The Scoop on D3 Women’s Hoops: Thoughts on UMHB’s hire, Carthage’s coaching change announcement, and 2 new open head coaching jobs

By Riley Zayas, @ ZayasRiley

April 18, 2023

Checking back in on this Tuesday morning! April is more than half over and the summer weather is certainly upon us (at least down here in Texas!). Hope everyone had a great weekend.

In Friday’s article, I mentioned towards the very bottom that a major development happened in the UMHB head coaching search. While I do admit that I am (slightly) biased towards Region 10 and pay especially close attention to the ASC as a beat writer covering UMHB, I don’t think it is a stretch to say that besides Loras, Belton was home to the next biggest open D3 WBB job this offseason. After all, this was a team that cracked the Top 10 in Week 2 of the poll this past season and had fairly high expectations entering the year with a solid non-conference slate that included Trinity (TX), Puget Sound, Emory, and UC-Santa Cruz.

Of course we know how it turned out. The Cru failed to reach the ASC Tournament final, and never made it to the Pool C selection table. Drama clouded the final weeks of the season with the dismissal of head coach Mark Morefield, and led us to the point where the job was open until early last week.

As both I and Cory Hogue of Dave Campbell’s Texas Basketball reported, Katie Novak has been tabbed as the program’s next head coach, returning to Texas after a one-year stint at D-II Hawai’i Pacific.

Personally, I really like this hire. I think she fits the university well in terms of her background in the ASC (more on that in a second) and leadership ability. HPU had a tough situation with its head coach previous to Novak, and ended up dismissing him due to alleged mistreatment of players (along the lines of verbal and mental abuse). She came in, re-recruited a good percentage of the players in the program, and brought with her a transfer center in Abby Spurgin, who ended up becoming the PacWest Conference Player of the Year.

Previously, she head coached Sul Ross State, doing very well despite enormous recruiting challenges (for those who don’t know, SRSU might be the most remote school in D3, especially with Finlandia shutting down). She left after five seasons as the program’s all-time leader in wins, and led the Lobos to new heights.

Looking forward to seeing what Novak can build in Belton. With resources available, a good recruiting base, and playing in a competitive, yet wide-open league, I think we could see UMHB competing for the ASC title in year one.

A few additional open head coaching positions came to my attention over the weekend.

Another GNAC job is open, as Colby Sawyer College no longer has a head coach listed on its website. Devon Quattrocchi was at the helm of that program since May 2020, but the Chargers went a combined 12-36 in the program’s two seasons under her direction (they did not play at all in 2020-21).

Pfeiffer did not make any kind of announcement, but the job was posted on on Saturday. Tooey Loy led the program for several years, though I was unable to get an official number from the website. But the bottom line is that the program’s last winning season came in 2017-18, when they went 20-5. Since then, success was not plentiful, with the Falcons going 6-17 overall, 4-12 in the USA South this past year.

There are now 16 head coaching jobs in D3 women’s basketball with a replacement having not yet been announced. The GNAC now has two jobs open (Elms, Colby Sawyer) and the USA South has two open (William Peace, Pfeiffer).

I mentioned it at the end of the Friday post, but will mention it again. I’m working to highlight as many D3 women’s basketball players who are also playing another sport at the college level. My plan is to put it out by Thursday. So if you know of a D3 WBB also playing another varsity sport be sure to let me know. Shoot me an email at

Carthage officially announced the dismissal of Tim Bernero and “has begun” a “national search” for its next head coach. Will be interested to see who takes that position, as the CCIW is a great league to be in right now.

The team went 9-17 in the CCIW this past year, but regardless, let’s just say it was one of the more controversial pieces of coaching news so far this offseason. Bernero had been with the program for 20 seasons, was the school’s all-time wins leader coach, and had a record of 311-208.

I get that firings are part of coaching. But I was not a fan of this move. For Bernero being someone who contributed to a program for so long, put together several competitive seasons in the CCIW, and overall represented Carthage well, I was very surprised when I heard about this one. I wasn’t the only one. There were quite a few frustrated individuals who voiced their opinions in opposition to it.

