Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 9

To be honest, I decided to make it a little easier on myself this week. I realized there were plenty of losses (yet again – 12 in my ballot alone) this week, but I thought maybe I was over-thinking things recently. Maybe, just maybe, I was making the Top 25 process too complicated of late. So, I decided to go with my gut a bit more.

The results? I certainly didn’t take six hours on my ballot this time. I probably took an hour. Now, that doesn’t add in the time I think about it during the week and especially on the weekend. I might be in my car heading to or from a game and be contemplating how Wooster’s loss to Ohio Wesleyan … or Wabash … or both … affects my ballot. I might be sitting on the couch watching TV with my wife when the debate over how to deal with NYU’s split of the weekend enters my head. However, the amount of time I sat down with a pencil, pad, D3hoops.com info packet (printed), in front of my computer was only an hour this week.

Oh, the results? I made some definite moves up and down on my ballot. I took two teams out. For the first time this year a team made it back on to my ballot (two actually). But all and all… it is what it is.

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it. This is a tough year to be a Top 25 voter. There is just so much parity, it seems, in men’s basketball this season. There is just one undefeated team (Marietta) in the country right now. Whereas on the women’s side there are five with at least three probably making the post-season undefeated. No guarantees Marietta can do that. However, as Rusty Eggen said on the Hoopsville Marathon last Thursday: it might be tough for voters, but it is great for Division III. He’s right. So while I suck up and deal and vote accordingly, you better make sure you are enjoying this season. It is well worth the price of admission (if the school even charges in the first place).

As always before we begin, here is a look at last week’s ballot:

1 – St. Thomas
2 – UW-Whitewater
3 – Augustana
4 – Marietta
5 – Randolph-Macon
6 – Chapman
7 – WPI
8 – Babson
9 – Wooster
10 – Dickinson
11 – St. Norbert
12 – Albertus Magnus
13 – Emory
14 – Virginia Wesleyan
15 – New York Univ.
16 – St. John Fisher
17 – Whitworth
18 – Washington Univ.
19 – Elmhurst
20 – William Paterson
21 – Chicago
22 – Johns Hopkins
23 – Illinois Wesleyan
24 – Franklin & Marshall
25 – Case Western Reserve

And now on to this week’s ballot with some explanations for some of the moves:

1 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

2 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

3 – Marietta (Up 1)

4 – Randolph-Macon* (Up 1)

5 – Babson (Up 3)

6 – Augustana (Down 3)
In hindsight, I probably should have moved the Vikings a little further down the poll after losing to North Park. Augustana has lost two of their last four after all. However, they are also playing in the CCIW which is one of the top two conferences this season. They also lost to a team at the bottom of their conference, on the road, who also beat North Central and Carthage in the midst of a three-game winning streak. Augustana is probably the best team in the CCIW (despite two losses), but they need to tighten their belt buckles and focus at the job at hand or the CCIW will ding them a few more times and that will keep the Vikings from enjoying any home court advantage in the NCAA tournament which will mean an earlier than expected departure in March.

7 – Dickinson (Up 3)

8 – St. Norbert (Up 3)

9 – WPI* (Down 2)
If you were surprised WPI lost to Springfield on the road, you aren’t paying attention to the NEWMAC. The top of the conference with Babson, WPI, MIT, and Springfield is tough – remember Springfield won the conference tournament last year allowing for four teams to get into the NCAA tournament (where they all laid an egg on the first Friday night) [Edit: MIT actually beat Springfield in the conference championship. My mistake. MIT’s win actually got a fourth team into the NCAA tournament]. Charlie Brock versus Chris Bartley, with the talent they both have on their teams, is an outstanding coaching match-up. I was actually watching the game while PA announcing because I didn’t want to miss it. WPI is good and they are losing games I am not surprised they are losing (especially since they are close).

10 – Virginia Wesleyan (Up 4)

11 – Albertus Magnus (Up 1)
I know. I have stated several times that the Falcons were not going to move higher than 12th on my ballot. That was their ceiling. I knew the moment I wrote their names into the 11th slot I was going to need to explain this. The explanation is actually pretty simple and has nothing to do with the Falcons (sorry): I was moving other teams around and didn’t have a team I felt comfortable putting in the 11 slot… so I moved AMC up one spot.

12 – Chapman (Down 6)
You had to know the moment I bought in to a team like Chapman they would have a rough week. Losing two games to Cal Lutheran (13-4) and Pomona-Pitzer (6-12) was tough. If the loss had been just to Cal Lutheran, not a big deal. After all, Chapman, Cal Lutheran, and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps were expected to be the class of the SCIAC this season and were all worthy of Top 25 consideration even in the preseason. But the loss to Pomona-Pitzer, especially as the second of the two losses, is the rough one. Chapman is a pretty good team. You only hope the players learned a lesson from the results and don’t let the wheels fall off.

13 – St. John Fisher (Up 3)

14 – Emory (Down 1)
I’m not going to knock Emory for their loss on the road to New York Univ.* that much. First off, it was on the road in one of the tougher places to play. Second, it was the Sunday game which can be the toughest game to play on the road in the UAA. Third, it was NYU. Fourth, Emory actually came from pretty far down late in the game to nearly pull off the comeback win. Emory seemed to have played well from what I was watching while hosting Hoopsville that afternoon. Not going to ding Emory for that loss too much. (By the way, Emory plays five of their last seven games at home including NYU, Wash U*, and Chicago* – home cooking could be pretty good!)

