Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 9

The carnage continues… or at least those who I don’t expect to be losing games are still losing. It was another week of head-scratching games and plenty of questions who should be in the Top 25. It also raised questions about teams I was pretty confident in or had moved up recently due to other data. It has been a wacky year to be sure with plenty of good teams to consider. Usually by this point in time you have a pretty good handle on who should be in the Top 25 and have a few that are just on the outside. However, this year I think the bottom half is a pick ’em and there are a number of teams I am considering that aren’t on my ballot.

If you will remember, last week I blew up my ballot and practically started over. I am certainly not doing that this week, but three teams dropped out of my poll with two more giving me plenty of reasons to drop them as well. That meant three new teams with one making a significant jump when I looked at their data and what they had been doing recently. I would say I am looking forward to things settling down, but the way things are shaping up, the next three weeks are going to be anything but settled.

Here is my ballot for this week’s Top 25:

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)
They got a good win against Gwynedd-Mercy and then rallied against an improved Rosemount squad while playing without one of the best players this season: Aaron Walton-Moss. Unfortunately, their game against Wesley for Monday was postponed due to weather for the second time this season and it is not looking good that it can be rescheduled. That will mean both teams and plenty of Division III fans will be missing out on one of the best games of the regular season.

3 – WPI (Up 1)

4 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 1)

5 – Wash U. (Up 2)

6 – Wooster (Down 1)
The Scots are struggling it seems right now, though their only loss this past week was to a surging Ohio Wesleyan squad. I still think Wooster is one of the best teams in the country, but they have to get things tidied up in the coming weeks so they can position themselves well for the NCAA tournament.

7 – Wesley (Up 1)
The Wolverines are taking on all comers and winning the games they need to. Unfortunately, their game against Cabrini was once again postponed. I think they will do their best to find a date that works since it is an important game for SOS, vRRO, and other factors for both teams. However, even if they don’t get the game rescheduled, Wesley has a tough challenge ahead. They have Mary Washington, Christopher Newport, and St. Mary’s still to play in their final six conference games (only Mary Washington is on the road), so they have to take care of business in one of the toughest finishes in the country.

8 – UW-Whitewater (Up 1)
The Warhawks are quietly playing very, very good basketball. Wednesday’s rematch with UW-Stevens Point looms large, especially since coach Pat Miller will be off the bench due to surgery and former Pointer great Nick Bennett will coach UWW against his former team. I will have the chips and beer ready for Wednesday night!

9 – Amherst (Down 6)
Could the Lord Jeffs been looking ahead to their game against Bowdoin when they lost to Colby on Friday night? Who knows, but it was not a good result for a team who many claim is on track to another national title. As one Amherst alum put it to me, it was their worst loss in four years. Hats off to the Mules for pulling off the upset, but Amherst showed a lot of problems in that game and then scratched out a win against Bowdoin. I wonder if the Colby game (along with Emerson earlier this season) reveals more issues at Amherst then even their fans want to admit.

10 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

11 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

12 – Mary Washington (Unchanged)

13 – Williams (Up 1)

14 – Brockport State (Up 1)

15 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 5)
I think the Battling Bishops are making a statement at the perfect time of the year. When I talked to coach Mike DeWitt at the beginning of the season, he indicated he didn’t think his team was the third best in the conference (as voted on by the coaches in the preseason poll) at the time. Now they look like they may be the best team in the conference. Big win over Wooster, but they have to stay focused with a struggling, but dangerous, Wittenberg squad next and DePauw in the last game of the season.

16 – Messiah (Unchanged)

17 – Randolph-Macon (Unranked)
Here come the Yellow Jackets once again, only this time they are on top of the ODAC. Remember how RMC made the NCAA tournament thanks in part to the best SOS numbers in the country and a ton (almost all) of their games featured those who had been regionally ranked (maybe one of the reasons the “once ranked, always ranked” rule was changed). Coach Nathan Davis once again has his team rolling and with wins over Virginia-Wesleyan, Hampden-Sydney, and Guilford in the last four games (did you see the Guilford score? 103-58!!!). The last time the Yellow-Jackets lost was on December 18 in a close game at Cabrini. I am not sure why I have been sleeping on this squad for so long.

