Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’22-’23) – Week 2

Julianne Sitch led the UChicago men’s soccer team to it’s first-ever national title. In the process, Sitch became the first-ever woman to lead a men’s soccer team to a collegiate national title. (Courtesy: Dave Hilbert, D3photography.com)

Welcome back to my D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot blogs. I apologize for not getting my Week 1 ballot out as expected. The combination of basketball games (three) and Division III Men’s Soccer Championships coupled with some personal distractions caused this to be put on the back burner. I am hoping to make up at least by showing you my ballots so far in this blog. I will try and provide some comments about some of the teams, though not all (especially to keep these blogs shorter).

Please remember I am just one voter of 25 in this poll and I have never pretended to be one who is absolutely right on these nor do I pretend I am not wrong.

First, here is a reminder at my preseason ballot and a look at how I voted in Week 1 (Nov. 28):

Rank Preseason Week 1 +/-
 1. Randolph-Macon Christopher Newport +2
 2. Mary Hardin-Baylor Mount Union +3
 3. Christopher Newport St. Joseph’s (Conn.) +5
 4. UW-Oshkosh Case Western Reserve +2
 5. Mount Union Johns Hopkins +9
 6. Case Western Reserve UW-La Crosse UR
 7. Middlebury Oswego +9
 8. St. Joseph’s (Conn.) Randolph-Macon -7
 9. Oswego Keene State UR
10. Pomona-Pitzer Williams UR
11. Emory Middlebury -4
12. Trinity (Texas) Emory -1
13. Dubuque Rochester UR
14. Johns Hopkins Claremont-Mudd-Scripps UR
15. WPI Mary Hardin-Baylor -13
16. Hardin-Simmons Calvin UR
17. Rowan Mary Washington UR
18. Wesleyan Nazareth UR
19. Heidelberg WPI -4
20. Babson Hope UR
21. WashU Guilford UR
22. Stockton Swarthmore UR
23. Marietta UW-Oshkosh -19
24. St. John’s WashU -3
25. Nichols Stockton -3

Fell off the Preseaon ballot: Pomona-Pitzer, Trinity (TX), Dubuque, Hardin-Simmons, Rowan, Wesleyan, Heidelberg, Babson, Marietta, St. John’s, Nichols

Note: For both the preseason and Week 1 ballots, I did not refer back to how I had previously voted. Neither the end of last season or my preseason ballot. No notes, eye on positions, nothing. I certainly remembered a few items like Randolph-Macon had been my top selection, but nothing more significant.

That said, this week I went back to my more normal voting methods. I write down my previous ballot, then write down notes on results alongside each team, write additional note the print out receive, and then make decisions from there and finish my new ballot along side the old. I went back to it mainly because I noticed prior to my Week 2 ballot I had lost track of a couple of teams between Preseason and Week 1 that I would have spotted had the regular system been in place. So apologies to Dubuque, especially. They fell out of my ballot on Week 1 for no really good reasons, at the time. (I didn’t just put them back this week, the loss to Central gave me pause.)

Now to Week 2’s ballot. I may comment on a few of them:

Jahn Hines is leading CNU in scoring, but the Captains have a lot of weapons that make them the best team in DIII.

1 – Christopher Newport (unchanged)

2 – St. Joseph’s (Conn.) (up 1)

3 – Mount Union (down 1)

4 – Cast Western Reserve (unchanged)

5 – UW-La Crosse (up 1)

6 – Keene State (up 3)

7 – Johns Hopkins (down 2)

8 – Randolph-Macon (unchanged)

Brandon Roughley and the William Ephs are undefeated through the first-third of their season. (I’m shamelessly getting a pic of Roughley in as he’s a fellow Sarum Knight.)

9 – Williams (up 1)
I am not going to lie, I’m nervous about the Ephs. Their schedule is nothing to crow about, but at least they haven’t taken an early season loss that leaves everyone scratching their heads. The win over RPI stood out and gave me some confidence, though in the Top 10 feels too high. But as always, gaps develop on ballots and teams have to fill slots one wouldn’t have expected.

10 – Rochester (up 3)

11 – Emory (up 1)

12 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (up 2)

13 – Middlebury (down 2)

Oswego has lost two of their tougher games so far this season – that could be a concern.

