Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 11

This week was hard. Plain and simple. Hard.

The most challenging part was picking a number one team. Simply put: who really is the best team in the country this season? There is no way there will be a consensus pick (as I write this before the rankings have been published). I ended up coming down to picking between four teams. I could see an argument for six.

I considered St. Thomas, UW-Whitewater, Randolph-Macon, and Babson and eventually went with … Randolph-Macon. It wasn’t easy. I probably thought about the number one vote in some capacity for three or so hours. I mulled over schedules, results, SOS numbers, lottery numbers, quantum physics, and even threw a dart or two. Every single team I considered had results on their schedules I didn’t like, flaws with their teams, and concerns with the last two weeks. There just wasn’t a team that jumped up and looked like a number one team.

But it got harder after that. So many teams once again lost last week. I had twelve losses on my previous ballot. Not a record, but certainly not good. I tried to stick with many of the “rules” I had set to governing how I moved teams around, but some of those rules (like losing to a team ranked ahead of you) got me in trouble with leaving teams on my ballot that really argued to not be there anymore. And of course with a season so wide open, there are far more teams I am considering for the Top 25 than I have room for on my ballot.

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

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

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

1 – Randolph-Macon* (Up 4)
I’d be lying if I told you this felt comfortable. The loss at home to Frostburg State on November 30 still bothers me. But here is the kicker: The Yellow Jackets haven’t loss since. 18 straight. And with an ever larger target on their back, Randolph-Macon continues to get the job done even when the games might not be pretty. We already know RMC is playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, but they have also beaten everyone including Virginia Wesleyan twice. Undefeated in the ODAC with two to play… that just doesn’t happen! In fact, the last time a team went undefeated in the ODAC was 2000 (Hampden-Sydney)!

2 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)
It came down to the fact I couldn’t knock the Warhawks for losing to a certainly underrated UW-Stevens Point squad. Furthermore, Whitewater didn’t have probably their best player on the floor due to apparently a personal matter (just as Stevens Point didn’t have their best player on the floor due to injury when the two teams first met). Maybe I am giving the Warhawks a little too much credit since they have three losses – two of them in Division III. However, there is something unflappable about UWW that just makes me feel fine with them at number two.

3 – Babson (Up 2)
I think the Beavers are underrated. They have lost twice to very good teams, Bates and WPI, and avenged that conference loss to WPI* a few weeks ago. Certainly they have had some tight games, but they are winning and getting contributions deep on their bench. They have also played a far more difficult schedule than people want to give them credit for including wins over Bowdoin and Amherst this season.

4 – St. Thomas (Down 3)
I actually debated about leaving the Tommies in first despite their loss. Heck, UW-Whitewater would have moved up one despite a loss if I had given them number one slot. However, it came down to the fact St. Thomas lost to a middle-of-the-MIAC team in Concordia-Moorhead and thus couldn’t put the MIAC regular season title further out of reach with three games left to play. Call it a mental lapse. That loss to Moorhead is worse than the loss to Stevens Point for Whitewater and thus why the Tommies fell three spots.

5 – Augustana (Up 3)
Not only did the Vikings get a big win over Illinois Wesleyan in dominating fashion on the road (82-56), they avoided the mental collapse in the trap game that followed against Millikin. That performance means the CCIW playoffs will have to go through Rock Island where, despite IWU’s earlier win this season, is not the easiest place to play in the Midwest. I realize I might be buying in a little too much with Augustana since we aren’t that far removed from the collapse against North Park and North Central in back-to-back games, but I also think those games woke Augustana up.

6 – St. Norbert (Up 1)
I’m not sure I can keep moving St. Norbert up. They have a slightly below average SOS and their conference just isn’t that competitive at the top (the Green Knights have won 41 straight conference games). I’m only setting myself up for disappointment if St. Norbert doesn’t go far in the NCAA tournament because, remember, this is still a somewhat young team.

7 – WPI* (Up 2)

8 – UW-Stevens Point (Up 6)
I am fully on board with the Pointers, now. Message received. I have been downplaying Stevens Point all season, but finally woke up a few weeks ago. They have their best player back and the win over UW-Whitewater looks to make the conference home court decision come down to a coin flip – yes, a coin flip. Well done Pointers.

9 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 3)

10 – Dickinson (Unchanged)
Well, I was going to ding the Red Devils pretty good for their loss to McDaniel*. However, reports were they had a lot of players sick which happens this time of year. That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to move them down a couple of spots anyway until they turned around and beat Johns Hopkins* to at least make the Centennial finish a little more interesting.

11 – Marietta (Down 8)
It is one thing to lose your unbeaten streak at this point in the season, but I thought Marietta could at least stop it at one loss. Nope… two. Everyone knew this past week was going to be tough with Mount Union and John Carroll on the schedule, but I figured at worst it would be 1-1 for the Pioneers. Hopefully Marietta stops the latest streak in its tracks or they could be in trouble. The only reason I didn’t move Marietta even further down for two untimely losses… the simple fact they lost to two very competitive teams in their conference.

