs when one region might rank more heavily on SOS because those on the committee trusted it more and another region which clearly was leaning on WL because there were members who didn’t want the WL to lose importance. This was all seemingly without caring for the other criteria.

Then a few years ago we started hearing about a way that at least the national committee was trying to work to understand the differences between SOS and WL. What does it mean to be 20-2 with an SOS of .510 versus being 17-5 with an SOS of .570? There was no way to grade those two. The committees were left with trying to understand an SOS number they trusted but couldn’t truly breakdown across regions, between conferences, and head-to-head with teams. Thus the .030 SOS difference to 2-games ratio emerged. Groundbreaking. Criteria-shifting. An ah-ha moment in Division III basketball.

Now the committees had a measuring stick to compare teams with. Even if it didn’t give them a deciding factor, it did give them a way to lean if it was obvious. Now a team that was 20-2 with a .510 could be adjusted to roughly a 16-6 while the 17-5 team with a .570 could be adjusted to 21-1 when compared to the other team’s SOS. (20-2 w/.510 = 16-6 w/.570; 17-5 w/.570 = 21-1 w/.510).

At first they didn’t extrapolate out from .030=2 to .060=4 and beyond. We were told last year and years before that the math seemed to get fuzzy drawing that particular straight a line. But this year the committee seems to be clearly drawing that line.

And that’s how we have gotten to looking at Lancaster Bible who has a .422 SOS, being undefeated, and not even regionally ranked in the East (not one of the more difficult regions to be ranked). The SOS has taken on a significant role despite the fact none of the criteria is supposed to be prioritized. LBC’s SOS sticks out like a sore thumb. It is hard to ignore.

Lancaster Bible celebrated going 25-0, but will need to go 27-0 to make the NCAA Tournament. (Lancaster Bible athletics photo)

Lancaster Bible celebrated going 25-0, but will need to go 27-0 to make the NCAA Tournament. (Lancaster Bible athletics photo)

Just to get LBC regionally ranked in the first place means comparing them to SUNY Geneseo who sits sixth this week. Here is the breakdown (using data the RAC and national committee would have been looking at through Sunday):

LBC:                       21-0 or 1.000 (in-region/D3)                       1-0 vRRO             .422 SOS              24-0 (overall)
Geneseo:            17-7 or .708 (in-region/D3)                          2-4 vRRO             .536 SOS              17-8 (overall)

If we only go by the .030=2 ratio, we need to adjust to the .114 difference between the two teams’ SOS. To be fair, we will only draw the line to .090=6 because we don’t want to round up to the next break of .120=8. LBC now has the equivalent of a 15-6 (.714) in-region record while Geneseo is up to a 23-1 (.958) record. Ouch.

But is that fair? Should the line be that straight? Can anyone actually sit down and say that because .030=2 that means .060=4? Or .090=6? When working with metrics like this that is hard to say.

Now the D3 numbers guru, Matt Snyder, contends the ratio shouldn’t cross metrics. That a number like .030 shouldn’t be compared to a solid games number like 2. It should be more like .030=.080 (winning percentage).

If that is the case, let’s readjust the numbers. LBC now has a winning percentage of .760 when translated to a .536 SOS and Geneseo has a winning percentage of .948 translated to a .422 SOS. LBC’s winning percentage is actually better in this scenario and Geneseo’s doesn’t go up as high. However, it still leaves LBC out in the cold. And no, the vRRO isn’t helping and the committee probably isn’t getting far enough into the secondary criteria to give LBC credit for three more wins.

Lancaster Bible isn’t going to make the NCAA Tournament if they finish the season 25-1 or 26-1. It is obvious. And one could argue it isn’t fair.

