Madness before March

Justin Riley, forward for No. 13 Chapman, has been blogging for us throughout the Panthers season. This week he discusses the scheduling difficulties of being an island on an island. The only Division III conference within driving distance is the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) of which Chapman isn’t a member.


What comes to mind when you hear about this school? Location…academics…enrollment size…women…athletics?



Enrollment size…maybe.

Women…strong maybe.

Athletics…of course not.

Why would you think about athletics when thinking of Chapman? Why would ANY athlete choose a school that is not affiliated with a conference? In fact, why do athletes even go to Chapman when they know the chances of making the post-season aren’t very high?

These questions were the exact ones that circled my mind when deciding to attend Chapman, yet I still decided to come here.

Did the location of the school influence my decision? Yes.

Did academics influence my decision? Yes.

Did enrollment size influence my decision? Yes.

Did the women influence my decision? Yes.

Did choosing a school that had a basketball program that never made a post-season appearance influence my decision? Yes.

I decided to come to Chapman on all these accords, but there was nothing more important to me than having the opportunity to be part of a team that had the chance to make school history and earn the first ever post-season bid for the men’s basketball program. Upon my arrival, I quickly learned that earning a post-season bid wasn’t very easy to come by. After a 20-7 campaign my freshman year, we were left sitting on the couch reading who was doing what. Honestly, I didn’t feel that we truly deserved a bid due to key losses against La Verne and Redlands. I accepted it and moved on.

Sophomore year, we wanted to shake off another boring March and improve upon our record. With a starting group of three juniors and two sophomores, we finished the season 24-3, yet we still found ourselves sitting on the couch again. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why we didn’t get the bid, so I decided to do some research to find out why we weren’t “good” enough to make the post-season. After reading through various board postings, blogs and other articles, I found out how important the strength of schedule is in the selection process. After finding this information out, I looked up our strength of schedule numbers based upon our opponents winning percentage (OWP) and opponents opponents winning percentage (OOWP) and found Chapman had the third easiest schedule in Division III. Frustrated about this statistic, I threw my hands up and accepted that with such an easy schedule and three in-region losses to Whitman, Whitworth, and UDallas, we probably weren’t the most deserving team of a Pool B bid.

But then I started to think: why was our strength of schedule so weak? There wasn’t much difference in the teams we played from the year before to now, so why was there such a disparity?

Answer: It’s simple—Chapman is left with very slim pickings of teams who are willing to play them once conference play starts. Since there are only two other Division III opponents in California that aren’t in the SCIAC, we are forced to play UC Santa Cruz and La Sierra multiple times. Unfortunately, UC Santa Cruz and La Sierra haven’t had the most successful seasons over the past years, which has lead to a decrease in our strength of schedule numbers.

Now we are left with the ultimate question: Why not stop scheduling La Sierra and UC Santa Cruz so much, and play better west region teams?

Answer: WE WANT TO!

Problem: Once conference play starts, we are left with those two teams and other meaningless, in terms of a post-season bid, games against NAIA and NCCAA opponents. Of course we would like to play all the SCIAC schools twice a year, but the reality is, they don’t want to play us. Can you blame them? If I were a coach, why would I play a non-conference game during the midst of conference play to help out another team? What if a player gets injured? What if we lose? Will our team morale be affected? Yes, playing us will increase their strength of schedule and give them another west region game, but at the same time, focusing a team’s energy on a non-conference opponent during conference play might not be the best idea. Some may agree with this statement while others will disagree, but the reality is come conference time, teams do not want to play us, PERIOD.

So what is the solution? I wish I had the magic potion to sprinkle on the heads of the SCIAC to let us in or to at least schedule us during conference play, but the truth is, I don’t. Knowing these statistics, should we fill up our November and December schedule with tougher opponents? Maybe. Should we try and compete in tournaments that feature these opponents? Maybe. Should we stop complaining when year after year we find ourselves not playing in March? Maybe. There are many questions that are left unanswered, but one thing I am confident about is that Chapman is a strong force in not only the West, but in all of Division III. Our schedule may not match up with other top teams in America, but once again, I am confident that we have the talent to compete with any team. I only have one more year of eligibility after this season, but I promise I will not be satisfied until we get the opportunity to shine in March.

To everyone who mocks our schedule, doubts our abilities, or just downright doesn’t like us…thank you!

The more you doubt, the more motivated we become!

“Very little margin for error”

This is the second entry from D3hoops Insider Justin Riley whose team is off to a quick start this season.

