Another week… another head-scratching, paper-worn-through-by-eraser, want-to-throw-darts-instead voting job. It isn’t a surprise, but I do need to consider either stronger paper to deal with all of the erasing… or another note taking, scribbling plan.
This is kind of fun. It is nice to know there are plenty of teams who actually deserve to be considered, though that is evenly weighed by the fact there are is a sizable part of the poll no teams seem to fit.
The thing is… the beginning of this season is so wide open it is hard to really gauge who is who, what is what, and why is why. There are some teams I can not figure out what is going on with. There are others I fear are just smoke and mirrors. Then there are those who clearly are not living up to even their own expectations. The challenge is to weed out the smoke and mirrors and look at what is really going on with teams both excelling and struggling.
There are plenty of teams who are undefeated, but that doesn’t mean they are the best 25 teams in the country. There are also plenty of teams who have one, two, three, even four losses, but that doesn’t mean a team taking losses isn’t good. Schedules are not equal. Most people realize that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get emails or tweets (even just mentions) suggesting a team who is 7-0 is probably worthy despite the fact they have played just one team above .500 and most of their opponents would be considered in the bottom quarter of the entire division. I applaud the great start to the season, but the Top 25 has rooms for just 5.9% of the programs who play Division III men’s basketball. If you really think about that… that really is a small number. If you see 17 different teams in a season per year, you on average see just one Top 25 team (if you see that much variety in teams).
What I am trying to say is with parity clearly a major factor, there are plenty of teams people think are Top 25 worthy based on simple things like a great record or a significant win. There are also plenty of teams who in a normal year might not normally deserve to be in a Top 25 right now, but considering the playing field has been far rockier they are still part of the conversation.
OK… let’s get to my ballot. Like last week, I feel pretty comfortable for the top six spots… after that, it’s a free-for-all. There are absolutely teams higher than I feel comfortable with, but there is a large gap between 7 and probably 15 where, as I have said repeatedly in the past, you have to slot teams. My number ten team may not really feel the tenth best in the country, but neither does anyone else… but someone has to be number ten – those are the rules.
So with that… here we go. Some teams won’t need or get any comments for varying reasons (I can’t write a synopsis on every single team each week), but those who made significant moves will certainly get a comment.
1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
Not that I need to make a comment here, but did you see what Augustana did against UW-Whitewater (2014’s national champs) and UW-Stevens Point (2015’s national champs)?! While it was a UWW lead at halftime, it was over once the second half started. And UWSP just couldn’t keep pace in what is believed to be the first championship game, regular season rematch since 2001 (William Paterson and Catholic). Augustana is good.
2 – Whitworth (Unchanged)
3 – Hope (Unchanged)
The Wheaton (Ill.) game was worrisome, sure. But Hope also showed it is capable of fighting back and earning a victory even if they aren’t on their game.
4 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 2)
A pretty dominating win over Wooster certainly allowed me to feel more comfortable with how high I had them in the first place, but it also allowed me to move the Battling Bishops up thanks to a loss by another team. Add to what I said last week, there aren’t any coaches or anyone else I’ve talked to about Ohio Wesleyan who doesn’t praise how good they are.
5 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)
I certainly didn’t expect the Tommies to go undefeated this season nor in what is a far deeper MIAC than it was three, maybe five, years ago. However, I did expect them to hold court in the conference at least to the bottom two-thirds to three-quarters. I know Carleton is a much improved team, but St. Thomas was exposed a bit especially after a bit of a break following the Hoopsville Classic (they played Concordia-Moorehead three days prior, but had been off for 11 days prior).
6 – Amherst^ (Down 1)
The only reason I knocked the Lord Jeffs down was simply because they don’t exactly have the world’s most stellar out-of-conference schedule to-date. So yes, Amherst is undefeated, but they should be – and the games haven’t been close. However, I still think St. Thomas is a better team than Amherst because the Lord Jeffs haven’t exactly shown otherwise.
7 – Elmhurst (Unchanged)
8 – Marietta (Unchanged)
9 – Brooklyn (Up 5)
Yeah… big jump for a team who wasn’t even in my preseason Top 25. They have gone from off my Top 25 into my Top 10 – big jump. Not sure Brooklyn is a Top 10 squad, but as I indicated earlier… teams have to fill these slots. I also might be buying in a little bit too much, but I got a chance to watch them online this past weekend I was pretty impressed. Also similar to Ohio Wesleyan, when I talk to coaches and others in the Atlantic Region, they talk pretty well about the Bulldogs.