15 – Whitworth (Up 2)

16 – Wooster (Down 7)
Losing for the second time this season to Ohio Wesleyan is one thing. Losing to Wabash, a team you beat by 29 points earlier in the season, is unacceptable. I know Wabash is a decent team (12-7) and I know the game was on the road. But a Top 25 team doesn’t lose the second game in a row to a team to a team they should beat handily. For some reason Ohio Wesleyan has Wooster’s number (season sweep), but Wabash had lost three in a row including Oberlin (8-11) and Wittenberg* (7-12). No excuses. I probably should have punished Wooster more… but it was a road game, I told myself.

17 – New York Univ.* (Down 2)
I would have moved the Violets ahead of Emory thanks to their win, but the loss to Rochester on Friday is a problem. I realize that Rochester is probably better than their record indicates and they are certainly well coached, but the Yellow Jackets were at the bottom of the UAA coming into that game with just one conference win (Carnegie Mellon) and the game as a HOME game for NYU! Where they looking ahead to Emory on Sunday? Where they dismissing the challenge Rochester could pose? I have no idea, but if they were dismissing Rochester as a threat they haven’t paying attention to how the Yellow Jackets played at Chicago and at Wash U recently. Bad loss that at least was made up for by beating Emory on Sunday.

18 – Johns Hopkins* (Up 5)

19 – Elmhurst (Unchanged)
By my rankings the loss to Augustana was expected (you can’t punish a team you have ranked behind another if they lost in a head-to-head with the other team, right?). Elmhurst then beat Millikin the next game. The only reason I didn’t move Elmhurst up my ballot (since they lost by just four to Augustana) was because the Vikings then lost to North Park on Saturday. There is a trickle-down affect sometimes. Elmhurst didn’t move as a result of Augustana’s trickle-down.

20 – Chicago* (Up 1)

21 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 1)

22 – Washington Univ.* (Down 4)
The Bears are not as good as the beginning of the season seemed to indicate. Remember this was the number one team in the country around Christmas! I am not saying Wash U isn’t a good team. We know they have one of the best coaches in the game, but they don’t have the experience or talent level we have grown accustomed to in St. Louis. To be honest, we probably fell for the smoke and mirrors a little because it was the beginning of seeing how much parity there is in basketball this season and they at least showed they could get some big wins. However, the conference has exposed them and if they didn’t find some sort of comeback in them on Sunday they would have been blown out yet again. One thing I am keeping in mind, though, when it comes to Wash U: they have lost three games this season all in conference and the UAA is probably the best conference in the country this season in terms of depth (with the CCIW also making a strong argument). The problem for Wash U is they can’t afford to take many more losses or they are going to be deep in the regional rankings making it difficult to get to the table for an at-large bid.

23 – Franklin & Marshall* (Up 1)

24 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unranked)
Welcome back to the Top 25, Battling Bishops. How will you disappoint me now? I am just kidding. No team is disappoint this season, but Ohio Wesleyan is the first of two teams to reenter my Top 25 ballot this season. The win over Wooster certainly was a statement win (including the fact they swept the Scots this season). Though, the close win to Hiram certainly gave me pause. But I went with my gut on this one. On paper, the Battling Bishops don’t have a very hard finish to the season which means for the first time in a long time the NCAC tournament may have to go through Delaware, Ohio!

25 – Catholic* (Unranked)
I have been apprehensive about the Cardinals for several weeks. I wasn’t blown away with Catholic at the beginning of the season. They played okay at the Hoopsville Classic and then lost to DeSales* and St. Vincent – not games they should be losing. But since the loss to the Bearcats, Catholic has rattled off 11 straight victories and have had some dominating wins in that stretch (including by 40 to Moravian Saturday). Maybe Steve Howes has his team clicking at just the right time. Well until maybe February 11 when Catholic has to travel to Goucher – my alma mater. Maybe the Gophers will finally rise up and beat their “rival” for the second time in two seasons. Eh… never mind.

Dropped out:

William Paterson (Previously 20)
I am not going to repeat what I said on Sunday’s Hoopsville except to paraphrase: I don’t think the NJAC is as great as the coaches in the conference thinks it is. There are certainly some good teams and the bottom is closer to the top than many conferences, but there aren’t any great teams in this conference. Take for example the fact William Paterson lost to Richard Stockton who had just lost to TCNJ three nights prior. I know they all have good records, but WP had to make a statement with the game against Stockton and instead lost at home in a game that would have put the Pioneers firmly in control of the conference lead.

Case Western Reserve (Previously 25)
I previously stated that the UAA was probably the best conference in the country this year, so seeing the Spartans lose on the road to Chicago and then come back to beat Wash U wasn’t surprising. And because of those results, like Emory and NYU, I probably shouldn’t have pulled them out of my Top 25. However, they have now lost two of the last four and I had them in the 25th slot – the bubble. I can’t keep them in the bubble spot, even if they are tied for the top of the UAA, if they have lost two in as many weeks. Case Western Reserve is the story of the UAA this season (and there are many stories), but the rematch with Chicago and Wash U this weekend at home is going to be the key to their season.

Previous ballots:

Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 8

BOOM! That sound you heard was my ballot pretty much getting blown up. I have been tempted for weeks, but after the results of the last seven days plus what I saw in person the time was now.

