Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 8

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

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

This one has mixed results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped out:

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

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

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

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

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

* – teams I have seen in person.

Previous ballots:
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

2 – Augustana (Unchanged)

3 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

4 – Washington U. (Unchanged)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 – Albertus Magnus (Unchanged)

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

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

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

16 – St. Olaf (Up 2)

17 – St. Norbert (Up 3)

18 – Chapman (Up 3)

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

20 – UW-Stevens Point (Up 2)

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

22 – Husson* (Up 1)

23 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 2)

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

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

Dropped out:

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

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

Previous ballots:
Week 5
Week 6

* – seen in person this season.

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.

ODACcess: On VWC’s ODAC Championship, and A Look Back

SALEM, Va. — The Virginia Wesleyan Marlins are the 2014 Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament champions. In the only truly competitive game from the quarterfinals on, VWC used timely three-point shooting and an 11-of-12 mark from the charity stripe down the stretch to outlast the Hampden-Sydney Tigers, 77-74, in an electric tournament final.


Khory Moore paced the Marlins in scoring with 21 points, DJ Woodmore finished an excellent tournament run with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, and Aaron Clark contributed 15 points and six assists off the bench. H-SC’s Mike Murray went off for 21 points and Khobi Williamson added a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double for the Tigers in the tough defeat.

The game was so tight throughout that to recap its important moments would be to go through the game play-by-play. Besides, you can read recaps from the perspective of the winners or the losers elsewhere. Instead, here are some of our highlights and observations:

1.  Forcing turnovers is Wesleyan’s bread-and-butter, and while they got their share on the night, they also committed several uncharacteristic unforced errors themselves, including a 10-second violation on a slow walk up the court without a Tiger defender in sight. It was odd, and Woodmore said the team knew it.

“We turned the ball over a little bit late in the first, but we took a couple timeouts, we settled down and got after it,” he said. “Once we started making shots, everything turns around once you start making shots.”

Whatever Coach Macedo said in those timeouts, it worked. After recording seven turnovers through the five-minute mark in the first half, VWC took its second timeout and committed none for the remainder of the frame and only turned it over three times in the second.

2. Murray’s 21 points were two shy of a season-high. He also filled the stat sheet, adding three rebounds, two steals, and two assists to the game-high-tying points mark. Murray played with a facemask for reasons that are still unclear to us, but it clearly didn’t impact his performance–he was a huge reason why this one was even close. (UPDATE: An H-SC official tells us that Murray broke his nose during the Tigers’ semifinal against Eastern Mennonite. Best wishes on a speedy recovery.)


3. We named Colby Heard our player of the game in VWC’s semifinal. He played well, though not exceptionally, on Sunday, but one moment stood out. After having a layup attempt blocked by Mitch Owens, Heard sprinted down the floor on VWC’s next possession, accepted an outlet pass from Clark, and rose up for a powerful dunk. His expression afterwards made it clear he was frustrated by the block and was relieved make up for it in a big way.

4. Khobi Williamson set the ODAC record for made field goals in the conference tournament early in the second half. Unfortunately, he had to commit his fifth personal foul late in the game to prevent an easy Marlin layup with the Tigers trailing. It’s unlikely that his presence would have changed the outcome–although it could have–but it’s still a shame he had to watch the final 16 seconds of his final ODAC tournament from the bench, especially because he had been outstanding to that point.


5. Like a true pro, Woodmore stepped up his game when it mattered most, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the second half. Also like a true pro, Woodmore–who was named tournament Most Outstanding Player, a trophy he can add to his conference Player of the Year honors–thanked his teammates for setting the stage for his play. “I’m really proud of the way we fought today, and how we fought all season. We played great basketball today,” he said.


6. Woodmore, Heard, Moore, Williamson, and Murray were named as the All-Tournament team. Well deserved honors for each and every one of them.


7. The post-game reactions and ceremony were perfect. Words can’t do it justice, so here’s just a few pictures:




With the victory, VWC has advanced to the NCAA Tournament. They are joined by Randolph-Macon, the conference tournament’s top-seed which fell to H-SC in the quarterfinals but did enough to earn an at-large bid from the NCAA.

Both teams will host first- and second-round games, both beginning on Saturday. The Marlins will play Johns Hopkins with the winner taking on the winner of Alvernia/Wesley in the second round. DeSales travels to Ashland for a matchup against R-MC; the winner faces the better of Mary Washington and Springfield. If the Marlins and Yellow Jackets can emerge from these difficult pods, they would meet in the third round.

ODACcess will attend at least one of the first-round games, but which one has yet to be determined. Stay tuned!

We waited a few days before posting this writeup both because we wanted to collect ourselves after a long weekend, and also to give some of this space to the teams we have seen this year which saw their seasons end during the tournament. Without further ado, a memoriam for the 2013-14 ODAC non-advancing teams:

To Guilford: It was so refreshing to see your team always hustling, no matter what the score. Your early tournament exit must have been disappointing, but watching you was a blast this year when we were able to. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t thank the student staffer (you know who you are) who spotted us in the stands and invited us down to the scorer’s table when we came to Greensboro.

To Lynchburg: Your fans are awesome, and your team has an admirable cohesiveness. Your pace, the fastest in the league, is always entertaining to watch. Coach Scott has a system in place, and it should bring you success in the coming seasons.