But what disturbs me even more is that Carthage waited SIX weeks to announce it. It took Bernero going on Twitter to confirm previous reports that he was no longer with the school. That’s not the way it should go. Maybe I’m not aware of the full situation, and I know there was an AD change, but I’ve always been taught in journalism that if you’re going to write something, or say something, that could be considered controversial, you also need to stand behind that. I see it as the same thing here. Carthage made a controversial decision to let Bernero go, but then waited until yesterday to make any kind of announcement. They did not stand behind their decision initially, and perhaps that is because it was a controversial one. UMHB never made any public announcement in regards to the departure of Mark Morefield either, though that story did receive more press.

Regardless, I just don’t like schools treating coaches this way, especially coaches who have been around for as long as Bernero had. Make a public statement, announce the coaching change, and move on. But don’t try to hide it.

Have a great day! If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe for free to The Scoop on D3 Women’s Hoops!

The Scoop on D3 Women’s Hoops: Loras pulls off the upset, Top 25 showdowns go down to the wire

December 21, 2022

Welcome back! Pretty exciting day in D3 women’s hoops yesterday, with games from mid-morning until late in the evening. And there were several that you couldn’t help but be on the edge of your seat as you watched the final quarter unfold. Here are a few of my thoughts from watching yesterday’s action, along with a big-time game to be looking ahead to today…

  • All these holiday tournaments make for some very early tip-off times, such as TCNJ’s battle in Puerto Rico with Susquehanna yesterday morning that began at 9 a.m. here in the central time zone. It was a nice win for TCNJ, who I think could be a viable contender in the NJAC, especially with NJ City struggling quite a bit at this point.
  • A game that I thought might have had the chance to turn out close between Loras and #9 Babson turned out to be nothing of the sort. Instead, Loras ran away with it, taking down a previously undefeated Babson team, 73-52. Loras has been on my watch list for a couple weeks now, and if you remember, this is not the first time the DuHawks have come up with a big win. They also took down UW-Eau Claire two weeks ago, which remains UWEC’s only loss of the season. Loras seems to have the right mix of guards and forwards who each contribute on both ends of the floor. Both Sami Martin and Silvana Scarsella had 20+ points in yesterday’s win. With that win, I’d think Loras has to enter the Top 25 conversation.
  • The first matchup involving two Top 25 teams came in #20 Puget Sound’s 59-58 win over #16 Mary Hardin-Baylor. Played on a neutral court, this had the feel of an NCAA Tournament game, and was back-and-forth in nature the whole way. UMHB led 59-58 with under 20 seconds to go, but PS inbounded the ball, dribbled around, and eventually found Grace Pytynia-Hillier, who drove to the free-throw line, and put up the game-winning shot with a tenth of a second left on the clock. Her shot won the game for PS, while UMHB lost its second straight. Regardless of the outcome in today’s game for PS against Trinity, this was a big-time resume-building win for the NWC title favorite.
  • The second matchup came on the west coast, as #18 UC Santa Cruz hosted #21 UW-Whitewater. There was a lot on the line for both teams, as I mentioned in yesterday’s write-up, and both teams played like it, with Whitewater pulling out a 61-60 victory. I thought a few too many fouls were called on plays that were borderline questionable, but hey, what do I know? Whitewater erased a two-point deficit and took a two-point lead in the span of less than 30 seconds, as Yssa Sto. Domingo came up with all four points. UCSC did a good job on the offensive end to get back into it after falling behind early, and shot 6-of-11 from 3-point range in the game. But down the stretch, with All-American Kaylee Murphy having fouled out for UCSC, Whitewater found a way to score at the right times.
  • Wartburg bounced back from a really rough showing against Scranton Monday and battled #10 Trine extremely well in Florida. But Trine emerged with a 60-56 win, keeping its win streak, now at six games, alive. Defining stat in this one was the rebounding totals: Trine outrebounded Wartburg 44-29, which is a huge margin for a four-point game. A few more offensive boards, and Wartburg could’ve been in a different position. What I will say though is that Wartburg gave up 13 offensive rebounds, but Trine scored just six points on those. Not a bad defensive showing. Still trying to figure out where Trine stacks up with the Top 15 or so in the nation.
  • Cortland beat Dickinson in what could actually be a win over a regionally-ranked opponent for Cortland, depending on how things shake out once regional rankings are released in February. Dickinson is a solid team, 4-1 right now in the Centennial Conference, but Cortland is also playing very well, at 9-2. The 63-54 win saw Cortland shoot 47% from 3-point range, and they held off an 18-9 run from Dickinson to close the game. Cortland is certainly in the national conversation, with its only losses coming to Ithaca and CNU, along with notable wins over Hamilton and SUNY Geneseo.
  • Key game today: #20 Puget Sound at #3 Trinity, 4 pm EST: This is a big one, and undoubtedly a result we will still be talking about come Selection Monday in March. PS has momentum after beating UMHB less than 24 hours ago on that game-winner, while Trinity has had a day to prepare and rest, not to mention playing on its home court. Both teams run a full-court press, so this will either be a game in which multiple players go for 20+ points, or a game where we see both sides turn the ball over about 20 times. It’s really a 50-50, and I think whoever executes better defensively comes out with the win. Massey matchup tool has Trinity winning 72-70…you don’t want to miss this one! Brian Yancelson has the call (and does a great job) on Trinity’s Tiger Network:

