Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 11

You have got to love this time of year. All games seem to take on a different perspective as Regional Rankings start getting rolled out, the end of the season can be seen, and teams are fighting for not only conference playoff positioning, but to make the tournaments in the first place. It seems to drive programs and even those who have struggled seem to find themselves when there is more on the line and the opponent has a bigger target on their back. Of course, the second time through conferences makes a different I am sure.

There is a lot less shaking of my head and lot more inquisitive looking at results. There are more answers despite there being more questions than a month or two, or three, ago. That said, there is far more head banging when it comes to voting in the Top 25 especially with the amount of parity we see around the country. (Have I mentioned parity before, recently?)

This week was a mix of things for me. I remained confident with some teams, I had to make some really hard decisions on who to move up and how far despite less than stellar results. I also had to debate how far to move teams down and despite recent results if a team was still better than the group around where I was slotting them. I also had to move teams into slots I didn’t think they fit – a common theme for months now – while wondering if I was missing something on the outside.

Ohio Wesleyan very nearly made Dave’s ballot this week… and he continues to wonder why he didn’t pull the trigger.

There are actually teams with more losses than on my ballot who I think are playing better than teams with less losses. That is tough to gauge. For example, I seriously considered putting Ohio Wesleyan on my ballot and not in the bottom four slots. Remember, I had the Battling Bishops in my Top 5 in the preseason poll. I like what they have. But when you start 2-3 on the season and 7-6 turning into early January… it’s bad. It certainly isn’t a Top 25 team. Since then, OWU is on a ten-game winning streak and handling their business. But does a 17-6 team seriously have a place in the Top 25 ahead of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 loss teams? I have 6-loss teams on my poll, so why not? I have them ahead of those other types of programs, so why not? I didn’t pull the trigger this week, but as I write this I beg the question why I didn’t do it.

People ask all of the time, is the Top 25 a statement for how a team is doing over the course of the entire season or a snapshot of how they are right now. I personally think it is a combination and what kind of mixture that is is dependent on the team. What I determine for one team is not right for another. There are too many factors involved. One team’s defense may be better and I like that over another whose defense isn’t as good, but whose offense tends to flourish. I also look at schedules and conference foes to get a sense of how competitive games are. For some teams, I need to see dominating wins to have confidence in them. In another team, close finishes tells me more because of who they are playing and where those games are. I don’t have a cut-and-dry formula that works for all and thus why the process is several hours instead of several minutes.

I debate all of those things on a weekly basis. How is a team doing right now, has their season given me concern or confidence no matter the current results, are the current results starting to trump what I have seen on a season-wide scale, what is the conference doing, who is on their schedule, are they in a lull or a peak in conference opponents on their schedule. The questions and analysis are endless. Add in what I have seen in box scores and on video web streams and what people are telling me or answering to my questions. I may have missed on Ohio Wesleyan this week and maybe left a couple of teams in who should be gone, but let’s see what the next week brings to justify my decisions or justify my second-guessing.

As a reminder, here is how I voted the last few weeks:

Now on to my ballot for the D3hoops.com men’s basketball Top 25 with some thoughts, but not a lot (it is a busy week):

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)

3 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

Rochester’s win over WashU was impressive enough to Dave to override the concern the Chicago loss initially created.

4 – Rochester (Down 1)
Yeah, I only moved the Yellowjackets down one despite losing this weekend to Chicago. I made a point of watching as much of the Rochester at WashU game as I could (after realizing it started an hour earlier than I expected). They controlled the Bears. There was no sign to me that Rochester isn’t as good as I expected them to be. They didn’t blow me away as a Top 5 team, but to be honest… NO ONE has blown me away as a Top 5 team besides maybe Babson. My expectations of a Top 5 team from five years ago has to change. There is too much talent across the board in Division III now. Rochester held WashU at arm’s length and didn’t let the game go into the Bears’s control. Their loss to Chicago, let’s be honest, wasn’t all that shocking. The Maroons are a very good team who have just picked up too many losses in a tough schedule. What I saw from Rochester in St. Louis gave me confidence on where I have them in my poll.

5 – Ramapo (Unchanged)

6 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)

7 – Middlebury (Up 6)
The Panthers are surprising me. I know I had heard and read a lot of confidence in Middlebury from people early on this season, but I brushed it aside. There was nothing on this team that impressed me from two 17-win and one 18-win campaign in the last three seasons. I didn’t think they had grown. But in the last few weeks, I have been watching them very closely and they have been putting teams away. Just in the 2017 side of the campaign, they have won their games by a margin of 16.7 points per game while only having two losses and only one of those was bad (Williams: 89-65). They handed Amherst the head of it’s old mascot 106-91 over the weekend before rolling over Trinity. The Panthers are playing really, really well and if they keep this up may be the team no one wants to face come the NCAA tournament… especially as Tufts is banged up, Amherst is reeling, and everyone else in the Northeast except Babson seems to be stumbling.

8 – Whitworth (Up 1)

9 – Washington Univ. (Down 2)
Normally, I don’t move a team down very far when they have lost to a team I, at least, had them ranked behind. However, I thought about moving the Bears down further. I just wasn’t blown away with their effort against Rochester. I think WashU is a good team, but not Top 10 good. Then again, when I don’t think my Top 5 is really Top 5 caliber, maybe WashU being below what I think a Top 10 team goes with the territory. While I have to both get the WashU teams of old out of my head and stop comparing them… I also have to stop looking for something that blows me away. I just didn’t feel like WashU was worse than the teams below them and thus while my thinking was to move them down further… the answer is I couldn’t. So a combination of things including a cushion keeps WashU in my Top 10.

10 – Marietta (Up 1)

Hope’s overtime win to Trine gave Dave pause.

11 – Hope (Down 1)
The overtime game against Trine concerned me. I know Trine and the rest of the MIAA are subtly better than people realized, but I think Hope needs to be a bit more assertive if they are in my Top 10. I also thought Marietta is playing a bit better basketball as of right now, so I shifted the two teams.

12 – Salisbury (Up 2)

13 – St. Norbert (Down 1)
I have been double-guessing this since I submitted my ballot and had been debating this non-stop prior. There is something about the Green Knights I think is good, but they frustratingly don’t always show it. The Grinnell loss bugs me, but I also realized Grinnell might be playing with a little bit of fire after having to forfeit game due to some kind of screwed up paperwork or whatever allowed a player to be playing when he shouldn’t have (is how I read into the explanation). My counter argument is I am putting too much stock in the Grinnell emotions and didn’t pay attention enough to the fact that SNC lost a game they should have won – no matter the style being played… this isn’t new to them. The problem, not many teams below St. Norbert are blowing me away, either. So they “float” here at 13. Probably should be around 20… but this is no-man’s land for my ballot.

14 – Denison (Up 4)
I don’t have a great breakdown for why I moved the Big Red up four spots besides the fact that a number of losses above them coupled with not many teams around or below them blowing me away forced me to put teams in slots that are far higher than I would like (I think I have shown a few examples of this already).

Susquehanna and Steven Weidlich enter Dave’s Top 25 ballot at #15. Courtesy: Susquehanna Athletics

15 – Susquehanna (Unranked)
I missed the chance to see the River Hawks in person this year (due to the Division III soccer championships) and I have been a bit more critical. The Landmark conference is not that amazing at the top this year, though the middle and bottom have become more interesting. Scranton and Catholic are no where close to their NCAA-selves of the past, so should I put that much stock in Susquehanna beating Catholic last week? What got me to put Susq in this slot was (a) every time you think a game will derail them, they come back strong and haven’t had a losing streak all season and (b), they blow Catholic out of the water on Saturday (88-64). This was a tough game schedule wise as Goucher and Drew were on either sides… a loss in this trio of games would not have surprised me. Frank Marcinek really likes this squad and that says a lot. I’ll buy in … for now.

16 – New Jersey City  (Unchanged)

17 – Swarthmore (Up 4)

18 – Benedictine (Up 6)
Last week I indicated I was comfortable with the Eagles near the bottom of my ballot. They hadn’t done anything in conference except lose a game. Then a birdy pointed me to something I should have noticed on my own: in Benedictine’s nine-game winning stream since their loss to Concordia (Wis.), they have beaten their opponents by an average of 25.7 points per game! They have shot .540 in that stretch improving their season shooting to .514! They are only allowing 69.7 ppg which has brought their season average down to 70.8. Something about that game against the Falcons woke this Benedictine squad up. Sometimes there are times we see a “good” loss … this might have been it for a team that I have to remember brought back a ton of talent from last year’s national championship appearance.

19 – Guilford (Down 4)
I’ll be quick, the win over Randolph-Macon was just what the Quakers needed. The loss to Roanoke… ugly.

20 – Tufts (Down 1)

21 – Oswego State (Down 4)
For a team that needs to keep dominating, losing by one to Fredonia and then barely beating Buffalo State by one… not what I wanted to see from the Lakers to remain confident that Sortino and gang can actually get it done.

22 – UW-Whitewater (Down 2)
This breaks my rule about moving teams down when they lose to a team ranked above them. The shift was mainly because of teams I was moving around above and around UWW. Had they won, they probably wouldn’t have moved up very far because of that movement as well. More a testament of where I think the Falcons fit in on this poll and what is happening around them.

Hanover has become a team to watch in the HCAC, but how much do we really know about them? Courtesy: Hanover Athletics

23 – Hanover (Unranked)
I have been debating about the Panthers for weeks. The loss to Rose-Hulman gave me pause. They aren’t blowing their conference competition out of the water, but I also think the HCAC has improved at the top quite a bit (certainly gotten deeper). And they only have three-losses at this point in the season! Granted, I (spoiler alert) punted teams with two and three losses this week, but I think Hanover is playing better than those other squads.

24 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The Cardinals keep yo-yoing on my ballot. However, I can’t ignore they slayed Amherst for the second time this season. I could have easily not voted for them and put another Wesleyan (Ohio) in here in their stead, but the decision with who follows (another spoiler alert) triggered this one. Sometimes deciding where a team goes on my ballot, if they get on it, and if they are taken off of it also depends on other teams. In this case, Wesleyan making the poll was based more on the fact that …

Amherst’s inability to keep a loss from turning into a losing streak concerns Dave who nearly pulled them from his ballot after being in the Top 10. Courtesy: Amherst Athletics

25 – Amherst (Down 17)
… that the purple As didn’t fall off my ballot. I debated a long time on this. I seriously contemplated dropping Amherst from my ballot despite them being 8th the week prior. The four-losses in six games in late January/early February gave me pause and I dropped them. They then moved up the poll and into the Top 10 after getting back to their winning ways (six straight) while other teams fell around them. I didn’t love them in my Top 10 – but that has been discussed. They then lost two in a row (OT against Wesleyan before being handled by MIidlebury) and I nearly gave up. What is odd is the concerns I had at the beginning of the season, that I nearly forgot, seem to be cropping up now. They proved me to me earlier that those concerns were hog-wash… until now. I just don’t think they are as strong or as deep as we are used from the LeFrak residents. So why didn’t I just simply remove them? I do still think Amherst has the ability to make a run in the NCAA tournament if they get back in the right mindset  – though, not Salem this year (and yes, I didn’t think they could have gotten to Salem last year if Babson had Flannery at 100%… or even 75%) and THAT is why I dropped them. However, if I think they can make a deep run, I can’t remove them. Furthermore, if I drop Amherst then I drop Wesleyan leaving me two spots open. I have already admitted I would have put Ohio Wesleyan in in that case, but I don’t know who my second team was. I wouldn’t have left in any of the teams I dropped and the others I was considering didn’t make as strong a case in my opinion. So, Amherst (and Wesleyan by default right now) stay… and I second-guess myself the rest of the week.