14 – Oswego (down 7)
I think the Lakers are going to be a very good team and likely will win the SUNYAC, but they have already stumbled in a couple big tests. Losing to Nazareth (likely one of the top three teams in the region) is one thing and losing to Brockport isn’t a shocking result … but the loss to Brockport was at home and the offense barely scored xx. It is a bit concerning and I likely am holding on to Oswego a bit more than I should – and I likey should have had them behind Nazareth at this point.

15 – Mary Washington (up 2)

16 – Calvin (unchanged)

17 – Nazareth (up 1)

Heidelberg’s win over Mount Union put them back on the ballot. (Courtesy: Alexis Calhoun/Heidelberg Athletics)

18 – Heidelberg (unranked)
I’ve been a bit yo-yo with the Student Princes. Part of that is similar to what happened with Dubuque and my process with my Preseason and Week 1 ballots, but the other was I may have overreacted to the UWW loss and the tight outcome against Bluffton. I still think Heidelberg will be part of the absolute battle atop the OAC.

19 – Swarthmore (up 3)

20 – Guilford (up 1)

Muhlenberg’s only loss this season is an overtime defeat to Swarthmore. (Courtesy: Muhlenberg Athletics)

21 – Muhlenberg (unranked)
Going into the season, I had my eyes on Gettysburg as being a threat to the top two in the conference (and I bought in to that too much) – I should have remembered some notes I left myself at the end of last season. The Mules (or is it Muhls?) have been a sneaky threat for a few seasons now and had more weapons going into this season than I remembered. Muhlenberg beating Johns Hopkins (first loss other than to Swarthmore in several years) was a bit surprising considering how JHU has been playing, but not when one remembers how much of a threat Kevin Hopkins’s squad really is.

22 – Wheaton (Ill.) (unranked)
I finally got a CCIW team on my ballot. I like what the Thunder have on paper, I just for some reason always want to see what happens ahead of them. I finally told myself to stop waiting.

23 – UW-Oshkosh (unchanged)

24 – Catholic (unranked)
I could have gone a bunch of different directions looking for the final team to add to my ballot. I felt stuck and dove into several corners looking for what I was missing .., and ultimately the Cardinals stood out.

DJ Campbell is leading Stockton in scoring (21.9 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg) while taking twice as many shots as anyone else. (Courtesy: Stockton Athletics)

25 – Stockton (unchanged)
I am unsure if the Ospreys are a Top 25 team right now. I’ve left them on my ballot knowing they are down a few starters and other key guys haven’t been a full strength. My concern is I don’t think Stockton is the best of the conference (Rowan beat them good already this season; but has stumbled themselves) and I don’t know if the NJAC will do more than beat the heck out of themselves. Unsure when the next game will be to answer questions (other than a loss).

Fell off Week 2 ballot:

Mary Hardin-Baylor (previously 15)
Once again the Crusaders have had a turbulent start to the season. I loved that they went to the West Coast and got two quality wins with one interesting loss. However, a month off followed and that resulted in stubbing their toes again dropping the next game to Concordia-Texas. We will have to wait a bit longer to see if UMHB is going to be what we expected this season, but any at-large back-up plan is already in jeopardy.

WPI is off my ballot though is still a team I think we will still be talking about in March. (Courtesy: WPI Athletics)

WPI (previously 19)
I may be heavy-handed here with WPI, but I’ve been unnerved since the first game of the season (yes, I know it was a midnight game). Their schedule hasn’t been great other than their game against Hamilton which they loss. I think I’m going to wait and see … on a team, again, I was high on to start.

Hope (previously 20)
The Dutch have had a good start to the season. A loss to UW-Oshkosh isn’t bad and really the loss to Hanover isn’t too bad, either. However, when I’m looking for reasons to get other teams that I think deserve to be on my ballot I start to nit-pick for reasons to remove teams. Two-losses at this point along with a loss to the Panthers (which I don’t think is a Top 25 team) was my reasoning this week.

WashU (previously 24)
Like others, I think the Bear are going to be a very good team this season, but when looking for reasons to get other teams on the ballot kinks are magnified. A one-point win (following a loss) to Webster, a one-point win over 2-5 Augustana, and then the loss to Pomona-Pitzer (who I thought was going to be good but is 5-4 right now).