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’22-’23) – Week 2

Julianne Sitch led the UChicago men’s soccer team to it’s first-ever national title. In the process, Sitch became the first-ever woman to lead a men’s soccer team to a collegiate national title. (Courtesy: Dave Hilbert,

Welcome back to my Top 25 ballot blogs. I apologize for not getting my Week 1 ballot out as expected. The combination of basketball games (three) and Division III Men’s Soccer Championships coupled with some personal distractions caused this to be put on the back burner. I am hoping to make up at least by showing you my ballots so far in this blog. I will try and provide some comments about some of the teams, though not all (especially to keep these blogs shorter).

Please remember I am just one voter of 25 in this poll and I have never pretended to be one who is absolutely right on these nor do I pretend I am not wrong.

First, here is a reminder at my preseason ballot and a look at how I voted in Week 1 (Nov. 28):

Rank Preseason Week 1 +/-
 1. Randolph-Macon Christopher Newport +2
 2. Mary Hardin-Baylor Mount Union +3
 3. Christopher Newport St. Joseph’s (Conn.) +5
 4. UW-Oshkosh Case Western Reserve +2
 5. Mount Union Johns Hopkins +9
 6. Case Western Reserve UW-La Crosse UR
 7. Middlebury Oswego +9
 8. St. Joseph’s (Conn.) Randolph-Macon -7
 9. Oswego Keene State UR
10. Pomona-Pitzer Williams UR
11. Emory Middlebury -4
12. Trinity (Texas) Emory -1
13. Dubuque Rochester UR
14. Johns Hopkins Claremont-Mudd-Scripps UR
15. WPI Mary Hardin-Baylor -13
16. Hardin-Simmons Calvin UR
17. Rowan Mary Washington UR
18. Wesleyan Nazareth UR
19. Heidelberg WPI -4
20. Babson Hope UR
21. WashU Guilford UR
22. Stockton Swarthmore UR
23. Marietta UW-Oshkosh -19
24. St. John’s WashU -3
25. Nichols Stockton -3

Fell off the Preseaon ballot: Pomona-Pitzer, Trinity (TX), Dubuque, Hardin-Simmons, Rowan, Wesleyan, Heidelberg, Babson, Marietta, St. John’s, Nichols

Note: For both the preseason and Week 1 ballots, I did not refer back to how I had previously voted. Neither the end of last season or my preseason ballot. No notes, eye on positions, nothing. I certainly remembered a few items like Randolph-Macon had been my top selection, but nothing more significant.

That said, this week I went back to my more normal voting methods. I write down my previous ballot, then write down notes on results alongside each team, write additional note the print out receive, and then make decisions from there and finish my new ballot along side the old. I went back to it mainly because I noticed prior to my Week 2 ballot I had lost track of a couple of teams between Preseason and Week 1 that I would have spotted had the regular system been in place. So apologies to Dubuque, especially. They fell out of my ballot on Week 1 for no really good reasons, at the time. (I didn’t just put them back this week, the loss to Central gave me pause.)

Now to Week 2’s ballot. I may comment on a few of them:

Jahn Hines is leading CNU in scoring, but the Captains have a lot of weapons that make them the best team in DIII.

1 – Christopher Newport (unchanged)

2 – St. Joseph’s (Conn.) (up 1)

3 – Mount Union (down 1)

4 – Cast Western Reserve (unchanged)

5 – UW-La Crosse (up 1)

6 – Keene State (up 3)

7 – Johns Hopkins (down 2)

8 – Randolph-Macon (unchanged)

Brandon Roughley and the William Ephs are undefeated through the first-third of their season. (I’m shamelessly getting a pic of Roughley in as he’s a fellow Sarum Knight.)