I should mention that blowing up my ballot doesn’t mean I make whole-sale changes or completely change my mind on things. Rather, I start from a new base and reexamine all teams I am voting for, those I am considering, and those who maybe aren’t on my radar. It takes a lot more time than I usually spend on my ballot (which is probably too much time to begin with) and has mixed results.

This one has mixed results.

I am just not satisfied I have a pulse on what is going on nationally. There are so many losses. There are no great teams. There are a lot of good teams I can’t figure out. I could have spent countless more hours debating teams but eventually went with my gut on a couple of them (whether on or off my ballot) and decided to see where the chips lie in a week.

It was another rough week for my ballot: 15 losses most of them at the bottom half. As a result, I made some bold moves. I reconsidered some teams and I decided to cut bait with others.

Many wonder how Top 25 voters think and I don’t think there is an easy answer mainly because when one argument works for one example it may not work for a dozen others. There is no set criteria – which is a good thing – which makes dissecting results difficult and thus why there are 25 different opinions tallied together for one overall poll.

Here’s what I can tell you about my thinking:

  • A game that happens in November can be as important as a game in February unless more current results are telling a different story (I will point those out when necessary).
  • A head-to-head result is going to trump a lot of items, unless it is about the only item that is going in favor of a team (again, I will point out when necessary).
  • I do look at SOS numbers (albeit somewhat inflated right now) to better understand a team’s schedule, but I won’t make a decision based on those numbers. I will instead look at the team’s schedule a bit more to understand why the SOS is high or low compared to others and make the decision based on that information.
  • At this point in the season, ignoring an undefeated record is getting harder and harder to do, so I made moves accordingly.
  • Winning streaks start to weigh more this time of the season. This is where items like games in November and head-to-head results may take a back seat.
  • Ugly or tough wins over teams that should be easy wins are judged on a case-by-case basis. What looks bad for one team I may dismiss with another based on other data. Again, what works for one example may not work for the rest.

I could go on and on with other examples, but this blog is going to be long enough anyway. Remember, I am just one voter with one opinion. This is one of the toughest years in a long time to be a Top 25 voter on the men’s side and I promise you that even in discussions with other voters everyone is reading the tea leaves differently.

As always before we begin, here is a look at last week’s ballot:

1 – St. Thomas
2 – Augustana
3 – UW-Whitewater
4 – Washington U.
5 – Randolph-Macon
6 – WPI
7 – Babson
8 – Wooster
9 – Marietta
10 – Virginia Wesleyan
11 – Dickinson
12 – Albertus Magnus
13 – Chicago
14 – Emory
15 – North Central (Ill.)
16 – St. Olaf
17 – St. Norbert
18 – Chapman
19 – Ohio Wesleyan
20 – UW-Stevens Point
21 – Franklin & Marshall
22 – Husson
23 – Illinois Wesleyan
24 – St. John Fisher
25 – Case Western Reserve

And now on to this week’s ballot with some explanations for some of the moves:

1 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)
Sometimes when I blow a ballot up I actually go a different direction with my number one vote – not this time. The Tommies have beaten Bethel, St. Olaf, and St. John’s in the last three games – their biggest rivals in the MIAC standings this season – and beat two of them on the road. Sure, games were close, but you have to expect that in a much more challenging MIAC this season and in a rivalry game (St. John’s). St. Thomas has lost once back in early December to Gustavus Adolphus who they have a rematch with on Wednesday. I like how St. Thomas is playing in a season where everyone is flawed.

2 – UW-Whitewater (Up 1)
I actually thought about going back to the Warhawks as my number one team, but that loss to Cardinal Stritch bugs me. I know that it was the very first game of the season and not against a Division III team, but something about that and other games makes me scratch my head. Granted, UWW has rolled through teams recently including UW-Stevens Point this week and that is encouraging. So I moved them up to #2 and will watch how the rest of the season progresses.

3 – Augustana (Down 1)
I expected to move the Vikings down more than one spot after losing to Illinois Wesleyan at home this week, but I didn’t know how far I could really move them down! They bounced back with a win they had to battle for against a resurgent Millikin squad on the road (remember, Millikin destroyed Wheaton a couple of games prior) and sometimes that is more important to note than the loss. It won’t get easier for the Vikings as they are on the road at Elmhurst and North Park (who handled North Central) this week before then seeing North Central and Carthage the next week – and yes, the IWU game is looming.

4 – Marietta (Up 5)
Here is the first big move of the ballot. I can’t ignore the fact the Pioneers are undefeated despite a low SOS (relatively speaking – it’s above .500 but with more conference games to play). Marietta beat Mount Union this week who is maybe their biggest test in the conference and have beaten some pretty good teams this season. As a team stays undefeated longer and longer, the target gets bigger and the pressure grows. So far, the Pioneers are still winning so why not move them up.

5 – Randolph-Macon* (Unchanged)
Here’s another example of a team that seems to be playing very well but has a blemish I can’t wrap my head around. The Yellow Jackets beat Virginia Wesleyan this week and have been taking care of everyone else… except when you remember they lost at home to Frostburg State (8-9) in what one person told me might have been the worst loss in Crenshaw Gymnasium history. I like how RMC is playing and with eight seniors; Nate Davis has a wealth of experience to work with. They just can’t peak too early like they did last year or things will unravel very easily in tough ODAC play.