Lancaster Bible has a number of things going against them. They play 18 conference games in a conference that arguably is one of the worst in the country. They have no choice but to play 18 games against teams whose own data is poor and they only can play seven games out of the conference to improve their situation. At some point, one would argue we shouldn’t be punishing teams like Lancaster Bible who are still winning no matter what their conference situation is. That straight line between SOS and WL probably should be more of a curve that eventually hits a point where too large of a discrepancy between SOS numbers can’t be easily measured in hard number of games or winning percentage adjustments. We can probably safely assume that SOS numbers on the extreme, like Lancaster Bible is on the low end, are rare. We can probably also safely assume that SOS numbers in the middle are far more common. So why would an extreme SOS be treated the same as those closer to the middle? I get that .030=2 when dealing those comparisons in the middle two-thirds, but it feels a bit extreme when dealing with SOS numbers well off the middle. It isn’t like a team in LBC’s situation can go and win MORE games to offset the SOS primarily affected by the conference. The same is true for teams like in the NESCAC last year who had extremely high SOS numbers; at some point how many games do they have to lose to bring their SOS back to the middle and more realistic a positioning?

That last example actually gets to what I think is an inadvertent double-standard. Last year North Central finished the season with an 18-8 record and a gaudy SOS of .587. In almost every criteria comparison against other teams using .030=2, North Central wins. You couldn’t overcome their SOS number. But they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament because the national committee basically said they lost too many games. In other words, great schedule, but you need to win more to qualify as an at-large.

The committee(s) seems to not be taking the same approach when it comes to Lancaster Bible. Instead of saying, they have done everything actually possible in this situation to overcome their SOS by winning every single game on their schedule, the committee(s) is saying, your SOS is so poor you can never overcome it. No chance.

No chance? So North Central puts together a ridiculously good schedule, but are not rewarded for that SOS because they didn’t win enough games. North Central actually could overcome the problem by winning one or two more games, something they have done this year. Lancaster Bible has a ridiculously bad schedule, but are not rewarded for the fact they at least went out and didn’t lose. They pretty much can’t do anything more if they are an at-large team and only lost their final game of the season.

Those previous examples we showed of teams who didn’t, or weren’t, going to make the NCAA Tournament without an automatic bid at least had lost two or three games to change the equation. LBC has lost none and at worst will have one. It seems strange you can ding a team and keep them from making the tournament based on the W-L not being good enough against a really good SOS, but then turn around and ding a team and possibly keep them out of the tournament based on a near-perfect W-L no matter the SOS.

There will be teams who make this year’s NCAA Tournament as at-large teams because of incredibly good SOS numbers, but lost five, six, seven, or more games. If the Chargers miss out, it will be simply because they lost their first game in their final game of the entire schedule. That really seems backwards. Wins and losses eventually trumps a really good SOS. Why can’t wins and a lack of losses also eventually trump a really bad SOS? We already know there is a line around three losses. Are we comfortable drawing a line at one loss?

Now, Lancaster Bible is not an innocent bystander. They have one of the worst SOS numbers in the entire country. They in fact have the worst SOS in their conference! But there is a reason they are at the bottom of the NEAC in terms of SOS. The NEAC is full of programs that other teams will either schedule to help improve their own team or to use as fodder for what might be an already difficult schedule. That or they want to warm up to the start the season or restart after the exam/holiday break with an easier opponent. Bryn Athyn has a .484 SOS. Do you really think that is because Bryn Athyn is able to schedule better in their third season of existence than Lancaster Bible can?

No, it’s because LBC has been good for several years now. They have lost in the conference finals the last few years, missing out on the NCAA Tournament as a result despite a 24-3 record last season. They ended up qualifying for the NCCAA Division II tournament and won the national title in a four-round tournament. They are no longer considered fodder for other teams around them in the Mid-Atlantic or Atlantic Regions nor in their own East Region. Teams don’t want to play them because they might actually lose! But because LBC can’t schedule tough opponents doesn’t let them off the hook.

