Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 10

To be honest, this week’s Top 25 ballot was a pain in the a$$. It wasn’t exactly carnage throughout, but the losses that did pile up caused me to have teams rise into spots in the poll I was just not comfortable with. I certainly could have left teams where they were and had others jump over them, but there wasn’t many arguments for teams behind to jump ahead. It caused for a long 24 hours of constantly plugging away, diving into data, and trying to listen to either my head or my gut… or ignore both.

So I want to publicly thank the following for making the Week 10 Top 25 a pain in the a$$: WPI and Wesley primarily. Couldn’t you guys take care of business? WPI, dropping one game to giant-killer Emerson or to a solid unit in Babson, but both?! Wesley, your performance against York (Pa.) was anything but inspired. It didn’t occur to you that you have to play every game?

Ok, tongue-in-cheek moment over with… those two teams alone caused plenty of chaos with my ballot, but it wasn’t the only challenge I faced. Heck, 24 voters had to reconsider who we thought was the top team in the country and I am sure everyone had a different point of view in how they made that determination. I actually thought about it for five days (thanks in part to UWSP losing on a Wednesday and both teams not playing the rest of the week).

What ended up happening this week was interesting. I made some difficult decisions, I followed by head in some spots and gut in others, and I also punted a few teams and introduced some teams I had been watching for months but didn’t feel deserved to be on my ballot. All in all it sets up for another crazy week and I am not sure I won’t be cursing out a few more teams next week.

As we get started, here is a reminder of last week’s ballot… and on we go:

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)
I thought long and hard about this and it came down to two things: did I really think the Pointers would get through WIAC play unscathed and did I really think they could go into Whitewater and not lose. First item: no. I was actually pretty surprised that UWSP had gotten this far into the season without losing a game in conference. They have been playing better and better and had been taking care of business like it was their jobs. That gets me to the second item: no. I knew UWW would be ready for UWSP and considering the game was in Whitewater I knew weeks ago there was a very real chance the Pointers would lose. The game goes to overtime and the spread is five points. UWSP ends up being the second-t0-last undefeated team in Division III (see below) and they lost a game I pretty much expected they may lose, so I couldn’t really drop them from the top spot.

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)
As for why I didn’t change number-one votes, that argument is probably better here with Cabrini. When I thought about the UW-Whitewater game I took into consideration whether I thought Cabrini would have won that same game. The answer was actually pretty simple: no. Considering the game was in Whitewater and Cabrini would have played the game either without or with a much hobbled Aaron Walton-Moss, I cannot say with any confidence Cabrini would have won that game, either. So if I can’t say they would have won that game, I can’t then move them ahead of UW-Stevens Point. The other challenge is the fact Cabrini ended up playing no games last week thanks to three postponements including one everyone was looking forward to seeing. The game against Wesley on Monday would have helped voters gauge how good Cabrini really was at this point in the season especially with an injured Walton-Moss. However, weather got in the way of that game a second time (and pretty much won’t be made up) and then got in the way twice of Cabrini’s game with Immaculata (power problems on Cabrini’s campus). Now the challenge for the Cavaliers is the fact they have to play four games in six days this week three of which will be on the road with back-to-back games on Wednesday and Thursday. Despite the competition not being that challenging, I will be impressed if Cabrini gets through this week unscathed… though Mother Nature may have another postponement looming for the Cavs: a major nor’easter is being forecast for their game against … wait for it … Immaculata. (Shaking my head.)

3 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 1)

4 – Wash U (Up 1)
This is one of those teams I am not very comfortable with this high, but not sure I could default by moving other teams ahead of them – though I nearly did with UW-Whitewater. I was reluctant with the Bears earlier this season and kept them low and I may have ignored that feeling and went with the data a bit too much… we shall see.

5 – Wooster (Up 1)

6 – UW-Whitewater (Up 2)
After beating UW-Stevens Point, I nearly jumped the Warhawks up to fifth or fourth and even considered a move to third. However, the fact they had to have overtime to beat the Pointers at home gave me pause. That fact isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t the defining argument I needed to make such a bold move. Had the game been at Stevens Point, I would have felt differently. Maybe the Warhawks should be higher, but I had my reasons for them being behind IWU, Wash U., and Wooster before the week began and the win over UW-Stevens Point didn’t change that opinion for me.

7 – Amherst (Up 2)

8 – St. Norbert (Up 2)
Here is another team I am not comfortable with in the Top 10. You know I think the Green Knights are a sleeper (despite their ranking) and depending on how the NCAA tournament gets bracketed could have a break-through post-season, but that doesn’t mean I think they are the eighth best team in the country. However, I need to put some team in this slot and I didn’t have an argument for anyone behind them to jump them. St. Norbert is steamrolling their way through the conference and right now that is the biggest determining factor for me. That have sometimes struggled in their conference, but they are taking care of business this year and doing so impressively. One person pointed out their loss to UW-Whitewater probably makes them at best the third-best team in the WIAC. I agree… and thus they are third on the list compared to those teams.

