Dave’s Top 25 ballot – Week 12

After the last few weeks and with conference schedules wrapping up and tournaments beginning, I was pretty much expecting my weekly Top 25 efforts to once again be challenging. So I was pleasantly surprised when watching the week and weekend unfold and seeing very little carnage on the men’s side. Of the 25 teams, only seven took losses and all were single losses. It gave me a chance to take a deep breath before what will surely be plenty of carnage for Week 12’s ballot.

It seemed to be a birthday present to me of which I am very grateful!

With the lack of carnage also meant for the first time in weeks I had very few possibilities to bring in a new team to my ballot. That did make it challenging in terms of who to pick from at least ten teams, but it also made selecting who would fall out of the poll a bit easier.

So, here is my Top 25, which you will notice features ten teams that didn’t move up or down and features 24 teams I had in last week’s poll. As we get started, here is a reminder of my rather frustrating ballot last week.

1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)

2 – Cabrini (Unchanged)

3 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)

4 – Wash U. (Unchanged)

5 – Wooster (Unchanged)

6 – UW-Whitewater (Unchanged)

7 – Amherst (Unchanged)

8 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

9 – Williams (Up 1)

10 – Wesley (Up 1)

11 – WPI (Up 1)

12 – Randolph-Macon (Up 3)
The Yellow Jackets continue to play very good basketball in one of the toughest conference in the country. They had a big rivalry game against Hampden-Sydney and it turned out to be no contest. I think that alone told me a lot about RMC since in any rivalry game and no matter the records going in, things happen.

13 – St. Thomas (Down 4)
A single loss isn’t usually the death nail for a team, but the loss to St. John’s marked a season sweep of the Tommies by the Johnnies. Do you know the last time that happen?! Ok, it’s the second time in three years, but if the Tommies are that good it should never have happened! I am not sure if I have been overrated with the Tommies, but the MIAC tournament will give all of us a better sense of just how good or not St. Thomas really is.

14 – Texas-Dallas (Unchanged)
The Comets take a loss and don’t move in my rankings. I know, even I had to look long and hard at that for a while. The loss was to Mary Hardin-Baylor who have now rattled off eight wins in a row and could cause plenty of problems in the ASC tournament (heard that script before?), so I wasn’t going to knock the Comets too hard for that in the first place. However, I also couldn’t justifying moving them behind teams further down the poll. Many pollsters talk about what I call the pillow effect: a team only falls as far as those below them allows. In some cases, if there are enough losses happening further down the poll, a team can only fall so far. In this case, there are teams behind Texas-Dallas I don’t think are 14th in the country, limiting their fall to… zero.

15 – Mary Washington (Up 3)
This may be a steep rise for the Eagles who seemed in disarray and are only back to their winning ways because they played the bottom of the CAC in the last few weeks, but I also didn’t have a good reason to move teams behind them ahead of them. So consider this filling in the empty spot at 15 instead of my indication that I think everything is okay in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

16 – Albertus Magnus (Up 3)
Another example of maybe too big a leap in my Top 25. I think the Falcons are a good team, but I am not convinced they are world beaters and will go far in the NCAA tournament (they are welcome to prove me wrong). They are moving up, though, thanks to Purchase State losing. Despite a head-to-head win over Albertus Magnus over Purchase State, I had the Falcons behind because of a bad loss in conference. Now Purchase has picked up a similar resume blemish and thus AMC moves ahead.

17 – Centre (Up 4)
Similar to Mary Washington, I was going to move the Colonels up the rankings anyway, they just moved a little further north then I intended. These kind of moves and my concern they are too big a leap further explains why I didn’t feel comfortable moving Texas-Dallas down and opening up the 14-hole.

18 – Whitworth (Down 2)
Losing to Lewis and Clark on the road in overtime probably deserved a bigger drop, but there is only so far I can drop the Pirates before I run into teams I think Whitworth would beat on any court. The loss doesn’t bode well for Whitworth’s post-season aspirations of playing deep into March, but it could also be the spark that finally ignites a team I think has been playing below-par all season.

19 – Purchase State (Down 2)
Again… I can only drop Purchase State so far before there are teams I don’t think they deserve to be behind on the ballot. Their loss this past week to St. Joseph’s (Long Island) is unforgiveable and is not going to help them when it comes down to possible hosting opportunities in the NCAA tournament, but maybe they can use the loss as the motivation they need to focus on the task at hand.

(Side note: Does anyone else find it interesting that Albertus Magnus and Purchase State both lost to St. Joseph’s teams in their conference? AMC to St. Joe’s of Main and Purchase to St. Joe’s of Long Island. Fascinating.)

20 – Hope (Unranked)
There are plenty of teams I thought about bringing on to my ballot with better records, but Hope is playing better than most, I think. The Flying Dutchmen have won 11 in a row and are blowing teams out in their conference. They have a season sweep of Calvin and are very highly ranked by the NCAA regional (and national) committee. I have honestly been waiting for the shoe (pun intended) to drop thus why I have been leery about putting Hope on my ballot. However, they appear to be getting stronger and could end up being a surprise in the NCAA tournament after their season started 1-4 and 3-5!

21 – Brockport State (Down 8)
Yes, the Golden Eagles went 2-1 with just that lone loss to a good Oswego State squad, but they are playing without their best player who may be out for the reason of the season with a knee injury. John Ivy is a tremendous player, but his status is known (I have heard nothing official from anyone) and I have to work under the assumption he is out for the year. That changes this squad completely and I don’t think they are nearly as good as they were with him in the line-up. Brockport will make the NCAA 7tournament, but without Ivy they are not a Top 15 team.