18 – Bowdoin (Unchanged)
Unlike some voters, I don’t knock teams if they lose to teams I have ranked ahead of them. Isn’t that what my ranking indicates would happen? If #18 losses to then #3, then I shouldn’t demote #18 for the loss. Bowdoin dropped their game to Amherst, but by just three points. The Polar Bears are positioning themselves to host at least the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament and that could make them dangerous.

19 – Virginia Wesleyan (Up 4)
I am going to start calling the Marlins the Yo-Yos. They keep going up and down my ballot as a rough week is followed by a good week. A convincing win over Lynchburg was a very nice outcome and keeps them near the top with Hampden-Sydney and Guilford still to play in the regular season.

20 – Texas-Dallas (Down 3)
Welcome to my Top 25… and now lose. Not what I had hoped from the Comets thanks to a loss to Hardin-Simmons, but it is only their second loss of the season, so I am not willing to drop them completely from my ballot. They are controlling the ASC by three games and just need to play consistently good basketball the rest of the way.

21 – Whitworth (Up 4)

22 – Centre (Unranked)
I have been watching the Colonels for a few weeks as they have been playing better and better basketball, probably living up to some of the preseason expectations. Nine straight wins and an SOS that looks pretty solid has me jumping on the bandwagon. Of course as luck would have it, they have a game against Oglethorpe coming up on Friday. I know they beat the Stormy Petrels nearly two weeks ago, but that result will probably have no bearing on this game.

23 – Eastern Connecticut (Unranked)
Here is another team I have been watching for a few weeks. The Warriors have won eight of their nine games in 2014 (only loss to Amherst) and have a surprisingly good SOS number. They are in control of their own destiny in the Little East and probably on track to make a reappearance in the NCAA tournament.

24 – Oglethorpe (Down 5)
This drop is probably a bit steeper than I normally would have for a single loss in a week, but their loss to Birmingham-Southern put them in a tie for second place with BSC, two games behind Centre. Also, I was going to move them down and because they lost at home earlier this season to Centre, I had to move them somewhere behind the Colonels.

25 – Augustana (Down 12)
I seriously considered dropping the Vikings completely from my Top 25. They have lost three straight, albeit one of them to Wheaton (Ill.). However, the other two are to teams behind them in the CCIW and now Augustana finds itself two games back of the conference leaders two of those top dogs (Illinois Wesleyan and Carthage) to play in the next two games. If the Vikings don’t turn the ship around quickly, they could be out of the CCIW playoff race and thus out of consideration for the NCAA tournament.

Dropped out:

St. Mary’s (Md.) (Previously 21)
The newly revamped CAC has caused major problems for the Seahawks. Normally a loss to Salisbury late in the season wouldn’t be a big deal, but now SMC has five losses on the season with three of those losses coming to conference opponents. The Seahawks have Mary Washington, Christopher Newport, and Wesley in their final six games and cannot afford another loss if they still want to make the NCAA tournament. If SMC doesn’t win the automatic qualifier for the conference, that means they have taken at least one more loss in the conference tournament assuming they haven’t dropped at least one game against the previously mentioned three teams. The Seahawks are on very thin ice which could have a perennial favorite to make deep runs in the NCAA tournament watching 62 others teams play basketball.

DePauw (Previously 22)
The Tigers were surging until they apparently forgot they were playing Denison and Oberlin this past week. They barely got past Denison and then dropped their game against Oberlin. DePauw has proven they can beat Wittenberg and Wooster, but they have to play everyone well or they aren’t a Top 25 team.

Dickinson (Previously 24)
The Red Devils have found the worst time of the year to pick up conference losses. Their second in as many weeks was to Muhlenberg leaving them just a game ahead of McDaniel and Franklin & Marshall when they had been in control of the Centennial Conference. The conference is more competitive at the top than expected, but that may have more to do with Dickinson coming back to the group leaving the chance of an extra bid from this conference looking doubtful.

Other ballots:
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 3
Week 1

* – SOS numbers are from information sent to me by our friend KnightSlappy (alias on the D3boards).