12 – Albertus Magnus (Unchanged)

13 – St. John Fisher (Unchanged)

14 – Emory (Up 2)
Held serve at home. Very important weekend for the Eagles and they got the job done against Washington Univ.* and Chicago*. That makes up for the trip to the Midwest where they lost both of those games. Now Emory is in a bit more control of the rest of the season and it’s thanks to the fact most of the back-end of their conference schedule lets them enjoy their Atlanta home.

15 – Johns Hopkins* (Unchanged)

16 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 2)

17 – Elmhurst (Up 3)

18 – Chapman (Down 7)
I know they only lost one game this past week, but after starting the season undefeated the Panthers have now lost three of their last five including to two teams in the middle of the conference standings. And with that Chapman has also lost some control of whether the SCIAC playoffs come through Harold Hutton Sports Center. Their game against Cal Lutheran this weekend looms very large.

19 – Whitworth (Unchanged)

20 – Catholic* (Up 1)
I got to see the Cardinals in person for a third time this season and the first since the Hoopsville Classic and they are very much improved. However, I still have some concerns. They beat Goucher* 100-85 with their starters scoring 97 of their points. There just isn’t a lot of contributions from the bench except in minutes and some defensive help. If Catholic wants to make a run this year, I think they need more than minutes coming off their bench. They need some offensive help.

21 – Wooster (Up 1)

22 – New York Univ.* (Unchanged)

23 – St. Olaf (Unranked)
My concerns for the Oles may have been premature. Since losing back-to-back games, St. Olaf has won seven straight to leave themselves a half game behind St. Thomas atop the MIAC. And of course, they have a showdown with the Tommies coming up on Monday (as I write this). It is a big game for both teams. St. Thomas wants to not have a losing streak and St. Olaf would love to wrestle the regular season title and home court advantage away from the Tommies. Should be a great game in St. Paul.

24 – Washington Univ.* (Unchanged)
I probably should have dropped the Bears, but am sticking it out for another week. This split-the-weekend experience is getting old even if it is in the tough UAA. I realize the loss to Emory on the road doesn’t look bad on paper, but WashU is 4-4 in their last eight and 6-5 in conference action! In hindsight, I really should have dropped them. However, they have three straight home games remaining against NYU*, Brandeis, and Chicago* and those games could not loom larger.

25 – Penn State-Behrend (Unranked)
I’ve got nothing witty to say about the Lions except they have only lost two games this season, so it is probably about time to recognize that fact. Their SOS is pretty poor which tells you they are winning their games in a below-average conference and a not-so-great out-of-conference schedule. However, they are still winning (10 straight) and that can’t be discounted too much.

Dropped out:

Illinois Wesleyan (Previously 17)
If the Titans only loss this past week had been to Augustana, fine. If they had kept the game against the Vikings close, fine. But you get trounced by Augustana and you lost to North Park who you know has been gunning and beating plenty of good teams and I have seen enough. I realize the CCIW is tough this year, but Illinois Wesleyan is just so inconsistent this season. I just can’t keep rewarding IWU when can’t seem to win games they should be winning. Not to mention the fact, they cost themselves home court in the CCIW tournament as well.

Chicago* (Previously 25)
I have stated it often here, I don’t knock teams for losing to teams I have ranked higher. My ballot clearly states I expect that loss to happen. In other words, the loss to Emory by Chicago was expected. And until the very last minute I wasn’t going to drop Chicago. But it bothered me. As with WashU*, Chicago has been inconsistent in a very tough UAA. 4-4 in their last eight losing to nearly the same teams WashU has (except for Brandeis). So it came down to this, while the loss to Emory was close… 15-7 in the Top 25 seemed inappropriate. I still like the Maroons as a team and think next year they are going to be dangerous. They are home for the next two including a very important game against NYU. Then they hit the road where WashU is looking for some payback. Interesting finish to the UAA schedule is an understatement.

* – seen in person this season.

Previous ballots:
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 10

Last week’s “easy” week was the exact opposite this week. I erased so many decisions on my pad of paper I practically wore right through the page.

Sufficed to say, this season is crazy. There isn’t a coach I talk with these days who can’t believe what they are seeing with results. There isn’t a Top 25 voter I have chatted with who is sure of half of their ballot. It really is nuts.

This week: the top five didn’t change; five through thirteen went through some readjustments; fourteen on… chaos. Complete upheaval. I spent a couple of hours changing my mind. I thought that by casting a wider net, maybe some teams would jump up and force me to punt other teams. In fact, it only made the decision(s) harder. At one point I seriously had 30 teams I was considering for 12 spots… and I probably could have talked myself into ten more teams!

