That sound you may have heard was me finally doing what I had been debating, and threatening, to do for weeks – blow up my ballot. It wasn’t a complete and devastating destruction, but it was good enough to make me rethink a number of teams, positions, and my thought process behind many. Surprisingly, not as many teams at the top shifted as dramatically as I thought they would in my head. However, the bottom half basically went through a complete make-over including cutting bait with teams because I just couldn’t justify my decisions anymore.
I also dove into more teams than usual this time of year and I dove into more data than I usually like to do. Many know I am not a fan of Massey Ratings, but this is the time of year I do take a look at their numbers to see if there is something I am missing. I don’t end up agreeing with Massey, but it at least forces me to reevaluate a team I am either under- or over-selling and it helps me make sure I am not missing anyone.
Same is true with the NCAA SOS numbers. Of course, we don’t have access to those numbers until Wednesday (when the first Regional Rankings debut), but math-expert Matt Snyder has his own “math” working online, based on the NCAA formula, which gives us at least a good idea of what to expect from the NCAA data (Matt will get a chance to double-check his formula(s) on Wednesday). While I am certainly not ranking my teams per the SOS, it does give me a better insight on what their schedule actually looks like from a data point of view. This sometimes will force me to dive into a team’s schedule further to figure out, maybe, why it doesn’t add up to my expectations (high or low).
As a result of all of this, I ended up writing down a total of 45 teams, including my previous Top 25, to research and analyze. Each week this season I have had between 50-70 teams that have at least crossed my mind, but by the time I get down to researching, I have whittled that number down to 30-35. Also, I will sometimes breeze over teams I have near the top or know well to save myself time. However, this week, there was a solid 45 teams to go through and I went through each of their schedules, games, and notes I have on them in the past few weeks.
That’s what you do when you blow up your ballot.
As a result, my top ten went through a bit of a shuffle – though, it ended up not as severe as it started. I had moved some teams around significantly at the beginning before settling down to a more reserved shuffle in the end. The bottom fifteen, on the other hand, was completely turned on its head. I dropped four teams some of whom might surprise you despite big wins. I nearly dropped a fifth, but ended up deciding to hold on to my 25th team a little longer despite a major voice in the back of head not pleased with the decision.
With that being said, here is my Top 25 (which you can compare to the D3hoops.com Top 25). I am not going to comment on much of the top ten to save time and space. There are moves, they probably make sense. If they don’t, let me know. I wanted to focus my writing time mainly on the moves I made in the bottom half.
1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
2 – Benedictine (Up 2)
3 – John Carroll (Up 2)
4 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)
5 – Whitworth* (Down 3)
6 – Hope (Unchanged)
7 – Christopher Newport (Up 2)
8 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 1)
9 – Elmhurst (Down 1)
10 – Marietta (Unchanged)
11 – Johnson and Wales (Unchanged)
12 – Susquehanna^ (Unchanged)
13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)
14 – Lancaster Bible (Up 4)
This is a big jump in my mind for the Chargers. The simple fact is at this time of the year with an unbeaten team in a sub-par conference I am looking for one thing: domination. Lancaster Bible is dominating the NEAC. They are winning conference games by nearly 27-points this season and haven’t had a game closer than 15 since beating Cairn by four on December 11th. Sure, the conference isn’t giving up much of a fight and there is a really problematic situation coming should they not win the AQ (SOS is .421 and while probably improve slightly; do you leave a one-loss team at home?). However, the Chargers are starting to prove their early season success was just the tip of the iceberg.
15 – Alma (Down 2)
16 – Plattsburgh State (Up 5)
The Cardinals are pulling away from what I thought was going to be a dog-fight of a SUNYAC race. Plattsburgh has won 13 of their last 14 games and now have a 3 ½ game lead on the conference with five games to play. This has been a six-team race at the top not that long ago. Basically, Plattsburgh is proving to be the only team that can win nearly every night in Central and Western New York.
17 – Whitman (Unranked)
I would be lying if I told you I was comfortable with putting Whitman this high on my ballot. Their win over Whitworth certainly gave me reason to include them, but this high? I realize I am one of the last to buy in to the Missionaries, but we have seen this script before. The only team capable of beating Whitworth in conference over the years is Whitman, but only when playing the game at the Sherwood Center on Whitman’s campus. Does that really make Whitman a good team this season versus others? Outside of beating Whitworth, the Missionaries don’t have a significant win on their schedule. While that doesn’t add up to this decision, I do lean on the fact Whitman has only lost three games and at least has played well in conference. I’m buying in… trepidatiously.
18 – Penn State-Behrend (Up 2)
19 – Mount Union (Up 3)
20 – Amherst (Down 6)
The team-formerly-known-as-the-Lord-Jeffs did not play well against Tufts on Saturday. Shot poorly from deep (28%), got out-rebounded, couldn’t hit a free throw (8-16), and allowed Tufts to have a 21-point lead before realizing they were in trouble. I am just not that confident in the purple team from more-central-than-west Massachusetts. When Amherst has been a national power in the past, these games didn’t exist. They have now dropped three games in their last eight with a resurgent Middlebury and scrappy Hamilton squads waiting to close out the regular season.