Again, I have never said I think I know who are the best teams, the Top 25 order, etc. The one theme over the last decade (or more) is how much more difficult it is to narrow things down each ballot. There are so many teams that have legit points and arguments while also having their own flaws. There is a reason there are 25 voters, and arguably have even more, for this poll – there needs to be that many opinions to truly suss out who the best are in Division III.

 

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’22-’23) – Preseason (Part 3)

This is the third, and final, installment of my D3hoops.com Preseason Men’s Top 25 ballot. I’ve already shared what my methodology was along with my Top 10 and teams 11-21 plus my thoughts on each team I voted. Below are my thoughts on the final five and then final notes on how my ballot worked out. A reminder as we re-start, here is my ballot so far:

UWO and Levi Borchert have had a tough start to the 2022-23 campaign, but I doubt anyone is overlooking the Titans especially when WIAC play begins. (D3photography.com)

1 – Randolph-Macon
2 – Mary Hardin-Baylor
3 – Christopher Newport
4 – UW-Oshkosh
5 – Mount Union
6 – Case Western Reserve
7 – Middlebury
8 – St. Joseph’s (Conn.)
9 – Oswego State
10 – Pomona-Pitzer
11 – Emory
12 – Trinity (TX)
13 – Dubuque
14 – Johns Hopkins
15 – WPI
16 – Hardin-Simmons
17 – Rowan
18 – Wesleyan
19 – Heidelberg
20 – Babson

Reminder, the note after each team in parenthesis is where I ranked them at the end of last season – information I did not know or look-up prior to voting this season. The notes on each team were written shortly after I submitted by ballot in late October. I have not edited this or added anything based on results so far this season.

Justin Hardy was a beloved member of the WashU team who inspired the Bears throughout the 2021-22 season. Hardy will be missed throughout DIII. (WashU Athletics)

21 – Washington Univ (unranked)
There hardly is a season where WashU isn’t in the Top 25 conversation and for good reason. The bedrock for this program is extremely strong. This season they have a ton returning having lost only two – though one of those losses is not only impactful, but also emotional: Justin Hardy. One wonders how much the team was running high on “win it for Justin” last season and if there will be an emotional and motivating hole lingering this season. One thing I consider is the fact the team was playing without Hardy’s talents for much of the second half of last season and did well. All-American Jack Harvey has graduated, but the Bears have the UAA Rookie of the Year Hayden Doyle and Defensive Player of the Year Charlie Jacob back, plus Kevin Davet. The UAA will be very tough and WashU should be in the mix.

22 – Stockton (25th)
The Ospreys finally returned to the national conversation last season and made an already competitive NJAC another level tougher. Scott Bittner has the program and systems in place he’s wanted, and things are looking good outside Atlantic City. However, Stockton can’t surprise anymore. They do have all five guys who started in the NCAA Tournament back to go along with a lot of experience returning. They also added some interesting transfers. I just want to see how they do now that everyone knows how good they are.

Marietta lost a number of key players from last year’s final four run, but Cooper Parrott and others plan to keep the Pioneers in the national conversation. (Marietta Athletics)

23 – Marietta (2nd)
The Pioneers took the next step needed for the program and got themselves to the DIII Championship Weekend … where they ran into a literal Buzz-saw in Randolph-Macon. The challenge for the Pioneers squad now is dealing with the fact they had four starters graduate which accounted for 70% of the offense. The one thing I’m very cognizant of is that Jon VanderWal seems to have the team always ready to compete at the top of the OAC no matter how much has turned over with the program.

24 – St. John’s (unranked)
With St. Thomas no longer in the MIAC, the Johnnies have assumed the mantle of the conference target. St. John’s lost two starters including Zach Hanson, but 70% of their scoring is back in the likes of Ryan Thissan, Kooper Vaughn, and others. The one interesting development is the MIAC appears to be a bit more competitive than in past years meaning SJU must be ready every night. Pat McKenzie’s program has become a very consistent contender that I may be under-rating.

This may be Nichols last season in DIII. There are high expectations, but the first five games have seen two losses to NESCAC foes. (Nichols Athletics)

25 – Nichols (unranked)
This may be the Bison’s last run in Division III and they appear to have the pieces in place to finally take the program to the next level. While some important pieces graduated, they still return All-American and CCC Player of the Year Jakigh Dottin and two other All-CCC honorees all of which averaged double-figures last season and a fourth starter that average 9.9 points per game. Then add in some interesting transfers (some from DI which makes the likely move to DII feel a bit more planned out) and Nichols looks like it could be the team everyone knows is good but is trying to explain why they aren’t (you know the go-to: they play in the CCC).