The previous coaching staff put together a sub-par out-of-conference schedule in the eyes of SOS and regional opponents of significance. Of the seven games they scheduled, only one ended up being against a team that even enters the regional conversation, Franklin and Marshall. LBC played them thanks to the fact they went to Messiah’s tournament and the Falcons didn’t want to play F&M or New Jersey City in the opening round. Otherwise, the schedule was full of either have-beens or never-have-beens including one, Valley Forge, that doesn’t even count in the eyes of the NCAA (Valley Forge is in their second provisional year of the four-year Division III process; Valley Forge is the very definition of a fodder team in the Mid-Atlantic and Atlantic regions). Of the six out-of-conference opponents on LBC’s schedule this year that they could control (F&M being the exception), NONE of them have a winning record.

But the NEAC doesn’t help. Of the 12 conference opponents and 18 games in LBC’s schedule, only three have winning records. LBC played 14 games in conference against teams with a total record of 64-156 (.290). Playing against Morrisville State (18-7) once, SUNYIT (Poly) (14-12) once, and Gallaudet (18-7) twice only improved the conference opponents winning percentage to 114-182 (.385). You simply cannot overcome that when nearly three-quarters of your schedule is against opponents who can’t win even 40-percent of their games. Nor when half of your schedule is against teams who can’t win 30-percent of their games.

What is even worse? NEAC expansion from the outside and from within forces LBC to play teams like Bryn Athyn twice, who don’t even count towards the NCAA criteria (thus the difference of games between LBC’s in-region/D3 record and their overall). For LBC, it is a lose-lose-lose scenario: forced to play them twice; the wins essentially don’t count and they don’t help the SOS; and LBC certainly better not lose to those teams, either. The optics of that are even worse!

The NEAC’s playing schedule, make up of teams, institutional philosophies, and the fact many are fodder for better teams doesn’t help squads like LBC get into the NCAA Tournament. The conference has shown it can produce really good, top-notch programs like Morrisville State who took advantage of conference titles and marched themselves to the Sweet 16 (’13) and then the Elite 8 (’14) in back to back seasons. SUNYIT got to the Sweet 16 prior to that.

Other conferences, especially large ones have found ways to help their top teams. Whether it’s not forcing teams to play every single team in the conference twice or even once (divisional conferences sometimes only have a team play half of the other division) or they only allow a certain number of teams into the conference tournament (which the NEAC does). Some conferences will also protect the top seeds from taking on teams early in their conference tournaments that may further hurt their SOS or accidentally knock out the conference’s best hope in the post-season using a bye or double-bye system (the OAC women in the past and the CUNYAC this season used the double-bye system). The double-bye usually keeps the top seeds safe from a bad SOS hit and protects them from losing a game early that will certainly knock them out of the post-season discussion.

Some may ask if Lancaster Bible or others in their situation should consider moving conferences. I am sure the idea has crossed the minds of those at LBC, but it doesn’t help programs immediately (it is at least a two-year process) and with a team like LBC, where are they going to go? The MAC Commonwealth, CAC, Centennial, and Landmark (all of which surround LBC) aren’t looking to expand and LBC doesn’t necessarily fit into those conferences very well, other than possibly the CAC. If they aren’t going to fit into the MAC Commonwealth, then the Freedom in the Atlantic Region is out of the question and they certainly don’t fit the NJAC or the CUNYAC models. There is the Skyline, but would that conference want to add another long trip when they already have Sage in the mix? (Merchant Marine is leaving the Landmark and rejoining the Skyline because of scheduling problems. Can you imagine them being okay with a trip to central Pennsylvania every year?) Don’t look at the East Region, because the SUNYAC, Empire 8, Liberty League are not options for LBC. There is the AMCC in the Great Lakes Region, but I’m not sure that’s really being something the AMCC would be interested in doing.

So LBC is stuck in the bed they are in. They can only control their out-of-conference schedule which coach Zach Filzen admitted on Hoopsville on Thursday needs to be fixed moving forward (he inherited this season’s schedule when he took over in June). But the conference, and others similar, needs to look at how they can help as well whether it is changing the scheduling to allow more out-of-conference games or protecting the top seed to avoid catastrophe.