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 8

BOOM! That sound sound you may have heard Sunday night or Monday morning was me blowing up most of my Top 25 ballot. Too many teams lost, I had too many questions about a lot of the teams, and things weren’t adding up. There was no way I could shuffle teams around without blowing up the ballot and taking a look at the data again and putting teams in order by what the new data coupled with what I was thinking revealed.

Well… I didn’t fully blow up the ballot. I didn’t even think to change my first place vote and I debated for awhile, but then didn’t change my second place team. After that… it was nearly a complete overhaul. I did keep teams around the area they had been, but moved teams up and down far more willingly then I normally would.

The result… I reshuffled the deck and made some hard decisions. I ended up cutting four teams from my Top 25 even though at least three of them deserved to stay in the poll. I brought in new teams and not just at the bottom, but placed a few midway up the poll. I dropped some teams pretty far despite just one loss while barely moving some others. I raised a couple of teams far higher than I expected before looking at more of the data. And ultimately I gave myself a new perspective.

As you know from previous blogs, I am known for blowing up my ballot a couple of times of year. This may tie for the latest in the year I have made the harsh decision, but it had to be made.

Besides wins, losses, and recent results, I also considered supposed SOS numbers and a version of the RPI that our friend KnightSlappy (alias on the D3boards) puts together. We won’t know if the math is dead on per what the NCAA will have until later next month, but it still gave me an idea of how team’s schedules stack up against one another and how they are doing in their regions. To be honest, I was surprised by some schools who had far higher numbers than I expected (Amherst, Dickinson, Wesley) and others whose numbers shocked me for as low as they were (Williams, Wittenberg). I also considered injuries, traveling or at home, other circumstances.

A quick reminder, here is Week 7’s ballot, before the carnage. And here is a look at this week’s:

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)
Until the Pointers are knocked off, I am not going to change my mind. They continue to win in the very difficult WIAC and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do take a loss with UW-Whitewater still to play, but they are the best team in the country right now.

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)
I seriously thought about moving the Cavaliers down especially with an SOS of .465, but their RPI is .599 and they haven’t lost a game. A big test against Wesley coming up next week, so I really won’t be sure I am comfortable with Cabrini at number two until then.

3 – Amherst (Up 5)
The Lord Jeffs numbers surprised me. Despite two losses (one to a Division III opponent in Emerson), Amherst has an SOS of .600. That is a surprising number to me considering the Lord Jeffs didn’t exactly challenge themselves to start the year. They chalked up their second win over Williams this past week and it was convincing. Amherst may be better than I was giving them credit for in the last few weeks.

4 – WPI (Unchanged)
The Engineers were another team that I thought I was maybe giving too much credit despite the fact they were seemingly playing so well without one of their best players all season. Their numbers were not shockingly good, thus why Amherst moved ahead of them, but they continue to play very good basketball and lead a deep NEWMAC by two games.

5 – Wooster (Down 2)
I didn’t know what to think of the Scots loss to DePauw. That was the second time the Tigers had beaten a ranked opponent in ten days – both of which away games for the ranked teams – and I didn’t expect Wooster to go through the conference slate unblemished. However, I thought they would have made sure to get past DePauw after already seeing them beat Wittenberg. Wooster also had strong numbers which helped offset my gut of moving the Scots down further. And when I thought about it, Wooster does seem like a Top 5 team at the moment.

6 – Illinois Wesleyan (Down 1)
Tough loss for the Titans. Carthage is clearly take no prisoners team of the CCIW this season and tripped up visiting IWU. 15-3 is a good mark overall, but the 5-2 at this point in the conference slate is surprising to me for the Titans. They have strong numbers and I really think this is a top tier program that has a real shot at making the trip to Salem. They just need to button some things up in conference action.

7 – Wash U. (Up 3)
I haven’t been completely sold on the Bears this season, but two weeks ago they beat Brandeis and NYU easily and then followed that up by staying focused and rolling through Case Western Reserve and Carnegie Mellon on the road. Their numbers didn’t shock me, but they were better than I expected (or maybe wanted to initially believe), so I felt comfortable with a big move up the poll. The Bears do have the challenging road trip of going to Rochester and then Emory this coming weekend, so they still bear some watching.