Dropped Out:

Neumann (Previously 22)
This was the only team that had a chance to stay on my ballot, honestly. But the loss to Rosemont kills me. This is not a shot at the Ravens who I think is a very improved team, but to stay on my ballot from the CSAC, you have to dominate the conference. The loss to Rosemont doesn’t prove that to me. As good as Neumann is, it seems they are still trying to figure out personnel and maybe overlooking opponents. Both of those are red flags for me.

St. Thomas return to Dave’s Top 25 was short-lived.

St. Thomas (Previously 23)
I seriously considered replacing the Tommies with Carleton which would have been that second team I mentioned I was looking for to replace Amherst and Wesleyan (to go along with OWU). Carleton beat St. Thomas to end their eight-game winning streak and extend  the Knights, then, 10-game winning streak. For St. Thomas, that loss concerned me for a squad that had turned it around and looked to be on it’s way to another MIAC regular season title. And I didn’t want to vote for Carleton, because I was worried the win would be the emotional climax and they would stumble after it. Interestingly, St. Thomas lost their next game maybe revealing their emotional climax had been reached and Carleton dominated in their next game maybe revealing a new team for my ballot next week.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Previously 25)
I knew this would happen. Almost immediately after putting CMS back on my ballot for the second time this season and just after convincing myself they were going to continue dominating the SCIAC… they lost to Pomonoa-Pitzer and before they could stop the bleeding La Verne knocked them down another peg. Just can’t vote for CMS who went from having a Pool C chance if they needed it… to having to now win to get in to the NCAA tournament.

I think that about covers it. Don’t forget Hoopsville will be on air Wednesday afternoon shortly after the Regional Rankings are published and will be on air Thursday and Sunday nights starting at 7:00PM. Also, please consider donating to the Hoopsville Fundraising efforts. We want to stay on the air for years to come and your public television-esque support is very much appreciated.

And if you are looking for my thoughts from earlier in the year, here you go:
Week 10
Week 7
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 10

Did you watch the Hoopsville Marathon? You can catch up On Demand by clicking the picture.

Well, let me start by apologizing for those who like to read these blogs for not getting you one the last few weeks. I had other obligations or items on my plate the last few weeks that didn’t allow me the time to post. I have also been under the weather dealing with a cold and exhaustion (notice, Hoopsville was canceled Sunday) which hasn’t helped.

Many of you might be curious how I voted, so let’s start there:

Week 8 Week 9
1 Babson Babson
2 Whitman Whitman
3 Rochester Ramapo
4 Chris. Newport Rochester
5 Denison Chris. Newport
6 Ramapo UW-River Falls
7 Whitworth Denison
8 UW-River Falls Washington Univ.
9 Tufts Tufts
10 New Jersey City New Jersey City
11 Salisbury Amherst
12 Amherst Whitworth
13 Washington Univ. Hope
14 Hope Salisbury
15 Marietta Marietta
16 St. Norbert St. Norbert
17 Hardin-Simmons Guilford
18 Guilford Middlebury
19 UW-Eau Claire North Park
20 Augustana Hardin-Simmons
21 Middlebury Ripon
22 Wesleyan Wesleyan
23 North Park Oswego State
24 Benedictine Benedictine
25 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Neumann
Dropped Out Endicott (#14), Neumann (#25) UW-Eau Claire (#19), Augustana (#20), Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (#25)

As you can see, movement in a few different places. I toyed with some teams in and out despite maybe not losing. I also made some serious shifts to those who seem to be struggling especially in conference play.

While things have been a little less volatile in the Top 25 – if not the entire division – it doesn’t make things easier. I think there is a significant cap in the area of 7-15. I am not comfortable with a number of teams where I have them ranked. Many are too high. However, I have to put someone in those slots. I have to fill in the holes. So teams are going to rise further up than I want them, but I don’t have anyone better to put in those slots.

This week as was the same. Teams in spots I am not convinced are deserving of that ranking, but I can explain that with those individual teams. So without further delay, here is my ballot for this week’s D3hoops.com Top 25:

1 – Babson (Unchanged)
I’ve got nothing to add here. I think they are the best in the country being led by arguably the best player in the country. Haven’t changed my mind all season.

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)
I’ll be honest, I am nervous now. The Blue nearly lost to Linfield. I had said on Hoopsville recently that I thought the past weekend could easily be overlooked by Whitman after beating Whitworth for the second weekend. However, I thought they would have struggled with Pacific though their struggles with Linfield maybe makes more sense. The Blues can’t overlook even the weakest of opponents. Teams this high in the rankings don’t do that.

3 – Rochester (Up 1)
I didn’t like the Yellowjackets prior weekend in the UAA and was nervous with the immediate turn around against the same opponents it would not end well. Rochester actually put their foot down. I’ve been worried they might fade like they did last season, but maybe that isn’t going to happen. That said, EPIC showdown with Washington University this weekend that could determine the conference automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but Rochester cannot overlook Chicago this weekend as well.

Despite CNU’s success, Dave is wondering what’s been going on with Marcus Carter. Courtesy: CNU Athletics

4 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
The Captains look strong, but I would feel a lot more confident if their All-American Marcus Carter was having an All-American type season. My concern is he hasn’t looked nearly as strong this year and that could turn into a liability moving forward especially if the Captains hope to get back to Salem.

5 – Ramapo (Down 2)
Maybe I got a little too overzealous moving the Roadrunners to No. 3 overall last week. I liked what I was seeing. They were controlling their opponents in a usually tough NJAC. And while the NJAC hasn’t been as strong this year, I didn’t expect Ramapo to struggle against TCNJ this past week. Oops. Ramapo is a very good team, but they can’t allow dings like they experienced this past week. I was willing to move them further down the poll, but they ran into an area where a lot of losses had taken place and moving them behind teams below them didn’t work – they aren’t worse than those teams.

6 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)
Despite the fact the Falcons took their first WIAC loss of the season to Oshkosh, I didn’t move them. The main reason is I didn’t have any where further down to put them. The second reason is I would have been shocked to see any team go undefeated in the WIAC. I do think the loss to Oshkosh is a little concerning considering how UWRF has been handling the rest of their conference schedule. However, Oshkosh is a good team and certainly capable of getting that win. The biggest surprise was it was on the Falcons’ home court.

Dave isn’t that sold on WashU, but this weekend’s clash with Rochester will help him answer questions for both teams. Courtesy: WashU Athletics

7 – Washington Univ. (Up 1)
Now we enter the area I am not comfortable with in terms of where teams are ranked. I know a lot of people are impressed with WashU… I am not blown away with them. I feel they are a 10-15 ranked team who is certainly having a good season. My concerns were made clear in their game at Case Western Reserve when the Bears basically blew a 16-point lead with a CRWU team that just wasn’t close to 100%. The odd part is WashU had a number of missing players the second time around with CRWU and the game was over early (correction, I have this confused with the Case missing players against Chicago; I apologize). Big match-up coming against Rochester with Emory lurking as well. I will be watching this weekend’s games closely.

8 – Amherst (Up 2)
No surprise the Lord Jeffs got past Tufts this weekend. And Amherst has done nothing but win since they lost to Wesleyan and Trinity a few weekends prior, but this is another team that right now I feel more comfortable between 10-15. The conference has exposed some flaws and I am just not as sold on the purple As as I used to be – heck, I wasn’t even that sold when they were in the 2-slot on my ballot. Maybe chalk all of this up to how crazy parity has become that there aren’t any bad losses anymore.

9 – Whitworth (Up 3)
Their loss to Whitman basically sealed the fact to me that the Pirates are the same dominating force we have grown accustom to, so their ranking in the Top 10 is an uneasy one. I like them closer to 15, but had to move them up to 9. They had a far more solid weekend than Whitman, but maybe realizing they can’t control the conference has taken some of the pressure off. This just isn’t as strong a squad as I am used to, so a Top 10 ranking seems strange to me.

Hope cracks into the D3hoops.com Top 25 despite the fact Dave has them tenth on his ballot.

10 – Hope (Up 3)
I may be higher on the Dutchmen than others. There is something about this squad I like. I can’t put an exact finger on it, but the fact they are staying above the fray in the rest of the MIAA may have something to do with it. Who knows. Again, maybe not a Top 10 squad, but I like what I see.

11 – Marietta (Up 3)
The Pioneers seem to be getting their swagger back, but I am not convinced they have solved the problems that plagued them in the middle of the season. The recent win over John Carroll gave me hope they found some answers, but I still think they can be exposed by team who has quality players inside. I don’t love Marietta this high right now until I see how they finish the season, but here is where I have to put them.

12 – St. Norbert (Up 4)
The Green Knights did a nice job to avenge their lone conference loss in … years. I think they are a quality team, but not sure they aren’t more like 15th or 16th in the country. That said, they are proving to be a tough out and once again control how the MWC will be determined this season.

Middlebury could turn out to be the most dangerous team in the NESCAC.

13 – Middlebury (Up 5)
The Panthers have quietly been assassins. They have been rolling over teams that leading up to the game looked like they might be formidable. Just look at the recent game against Hamliton! I wasn’t really buying in to Middlebury earlier this season, but they actually might be the most dangerous team in the NESCAC. Forget Tufts and Amherst or even Trinity, Middlebury could control this conference before things are settled.

14 – Salisbury (Unchanged)
I wasn’t as aggressive with the Seagulls because I think they are playing with fire. This is a team that sometimes plays too close to their opponent’s level than they should. York (Pa.) beat them earlier this season and Salisbury barely got past them the second time on the Seagulls home floor. I just don’t think they know how to put teams away and that will mean teams hanging around and maybe knocking Salisbury off one or two more times this season (not counting a third game with CNU). I would feel far more comfortable if Salisbury actually blew the doors off more of their opponents like they are capable of doing.