6 – Chapman (Up 12)
To paraphrase a coach I respect quite a lot: Chapman is a really, really good team. He should know, he coaches a perennially good team and as seen Chapman in action. And Chapman, like Marietta, is undefeated – you just can’t ignore that point in late January. Yes, their SOS hurts them (below .500), but they continue to get the job done with a large target on their back. There are a lot of things I like about this team when looking at them on paper, so I moved them up. Now to dedicate some late nights to watching more of their games especially the next five!

7 – WPI* (Down 1)
The Engineers moved down a slot just to make room for Marietta and Chapman. I still like what WPI brings to the floor and they have recovered nicely from their loss to MIT. Next up: Springfield and Emerson on the road before Babson and MIT at home (not sure where Coast Guard will be slotted in, right now) – good test of games for WPI.

8 – Babson (Down 1)
As with WPI, I needed to make room for other teams, so Babson moved down. I clearly think higher of the Beavers than many other voters, but they beat a much improved MIT squad handily this week which makes me more comfortable with where I have them slotted.

9 – Wooster (Down 1)
Again… making room above the Scots. However, I will say I think this is the ceiling for me with Wooster. The Scots aren’t exactly world beaters this season and have had to really fight for some victories after blowing other teams out. I am not sure Wooster is better than a number nine team and really would feel more comfortable with them in the 10-15 range. However, there are a lot of teams in this year’s ballot probably higher than they would in a “normal” year. Big games this week with Ohio Wesleyan and Wabash on the road.

10 – Dickinson (Up 1)
I initially thought I might move the Red Devils further up after they dismantled Franklin & Marshall*, but thinking more about it the win was more a testament of where F&M is in reality than Dickinson. As with Wooster, I think Dickinson is at their ceiling. I like their team and they are clearly playing well this season, but I don’t think they are better than number ten in the country. Tough games with Muhlenberg*, Gettysburg, McDaniel*, and a rematch with F&M, all on the road, remain on the schedule and I don’t think Dickinson comes out of those 4-0. Plus, they have to play a very good Johns Hopkins team, albeit at home.

11 – St. Norbert (Up 6)
Several factors had me move the Green Knights up: they do only have one loss; a lot of other teams don’t seem better than St. Norbert right now; there is a lot of grey area in the middle of the poll this year. I just think you can’t ignore if a team continues to win – I just have to be careful because the Midwest Conference doesn’t seem to have a lot of teams that can compete with St. Norbert and that might result in some smoke and mirrors.

12 – Albertus Magnus (Unchanged)
As I have said in the past and will say again: this is the ceiling for the Falcons on my ballot. They can continue to win the rest of the season prior to the NCAA tournament and I am not going to move them up any higher. Their SOS is below .500 which indicates how weak their conference is (though, Johnson and Wales is playing pretty well) and their out-of-conference schedule featured one tough opponent (Richard Stockton: which was a loss). While I will move other teams up with similar or worse records, Albertus Magnus falls short in a lot of categories in comparison and thus will remain at twelve.

13 – Emory (Up 1)
Nice win over Case Western (probably expected) and didn’t have a let-down against Carnegie Mellon. It’s nice to be home again! I like how Emory is playing and they have learned to deal with bad outcomes and move on (i.e. the trip to the Midwest last week). I think the UAA is real challenge this year for teams on the road and honestly that could cost an extra bid to the NCAA tournament. Emory has Brandeis and NYU at home this coming weekend before heading to Boston and New York the following weekend. Emory can take over the conference if they do well the next four games.

14 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 4)
The loss to Randolph-Macon isn’t the main reason the Marlins fell four spots. I was also moving other teams around and Virginia Wesleyan ended up in this spot as a result. I am not surprised they lost to the Yellow Jackets, in fact I suspected they would since the game was on the road and I feel RMC is the better team. The Marlins are clearly good since they dismantled Lynchburg, but they don’t face a real tough game until pretty much the end of the season with Hampden-Sydney and Guilford in their last two games.

15 – New York U.* (Unranked)
This is my biggest and boldest move of the ballot. I got the chance to go see the Wash U vs. NYU double-header in New York City on Friday night and I am so glad I did (for many reasons). New York is far better than I had been giving them credit for and it comes down to one reason: Hakeem Harris. The transfer from Seton Hall completely changes the look and feel of this team. Now the Violets have an outside presence who can not only shoot well, but drive and score or dish as well. You also can’t ignore the presence of Costis Gontikas (I knick-named him NYU’s Gronk) inside and other weapons that make the Violets tough to match-up against. New York shot better than 53% against a pretty good Wash U defense and after jumping out to an 11-0 lead never let the Bears back in the game. Then they turned around and did NOT have a letdown against Chicago, beating the Maroons on Sunday. NYU is going to be a very dangerous team the rest of the season. Clearly this team would like to make the last season in Coles Sports Center a memorable one.

16 – St. John Fisher (Up 8)
Another bold move, but when you look at how the Cardinals are handling teams you have to take notice. St. John Fisher beat Ithaca by 26 on Saturday – just another example of how this team has been dominating others. I have already had one coach explain that he thinks the Cardinals are completely underrated – though not that hard in an average at best East Region. Either way, St. John Fisher is clearly head and shoulders better than those around them.

17 – Whitworth (Unranked)
The start to the season for the Pirates was anything but good and I completely jumped off the ship. They didn’t look good in their loss to Rutgers-Newark and St. Thomas smoked them. However, since then they have rattled off 14 straight wins and may be walking away from what I thought was going to be a competitive Northwest Conference race.