8 – Wesley (Up 5)
As the season has progressed, I have thought more and more that the Wolverines were going to be the real surprise of the season. They lose one of the best players in program history and are now turning in one of the best seasons ever. Wesley continues to take on all comers and beat them with a larger and larger target on their backs. And then I looked at their numbers: .583 SOS and .670 RPI – WOW! This is a team that usually doesn’t get that rewarded for their schedule, but the conference is really coming through this season and the Wolverines are playing better teams. Oh, and those numbers don’t take into account Cabrini who they will play on Monday. This could be one of the games of the year.

9 – UW-Whitewater (Down 3)
I know teams in the WIAC are going to surprise other teams, but I didn’t expect the Warhawks to lose to UW-Lacrosse. The only reason Whitewater didn’t fall further down my poll was because their SOS and RPI numbers are so strong. If not for that, I seriously thought about moving them down to maybe fifteenth because I am just not that sure they can compete with UW-Stevens Point for the top of the conference and thus make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

10 – St. Norbert (Up 1)

11 – St. Thomas (Down 5)
Yes, the Tommies lost to rival St. John’s (second time in three years) and they probably wouldn’t have fallen too far except there was a lot of moving and shaking going on. I think St. Thomas is a good squad once again this season, but the loss to St. John’s gives me concern they may not be completely in focus on the task at hand. They got back on their horse against Augsburg, but they still have a lot of MIAC games left to play.

12 – Mary Washington (Up 4)
The Eagles just won’t lose. Their two losses this season are to Hampden-Sydney and Wesley and they are playing better and better despite no longer being the underdog. Mary Washington is the biggest reason the CAC is probably one of the top ten conferences in the country this season.

13 – Augustana (Down 1)
They lost to Elmhurst which probably should have forced me to move them down further… but Elmhurst was a buzz-saw this week in the conference. Also, Augustana is probably one of the most talented teams for their youth in the country. Of course, how they respond to that loss could show if their youth is simply something we read on a roster. Better have short-term memory because North Central is looming.

14 – Williams (Down 5)
I just don’t think the Ephs are a Top 10 team… and Amherst showed me reasons to think that. Not only are injuries starting to become a problem, but they just aren’t a sound defensive team. I may have been giving Williams a bit too much credit up until this point and their numbers showed me something I didn’t expect. As good as Amherst numbers were, Williams were not on the same level (.515 SOS and .589 RPI). I am not even sure Williams is a Top 15 team, to be honest.

15 – Brockport State (Unranked)
Hello SUNYAC! I have been pushing Brockport State aside for many reasons including the fact the SUNYAC doesn’t blow my socks off as a conference. However, when your SOS is .578 and your RPI is .666, I’m the one being the devil by not including them in my Top 25. The Golden Eagles continue to win including roaring back to beat New Paltz this week. The only loss Brockport has suffered was the second game of the season to (now) undefeated SUNY Purchase. It seemed pretty obvious for Brockport to fly up my ballot.

16 – Messiah (Down 1)
I was going to ding the Falcons pretty hard for their last second loss to Hood. After all, it was their second loss in three games and despite Hood being a good team, Messiah should have put them away. However, Hood is major player now in the MAC Commonwealth and Messiah’s numbers are pretty solid (.549 SOS and .630 RPI). I like how Messiah plays the game and if they can secure the tight games down the stretch, they are going to be major player in the post season.

17 – Texas-Dallas (Unranked)
The Comets have only lost one game (as of the poll and voting) and are in control of the SCAC. Not sure why it took me this long to get Texas-Dallas onto my poll, but it might be because I have been looking elsewhere. Coach Terry Butterfield always has a team that plays well and has been a surprise around the country… I think this year people may have been looking the other way for too long.

18 – Bowdoin (Up 2)

19 – Oglethorpe (Down 5)
They lost to Centre worried me, not because Centre isn’t a good team, but because I am fearful the Stormy Petrels may get their wings clipped after flying too high too soon. Their SOS numbers are not that spectacular and the only reason they may not have fallen further was because I had them further up in my poll. However, the Centre loss was only their second of the season and the two losses are against teams who are a combined 24-10 – really can’t knock that in this second of the ballot.