21 – Northwestern (Minn.) (Down 2)
Northwestern hasn’t done anything to drop two spots, but they haven’t done anything to make me think they are better than 21st. They have hands-down the worse SOS of any of the teams I am considering, and it’s ugly (.408) and they are barely holding on to the lead in the UMAC thanks to a loss already to St. Scholastica (they will play a rematch in the final game of the season). I just don’t think they are as good as I had them ranked.
22 – Wooster (Unranked)
Welcome back Scots. Looks like the team that has been underperforming to normal Wooster expectations may have found their stride. The win over Ohio Wesleyan a few weeks back is certainly a good sign, but they have also won ten of their last eleven and might pull off the surprise and force the NCAC tournament trough Timken Gymnasium! Their offense is scoring far more points in the last several weeks than it has all season while the defense seems to be staying consistent. Maybe Steve Moore has his team peaking during an off-year at just the right time to surprise some people.
23 – Emory* (Unranked)
Welcome back Eagles. The last two weeks in the UAA have been unbelievable. Emory was a game back of Chicago before playing their home-and-home series over the last two weekends. Now Emory has won six-straight, has a one-game lead on Rochester*, and Chicago has fallen to three-games back. Emory may have a young team, but they are proving they can now win the close games and beat some very good teams while they are at it. By the way, Emory has a ridiculous SOS (.634 unofficially) meaning they could get into the NCAA tournament once again and throw a monkey-wrench into bracketing like they did in 2014.
24 – Aurora (Unranked)
I realize the Spartans lost to Benedictine this week, but have you seen how Aurora has been playing prior? If Benedictine wasn’t undefeated, people would probably be talking about Aurora. Since they lost three of four prior to the holiday break, they won ten in a row before facing Benedictine (now 11 of their past 12) and winning pretty confidently. Of course, maybe Aurora also looks better thanks to pretty much only losing to Benedictine this season. However, a .537 SOS surprised me, but that forced me to look at the schedule and remember a win over North Central (Ill.) and notice they have been putting up points all season.
25 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 1)
I almost cut the Diplomats. I know they are winning, but I am not impressed for some reason. I guess I don’t buy in as much as people would expect. But, I have watched the team for so many years and I just don’t think this team is quite where it can be to be a Top 25 team. The conference is also down (despite a good Swarthmore team who has emerged) and that doesn’t allow F&M to shine as much as they could. I actually had the Diplomats out of my ballot several times and was going to keep it that way until I voted. Then I changed my mind and left them in. Seems weird if they only have three-losses that I don’t have them in my Top 25 despite what that voice in the back of my head is yelling.
WPI^ (Previously 16)
The Engineers have lost three in a row. That’s pretty much the reason I dropped them. It is just so hard to buy in to WPI when they always seem to peak early and go through a stretch late in the season like this. The loss to Babson was their second to them and handed the Beavers the NEWMAC lead, but it was the end of three in a row that saw WPI lose to 9-12 (now) Springfield and Emerson.
Chicago^ (Previously 17)
The Maroons have now lost four in a row, all to Rochester and Emory including an unbelievable loss to the Yellow Jackets on a purposely missed free-throw, rebound, and three-pointer at the buzzer. It is amazing how fast a season can change. Chicago is basically in a must-win situation the rest of the season. Any loss will pretty much eliminate them from winning the UAA crown and throw them into a very crowded Central Region that will make getting an at-large bid very difficult. I really like Chicago and have for years… but this is not good.
Tufts (Previously 23)
I realize the Jumbos beat Amherst, but they also lost to Trinity this week. No, not a bad loss and certainly a good win, but in a shake-up of my Top 25 I couldn’t hold on to them. They have previous losses to Wesleyan and Middlebury in the last few weeks and just don’t seem to be playing very consistently – they are all over the place. I might be wrong on this, but I just don’t like the look. Plus the fact, if you are good enough to beat Amherst… you should be good enough to be Trinity.
Texas Lutheran (Previously 25)
I was ready to pull this trigger last week, but held on. But a loss to Trinity this past weekend was the straw that broke the back. I don’t doubt the Bulldogs are a very good team this year and could make a bit of a run in the NCAA tournament if the bracket lines up right for them (like East Texas Baptist last year), but it is a crowded field for those worthy of being a Top 25 team and I think Texas Lutheran isn’t fitting the mold right now.
* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season
It certainly is interesting right now. Sometimes the Top 25 settles down a little bit by this time of the year, but not this season. That isn’t overly surprising. There are a lot of good teams across the country and probably some that are flying under the radar. I know I spotted a few that I hadn’t taken as seriously as before in this process of blowing up my radar. Some made my ballot, some others are still off the ballot. There certainly isn’t a shortage of teams who can make arguments they are the best 25 in the country.\
For comparison’s sake, you can also check out Ira Thor’s Top 25 ballot here.