18 – Washington U.* (Down 15)
Yeah, this is a pretty steep drop for only losing one game on the road in the UAA, but the fact the Bears have been dismantled in their two losses in conference action has me concerned. Furthermore, they clearly aren’t seasoned enough to deal with adversity during games – as testament to the fact they didn’t how to rally around the game plan to fight back against NYU culminating in Matt Palucki earning two technical fouls and an official ejection from the bench from three different refs in less than a minute of real time. Many have said Wash U. wasn’t going to be as good as in years passed just based on the youth on the team, but their start to the season certainly helped hide the flaws. Now conference action is showing the challenges.

19 – Elmhurst (Unranked)
The Blue Jays refuse to back down. They lose two of three in close fashion and then respond with three straight including on the road at North Park and at home to Illinois Wesleyan who as coming off a season-defining victory. Elmhurst is having a breakthrough season that has everyone talking and can cement themselves pretty nicely near the top of the CCIW standings with their game at home against Augustana coming up this week.

20 – William Paterson (Unranked)
I could be buying into the Pioneers a little bit too much. The NJAC hasn’t impressed me this season (despite what coaches in the conference say to the contrary) and the struggles of Richard Stockton* lately may make it harder for me to buy in. However, one fellow voter told me William Paterson scares him with how good they are and so I listened. The Pioneers have won 11 straight and a lot in convincing fashion. Their last loss was to a much better Richard Stockton team back in early December. We can get a gauge of the difference in the teams late this week in a rematch on William Paterson’s floor.

21 – Chicago* (Down 8)
I seriously considered dropping the Maroons altogether from my ballot. They lost two straight this weekend blowing a lead to Brandeis in the process. This after they held home-court the previous weekend and stood atop the UAA standings. The reason I didn’t drop them: the fact one of their losses was a close one to NYU who I catapulted onto my ballot. Maybe I am buying too much into the UAA who legitimately has five good teams on top of the conference and I need to leave more room on my ballot for other teams. Or this conference is better than even in years past and while there is no dominating team to point to they are all really good. The problem with that: it could cost them tournament bids.

22 – Johns Hopkins* (Unranked)
There is nothing flashy about the Blue Jays. They have a blue-color worker feel to the team (ironic considering those who graduate from Hopkins tend not to be blue-color) and they are somewhat cold in their execution. They had to travel to Washington and Muhlenberg* this last week and got the job done after the spotlight became far brighter by being ranked for the first time in nearly seven years. JHU has now won 12 straight and are not doing it with any pop – they are just getting the job done with at least two players who could be All-Americans.

23 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)
I really didn’t know what to do with the Titans this time around. Their win, on the road, against Augustana was impressive. The problem was they didn’t follow it up against Elmhurst. If you beat the then-number one team in the country you need to follow that performance up the next game. The Titans didn’t. I thought about dropping them from my poll, but the simple fact they beat Augustana made me hesitate. Illinois Wesleyan might be the best example of the challenges in the Top 25 this year: really good teams are flawed and no one is great.

24 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 2)
After the dismantling by Dickinson to make it two straight losses, I thought about dropping the Diplomats. They recovered and won against Haverford, but they should have won that game no matter the circumstances. F&M is a good team which clearly has the parts for the future. My concern has been that one loss could derail the season. Losing to Dickinson seemed to prove that concern as it was the second straight loss for the Diplomats. However, I expected F&M to lose that game and they did stop the bleeding against Haverford. I’ll keep them in the Top 25 for now.

25 – Case Western Reserve (Unchanged)
You lose to a team ranked ahead of you… it shouldn’t mean you get punished. Yes, other teams have fallen as a result of losses to teams ahead of them, but I didn’t find a reason to knock Case Western out especially since they are now on top of the UAA by a game after this weekend’s results. Again, I might be buying too much into the UAA – I get that. CWR did lose in Atlanta and then win in Pittsburg. Let’s see what the Spartans have in their tank as they travel to Chicago and Wash U who clearly want to send a message following this past weekend.

Dropped out:

North Central (Ill.) (Previously 15)
Have the Cardinals wings been clipped? They have lost three of four in what was going to be a tough stretch even on paper. However, Top 25 teams don’t come out of that run looking beat up. Top 25 teams don’t finish that run by laying an egg to the last place team in the conference (it doesn’t matter the conference). NCC better figure it out quick. Very-confident Millikin is up next before Wheaton both at home… then Augustana and Illinois Wesleyan.

St. Olaf (Previously 16)
I wasn’t going to drop the Oles from my ballot for losing to St. Thomas and even for their loss to Bethel, but if I was going to keep them in I was going to have to find a slot for Bethel and I didn’t have one. As a result, St. Olaf is out. I think the Oles are a good team as their losses were close, but there are a lot of good teams this year and there are still only 25 slots. We shall see how St. Olaf responds in the next few games.

Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 19)
Inconsistency was the key to this decision. I think Ohio Wesleyan also has a good team and if I hadn’t been blowing up the ballot in the first place they probably would have stayed in my Top 25 despite the loss to Denison. However, the Battling Bishops haven’t won more than two games in a row since losing to Trine in early December. It is hard to keep voting for a team who has lost game after every two-game win “streak.”