9 – Williams (up 1)
I am not going to lie, I’m nervous about the Ephs. Their schedule is nothing to crow about, but at least they haven’t taken an early season loss that leaves everyone scratching their heads. The win over RPI stood out and gave me some confidence, though in the Top 10 feels too high. But as always, gaps develop on ballots and teams have to fill slots one wouldn’t have expected.

10 – Rochester (up 3)

11 – Emory (up 1)

12 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (up 2)

13 – Middlebury (down 2)

Oswego has lost two of their tougher games so far this season – that could be a concern.

14 – Oswego (down 7)
I think the Lakers are going to be a very good team and likely will win the SUNYAC, but they have already stumbled in a couple big tests. Losing to Nazareth (likely one of the top three teams in the region) is one thing and losing to Brockport isn’t a shocking result … but the loss to Brockport was at home and the offense barely scored xx. It is a bit concerning and I likely am holding on to Oswego a bit more than I should – and I likey should have had them behind Nazareth at this point.

15 – Mary Washington (up 2)

16 – Calvin (unchanged)

17 – Nazareth (up 1)

Heidelberg’s win over Mount Union put them back on the ballot. (Courtesy: Alexis Calhoun/Heidelberg Athletics)

18 – Heidelberg (unranked)
I’ve been a bit yo-yo with the Student Princes. Part of that is similar to what happened with Dubuque and my process with my Preseason and Week 1 ballots, but the other was I may have overreacted to the UWW loss and the tight outcome against Bluffton. I still think Heidelberg will be part of the absolute battle atop the OAC.

19 – Swarthmore (up 3)

20 – Guilford (up 1)

Muhlenberg’s only loss this season is an overtime defeat to Swarthmore. (Courtesy: Muhlenberg Athletics)

21 – Muhlenberg (unranked)
Going into the season, I had my eyes on Gettysburg as being a threat to the top two in the conference (and I bought in to that too much) – I should have remembered some notes I left myself at the end of last season. The Mules (or is it Muhls?) have been a sneaky threat for a few seasons now and had more weapons going into this season than I remembered. Muhlenberg beating Johns Hopkins (first loss other than to Swarthmore in several years) was a bit surprising considering how JHU has been playing, but not when one remembers how much of a threat Kevin Hopkins’s squad really is.

22 – Wheaton (Ill.) (unranked)
I finally got a CCIW team on my ballot. I like what the Thunder have on paper, I just for some reason always want to see what happens ahead of them. I finally told myself to stop waiting.

23 – UW-Oshkosh (unchanged)

24 – Catholic (unranked)
I could have gone a bunch of different directions looking for the final team to add to my ballot. I felt stuck and dove into several corners looking for what I was missing .., and ultimately the Cardinals stood out.

DJ Campbell is leading Stockton in scoring (21.9 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg) while taking twice as many shots as anyone else. (Courtesy: Stockton Athletics)

25 – Stockton (unchanged)
I am unsure if the Ospreys are a Top 25 team right now. I’ve left them on my ballot knowing they are down a few starters and other key guys haven’t been a full strength. My concern is I don’t think Stockton is the best of the conference (Rowan beat them good already this season; but has stumbled themselves) and I don’t know if the NJAC will do more than beat the heck out of themselves. Unsure when the next game will be to answer questions (other than a loss).

Fell off Week 2 ballot:

Mary Hardin-Baylor (previously 15)
Once again the Crusaders have had a turbulent start to the season. I loved that they went to the West Coast and got two quality wins with one interesting loss. However, a month off followed and that resulted in stubbing their toes again dropping the next game to Concordia-Texas. We will have to wait a bit longer to see if UMHB is going to be what we expected this season, but any at-large back-up plan is already in jeopardy.

WPI is off my ballot though is still a team I think we will still be talking about in March. (Courtesy: WPI Athletics)

WPI (previously 19)
I may be heavy-handed here with WPI, but I’ve been unnerved since the first game of the season (yes, I know it was a midnight game). Their schedule hasn’t been great other than their game against Hamilton which they loss. I think I’m going to wait and see … on a team, again, I was high on to start.

Hope (previously 20)
The Dutch have had a good start to the season. A loss to UW-Oshkosh isn’t bad and really the loss to Hanover isn’t too bad, either. However, when I’m looking for reasons to get other teams that I think deserve to be on my ballot I start to nit-pick for reasons to remove teams. Two-losses at this point along with a loss to the Panthers (which I don’t think is a Top 25 team) was my reasoning this week.