Final Notes:

A few things that I noted about my own ballot when looking it over countless times:

IWU and the rest of the CCIW were left off my preseason ballot – a decision that certainly felt strange and likely will not be the case for the first in-season ballot. (IWU Athletics)

  • From last season’s final ballot, 12 teams did not make my pre-season ballot: Elmhurst (3rd), Wabash (4th), Ill. Wesleyan (8th), Mass-Dartmouth (13th), Williams (14th), Wheaton (Ill.) (15th), Chapman (17th), UW-Platteville (18th), UW-Lacrosse (20th), Berry (22nd), Hope (23rd), Calvin (24th).
  • I don’t have a single CCIW team in my Top 25. Yep. I noticed that, too, but not until I had submitted my ballot. At no time did it occur to me there was no CCIW representation. Illinois Wesleyan was my front runner and one of the very last teams I didn’t end up including. The issues pretty much came down to two things: IWU, Elmhurst, and others lost a LOT from last year’s squads; the difference between the bottom of the league and the top last season was stark. So, I didn’t have any teams that I thought “replaced” the likes of IWU or Elmhurst and I struggled to find strong arguments to get the Titans or Blue Jays on my ballot. Do I think there are no Top 25 teams in the CCIW? No. I just couldn’t determine who to remove to add.
  • Yes, I have three OAC teams. The counter to the CCIW, WIAC, and ODAC situation is I likely overloaded with the OAC. Again, not a conscious part of my work. When finished I then realized I had Mount Union, Heidelberg, and Marietta all on my ballot. I do think the top of the OAC may be the toughest in the country this season in terms of talent and depth, especially the number of teams with all those options.

So, there is how I voted in this Preseason Top 25 and some of my thoughts about it. Do I think I am right and know exactly who the top teams in Division III are? NO! I am one voter who has his perspective and read the tea leaves (data) in his own way (albeit different process this season). There are 24 other voters out there who have already shown not only in how the overall poll looks, but in some of their public offerings that they see things differently – in some cases, very differently.

That’s okay. I do not pretend especially with preseason polls to be the bellwether. I am learning just as everyone else is and I look forward to seeing what teams I missed on and even those I got right. I hope you enjoy it all as well.

The plan moving forward is I will try and post every week a new D3hoops.com Top 25 poll is released. I never post this before the Top 25 is released. I don’t want anyone to think I am swaying or having any influence on any other voter. I will likely not comment on every team on my ballot, but I’ll try and show up much I moved them up or down, indicate reasons or insights with some teams and decisions, even highlight why I removed a team from my ballot. I will not include who else I am considering that didn’t make my ballot as I don’t have enough space, I always leave someone off, or it’s taken personally as if I missed something. You all can read between the lines, if necessary.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’22-’23) – Preseason (Part 2)

In the previous blog on my preseason ballot I gave a brief idea of my methodology this preseason along with a look at who was in the Top 10 of my D3hoops.com Preseason Men’s Basketball Top 25. Here we will go through 11-20. A quick reminder, here are the Top 10 on my D3hoops.com Men’s Preseason Top 25 ballot:

Josiah Johnson and his Crusaders found themselves #2 on Dave’s Preseason Top 25 ballot. (D3photography.com)

1 – Randolph-Macon
2 – Mary Hardin-Baylor
3 – Christopher Newport
4 – UW-Oshkosh
5 – Mount Union
6 – Case Western Reserve
7 – Middlebury
8 – St. Joseph’s (Conn.)
9 – Oswego State
10 – Pomona-Pitzer

Reminder, the note after each team in parenthesis is where I ranked them at the end of last season – information I did not know or look-up prior to voting this season.

11 – Emory (#12)
One of the most consistent programs in the last decade has been in Atlanta. Jason Zimmerman has built a very good program not only in the deep south, but the UAA. Emory had the winningest class in program history graduate, including two starters and 60% of their points. That may seem like a lot for a near-Top 10 team. Like Middlebury, I didn’t initially expect Emory to be this high, but I needed to fill in areas with teams I initially expected to be lower. The Eagles do have their leading scorer, Logan Shanahan, back who was also second in rebounding and tops in blocks. Plus, watch out for Max Fried who gained a lot of experience and his game excelled in the final half of last season.

