A reminder that this blog was written based on games played through January 1, 2018 and thoughts on teams through that point in the schedule. For the sake of saving time, there are no comments this week about individual teams in the ballot part of the blog.
If you thought Santa wouldn’t deliver in the past few weeks to the D3hoops.com Top 25, you and I have a different image of Santa. You can look at it several ways, but I prefer to think Santa wanted to give all Division III fans, especially of men’s basketball, the gift that any team has a chance this season. Thus, he seemed to hand out losses to lots of teams during the holidays. Yes, it could be construed by the other voice in my head (and maybe your’s) that Santa just wanted to give us chaos. However, to try and keep myself sane… I’m going with the first option.
In the span of 24 or 48 hours, while I lived in the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Top 25 teams fell left and right – even in front of us at the 8th Annual D3hoops.com Classic. It was almost as comical as Ohio Wesleyan’s three-point shooting for three-quarters of two games (or Nate Axelrod’s and Tim Howell’s individual efforts). It even bled over to the women’s side of things where the number one team in the country, Tufts, was defeated by an unranked opponent.
Happy Holidays to all!
Here’s a loss, there’s a loss, and another loss.
Or maybe it was: you get a big win, you get a big win, you get a big win.
Of course, the other thought on my mind: what kind of ballot am I going to come home to on January 1? I thought about looking at things on the cross-country flight home Sunday, but decided I wanted to relax and enjoy the flight … not continually order drinks to try and subdue the carnage I was wading through.
The craziest thing of all… I decided on some teams on my ballot wouldn’t move despite outcomes, other teams would make significant moves up or down no matter their outcomes, and I would continue to leave teams which at quick-glance had impressive resumes off my ballot … for now.
An example of the first part would be much of my ballot this week. A number of teams especially in the top five didn’t move even though they lost a game. Middlebury lost to York (Pa.), UW-Oshkosh lost, Wash U lost to Augustana, etc. I considered moving them. But where to? Who deserved to move ahead of those teams or others? If I move a team down, I have to replace them. I cannot leave the spot blank (despite repeated requests to be allowed to do so that continually denied).
I also moved teams up and down even though their results were the opposite. I leap-frogged Ohio Wesleyan up four spots despite losing to Whitman. Had they one, I would have considered moving them to two or three – I would have had a reason to drop Middlebury and others for losing. However, they didn’t shoot as well in the second half against Whitman, but that also didn’t make me think they deserved to move down. I have stated repeatedly that if a team ranked below another team on my ballot losses to that higher-ranked team, why would I move them down? I moved New Jersey City up despite a loss not necessarily because they proved to be better, but because other teams proved to not be as good.
That gets me to teams I moved down. I was asked during the broadcast of Ramapo’s loss to Augsburg if I felt the Roadrunners would drop out of the Top 25 with two losses in Vegas. I didn’t see the question at the time, but made a comment later along the lines that I didn’t think so based simply on the fact that there were already a number of losses in the Top 25. Ramapo’s losses against an all-winning Top 25 might look harsher than one where nearly everyone lost. I did drop Ramapo eight spots because I wasn’t as impressed with Ramapo as I was last season when I was blown away by them in Vegas. The Roadrunners blew a nearly 20-point lead against Central in a game that I pretty much predicted they were about to be in real trouble (when leading by 18 and starting to look too relaxed). They don’t seem to play a full 40-minutes especially against teams that are not as good. They get too distracted and suddenly their lead is gone and they are fighting to get back in the game. Maybe that is why they have struggled to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for … ever. They are very talented. They are very dangerous. But they are their own worst enemy. That all said, I still think they are a Top 25 team and there was plenty of other results to keep them from plummeting too far.
Same goes with other squads. St. Norbert, John Carroll, Skidmore. All with resumes over the holidays that concerned me. St. Norbert once again not taking advantage of a non-conference opportunity to prove they are more than just a MWC dominating program. John Carroll likes to score a lot of points, but they are giving every one of their opponents a chance for the win by not tightening up the defense a bit… and losing to a sub-par Hope squad. And Skidmore that book-ended their holidays with losses to highly-ranked Middlebury and playing-below-expectations Guilford. All three might have dropped out of my poll if there hadn’t been a ton of losses to go with it.
There was also a number of teams I still am not voting for despite gaudy records at nearly the mid-point of the season. Lycoming (13-0) who is undefeated, but has an opponent win-loss percentage of .403, has only played three teams above .500, and played nine of their games at home. Franklin & Marshall (10-1) whose opponent’s mark is .454 (not too low), but also has only played three teams above .500 and lost one of them. Juniata (11-0) whose opponents combine to be 36-73 (.33) and have only played two teams above .500. Nebraska Wesleyan (11-0) who, like Juniata, has an opponent’s win-loss mark at .339 and has only played two teams above .500. Swarthmore (9-1) who at least has a .467 opponent win-loss percentage, but hasn’t really blown me away (Ryan Scott keeps telling me I am missing something; I very well may be and will watch them carefully in the next week or so). Whitworth (10-1) whose opponents win/loss mark is improved (.458), but also dropped a game to Wheaton during the break.
And there are certainly others.
With all of them I faced the very same challenge. Resumes that when you dove into them didn’t really look as good as their records made you think and no results that blew me away. I want to see more. I want to see what conference play brings us. There are plenty of chances in the next week or two to see results that can easily change my mind.
Those teams plus others were also part of a group that if included meant I needed to find room on my ballot. I dropped three teams this week for three new ones. There are six mentioned above. There are at least a handful more. I wasn’t confident in where I could find two more teams I was confident didn’t below on my Top 25 let alone six, eight or more.
There easily could be 40 or more teams that deserve to be in the Top 25. The voters clearly think so. Look at how many teams are being voted for and highly. Lycoming is sixth in the poll… and not getting a single point from me. I might also be looking the wrong way with some teams and will admit it when I become aware of it.
For now… the 25 teams I think are the best in the country don’t include a number of teams I mentioned and didn’t note.
Traditionally, I would now give you my Top 25 ballot for this week and leave a snipet per most teams. I am not going to do that this week because I need to post this and because I could argue myself for and against every team I list and their position. It would get too long. Instead, I am going to give you the Top 25 ballot and leave it at that. Not sure this will be the new norm for this blog (as many have said they like the thoughts on each team), however I think it is best for this week’s.
Here is my ballot for the D3hoops.com Top 25 for Week 5:
Let me start with an apology. I wanted to post my Week 3 D3hoops.com Top 25 blog, but simply didn’t have time. Stagg Bowl Week takes up a lot of time including being on the road from Tuesday until Saturday (in beautiful, but suddenly always windy Roanoke Valley). I do thank those of you who spotted our Twitter poll (below) asking about these blogs. Not a lot of people, but quite a few said they liked the blog, so we are continuing.
Simply because time is precious and there is only so much we can do in a week, we asking a serious poll question to all #Hoopsville listeners and #d3h fans. Should Dave continue producing his #Top25 ballot blog? Vote below. Thanks!
Dropped out: – North Central (Previously 19)
– Bowdoin (Previously 23rd)
So that is where things started for this week. Not a lot of games to judge on this week thanks to mainly finals, but still a lot of match-ups that allowed for plenty of information for voters. It didn’t result in a lot of movement for a lot of my ballot, but it did make for the last five to ten slots to be very challenging. I ended up with far too many teams for those last ten or so spots. I was caught between being drastic and cutting a lot of teams just to make room – no other reasons – or to get creative. I may not have been as creative as I could be, but I did try and find interesting ways to solve the challenge(s).
Definitely going to start using the famed “pink eraser” from now on. Going through too many top-of-the-pencil erasers!
I also just shook my head and cleaned up the eraser shavings from the multitude of times I changed my mind or didn’t like how I had worked things out. Thank goodness I am at least smart enough to do these in pencil.
I thought by this point in the season there would be enough information to start feeling secure about who I was voting for and why, but I could make an argument against every single team on my ballot and where I have them positioned. From 1 to 25 and beyond. There are arguments that could be made for those not on my ballot for why they should be. It is maddening sometimes.