20 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unranked)
The Battling Bishops are probably playing better than Coach Mike DeWitt expected this season – especially after a challenging start to the campaign. The biggest key, they are winning the games they are expected to win including against DePauw last week. I think the NCAC is a better conference especially in the last few weeks and could still have some surprises left in it with OWU maybe supplying some of them.

21 – St. Mary’s (Md.) (Up 2)
When I saw the Seahawks numbers my initial instinct was that I was right all along about this team and I better move them much further up the poll. After all, their SOS was .607 and their RPI was .634 – that’s on par with Amherst! However, I quickly reminded myself this St. Mary’s squad has lost four games this season with three of those losses to teams ranked higher and one to a team they shouldn’t have held home court against. I can’t move the Seahawks high up on the poll with those results (though, they got a very good result after the poll came out this week against Christopher Newport).

22 – DePauw (Unranked)
My gut after seeing the Tigers beat Wooster was to push them high up the poll like Brockport State and Texas-Dallas, but I had to temper myself. They beat a Wittenberg squad that may have peaked too early and they couldn’t beat an Ohio Wesleyan squad when the timing was ideal. DePauw has better numbers than Ohio Wesleyan, but I couldn’t move them ahead of the Battling Bishops due to the head-to-head. I am also concerned that DePauw has an unconscious let down after such a huge couple of weeks. Time will tell.

23 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 6)
Every single time I buy in to the Marlins, they drop another games. Yes, that could simply the ODAC talking, but after last week’s run through the conference, I was hoping to see that trend continue. Instead, they drop a very important game to Randolph-Macon. Furthermore, their numbers weren’t that great: .515 SOS and .574 RPI. There are a lot of good teams in the ODAC and my gut tells me more teams should be on my ballot… and that leaving VWC on my ballot isn’t being fair to Guilford or others.

24 – Dickinson (Down 3)
After losing to sub-par F&M this week, I thought about pulling the Red Devils completely from my poll, but their numbers were actually better than I expected for playing in a bit of a down conference. I like how Dickinson plays the game and so I tempered my quick-trigger mentality… for at least this week.

25 – Whitworth (Unchanged)

Dropped out:

Stevenson (Previously 18)
The Mustangs blew two leads this past week including another massive advantage against Lycoming and a late lead in the game against Elizabethtown. Stevenson’s Achilles heel this season is holding onto leads and playing 40 minutes. I may have tried to ride the Mustangs a bit longer, but their SOS of .510 did not give me any reasons to keep them in my poll.

Wittenberg (Previously 19)
This was a hard decision. The Tigers have looked really good this season, but that might be because their competition hasn’t been that challenging. The Tigers have an SOS of .491! All of those blowout wins may have had an obvious reason to them. Yes, they didn’t lose any games this past week, but when Wooster and DePauw beat you in consecutive games and you had to come from behind to beat Ohio Wesleyan before that… the signs were there that maybe this team isn’t as good as they were perceived.

Calvin (Previously 22)
I told a friend that I had the Knights in my Top 25 after he asked because he thought they were a Top 25 team. I was confident I would keep them in my poll, but I just can’t ignore the .449 SOS and the RPI of .529. Rather, I would have ignored it if Calvin hadn’t lost four games this season with those kinds of numbers. Calvin could be the best team no one is appreciating, but I think they have to prove a lot while probably having to win the conference automatic qualifier to make sure they are in the NCAA tournament.

Dubuque (Previously 24)
Suffer your first loss of the season and you are unceremoniously dropped from the Top 25. It happens and I didn’t feel good about it, but their numbers don’t warrant them staying in the poll… which is also why it took so long for them to get into the Top 25 in the first place.

Other ballots:

Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 3
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 6

This is getting to be a bit out of control. I easily have 40 teams I could have a valid argument to place on my Top 25 ballot. I have probably only 15 or so teams I am absolutely confident are must Top 25 teams. That means I have 25 teams I am trying to slot into 10 or so spots. I could go round and round and round on this and still not be satisfied with my ballot. I stared at the 17 hole for hours wondering who I should put in that spot. In fact, I probably was thinking that as high as 15. There is just a large gap in the middle of my poll where teams are placed only because I have to fill the spots – they seem to high. That being said, the teams behind them don’t deserve to be that high either, so it becomes a circle of constant questions and not a lot of answers.