It also gets back to the selection and ranking criteria. There can’t be such a rigid line that a team who does everything it possibly can outside of winning a game against a conference opponent for possibly a third time can’t get into the NCAA tournament. How can the WL trump a really good SOS, but it can’t trump a really bad SOS?

Everyone you talk to who has seen Lancaster Bible in action says they are a legitimate Top 25 team. If they continue, they will certainly be a team that can repeat what Morrisville State did. They are good enough talent wise to compete with some of the best in the country. But they won’t get there unless they actually go perfect for the regular season. It almost seems better if they had tanked some of their games earlier in the season so we could look at their resume and say, “well, they have a poor SOS and they couldn’t even win against that schedule. Of course they have to win their conference title. With that many losses against that SOS, they stand no chance as an at-large.”

As it stands now, Lancaster Bible stands no chance at an at-large even if they only lose the final game of the season.

Third NCAA regional ranking

north-central-connor-raridon-sw-480x400The third NCAA regional rankings have been released. The last ranking will come on Sunday, Feb. 28, which we do not get to see.

Need to know more about the regional rankings process and what they mean? Need to know more about the NCAA Tournament? Check out our NCAA Tournament FAQ.

Plus, we now have posted the previous 17 years’ worth of regional rankings online! Check out Division III men’s basketball regional rankings, 1999-2015 and Division III women’s basketball regional rankings, 1999-2015.

The first record is Division III record, followed by overall.
Through games of Sunday, Feb. 21.

Men’s rankings
Atlantic Region – NCAA data sheet

1 New Jersey City 18-7 18-7
2 Stockton 19-5 19-6
3 DeSales 19-5 19-6
4 Brooklyn 20-6 20-6
5 Lehman 17-7 18-7
6 Staten Island 18-6 18-7
7 Rutgers-Newark 20-6 20-6

Central – NCAA data sheet

1 Benedictine 25-0 25-0
2 Augustana  24-1 24-1
3 St. Norbert 21-2 21-2
4 North Central (Ill.) 18-6 19-6
5 Elmhurst 20-5 20-5
6 Chicago 16-7 17-7
7 Aurora 19-5 20-5
8 Carroll 19-4 19-4

East – NCAA data sheet

1 Plattsburgh State 21-4 21-4
2 Rochester 17-6 17-7
3 NYU 19-5 19-5
4 St. John Fisher 20-5 20-5
5 Oswego State 18-7 18-7
6 SUNY Geneseo 17-7 17-8

Great Lakes – NCAA data sheet

1 Marietta 23-2 23-2
2 Ohio Wesleyan 22-3 22-3
3 John Carroll 22-3 22-3
4 Hope 21-1 23-2
5 Alma 19-6 19-6
6 Wooster 18-6 19-6
7 Mount Union 16-8 17-8
8 Hiram 18-6 18-7
9 St. Vincent 19-6 19-6

Mid-Atlantic – NCAA data sheet

1 Christopher Newport 24-1 24-1
2 Susquehanna 20-3 22-3
3 Salisbury 20-5 20-5
4 Catholic 20-5 20-5
5 Scranton 18-6 19-6
6 Franklin and Marshall 20-5 20-5

Northeast – NCAA data sheet

1 Amherst 21-4 21-4
2 Trinity (Conn.) 18-6 19-6
3 Tufts 20-5 20-5
4 Babson 19-5 19-5
5 WPI 20-5 20-5
6 Johnson and Wales  22-2 23-2
7 Eastern Connecticut 17-8 17-8
8 MIT 19-6 19-6
9 Middlebury 15-10 15-10
10 Southern Vermont 22-3 22-3
11 Nichols 22-3 22-3