The 2009-2010 season of hoops is here and I couldn’t be more excited to get the ball rolling on this season. As stated in my previous blog, Chapman is not affiliated with a conference, therefore each game has to be played with conference intensity and preparation–there is very little margin for error.

With that said, we opened up our season on the road against the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens. Last year, the Sagehens made it to the SCIAC championship game where they were defeated by the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags. We knew the Sagehens were an experienced team (they added only one new starter) that had the smarts and talent to beat us. After getting off to a slow start, we quickly turned the game around and defeated the Sagehens by 18 points. It felt great to get the first win of the season under our belt, but we noticed some flaws in our game that would need to be corrected before facing the #14 ranked Cal Lutheran Kingsmen.

During the practices leading up to the game, I noticed a change in our team’s dynamic. We realized this would be one of the most important games of the season. Just hours before the game, I had butterflies in my stomach as I paced back and forth in my apartment. I was anxious to step on the court at 7 PM and give everything I had. This was the first time since my senior year of high school that I was this excited to play in a game. Before I could even blink, my teammates and I were on the court awaiting the ref to toss the jump ball and let play begin!

From the opening tip to the ending buzzer, the game was everything I had pictured it would be. We secured an upset victory over the visiting Kingsmen, 80-74. Both teams battled during the entire 40 minutes and the cheering fans added to a fun-filled environment that all players enjoy. Unlike Hope and Calvin, which averaged 2000 people in attendance per game last season, Chapman had about 500-600 fans in the stands for this game and the noise level was still pretty high. Ultimately, it was a great game for both teams and I am looking forward to potentially playing them again in the Lee Fulmer Tournament hosted by Redlands University December 3-5.

It feels good starting the season off with wins over two experienced and very good SCIAC teams. Next week we face La Verne on their home court, and Elmhurst on our floor. After these two games we will play UC Santa Cruz in the first round of the Lee Fulmer Tournament.

Chapman as well as the other SCIAC teams have improved from last year and returned several veteran players. This could be the year that sees a Southern California team walk the same lines as the best teams of the Northwest Conference. Keep your eyes and ears open for anything that comes from our area!

Until we meet again,
Justin Riley-Chapman University

Happy new season!

Last night eager Americans celebrated the beginning of a new Division III basketball season by dropping a ball covered with electric lights, eating lots of finger foods and celebrating with Dick Clark. Okay, maybe I’m slightly off on my holiday celebrations. We actually toss the ball up to start play, there are no lights on it and Dick Clark is not involved (though Dickinson and Clark may be).

And we actually started the basketball season on Saturday, November 15th, well before the calendar flipped over to 2009. But if you were busy with the holidays, college football or putting snow chains on the car, maybe you’re just getting into the 2008 – 2009 season. If that’s the case, here are nine story lines to follow – one for each region with a bonus – for men’s Division III hoops in 2009.

No. 1 – Northeast: Is Amherst overrated or underrated?

The Lord Jeffs finished second in the nation last year, are one year removed from a national championship and are undefeated this season. And yet there’s a chance they won’t get a single number 1 vote in the next Top 25 poll. That’s because the Lord Jeffs only returned one starter (Brian Baskauskas) from last year’s squad. Amherst hasn’t lost yet, but did have close calls against Emmanuel (2-7) and Skidmore (5-3). Despite the history of success, questions about the Lord Jeffs may linger. With Brandeis and Williams unranked, Amherst only has one opponent currently receiving Top 25 votes, Middlebury, and they won’t play each other until the regular season finale.

No. 2 – East: How long can Ithaca stay unbeaten?

At No. 17 Ithaca has achieved its highest ranking in the eight-plus years of our Top 25. The Bombers weren’t completely off the radar to start the season. Empire 8 coaches tabbed them as the conference’s preseason favorite. They’ve already won at Rochester and on the long, snowy road trip to St. Lawrence. Around the Nation talked with Coach Mullins and Company about Ithaca’s best start since 1941. Could the Bombers duplicate conference foe St. John Fisher’s 2005 accomplishment with an undefeated regular season?

No. 3 – Atlantic: Will more than one NJAC team make the NCAA tournament?

The NJAC hasn’t put more than one team in the tournament since Montclair State and Ramapo made the field in 2003. New Jersey City and Ramapo made the tournament in 2005 but the Gothic Knights were in Pool B. Conference play usually leaves even the better NJAC teams with a couple loses, but those teams also haven’t rolled up the impressive regional winning percentage needed to secure an at-large bid. This year No. 14 Richard Stockton and William Paterson have one regional loss each and only play each other once in the regular season.