10 – Babson^ (Down 2)
Another loss has me a little concerned. This might be a bit of team chemistry as Joey Flannery gets used to having different responsibilities and looking to new teammates to relieve the pressure. He also has teammates getting used to new roles and a transfer who everyone is adjusting to. The loss this past week was to a pretty decent Tufts squad and in overtime, so I am not panicking.
11 – Mount Union (Up 7)
The Purple Raiders have been on my personal yo-yo so far this season. Preseason #7; Week 1 #18. This is more the result of what is going on around Mount Union then themselves. They are 5-2 (at voting time), but seem to be getting over their early struggles. Again, they probably aren’t the eleventh best team in the country… but who really is.
12 – Christopher Newport (Unranked)
Well hello Captains! Yeah… another big jump especially for a team unranked prior. However, I realized about 24 hours after I posted my Top 25 that I probably should have found a way to include Christopher Newport on my ballot last week. It isn’t like they aren’t good, haven’t been good, and aren’t beating normally good teams. Yes, those they have beaten seem to be off to tough starts… but many have especially those who are going out there and challenging themselves early in their seasons. However, they beat a very good Salisbury team and looked good doing it. Again, probably not truly the twelfth best team, but… I’m repeating myself.
13 – Benedictine (Up 3)
14 – Chicago^ (Up 5)
A major move up for the Maroons, I know. It is more about those moving around them and filling in spots, plenty more about the fact I am not sure those behind them are better or playing better than Chicago, sprinkled in with the fact many still feel the Maroons will win the UAA.
15 – John Carroll (Up 7)
I am leery about how high I put the Blue Streaks. I am just not ready to buy in to what hasn’t been there for awhile. However, they are still winning (7-0 at voting time) while those around them are not necessarily winning. So upward they… streak?
16 – Salisbury* (Up 1)
Ha… these are those moments that have happened a few times early this season where a team loses and moves up (hint, there is at least one more coming on this ballot). The Sea Gulls moved up for three reasons: they lost to a team I realized should have been on my ballot in the first place, the team they lost to (Christopher Newport) is now ranked ahead of them, and I’m not exactly sure any program behind them should be ahead of them.
17 – UW-Stevens Point^ (Down 4)
I realize the Pointers lost to the number one team in the country and I just moved Salisbury up after losing a game, but UW-Stevens Point were just too high on my ballot. Augustana controlled the game (something they didn’t have a prayer of doing in Salem for the title) and Stevens Point was just unable to make Augustana not play their game (from what I could see while watching online sitting courtside at the 50th Wendy’s College Classic). UWSP probably is still a valid Top 25 team, but not sure they are a Top 15 program right now – remember, they are young this season.
18 – Stockton^ (Down 7)
I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. The NJAC is off to a crazy start. I almost just want to remove all NJAC teams, let them get through the first half of the double-round-robin, and then go back and take a look. If only the Ospreys could win the games you expect them to. There is a better chance Coach Gerry Matthews will stand up during a game than apparently Stockton wins a game they should win (just kidding, Stockton fans and Coach Matthews… I just get a kick out of watching him on the sidelines). Nothing like starting conference play already behind the eight-ball.
19 – Virginia Wesleyan^ (Up 2)
20 – Washington Univ.^ (Down 7)
I actually debated about removing the Bears from ballot altogether. They looked horrible against Illinois Wesleyan. It was an ugly game. There just isn’t any way to sugar coat it. I don’t like throwing my vote around to teams and I worry I got a little to enthusiastic last week with Wash U. I said just as much last week. But they had been winning and looking good doing it… but man did they not look good or win against IWU. And I can’t tell you how many people, especially those who know the program well, who say they aren’t a Top 25 team. I get it… but I am keeping them here for now. It isn’t like it they can avoid playing in the UAA, right?