Thankfully, or maybe unfortunately, conference schedules are now in full swing. Some of the teams that have had great out-of-conference starts are showing if those results are indicative of how good they really are. Usually that means questions are being answered… but this year I seem to be gathering more questions as another week comes and goes. And that usually means I am on the doorstep and probably knocking on what will mean a complete overhaul of my ballot. In fact, I probably should have considered it more this week. In fact as I look more and more at my entire ballot, I wish I had. You know what that means? I better carve out plenty of time this week or next for an overhaul.

But instead, here is a look at my ballot this week. If you want to get an idea of what I think of teams I may not comment on below, here is last week’s ballot.

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Up 1)
The Cavaliers have certainly not played anyone challenging in recent weeks thanks to their game against Wesley being postponed, so they are creeping rather high on the ballot. That being said, they may have the best player in the nation and sounds like they got a really good transfer from the state of Florida. Unfortunately, we may have to wait until February 3 to find out if Cabrini is really this good.

3 – Wooster (Up 1)

4 – WPI (Up 1)
The Engineers continue to impress me. Wins over Springfield and MIT (in a series that dates back to 1902!) shows me this team may actually be as good as I figured. Of course, WPI rose in my rankings like this last year and failed to get out of the second round thanks to suddenly hot Randolph-Macon squad, but I have a feeling that lose and the adjustments early in the season after losing their top guard may have done them more favors than many realize.

5 – Illinois Wesleyan (Down 3)
Last year it took until the last game of the regular season for the Titans to lose their first CCIW game; this year it took until the second game of conference play before Augustana tripped up IWU. By all reports, IWU just had a bad night that is to take nothing away from the Vikings. Can’t punish IWU that much when you lose against a very good Augustana squad… so three spots feels right especially when I think this Titans squad is a serious threat for Salem.

6 – St. Thomas (Up 1)

7 – UW-Whitewater (Up 1)

8 – Amherst (Up 1)
It was an impressive win over Williams to start NESCAC play. The Lord Jeffs look sluggish at times this season, but Dave Hixon always seems to get his team ready for the really big games and a rivalry game against Williams is really big.

9 – Williams (Down 3)
First loss in conference play is against your arch rival on the road and you get dinged three spots. Maybe that is not entirely fair, but IWU lost on the road as well and I couldn’t keep Williams ahead of Amherst after the loss.

10 – St. Mary’s (Unchanged)

11 – Wittenberg (Unchanged)

12 – Wash U. (Up 1)

13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)
This may be the unsung team of the Midwest Region and Wisconsin. The Green Knights just look good right now. The problem is they never get a break since they play in a conference that is middle of the pack and sit in a geographical area where they know the first weekend of the NCAA tournament is going to be anything but a cupcake. I like St. Norbert because I think they are sneaky good… time will tell if that gut feeling is right.

14 – Augustana (Down 2)
This one gave me plenty of angst. The Vikings beat Illinois Wesleyan at home, but then lose Wheaton (Ill.) on the road three days later. I also know there were probably plenty of distractions on Saturday with a family matter for Grey Giovanine. I wanted to leave them be at number 12, but I felt like the lose to Wheaton – who I also have ranked – needed to be that game the Vikings won to really take hold of their season. This is one of those moves that gets me thinking about blowing up my ballot and starting over.

15 – Wesley (Up 1)

16 – Oglethorpe (Up 1)
Wow… what a week for Oglethorpe! They win two games that both go into double overtime! Certainly people will say that may mean they aren’t as good as I have them ranked, but I would say that means they can fight out tough games especially considering they hadn’t played a game in nearly two weeks when practically everyone else is playing. This Petrels team impressed me this week.

17 – Whitworth (Up 2)

18 – Messiah (Up 5)
This is about where I started second guessing myself about my ballot a lot. It isn’t that Messiah isn’t a good team who continues to prove themselves, I just wonder if I am setting myself up for disappointment here. Messiah did beat an underachieving Lycoming before then beating handily a very underachieving Alvernia squad both at home. However, they face Stevenson squad in a gym the Mustangs have only lost in once this season. They then have a trap game in Arcadia looming.