Trinity (TX) looked to be a beast, but they appear to not have their leading scorer back from last season … which raises questions. (Trinity Texas Athletics)

12 – Trinity (Texas) (unranked)
I spent much of last season watching the Tigers wondering when their balloon would pop. I had my own red flags placed on Trinity, but they continued to prove to not only be the best in the SCAC, but one of the best in Texas – which is saying something. Jimmy Smith has all five starters returning including multiple all-conference selections and SCAC Player of the Year Kaleb Jenkins. Trinity also has Ben Hanley returning after showing he would be a key contributor before a season-ending injury. The challenge will be they can’t fly under anyone’s radar anymore.

13 – Dubuque (unranked)
While doing the lead-up work and putting my ballot together I couldn’t get a voice in my head to stop saying “you may be the only one putting Dubuque (this high) on your ballot.” It did make me wonder if I was over-thinking things. Yes, losing a two-time conference player of the year stings, but there are still three starters back and half the team with lots of experience. I was also intrigued with some of the transfers coming in including one who played in every game for UW-Parkside last season.

Ethan Bartlett and the Blue Jays hope to keep JHU in the national conversation. (Johns Hopkins Athletics)

14 – Johns Hopkins (#21)
I debated putting JHU higher on my ballot, but I am curious how the Blue Jays adjust to losing Conor Delaney who helped shoot Johns Hopkins to a couple of Centennial championships. Hopkins has a wealth of talent back for a program that under Josh Leffler has returned to its former glory. The conference should be a tougher road this season, but JHU seems to be in the driver’s seat and Goldfarb Gymnasium is usually pretty difficult for visitors.

15 – WPI (#11)
I’m nervous on whether I’m making the right call with the Engineers. I mentioned on Bob Quillman’s Q-Cast in October that WPI is a team to watch. They had a seemingly unexpected, but great season last year and I mentioned I am expecting them to be even better. However, I then wondered if I had misread things when we got the Top 25 data. That data showed WPI graduated 35% of its offense. I still think WPI will be at the top of a competitive NEWMAC and looking to make waves, but they are 15 when I had initially thought they would be a Top 10 program.

Hardin-Simmons is out to a 1-3 start. Cowboys looked like a serious threat this season, but it may require reevaluating later in the season. (HSU Athletics)

16 – Hardin-Simmons (unranked)
Texas could be an interesting place to watch in DIII this season, especially the ASC. The Cowboys bring back a lot while losing some key pieces. However, I am more intrigued with the core group returning along with the transfer the team informed us via the Top 25 data request. They also may be a faster, more up-tempo, team than in the past and that could make Hardin-Simmons far more difficult to beat. They just must stay consistent. I thought about waiting to see more on HSU before buying in but went with a vote for the Cowboys anyway.

17 – Rowan (unranked)
The NJAC is always competitive as a lot of teams in the last few years have had coaching changes and are building strong programs. Rowan is a great example of that shift. Joe Crispin took over the program a few years ago and has seemingly re-built the Profs. Last year’s squad was pretty good but fell short a conference title. They bring back four starters, eight players who saw significant time, which adds up to most of their offense. Plus, they bring in a few DII transfers and Ryan Ems formerly of Scranton who is a large presence inside for Rowan.

Welseyan had it’s best season in program history in 2021-22. Nicky Johnson and the rest of the Cardinals could make it an even better history this season. (Wesleyan Athletics)

18 – Wesleyan (16th)
The Cardinals are coming the program’s best ever season. Yes, like many programs, Wesleyan graduated some of their talent, but they still have a wealth of experience returning. The NESCAC will not be easy (has it ever?). The bottom of the league has become more competitive and coaching changes in the last few years are starting to show results. I like Wesleyan and think they could maybe surprise while everyone is watching Williams, Middlebury, and others.

19 – Heidelburg (unranked)
The Student Princes surprised everyone last season and likely were a year ahead of expectations. Four starters and more than three-quarters of their scoring returns and they will need all the experience they can muster. The OAC will be yet another battle at the top with half the conference capable of winning the title.