To Eastern Mennonite: We wish we could have seen you more. To say that we were surprised by your home crowd is an understatement–not only do fans come out to see you in droves, but they’re some of the most passionate and energetic folks in the league. On the court, you’re well-coached, high-flying, and fun. Oh yeah, and you were part of the most exciting game we witnessed this year, and possibly ever–it’s a shame you had to lose, but it was a heck of a way to go down. Finally, just three words: David. Falk. Dunks.

To Randolph: You were the first ODAC team we watched play, and you got us off to a great start. You played hard even when outmatched by Division I’s Liberty. We couldn’t love the RAD Center more. The faint air of chlorine from the pool across the hall might be irksome to some people, but don’t count us among them. It’s charming.

To Bridgewater: You surprised the heck out of us when you took down then-#15 VWC in Harrisonburg. You ran the Marlins off the floor–almost literally, given the absurdly fast pace at which you played. It was a lesson in how tough every game in the ODAC can be. Wesleyan got its revenge in the tournament, but that game was one to remember.

To Hampden-Sydney: What to say here that hasn’t been said. Your fight in the tournament was impressive throughout, especially your resolve when Randolph-Macon came within striking distance in your quarterfinal. It’s a shame that Khobi Williamson won’t end his career with a tournament berth, but he and your team played hard until the bitter end, and for that you’ve earned our respect.

To Roanoke: That EMU game! We can’t say enough about how well your team handled that situation. In terms of Roanoke generally, we were impressed with your campus, and your home court in particular–extending the stands all the way down to the court is a nice touch. It feels intimate, homey even.  It’s a great place to see a game.

To Shenandoah: With no disrespect to Woodmore, Williamson, Falk, or any of the other outstanding athletes we’ve seen, Avery Green was our favorite player this year. His craftiness and instincts with the ball in his hands are simply exquisite, and hard to encapsulate in such a small space as here. He’s also a great guy: he will drop 30 points on the night with almost no help and then defer to his coach and his team as the reasons he played so well. Class act.

To Washington and Lee: Terrific run in the tournament. To say you punched above your weight would be an understatement of epic proportions. Your team is clearly dedicated to each other and their coach. In most other conferences, your regular season record would have kept you out of the tournament–but the ODAC gave a chance, and you seized it with aplomb.

Finally, to Emory and Henry: We saw you three times this season, but unfortunately missed your two conference wins. This wasn’t your year, but you never let that get you down, fighting tooth-and-nail in every game. Best of luck to you and Coach Willson as you continue your rebuild.

It has been a great season of ODAC basketball. Will we have a full postmortem, complete with thanking the many, many people who have helped us along the way, once the NCAA Tournament is over. For now, thanks for reading. We truly appreciate your support.

  • Final: #2 Va. Wesleyan Marlins 77, #8 Hampden-Sydney Tigers 74
  • Player of the Game: Khory Moore (21 points on 11 shots; game-sealing free-throws with one second remaining)

ODACcess Rapid Recap: #8 H-SC Blows Past #5 EMU

SALEM, Va. — It would be hard to imagine a more complete victory than this. Eighth-seeded Hampden-Sydney dominated on both sides of the ball en route to a 104-80 rout of #5 Eastern Mennonite, securing a berth in the ODAC championship game for the first time since 2007.

We were convinced that this would be a battle between H-SC’s Khobi Williamson and EMU’s David Falk, two of the strongest and most athletically gifted players in the ODAC. And while Williamson certainly did his part, recording a double-double with 28 points and 11 rebounds (both game-highs), Falk got into foul trouble early and was unfortunately a non-factor for the Royals. A day after setting an ODAC record by grabbing 28 boards against Lynchburg, Falk managed to pull down just four this evening in a season-low 18 minutes of game time.

Williamson added a transition block and three dunks, including a rim-shaking slam after he got his own miss on a free-throw attempt, to his line on the evening. Despite a performance that dwarfed anyone else on the court, Williamson was deferential to the efforts of EMU. “It was a battle,” he took pains to note after the game.


This one started out competitively enough, with six lead changes and two ties in the opening six minutes. The Royals looked like they would continue the strong play that led to their big quarterfinal win over the LC Hornets.


But Williamson’s game-tying jumper at the 14:45 mark sparked a 17-7 run for the Tigers, and they never looked back.

The Royals sent Falk to the bench when he committed his second foul on a pump fake under the basket. “We told our guys, if you get around the basket, use your pump fakes, be wise, because [Falk] likes to block shots,” said H-SC head coach Dee Vick. “Fortunately we did that and he picked up a couple.”

“A loss is a loss. I’m not making any excuses,” Falk, who picked up quick fouls the other two times he entered the game, stated. “We expected to win the ODAC Tournament and advance to the NCAAs, and it didn’t happen, so we’ll get back to work and make it happen next year.”

The Tigers will have an opportunity to win that ODAC title, when they face off against the winner of tonight second semifinal between #2 Virginia Wesleyan and surprise semifinalist #11 Washington and Lee. H-SC knocked off top seed Randolph-Macon to advance to the semifinals.

  • Final: #8 Hamden-Sydney Tigers 104, #5 Eastern Mennonite Royals 80
  • Player of the Game: Khobi Williamson (H-SC) (28 points, 11 rebounds)