All and all… I am not satisfied my Top 25 is the best ballot it could be this week. I am too uneasy about a lot of teams, recent outcomes, and those maybe I am discounting for whatever reason. More losses are pretty much guaranteed and I will be back in the same boat each week – so I might as well get comfortable!

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

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

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

1 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

2 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

3 – Marietta (Unchanged)

4 – Randolph-Macon* (Unchanged)

5 – Babson (Unchanged)

6 – Virginia Wesleyan (Up 4)
At least someone is winning. We all know the Marlins are always going to be a good team. Maybe this is the year the ODAC has two deep threats.

7 – St. Norbert (Up 1)

8 – Augustana (Down 2)
Another loss for the Vikings. The CCIW is clearly one of the toughest conferences in the country this year with even the bottom being a major threat, but Augustana has to stand up and get it done and not keep taking losses. It is already going to be hard to get at-large bids this season, you don’t want the end of the season plagued with losses to dash your hopes. Big game against Illinois Wesleyan this week – looking for the Vikings to exact some revenge on the road for the earlier loss at Rock Island or Augustana drops and IWU jumps up further!

9 – WPI* (Unchanged)
When you lose to a team I have ranked ahead of you anyway, I am not going to drop you down the poll. I expected Babson to win based on my rankings, so WPI stays in the Top 10 as a result.

10 – Dickinson (Down 3)
Ouch! I figured the Red Devils were due for another conference loss with Johns Hopkins and Franklin & Marshall (on the road) still on their schedule, but Ursinus*?! Seriously?! It was a rough Saturday in the Centennial (call is Centennial Conference Carnage), but you can’t afford to drop games against teams you should be beating (theme for this week’s blog). I realize Ursinus is vastly improved over the squad I saw in December (wasn’t pretty), but Dickinson is better than that. And again… JHU and F&M still to play before the conference tournament!

11 – Chapman (Up 1)
Stop a two game slide with a hard-fought win over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps… impressive. I pretty much had resigned the fact Chapman might lose that game because CMS is pretty good and Chapman seemed to be struggling. That win could have saved Chapman’s post-season hopes.

12 – Albertus Magnus (Down 1)

13 – St. John Fisher (Unchanged)

14 – UW-Stevens Point (Unranked)
Every time I thought about adding the Pointers to my Top 25 ballot I reminded myself they have to play Whitewater this week. If the last game is any barometer, the Pointers are going to lose. So how could I justify putting them into my Top 25 if I think they are going to lose this week? Couple of reasons: they are at least winning and Whitewater is so far their only blemish (but, Oshkosh did nearly get them the next game); they have won 11 of their last 12 and starting to take control of games again; they have Stephen Pelkofer back from injury (played 37 minutes against Platteville) and that is a very good sign for the Pointers. Oh… and I am probably one of the only voters who hadn’t had them in my Top 25 by this point.

15 – Johns Hopkins* (Up 3)
Got a big win over Franklin & Marshall* to split the season with the Diplomats and continue a 16 game winning streak (last loss was to F&M back on November 25). That also equates to a two game lead on Dickinson who the Blue Jays have already beaten. This blue-collar team isn’t backing down!

16 – Emory (Down 2)
I watch (on video) the Eagles blow through Rochester on Friday and then once again struggle against NYU* and loss on Sunday. I am pretty sure Emory is glad NYU is in their rear view mirror – but the entire UAA has been this way this season. It is a very difficult conference this season. I can’t ding Emory that much for losing to a really good team (more on NYU in a minute) when I saw them roll over the Yellow Jackets. I also take into account I haven’t talked to one single coach who has seen Emory and not spoken highly of them. Weird year.

17 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 5)
I haven’t been that thrilled with the Titans this season, but they keep getting it done even after tough losses. There were comments that Illinois Wesleyan wasn’t a Top 25 team just a few weeks ago after a couple of losses in the CCIW. What I think we actually saw was the early signs the CCIW as going to be very difficult. Now IWU finds themselves in the conference lead by a game with Augustana coming to town this week. Talk about a statement game. If you thought the win at Rock Island was important? This week is even more important. Potential two-game lead in a very difficult conference and the chance to get the tournament through Bloomfield versus Rock Island… big, big game.

18 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 6)
Yeah… I might be jumping a bit too much here, but the Battling Bishops seemed to have solved the can’t-win-more-than-two-games-in-a-row problem they were having last month. Ohio Wesleyan is free and clear of the NCAC including a season sweep of Wooster. In a year of chaos, Ohio Wesleyan may have found some stability at just the right time of the year.