22 – Staten Island (Up 1)

23 – Scranton (Up 1)

24 – Rose-Hulman (Down 2)
The Engineers eight-game winning streak came to an end at the hands of Mount St. Joseph’s (what’s with the St. Joe’s-named teams?!), but I don’t think that is a horrible loss for Rose-Hulman. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they had the conference regular season wrapped up and were going to host the conference semifinals and championship no matter the outcome (they had swept Defiance this season).

25 – Richard Stockton (Unchanged)

Dropped out:

Ohio Wesleyan (Previously 20)
I don’t know what to make of the Battling Bishops or for that matter the NCAC. After DePauw looked great, they fell apart. After Wittenberg looked great, they have struggled. Now Ohio Wesleyan looked great and they seem to be unraveling. Mike DeWitt’s team is 3-3 in the last six games. I just don’t think they are playing like a Top 25 team.

Other ballots:
Week 11
Week 10
Week 9
Week 8
Week 7
Week 6
Week 5
Week 3
Week 1

Part I: 10 questions for 2010

Now that the holidays are over, maybe you’re getting into the swing of the 2009-2010 Division III basketball season. Or maybe you’ve been following the season since the mid-November tip off and are trying to make sense of the results so far. Or maybe you’re just killing time waiting for the next bowl game to begin. Whatever the case is, here are 10 burning questions for the Division III basketball season as we enter 2010.

Northeast: Is Williams ready to return to prominence?

If you’ve only been following Division III basketball since 2005, you may wonder “what prominence?” The Ephs have been a respectable 83-46 the past five years, but are just five games over .500 in the NESCAC with one NCAA tournament appearance (1st round loss to Brockport State in 2008). But go back farther and Williams came within one shot of winning consecutive national championships. This years’ team has started 10-1 with the lone loss at undefeated No. 4 Randolph-Macon 79-74. In that game the Ephs had a 16-point second half lead before the Yellow Jackets rallied. Williams’ margin of victory has been impressive but just one of those wins come over a team with a winning record. The next big test comes in a visit from current No. 11 Amherst on January 9.

My two cents: The Ephs have started fast before. Let’s see what they do in the NESCAC.

Northeast: Can Amherst win the women’s title?

Speaking of Amherst, the No. 2 Lord Jeffs are 10-0 and the only team besides current No. 1 Illinois Wesleyan receiving first place votes. Look at the results to date and it’s easy to see why. Amherst went to the national semifinals last year where their talented but small guards struggled to get on track against Washington U. and TCNJ. This year’s team has a very balanced attack where all five starters score more than seven points per game and the leading scorer is reserve post player Lem Atanga McCormick. A deep NCAA tournament run isn’t a given with the depth of the NESCAC and the region as a whole but Coach G.P. Gromacki has a knack for leading his teams on them. Circle the games at No. 4 Bowdoin on January 29 and at No. 17 Tufts on February 6th for a preview of what the postseason has in store for the Lord Jeffs.

My two cents: They have the best chance of anyone east of Ohio, but I’d still slot them behind IWU, Wash U and Hope at full strength.

Atlantic: Can Richard Stockton repeat in the NJAC?

The Ospreys started last season in the middle of a pack of teams who were “also receiving votes” in the Top 25. But they finished it in the national championship game. This season the Ospreys were ranked No. 5 in the first poll but have slid out of the rankings with three loses, two of them coming at home. Just because Richard Stockton has had a different trajectory in the polls to this point doesn’t mean this season cannot end like last season. This year’s squad is a little different. Jerome Hubbard, an outstanding long-range shooter who stretched defenses, has graduated. DiAndre Brown, a transfer who averaged 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for Eastern Nazarene last year, has taken his place in the starting lineup. The Ospreys were picked as the overall preseason favorite in the NJAC and, despite the 0-1 start, playing in the weaker NJAC south should help them build momentum for the conference tournament. But the return of low post presence Abdoulaye Ouedraogo to William Paterson after spending a season at NAIA Georgetown (Ky.) makes the Pioneers another team to watch.

My two cents: The Ospreys win the NJAC south but fall in the tournament at home.

East: Who is the best team in the East region?

Coming into the weekend, you could have made a good case that Medaille (12-0) was the best team in the region after the Mavericks gutsy win at No. 9 John Carroll. But then Medaille squeaked by Mount Aloysius (4-5) and John Carroll got crushed by Bethany on Saturday, taking some luster off that upset. Still, there is a void atop this region. Rochester is the only team getting votes (or, to be more accurate, “vote”) in the Top 25 at 7-1. Plattsburgh has the same record pending their semester opening match-up with No. 7 Middlebury. St. John Fisher was the preseason favorite in the Empire 8 but lost to Hobart. Ithaca lost a lot to graduation but has a solid 8-2 start. Perennial Liberty League favorites St. Lawrence and Hamilton are just 7-10 to start the season. How about Oneonta State (8-1)? Looks like Upstate New York has a lot of upside for exciting conference races.

My two cents: On a hunch, I’ll say Plattsburgh State. We’re due for another surprising tournament run by a SUNYAC squad.

Mid-Atlantic: Who will win the inaugural Landmark Conference automatic qualifiers?

The stakes are higher in the third year of Landmark play as the Conference has completed its two year waiting period and now has an automatic qualifier. Scranton has won all but one of the titles – men’s and women’s, regular season and tournament, both seasons. On the women’s side, Scranton is always a good bet but not sure one. No. 19 Moravian defeated the Lady Royals at their place already. We’ll learn pretty quickly if Drew (8-0) is for real since the Rangers host Scranton and Moravian next weekend. The men’s side looks wide open. Want to make a case for Catholic because of Preseason All-American Jason Banzhaf? Go ahead. Favor Merchant Marine because of its 9-2 start? Fine. Defending champion Scranton scuffled through non-conference play at 6-5 but can get back on track in conference play.

My two cents: Scranton in women, Catholic in men.

    Part II comes tomorrow.