UW-Stevens Point (Previously 20)
Yes, they lost to UW-Whitewater and beat UW-Oshkosh, but they weren’t in the game in the second half (19 points in the half) against the Warhawks and had a miracle half-court buzzer-beater in double-overtime be the reason they finally beat the Titans. The Pointers are also without the services of Stephen Pelkofer who apparently is out with an injury and that could be why they seem off synch.

Husson (Previously 22)
The Eagles made a splash in Las Vegas before losing to Colby and I still thought high of them. I figured they could glide through their conference and be on a roll come NCAA tournament time. Nope. Husson lost to Lyndon State (5-11) 101-85 on Saturday pretty much ending my thoughts they are still a Top 25 team. Not sure what to think of the rest of the season, but it is going to take a nice run in the NCAA tournament before I reconsider Husson.

* – teams I have seen in person.

Previous ballots:
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 7

At this point, I am no longer surprised when I see countless losses to breakdown in the Top 25 this week. In the overall D3hoops.com Top 25, there were 13 total losses; in my Top 25 ballot, there were 11 – I consider myself lucky!

Clearly, parity is the name of the game this season. There simply isn’t a top tier that is impressing, there isn’t a middle group that is stepping up, and there are a number of those below that who are sending up flares to get recognized (only to sometimes have those flares snuffed out by a strange loss). It is hard to read the tea leaves this season and thus it is even harder to feel comfortable when compiling a Top 25 ballot.

This week, I removed one team – just one. However, I made a lot of moves inside the other 24 teams. When I was done, I wasn’t satisfied. I thought about blowing the entire thing up and starting over, but then realized I would probably still have the same teams in and out of the poll and I still wouldn’t be satisfied. So, I stuck with what I had and will wait to see what the next week brings.

Before showing you this week’s ballot, here is a reminder of last week’s:

1 – St. Thomas
2 – Augustana
3 – UW-Whitewater
4 – Washington U.
5 – Babson
6 – Emerson
7 – Randolph-Macon
8 – WPI
9 – Dickinson
10 – North Central (Ill.)
11 – Wooster
12 – Albertus Magnus
13 – Virginia Wesleyan
14 – Ohio Wesleyan
15 – Marietta
16 – Chicago
17 – Franklin & Marshall
18 – St. Olaf
19 – Richard Stockton
20 – St. Norbert
21 – Chapman
22 – UW-Stevens Point
23 – Husson
24 – Scranton
25 – Illinois Wesleyan

And now on to this week’s ballot with some explanations for some of the moves:

1 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)

3 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

4 – Washington U. (Unchanged)

5 – Randolph-Macon* (Up 2)
I cringed a little when I moved the Yellow Jackets up to number five. They just don’t seem like a Top 5 team, but then again who does?! RMC moves up thanks certainly to teams ahead of them losing, but also because they blew out their rivals Hampden-Sydney* on the road and then blew out Roanoke. Clearly, the Yellow Jackets are in sync right now.

6 – WPI* (Up 2)
Nice bounce back by the Engineers to brush off the loss to MIT and beat Babson the next game (and keeping from being the answer to a trivia question: what team lost back-to-back games to coaches who earned their 300th career wins in those games?). The NEWMAC is a really tough league this year, so maybe the Engineers take another loss or two before the end of the season making number six seem a bit high. However, I think WPI has more weapons than people give them credit, they play far better defense than others think, and they are well coached. I just like WPI – what can I say?

7 – Babson (Down 2)
Two spot drop for a loss to another Top 10 team seemed a bit harsh at first, but I needed to get the Beavers behind WPI who needed to stay behind RMC. So here we are. I am not reading too much into Babson’s loss other than it was against one of those favored to win the NEWMAC and the top of the conference is really, really good this season.

8 – Wooster (Up 3)
Yeah… this one makes me nervous. Nothing Wooster has done this season screams they are a Top 10 team to me. However, they blew out Hiram and won in an offensive slugfest with their rival Wittenberg proving they can put up points if they need. A frustrated DePauw squad is on the horizon, so who knows what happens this week, but for now the Fighting Scots are in my Top 10.

9 – Marietta (Up 6)
The biggest mover upward were the Pioneers this week – I even thought about moving them ahead of Wooster. Why? They are undefeated and that is a point I need to stop ignoring. They have also thoroughly handled their opponents recently as they should! Mount Union (who just beat John Carroll) is on the schedule for this week, so we can get a good sense of maybe how good Marietta is this season with that outcome.

10 – Virginia Wesleyan (Up 3)
I wouldn’t say the Marlins did anything specific to move into the Top 10. I would say that part of the movement was to fill in spots of teams who didn’t have a very good week last week. This could be short-lived as well as VWC plays Randolph-Macon (away) and Lynchburg* (home) this week. Or, Dave Macedo’s team will once again prove they are under-appreciated by many.

11 – Dickinson (Down 2)
This might come as a surprise that I didn’t move the Red Devils further down for their loss to Johns Hopkins, but there are several factors at play here. First, Hopkins has won ten straight and may finally be playing at pre-season expectations. Second, a number of teams in this section of the poll loss causing a bit of a cushion. Third, I wasn’t moving teams like Albertus Magnus ahead of them. Many have said this Dickinson team is ranked too high because they aren’t as good as last year’s team. While I might agree, someone has to fill in these slots and so far the Red Devils are playing good enough basketball to be this high on the ballot.