There are a lot of good teams in Division III men’s basketball. I just don’t think there are a lot, if any, great teams. Everyone has flaws. All teams are susceptible. No team is going to get to the end undefeated, unblemished. That makes for great nights of basketball and incredible match-ups even from games you don’t expect, but it doesn’t make for an easy time on Sunday nights and Mondays putting a Top 25 ballot together.
I did notice one thing… if you want to win in Division III basketball, you might need a W in your name. Counting UW schools as “Wisconsin-so-and-so” and teams with Ws leading any part of a multiple-name school, I have 10 “W” teams (eight if you don’t count the multiple-name schools). I remember one year have five schools in a row on my ballot that all started with “W.” It just felt weird. Like I had done something wrong. However, like possibly needing purple in your school color to win a national championship, maybe you actually need a W to be one of the best at getting Ws.
1 – Whitman (Unchanged)
Admittedly, the Blues have me a little nervous. That said, I have stated as recently as the last episode of Hoopsville that I don’t expect anyone to go undefeated this season. This includes Whitman who is playing without two of last year’s starters (who may be out for the reason; we will learn more soon I am sure), but also has a terrific team attitude that starts on the defensive end. They survived against Occidental, but losing that or another game before the (re)start of the conference schedule would not surprise me.
Augustana remains high on Dave’s ballot despite the challenges. All teams are facing challenges this season.
2 – Augustana (Unchanged)
Not sure what I think of the Vikings. They don’t blow me away, but they also continue to get the job done. Again, a loss of Wofford I think is going to be a factor and one they can overcome. CCIW play will not be easy, so I doubt they can survive without one or two more losses.
3 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
When teams are idle for a long time, it gets hard not to move them around. I think the Panthers are a very good squad, but not playing for three weeks concerns me for early January.
4 – UW-Oshkosh (Unchanged)
The Titans are good, but the WIAC is going to be a slug-fest this season. There are so many good teams in the WIAC. I have more faith in UWO… for now.
WashU’s win over Illinois Wesleyan catapulted the Bears up Dave’s ballot. It was a game that was going to affect Dave’s ballot no matter the outcome. (Courtesy: WashU Athletics)
5 – WashU (Up 3)
The game against IWU was what I was waiting for – for both squads. The Bears showed me that just maybe the team I was expecting has arrived. WashU played very well against the Titans which impressed me. WashU may be one of a very few teams I feel comfortable with where I rank them.
6 – Ramapo (Down 1)
The Roadrunners didn’t do anything wrong to slide down a spot. They fell two weeks in a row as I tried to find room for other teams (UW-Oshkosh last week; WashU this week). I still think Ramapo is a very good team, however I think those other teams are better right now.
7 – Williams (Down 2)
The Ephs have also fallen – four spots total – on my ballot in the last two weeks. I am just not as confident in Williams as I was prior. Part of that is the fact they have lost one of their best players in Klye Scadlock (leads the team in ppg, rpg, second in apg). I am just not sure how Williams adjusts. I know they have had two games since the injury and have a few more weeks before their next, but it isn’t like they are in practice every day adjusting.
UW-River Falls’ Alex Herink has sometimes put the Falcons on his shoulders and the squad has responded.
8 – UW-River Falls (Down 1)
Like Ramapo, the Falcons’ slip of a spot is related to moving WashU above them. That said, trailing 41-26 at halftime against Northwestern (Minn.), before rallying for the victory, is something I did take note. I know Northwestern is probably under-appreciated by many, but I still feel a top ten squad shouldn’t find themselves that deep in a whole against a team not close to the Top 25.
9 – St. John’s (Unchanged)
I may be one of a very few voters who likes the Johnnies this much. Top 10 I am sure has some people shaking their head – much like how I feel with Lycoming is in the Top 10 overall. Each voter has their perspective and mine is that SJU is a darn good team who will win the MIAC this year and is far better than others realize. The Johnnies have put up some very impressive performances, though their close game with Hamline gave me a little concern. I know they lost to UW-La Crosse, but again, I’m not expecting perfection this season and UWL isn’t a bad team.
10 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unchanged)
One of the things I did this week was look at the opponent’s winning percentage for every team I was voting for last week and considering for this week’s ballot. The Battling Bishop’s number was surprisingly lower than I expected: 28-49 (.364). That immediately sounded some alarms in my head. You are voting them way too high especially when teams with higher percentages aren’t even on you ballot. That said, I think OWU has some of the best talent in the country and will rise above a crazy NCAC race. Are they a Top 10 team? Maybe not, but there aren’t a lot of Top 10 teams this season. Someone has to be put here.
11 – New Jersey City (Up 1)
When a team has as many close games as the Gothic Knights have had one way of looking at it is they are playing with fire and will be burned. The other is that it shows a team can withstand the pressure and finish a game no matter how bad they play. NJCU fought back against a very good (under-appreciated) Albertus Magnus squad, down 20 in the second half, to win their second game thanks to a buzzer beater this season (see below). I am not sure NJCU is the 11th best team in the country, but again… who really is?
12 – Wesleyan (Up 1)
Three NESCAC teams in the top fifteen seems a bit excessive and the Cardinals have floated up this high thanks to what has been happening around them primarily. I am not sure if Wesleyan will get its’ wings clipped or how badly once the conference schedule begins, but I also feel they have a very well-rounded roster and a program that has been continually building to this type of season for awhile now. Of course like many NESCAC (even Northeast Region) teams… we have to wait a long time to see this squad back in action (21 days between games)
MIT on paper has some scary attributes and they aren’t going away anytime soon.
13 – MIT (Up 1)
This Engineers squad reminds me of the program’s final four squad. Not in a perfect match, per se, but they are building to something special. Like the team that ran to the final four in 2012, this squad’s best players are underclassmen. In fact, there isn’t a senior on the roster! MIT has already played 11 games and now has a long break and I expect when they re-start NEWMAC play they will prove the conference runs through Cambridge, Mass. this season.
14 – Skidmore (Up 1)
The Thoroughbreds feel more like a Top 20 squad, but like I’ve said before… there aren’t a lot of teams that feel right in these spots. They are all too high. Skidmore is good. They have a terrific player in Edvinas Rupkus who is one of several juniors leading this squad (four of the top five scorers are juniors; one other is a sophomore). The Middlebury game may be more helpful than harmful in the long run for Skidmore. That might be the perfect game for them to learn from moving forward.
15 – Warburg (Up 1)
The IIAC could be one of a number of fascinating races this season. I have finally bought in a bit more in Wartburg who will be at the point of that race, but they aren’t alone. Nebraska Wesleyan, Buena Vista, Loras, and others are going to make this a great race in the conference. Wartburg may end up not being the only one ranked this season.
Nichols is rising up on Dave’s ballot who likes some of the parts of the Bison and what they could do this season. (Courtesy: Nichols’ Athletics)
16 – Nichols (Up 5)
I really like the Bison. I’ve said that before. I realize I have had them higher, but each time someone who has played or knows them sees where I have them ranked I get a note reaffirming my thinking. That doesn’t mean I am smarter than anyone else, but it does help me feel like I am not out on a limb with this choice. In reality, their conference is not a tough one to win especially this season, however they have five players in double-figures being led by Marcos Echevarria who if you haven’t seen play you need to watch.
17 – St. Norbert (Up 5)
I honestly didn’t think I would be voting for the Green Knights this season, but once again SNC has moved onto my poll in a season I didn’t expect them to retool – let along rebuild. Now, St. Norbert, like Nichols, moved way up this week because I made a more drastic move with teams who had been ahead o them and are now behind them. So, I will admit this slot might seem high. Again… a lot of teams seem high. My curiosity with SNC is can they even win the MWC this season? For the first time in a while, there are other teams in the fray. Lake Forest, Monmouth, Grinnell all look like they could compete for the conference title this year.