WashU (previously 24)
Like others, I think the Bear are going to be a very good team this season, but when looking for reasons to get other teams on the ballot kinks are magnified. A one-point win (following a loss) to Webster, a one-point win over 2-5 Augustana, and then the loss to Pomona-Pitzer (who I thought was going to be good but is 5-4 right now).

Again, I have never said I think I know who are the best teams, the Top 25 order, etc. The one theme over the last decade (or more) is how much more difficult it is to narrow things down each ballot. There are so many teams that have legit points and arguments while also having their own flaws. There is a reason there are 25 voters, and arguably have even more, for this poll – there needs to be that many opinions to truly suss out who the best are in Division III.


Dave’s Top 25 Ballot (’22-’23) – Preseason (Part 1)

Welcome (back) to my Top 25 blog and the 2022-23 Division III basketball season.

This was originally written two weeks before the start of the DIII basketball season. And then I put it aside to deal with other things and … well … here we are. Please keep in mind that what I have written here are my preseason thoughts. None of this is based on results so far.

For those not familiar, I used to blog out my Top 25 ballot nearly each week … but it’s been a while. I didn’t think it had been missed, but I would get inquiries about it nearly every week last season so I figured I would try and get back to it. Hopefully I will be able to blog each week the Top 25 is released.

For this Top 25 Preseason Men’s poll, I made one significant change to my usual process – I never looked at how I voted nor what the final Top 25 poll looked like at the end of last season. I wanted to try and come in with a clear(ish) mind. The only thing I remembered was Randolph-Macon finished atop my ballot and the poll … obviously.

I’m unsure this new plan worked as I hoped it would.

The idea was to have as little prejudice, obvious or subliminal, as I researched and read about each team being considered. If I couldn’t remember how I or others voted for them at the end of the season, I could maybe have a fresher take on how I expected them to be this season (or at least start).

However, I found myself struggling more to read the “tea leaves.” Having an understanding how I felt a particular team finished last season is useful information. And it helps me appreciate how much a team has lost or gained in the offseason. By coming in without that info, my analysis of a team’s strengths and weaknesses was broader. I felt more unsure about where I felt a team was or wasn’t when it came to my ballot.

I appreciated that I did it differently. There is a real chance I considered some teams more than I may have in the past. And I stuck with the plan even when near the end I was searching for a decision point when trying to slot teams – or even include or not include them on my ballot.

I still have not looked at last year’s information before writing this blog. When I do, I suspect some of my decisions, especially teams I left off my ballot, will feel like errors.

One other important item. For years before COVID-19 disrupted everything, we talked extensively about parity in Division III Men’s Basketball. While teams do tend to rise to the top, the number of programs which legitimately could be considered Top 25 quality outnumbered how many we could vote for each week. That parity has continued to increase. While we were given data on 53 teams in the Top 25 Preseason info to consider, there were others any of us likely considered. When I got to the point of putting my ballot together, I had whittled my short list down to only 40 or so.

I left some really good teams off my ballot, and I am in no way thinking I got it right.

On last thing to mention before revealing my ballot: I do not, nor have I ever felt, that how I vote is “right” or the most accurate. There is a reason Pat Coleman (and Gordon Mann on the women’s side) makes sure not only there are 25 voters distributed around the country, but they represent different perspectives – media, coaches, SIDs, etc.

With that in mind, here is my Top 25 ballot with some brief thoughts on each team along with where I had them in last season’s final Top 25 (information I’m looking up for the first time for this blog).

Miles Mallory is leading RMC with a near-double-double (15.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg) to start the 2022-23 campaign.

1 – Randolph-Macon (#1)
I felt most of the off-season that RMC would likely remain my number-one vote, though I was very conscious of the fact that the team was losing more than just Buzz Anthony. Anthony was a unique, generational talent that will leave a large hole, however Josh Merkel has the services of Josh Talbert, Miles Mallory, and a number of others back. RMC still lost some good players along with Anthony, but they were so much better than everyone else last season that it is hard not to vote for them as the top team.

2 – Mary Hardin-Baylor (#7)
If there is a scary team this season to keep an eye on, it is probably UMHB. They have everyone back from a team that arguably underperformed last season. Yes … underperformed. They were darn good especially in their March run, but they were never 100%. What makes them scary is that Josiah Johnson is back, and he played most, if not all, of last season on an injured knee. Add in a more experience for Ty Prince, Luke Feely, and everyone else and it is already a very talent team.