No. 4 – Mid-Atlantic: Will No. 25 DeSales finally make the NCAA tournament?

Year after year the Bulldogs have been tantalizing close to making the NCAA tournament only to miss it in heart-breaking fashion. Last year they had 19 wins but lost to King’s in the MAC-Freedom championship. They had 20 wins but lost to King’s in the title game in 2005. They missed the tournament with 22 wins in 2004 and were conference runners-up again in 2003. This year’s edition is led by Darnell Braswell (16.5 ppg) and Brian Hunter, a transfer from Division I Lehigh. DeSales is undefeated with nine wins to start the year. But last year Elizabethtown started 10-0, mashed DeSales in a January match up and didn’t even make its conference tournament.

No. 5 – South: Which slow-starting preseason favorite will have the biggest turnaround?

If this question asked for the “fastest” turnaround, Randolph-Macon would have already won that honor. The preseason favorite in the ODAC started 1-3 before ripping off six straight victories, including the 75-63 win over No. 13 Ursinus. Two of the Tigers’ three loses are out of region but they still have plenty of competition among teams needing a turn around. Preseason No. 10 Mary-Hardin Baylor lost its first three games but got a nice win over No. 6 UW-Whitewater to move back to .500. You can even throw Maryville (Tenn.) in the mix as the Scots are 4-6 after last night’s loss at No. 18 Centre. All those loses are in region and the Scots are battling with several teams they don’t play, like Chapman and the Landmark members, to secure a bid through Pool B.

No. 6 – Great Lakes: Will we really have a post-season in which Wooster, Wittenberg, Hope and Calvin aren’t featured prominently?

A combination of youth, injuries and a relative drop off in Wittenberg’s success have left these four teams just 20-19 to start the year. Hope is still a question mark since the Flying Dutchmen have only played two Division III opponents (loses to Wheaton (Ill.) and Carthage). It’s not unreasonable to think that even these storied teams need to reload. But it would be strange not to see at least one of them advance far into the tournament. At least one has reached the regional finals every year since 2002. They have combined for 17 appearances in the last 6 tournaments.

No. 7 – Midwest: How many CCIW teams will make the NCAA tournament?

The CCIW has three teams in the Top 10 (Wheaton, Elmhurst and Augustana), four in the Top 20 (add Illinois Wesleyan) and a fifth that is unranked but undefeated (Millikin). Those five teams have four regional loses combined but soon head into grueling (for them) and entertaining (for us) conference play. The rest of the CCIW is a combined 13 games over .500 so there are no assured victories. Since only four teams make the CCIW tournament, there will be a lot on the line every game.

No. 8 – West: Who is more likely to secure home court advantage on the road to Salem – UW-Platteville, St. Thomas or Buena Vista?

This question isn’t about winning the conference or making the playoffs. It’s about rolling up enough wins and having the logistical advantage that factor into host site selections. I’m assuming geography and budget restrictions keep the NWC champion out of this conversation. UW-Platteville has the toughest hill to climb given the WIAC’s history of bruising play. Buena Vista has a regional loss but will be the prohibitive favorite to win the IIAC. Ditto for St. Thomas in the MIAC, minus the regional loss. And maybe the geographically isolated SCIAC champion could host the first and second rounds if the Conference puts two in the tournament and Chapman grabs a Pool B bid.

No. 9 – National: Are pollsters too focused on the CCIW and WIAC?

Seven teams in the Top 25 are from those two conferences. That’s a lot but not entirely unusual. Six teams from the CCIW and WIAC were ranked in the Top 25 at this point in 2007 and 2008. Maybe the voters are hedging their bets by picking multiple teams and figuring at least one will advance deep in the tournament. The CCIW and WIAC actually haven’t had an inordinate number of Final Four appearances with three each. That’s not bad but it isn’t more than the MIAA, NESCAC, NCAC, OAC, ODAC and UAA. The CCIW and WIAC sometimes meet in the tournament and cancel each other out, but not always. Last year the representatives were eliminated by teams from the MIAA (Hope), IIAC (Buena Vista and Loras) and UAA (Wash U.). In 2007 they were done in by the UAA (Wash U.) and MWC (Carroll). So are the voters (including me) missing the boat by putting so many in the Top 25?

Feel free to comment on these or any other story lines and happy new season!