John Carroll appears on Dave’s ballot thanks to a win over Marietta and a better-than-expected opponents’ winning percentage. (Courtesy: John Carroll Athletics)
18 – John Carroll (Unranked)
I am taking a bit of a leap of faith here. I have a friend who bleeds Blue Streak who doesn’t miss a chance to remind me of how well JCU is playing (even admits when they stumble), but also admits they haven’t really played anyone of note. What finally was their opponents’ winning percentage: 36-32 (.529). Now some of that is thanks to having Marietta on their schedule, but they beat the Pioneers. 18th is a bit of a jump, but I also wanted to get the Blue Streaks ahead of some teams, like Marietta, if I was going to include them.
19 – Rochester (Down 8)
No, losing to Ithaca was not the main reason Rochester fell eight spots this week. It is part of the reason, but not the entire explanation. There was a pack of squads I felt couldn’t stay as high as they were with two losses especially as other teams needed to move ahead of them because of those losses. The loss to Ithaca may not be as bad as some initially thought (more on that below), but at the same time it does raise concerns for me. Could I be buying in too much? I still think Rochester is a darn good team no matter the turnover from last year, but I also realize I might have bought in too much early on.
20 – Marietta (Down 3)
I have done mental gymnastics with the Pioneers. I have argued I am buying in too much; I have argued I am not giving them enough credit. The trick is, Marietta’s wins early on no longer have the same shine. St. Thomas and Hope are both below .500. In fact, the only win the Pios have against a team above .500 is La Roche. Marietta has a .461 opponents’ winning percentage, but most of that is thanks to the records of the teams that have beaten them. I am torn on whether the Pioneers have shown anything that qualifies them for the Top 25.
UWW has a lot on paper Dave likes and other parts that has him worried he bought in too much. Just how good is Whitewater? (Courtesy: UWW Athletics)
21 – UW-Whitewater (Down 3)
I really think the WIAC race is going to be one of the top five to watch – and there are about ten conferences races that will be fascinating. UWW is going to be involved for sure, but I am concerned I bought in early on a squad that has a lot of new pieces and turnover. I know Pat Miller can coach, we have seen that, but it ultimately comes down to the players. Their opponents are 27-38, which doesn’t give me anything to lean on here.
22 – Hanover (Down 3)
A friend messaged me less than a week after the Panthers lost to Transylvania and basically say Hanover was pretenders. I understood where he was coming from, but I told him I was going there. I think Hanover, and others, actually show there are a lot of good teams in Division III who easily can have a bad night or two. It is going to happen and Hanover had it happen against Transy. However, the Panthers have won their next two to at least shake off that bad victory. Time will tell if I am right about Hanover still being a Top 25 team.
Matt Hunter has York (Pa.) back in the Top 25 conversation for the first time in more than 10 seasons. (Courtesy: York Athletics)
23 – York (Pa.) (Unranked)
There are a lot of things that have gone right for the Spartans this season … and I love it. An injury last season to Dalton Myers has allowed Matt Hunter to plug two big-men into the lineup this season when he only had expected to have Blayde Reich. Both guys can also step back and shoot from 15-feet making them tough to guard. Add in some solid guard play and York has changed the completion of the CAC for me this season. York will take on Salisbury to start the New Year and then Christopher Newport on January 13. Pencil those games in as ones you have to watch York.
24 – Eastern Conn. (Unchanged)
The Warriors surprisingly dropped out of the Top 25 without playing any games, but I will admit I nearly dropped them myself. It has nothing to do with Eastern Conn. State and everything to do with other teams, especially those in action, voters like myself feel they need to get onto their ballot. There isn’t a lot on their schedule that jumps out at people, but I decided to hold on for now.
25 – Baldwin Wallace (Unchanged)
Here is another team I was debating about dropping, but then I realized that at this point in the season the Yellow Jackets have one of the better opponents’ winning percentages of the teams I am considering: 42-28 (.600). The OAC race, as noted, is insane already this season. Baldwin Wallace looks like one of those who will still be there at the end of the season. The schedule gets interesting in the next few weeks and I am definitely going to catch a few games over the holidays.
Lake Forest (Previously 20)
It is harsh to drop the Foresters based on one loss compared to others, but the loss came to North Park who is not having a great season. While Lake Forest has some decent wins on their resume so far, those wins indicate they should have beaten North Park. They didn’t and I needed room for others.
Salem State (Previously 22)
I might have been too instinctual with the Vikings last week. I got caught up in their wins over Tufts, Babson, and WPI and thought maybe the loss to MIT was just one of those “bad nights.” They followed it all up with a loss to Endicott, who isn’t bad but is certainly up and down, and they gave up 96 points.
Ithaca is on Dave’s radar which also means several others are being considered.
Now, usually I don’t talk about teams I didn’t vote for (besides those who dropped off my ballot) on any given week. I tried that one or twice and it only caused numerous tweets, emails, messages, etc. about who else I didn’t vote for, who else I might be considering, or those who didn’t understand I can’t mention ALL the teams I consider any given week. So, I stopped. Too much work, anyway.
I am breaking that rule this week to talk about Ithaca and Cortland. After Ithaca’s win over Rochester, I decided I needed to consider Ithaca for my ballot. However, when I researched Ithaca a bit more I noticed they had split with Cortland this season (out of conference opponents; happened more often this season around Division III). Thus, if I was going to consider Ithaca, I needed to also consider Cortland. I couldn’t find a justified reason to include one without the other. That meant dropping two more teams from my ballot. But who? Maybe Eastern Connecticut, but that wasn’t enough. I didn’t like dropping anyone else, though I am sure one could make an argument for a number of squads. So, I ultimately decided to leave Ithaca and Cortland off and drop Rochester (and the group it is hitched to) further down – a move that initially took place to get Ithaca and Cortland on the ballot. I’ll wait a bit longer to see if which team, if not all, continue to play well.
D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas is shaping up to be a very good one. The 8th annual event takes place Dec. 28-30 at South Point Arena.
So there you go. Week 4’s ballot. Now, we voters get to relax for a few weeks. The next D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot won’t happen until January 1 (HAPPY NEW YEAR!). I will not only watch a number of games online, but I can’t wait to see Whitman, Rampao, and Ohio Wesleyan along with Stevens Point and others at the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. That event is proving to not only be terrific this season, but more and more popular for top teams around the country each year. That will prove to either help me with my decisions… or make things more muddied. LOL
In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, and most importantly Happy New Year to one and all. Enjoy it even if you are unable to be with family.
If you are reading this you are most likely a Division III basketball fan, make sure you get out and support these terrific student-athletes and programs even if you don’t have a rooting interest in the team(s) closest to you. It is worth getting to games and supporting them anyway. Make that one of your New Year’s Resolutions.
You have got to love this time of year. All games seem to take on a different perspective as Regional Rankings start getting rolled out, the end of the season can be seen, and teams are fighting for not only conference playoff positioning, but to make the tournaments in the first place. It seems to drive programs and even those who have struggled seem to find themselves when there is more on the line and the opponent has a bigger target on their back. Of course, the second time through conferences makes a different I am sure.
There is a lot less shaking of my head and lot more inquisitive looking at results. There are more answers despite there being more questions than a month or two, or three, ago. That said, there is far more head banging when it comes to voting in the Top 25 especially with the amount of parity we see around the country. (Have I mentioned parity before, recently?)
This week was a mix of things for me. I remained confident with some teams, I had to make some really hard decisions on who to move up and how far despite less than stellar results. I also had to debate how far to move teams down and despite recent results if a team was still better than the group around where I was slotting them. I also had to move teams into slots I didn’t think they fit – a common theme for months now – while wondering if I was missing something on the outside.
Ohio Wesleyan very nearly made Dave’s ballot this week… and he continues to wonder why he didn’t pull the trigger.
There are actually teams with more losses than on my ballot who I think are playing better than teams with less losses. That is tough to gauge. For example, I seriously considered putting Ohio Wesleyan on my ballot and not in the bottom four slots. Remember, I had the Battling Bishops in my Top 5 in the preseason poll. I like what they have. But when you start 2-3 on the season and 7-6 turning into early January… it’s bad. It certainly isn’t a Top 25 team. Since then, OWU is on a ten-game winning streak and handling their business. But does a 17-6 team seriously have a place in the Top 25 ahead of 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 loss teams? I have 6-loss teams on my poll, so why not? I have them ahead of those other types of programs, so why not? I didn’t pull the trigger this week, but as I write this I beg the question why I didn’t do it.