South – NCAA data sheet

1 Texas Lutheran 19-6 19-6
2 Lynchburg 19-6 19-6
3 Emory 16-7 17-7
4 Virginia Wesleyan 17-8 17-8
5 N.C. Wesleyan 15-4 19-6
6 LaGrange 15-6 18-7
7 East Texas Baptist 17-5 20-5
8 Roanoke 18-6 19-6

West – NCAA data sheet

1 St. Thomas  23-2 23-2
2 Whitworth 23-1 24-1
3 Whitman 21-3 22-3
4 St. John’s  17-7 18-7
5 St. Olaf 16-9 16-9
6 Concordia-Moorhead 16-8 16-9
7 Bethel 17-8 17-8


The first record is Division III record, followed by overall record.


1 Stockton 21-5 21-5
2 Montclair State 19-6 19-6
3 Rowan 21-4 21-4
4 DeSales 19-6 19-6
5 FDU-Florham 18-6 19-6
6 Manhattanville 18-7 18-7
7 Marywood 17-6 18-7
8 Gwynedd Mercy 20-5 20-5


1 Washington U.  20-4 20-4
2 UW-River Falls 20-4 21-4
3 UW-Stevens Point 19-6 19-6
4 UW-Oshkosh 19-5 20-5
5 UW-Whitewater 18-6 19-6
6 Wheaton (Ill.) 19-5 20-5
7 Concordia (Wis.) 20-4 20-5
8 Westminster (Mo.) 19-2 20-4
9 St. Norbert 19-4 19-4


1 Rochester 19-5 19-5
2 New York University 17-7 17-7
3 Stevens 19-6 19-6
4 SUNY Geneseo 19-5 19-6
5 St. John Fisher 22-2 22-3
6 SUNY New Paltz 19-6 19-6
7 Clarkson 20-5 20-5
8 Fredonia 17-7 18-7

Great Lakes

1 Thomas More 24-0 25-0
2 Hope 23-1 24-1
3 Ohio Northern 22-3 22-3
4 Denison 22-3 22-3
5 Carnegie Mellon 18-6 18-6
6 Bluffton 21-2 23-2
7 Capital 19-6 19-6
8 Rose-Hulman 20-3 22-3
9 La Roche 22-3 22-3


1 Scranton 25-0 25-0
2 Muhlenberg 22-2 22-2
3 Albright 23-2 23-2
4 Marymount  21-4 21-4
5 Christopher Newport 22-3 22-3
6 Moravian 19-6 19-6
7 Mary Washington 21-4 21-4
8 Gettysburg 18-5 18-5


1 Tufts 22-2 22-2
2 Amherst 24-1 24-1
3 University of New England 22-3 22-3
4 Bowdoin 20-5 20-5
5 Johnson and Wales  23-2 23-2
6 Eastern Connecticut  19-6 19-6
7 Keene State 21-4 21-4
8 Babson 20-5 20-5
9 Emmanuel  19-6 19-6
10 Regis (Mass.) 22-3 22-3
11 Saint Joseph’s (Maine) 18-5 20-5
12 Husson 19-6 19-6
*One conference did not vote. (The NCAA used to call out specifically which conference but it’s not mentioned here.)


1 Texas-Tyler 20-1 24-1
2 Guilford 19-4 19-4
3 Lynchburg 21-4 21-4
4 Maryville (Tenn.) 21-3 21-3
5 Birmingham-Southern 20-3 21-3
6 Trinity (Texas) 18-4 20-5
7 Hendrix 19-6 19-6
8 Austin 18-7 18-7
9 Emory and Henry 18-6 18-7


1 George Fox 24-0 25-0
2 St. Thomas  22-3 22-3
3 Wartburg 18-6 19-6
4 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 20-4 20-5
5 St. Mary’s (Minn.) 20-5 20-5
6 Luther 17-6 19-6
7 Gustavus Adolphus 19-6 19-6
8 UW-Superior 22-3 22-3

Regional score reporting forms (including SOS) below:
Atlantic | Central | East | Great Lakes | Mid-Atlantic | Northeast | South | West