I’d be lying if I told you I don’t think about my Top 25 ballot throughout the week. I think about the next ballot from about the moment I submit the current week’s ballot until I vote the following week. However, I don’t think I have focused on my ballot more during any week than I did this week. For obvious reasons.
On Wednesday night, I watched one of the more exciting and well played in-season basketball games in a long time. That or the fact I got to see two top five programs dual it out into overtime two days after a classic of a game between #1 and #2 in Division I swayed me. Either way, Augustana and Elmhurst played a whale of a game that needed five more minutes and smart officiating to be decided.
I knew from the moment the game ended and Elmhurst won that there was a lot to think about. And it would have ramifications all the way down the ballot. I hinted at my thinking then on Thursday night’s Hoopsville and talked about the debate I had going on in my head not only about who do I consider voting for number one, but how other teams who didn’t even play in the game factor in.
It was also another crazy week in terms of losses. The top two-thirds of my ballot was relatively quiet (thank you gentlemen!), but the last eleven teams accounted for nine losses. Nine of the entire ten in my ballot (the tenth being Augustana). That caused me to go out on some limbs, get aggressive with some cuts, and debate about blowing the entire thing up. However, considering the top 14 teams did not lose (outside of Augustana), blowing up the entire ballot didn’t seem like the right thing to do.
So there were two major shuffles: at the top where deciding on the number one team had ramifications all the way down to the ninth spot on the ballot; at the bottom where the final eleven spots saw four new teams and a bit of back-and-forth as to where to slot people.
With that in mind… let’s get to the ballot!
1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
My thoughts on Thursday’s Hoopsville (further explained on Sunday’s show) ended up holding true. I thought about this several times a day since they lost on Wednesday. As I stated in last week’s blog, I knew Augustana was not going to get through the CCIW schedule undefeated (there is a reason no one has since 1973).
“Will Augustana go unfazed through conference action – NO! I expect Augustana to take a loss or two before we get to the NCAA tournament, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t think they are the best team in the country.”
If I knew that, then I am expecting my number one team to lose. Considering they lost to the second best team in the conference, on the road, by two points, in overtime said a lot to me. The Vikings had lost a game that no one should be surprised they lost. This isn’t a loss at home to Millikin or Carthage. It’s to a team I had second in my pre-season ballot and furthermore it was on the road for Augustana. And I’ve said this before, I don’t believe that just because a team wins a single game head-to-head that they automatically should be considered the better team. I still think Augustana is the best team in the country.
2 – Elmhurst (Up 5)
Beat the number one team in the country, on your floor, and in overtime… well done. THIS is the Blue Jays squad I expected in the pre-season. Not the team that lost to Benedictine by 20 (more on that shortly). Elmhurst played extremely well and deserve the victory. They came from behind in the second half and overtime while also giving up leads throughout the game. What do you expect from two very, very good basketball teams? I debated about making Elmhurst number one, but I don’t feel they can repeat this feat at Augustana nor do I feel if this game had been at Augustana the outcome, a win, would have been repeated. If played ten times, I think Augustana wins a majority of the games so thus, Elmhurst is number two.
3 – Whitworth* (Down 1)
It’s not what the Pirates did or didn’t do, it’s what Elmhurst did that precipitated this move. I did consider Whitworth for the top slot. However, I have seen the Pirates in person this year and Augustana both on video this year and in person at the Championship Weekend last year. I just don’t think Whitworth would be able to beat Augustana right now. They may have to do it in the NCAA tournament (because the Pirates always ended up in the toughest bracket), but right now they move down a spot just so I can put Elmhurst number two.
4 – Hope (Down 1)
Same as Whitworth; needed to find room for Elmhurst. Another team I certainly considered, but if I had them behind Whitworth and said not to the Pirates, I don’t feel Hope has done anything as of late to change my mind.
5 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)
I feel like copying and pasting what I said for Whitworth and Hope and pasting it in here. Same reason(s). A win over Bethel is a nice feather, but expected. Not enough to warrant leap-frogging those ahead of them last week.