People ask all of the time, is the Top 25 a statement for how a team is doing over the course of the entire season or a snapshot of how they are right now. I personally think it is a combination and what kind of mixture that is is dependent on the team. What I determine for one team is not right for another. There are too many factors involved. One team’s defense may be better and I like that over another whose defense isn’t as good, but whose offense tends to flourish. I also look at schedules and conference foes to get a sense of how competitive games are. For some teams, I need to see dominating wins to have confidence in them. In another team, close finishes tells me more because of who they are playing and where those games are. I don’t have a cut-and-dry formula that works for all and thus why the process is several hours instead of several minutes.
I debate all of those things on a weekly basis. How is a team doing right now, has their season given me concern or confidence no matter the current results, are the current results starting to trump what I have seen on a season-wide scale, what is the conference doing, who is on their schedule, are they in a lull or a peak in conference opponents on their schedule. The questions and analysis are endless. Add in what I have seen in box scores and on video web streams and what people are telling me or answering to my questions. I may have missed on Ohio Wesleyan this week and maybe left a couple of teams in who should be gone, but let’s see what the next week brings to justify my decisions or justify my second-guessing.
As a reminder, here is how I voted the last few weeks:
Now on to my ballot for the D3hoops.com men’s basketball Top 25 with some thoughts, but not a lot (it is a busy week):
1 – Babson (Unchanged)
2 – Whitman (Unchanged)
3 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
Rochester’s win over WashU was impressive enough to Dave to override the concern the Chicago loss initially created.
4 – Rochester (Down 1)
Yeah, I only moved the Yellowjackets down one despite losing this weekend to Chicago. I made a point of watching as much of the Rochester at WashU game as I could (after realizing it started an hour earlier than I expected). They controlled the Bears. There was no sign to me that Rochester isn’t as good as I expected them to be. They didn’t blow me away as a Top 5 team, but to be honest… NO ONE has blown me away as a Top 5 team besides maybe Babson. My expectations of a Top 5 team from five years ago has to change. There is too much talent across the board in Division III now. Rochester held WashU at arm’s length and didn’t let the game go into the Bears’s control. Their loss to Chicago, let’s be honest, wasn’t all that shocking. The Maroons are a very good team who have just picked up too many losses in a tough schedule. What I saw from Rochester in St. Louis gave me confidence on where I have them in my poll.
5 – Ramapo (Unchanged)
6 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)
7 – Middlebury (Up 6)
The Panthers are surprising me. I know I had heard and read a lot of confidence in Middlebury from people early on this season, but I brushed it aside. There was nothing on this team that impressed me from two 17-win and one 18-win campaign in the last three seasons. I didn’t think they had grown. But in the last few weeks, I have been watching them very closely and they have been putting teams away. Just in the 2017 side of the campaign, they have won their games by a margin of 16.7 points per game while only having two losses and only one of those was bad (Williams: 89-65). They handed Amherst the head of it’s old mascot 106-91 over the weekend before rolling over Trinity. The Panthers are playing really, really well and if they keep this up may be the team no one wants to face come the NCAA tournament… especially as Tufts is banged up, Amherst is reeling, and everyone else in the Northeast except Babson seems to be stumbling.
8 – Whitworth (Up 1)
9 – Washington Univ. (Down 2)
Normally, I don’t move a team down very far when they have lost to a team I, at least, had them ranked behind. However, I thought about moving the Bears down further. I just wasn’t blown away with their effort against Rochester. I think WashU is a good team, but not Top 10 good. Then again, when I don’t think my Top 5 is really Top 5 caliber, maybe WashU being below what I think a Top 10 team goes with the territory. While I have to both get the WashU teams of old out of my head and stop comparing them… I also have to stop looking for something that blows me away. I just didn’t feel like WashU was worse than the teams below them and thus while my thinking was to move them down further… the answer is I couldn’t. So a combination of things including a cushion keeps WashU in my Top 10.
10 – Marietta (Up 1)
Hope’s overtime win to Trine gave Dave pause.
11 – Hope (Down 1)
The overtime game against Trine concerned me. I know Trine and the rest of the MIAA are subtly better than people realized, but I think Hope needs to be a bit more assertive if they are in my Top 10. I also thought Marietta is playing a bit better basketball as of right now, so I shifted the two teams.
12 – Salisbury (Up 2)
13 – St. Norbert (Down 1)
I have been double-guessing this since I submitted my ballot and had been debating this non-stop prior. There is something about the Green Knights I think is good, but they frustratingly don’t always show it. The Grinnell loss bugs me, but I also realized Grinnell might be playing with a little bit of fire after having to forfeit game due to some kind of screwed up paperwork or whatever allowed a player to be playing when he shouldn’t have (is how I read into the explanation). My counter argument is I am putting too much stock in the Grinnell emotions and didn’t pay attention enough to the fact that SNC lost a game they should have won – no matter the style being played… this isn’t new to them. The problem, not many teams below St. Norbert are blowing me away, either. So they “float” here at 13. Probably should be around 20… but this is no-man’s land for my ballot.
14 – Denison (Up 4)
I don’t have a great breakdown for why I moved the Big Red up four spots besides the fact that a number of losses above them coupled with not many teams around or below them blowing me away forced me to put teams in slots that are far higher than I would like (I think I have shown a few examples of this already).
Susquehanna and Steven Weidlich enter Dave’s Top 25 ballot at #15. Courtesy: Susquehanna Athletics
15 – Susquehanna (Unranked)
I missed the chance to see the River Hawks in person this year (due to the Division III soccer championships) and I have been a bit more critical. The Landmark conference is not that amazing at the top this year, though the middle and bottom have become more interesting. Scranton and Catholic are no where close to their NCAA-selves of the past, so should I put that much stock in Susquehanna beating Catholic last week? What got me to put Susq in this slot was (a) every time you think a game will derail them, they come back strong and haven’t had a losing streak all season and (b), they blow Catholic out of the water on Saturday (88-64). This was a tough game schedule wise as Goucher and Drew were on either sides… a loss in this trio of games would not have surprised me. Frank Marcinek really likes this squad and that says a lot. I’ll buy in … for now.
16 – New Jersey City (Unchanged)
17 – Swarthmore (Up 4)
18 – Benedictine (Up 6)
Last week I indicated I was comfortable with the Eagles near the bottom of my ballot. They hadn’t done anything in conference except lose a game. Then a birdy pointed me to something I should have noticed on my own: in Benedictine’s nine-game winning stream since their loss to Concordia (Wis.), they have beaten their opponents by an average of 25.7 points per game! They have shot .540 in that stretch improving their season shooting to .514! They are only allowing 69.7 ppg which has brought their season average down to 70.8. Something about that game against the Falcons woke this Benedictine squad up. Sometimes there are times we see a “good” loss … this might have been it for a team that I have to remember brought back a ton of talent from last year’s national championship appearance.
19 – Guilford (Down 4)
I’ll be quick, the win over Randolph-Macon was just what the Quakers needed. The loss to Roanoke… ugly.
20 – Tufts (Down 1)
21 – Oswego State (Down 4)
For a team that needs to keep dominating, losing by one to Fredonia and then barely beating Buffalo State by one… not what I wanted to see from the Lakers to remain confident that Sortino and gang can actually get it done.
22 – UW-Whitewater (Down 2)
This breaks my rule about moving teams down when they lose to a team ranked above them. The shift was mainly because of teams I was moving around above and around UWW. Had they won, they probably wouldn’t have moved up very far because of that movement as well. More a testament of where I think the Falcons fit in on this poll and what is happening around them.
Hanover has become a team to watch in the HCAC, but how much do we really know about them? Courtesy: Hanover Athletics
23 – Hanover (Unranked) I have been debating about the Panthers for weeks. The loss to Rose-Hulman gave me pause. They aren’t blowing their conference competition out of the water, but I also think the HCAC has improved at the top quite a bit (certainly gotten deeper). And they only have three-losses at this point in the season! Granted, I (spoiler alert) punted teams with two and three losses this week, but I think Hanover is playing better than those other squads.