15 – Guilford (Up 2)
The ODAC is not something to write home about this season. Competitive, sure, but not top notch. That said, Guilford is quietly having a pretty impressive season. The loss to Hampdon-Sydney did more than concern me, but the Quakers are back in control of the ODAC which could have a lot of ramifications later. The biggest trick, Guilford cannot rest on their laurels. There is an argument that only one team from the ODAC will make the NCAA tournament this year no matter how things turn out (I don’t agree, but the argument is a good one). Guilford has to not trip up between now and February 26.

16 – New Jersey City (Down 6)
What the Gothic Knights did this past week is exactly what I said they and others in the NJAC can’t afford to do this season. Prior to seeing the SOS numbers last week, I thought NJAC was in good shape to have two teams in the NCAA tournament. But the recent SOS numbers (not from the NCAA, but pretty accurate) tell a different story. With numbers that low, a team like NJCU cannot lose to a team like Rowan. I don’t care how good people say teams in the NJAC are, the top teams have to keep beating the teams behind them or this is once again going to be a one-bid conference especially in a year where the middle and bottom haven’t ended up being as good as expected. The loss to Rowan could ended up being bad for many reasons besides me losing confidence that the Gothic Knights were underappreciated… not to mention a squad with such a good defense gives up 90+ in the loss. Not good. Not good at all.

Brian Sortino and Oswego State are once again proving to be a dangerous second-half team. Courtesy: Oswego State Athletics

17 – Oswego State (Up 5)
Tell me if you have heard this story before? Oswego State has some questionable results early in the season, people forget about them, and they come storming back in the second half of the season. The Lakers now have control of the SUNYAC thanks to their recent win over Brockport. However, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. This team is full of talent, but there are teams that tend to leave me wanting more and Oswego has been one of those teams… will they do it again?

18 – Denison (Down 11)
Ouch. Losers of three straight and seeing their two-game advantage in the NCAC disappear completely the Big Red now find themselves a game back of Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan with losses to those two in this stretch. Not good. Denison, I feel, has been a very good team who has taken advantage of Ohio Wesleyan’s disastrous start to the season and a below-par-Wooster squad. However, they had gotten to February still playing terrific basketball. This is the worse time possible for a meltdown. I hope Denison is able to figure things out, because they are also dealing with a shockingly low SOS which means these losses could ended up costing them a chance at returning to the NCAA tournament.

19 – Tufts (Down 10)
Normally a single loss to a conference foe, especially a very good one like Amherst, wouldn’t drop a team ten spots. However, Tufts is having to play with their most important player: Tom Palleschi. His presence inside makes the Jumbos a difficult team to play and beat. Without him, the squad has been exposed to the tune of three losses in four games. Will Palleschi return? Not sure. He might be back in two or so weeks… he might be done for the season. Sadly, the season may go down with their player. That is sad to say for a team that played above expectations last season and seemed to be above the NESCAC fray all season.

UW-Whitewater gets on Dave’s ballot for the first time this season. Are the Warhawks really that good this year? Courtesy: UW-Whitewater Athletics

20 – UW-Whitewater (Unranked)
This is the first time I am voting for the Warhawks and I don’t love the vote. Sorry. The out-of-conference schedule was nothing to be proud of and the three-game losing streak to start conference play was what I thought would happen – bringing UWW back to earth. However, they have gotten back to flying and have won seven straight with four of those being on the road. The toughest test will be this week at UW-Stevens Point and at UW-River Falls. After this week I will either be comfortable with Whitewater on my ballot or shaking my head as to why I chose them over someone else. Looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

21 – Swarthmore (Unranked)
As strange as this is going to sound, I was impressed with the Garnet’s overtime win at McDaniel. I saw the game in person and really liked what I saw from Swarthmore. McDaniel has a habit of playing to the level of it’s opponent which in this case meant playing a far better game than they have shown in the past, so I didn’t knock Swarthmore for having to go into overtime against the Green Terror – especially at McDaniel. The Garnet’s inside game is better than I expected, though their bigs may have to play a little quicker for them to be more dangerous in March.

22 – Neumann (Up 3)
I am not blown away with Neumann, but they keep winning especially as the target gets bigger and bigger. I can’t figure out their personnel changes in the second semester, but they keep winning. One-loss overall and playing in the CSAC makes it hard to stand out, but I had been told at the beginning of the season to keep an eye on Neumann and so far watching them has been good enough to get them ranked… even move them up this week. I had actually sold them when they had a couple of close games they shouldn’t have had in conference, but I am also willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point.

St. Thomas is back in the conversation and in control of the MIAC race after a less-than-Tommies start to the season.

23 – St. Thomas (Unranked)
Well, the Tommies are back. After a near-disastrous start that had them in the middle of the MIAC pack, St. Thomas has regained control of the conference and seem to be playing on a different level. Who knows what Coach John Tauer has psychologically down with his program, but it has worked! Great turn around that I just couldn’t keep unranked any more. The finish to the season is not going to be easy, but with two wins over both Bethel and St. John’s already in the Tommies’ pocket, UST is in the driver’s seat once again.

24 – Benedictine (Unchanged)
I don’t have much to say here. The Eagles have been stuck in the 24-slot for weeks with me. Their first conference loss didn’t give me much hope, but they also continue to show they may be as good as last year’s team. No, I am not ranking them accordingly because I feel there may be some smoke and mirrors, but in the meantime I keep watching with no reason to move them up … or down.

25 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Unranked)
CMS and Neumann have been in and out of my ballot for a few weeks. They are both 1-loss teams I can’t figure out. CMS first got on the ballot when they easily handled their first above .500 squads of the season. They came off when they barely got passed Caltech. They continue to win and a one-loss team looks better than some of the three, four, five, even six-loss teams. Not sure where CMS is going to go this season should they make the NCAA tournament, but here’s hoping they show how good they seem to be instead of it just being the usual beat-down of West Coast teams.

Dropped Out:

North Park’s Juwan Henry has missed the last few games for the Vikings who have now lost three of their last six.

North Park (Previously #19):
Injuries and losses are revealing the North Park team I thought we were going to see. They have two preseason All-Americans (only two to have that this year), but one appears out with an injury and the rest of the supporting casts doesn’t seem able to produce like they have in the first-half of the season. The Vikings are 3-3 in their last 6 and 6-4 since the New Year. Not that impressive anymore.

Hardin-Simmon (Previously #20):
I have really liked the Cowboys, but two losses in a row (before a win to stop the bleeding) did not impress me. They have some of the best talent in the country, but they may have just set-up the “win-or-go-home” scenario for the conference playoffs. Not sure how HSU gets in the NCAA tournament unless they win out – though, we haven’t seen the first regional rankings to better understand their situation.

Ripon (Previously #21):
Just when I buy in to the Ty Sabin-led squad, they lose two in a row. I wasn’t surprised when St. Norbert beat them, though the 17-point spread was eyebrow-raising, but to then follow that with a loss to Lake Forest was disappointing. The giveth and they taketh away.

Wesleyan (Previously #22):
The Cardinals are a team I have said was worth watching in what is the deepest and craziest NESCAC we have seen in quite some time, but they are in the same boat as others in terms of not losing games they shouldn’t. Williams nipped Wesleyan in the only game the Cardinals had last week! That speaks louder to me – just one game and lose it – than anything else. There was no other game to distract the team – just one – and they lost. Wesleyan is still dangerous, but not as fearful as beforehand.

There you have it. Another week down. Couple more to go and we will be talking about who is in and out of the NCAA tournament. I will hopefully have time get you those ballots as they are filed each week.

Don’t forget to tune into Hoopsville the rest of the season! We will be on air for a special Regional Rankings show on Wednesday afternoon along with our usual Thursday and Sunday night coverage starting at 7PM those nights.

Other ballots:
Week 7
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’16-’17): Week 7

Let me start this week’s blog out by apologizing to those who look forward to this series for not producing a blog last week. Things got a bit busy and by the time I had a moment to write it, there was no point (it would have been dated).

So, let’s start this week by looking at last week’s ballot:

Joey Flannery and Babson continue to be my top pick for the best team in the country, but no one is blowing me away with any kind of dominance.

1 – Babson
2 – Whitman
3 – Rochester
4 – Christopher Newport
5 – Amherst
6 – Ramapo
7 – Whitworth
8 – North Park
9 – UW-Eau Claire
10 – Denison
11 – UW-River Falls
12 – New Jersey City
13 – Tufts
14 – Salisbury
15 – St. Norbert
16 – Benedictine
17 – Endicott
18 – Neumann
19 – Hardin-Simmons
20 – Hope
21 – Marietta
22 – Middlebury
23 – Swarthmore
24 – Carthage
25 – Guilford

Dropped Out:
Wesleyan (Previously 10)
Brockport (Previously 22)
Wartburg (Previously 23)
Williams (Previously 24)

With that information now out there, let’s move on to this week, shall we?

The Top 25 continues to be a blood bath. There were 15 losses featuring 13 teams in the overall Week 6 D3hoops.com Top 25. My ballot featured 13 losses amongst 11 teams. In the last two weeks, 28 losses involving 19 teams. I don’t want to go further back and do that math. All in all, it leaves a voter like myself scratching my head so hard I might start losing hair! In the last few weeks, I have also basically thrown a grenade at the entire thing and waited for the dust to settle. I am using too many grenades.

Working on my Top 25 ballot this week. Looks neat, but this is before I got very far into it.

This week I just shook my head, erased the previous week, penciled in the top two and went back to the drawing board. However, I didn’t move teams as much as I thought I would. I noticed that a bulk of the losses have happened at the top of bottom, not in the middle. That ends up providing a bit of a cushion for teams like Amherst who lose two in a row and makes me get aggressive in removing others with only one loss when I want to get new teams on the ballot.

The other challenge is staying consistent on my thinking. I gutted Wesleyan the week before for losing three straight after I put them tenth. This year I have been more aggressive and simply removed the Cardinals from ballot. I have treated those who lose once every week or two a little less harshly, sometimes not moving them at all (depending on the circumstances). Then suddenly I realize they have four or more losses and maybe I haven’t been harsh enough. And how do I treat Amherst who lost twice (including once to Wesleyan)? Harshly like Wesleyan? Gently like Babson? Suddenly the thinking and the plan are being challenged from all directions? Do I change my methods? Do I adapt? Do I just go with what my gut tells me each week? Neither of them make it easy.

Usually, I try and go on a case-by-case basis, but that starts to get murky when you are talking about 30-50 teams, and countless losses or results, under consideration at any one time.

So, I tried a bit of a hybrid. Look at each team on a case-by-case basis, but also have the bigger picture in mind when it comes to consistency. I’ll admit, I am not sure how well I did this week. Like a lot of weeks, I could have gone around and around and around with teams and rankings. I could have changed my ballot every ten minutes and still be doing it right now if there hadn’t been a deadline. I was even thinking about different options while hanging out with my kids at the science center for part of the day on Monday.

Connecticut College defeated Amherst this past weekend continuing the trend that any good team can beat some of the country’s best this season.