6 – Benedictine (Up 3)
Here is the most challenging team on my ballot. The Eagles are undefeated and they beat Elmhurst by 20. At least one voter decided they were worthy enough to get a number one vote. I can only assume that is based on the Benedictine beat Carthage, Carthage beat Augustana, thus Benedictine would also beat Augustana theory. It is a theory I just can’t buy into. I realize there are a ton of factors at play with every single game making no game equal. So, I am not one to buy into head-to-head should trump all or that you can play the Team A beat Team B, Team B beat Team C, thus Team A is better than Team C game. Benedictine is clearly a good team, but in a sub-par conference. They clearly have gotten it done out of conference (five games, five opponents from the CCIW). My concern is someone in their conference is going to beat them and that will raise more questions than it answers. I also don’t think Benedictine would be able to beat Augustana. So I moved the Eagles up, but I’m not sure I can move them much higher.
7 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 2)
More moving of teams to find slots. I needed to get Elmhurst and Benedictine higher, so Ohio Wesleyan moved down. It has nothing to do with the Battling Bishops except I think those other two squads are better right now.
8 – Susquehanna^ (Unchanged)
9 – Amherst (Down 2)
Again, moving down to create room. I am not blown away by the Lord Jeffs this season, but it isn’t like Dave Hixon doesn’t put together a solid program. Top 10 feels safe.
10 – John Carroll (Unchanged)
11 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
12 – Marietta (Unchanged)
13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)
14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)
15 – WPI (Up 3)
At this point in my ballot last week is where teams started to lose thus creating a vacuum. WPI is having a good season, better than I expected which makes me leery. I know others are buying in. I am being cautious with the Engineers for right now. Granted, a win over an also-better-than-expected MIT squad was a good sign this week.
16 – Tufts (Unranked)
I have had my eye on Tufts for a while, but was sure if they were as good as advertised. The season started “eh” with losses to MIT and WPI and close games against opponents I figured they would dominate… so I waited. Then they beat Babson^, but I waited some more. Then they beat Whitman in a very high-scoring affair and I got intrigued, but wasn’t buying in. This week they rolled over Bowdoin and creamed Colby, two teams who have been getting Top 25 attention and are having very good seasons, especially Colby, and I decided to buy in. Now jumping to the 16th spot is a big jump for a team I was waiting on, but that vacuum created in this area of the poll needed to be filled. Their two wins I thought were better than what those lower on this ballot had put together for resume points, so here the Jumbos sit. Middlebury, Hamilton, and Wesleyan ahead.
17 – UW-Whitewater (Unranked)
Getting a bunch of transfers in to replace a ton of talent may be the new way to go in the WIAC! It clearly seems things are coming together nicely now for the Warhawks as they steamrolled through UW-Stout and then handed UW-Stevens Point their second loss in a row. My thinking has been the top of the WIAC has come down a bit this season, but the Warhawks are proving there may be a national contender in the making after all from the state of Wisconsin.
18 – Texas Lutheran (Up 2)
Winning the games in conference they are supposed to win. I am hoping to see them this coming weekend in person, but it is looking doubtful due to schedule conflicts.
19 – Northwestern (Up 2)
Also continue to win the games they are supposed to win. I appreciate that when it happens as it is easy to get complacent and trip up.
20 – Roanoke (Unranked)
I’ve been watching what the Maroons have been up to since the beginning of the season, but didn’t want to buy in ahead of a major victory. They got that last week. Page Moir’s squad is clicking on all cylinders. They even beat a Division I opponent which counts as a loss for North Carolina A&T, but not for the Maroons (exhibition). In almost all of those games, Roanoke has put up 100+ points (eight of their 13 games). And then they went and beat Virginia Wesleyan AT the Fish Tank! Roanoke is on top of the ODAC and playing some of the best basketball I have seen from this program in a very long time. I am actually excited just writing this because Page Moir is one of the best guys in Division III and I couldn’t have been happier to write down “Roanoke” on my ballot. Now the tough part: The target is on their back with Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon coming up this week.
21 – Trine (Down 2)
Trine didn’t win both of their games this past week, but considering their loss was to a better-than-their-record Calvin squad, I am not surprised. What stood out to me was a comment by a MIAA follower on D3boards.com that stated Trine was “everything they said they are” which I took as a compliment. The MIAA race is deeper at the top than I expected, though I can’t see Hope not winning it, and it’s because teams like Trine have developed incredibly well while everyone has been watching Hope and Calvin.
22 – Bethel (Unchanged)
According to the polls (mine and the D3hoops.com poll from last week) the loss to St. Thomas was expected. Thus, no changes here.