24 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The Cardinals keep yo-yoing on my ballot. However, I can’t ignore they slayed Amherst for the second time this season. I could have easily not voted for them and put another Wesleyan (Ohio) in here in their stead, but the decision with who follows (another spoiler alert) triggered this one. Sometimes deciding where a team goes on my ballot, if they get on it, and if they are taken off of it also depends on other teams. In this case, Wesleyan making the poll was based more on the fact that …
Amherst’s inability to keep a loss from turning into a losing streak concerns Dave who nearly pulled them from his ballot after being in the Top 10. Courtesy: Amherst Athletics
25 – Amherst (Down 17)
… that the purple As didn’t fall off my ballot. I debated a long time on this. I seriously contemplated dropping Amherst from my ballot despite them being 8th the week prior. The four-losses in six games in late January/early February gave me pause and I dropped them. They then moved up the poll and into the Top 10 after getting back to their winning ways (six straight) while other teams fell around them. I didn’t love them in my Top 10 – but that has been discussed. They then lost two in a row (OT against Wesleyan before being handled by MIidlebury) and I nearly gave up. What is odd is the concerns I had at the beginning of the season, that I nearly forgot, seem to be cropping up now. They proved me to me earlier that those concerns were hog-wash… until now. I just don’t think they are as strong or as deep as we are used from the LeFrak residents. So why didn’t I just simply remove them? I do still think Amherst has the ability to make a run in the NCAA tournament if they get back in the right mindset – though, not Salem this year (and yes, I didn’t think they could have gotten to Salem last year if Babson had Flannery at 100%… or even 75%) and THAT is why I dropped them. However, if I think they can make a deep run, I can’t remove them. Furthermore, if I drop Amherst then I drop Wesleyan leaving me two spots open. I have already admitted I would have put Ohio Wesleyan in in that case, but I don’t know who my second team was. I wouldn’t have left in any of the teams I dropped and the others I was considering didn’t make as strong a case in my opinion. So, Amherst (and Wesleyan by default right now) stay… and I second-guess myself the rest of the week.
Neumann (Previously 22)
This was the only team that had a chance to stay on my ballot, honestly. But the loss to Rosemont kills me. This is not a shot at the Ravens who I think is a very improved team, but to stay on my ballot from the CSAC, you have to dominate the conference. The loss to Rosemont doesn’t prove that to me. As good as Neumann is, it seems they are still trying to figure out personnel and maybe overlooking opponents. Both of those are red flags for me.
St. Thomas return to Dave’s Top 25 was short-lived.
St. Thomas (Previously 23)
I seriously considered replacing the Tommies with Carleton which would have been that second team I mentioned I was looking for to replace Amherst and Wesleyan (to go along with OWU). Carleton beat St. Thomas to end their eight-game winning streak and extend the Knights, then, 10-game winning streak. For St. Thomas, that loss concerned me for a squad that had turned it around and looked to be on it’s way to another MIAC regular season title. And I didn’t want to vote for Carleton, because I was worried the win would be the emotional climax and they would stumble after it. Interestingly, St. Thomas lost their next game maybe revealing their emotional climax had been reached and Carleton dominated in their next game maybe revealing a new team for my ballot next week.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Previously 25)
I knew this would happen. Almost immediately after putting CMS back on my ballot for the second time this season and just after convincing myself they were going to continue dominating the SCIAC… they lost to Pomonoa-Pitzer and before they could stop the bleeding La Verne knocked them down another peg. Just can’t vote for CMS who went from having a Pool C chance if they needed it… to having to now win to get in to the NCAA tournament.
I think that about covers it. Don’t forget Hoopsville will be on air Wednesday afternoon shortly after the Regional Rankings are published and will be on air Thursday and Sunday nights starting at 7:00PM. Also, please consider donating to the Hoopsville Fundraising efforts. We want to stay on the air for years to come and your public television-esque support is very much appreciated.
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Well, let me start by apologizing for those who like to read these blogs for not getting you one the last few weeks. I had other obligations or items on my plate the last few weeks that didn’t allow me the time to post. I have also been under the weather dealing with a cold and exhaustion (notice, Hoopsville was canceled Sunday) which hasn’t helped.
Many of you might be curious how I voted, so let’s start there:
As you can see, movement in a few different places. I toyed with some teams in and out despite maybe not losing. I also made some serious shifts to those who seem to be struggling especially in conference play.
While things have been a little less volatile in the Top 25 – if not the entire division – it doesn’t make things easier. I think there is a significant cap in the area of 7-15. I am not comfortable with a number of teams where I have them ranked. Many are too high. However, I have to put someone in those slots. I have to fill in the holes. So teams are going to rise further up than I want them, but I don’t have anyone better to put in those slots.
This week as was the same. Teams in spots I am not convinced are deserving of that ranking, but I can explain that with those individual teams. So without further delay, here is my ballot for this week’s D3hoops.com Top 25:
1 – Babson (Unchanged)
I’ve got nothing to add here. I think they are the best in the country being led by arguably the best player in the country. Haven’t changed my mind all season.
2 – Whitman (Unchanged) I’ll be honest, I am nervous now. The Blue nearly lost to Linfield. I had said on Hoopsville recently that I thought the past weekend could easily be overlooked by Whitman after beating Whitworth for the second weekend. However, I thought they would have struggled with Pacific though their struggles with Linfield maybe makes more sense. The Blues can’t overlook even the weakest of opponents. Teams this high in the rankings don’t do that.
3 – Rochester (Up 1)
I didn’t like the Yellowjackets prior weekend in the UAA and was nervous with the immediate turn around against the same opponents it would not end well. Rochester actually put their foot down. I’ve been worried they might fade like they did last season, but maybe that isn’t going to happen. That said, EPIC showdown with Washington University this weekend that could determine the conference automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but Rochester cannot overlook Chicago this weekend as well.
Despite CNU’s success, Dave is wondering what’s been going on with Marcus Carter. Courtesy: CNU Athletics
4 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
The Captains look strong, but I would feel a lot more confident if their All-American Marcus Carter was having an All-American type season. My concern is he hasn’t looked nearly as strong this year and that could turn into a liability moving forward especially if the Captains hope to get back to Salem.
5 – Ramapo (Down 2)
Maybe I got a little too overzealous moving the Roadrunners to No. 3 overall last week. I liked what I was seeing. They were controlling their opponents in a usually tough NJAC. And while the NJAC hasn’t been as strong this year, I didn’t expect Ramapo to struggle against TCNJ this past week. Oops. Ramapo is a very good team, but they can’t allow dings like they experienced this past week. I was willing to move them further down the poll, but they ran into an area where a lot of losses had taken place and moving them behind teams below them didn’t work – they aren’t worse than those teams.
6 – UW-River Falls (Unchanged)
Despite the fact the Falcons took their first WIAC loss of the season to Oshkosh, I didn’t move them. The main reason is I didn’t have any where further down to put them. The second reason is I would have been shocked to see any team go undefeated in the WIAC. I do think the loss to Oshkosh is a little concerning considering how UWRF has been handling the rest of their conference schedule. However, Oshkosh is a good team and certainly capable of getting that win. The biggest surprise was it was on the Falcons’ home court.
Dave isn’t that sold on WashU, but this weekend’s clash with Rochester will help him answer questions for both teams. Courtesy: WashU Athletics
7 – Washington Univ. (Up 1)
Now we enter the area I am not comfortable with in terms of where teams are ranked. I know a lot of people are impressed with WashU… I am not blown away with them. I feel they are a 10-15 ranked team who is certainly having a good season. My concerns were made clear in their game at Case Western Reserve when the Bears basically blew a 16-point lead with a CRWU team that just wasn’t close to 100%. The odd part is WashU had a number of missing players the second time around with CRWU and the game was over early (correction, I have this confused with the Case missing players against Chicago; I apologize). Big match-up coming against Rochester with Emory lurking as well. I will be watching this weekend’s games closely.