The end result is what I am thinking this week, but I may blow it all up again next week and start over. The fact teams at .500 could have a legitimate chance to defeat a Top 10 team used to be pretty rare. It simply isn’t these days. There are very good teams who for whatever reason have taken more losses than expected and pose a real threat to what appear to be dominating teams. At the same time, some of the dominating teams just aren’t as superior as we are accustomed which allows their flaws to be even more revealing.

I cannot say with any confidence I know who the top teams in the country are right now. I can give you who I think they are, but already in the last few weeks those thoughts have been completely second guessed. Marietta is a damn good team, but can you explain why they are 11-4? Amherst has looked good, but suddenly they drop two games in a row! There is a good chance the best teams in the country don’t have a resume to match. Those teams in the 10-20 range very well could be who we see in Salem come the third weekend of March. The teams up top may not have had their “moments” that show us who they really are – stumbling for a few games after being revealed. The trick will be if those “moments” come in the next few weeks or ill-timed in March.

With that in mind, here is my attempt at gauging who the Top 25 teams in the country are.

1 – Babson (Unchanged)

2 – Whitman (Unchanged)

Sam Borst-Smith may have played well, but Rochester couldn’t escape their own gym without a loss against WashU.

3 – Rochester (Unchanged)
Surprise! Yeah. I didn’t move the Yellow Jackets despite a rough weekend including a loss to WashU. The more I tried to move to Rochester, the less likely it became. I simply don’t see who I would put them behind after just their first loss of the season. Now, I will not say I am comfortable. I have liked Rochester all year, but losing at the Palestra and having to come from behind in the first game of the weekend has me uneasy. It is only going to get tougher from here since they have to travel to Chicago and WashU later in the season… not to mention play the rest of the UAA schedule.

4 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
I’ll be honest. I have seriously thought about moving the Captains down despite the fact they keep winning. However, I keep in mind the fact they only have a second loss because of a lucky heave from Salisbury right before the holiday break. That leaves just a dismantling by Marietta at the beginning of the season. I have tried to take more stock in that loss considering the struggles Marietta is now having, but I have leaned on thinking the Marietta squad I saw then is drastically different than the one currently playing and the same goes for CNU. However, the Captains have their flaws, especially inside and I know their opponents will try and expose those flaws. Top five feels too high.

How good is Denison? Dave has decided to buy in, but we shall see how long this lasts.

5 – Denison (Up 5)
The Big Red have skyrocketed the last few weeks in my poll. I have tried to remain a bit subdued at the fact they have only lost one game, but at the same time there is a thought that if a team has gotten this far in this season without more losses they must be good. This isn’t exactly true across the board. Denison’s strength of schedule right now is surprisingly low. However, while the wins over Wooster, Ohio Wesleyan, and DePauw aren’t staggering… I do know those are good programs who appear to be gaining strength after a difficult start to the season. My thinking is Denison may be better than advertised, so I am riding the wave. Unfortunately, we probably won’t get a chance to see if I am right until February 1-8 when Denison plays at Ohio Wesleyan, vs. Wooster, and at DePauw. The NCAC season will be decided that week.

6 – Ramapo (Unchanged)
Surprise again! Another team takes its first loss and doesn’t move. In this sense, I remain consistent. Like Babson earlier this season, I didn’t punish Ramapo for losing to New Jersey City, on the road, in overtime. Yes, NJCU is not at full strength which some could read into and say that means the Roadrunners aren’t that good if they barely got by the Gothic Knights. However, I also know NJCU will take you out of your offensive game no matter their personnel, so I chalk this up as expected. I did not expect any NJAC team to get through the conference unscathed. That is the case with Ramapo and thus one of the better teams I have seen in person isn’t going to get dinged for taking a loss I pretty much expected.

7 – Whitworth (Unchanged)

8 – North Park (Unchanged)

9 – UW-River Falls (Up 2)

10 – Tufts (Up 3)
Tufts is tough to read. I almost feel like it is smoke and mirrors. Are they really a top ten team as I have had for quite a bit of the season? Or have they just floated there because I have to put someone tenth. The win over Middlebury gave me confidence the Jumbos may be for real, but Wesleyan and Connecticut College loom large this week.

11 – UW-Eau Claire (Down 2)

12 – New Jersey City (Unchanged)
Odd week for the Gothic Knights. Lose earlier to Stockton, but recover to beat Ramapo in overtime at home. NJCU would have gone down based on the loss to Stockton; risen based on the win over Ramapo. Thus, they stay where they are. This might be one of the best defensive teams in the country right now even if they are not at full health. They’ve got a couple of good road tests coming up they need to survive.

13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)

14 – Endicott (Up 3)

15 – Salisbury (Down 1)
The Sea Gulls are starting to worry me. They seem to struggle to stay focused. Two losses in Las Vegas was shocking, but certainly understandable considering they played two of the better teams there. However, they could have also come out of South Point Arena 2-0. Then they show up at York (Penn.) who is playing without their best player inside and Salisbury rolls over. They should have dominated. Their team is designed to dominate squads like York who are rebuilding. I need to see Salisbury show they can take on all comer before I start thinking about bailing on what I think is a very talented squad.

Mason Reyer and the Quakers have quietly stormed to the top of the ODAC. Courtesy: Guilford Athletics (Ava Nadal)

16 – Guilford (Up 9)
I have been quietly watching the Quakers for weeks now. They, in return, have been quietly cruising through the ODAC and find themselves tied for first place. They have won eight straight including dominating Roanoke. I think a lot of voters don’t know what to do with ODAC for good reason. The top has come back to earth a little bit, so it’s hard to put a lot of faith in the teams at the top. However, Guilford’s two losses are by a combined eight points and when they win, they tend to win easily. The true test may not come until January 28 against Virginia Wesleyan, but keep an eye on this week against Emory and Henry and Hampden-Sydney.

17 – Amherst (Down 12)
Guh. Talk about a bad week for the men’s squad. The loss to Wesleyan, okay. But to compound it with a loss to Connecticut College? The former Lord Jeffs have now lost not only two in a row, but three of their last four and four of their last six! It’s like the Babson game was all they were focused on. And it isn’t going to get any easier. The next four are against Bowdoin, Colby, Williams, and Trinity who all spell blood in the water. I can’t say for sure why Amherst struggled this past weekend, but rest assured the next four opponents have seen why and will try and exploit it as well.

18 – Hardin-Simmons (Up 1)

19 – Hope (Up 1)

Jack Knupp and WashU haven’t blown me away this season, but their win over Rochester is too difficult to ignore. Courtesy: WashU Athletics

20 – Washington Univ. (Unranked)
Ok. I finally voted for the Bears. I know a lot of voters thinking highly of WashU (thus why they are 11th despite my 20th place [previously not on my ballot] vote). I am not sure why. They are 11-3 which is obviously good, but they have lost to UW-Eau Claire by 14, Central by four, and Illinois Wesleyan by a point. They then needed overtime to beat a below-their-average Wooster squad, barely survived a tough Chicago team, and needed to comeback against an overrated (by me previously) Emory team. Yes, UWEC is in my Top 25 and IWU has been in and out (and, spoiler, still flirting). Prior to this weekend, the Bears just didn’t excite me. However, they did beat Rochester on the road (the second game of the Atlanta-Rochester trip to boot) and that got me thinking: sometimes teams don’t win pretty, they win ugly. Maybe WashU is one of those teams. Not sure how much we will learn in the next three weekends should they win (vs. NYU, vs. Brandeis; at Carnegie Mellon, at Case Western Reserve; vs. Carnegie Mellon, vs. Case Western Reserve). Lose? May answer my questions more fully. For now, I’m on the bandwagon. Hope it doesn’t hurt as much as it did for St. Louis Cardinals fans on the Jason Heyward bandwagon last offseason (that’s an inside joke).

21 – Marietta (Unchanged)

22 – Middlebury (Unchanged)

23 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The Cardinals are either suffering from whiplash or learning to play the yo-yo. They went from tenth to unranked to 23rd on my ballot in three weeks. They went from ninth to unranked to 24th on the D3hoops.com poll. Wow, what a ride. But when you beat Amherst and close out the weekend ending your three-game losing streak with a second straight win at Trinity… it is bound to happen. Wonder where they land next week after playing Emmanuel, Tufts, and Bates.

Tahron Harvey and the Eagles suffered their first conference loss in 34 games (conference record) against Concordia (Wis.).

24 – Benedictine (Down 8)
I seriously considered removing the Eagles from the Top 25. Yes, it was a single loss, but it was in conference where to be in the Top 25 they probably should be dominating. I realize it is hard to keep winning in any conference (which makes St. Norbert’s run even more impressive), but I was very concerned with the loss to Concordia (Wis.). The only thing that stopped me from removing them was feeling I might have been too harsh, but more importantly not sure who I would replace them with. Plenty of candidates, that’s for sure. Just not sure if any of them have proven anything more than Benedictine. We shall see.

25 – Neumann (Down 7)
I also nearly removed the Knights as well. This might have been one of the few times I expected a team to keep winning. Or more appropriately, I expected that if Neumann were to lose it would be to Cabrini or Gwynedd Mercy. Not to Rutgers-Camden who was previously 1-9 (now 3-11). Though, I did consider that Camden is playing far better now and nearly knocked off Ramapo as well. However, the last few weeks I have noticed that Neumann’s leading scorer is missing. James Butler hasn’t shown up on a box score in awhile.

Dropped Out:

Cam Wiley and the Garnet lost two last week by an average of 17.5 points dropping them out of my ballot.

Swarthmore (Previously 23)
The Garnet had a rough week. They lost two in a row and neither of the games were close. Johns Hopkins handled them 70-52 in Baltimore and Franklin & Marshall steamrolled the Garnet 83-66 at Swarthmore. Not sure what happened. I don’t see any missing players. This was a chance for Swarthmore to take firm control of an okay Centennial Conference this season and instead it is has turned things into a free-for-all. Maybe I had put too much stock in the Garnet.

Carthage (Previously 24)
Speaking of free-for-all, the CCIW is shaping up that way as well. I thought Carthage was maybe turning into a Cinderella and setting themselves up nicely, but they then lose to Illinois Wesleyan. Not a bad loss, but IWU is without preseason All-American Trevor Seibring (back) right now. Add to the fact that the Red Men barely got past Illinois Tech and I start to see red flags. CCIW is always competitive and good, but maybe this year it doesn’t have a dominating side like in years past.

So, there you go. An interesting week to say the least. There are already losses on my ballot like North Park who lost on Monday night to Manchester. I am sure the losses will mount up once again and I will be back to the drawing board again.

But I do enjoy this. My struggles to find the best 25 teams in Division III men’s basketball means that there is plenty of good basketball to go around. Last March was awesome with how the tournament played out. I can’t imagine this year’s event will be just as exciting. We have a lot of good teams who put on a show each and every night. I am not complaining in the least. Gives us more to talk about.