Jahn Hines is leading CNU in scoring with 20.0 ppg and .556 FG% to start the season.

3 – Christopher Newport (#6)
The Captains were the only team to defeat Randolph-Macon last season and looked like RMC’s biggest threat to a national title until CNU’s 24-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of Marietta in the elite eight. John Krikorian once again has a very talented team with plenty of depth. I’m sometimes more amazed how CNU hardly ever has to rebuild, always plugging guys into slots to keep the engine humming. The Captains will once again have to deal with a funky schedule that their C2C conference situation presents, but what should be scary come March is they are used to it now.

4 – UW-Oshkosh (#5)
The Titans have become very consistent in a very turbulent WIAC. Reminds me of the heyday of UW-Stevens Point or even back to UW-Platteville’s dominating years under Bo Ryan. And have done it under two different coaches. UWO has all their starters back and their success will start with Levi Borchert.

Collen Gurley returns to Mount Union along with other transfers which has many expecting big things in Alliance, Ohio,

5 – Mount Union (#19)
I don’t listen a lot to off-season talk about who has transferred where or what high schoolers have committed to what program. However, it seemed the topic of who was likely suiting up for Mount Union popped up in a lot of places this summer – including chats with coaches not necessarily associated with the Purple Raiders. Four of last season’s starters return, plus they bring in some fascinating transfers – one of them is former Raider Collen Gurley who was an All-OAC 1st-Teamer two seasons ago.

6 – Case Western Reserve (#10)
I may be higher on the Spartans than others, but that was the case for most of last season as well. I admittedly could have CWR a tad high right now considering how much they lost from a break-out squad, but I also know the pieces returning along with who has transferred in making them look formidable. Add in the confidence and excitement a near final four run last season brings with it and I’d be surprised if Case isn’t a team we are talking about all season. The real challenge will be a very difficult UAA.

Alex Sobel averaged a double-double (18.3 ppg, 12.1 rpg) plus nearly 4 blocks a game for Middlebury last season.

7 – Middlebury (unranked)
This is a part of the ballot where teams are slotting in a bit higher than I anticipated. Middlebury is also a team were not looking at least season’s finish may have contributed (though, hard to not know the Panthers were not on my final Top 25 ballot). Jeff Brown seems to have a darn good team in Vermont, but I had originally expected to put them somewhere in the 10-15 range. I just didn’t have enough teams to fill out my Top 10 and had to pull from those in the next level down. While our data information didn’t have a ton about Middlebury, it is hard to ignore they have everyone returning – 100% of their offense in every statistical category.

8 – St. Joseph’s (Conn.) (unranked)
One might argue the biggest loss the Blue Jays experienced was the retirement of Jim Calhoun, but that also happened in the middle of last season and St. Joseph’s continued to click right along. Furthermore, Calhoun had already been limited in his coaching and Glenn Miller was basically running the show. This could be the end of St. Joseph’s buildup from the bedrock foundation, but it is a strong group that should roll through the GNAC where they have won 35-straight games. And they are challenging themselves – their entire out-of-conference schedule are teams that made the NCAA tournament last season – it’s just too bad we can’t get them to Las Vegas … yet.

Julien Crittendon is back to help an Oswego team improve upon what was a record-breaking season in 2021-22.

9 – Oswego State (#9)
The SUNYAC will once again be a beast, but the Lakers should be the top of the heap. Jason Leone has six of the top eight scorers back and the team says they have two transfers coming who should make an immediate impact. How do you improve on a season that was a program best? Can you really do better than 27-3? Sure, but I think Oswego will be better while likely being under-appreciated.

10 – Pomona-Pitzer (unranked)
Some of the best basketball in DIII takes places in Southern California and the Sagehens will once again show that this season. It won’t be easy in the SCIAC, but Pomona-Pitzer has shown the last few seasons to be able to go toe-to-toe with the best of Division III … and do so on the road. Pomona-Pitzer returns four of their five starters including All-American Brendan Mora and SCIAC Newcomer of the Year Pete Boyle. And they have a lot more talent including nine players who were significant contributors last season.

Next up, I’ll share 11-20. Then numbers 21-25 with some final notes.