19 – Bowdoin (Unranked)
I can’t ignore the Polar Bears any longer. Well it wasn’t like I was actually ignoring them, but I was leery it could be a lot of smoke and mirrors. However, Bowdoin beat Connecticut College and Wesleyan to start their NESCAC season and did so in somewhat convincing fashion at least against Conn College. The Polar Bears may be the real surprise of the NESCAC this season.

20 – Mary Washington (Unchanged)

21 – Dickinson (Unranked)
I have had the Red Devils on my radar for a very long time and was ready to pull the trigger for last week’s poll until they couldn’t follow up the Guilford win with a victory against Randolph-Macon. Having seen Dickinson in person and play impressively without their two best players… this Dickinson squad is living up to the high expectations many in the Centennial and the Mid-Atlantic Region had for them in October.

22 – Calvin (Down 9)
I realize the Knights may be banged up right now and I realize Hope was gunning for them to help jumped start their season, but right now things don’t look good. Calvin has lost two of their last three including a big rivalry game against Hope and they barely beat then 1-11 Alma at home. Calvin isn’t getting many votes in the Top 25 to begin with and honestly I probably am being too kind keeping them on my ballet.

23 – Wheaton (Ill.) (Up 2)
The win over Augustana was a nice touch for a team I nearly dropped out of my Top 25 ballet last week. However, they have Carthage and Illinois Wesleyan ahead of them this week, so this could be short lived. I am just not convinced Wheaton is really a Top 25 team, but a win over Augustana keeps them here.

24 – Stevenson (Down 3)
I realize I am the only voter with the Mustangs on my ballot and I said up until Sunday I wasn’t going to keep them, but the results of others kept me from pulling the trigger. The problem I have and I know others probably have is that this team just can’t prove they can win on the road. Stevenson lost to Albright who is underperforming in a game that could come back to bite the Mustangs when it comes to home court advantage in the conference tournament. So far Stevenson has proven they are one of the toughest teams to beat at home – though no lead seems to be safe. However, they have got to win the winnable games and win a couple of tough games on the road for anyone to take them seriously.

25 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 3)
I realize I am one of a few voters not convinced with the Marlins and this week didn’t help their cause. They are a deep team with plenty of weapons, but they can’t go and lose to Bridgewater (Va.) especially in a game that ended up not being close. I left the Marlins on my ballot because I know what they are capable of, but Hampden-Sydney (away), Guildford (home), and Randolph-Macon (away) are their next three games. This could be a make or break seven days.

Dropped out:
Christopher Newport (Previously 17)
Four things happened to the Captains this past week and three of them were not good. First they lose to Wesley which at first doesn’t seem that bad. The problem was Christopher Newport was at home and they only scored 46 points. Now that alone wouldn’t have dropped them out of the poll, but they followed up that loss with a road loss to Penn-State Harrisburg (a win so big the local news covered it in Harrisburg). Now reports indicate the Captains are banged up, so with games against the bottom of the CAC coming up the time is now to right the ship and get back on course before facing the top of the conference again including a very difficult trip to Wesley.

Middlebury (Previously 24)
I don’t know what is up with the Panthers, but they lost to start the week against Plattsburgh State and then split their opening weekend in the NESCAC with a loss to Bates and a win over Tufts in a game that was far closer than the final score indicated. Before the Tufts win, Middlebury had lost three in a row. It almost seems like the Panthers are not improving as the season wears on and teams who see something on tape from earlier in the year are able still beat them because Middlebury isn’t fixing flaws. The one thing I do know… Middlebury is 7-5 and probably playing themselves right out of an NCAA opportunity.

Road show: A Bowdoin-Middlebury split

BRUNSWICK, Maine — One closely contested game turned into a blowout and the other was put away nice and neatly at the end as the No. 6 Middlebury men pulled away from Bowdoin and the Bowdoin women went on a huge second-half run to the return the favor to the Panthers.

For the Middlebury men, it took a little bit of time to get adjusted when Bowdoin went to a zone defense, while for the Bowdoin women, sorely in need of a NESCAC win, it might have been a key second-half rebound that sparked it.