Previous Ballots:
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Preseason 2016

Tis the season. Practices have started, games are a mere weeks away, and the first men’s Top 25 ballot has been cast. The excitement to start the season is certainly amping up and after looking through the teams I considered for my ballot… I am expecting one thing – a wide open season.

Last year one of my most common statements was how much parity there was in Division III, especially when you got outside of the Top 10. This year may see that parity go even further. There are so many good teams that have reloaded, great teams that have lost key personnel, championship favorites who are rebuilding or retooling, and championship favorites who haven’t had to reload – they are already loaded.

There are also teams who are emerging on the radar thanks to putting together several years of consistently better basketball. Their experienced players are juniors or seniors who are poised to make a run. Then there are the usual suspects who have gone through coaching changes or lost a high number of those experienced players after making their run. All of those kinds of teams create a high number of question marks.

Parity is great for Division III basketball. It allows more teams to be in the conversation, it makes the regular season fascinating in terms of match-ups, important games, and outcomes that in mid-November mean something in late February. Thanks to the SOS guidelines and the message that teams have to schedule good teams to make sure they can secure an at-large bid (or hosting opportunity) in the tournament along with the parity, the regular season is exciting.

However selfishly… parity is a pain in the ass for Top 25 voters!

Every year the preseason ballot is the most difficult. Obviously, trying to read tea leaves and understand how returning players, transfers or freshmen, and departing players will impact a team is difficult. Then throw in other variables like coaching changes or the quality of coaching coupled with trends we have seen over the years makes things more challenging. But now that parity has made Division III basketball basically a wide open race, Top 25 voters are left grasping at straws, throwing darts, picking names out of a hat, or whatever random method they want to use to try and pick and place teams.

This year’s preseason ballot was by far the hardest just a year after I thought that preseason ballot was the hardest. I knew who I was going to vote number one practically from the time I walked out of the Salem Civic Center last March – though, I gave myself the flexability to look through everything and everyone first before finalizing that decision. But after nearly an entire day (say six hours?) working on my ballot earlier this week… I had only put in the number one team. The rest of my ballot was blank.

The arguments were endless circles.

  • Do I think Team A is better than Team B? Yes.
  • Do I think Team B is better than Team C? Yes.
  • Do I think Team C is better than Team A? Yes. Damn it.
  • I think Team A should be number five on my ballot. But there are no other teams I think should be above them. The problem is Team A is not a number two team, I don’t think. Well what about Team B? No. Same problem. Team C? Nope. Team D? Heck no. Well, someone has to be number two!
  • How about numbers 20-25… I only have 15 teams to consider here… nope, make it 20. Well, who deserves to be there? No one; all of them. Darn it. Well I have to rank Team M, they are always a Top 25 team. Do they deserve to be in the poll? Um, maybe not?! What about taking a flyier on Team N? Sure, why not? Wait, but why? This isn’t helping.

The inner monologue, that spilled into out loud conversation with myself might have been hysterical – or sad – to listen to for someone on the outside of my head. I talked to a few other Top 25 voters I enjoy chatting with – picking their brain – they were all thinking completely different than I was. One had a team at number two I wasn’t considering higher than 15! That had me do an about face and erase everything and start over only to then realize after doing that a few times that I couldn’t justify that high a jump even though my colleague’s justification made sense especially to him.

Finally, I just decided to buckle up and start plugging away. I was going to leave teams off I didn’t feel comfortable. I was going to include teams I certainly feel are risky. I was also going to put teams too high, too low, or just plainly in the wrong slot. There was nothing I could do about it; my ballot was going to be far from perfect.

Then when I saw the final results and the expanded voting information I chuckled. I wasn’t the only one. EVERYONE struggled with this ballot.

So here is my D3hoops.com Men’s Top 25 Preseason ballot – completely while watching my beloved Cubbies implode (or never lite the fuse) against the Mets. Please understand that I wrote everything about my struggle prior to point out that I am not completely comfortable with my ballot. I am sure that while writing these teams out, I will find ways to argue with what I have done already. So yes, I may have some teams too high and some teams too low. I probably included a team that shouldn’t be there and left another out that is a no-brainer to you. It is what it is now that parity is the only way to describe Division III men’s basketball.

1 – Augustana
I am a little surprised this wasn’t a unanimous decision by the 25 voters (two going with Amherst – more on that later). Anyone who saw Augustana last year, saw them get to the national championship game, and knew they were pretty much bringing back the entire squad probably had Augustana penciled in to the number one slot on their preseason poll the day after last season ended. Augustana isn’t going to get through the season unscathed. The CCIW will be too difficult, but this is now a very experienced team with a deep NCAA tournament run under their belt. They know what needs to get done to bring a national title to the Mississippi River. The only thing that will stop them is themselves.

2 – Elmhurst
Nothing about the following 24 teams is rock solid. I am not positive anyone is in the right position and it start with the Blue Jays. Here is another team that returns nearly everyone after a really good season. Many would say Elmhurst appeared on the radar a year early last season. The advantage that has is this team now has plenty of experience to make them ready for the year. The disadvantage is they are not going to surprise anyone and have a bit of a target on their backs. I thought Elmhurst was maybe number five… but I just couldn’t wrap my head around another team being head of them. When I was able to make that argument, another team would debunk it (see my Team A, Team B, Team C debate above). However, Elmhurst is poised to have a terrific season, but like Augustana just playing in the CCIW could be their downfall.

3 – Chicago
I realize I might be buying too much stock in the Maroons. I suspect Mike McGrath will be calling or texting me soon after reading this to either laugh at me or give me all the reasons his team isn’t that good. I get it. I had them in my Top 25 last year in the preseason and thought despite the drawbacks (and injuries) that they were that good. They struggled. But they struggled because honestly this is the season they probably will be the best of the UAA. Number three is high, but like Elmhurst I couldn’t find a reason to keep them lower. I think Chicago will be the clear favorite in a somewhat down – certainly reshuffling – UAA and after dealing with the challenges of last year will be in position to impress this season.

4 – Whitworth
I might be buying too much stock here as well. Despite being more guard orientated than in years past, I think the Pirates could be a really good team this season. They don’t exactly have a challenging start to the season (La Verne, CalTech, and Hamline are part of their Division III non-conference start), but the start could give them a ton of confidence before the middle part of their season when they see Calvin and Mary Hardin-Baylor at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. They do play Colorado College twice (why? No, WHY?!) which tripped them up a few seasons ago, but I don’t see a reason why Whitworth won’t win another conference title and maybe make the run to Salem everyone has been waiting for the last decade.

5 – Amherst
Two voters placed the Lord Jeffs #1. Honestly, I don’t get that. Of course they are going to be good. Last year was an odd year of reloading after a tremendous 2012-13 campaign lead to a national championship in Atlanta and a 2013-14 campaign ended in heartbreak in a dismantling at the hands of Williams in the semifinals. They had some great talent on those teams including Aaron Toomey. They didn’t have that talent, experience, or confidence last year and struggled accordingly. But they still finished second in the conference and made the NCAA tournament. The reason I could NOT vote Amherst number one was simple – they weren’t even on my Top 25 ballot finishing last season (they only got 8 points in the overall poll). They bring everyone back and will be good – because Dave Hixon always puts together good teams – but number five on my ballot feels high, so I’m not sure how anyone voted them #1. That being said, Amherst has proven sceptics wrong many times in the past.

6 – Catholic
The Cardinals have been planning this season for about four years. Last year wasn’t as successful as hoped thanks to injuries and other factors and that is the only reason I am a little apprehensive with this position for Catholic. Steve Howes has a group of athletes who have basically been playing tons of minutes since they were freshmen and made what should have been a deep run in the NCAA tournament in 2013 (before a rough scheduling gave them Williams in the second round and a key injury ruined their chances of winning that game). Last year and prior the team hasn’t lived up to the expectations. There certainly is good reason to think they won’t this year, either. The difference is I think the players themselves have the ability to get over the hump and get through adversity thanks to what they have had to deal with the last two years. The conference is ripe to be taken (Scranton will be down and the rest of the conference has had a ton of turnover) and they have some easy games early in the season to get them rolling.

7 – Mount Union
The Purple Raiders are ready to steal headlines from the football team in November and December… or at least try. I think Mount Union is ready to capitalize on what was a terrific campaign last season and make the OAC a rather interesting conference to watch this year. They have the experience in place, like a lot of teams, to make this season special. Again, they feel too high despite their recent success and current talent, but parity has allowed teams like Mount Union shine when we haven’t seen them in the past.

8 – St. Thomas
The Tommies are the Tommies. Meaning they will compete every year, probably win another conference title, and be a fascinating team to consider in the NCAA tournament. Last year ended with a thud in the first round and sometimes that is the perfect motiviation for a team that maybe expected to always make a deep run. The challenge is the MIAC is not longer a cake walk – which they experienced last season – but that could end up making the Tommies a much more dangerous team. They also start the season at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic along with games against UW-Stevens Point and others that tells me they are ready to test themselves early to be ready for March. The Tommies may be a slight dark horse this year.

9 – Marietta
The only reason I don’t have the Pioneers higher is I am worried about some of the talent they lost and I learned RaNeal Ewing is at least ineligible for the first semester – if he even is available at all this season. Ewing was Marietta’s best player, so consider that another loss – at least temporarily – for a really good team. Marietta will still be a tough team and will be in the national conversation all year. However, they may have a slight challenge to the start of the season with Ewing not on the court let alone the bench. The advantage Marietta has is they have a bit of an easy schedule to start before getting into conference play where John Carroll and Mount Union will make the OAC race one to watch. They also have a possible match-up with Wooster which will give everyone a terrific mid-season barometer of the Great Lakes Region.

10 – Babson
As good as Babson was last year, as terrific a run to Salem as they made, the trick this season will be how do they adjust to losing some key parts from last season and how does Joey Flannery adjust to a massive target on him with maybe less complementing parts to help him out. Flannery is a terrific talent and thanks to the fact the schedule this year is not that challenging nor is the NEWMAC as difficult as in years past (MIT, WPI, and Springfield will all be a bit down from their recent glory), the Beavers could go on a tremendous tear to start the season before facing Amherst in mid-December. That game has been highlighted at least by many as being the litmus test for both programs. Bates will then take three weeks off before facing another Northeast power in Bates. Those two games will give us plenty of information before Babson starts conference play in January.

11 – Virginia Wesleyan
The Marlins are an enigma as much as they are one of the most consistent teams in Division III. Every time Dave Macedo loses tremendous talent it is replaced with nearly as equal the talent either off the bench or fresh to the team. It is unbelievable the program that has been built near the shores of the Cheseapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The challenge this year, probably a far more guard orientated team than in the past (though, a program that has transitioned in that direction in the last few years). Will that leave them exposed in the ODAC which has usually featured a few big men that can change game plans? Will that leave them exposed in the NCAA tournament? It was great to see the Marlins back in Salem (or any ODAC team for that matter) last year. The question I have: is there talent hiding on the bench as there has been in the past that can help them get back there again. I just don’t see it right now.