12 – Albertus Magnus (Unchanged)

13 – Chicago* (Up 3)
Home court is so important for everyone; it is even more important if you are in the UAA. Chicago held home-court very nicely this weekend with wins over Rochester and Emory and in the process may have shown they have figured out their point guard situation after their best player was lost to injury at the beginning of the season. The Maroons were picked to win the UAA this season and right now are undefeated with wins over Wash U., Rochester, and Emory all at home. The challenge ahead: not only Case Western Reserve who is playing very well, but the fact the Maroons still have to play Wash U., Rochester, and Emory on the road.

14 – Emory (Down 8)
I didn’t want to knock the Eagles that much for losing on the road to Wash U. and Chicago since all three teams plus Case Western Reserve are clearly the best in this conference this season. However, I had to move Emory behind Chicago and there was only so high I was willing to move the Maroons. Call it bad luck to have to be on the road your first three games at some of the toughest places to play in the conference, but Emory now has visits to Rochester, Wash U., and Chicago behind them. They do have a big challenge at home against Case Western Reserve (who voters can gauge as well this weekend), but I am confident the Eagles will regain their mojo at home in the coming weeks.

15 – North Central (Ill.) (Down 5)
When I moved the Cardinals up swiftly last week and knew they had Augustana and Elmhurst on the schedule for the week ahead, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous I was too bold in my move. Boy did that come true. The loss to Augustana could be considered expected since they were behind Augie in both the D3hoops.com poll and my own ballot. However, I thought they would prove themselves against Elmhurst but instead lost both games at home. Tough week to be sure and while Carthage and North Park don’t seem like world beaters in the week ahead, another tough week could all but sink North Central at a very important stretch of the season.

16 – St. Olaf (Up 2)

17 – St. Norbert (Up 3)

18 – Chapman (Up 3)

19 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 5)
The enigma that is the Battling Bishops continues. They lost to Wabash on Wednesday and then beat DePauw handily on Saturday. I just can’t get a good read on Ohio Wesleyan. We all know Mike DeWitt is a good coach. We all know that Ohio Wesleyan has proven themselves with their wins this season. We just don’t know how to read into their losses and thus the rest of the NCAC or Great Lakes Region. Oberlin and Denison are ahead and any loss here will mean to me this team can’t put 40 minutes together every night and are not a Top 25 team. Two wins? Not sure what that means, yet.

20 – UW-Stevens Point (Up 2)

21 – Franklin & Marshall* (Down 4)
No, I am not surprised the Diplomats finally lost a game. No, I am not surprised they lost at McDaniel* (many saw this coming). No, I didn’t consider dropping F&M out of my Top 25 (despite the fact I wasn’t sold on them at 17, either). The trick here is this… who ever watches the game tape to see what Kevin Curley and his Green Terror squad did to the Diplomats is going to have a very good game plan to work with. I am not sure F&M is seasoned or experienced enough to adjust to what clearly worked and they will probably see a lot more of defensively. Also, F&M has got to figure out how to win outside of the Mayser Center. Those who know the Diplomats program know they are tough to beat at home, but when you get them on the road especially in conference play they are vulnerable. This week they are on the road at Dickinson and a tough Haverford squad… time will tell.

22 – Husson* (Up 1)

23 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 2)

24 – St. John Fisher (Unranked)
What is in the water in Pittsford, New York? I had a coach in the East Region tell me a few weeks back that the Cardinals were the best team he had seen in New York. Maybe that isn’t saying a whole lot since this isn’t exactly the season of stellar play anywhere in the country, but it stuck with me. I focused a bit on St. John Fisher to see what come of that statement. SJF has pretty much handled any team they have seen on the court. The Cardinals are winning by double-figures usually and just put up 102 points on Hartwick beating them by 37! Who knows what is in the water, but right now it as the Cardinals flying high.

25 – Case Western Reserve (Unranked)
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I think the Spartans are on my ballot just a little bit early. Call it the NYU affect: play really well in the non-conference part of your season while not playing too many good teams and start the season on a roll only to jump into conference play and fall apart. The difference so far in this plan: Case Western Reserve is 3-0 in UAA action. Now granted, the Spartans have played Carnegie Mellon, NYU, and Brandeis – not exactly the top of the conference – and needed overtime to beat the Judges, but I do like what I am seeing so far. Of course, Emory and Rochester this weekend before Chicago and Wash U the following weekend ALL on the road. This could either be a very brief visit on my ballot or could be confirmation of a really special team at CWR this season.

Dropped out:

Richard Stockton* (Previously 19)
When I first submitted my ballot, Richard Stockton was 24. While writing this blog, I got to the Osprey and was nearly done writing when something changed my mind. The result: I dropped them. Why? The high-wire act is not something a Top 25 team should be performing. Last Monday, that act finally caught up to Richard Stockton when I watched them lose to Ramapo at home in a rather uninspired performance. How did the Osprey respond? By barely getting passed Montclair State two days later. I know the NJAC likes to talk about how difficult the conference is especially that the bottom teams are better than people know. However, the top of this conference is not as good as those in the NJAC would like you to believe and Stockton is proving that right now. They have been on a high-wire for a while and have not looked good in the last few weeks. They have escaped time and time again with wins before Ramapo got them. If Stockton is truly a Top 25 team, they would handle teams they should be head-and-shoulders above. Otherwise, they are a good team but not a Top 25 squad.