8 – Amherst (Up 2)
No surprise the Lord Jeffs got past Tufts this weekend. And Amherst has done nothing but win since they lost to Wesleyan and Trinity a few weekends prior, but this is another team that right now I feel more comfortable between 10-15. The conference has exposed some flaws and I am just not as sold on the purple As as I used to be – heck, I wasn’t even that sold when they were in the 2-slot on my ballot. Maybe chalk all of this up to how crazy parity has become that there aren’t any bad losses anymore.
9 – Whitworth (Up 3)
Their loss to Whitman basically sealed the fact to me that the Pirates are the same dominating force we have grown accustom to, so their ranking in the Top 10 is an uneasy one. I like them closer to 15, but had to move them up to 9. They had a far more solid weekend than Whitman, but maybe realizing they can’t control the conference has taken some of the pressure off. This just isn’t as strong a squad as I am used to, so a Top 10 ranking seems strange to me.
Hope cracks into the D3hoops.com Top 25 despite the fact Dave has them tenth on his ballot.
10 – Hope (Up 3)
I may be higher on the Dutchmen than others. There is something about this squad I like. I can’t put an exact finger on it, but the fact they are staying above the fray in the rest of the MIAA may have something to do with it. Who knows. Again, maybe not a Top 10 squad, but I like what I see.
11 – Marietta (Up 3)
The Pioneers seem to be getting their swagger back, but I am not convinced they have solved the problems that plagued them in the middle of the season. The recent win over John Carroll gave me hope they found some answers, but I still think they can be exposed by team who has quality players inside. I don’t love Marietta this high right now until I see how they finish the season, but here is where I have to put them.
12 – St. Norbert (Up 4)
The Green Knights did a nice job to avenge their lone conference loss in … years. I think they are a quality team, but not sure they aren’t more like 15th or 16th in the country. That said, they are proving to be a tough out and once again control how the MWC will be determined this season.
Middlebury could turn out to be the most dangerous team in the NESCAC.
13 – Middlebury (Up 5)
The Panthers have quietly been assassins. They have been rolling over teams that leading up to the game looked like they might be formidable. Just look at the recent game against Hamliton! I wasn’t really buying in to Middlebury earlier this season, but they actually might be the most dangerous team in the NESCAC. Forget Tufts and Amherst or even Trinity, Middlebury could control this conference before things are settled.
14 – Salisbury (Unchanged)
I wasn’t as aggressive with the Seagulls because I think they are playing with fire. This is a team that sometimes plays too close to their opponent’s level than they should. York (Pa.) beat them earlier this season and Salisbury barely got past them the second time on the Seagulls home floor. I just don’t think they know how to put teams away and that will mean teams hanging around and maybe knocking Salisbury off one or two more times this season (not counting a third game with CNU). I would feel far more comfortable if Salisbury actually blew the doors off more of their opponents like they are capable of doing.
15 – Guilford (Up 2)
The ODAC is not something to write home about this season. Competitive, sure, but not top notch. That said, Guilford is quietly having a pretty impressive season. The loss to Hampdon-Sydney did more than concern me, but the Quakers are back in control of the ODAC which could have a lot of ramifications later. The biggest trick, Guilford cannot rest on their laurels. There is an argument that only one team from the ODAC will make the NCAA tournament this year no matter how things turn out (I don’t agree, but the argument is a good one). Guilford has to not trip up between now and February 26.
16 – New Jersey City (Down 6)
What the Gothic Knights did this past week is exactly what I said they and others in the NJAC can’t afford to do this season. Prior to seeing the SOS numbers last week, I thought NJAC was in good shape to have two teams in the NCAA tournament. But the recent SOS numbers (not from the NCAA, but pretty accurate) tell a different story. With numbers that low, a team like NJCU cannot lose to a team like Rowan. I don’t care how good people say teams in the NJAC are, the top teams have to keep beating the teams behind them or this is once again going to be a one-bid conference especially in a year where the middle and bottom haven’t ended up being as good as expected. The loss to Rowan could ended up being bad for many reasons besides me losing confidence that the Gothic Knights were underappreciated… not to mention a squad with such a good defense gives up 90+ in the loss. Not good. Not good at all.
Brian Sortino and Oswego State are once again proving to be a dangerous second-half team. Courtesy: Oswego State Athletics
17 – Oswego State (Up 5)
Tell me if you have heard this story before? Oswego State has some questionable results early in the season, people forget about them, and they come storming back in the second half of the season. The Lakers now have control of the SUNYAC thanks to their recent win over Brockport. However, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. This team is full of talent, but there are teams that tend to leave me wanting more and Oswego has been one of those teams… will they do it again?
18 – Denison (Down 11)
Ouch. Losers of three straight and seeing their two-game advantage in the NCAC disappear completely the Big Red now find themselves a game back of Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan with losses to those two in this stretch. Not good. Denison, I feel, has been a very good team who has taken advantage of Ohio Wesleyan’s disastrous start to the season and a below-par-Wooster squad. However, they had gotten to February still playing terrific basketball. This is the worse time possible for a meltdown. I hope Denison is able to figure things out, because they are also dealing with a shockingly low SOS which means these losses could ended up costing them a chance at returning to the NCAA tournament.
19 – Tufts (Down 10)
Normally a single loss to a conference foe, especially a very good one like Amherst, wouldn’t drop a team ten spots. However, Tufts is having to play with their most important player: Tom Palleschi. His presence inside makes the Jumbos a difficult team to play and beat. Without him, the squad has been exposed to the tune of three losses in four games. Will Palleschi return? Not sure. He might be back in two or so weeks… he might be done for the season. Sadly, the season may go down with their player. That is sad to say for a team that played above expectations last season and seemed to be above the NESCAC fray all season.
UW-Whitewater gets on Dave’s ballot for the first time this season. Are the Warhawks really that good this year? Courtesy: UW-Whitewater Athletics
20 – UW-Whitewater (Unranked)
This is the first time I am voting for the Warhawks and I don’t love the vote. Sorry. The out-of-conference schedule was nothing to be proud of and the three-game losing streak to start conference play was what I thought would happen – bringing UWW back to earth. However, they have gotten back to flying and have won seven straight with four of those being on the road. The toughest test will be this week at UW-Stevens Point and at UW-River Falls. After this week I will either be comfortable with Whitewater on my ballot or shaking my head as to why I chose them over someone else. Looking forward to seeing how this turns out.
21 – Swarthmore (Unranked)
As strange as this is going to sound, I was impressed with the Garnet’s overtime win at McDaniel. I saw the game in person and really liked what I saw from Swarthmore. McDaniel has a habit of playing to the level of it’s opponent which in this case meant playing a far better game than they have shown in the past, so I didn’t knock Swarthmore for having to go into overtime against the Green Terror – especially at McDaniel. The Garnet’s inside game is better than I expected, though their bigs may have to play a little quicker for them to be more dangerous in March.
22 – Neumann (Up 3)
I am not blown away with Neumann, but they keep winning especially as the target gets bigger and bigger. I can’t figure out their personnel changes in the second semester, but they keep winning. One-loss overall and playing in the CSAC makes it hard to stand out, but I had been told at the beginning of the season to keep an eye on Neumann and so far watching them has been good enough to get them ranked… even move them up this week. I had actually sold them when they had a couple of close games they shouldn’t have had in conference, but I am also willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at this point.
St. Thomas is back in the conversation and in control of the MIAC race after a less-than-Tommies start to the season.
23 – St. Thomas (Unranked)
Well, the Tommies are back. After a near-disastrous start that had them in the middle of the MIAC pack, St. Thomas has regained control of the conference and seem to be playing on a different level. Who knows what Coach John Tauer has psychologically down with his program, but it has worked! Great turn around that I just couldn’t keep unranked any more. The finish to the season is not going to be easy, but with two wins over both Bethel and St. John’s already in the Tommies’ pocket, UST is in the driver’s seat once again.