Sophomore Nate Amado is averaging 25 ppg for Babson to start the season.

20 – Babson (unranked)
Something about Stephen Brennan’s squad has me intrigued. I didn’t think I would be voting for more than one NEWMAC team when I started this, but the Beavers have peaked my interest. They may be one of the riskier teams I’m eyeing as they have three starters and less than 30% of their scoring returning. However, Amado and Kirkpatrick are a strong duo and some of the talent coming in looks like it could contribute immediately.

In the final installment of the blog, I’ll share with you my 21-25 ranked preseason Top 25 men’s teams in Division III along with some final notes and personal reactions.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’22-’23) – Preseason (Part 1)

Welcome (back) to my Top 25 blog and the 2022-23 Division III basketball season.

This was originally written two weeks before the start of the DIII basketball season. And then I put it aside to deal with other things and … well … here we are. Please keep in mind that what I have written here are my preseason thoughts. None of this is based on results so far.

For those not familiar, I used to blog out my Top 25 ballot nearly each week … but it’s been a while. I didn’t think it had been missed, but I would get inquiries about it nearly every week last season so I figured I would try and get back to it. Hopefully I will be able to blog each week the Top 25 is released.

For this D3hoops.com Top 25 Preseason Men’s poll, I made one significant change to my usual process – I never looked at how I voted nor what the final Top 25 poll looked like at the end of last season. I wanted to try and come in with a clear(ish) mind. The only thing I remembered was Randolph-Macon finished atop my ballot and the poll … obviously.

I’m unsure this new plan worked as I hoped it would.

The idea was to have as little prejudice, obvious or subliminal, as I researched and read about each team being considered. If I couldn’t remember how I or others voted for them at the end of the season, I could maybe have a fresher take on how I expected them to be this season (or at least start).

However, I found myself struggling more to read the “tea leaves.” Having an understanding how I felt a particular team finished last season is useful information. And it helps me appreciate how much a team has lost or gained in the offseason. By coming in without that info, my analysis of a team’s strengths and weaknesses was broader. I felt more unsure about where I felt a team was or wasn’t when it came to my ballot.

I appreciated that I did it differently. There is a real chance I considered some teams more than I may have in the past. And I stuck with the plan even when near the end I was searching for a decision point when trying to slot teams – or even include or not include them on my ballot.

I still have not looked at last year’s information before writing this blog. When I do, I suspect some of my decisions, especially teams I left off my ballot, will feel like errors.

One other important item. For years before COVID-19 disrupted everything, we talked extensively about parity in Division III Men’s Basketball. While teams do tend to rise to the top, the number of programs which legitimately could be considered Top 25 quality outnumbered how many we could vote for each week. That parity has continued to increase. While we were given data on 53 teams in the Top 25 Preseason info to consider, there were others any of us likely considered. When I got to the point of putting my ballot together, I had whittled my short list down to only 40 or so.

I left some really good teams off my ballot, and I am in no way thinking I got it right.

On last thing to mention before revealing my ballot: I do not, nor have I ever felt, that how I vote is “right” or the most accurate. There is a reason Pat Coleman (and Gordon Mann on the women’s side) makes sure not only there are 25 voters distributed around the country, but they represent different perspectives – media, coaches, SIDs, etc.

With that in mind, here is my Top 25 ballot with some brief thoughts on each team along with where I had them in last season’s final Top 25 (information I’m looking up for the first time for this blog).

Miles Mallory is leading RMC with a near-double-double (15.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg) to start the 2022-23 campaign.

1 – Randolph-Macon (#1)
I felt most of the off-season that RMC would likely remain my number-one vote, though I was very conscious of the fact that the team was losing more than just Buzz Anthony. Anthony was a unique, generational talent that will leave a large hole, however Josh Merkel has the services of Josh Talbert, Miles Mallory, and a number of others back. RMC still lost some good players along with Anthony, but they were so much better than everyone else last season that it is hard not to vote for them as the top team.

2 – Mary Hardin-Baylor (#7)
If there is a scary team this season to keep an eye on, it is probably UMHB. They have everyone back from a team that arguably underperformed last season. Yes … underperformed. They were darn good especially in their March run, but they were never 100%. What makes them scary is that Josiah Johnson is back, and he played most, if not all, of last season on an injured knee. Add in a more experience for Ty Prince, Luke Feely, and everyone else and it is already a very talent team.