This is as far into Maine as I’ll get on this trip. I stopped at University of New England on the way up, bypassed Southern Maine (sorry!) and Colby and Bates are further up the coast, but I knew I was pretty far East when the sun went down before 5 p.m. in February. A friend reminds me that, of course, the sun rises awful early, but I won’t be around for that.

I could say more, but instead, I’ll let Middlebury senior guard Nolan Thompson and Bowdoin women’s coach Adrienne Shibles talk instead. They’re my interview subjects from tonight.

Moving from 3 to 1

When George Fox head coach Scott Rueck accepted the top post at his alma mater Oregon State, he became the second coach this offseason to make the jump directly from Division III to Division I head coach. Vermont selected Lori Gear McBride of Colby to be its next women’s basketball coach in May.

The contemporary standard bearer for making that jump successfully is UW-Madison coach Bo Ryan. Ryan won four national titles with UW-Platteville and then moved to UW-Milwaukee before taking over the Badgers. At a lower profile Tony Shaver has done a nice job developing the William & Mary program since leaving Hampden-Sydney. Glenn Miller went from Conn College to Brown after leading the Camels to the Division III national semifinals. Miller did well at Brown, winning more games in his first six years there any previous Bears coach. Then he moved to Penn where he got fired after a 0-7 start to last season.

Here’s how some others have fared recently:

* Division I Bucknell likes them some D3 coaches. That’s understandable since Pat Flannery, who took over the Bison program in 1994, won 234 games there. Flannery arrived in Lewisburg after winning the national championship with Lebanon Valley that same year. So when Flannery retired in April 2008, Bucknell picked another Division III coach as his successor, Williams Dave Paulsen. Paulsen hasn’t taken the Bison to the same heights yet. They went 7-23 in Paulsen’s second season and 14-17 in the second.

* Speaking of the Patriot League, Stefanie Pemper left Bowdoin after a long, successful run in Maine for slightly warmer climes in 2008 when she became the head coach at Navy. The Mids have turned things around nicely under her, from 7-23 pre-Pemper in 2007-2008 to 16-15 post-Pemper in 2008-2009. Navy sustained that momentum last season by going 17-14.

* Around the same time as Paulsen’s and Pemper’s moves, Don Friday made the jump from Lycoming to St. Francis (Pa.). He took over a Red Flash program that had won just 18 games in three seasons. St. Francis kept slogging at that pace with a six win campaign in 2008-2009 but nearly doubled the win total last season by going 11-19.

This is far too small a sample to make any generalizations but it does highlight a couple things.

First, has any Division III coach made as big a jump as Rueck? Not to denigrate the Ivy League, Patriot League, American East or NEC, but they aren’t on the same level athletically as the Pac 12, um 10, er whatever. To give you a sense of scale how big the jump is, George Fox spent $81,909 during its undefeated championship run in 2008-2009 according to Federal government data. Oregon State spent five times as much – $419,465 – in a season where the Beavers went 20-12.

How will Rueck’s style translate at that level? Apparently he had the same question before taking the job. According to The Oregonian, Rueck called Oregon State football coach Mike Riley who also coached in the NWC at Linfield. Riley’s words encouraged Rueck to make the jump. An OSU assistant baseball coach who is also a former George Fox coach says, “”If you can coach at D-III you can coach anywhere.”

What happens to the teams these coaches leave behind? It’s a mixed bag. The Williams men reached last year’s national championship game post-Paulsen. The Bowdoin women aren’t as dominant as they used to be, but that may have more to do with GP Gromacki’s arrival at Amherst than Pemper’s departure. UW-Platteville and Hampden-Sydney aren’t as successful as they were under Ryan and Shaver, but they are competitive in really tough leagues. And Conn College has not fared well in the NESCAC since Miller left.

As for George Fox, having a roster with young talent, including freshman phenom Hannah Munger, certainly won’t hurt. Nor will it hurt that Puget Sound, the Bruins closest rival, will be going through a similar process after head coach Suzy Barcomb left for Division II. That’s the recipe for sustaining the success that Rueck established at George Fox over the short term. Choosing the right head coach to replace Rueck will go a long way toward sustaining it over the long term.