24 – Benedictine (Unchanged)
I don’t have much to say here. The Eagles have been stuck in the 24-slot for weeks with me. Their first conference loss didn’t give me much hope, but they also continue to show they may be as good as last year’s team. No, I am not ranking them accordingly because I feel there may be some smoke and mirrors, but in the meantime I keep watching with no reason to move them up … or down.
25 – Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Unranked)
CMS and Neumann have been in and out of my ballot for a few weeks. They are both 1-loss teams I can’t figure out. CMS first got on the ballot when they easily handled their first above .500 squads of the season. They came off when they barely got passed Caltech. They continue to win and a one-loss team looks better than some of the three, four, five, even six-loss teams. Not sure where CMS is going to go this season should they make the NCAA tournament, but here’s hoping they show how good they seem to be instead of it just being the usual beat-down of West Coast teams.
North Park’s Juwan Henry has missed the last few games for the Vikings who have now lost three of their last six.
North Park (Previously #19):
Injuries and losses are revealing the North Park team I thought we were going to see. They have two preseason All-Americans (only two to have that this year), but one appears out with an injury and the rest of the supporting casts doesn’t seem able to produce like they have in the first-half of the season. The Vikings are 3-3 in their last 6 and 6-4 since the New Year. Not that impressive anymore.
Hardin-Simmon (Previously #20):
I have really liked the Cowboys, but two losses in a row (before a win to stop the bleeding) did not impress me. They have some of the best talent in the country, but they may have just set-up the “win-or-go-home” scenario for the conference playoffs. Not sure how HSU gets in the NCAA tournament unless they win out – though, we haven’t seen the first regional rankings to better understand their situation.
Ripon (Previously #21):
Just when I buy in to the Ty Sabin-led squad, they lose two in a row. I wasn’t surprised when St. Norbert beat them, though the 17-point spread was eyebrow-raising, but to then follow that with a loss to Lake Forest was disappointing. The giveth and they taketh away.
Wesleyan (Previously #22):
The Cardinals are a team I have said was worth watching in what is the deepest and craziest NESCAC we have seen in quite some time, but they are in the same boat as others in terms of not losing games they shouldn’t. Williams nipped Wesleyan in the only game the Cardinals had last week! That speaks louder to me – just one game and lose it – than anything else. There was no other game to distract the team – just one – and they lost. Wesleyan is still dangerous, but not as fearful as beforehand.
There you have it. Another week down. Couple more to go and we will be talking about who is in and out of the NCAA tournament. I will hopefully have time get you those ballots as they are filed each week.
Don’t forget to tune into Hoopsville the rest of the season! We will be on air for a special Regional Rankings show on Wednesday afternoon along with our usual Thursday and Sunday night coverage starting at 7PM those nights.
Let me start this week’s blog out by apologizing to those who look forward to this series for not producing a blog last week. Things got a bit busy and by the time I had a moment to write it, there was no point (it would have been dated).
So, let’s start this week by looking at last week’s ballot:
Joey Flannery and Babson continue to be my top pick for the best team in the country, but no one is blowing me away with any kind of dominance.
With that information now out there, let’s move on to this week, shall we?
The Top 25 continues to be a blood bath. There were 15 losses featuring 13 teams in the overall Week 6 D3hoops.com Top 25. My ballot featured 13 losses amongst 11 teams. In the last two weeks, 28 losses involving 19 teams. I don’t want to go further back and do that math. All in all, it leaves a voter like myself scratching my head so hard I might start losing hair! In the last few weeks, I have also basically thrown a grenade at the entire thing and waited for the dust to settle. I am using too many grenades.
Working on my Top 25 ballot this week. Looks neat, but this is before I got very far into it.
This week I just shook my head, erased the previous week, penciled in the top two and went back to the drawing board. However, I didn’t move teams as much as I thought I would. I noticed that a bulk of the losses have happened at the top of bottom, not in the middle. That ends up providing a bit of a cushion for teams like Amherst who lose two in a row and makes me get aggressive in removing others with only one loss when I want to get new teams on the ballot.
The other challenge is staying consistent on my thinking. I gutted Wesleyan the week before for losing three straight after I put them tenth. This year I have been more aggressive and simply removed the Cardinals from ballot. I have treated those who lose once every week or two a little less harshly, sometimes not moving them at all (depending on the circumstances). Then suddenly I realize they have four or more losses and maybe I haven’t been harsh enough. And how do I treat Amherst who lost twice (including once to Wesleyan)? Harshly like Wesleyan? Gently like Babson? Suddenly the thinking and the plan are being challenged from all directions? Do I change my methods? Do I adapt? Do I just go with what my gut tells me each week? Neither of them make it easy.
Usually, I try and go on a case-by-case basis, but that starts to get murky when you are talking about 30-50 teams, and countless losses or results, under consideration at any one time.
So, I tried a bit of a hybrid. Look at each team on a case-by-case basis, but also have the bigger picture in mind when it comes to consistency. I’ll admit, I am not sure how well I did this week. Like a lot of weeks, I could have gone around and around and around with teams and rankings. I could have changed my ballot every ten minutes and still be doing it right now if there hadn’t been a deadline. I was even thinking about different options while hanging out with my kids at the science center for part of the day on Monday.
Connecticut College defeated Amherst this past weekend continuing the trend that any good team can beat some of the country’s best this season.
The end result is what I am thinking this week, but I may blow it all up again next week and start over. The fact teams at .500 could have a legitimate chance to defeat a Top 10 team used to be pretty rare. It simply isn’t these days. There are very good teams who for whatever reason have taken more losses than expected and pose a real threat to what appear to be dominating teams. At the same time, some of the dominating teams just aren’t as superior as we are accustomed which allows their flaws to be even more revealing.
I cannot say with any confidence I know who the top teams in the country are right now. I can give you who I think they are, but already in the last few weeks those thoughts have been completely second guessed. Marietta is a damn good team, but can you explain why they are 11-4? Amherst has looked good, but suddenly they drop two games in a row! There is a good chance the best teams in the country don’t have a resume to match. Those teams in the 10-20 range very well could be who we see in Salem come the third weekend of March. The teams up top may not have had their “moments” that show us who they really are – stumbling for a few games after being revealed. The trick will be if those “moments” come in the next few weeks or ill-timed in March.
With that in mind, here is my attempt at gauging who the Top 25 teams in the country are.
1 – Babson (Unchanged)
2 – Whitman (Unchanged)
Sam Borst-Smith may have played well, but Rochester couldn’t escape their own gym without a loss against WashU.
3 – Rochester (Unchanged)
Surprise! Yeah. I didn’t move the Yellow Jackets despite a rough weekend including a loss to WashU. The more I tried to move to Rochester, the less likely it became. I simply don’t see who I would put them behind after just their first loss of the season. Now, I will not say I am comfortable. I have liked Rochester all year, but losing at the Palestra and having to come from behind in the first game of the weekend has me uneasy. It is only going to get tougher from here since they have to travel to Chicago and WashU later in the season… not to mention play the rest of the UAA schedule.
4 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)
I’ll be honest. I have seriously thought about moving the Captains down despite the fact they keep winning. However, I keep in mind the fact they only have a second loss because of a lucky heave from Salisbury right before the holiday break. That leaves just a dismantling by Marietta at the beginning of the season. I have tried to take more stock in that loss considering the struggles Marietta is now having, but I have leaned on thinking the Marietta squad I saw then is drastically different than the one currently playing and the same goes for CNU. However, the Captains have their flaws, especially inside and I know their opponents will try and expose those flaws. Top five feels too high.
How good is Denison? Dave has decided to buy in, but we shall see how long this lasts.
5 – Denison (Up 5)
The Big Red have skyrocketed the last few weeks in my poll. I have tried to remain a bit subdued at the fact they have only lost one game, but at the same time there is a thought that if a team has gotten this far in this season without more losses they must be good. This isn’t exactly true across the board. Denison’s strength of schedule right now is surprisingly low. However, while the wins over Wooster, Ohio Wesleyan, and DePauw aren’t staggering… I do know those are good programs who appear to be gaining strength after a difficult start to the season. My thinking is Denison may be better than advertised, so I am riding the wave. Unfortunately, we probably won’t get a chance to see if I am right until February 1-8 when Denison plays at Ohio Wesleyan, vs. Wooster, and at DePauw. The NCAC season will be decided that week.