Jahn Hines is leading CNU in scoring with 20.0 ppg and .556 FG% to start the season.

3 – Christopher Newport (#6)
The Captains were the only team to defeat Randolph-Macon last season and looked like RMC’s biggest threat to a national title until CNU’s 24-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of Marietta in the elite eight. John Krikorian once again has a very talented team with plenty of depth. I’m sometimes more amazed how CNU hardly ever has to rebuild, always plugging guys into slots to keep the engine humming. The Captains will once again have to deal with a funky schedule that their C2C conference situation presents, but what should be scary come March is they are used to it now.

4 – UW-Oshkosh (#5)
The Titans have become very consistent in a very turbulent WIAC. Reminds me of the heyday of UW-Stevens Point or even back to UW-Platteville’s dominating years under Bo Ryan. And have done it under two different coaches. UWO has all their starters back and their success will start with Levi Borchert.

Collen Gurley returns to Mount Union along with other transfers which has many expecting big things in Alliance, Ohio,

5 – Mount Union (#19)
I don’t listen a lot to off-season talk about who has transferred where or what high schoolers have committed to what program. However, it seemed the topic of who was likely suiting up for Mount Union popped up in a lot of places this summer – including chats with coaches not necessarily associated with the Purple Raiders. Four of last season’s starters return, plus they bring in some fascinating transfers – one of them is former Raider Collen Gurley who was an All-OAC 1st-Teamer two seasons ago.

6 – Case Western Reserve (#10)
I may be higher on the Spartans than others, but that was the case for most of last season as well. I admittedly could have CWR a tad high right now considering how much they lost from a break-out squad, but I also know the pieces returning along with who has transferred in making them look formidable. Add in the confidence and excitement a near final four run last season brings with it and I’d be surprised if Case isn’t a team we are talking about all season. The real challenge will be a very difficult UAA.

Alex Sobel averaged a double-double (18.3 ppg, 12.1 rpg) plus nearly 4 blocks a game for Middlebury last season.

7 – Middlebury (unranked)
This is a part of the ballot where teams are slotting in a bit higher than I anticipated. Middlebury is also a team were not looking at least season’s finish may have contributed (though, hard to not know the Panthers were not on my final Top 25 ballot). Jeff Brown seems to have a darn good team in Vermont, but I had originally expected to put them somewhere in the 10-15 range. I just didn’t have enough teams to fill out my Top 10 and had to pull from those in the next level down. While our data information didn’t have a ton about Middlebury, it is hard to ignore they have everyone returning – 100% of their offense in every statistical category.

8 – St. Joseph’s (Conn.) (unranked)
One might argue the biggest loss the Blue Jays experienced was the retirement of Jim Calhoun, but that also happened in the middle of last season and St. Joseph’s continued to click right along. Furthermore, Calhoun had already been limited in his coaching and Glenn Miller was basically running the show. This could be the end of St. Joseph’s buildup from the bedrock foundation, but it is a strong group that should roll through the GNAC where they have won 35-straight games. And they are challenging themselves – their entire out-of-conference schedule are teams that made the NCAA tournament last season – it’s just too bad we can’t get them to Las Vegas … yet.

Julien Crittendon is back to help an Oswego team improve upon what was a record-breaking season in 2021-22.

9 – Oswego State (#9)
The SUNYAC will once again be a beast, but the Lakers should be the top of the heap. Jason Leone has six of the top eight scorers back and the team says they have two transfers coming who should make an immediate impact. How do you improve on a season that was a program best? Can you really do better than 27-3? Sure, but I think Oswego will be better while likely being under-appreciated.

10 – Pomona-Pitzer (unranked)
Some of the best basketball in DIII takes places in Southern California and the Sagehens will once again show that this season. It won’t be easy in the SCIAC, but Pomona-Pitzer has shown the last few seasons to be able to go toe-to-toe with the best of Division III … and do so on the road. Pomona-Pitzer returns four of their five starters including All-American Brendan Mora and SCIAC Newcomer of the Year Pete Boyle. And they have a lot more talent including nine players who were significant contributors last season.

Next up, I’ll share 11-20. Then numbers 21-25 with some final notes.

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.