9 – St. Thomas (Up 2)

10 – Williams (Up 2)

11 – Wesley (Down 4)
I won’t repeat my tongue-and-cheek comment above, but wow did the Wolverines play completely uninspired basketball against now four-win York (Pa.) on Thursday night. I realize the game was delayed, but 48 points on 1-15 shooting late in the game is bad… just bad. I watched most of the last half and it just was bad. Wesley probably would have moved further down my ballot except for two major factors: they recovered to beat Christopher Newport on Saturday and the number of losses and adjustments below this point in the poll caused a bit of a pillow to break their fall. That being said, Wesley has got to learn to play better on the road because their NCAA tournament hopes will ride on it: they aren’t getting a home game at any point in the tournament.

12 – WPI (Down 9)
Emerson has now proven they can beat Top 5 teams. First it was then-number one Amherst and now then-number three WPI. But that should have been the wake-up call. Instead, the Engineers then lost to Babson two days later. Yes, Babson is a very good team this year and it was on the road, but the home loss to Emerson should have at least had WPI ready for Babson, instead they take their second loss in a row. As with Wesley, WPI would have fallen even further down my ballot except they also benefited from the pillow-effect.

13 – Mary Washington (Down 1)
The Eagles almost put St. Mary’s on life-support with their win earlier in the week, but followed it up with a loss to Salisbury at home by ten. Talk about another team apparently not ready for their opponent. Mary Washington has one of, if not the best team in program history, but the target on their back is very large. Salisbury is a good team despite their record, so I wasn’t shocked by the loss. However, the Eagles have to realize at this point in the season every game matters.

14 – Randolph-Macon (Up 3)

15 – Brockport State (Down 1)

16 – Texas-Dallas (Up 4)

17 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 2)

18 – Whitworth (Up 3)

19 – Centre (Up 2)

20 – Purchase State (Unranked)
Here is the first of several teams I have been holding out of my Top 25 and make an appearance this week. The Panthers continue to play well and beat anyone in front of them. In fact, they only have one loss at it was on the road against Albertus Magnus. Their perceived SOS numbers are not that bad and they will probably be ranked number-one in the first regional rankings. I like what Coach Charney has put together at Purchase and there is no reason, anymore, they shouldn’t be in my Top 25.

21 – Messiah (Down 5)
Since going undefeated into mid-January, the Falcons have stumbled in places they shouldn’t be stumbling and struggling on the road. Messiah is a dangerous team, but the loss to Lycoming is inexcusable – not because Lyco isn’t a challenging team, but because if you are as good as I know Messiah to be… that is a game you put away. Big rematch with a struggling Stevenson squad looking to jump-start their season looms on Wednesday… that is going to be a major factor for my ballot next week.

22 – Albertus Magnus (Unranked)
Here is the second team I have been holding out on. I will be blunt: the loss to St. Joseph’s (Maine) is a nasty blemish on their record, but a lot of teams in my Top 25 have some questionable blemishes as well. The Falcons are once again heading down the road of maybe hosting the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and they have to take advantage of that opportunity. I think they have the capabilities to make the second weekend, but results like those against St. Joe’s and close games like that against Anna Maria this week make me nervous this team is just smoke and mirrors – thus why it has taken me this long to put them on my ballot.

23 – Bowdoin (Down 5)
Probably a bit of a harsh demotion for the Polar Bears for their loss to Middlebury, but I had trouble slotting them in any higher. I am certainly not faulting the team for how they lost to Middlebury, but I am faulting them for not beating the Panthers. Middlebury is not the fearsome team of the last few years and if Bowdoin is really that good a squad, that game should not have come down to a last-second three-pointer to tie it and then an unfortunate timeout call.

24 – Dubuque (Unranked)
For the second time this year, I am putting the Spartans into my Top 25 ballot. The simple fact is, no matter who they have played or the strength (or lack of) of their conference, Dubuque is 20-1. You have to be doing something right to get to this point in the season and only have one loss.

25 – Staten Island (Unranked)
Here is the final team I have been holding out on. Just like Purchase State and Albertus Magnus, I am not sure just how good Staten Island is. They are playing well with their last loss coming in the third game of the season – that’s 19 straight wins. The Dolphins could be a sleeper and will probably get a chance to host games in the NCAA tournament, but they may have to be ready to play on the road to prove anything.

Dropped out:

Virginia Wesleyan (Previously 19)
The yo-yo the Marlins had been doing for a few weeks finally broke. The loss at home against Eastern Mennonite was finally the last straw for me. I kept buying in to a team that in year’s past I was reluctant about. Now they are a few games out of first place in their conference and I can’t keep a five-loss team in the Top 25 when I don’t even have teams ahead of them in the conference on my ballot (except for Randolph-Macon). The Marlins could still be a dangerous squad come March, but they have to start putting some things together and get used to playing on the road.

Eastern Connecticut (Previously 23)
I may have bought into the Warriors a bit too much. Their loss early in the week against Wesleyan disappointed me. If they were as good as I thought the information and what I saw indicated, that isn’t even a game.

Oglethorpe (Previously 24)
As you know, I don’t treat a ranked team who losses to team ranked above them too harshly. However, the Stormy Petrels just didn’t have a lot of room to play with sitting 24th when they lost to Centre (season sweep). They got knocked a few spots like others would have, it just so happened that meant coming off my ballot.

Augustana (Previously 25)
As I have said, the Vikings probably shouldn’t have been in my Top 25 last week especially when I didn’t expect them to get through this past week unscathed. The loss to Illinois Wesleyan was an excuse I didn’t need to have, but to lose in such a non-competitive manner didn’t help the cause even if they did beat Carthage the next game.

Other ballots:
Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 3
Week 1

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