Dave’s Top 25 Blog: Week 7

Kenny Love and the overall #1 Whitworth Pirates moved back into second spot on my ballot.

It was an interesting week for the D3hoops.com Top 25 – at least I thought so. We are getting to the point where things appear to be getting more stable. I didn’t think we would ever get to that point and having said that I have probably jinxed myself for the rest of the season. However, I think myself and other voters are starting to feel more comfortable with far more of the ballot. It used to be just the top five, then maybe eight or nine, but now I feel like the top fifteen or more are a bit more solid and I am just working on filling out the rest. In other words, this week’s ballot felt more like ballots of seasons past!

Unfortunately, I did not get to see as many games online as I normally do this past week. Despite the fact a blizzard kept me indoors over the weekend, it didn’t mean I had all of this free time to just watch games. When you are expecting two to three feet of snow, you spend part of that time shoveling during the storm so you can open your doors and have less to break your back over after the storm. Thank goodness I got out a few times during the storm as three feet is what ended up falling on us and I wouldn’t have wanted to tackle that all at once (I am still shoveling three days later!).

As a result, I have concentrated my efforts a little more on posts on the Posting Up boards from those who see teams in action and know them the best. You have to be careful with this tactic as you will get some very different points of view from two people who were at the same game – seen through whatever tint their glasses are per their rooting interests. However, there are a number of solid posters who continually give great accounts of games or input that you can’t always appreciate watching a game online. I will admit, I am not great at breaking a game down through written word, so I truly appreciate those who do.

There still remains one major challenge: There are a number of deserving or seem-to-be-deserving teams worthy of Top 25 love, but not enough spots to put them in. Each week I struggle to figure out how to get teams on my ballot and figure out who to remove. In weeks past when there were losses-a-plenty, it was a little bit easier. However, the last few weeks have seen a downward trend in losses on my ballot meaning I have less teams I am willing to dump for others.

The other challenge comes with squads people think deserve to be in the Top 25 because they got a big win or two. One such team came up in conversation on Twitter recently:

While the tweet wasn’t directed at me, I saw it and it made me think. Wesleyan has been on my radar for weeks, but I keep having problems with some of their results. This past week they beat up on Amherst and beat Tufts as well. Pretty good week, right? But prior to that they had lost three of four games including Amherst beating up on them in a game that actually counted for the NESCAC. (Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams all play a second round of games against each other for Little Three bragging rights. The first Amherst-Wesleyan game counted for NESCAC play: Amherst won. The second game counted for the Little Three only: Wesleyan won.) By the way, when I say they beat each other up, Amherst won the first game by 24 and Wesleyan won the second game by 27. And then there is that Lyndon State (6-9) game the very first game of the season which Wesleyan lost by 2. While it was the first game of the season, it is still a loss I struggle to understand other than it was the first game of the season.

Rashid Epps and Wesleyan have had an up and down three weeks. Credit: Wesleyan Athletics

In my back and forth Twittersation with 757Basketball, they expressed bewilderment as to why Wesleyan wouldn’t be getting love for winning the NESCAC title last season. This is the funniest part because I can’t tell you how many people will tell me they want me voting on only this year’s results, while another set of people understands if I take history into account (not winning a title, but trends and consistency), and other set of people want me to lean heavily on history. I can’t win! LOL

Wesleyan is ranked in the Top 25 on this week’s D3hoops poll, but I will break the suspense and tell you they are not on my ballot below. The Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde routine of the past three weeks doesn’t make make comfortable putting them on my ballot just yet. However, the Cardinals have some solid opponents coming up in the final five games of the season. Play well and I am sure I can find room on a crowded ballot.

One more thing before I continue on with this week’s ballot, I want to recognize Ira Thor and Ryan Scott. Last week Ira started blogging his ballot for the world to see and Ryan Scott followed suit with his blog this week. They both recognized the fact I am doing it as part of the reason they are being transparent and I congratulate them for taking what is honestly a bold step forward in revealing their voting and even thinking behind their decisions. It only helps to give people a better understanding of how different voters vote because there are 25 completely different voters with very different mindsets and interpretations. Some of us might chat with one another, but we certainly don’t all vote the same way. To see their ballots, you can click here for Ira’s and click here for Ryan’s.

Now on to my ballot from this week (forgive the lack of brevity for some of these, not a lot of time this week for writing):

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)

2 – Whitworth* (Up 1)

3 – St. Thomas* (Up 1)

4 – Benedictine (Up 1)

5 – John Carroll (Up 1)

6 – Ohio Wesleyan (Up 1)

Elmhurst last unbeaten to lose in the CCIW this season.