12 – Stockton
Maybe I am buying in a little too much in the Ospreys, but something tells me last year’s good season won’t be disappearing any time soon. They did lose the NJAC Player of the Year, but they bring back talent that scored in double-figures. The challenge for Stockton is to stay consistent and not let things get to them. I witnessed the inconsistency and lack of mental stability last year first hand in the middle of the season which seemed to derail them for a few weeks. If they want people to fear them and the rest of the NJAC, they have got to take care of business both in and out of the conference or any love for Stockton will erode quickly.

13 – Ohio Wesleyan
The Battling Bishops had some struggles last year, but seemed to find their mojo at just the right time during conference play and seemed to have the NCAC in control – until the NCAC got really interesting late. What is scary is that Ohio Wesleyan pretty much brings back the entire squad (91% of the scoring) including conference scoring leader Claude Gray. The only reason I didn’t put the Battling Bishops any higher was the concern about consistent basketball. They need to play well against what will be a tough out of conference schedule before starting an always challenging NCAC schedule. If Ohio Wesleyan plays well against the likes of Capital, Calvin, and Illinois Wesleyan before facing Wooster in early Decemeber, they could get on a roll that will have them being one of the scarier teams this season.

14 – William Paterson
To be honest, I would love to see the Pioneers do well this season. After a few inconsistent seasons, William Paterson seems to have gotten back into the conversation and helped bring the NJAC back as one of the tougher conferences. But inconsistencies have been their arch nemesis. Losses against teams they should be dominating and apparent lack of focus in conference play (losing four out of five to close conference play last season was poor – they lost five of their last seven overall) kills any thoughts of jumping on the bandwagon. Their schedule this year starts with a big game against Mount Union, otherwise nothing about their out of conference schedule will give us any indication of how good they may really be.

15 – Emory
Despite what the Eagles have lost, something tells me this program isn’t going away. The have consistently won 19 or more games the last five seasons and Jason Zimmerman seems to get the most out of his players. They also don’t shy away from a challenge as they will take on St. Thomas and Stevenson at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic before facing off against Guilford, Oglethorpe, Maryville, and Virginia Wesleyan to name a few before conference play begins. I know they lost some terrific talent, but Emory seems to find new talent more often and once again could be a factor come NCAA tournament time.

16 – Hope
The Flying Dutchmen may finally be back as a team to watch out for. They return nearly the entire squad and nearly all their points and rebounds to a team that despite some tough points last season, battled to the very end under new head coach Greg Mitchell. Now he is more settled and I know working to improve his squad and who they play (especially getting rid of some non-Division III opponents) and could be worth watching this year. Opponents like UW-Stevens Point, Wheaton (Ill.), Carthage, UW-Platteville, and Messiah will have them ready for conference play to be sure.

17 – St. John Fisher
Here’s another team that has lost a bit of talent off a very good team from last year, but speculation is they will once again be the cream of the crop in the Empire 8. They too will test themselves early at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic along with a possible match-up with Ohio Wesleyan on the road. To be honest, I don’t expect the conference or the region to be overly challenging (though the E8 always produces a surprise team that you have to be concerned about), so the Cardinals have to prove themselves out of conference and they certainly have the schedule to do that. Some early success could bode well for some personal in new or larger roles.

18 – Dickinson
The Red Devils are very much like the St. John Fisher Cardinals in how much they have lost versus how much they still have that no one realizes along with what has been rumored as being a strong recruiting class that could make an immediate impact. Sure, the D3hoops.com Player of the Year is gone, but anyone who knows the Dickinson team will tell you that Gerry Wixted wasn’t the only threat. Remember, this Red Devils squad lost Adam Honig the year before after getting to the elite eight. They nearly repeated that feat last season. Dickinson is also not shying away from a test in the non-conference part of the schedule with St. John Fisher and Stevenson at the Hoopsville Classic followed by Catholic and Guilford later in the season. The question will be how will they do against Franklin and Marshall, Johns Hopkins, McDaniel and others in conference.

19 – East Texas Baptist
I realize I am one of 12 voters – half the poll – who voted for the Tigers. It’s at this point in the poll where I really started to struggle about who should be in and out of my Top 25. One part of me sees a lot of talent coming back to a squad that certainly impressed last season (and was the first omen of things to come at the final four with teams facing UW-Stevens Point). Another part of me worries they may have lost a little too much. They have a 22-game home winning streak still intact and with eight of their first 11 games being at home could use that as momentum to get the season rolling in the right direction. The Tigers aren’t exactly going to play anyone challenging except Hardin-Simmons early on, so that could help them as well. But I suspect conference play will be a bit tough because of teams like Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor, and Louisiana College.

20 – Eastern Connecticut
The talk I’ve been hearing in the coaching ranks is the Warriors have a really good team this year. I’m a little nervous to jump on board considering how many 20+ win seasons Eastern Connecticut has had in the last seven years (seven to be exact), but nothing that jumps out of me in the NCAA tournament – seemingly going backwards (three third round appearances [’10, ’11, ’12], two second round appearances [’13, ’14], and a first round appearance [‘15]). What is really interesting with the Tigers this year is they start the season with three straight tournaments on the first three weekends of the season – all of them on the road. They then play a fourth tournament on the road right before Christmas. Those tournaments will include games against WPI and possibly Ramapo along with Trinity (Conn.) and Amherst mixed in. They will certainly have plenty of back-to-back experience should they make the NCAA tournament.

21 – Bates
I could have gone with Trinity (Conn.) here as well (I realize the Bantams are 12th overall, but I didn’t vote for them) and probably should have in hindsight. Something about how Bates was built last year gave me confidence. I know they return less of their scoring than Trinity does, but I like the fact Mike Boornazian, Marcus Delpeche, and Malcolm Delpeche are part of that trio returning. They all contributed solid points and having an actual center makes a big difference in Division III. It came down to a coin flip between the two squads and I went with Bates.

22 – Hardin-Simmons
I think the Cowboys are going to be dangerous and will make the ASC a heck of a fight all the way through February. Now, because of their conference schedule and the inability to get out of Texas this season (we have talked to them about coming to the Hoopsville Classic) they aren’t able to really test themselves. Trinity (Texas), Southwestern (twice), Schreiner, and Texas Lutheran are their out of conference games, so I will be both studying those results in a finer degree of latitude along with keeping an early eye on their conference games. Another interesting note about their schedule – not one weekend tournament. Those events tend to be pretty helpful to have under your belt come March.

23 – Wooster
I’m going to be blunt… it’s time for the Scots to stop being just the winningest team in Division III this century and live up to expectations that the title partly instills. Wooster once again loses good talent from a program that once again fell short last season. I don’t know the last time they didn’t win 20+ games, but last season the conference gave them fits and they eventually lost to streaking DePauw in the NCAC title game and fell short to Marietta in the NCAA Round of 16. I just feel Wooster is always in the Top 25 and rises steadily in the polls through the early part of the season only to lose a couple of games or not make waves in the NCAA tournament on a consistent basis. This year has an interesting bag of games against teams who in the past have been good, but will either be down this year or are emerging with unknown expectations. They also have a conference that is quite competitive and once again may not go through Wooster’s home gym.

24 – UW-Stevens Point
Last year I didn’t have the Pointers in my Top 25 for about two-thirds of the season. They didn’t start off with guns blazing, but they eventually got into a groove and what they were doing defensively was impressive. I didn’t buy in until late January, if memory serves. They had lost quite a few of their talent from the year before and I didn’t expect them to do much in 2014-15 – they of course won the national championship with one of the best defensive units and performances I have ever seen at this level. Lesson learned. Despite the fact Stevens Point has lost a TON from last year’s squad… I will at least give them and Bob Semling the benefit of the doubt and leave them on my ballot. They have a challenging schedule this year, so we will learn early if they remain.

25 – Southern Vermont
This is the latest Albertus Magnus squad from New England. Tons of talent, gaudy record, but very weak conference means they are playing on a knife’s edge at the end of the season. The difference in the past is that AMC has made sure to win the conference tournament to assure themselves a berth to the NCAA tournament. Southern Vermont had a terrific opportunity last year to prove naysayers wrong, but lost in the conference title game and didn’t even sniff the NCAA tournament. Now they return everyone and are challenging themselves with an appearance at the Hoopsville National Invitational Classic which will feature St. Thomas as one of their games. They also have Bates and Middlebury and some other good games on their schedule (along with some easier games like two against Massachusetts College) before starting conference play. If the Mountaineers want to be talked about nationally, Dan Engelstad knows this is the season to do it.

Now, I could go on and list all the other teams I considered. The list could range as high as 25 additional teams. However, I have learned in the past that a) people don’t appreciate the added information, they think of it as a further snub to their team and b) that I always end up leaving out other worthy programs I could mention as well. So to save myself the headache of writing them all down now and the headache from responding to complaints later… here is where we will start.

I will finish on this note. There are a TON of good teams this year who deserve to at least be considered for the Top 25. Almost everyone in the Top 25 and being considered have flaws. The hard part is going to figure out who has the least amount of flaws, are challenging themselves or at least playing better than expected, and who are just throwing up smoke and mirrors.

It promises to be another very exciting year in Division III men’s basketball. Which means it also promises to be long Mondays for Top 25 voters.

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Recapping the season

I’ll be honest: I enjoy doing these blogs mainly because it allows me to reexamine my ballot on a weekly basis. Sometimes, as I have been writing these over the past few years and giving my reasons for why a team rose or fell on my ballot, I would change my mind and either go back and adjust my ballot before the deadline or keep my notes in mind during the upcoming week. I also knew that I needed to have valid reasons for my decisions or the public would call me out. But let me even more honest: I have not looked forward to writing this blog this season because the men’s Top 25 is a clustermess. There was no way I could write my thoughts on teams without argue against myself into a never ending pit for every single team in every single position on my poll. I joked with Pat Coleman while putting my pre-season ballot together, and again in Week 1, on whether I could start at number ten and go down from there.

However, it is about time I put my ballot back out for the world to see and I decided a few weeks ago this would be as good a time as any. We are about halfway through the season and at least some things are shaking out. Of course, there is plenty of teams getting Top 25 attention (the last poll had 48 teams receiving votes; this week’s poll probably has even more) and there are plenty of different opinions amongst the 25 voters – my ballot has never looked so completely different than the overall poll in all of my years of voting – but, at this point there is nothing to lose, so here it is.