21 – Texas Lutheran (Unranked)
I thought about this for a really long time. The Bulldogs were not going to be on my ballot until pretty much the last minute. They are off to a terrific start after winning the SCAC and earning their first NCAA tournament appearance in program history. They are also being guided by second-year coach Jimmy Smith who is also only in his fourth year coaching period. So yes… they have plenty of youth and inexperience. However, they have beaten Hardin-Simmons, East Texas Baptist, and Mary Hardin-Baylor (Smith’s alma mater) in their last four games. That isn’t bad considering two of them were on my Top 25 ballot so far this season and the other isn’t that far removed from a national championship game appearance. Now, their only blemish is to Pacific Lutheran who isn’t ranked (outside of TLU, PLU hasn’t really played anyone besides TLU and Chicago and are 1-1 in those games). Could I be throwing my vote around here? Maybe, but there are a LOT of teams to consider at this point of the ballot.
22 – East Texas Baptist (Up 1)
Ha… here we are again! Lose a game and move up. Well, ETBU lost to TLU who is now ranked ahead of them… and I needed to create a little bit more room below.
23 – St. John Fisher* (Down 13)
Ouch. The Cardinals will probably be happy never to see the Wendy’s Classic again. I really liked what I saw at the Hoopsville Classic. Not sure I can say the same from now from afar. I know they are playing without one of their key returnees due to injury, but even a banged-up St. John Fisher squad should have been able to figure out how to beat RIT and probably Brockport (who does look better than expected). However, it was the fact they lost by 17 to Brockport that was disturbing. Hopefully the Cardinals can get back to more consistent winning ways or they could be making post-season plans far more difficult.
24 – Oswego State (Unranked)
Surprise! Lose a game and ENTER the Top 25. Not the most shocking thing ever, but at this point in the poll I’m looking at another 15 teams and none of them felt as “comfortable” as the rest. Sure, the loss to Buffalo State wasn’t ideal, but you don’t talk to people in the East Region without the Lakers being brought up in conversation when chatting about the best teams. The SUNYAC will once again be a challenge, but Oswego has been pointing to this season for awhile.
25 – Wooster (Down 1)
William Paterson (Previously 15)
Not much I am going to say here. I said quite a bit last week. Here is a team that could do some special things this season, but they seem to be letting other things distract them. Yes, their coach has been fired and appeal is underway, but that is something to rally behind… not let the wheels come off the truck. Four losses already (one being a forfeit the NCAA has officially ruled as a 2-0 loss) have put the Pioneers so far in the hole, they probably have ruined what could have been a terrific season. I hope it was worth it, seniors.
Catholic^ (Previously 20)
No idea what to say. The Cardinals obviously have a big target on them this season, thus they are taking everyone’s best shots, but they aren’t doing anything about it. If you read the D3boards you will see people comment that defense has been apparently optional by the starting five. There was even a question about shaking up the starting lineup and getting deeper into the bench. I have no clue what is really going on, but defense certainly looks to be lacking. And instead of starting conference play by stamping their authority on things, they have started with a whimper.
Northwestern (Previously 25)
The Eagles didn’t exactly do anything horrible to come off my ballot except lose to Bethel (who is undefeated). However, there are a lot of questions to ask and try and find answers the further down you get on a ballot and I just didn’t feel as strongly about Northwestern this week as I did last week.
* – teams I have seen in person this season.
^ – teams I have seen in person in the last 12 months.
So, there you have it. I will say, and as I have said, I don’t feel comfortable with my Top 25. I could change it over and over and over and… again. At some point, you just have to stop and hit “submit” and move on. I was talking to JC DeLass (who will tell you he is a Top 25 voter as well) for Hoopsville Sunday when I was in Rochester for the Wendy’s Classic and he mentioned how many voters don’t feel comfortable with who are the top twenty-five schools in the country for a few more weeks. I shuttered when he said it because I usually feel like I want to have an accurate ballot each week. Despite losses and surprises, I do want to feel like I am reading the tea leaves correctly and not vote for a ballot that has teams on it that simply don’t deserve to be there. However, JC’s point is accurate and one I have become comfortable with… this is not even close to an exact science. Should I take it seriously enough to make sure my ballot is not just wild guesses? No. Should I accept the fact that this time of a season especially with so much parity you might read a team wrong? Yes… it is going to happen.
So… I/we will keep trying to read the tea leaves and weed throw the smoke and mirrors… and not miss something we should notice while falling for something we should be ignoring. Let’s see how things feel next Monday. 🙂