23 – Brooklyn (Down 8)
For as great a start to the season it was for the Bulldogs, they aren’t stay very consistent right now. The eight spots is a bit harsh, but the vacuum created by them and others further up caused a bit of a fall after their loss to Baruch. I am just not seeing the same dominance they showed at the beginning of the season. Granted, the CUNYAC is far more difficult that people are giving it credit for this season. However, Brooklyn needs to focus on winning the games they should if they want to secure an at-large bid should Lehman or others win the conference AQ.
24 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)
25 – Franklin & Marshall^ (Unranked)
I am slipping the Diplomats onto my poll, though nervously. I have not bought in as many other voters have with this squad. I still see a number of weaknesses and I am not sure they can dominate a sub-par, compared to seasons past, Centennial Conference as they seem to be doing right now. However, I watched most of their game against up-and-coming Swarthmore and was impressed with how composed they were and how much they willed themselves to victory over a team that wouldn’t quit. Now, they were also playing to get Glenn Robinson his 900th victory (congratulations once again), so that may have been the driving force. And that is what worries me. They have hit the milestone mark that was on this season’s schedule. Can they continue to win now that the emotional mark has been passed?
Stockton^ (Previously 16)
Losing three in a row, no longer the leader of a crazy NJAC, and certainly not looking like their dominating selves, it was time to punt on the Ospreys. There just isn’t anyone in the NJAC worth noting in the Top 25 right now because they are beating themselves up. Even conference leader New Jersey City (6-1) has an “eh” overall record of 8-5. Stockton could have taken advantage of William Paterson’s major stumble at the beginning of the season, but in turn has stumbled themselves. Conference coaches may be right that the NJAC is the most difficult conference top to bottom, one through ten, but they are not the best conference nationally if the top of the conference can’t at least be a dominating team(s).
Oswego State (Previously 17)
I debated about this. The Lakers lost only the second game going into this poll, but they lost by 38 to Oneonta State. Ugly isn’t the right word. I have been high on Oswego for most of the season, but they are in the middle of what is now a crowded race in the SUNYAC which sees two-thirds of the conference fighting it out at the top. If I am voting for Oswego, then I have to find room for Cortland, Plattsburgh, Buffalo State, Oneonta, etc. They all have nine-wins (Oswego with eight) and no more than three losses. But there isn’t enough room for those four squads, so Oswego comes out and I watch the SUNYAC race ever closer to try and figure out who is playing the best basketball amongst a lot of very good teams.
Scranton* (Previously 23)
Three games in the Landmark Conference this past week was a true test. It wrapped up six games in twelve days for the Royals who came out of it 5-1. So why drop the Royals from my ballot? It was a hard debate, but at least I got to see Scranton in person before making my decision. It came down to the fact they lost to Susquehanna on their home court by 15. The result was expected per the poll, but you can’t lose that game by 15 in your own gum. Then the Royals played one of the more incredible games shooting wise against Goucher on the road and had to come from 13 down in the second half along with getting bailed out thanks to a dumb foul by a Goucher played in the final five seconds to pull off a one-point victory. I am not faulting them for the game at Goucher as both teams shot over 57% for the game, but I saw some inconsistencies that worried me – mainly, the ability to get into an offense that is dominating and then as quickly as they got into it go away from it for no reason taking their foot off an opponent’s throat. I also saw Catholic this past week and think in many ways, but for different reasons, the two squads are evenly matched (yet again) and don’t feel comfortable voting for both. Scranton is out for now, but with Catholic on the horizon, they could easily be back in the poll soon.
Pacific Lutheran* (Previously 25)
Well that didn’t last long. I thought the Lutes looked really good at the D3hoops.com Classic. They then laid an egg twice against Linfield and George Fox both on the road. Not pretty. Those two losses are going to stick with me for a while should I ever consider Pacific Lutheran again.
* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I saw in person last season
Another crazy week in the Top 25. The middle of my ballot seems pretty solid, right now, which is saying a lot considering how wide open it had been from about number six down. Of course, that could change next week completely. Moving forward I have probably 70 teams I am watching to some degree and constantly realize I need to add another team to the list. There is only so much time I can give to these votes, so having a team slip through isn’t unheard of nor unexpected. At the same time, this is the time of year when usually I can start narrowing the list dramatically since the grind of conference season will weed out the pretenders. That being said, this year has proven to not fit any of the usual voting rhythms, so I am sure I will be on a plane headed back from Texas next Sunday wondering how much of Monday will be spent tearing my ballot a part.