Now so you can better understand what my voting has been but without breaking down each week, below is a table of each of my ballots from the preseason on:

Preseason Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
1 UW-Whitewater Augustana Augustana UW-Whitewater Wash U. Wash U.
2 Augustana UW-Whitewater UW-Whitewater Amherst St. Thomas St. Thomas
3 Randolph-Macon St. Thomas St. Thomas St. Thomas Augustana Augustana
4 Amherst Amherst Amherst WPI UW-Whitewater UW-Whitewater
5 St. Thomas Randolph-Macon WPI Wash U. WPI WPI
6 WPI WPI DePauw Ohio Wesleyan Babson Babson
7 DePauw DePauw Chicago Augustana Richard Stockton Randolph-Macon
8 Babson Wooster Virginia Wesleyan Randolph-Macon Randolph-Macon Emory
9 Calvin MIT MIT Virginia Wesleyan Virginia Wesleyan Dickinson
10 Albertus Magnus Chicago Wash U. Richard Stockton Ohio Wesleyan Wooster
11 MIT Virginia Wesleyan Wooster Illinois Wesleyan Illinois Wesleyan Albertus Magnus
12 Chicago Wash U. Randolph-Macon MIT Dickinson Virginia Wesleyan
13 Illinois Wesleyan Cabrini Richard Stockton Albertus Magnus Albertus Magnus Ohio Wesleyan
14 Wash U. Richard Stockton Albertus Magnus Babson Wooster Marietta (new)
15 Virginia Wesleyan Albertus Magnus Babson Wooster Amherst Richard Stockton
16 Wooster Babson Illinois Wesleyan DePauw Chicago Chicago
17 Williams Calvin Emory Chicago Scranton Eastern Connecticut
18 Cabrini Illinois Wesleyan Ohio Wesleyan Scranton Eastern Connecticut Husson
19 Richard Stockton Emory (new) Scranton Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Emory Amherst
20 Scranton Dickinson (new) Calvin Eastern Connecticut Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Scranton
21 Whitworth Scranton Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Emory Centre North Central (new)
22 Christopher Newport Stevenson Dickinson Dickinson Bethel (new) Illinois Wesleyan
23 Stevenson Ohio Wesleyan (new) Eastern Connecticut (new) Centre (new) St. Olaf (new) Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
24 Whitman Whitman Stevenson Stevenson Stevenson St. Olaf
25 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Cabrini Cabrini Bates (new) Franklin & Marshall
Dropped out: #17 Williams
#21 Whitworth
#22 Christopher Newport
#24 Whitman #20 Calvin #12 MIT
#16 DePauw
#25 Cabrini
#21 Centre
#22 Bethel
#24 Stevenson
#25 Bates

Clearly plenty of movement and plenty of turmoil. I am actually surprised I’ve only had three different number one teams. Also, the amount of losses I have racked up in each of these ballots is pretty surprising. For example, there were 15 losses between the preseason and Week 1 polls; there were eight losses between Week 2 and Week 3; and between Week 4 and Week 5 I racked up 14 losses. Sure, some of those had extended periods of time, but that is still a lot of losses.

You are probably wanting to know what I think of each team, because I usually provide those thoughts. Not that I am completely convinced of some of my own arguments, here is the Week 5 ballot in my eyes:

1 – Wash U. (Unchanged)
Talk about meteoric rise for the Bears. They aren’t even picked to win the conference this year and yet they remain undefeated at 11-0, but will get started with conference play this week in a long awaited game against Chicago and then they will face Emory and Rochester the following weekend. Talk about a perfect time to prove whether the Bears are as good as their first half has indicated (which included a win over Wheaton [Ill.], Webster, and Illinois Wesleyan and struggle against sub-par Trinity [Tex.]). We all know Wash U. is a well-coached team, I just didn’t think they had enough talent coming back to be this highly ranked. The next two weeks will be very revealing.

2 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)
Maybe I am the only one who is seeming something out of the Tommies that deserves this high a ranking, but I like how they are playing. Sure, their loss to Gustavus Adolphus shook my head, but they rebounded to beat St. John’s who has been a thorn in St. Thomas’ side for awhile. They also have a convincing sweep of Whitman and Whitworth on the road and a solid win over UW-Stevens Point. I like the Tommies who, wont’ have a huge challenge for a few weeks when they face Bethel and St. Olaf both improved and both on the road.

3 – Augustana (Unchanged)
The Augies certainly have had a strange season to this point. Losing players to injury, beating Bradley in the preseason, barely beating Albion and MacMurray, losing to Central, knocking off UW-Whitewater… not sure Augustana doesn’t have a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in them this year. This is a talented bunch who has played together for several years now. You can’t help but have high expectations for this squad, but they will get a test in the coming weeks by first taking on Elmhurst (good way to gauge the Blue Jays as well) before then facing North Park, North Central, Wheaton, and Illinois Wesleyan. Let’s see how they do before I feel completely comfortable with number three (I wasn’t even close to comfortable with them number one when I voted them accordingly earlier this season).

4 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)
The Warhawks were my default preseason number one because they were the national champions and I had absolutely no one else to put above them – everyone, including the Warhawks, had more questions than answers. At first I wasn’t going to knock them for losing to a top-level NAIA squad, but some arguments by others convinced me. They then returned to number one right before losing to Augustana on the road. I am not sure if Whitewater is that good or everyone at the top has fallen just a bit towards the middle. Either way, Whitewater is a tough team that is certainly coached well and with the least challenging of the WIAC schedule ahead of them for a few weeks, we will have to wait until the UW-Stevens Point game on January 21 to really get an idea of what kind of team this is (remember, this game was their coming out party last year).

5 – WPI* (Unchanged)
Clearly I am higher on the Engineers than others. I was higher on WPI coming out of the Hoopsville Classic than others on hand. Who knows why, but I can say I like how WPI is playing. They lost a tough game they should have won against Cabrini, but they play good defense, shoot the ball well, and have multiple options on offense. Chris Bartley knows how to get this team ready for anyone and they have beaten Chicago, Tufts, and Williams (who is surging) so far this season. The challenge will be that they are in a very challenging NEWMAC (who is on par with the NESCAC in terms of quality of teams from top to bottom) and will be reminded of that when they play Springfield (home), MIT (away), and Babson (away) in the next week and a half with Emerson and Clark lurking beyond. If the Engineers want to live up to my expectations while proving everyone else wrong, they need to start conference play with a bang.

6 – Babson (Unchanged)
Here’s another team I am clearly higher on than everyone else. Babson has continued to impress especially walking into LeFrak Gymnasium and holding Amherst to 49 points while handing them their second straight home loss by 19 points or more. Babson has beaten an impressive Bates squad along with Bowdoin and Tufts. They have also blown the doors off of some other squads. NEWMAC play, like with WPI, will be their bellwether. They face Emerson (away), Springfield (away), and WPI (home) in the next three games. If they come out of that 3-0 they will have proven themselves and forced me to pick between the two teams I think are the best of New England right now.

7 – Randolph-Macon* (Up 1)
Are you sensing a pattern? I am higher on the Yellow Jackets then many, but I also see how much talent is on this squad and we all know how good a coach Nate Davis has proven to be. Granted, the loss to Christopher Newport at the beginning of the season and then the head-scratcher of a loss at home to Frostburg are enough to give pause, but RMC has also beaten the likes of Virginia Wesleyan and Lynchburg in conference action and survived tests against well coached squads like Mary Washington, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Wittenberg, Cabrini, and others. The true test will always be ODAC play and they have Bridgewater (home), Guilford (home), Hampden-Sydney (away), Roanoke (away), and Virginia Wesleyan (home) in the next five games to prove themselves to others.

8 – Emory (Up 11)
In this case, I am finally joining the rest of the voting bloc. I haven’t been convinced the Eagles were that good this year despite wins over Guilford and Oglethorpe. The loss to Piedmont certainly concerned me and they didn’t exactly impress against Trinity right afterward. However, the break did them some good as they steamrolled Bates and Virginia Wesleyan to give me all the reason I need to push them well up my ballot. Now Emory has Rochester, Wash U, and Chicago all on the road (at some of the most difficult places to play in the UAA) in the next week and a half. Clearly the UAA will have plenty answered in a quick period of time.

9 – Dickinson (Up 3)
I am very apprehensive over the Red Devils on my ballot at number nine. I didn’t even include them in my preseason poll because I thought they lost far too much talent, especially at the point. However, they continue to win and the victory of North Central certainly showed me they are still capable of playing with the top teams in the country. While they haven’t played a lot of challenging teams outside of NCC, the Centennial will challenge them with a resurgent Franklin & Marshall squad along with a McDaniel, Gettysburg, and Johns Hopkins teams. Dickinson may be too high in the poll, granted, but at this point… everyone might be too high in the poll.

10 – Wooster (Up 4)
I can’t figure out the Scots. Not this year. Not any year. We always know Steve Moore will put together a good team, but this year they have lost to Hanover and Ohio Wesleyan (in back-to-back games) and have also beaten Hope who beat Ohio Wesleyan. In many of their wins they have blown teams out, but Mount Union gave them a hard time. Maybe this is the Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde team! Either way, Wooster has it’s work cut out for themselves in a rather challenging NCAC. There are probably four teams who have a valid opportunity to win this conference and as last year showed, you can’t assume anything on any night in this conference. I am leery Wooster will disappoint yet again, but in the meantime they are 9-2 and again… blowing out a lot of their opponents who are usually pretty good squads.

11 – Albertus Magnus (Up 2)
The Falcons are once again running through their season with reckless abandon and garnering plenty of hype. They at least challenged themselves with Richard Stockton at the beginning of the season, but in what all accounts was an ugly game both in play and in words/actions, AMC couldn’t pull off the victory on the road. Since then they haven’t really played anyone of note (the Purchase State game should have been a good test, but the Panthers were decimated with injuries this year) and have barely won some games they should be winning easier, it is hard to figure out if AMC is really good or it is once again smoke and mirrors. The conference will once again not provide any answers except if the Falcons lose. This is pretty much the ceiling on my ballot for this team.

12 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 3)
The Marlins are probably one of the most consistent teams this century in Division III. It feels weird if I ever consider not putting them in my Top 25. Even if they have lost a bunch of talent, Dave Macedo has someone else in line to take over – consider it their version of the next man up. An early season loss to Randolph-Macon isn’t too concerning and while losing to Emory probably wouldn’t shake any heads, losing by 13 to the Eagles (and it wasn’t even that close) does. I know Virginia Wesleyan will be competing for a conference title, but they have a somewhat easy restart to conference action. First they have a very tough Lynchburg* squad before facing Washington and Lee, Shenandoah, and Emory and Henry. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Marlins return to my top ten relatively quickly.