19 – Whitworth (Down 3)
I thought Whitworth would roll through the rest of the conference schedule. I know Whitman was going to be tough, but to get blown out and not score 50 points?! Didn’t see that coming. Whitworth doesn’t seem to have a great strength of schedule this season, so they have to be careful and win the automatic bid. Losing to Whitman will only fuel hopes from those below that Whitworth is ripe for the taking. Down a couple of spots… because I am worried.

20 – Elmhurst (Down 1)
I tried to move Elmhurst down further, but I just couldn’t justify putting them behind those who are below them. Elmhurst looks like they forgot to stay focused. I know Wheaton is a good team and have mentioned the CCIW is really tough this year, but you don’t beat good teams and then drop one on the road at Wheaton. The road doesn’t get easier. North Park, North Central, and Illinois Wesleyan to wrap up the regular season – tread lightly Blue Jays or you are going to get your wings clipped.

21 – Catholic* (Up 4)
I know Catholic is on a good run right now, but I can’t move them that high up the Top 25. They have a weak SOS, apparently, and they have a looming game against Scranton* this week (if they don’t get trapped by Goucher* mid-week). I will get the chance to see the Cardinals again this week and compare them to the beginning of the season. Then, maybe, I can decide if I am smart to leave them in this range of the Top 25 or if I am low-balling them.

22 – Wooster (Down 8)
Bad time to hit a rut. The Fighting Scots have lost three of their last four and seem to be struggling when we are used to them dominating. They have probably played themselves out of controlling the NCAC tournament and could be in deeper trouble if they don’t right the ship soon. I even debated about dropping Wooster all-together, but I honestly didn’t have anyone whose resume seemed better than Wooster’s right now.

23 – New York Univ.* (Down 8)
The challenge in the UAA is going to be summed up best by the Violets and the next two on my ballot. Beat the tough team, lose to the worse teams, all on the road. Once again New York Univ. beat Emory, but once again NYU couldn’t beat Rochester. The challenge for me: I have seen NYU in person – they are darn good. The problem is I see a loss to Rochester (who has won four in a row and is tied for second with practically everyone else in the conference) and I scratch my head. It may simply come down to match-ups, but NYU has put themselves in a position where they may be too far down the regional rankings in a weak East to earn themselves an at-large bid. If they do get into the tournament, they could be one of the deep sleepers to watch out for.

24 – Washington Univ.* (Down 2)
The only reason the Bears are not out of my Top 25 ballot: they have only lost four games and they do have a very difficult SOS. Once again, Washington Univ. lost a game they shouldn’t have lost (Carnegie Mellon) and once again they beat the tougher opponent and did it handily (Case Western Reserve). There is plenty of inconsistency with the Bears, but they are playing a dangerous game. If they don’t win the UAA automatic bid (regular season title), they could end up being stuck behind a lot of good Central Region teams and get left out of the NCAA Tournament. At some point, WashU has to beat the teams they should be beating to leave themselves some wiggle room.

25 – Chicago* (Down 5)
I could almost write the same thing for WashU here for the Maroons. Believe it or not, Chicago leads the UAA – which is clearly the toughest conference in the country this year – but they once again lost a game that just doesn’t make sense. Maybe the talk the Maroons are actually a year away from being potentially a world beater are correct, but the pre-season coach’s poll also predicted Chicago would win the conference. That last part also appears to be correct. However, the only reason I moved Chicago this far down and behind WashU (despite a head-to-head win over the Bears)… six total losses for Chicago. They definitely can’t afford to lose any more games and need that AQ to make sure they make the tournament. Playing with fire in a city that has a love/hate relationship with flames.

Dropped out:

Franklin & Marshall (Previously 23)
It’s one thing to lost to a red hot Johns Hopkins teams, but to lose on the road to Washington is not good enough. I know the Diplomats struggle with Washington, especially on the road (lost to the Shoremen four of the last six years), but this season is one of those times you have to figure it out. You also can’t lose to Washington when you just lost to JHU. This is now two two-game losing streaks in seven games and it doesn’t get any easier: Ursinus, Muhlenberg, Gettysburg, and Dickinson. Buckle up F&M fans – this is going to be a very interested finish to the season.

Previous ballots:
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)

2 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

3 – Marietta (Up 1)

4 – Randolph-Macon* (Up 1)

5 – Babson (Up 3)

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

7 – Dickinson (Up 3)

8 – St. Norbert (Up 3)

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

10 – Virginia Wesleyan (Up 4)

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

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

13 – St. John Fisher (Up 3)

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

15 – Whitworth (Up 2)

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

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

18 – Johns Hopkins* (Up 5)

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

20 – Chicago* (Up 1)

21 – Illinois Wesleyan (Up 1)

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

23 – Franklin & Marshall* (Up 1)

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

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

Dropped out:

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

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

Previous ballots:

Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8

Dave’s Top 25 ballot: Week 8

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

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

This one has mixed results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropped out:

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

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

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

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

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

* – teams I have seen in person.

Previous ballots:
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7