Amherst alum: D3 should stay with D1 on championship weekend

Ben Kaplan played basketball at Amherst when the Lord Jeffs reached the 2008 national championship game in Salem. The next season he gave us an inside look at the Lord Jeffs’ 2009 NCAA tournament run. Four years later, Ben went to Atlanta to watch his alma mater play for the national championship. He describes how the Atlanta experience compared to Salem and gives his take on whether the Division III men’s title game should be regularly played at the Division I Final Four site.

Of all the possible confrontations at Saturday’s Final Four in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, I couldn’t have anticipated the first and only one I would witness. A fifty-ish man in maize, who made the trip with his twenty-ish son from New York, stuck a stubby finger in the face of a sixty-year-old man in purple who sat with his purple-clad daughter one row behind him. A vein pulsed in the man in maize’s forehead and spit flew with each obscenity. Some surrounding fans stepped in and the man in purple quietly stood and summoned security. Hey, you know what they say about Michigan and Amherst fans, right?

For the first time in its history, the NCAA celebrated 75 years of March Madness by crowning the Division II and III champions on the same weekend and in the same city as the D1 Final Four. If public sentiment has any say, it’s a change that the NCAA will make permanent. The D1 and D3 worlds pretend to exist on parallel planes when in fact they collide more often than you might expect. Bringing them together in one event is a fitting and well-deserved honor for the little guys.

The three most recent tournament coaching darlings, Butler’s Brad Stevens, VCU’s Shaka Smart, and Andy Enfield, formerly of Florida Gulf Coast, all played their college ball at Division III schools. Enfield made 92% of his free throws at Johns Hopkins to become the all-time Division III free-throw percentage leader, Smart set Kenyon’s career, season, and single-game assist records, and Stevens contributed for four years at DePauw.

The trio fit the popular D3 mold – scrappers who overcome size and athleticism deficiencies with intelligence, hard work, and often one special skill. D1 fans who dropped by the title game between Amherst College and University of Mary Hardin-Baylor probably expected the crisp passing and sharp shooting Amherst rode to the title, but they probably didn’t expect Amherst wing and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Allen Williamson to grab an offensive rebound on the block, take one dribble to gather himself, and rise up over a defender’s outstretched hand for a thunderous dunk. They probably didn’t expect Mary Hardin-Baylor star Thomas Orr, a lanky lefty who used a variety of crossovers and stepback moves en route to a team-high 24 points, to take off for a slam after a top of the key isolation move in the half court. And they definitely didn’t expect lumbering Amherst center Pete Kaasila to meet him at the rim and send the dunk attempt back. (OK so they called it a foul, but I not-so-objectively thought it was clean. Regardless, it was the second most impressive mid-air meeting in Atlanta called for a foul this weekend.)

Division III normally crowns its champion in Salem, Virginia, a town that hosts the D3 basketball and football championships. This year, the Elite Eight and Final Four were played in Salem two weeks prior to last Sunday’s title game. As a player at Amherst, I attended the 2008 Final Four. It was the school’s third trip to Salem in a row, and the previous year the team won their first national championship.

To get to Salem, we flew a chartered plane instead of our usual bus. A camera crew greeted us when we landed, instructing us to “act naturally” while they filmed. As we waited almost an hour for our coaches to pick up the rental cars, they interviewed a few players about the upcoming weekend. Instead of the usual motel or Howard Johnson, we stayed in a hotel with leather furniture and a fancy restaurant in the lobby. We dealt with never-ending TV timeouts for the first time all year, attended a banquet, and the starters spoke at official press conferences after the game. Little girls play “house,” and that weekend we played “D1 basketball.”

In Atlanta, this year’s Amherst team had a bus waiting for them at an airport and a police escort on each and every trip they made. When I ran into Amherst’s iconic coach, David Hixon, in the hotel lobby, he immediately told me about how thrilled the players were with the lengthy autograph sessions, media interviews, and TV footage shoots. The schedule was wonky, with a pair of two-week layoffs during the tournament, and the weekend was a minefield of distractions, but the players and coaches wouldn’t have had it any other way. For one weekend, they truly got their time on the big stage.