13 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 1)
Talk about a meteoric rise; a picture of the Battling Bishops would be in the Division III dictionary next to meteoric the way they started the season. That start included a convincing win over Calvin before dispatching Wooster and Denison a few weeks later. Since then, OWU is 2-2 with losses to Trine and Hope in the last month (and the Hope loss was bad). I’m not sure if most of us bought into Mike DeWitt’s squad took much (he certainly thinks we did), but with Wittenberg, Allegheny, and Wabash ahead before facing DePauw, once again our answers will only come if there are losses.

14 – Marietta (Unranked)
I did all I could to avoid putting the Pioneers in my ballot the last few votes. I knew they were undefeated, but it wasn’t like they had anyone that caught my eye on their schedule. Yes a win over Hanover to start the season was note-worthy, but until they spanked John Carroll and beat Eastern Connecticut I wasn’t convinced. They are now 12-0 halfway through the season and if they really are this good they will run through the OAC like a hot knife through butter. That being said and even if they stay undefeated, I’m not sure how much higher I could put Marietta on my ballot considering their SOS isn’t going to be that impressive.

15 – Richard Stockton* (Down 8)
The Osprey were way too highly ranked. I finally get to see Richard Stockton this past weekend and realized that my gut feeling of having them seventh on my last ballot was correct – they were too high. Even if they had beaten Franklin & Marshall on Sunday, they probably would have fallen at least five spots (maybe staying ahead of Ohio Wesleyan). This is a good team with plenty of talent, but they play immaturely, can’t keep their emotions in check, don’t seem to listen to the coaching staff at times (how else do you get a technical for too many men on the court out of a timeout), and don’t have a grasp of the game at other times (you never foul a buzzer beating three point attempt, for example). It is nice to see the Osprey back in the national conversation, but remember this is a very young squad who is probably riding the coattails of last year’s success in the eyes of other voters and has already proven can make a lot of mistakes. Oh, and they lost their point guard a while back and are still searching for that leadership on the court.

16 – Chicago* (Unchanged)
I am probably higher on the Maroons then they are of themselves. I am sure Mike McGrath is shaking his head that I have had Chicago as high as seven on a ballot this season. However, the UAA is full of good coaches and if they think Chicago is the team to beat, I take note. Yes, they couldn’t get past WPI and barely survived against Stevenson at the Hoopsville Classic, but that’s where I thought they proved things to me. Their losses to Wheaton and Illinois Wesleyan were disappointing, especially how much both squads are struggling right now, but they have a lot of good talent that seems to be coming together. Of course with Wash U, Rochester, and Emory coming to the Ratner Center in the next week and a half, this is the perfect time to prove themselves. Or maybe they are a year away from really being at their best.

17 – Eastern Connecticut (Up 1)
The Warriors are proving once again they are a very good team. They will most likely have their sixth straight 20-win season and top the Little East, but I wasn’t willing to jump on board at first when they lost to Hartwick near the beginning of the season. However, they have beaten some good teams like Stevenson, York (N.Y.), Rhode Island College, and Messiah since while barely losing to a clearly good team in Marietta. The Warriors are playing well and have a great test against Amherst that will have all kinds of regional implications coming up Tuesday.

18 – Husson* (unranked)
The Eagles had everything to prove and lose at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas and they proved everyone wrong, so welcome to the Top 25 Husson. Not only did they play extremely well against Scranton to earn the victory in their first game, they held strong against a very challenging Hampden-Sydney team and came away with a thrilling, buzzer beater win to close out day two at the South Point Arena. Warren Caruso has plenty of talent and many options on this squad whose only loss to Bates probably has done more to show how good Bates is as a team. Husson has Colby ahead before getting back into conference play. Conceivably the Eagles could go the rest of the season without a loss and will then look back on their Las Vegas experience when they enter the NCAA tournament – because they will have to prove people wrong once again.

19 – Amherst* (Down 4)
The Lord Jeffs are far younger than I kept reminding myself. Not sure how I ever convinced myself they should have been as high as number two – though, I know I kept telling myself how good a coach Dave Hixon is an how much he gets out of his players. The problem is, Aaron Toomey was just that good and it at least got me spoiled into thinking everyone else was that good, too. Amherst is a very good team with plenty of talent to watch out for, but they are not the same team as they have been the last three or so years. I saw them lose a 16-point second half lead and need a buzzer beating three just to tie Goucher (2-9) and force overtime. They had barely survived against a tough Drew squad before that. And we all remember what happened in their final two home games before the holiday break. Amherst may be the team to beat in the NESCAC, but despite two wins I moved them down because they are not as great a team as I was giving them credit.

20 – Scranton* (Down 4)
The Royals are once again a very consistent and challenging team. They just aren’t as good as I was indicating in my previous ballots. The loss to Misericordia now makes more sense to me after seeing them play Husson and Hanover in Las Vegas and then watching them barely survive against King’s and Wilkes this past weekend. Scranton seems to never put together 40 minutes of basketball and certainly can’t do it over a multiple-game spread. I think they are well coached and I think they have plenty of talent, but that talent never gels on the same day. If Ross Danzig is hitting shots early, you better watch out; if he is cold early, his decision making process goes cold as well. Brendan Boken is a very talented post player with great, quick moves, but if you take him out of his game like Husson did, Scranton struggles to find other options. Scranton is going to win the Landmark conference and make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. However, the Royals have got to figure out how to play consistent basketball game in and game out before they are going to be a real threat.

21 – North Central (Ill.) (Unranked)
I just haven’t been convinced the Cardinals were that good this season. They beat UW-Stevens Point and I told myself UWSP isn’t that good this year. They then faced Dickinson and if they had won I was prepared to argue that proved the Red Devils weren’t as good as others thought they were. But now they have beaten Illinois Wesleyan (to complete a rare Cardinals sweep of the Titans in men’s and women’s basketball) and coupled with the fact they have found ways to win throughout the season and I can’t ignore NCC. They have Milikin and Wheaton ahead, but the games I am keying on are January 14 and 17. They will play Augustana and Elmhurst respectively. That will help me get a better gauge of the Cardinals along with the rest of the CCIW this season.

22 – Illinois Wesleyan (Down 11)
Talk about a rough holiday break for the Titans. Did they get coal in their stockings? Illinois Wesleyan blitzed Nazareth and then apparently forgot to show up against Cal Lutheran the next night. They followed that up with a loss at North Central in an important opening game to CCIW play. Some of the comments Ron Rose said of his team, especially after the Cal Lutheran game, should cause concern especially since I don’t think the team headed those words before facing North Central. I am not sure what to make of Illinois Wesleyan right now and with games against Wheaton, Carthage, Milikin, and North Park to come… we might not get a better understanding until they face Augustana on January 21.

23 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Down 3)
The Stags are clearly on everyone’s radar, but I think everyone is trying to figure out what to make of CMS. They started the season with a strange loss to Ohio Northern, but then when on a tear before losing to UW-Stevens Point. They clearly have a talented squad, but with so many games against questionable teams or non-Division III teams (three), the Stags are putting themselves on an even bigger island than they and the rest of the SCIAC already are. Chapman (10-0) is another SCIAC who is off to a great start, but it is so hard to figure these teams out. (Tournaments like the D3hoops.com Classic could really help teams in the SCIAC.) I liked CMS in the preseason, so I am riding them for now.

24 – St. Olaf (Down 1)
The Oles got on my radar when they beat UW-Stevens Point and only had Bethel as their lone loss. They certainly got on other radars as well and when I was looking for new teams a few weeks back to add to my ballot, they got the nod. However, I am leery. They just haven’t played anyone of note besides UWSP and Bethel. Conference action will certainly help answer some questions especially when they play Augsburg and St. Thomas in the coming weeks. Could the Oles really be that good?

25 – Franklin & Marshall* (Unranked)
I could make arguments for why the Diplomats should be higher; I could make arguments for why the Diplomats shouldn’t even be ranked. After watching them on Saturday, I didn’t think they stood a chance against Richard Stockton. Then watching them get a 20 point lead into the second half I couldn’t believe what I was watching. They pretty much blew that lead and needed to hold on to dear life to win. This is a squad that is very young and is still looking for not only its identity, but some leadership. Clearly Glenn Robinson has gotten some talent on this squad that will contribute for some time to come, but I can’t help but think the Centennial schedule is going to rear its head against F&M. No longer are people in awe when they arrive at Mayser Center and no longer is F&M the team to beat in the conference. Dickinson, Johns Hopkins, Gettysburg, and McDaniel all will get additional shots at the Diplomats and should F&M come out of that relatively unblemished and can keep their heads at places like Swarthmore and Washington College, then I will tell you publically F&M is a team to worry about come March.

Dropped out:

Centre (Previously #21)
The Colonels are a good team, but when you lose two of your last three to Johns Hopkins and Sewanee, I can’t keep you in my Top 25. I have mentioned Hopkins a few times as teams in the Centennial will have to deal with, but on a national scale Top 25 teams should beat the Blue Jays. And then Centre lost to Sewanee on the road starting conference play on a real rough note.

Bethel (Previously #22)
I just don’t know what to make of the Royals. They lost to a very good Buena Vista squad (picked to win the IIAC) and they beat St. Olaf earlier in the year. But they lost to St. John’s in a game that clearly would have stated Bethel was ready for conference action. Not sure they have a resume to keep them on a Top 25 ballot.

Stevenson* (Previously #24)
I have liked the style of play the Mustangs play for a while now. They are very well coached by Gary Stewart, but the loss to Albright after barely beating Macalester on the road and having a tougher battle than I expected against Allegheny is cause for concern. They had previously beaten Widener is what can only be described as an ugly game. Now they have Messiah, Alvernia, and Hood ahead who are all well coached and all have the capabilities, even if they aren’t the same squads as last year, of getting a quality win over Stevenson. The next few weeks are critical for the Mustangs if they hope to win the conference and ever return to the NCAA tournament.

Bates (Previously #25)
I took a flier on the Bobcats in the last poll because they were undefeated with wins over Babson, Husson, and Bowdoin. And while I think they are still very good team, they lost back-to-back games to Emory and Birmingham-Southern while in Atlanta. If they had gone 1-1 with their lone loss to Emory, I would have left them on my ballot. They have some really good tests ahead with Brandeis and Middlebury in their next two games and of course the rest of NESCAC action ahead. The Bobcats may still be a Top 25 team, they just have to prove they can recover from their Atlanta trip.

* – teams I have seen in person. I am not indicating who I have watched online as they are too numerous to keep track of accurately.

There you have it. I could make arguments for teams I left in my Top 25 to be taken off the poll. I could make arguments for teams I have been considering, but just haven’t placed on the ballot as of yet. I could argue I have teams too high, too low, etc. There are undefeated teams who haven’t played anyone of note. There are teams with three or more losses who have played a litany of good teams. It is a challenging year to vote in the men’s Top 25 and I don’t think it is going to get any easier as the season moves forward.

In the meantime, I will stew over this ballot for the next week and figure out what I am missing or over analyzing. Who knows… I might blow the whole things up in the coming weeks.