Scranton* (Previously 24)
Speaking of another team that has been performing on the high-wire, it’s the Royals. Scranton has also apparently been playing without a net. According to what I learned, they lost their number one guy Ross Danzig to a severe ankle injury (severity unconfirmed) seconds into their overtime loss to Ithaca though he was back against Catholic*. If Scranton is a Top 25 team, they should have easily handled Ithaca and then beat the Cardinals. It marked just the third time in the last 18 games CUA has beaten Scranton. If Danzig’s injury plagues him, Scranton is in a lot of trouble. While they don’t necessarily have a true point guard, Danzig is their leader and can be dangerous from outside. I liked Scranton for a while this season, but once again I don’t think the Royals are capable of putting it together for an entire season.
(Edit: I have since been told Ross Danzig did NOT get injured this past week. I apologize for any confusion to the contrary. This is an example of how hard it is to follow teams night in and night out. His alleged injury wasn’t the reason Scranton came out of the poll – two losses were the reasons – but the concern over his injury I thought was something that could be a challenge down the road. Since he isn’t injured, the fact they are struggling and have been playing on a high-wire is more concerning from a team point of view.)

Previous ballots:
Week 5
Week 6

* – seen in person this season.

Case in Brazil: Facing the pros

The Case Western Reserve men’s basketball team is in Brazil, and blogging about the experience as well. Evan Tsudis writes:

I’m writing this blog after one of the hardest and more physical games of my career but I’ll pull a Pulp Fiction and keep you hanging. Last night we enjoyed our last night in Paraty. For a small colonial town it showed a lot of life at night. We enjoyed live music and attempted to converse in Portuguese with the locals. They even let Reid step up to the guitar and give Brazil a taste of his original music. After a nice rest we boarded the bus on the way to our game. Most watched movies or tried to contort their large bodies into small seats to sleep.

We arrived at our game around 6:00 local time. There were fans waiting for us to get off the bus and trying to get autographs. The gym was the nicest we have seen in Brazil and had a lot of life to it. Music was constantly playing and the stands were near capacity. After the playing of the national anthems and handshakes it was time to begin.

Basketball in Brazil and the United States is a bit different. The court and paint have different dimensions and the rules are interpreted differently. Physical play is encouraged and things like palming the ball and lane violations are at the discretion of the referee. The team we were against was a professional team and was extremely physically gifted. The combination of our rust and the other teams athleticism led to a 107 to 57 victory for our opponents. After the game we took pictures and signed autographs for the fans. Every place we’ve played we’ve been treated like rock stars and followed until we drive away.

This whole trip has been an amazing experience. It has been a great time to see new things and spend time with my teammates. Some of my favorite activities were our adventure at sea on the Sir Francis Drake yesterday and taking a picture with my Terrible Towel at Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. I’d also like to point out that my beach soccer team of Rob, Summers, Reid, Brian Curth, Bokan and myself are coming back to Cleveland 2-0 and looking for challengers. One shout out to my father, Peter Tsudis, who celebrated his birthday on Aug. 14.

Go Steelers!

Case in Brazil: Snorkel, hammocks, boat

The Case Western Reserve men’s basketball team is in Brazil, and blogging about the experience as well. Tim Maleski writes:

Day number two in Paraty started out in an unusual way to say the least, as Reid, Ryan, Alex, and I woke up to the fresh smell of rain after spending the night sleeping in the hammocks located outside the rooms. Our group originally started with six members, but Brian slept inside after failing to fall asleep after an hour lying in the hammock and Colin left due to his constant fear that he was definitely going to fall out.

We were set to leave for our boat ride on the Atlantic Ocean at 9:30, but due to inclement weather that we have been getting a great deal of lately, we had to push our ride back to 11:00. So once the time came, we walked to the bay to board our boat. The first place we stopped allowed us to get in the water for the first time. We swam, jumped off the boat, and snorkeled. We tried to catch fish with a three reals bet that we couldn’t. Unfortunately, we had no success with this with endeavor.

Case on a boat in Paraty, Brazil

Our second stop on our boat trip landed us close to a beach. After swimming into shore, we spent the next hour jumping off rocks, playing a game of soccer, and diving into the water in our attempts to catch a soccer ball. The highlight of our trip to this spot was our dancing. With techno music blaring from another boat in the background, the twelve of us did the famous “Party Boy” dance on Coach Gorski. We though it was hilarious, but the same couldn’t be said for Coach Gorski. Not only did he almost drop his prized iPhone, but he also came out of the dancing with a bruised lip.

After we pulled up our anchors there, we sailed a few more minutes and settled down on the boat for lunch. Upon finishing lunch, we headed to our final destination. It was here that we searched for turtles and jumped off the boat to catch soccer balls. From the boat we watched a local man climb a twenty foot high tree and throw coconut after coconut down to a group of girls. Chris even went on a solo adventure to the shore. He said he was looking to grab a coconut, but the rest of us knew he just wanted to talk to the group of girls. Lucky for him, he did manage to come back with a coconut full of juice, but we knew it was just an excuse. Most importantly, our entire team had a really impressive feat catching the soccer ball that can be seen with the videos.

We headed back to the dock to end our boat trip. Feeling both fatigued as well as sunburnt, we were ready to go back to the hotel and relax for the rest of the night. Our time in Paraty was coming to an end, and tomorrow we will head for the mountains.