The weekend’s charms weren’t limited to the players. The Final Four hosts the National Association of Basketball Coaches clinics and conferences, which nearly every NCAA coach attends, so I had the pleasure of seeing and speaking to the Amherst graduate assistants from the past seven years who have now moved on to other schools. I sampled the Atlanta nightlife with alums who, myself included, probably wouldn’t have come had the game been in Salem. The D1 Final Four and accompanying activities, like the pop-a-shot games at Bracket Town or the free Ludacris concert at The Big Dance, provide more of an incentive for students and alums to make the trip to support their team. The academic toll of two long trips and a longer season may cause some educators to complain, but the two Amherst players I saw studying for an economics midterm next to the table of NCAA Merchandise in the hotel lobby seemed to manage the juggling act just fine. Half an hour of studying is a small price to pay for a weekend as a VIP at the Final Four.

The game itself took place at Phillips Arena instead of the Georgia Dome for the same reason that ping pong tournaments aren’t held on Centre Court at Wimbledon. National press stopped by to cover the game, and some wrote glowingly about the talent on the floor. They learned a well-kept secret, that the things like late growth spurts, injuries, and a desire for playing time that force bracket busters to attend mid-majors also contribute to low-D1 talents playing on the D3 level. One such talent, Amherst All-American Willy Workman, who had a hip injury in high school that kept him off the D1 radar, spoke at a reception honoring the players after their championship win. He said, “Playing at the D3 level, we don’t get a ton of support, so you guys are our everything. Thanks for being our parents, friends, fans, cooks, laundry-doers, and everything else we needed to get to this point.” Williamson, the Final Four MOP, talked to me about his desire to continue his playing career overseas, as more than a dozen alums in the past have done. “It’s getting a lot more competitive,” he told me, “so hopefully I’ll land somewhere.” To the media, a few Amherst players talked about how they always dreamed of playing in the NBA, and since that was out the window, winning a championship in an NBA arena was next-best thing.

Around 6,000 fans filed into the lower bowl of the Atlanta Hawks home while the upper bowl was curtained off, so the teams got the thrill of playing in a large arena without having it feel empty. At the Dome the previous night, screaming seas of maize, yellow, orange, and red dominated the stands, but at the D3 game the following afternoon, a few rowdy Amherst fans and a screaming Mary Hardin-Baylor student in a purple tutu holding an “Amherst Likes Nickelback” sign were the exception rather than the rule. Physicality and speed didn’t dominate the game as it did on the Division I level, but finesse, athleticism, and tremendous skill were still on display. On my road trip from Chicago to Atlanta, I marveled at the beauty of rolling green hills and the black structures and yellow lights of skylines. Both different, both majestic in their own way. I felt the same about the atmosphere and the on-court performances on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Which brings me back to the confrontation during the Michigan and Syracuse game. The Amherst fan expected his 200-level seats to the Division I Final Four to provide respite from the rowdy student sections. After all, he’s from Amherst, where basketball games are best enjoyed with quiet amusement and occasional polite clapping, preferably with a book on hand. The Michigan fans, who called the players by first name and referred to the team as “we”, wanted to celebrate each basket with a jump, a fist pump, and a high-five. Speaking from personal experience, post-graduation D3 fanhood is more a source of quiet pride than loud and boastful cheers. When “we” used to play on the team and actually know each player by first name, the wild rowdiness seems to us, for whatever reason, a bit over the top. Not that I look down on it. Quite the contrary. I envy it. I wish Amherst results put me in a wild frenzy. I wish I could go to a bar in Chicago on Saturdays and cheer with friends as Amherst beats Middlebury in football. I love when my school wins, and I hate when they lose, but the lack of fanfare and smaller stage puts the game in a different perspective for us.

In the end, both men overreacted. The Amherst alum shouldn’t have grabbed the younger Michigan fan and nudged him down to his seat when he stood up to celebrate a Mitch McGary layup. The older Michigan fan shouldn’t have responded by pushing and swearing at the Amherst alum.

At the heart of that clash were two parents who didn’t want a once-in-a-lifetime experience with their kids at all compromised. The father and son decked out in maize, the father and daughter in Amherst sweaters, my father and me a few seats over, the two Michigan grad students who bought our tickets to Monday’s finals – we were all living out a weekend we would remember and laugh and talk about forever. Watching Amherst win was great, but sharing that experience with my old teammates, seeing the big hugs and bigger smiles on the court, and the tears of the new generation of team parents made it truly special.

That’s why this past weekend should be the beginning of a new tradition. Other Division II and III schools deserve this chance, and other alums should get to experience what I did. Between the overload of endorsements and allegations of athlete exploitation, the NCAA creates these unforgettable shared experiences between athletes and fans alike. Why not maximize them?