6 – Ramapo (Unchanged)
Surprise again! Another team takes its first loss and doesn’t move. In this sense, I remain consistent. Like Babson earlier this season, I didn’t punish Ramapo for losing to New Jersey City, on the road, in overtime. Yes, NJCU is not at full strength which some could read into and say that means the Roadrunners aren’t that good if they barely got by the Gothic Knights. However, I also know NJCU will take you out of your offensive game no matter their personnel, so I chalk this up as expected. I did not expect any NJAC team to get through the conference unscathed. That is the case with Ramapo and thus one of the better teams I have seen in person isn’t going to get dinged for taking a loss I pretty much expected.
7 – Whitworth (Unchanged)
8 – North Park (Unchanged)
9 – UW-River Falls (Up 2)
10 – Tufts (Up 3)
Tufts is tough to read. I almost feel like it is smoke and mirrors. Are they really a top ten team as I have had for quite a bit of the season? Or have they just floated there because I have to put someone tenth. The win over Middlebury gave me confidence the Jumbos may be for real, but Wesleyan and Connecticut College loom large this week.
11 – UW-Eau Claire (Down 2)
12 – New Jersey City (Unchanged)
Odd week for the Gothic Knights. Lose earlier to Stockton, but recover to beat Ramapo in overtime at home. NJCU would have gone down based on the loss to Stockton; risen based on the win over Ramapo. Thus, they stay where they are. This might be one of the best defensive teams in the country right now even if they are not at full health. They’ve got a couple of good road tests coming up they need to survive.
13 – St. Norbert (Up 2)
14 – Endicott (Up 3)
15 – Salisbury (Down 1)
The Sea Gulls are starting to worry me. They seem to struggle to stay focused. Two losses in Las Vegas was shocking, but certainly understandable considering they played two of the better teams there. However, they could have also come out of South Point Arena 2-0. Then they show up at York (Penn.) who is playing without their best player inside and Salisbury rolls over. They should have dominated. Their team is designed to dominate squads like York who are rebuilding. I need to see Salisbury show they can take on all comer before I start thinking about bailing on what I think is a very talented squad.
Mason Reyer and the Quakers have quietly stormed to the top of the ODAC. Courtesy: Guilford Athletics (Ava Nadal)
16 – Guilford (Up 9)
I have been quietly watching the Quakers for weeks now. They, in return, have been quietly cruising through the ODAC and find themselves tied for first place. They have won eight straight including dominating Roanoke. I think a lot of voters don’t know what to do with ODAC for good reason. The top has come back to earth a little bit, so it’s hard to put a lot of faith in the teams at the top. However, Guilford’s two losses are by a combined eight points and when they win, they tend to win easily. The true test may not come until January 28 against Virginia Wesleyan, but keep an eye on this week against Emory and Henry and Hampden-Sydney.
17 – Amherst (Down 12)
Guh. Talk about a bad week for the men’s squad. The loss to Wesleyan, okay. But to compound it with a loss to Connecticut College? The former Lord Jeffs have now lost not only two in a row, but three of their last four and four of their last six! It’s like the Babson game was all they were focused on. And it isn’t going to get any easier. The next four are against Bowdoin, Colby, Williams, and Trinity who all spell blood in the water. I can’t say for sure why Amherst struggled this past weekend, but rest assured the next four opponents have seen why and will try and exploit it as well.
18 – Hardin-Simmons (Up 1)
19 – Hope (Up 1)
Jack Knupp and WashU haven’t blown me away this season, but their win over Rochester is too difficult to ignore. Courtesy: WashU Athletics
20 – Washington Univ. (Unranked)
Ok. I finally voted for the Bears. I know a lot of voters thinking highly of WashU (thus why they are 11th despite my 20th place [previously not on my ballot] vote). I am not sure why. They are 11-3 which is obviously good, but they have lost to UW-Eau Claire by 14, Central by four, and Illinois Wesleyan by a point. They then needed overtime to beat a below-their-average Wooster squad, barely survived a tough Chicago team, and needed to comeback against an overrated (by me previously) Emory team. Yes, UWEC is in my Top 25 and IWU has been in and out (and, spoiler, still flirting). Prior to this weekend, the Bears just didn’t excite me. However, they did beat Rochester on the road (the second game of the Atlanta-Rochester trip to boot) and that got me thinking: sometimes teams don’t win pretty, they win ugly. Maybe WashU is one of those teams. Not sure how much we will learn in the next three weekends should they win (vs. NYU, vs. Brandeis; at Carnegie Mellon, at Case Western Reserve; vs. Carnegie Mellon, vs. Case Western Reserve). Lose? May answer my questions more fully. For now, I’m on the bandwagon. Hope it doesn’t hurt as much as it did for St. Louis Cardinals fans on the Jason Heyward bandwagon last offseason (that’s an inside joke).
21 – Marietta (Unchanged)
22 – Middlebury (Unchanged)
23 – Wesleyan (Unranked)
The Cardinals are either suffering from whiplash or learning to play the yo-yo. They went from tenth to unranked to 23rd on my ballot in three weeks. They went from ninth to unranked to 24th on the D3hoops.com poll. Wow, what a ride. But when you beat Amherst and close out the weekend ending your three-game losing streak with a second straight win at Trinity… it is bound to happen. Wonder where they land next week after playing Emmanuel, Tufts, and Bates.
Tahron Harvey and the Eagles suffered their first conference loss in 34 games (conference record) against Concordia (Wis.).
24 – Benedictine (Down 8)
I seriously considered removing the Eagles from the Top 25. Yes, it was a single loss, but it was in conference where to be in the Top 25 they probably should be dominating. I realize it is hard to keep winning in any conference (which makes St. Norbert’s run even more impressive), but I was very concerned with the loss to Concordia (Wis.). The only thing that stopped me from removing them was feeling I might have been too harsh, but more importantly not sure who I would replace them with. Plenty of candidates, that’s for sure. Just not sure if any of them have proven anything more than Benedictine. We shall see.
25 – Neumann (Down 7)
I also nearly removed the Knights as well. This might have been one of the few times I expected a team to keep winning. Or more appropriately, I expected that if Neumann were to lose it would be to Cabrini or Gwynedd Mercy. Not to Rutgers-Camden who was previously 1-9 (now 3-11). Though, I did consider that Camden is playing far better now and nearly knocked off Ramapo as well. However, the last few weeks I have noticed that Neumann’s leading scorer is missing. James Butler hasn’t shown up on a box score in awhile.
Cam Wiley and the Garnet lost two last week by an average of 17.5 points dropping them out of my ballot.
Swarthmore (Previously 23)
The Garnet had a rough week. They lost two in a row and neither of the games were close. Johns Hopkins handled them 70-52 in Baltimore and Franklin & Marshall steamrolled the Garnet 83-66 at Swarthmore. Not sure what happened. I don’t see any missing players. This was a chance for Swarthmore to take firm control of an okay Centennial Conference this season and instead it is has turned things into a free-for-all. Maybe I had put too much stock in the Garnet.
Carthage (Previously 24)
Speaking of free-for-all, the CCIW is shaping up that way as well. I thought Carthage was maybe turning into a Cinderella and setting themselves up nicely, but they then lose to Illinois Wesleyan. Not a bad loss, but IWU is without preseason All-American Trevor Seibring (back) right now. Add to the fact that the Red Men barely got past Illinois Tech and I start to see red flags. CCIW is always competitive and good, but maybe this year it doesn’t have a dominating side like in years past.
So, there you go. An interesting week to say the least. There are already losses on my ballot like North Park who lost on Monday night to Manchester. I am sure the losses will mount up once again and I will be back to the drawing board again.
But I do enjoy this. My struggles to find the best 25 teams in Division III men’s basketball means that there is plenty of good basketball to go around. Last March was awesome with how the tournament played out. I can’t imagine this year’s event will be just as exciting. We have a lot of good teams who put on a show each and every night. I am not complaining in the least. Gives us more to talk about.