7 – Elmhurst (Down 5)
My point a few weeks ago when Augustana lost to Elmhurst on the road was that I expected the Vikings to lose a game in CCIW play. It’s been 43 seasons since someone went through conference play undefeated and I didn’t expect it to happen this year. As a result, I did not and I have not moved Augustana off of my top spot. So Elmhurst losing to North Central, on the road, isn’t all that surprising in the fact that I didn’t expect the Blue Jays to go undefeated in the CCIW either (or they would have been my number one team!). However, it was an 18-point loss not a two-point, overtime loss like Augustana’s. North Central shot very well and Elmhurst was average. So I knew I was going to drop the Blue Jays a couple of spots. They fell a few extra spots only because I couldn’t argue they were better than the teams ahead of them right now. So, five spots is a tough drop for a road loss in conference, but to be honest I expect them to lose another road game this week (Augustana).

For those wondering, no, North Central did not make my ballot this week. I only have one five-loss team on my ballot and seriously considered dropping them off this week as well. It is a decision I am not exactly sure of even as I write this, but it is the decision I went with when it click “submit.”

8 – Hope (Unchanged)

9 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)

10 – Susquehanna* (Up 1)

11 – Marietta (Up 1)

12 – Chicago^ (Up 1)

13 – Johnson and Wales (Up 2)
The Wildcats continue to dominate in their conference. I am serious when I say even Albertus Magnus didn’t dominate the GNAC like this in the last few years. 36 points per game! But for those who have followed my blog over the years, you will notice J&W is in about the same spot as AMC has been this time of the year almost every season.

14 – WPI (Up 2)

Lord Jeff no more at Amherst. Just part of a rough week on campus. Credit: Independent Journal

15 – Amherst (Down 6)
Not a good week for the Lord Jeffs – and the final time I will probably be uttering those two words. I’m not sure the ramping up style of scheduling Amherst has done over the last few years (starting with easier opponents and working towards more challenging ones before conference play) is working out this season. That coupled with the fact the NESCAC is a far deeper conference than in years past contributed to a 1-2 week for Amherst. Wesleyan, as noted earlier, and then Colby nipped the purple team from central Massachusetts. The only bright spot, a thorough thumping of Bowdoin in the middle of a three-game road trip. It won’t get any easier for Amherst, maybe, as they continue what is a five game road stretch with games at Williams (12-6) and Trinity (14-4) this week. Amherst is clearly not as good as what voter’s thought in the preseason (#3) nor I (#5). I will be watching very closely to see how Dave Hixon’s squad responds this week.

16 – Alma (Up 2)

17 – Texas Lutheran (Up 2)

18 – Lancaster Bible (Up 2)

19 – St. Norbert (Unranked)
I am making up for last week’s mistake of accidently leaving St. Norbert off my ballot. However, it might have been a blessing in disguise. It forced me to reevaluate the Green Knights since I had them off my ballot. I needed to find a spot to place them and maybe broke up a rut I was in with SNC. I didn’t seem to be able to move them out of the twenties. This might get me moving them around a bit more since with two-losses they are playing better than expectations – AGAIN. I could have moved them up further as well, but at least they are back on the poll where they deserve to be!

20 – Roanoke (Up 3)

21 – Northwestern (Up 3)

22 – Brooklyn (Up 3)

Mount Union needs to win a big game other than Chicago earlier this season.

23 – Mount Union (Down 9)
I’ll be brutally honest, despite having them 14th and losing to a team I and the D3hoops.com voting group had ranked ahead of them (Marietta), I almost pulled the plug on the Purple Raiders. Five losses are the most any team has on my ballot. It is also the most on the overall poll, but that team is North Central. I realize Mount Union has played a very difficult schedule, in what has become a fascinatingly tough OAC race, but at some point I have expected UMU to beat a ranked team! They have a win over Chicago, but they have losses to William Paterson (once ranked), North Central, John Carroll, and Marietta (last two in back-to-back games). What is worse, when Mount Union losses it isn’t close. The average spread in a loss is 13.8 with six being the closest in a game against Colby. I decided to hold on just a little longer because I think the Purple Raiders are a very good team, but they won’t get another “big” game until Feb. 17 against John Carroll. I expect them to win every game between then to be blunt.

24 – Tufts (Down 7)
I nearly pulled the plug here as well. The Jumbos have lost two of their last four including to starting-to-get-hot Middlebury and schizophrenic Wesleyan. At least the games have been close, but as NESCAC play has intensified Tufts seems to be wilting a little. They only beat Conn College by two the other day on the road. Interestingly, Tufts has two non-conference games in the next three which might not tell us anything, so I wait patiently.

25 – Franklin & Marshall (Down 4)
The Diplomats only ended up playing one game due to the Blizzard last week and lost to Gettysburg (they have since beaten McDaniel in a twice-postponed-game). While F&M made a run in the second half to try and make it interesting, the Bullets pulled away in the end and left F&M floundering with 57 points. This is the same point in the season last year when the unexpectedly hot season fizzled on the Diplomats. They had started 14-0 and 7-0 in conference before losing their first game on January 17. They would go on to lose six of their final twelve games of the season and miss out on the NCAA Tournament. This is basically the same team, expect supposedly with more experience. However, the conference isn’t scared of the Diplomats and with Dickinson looking to prove they are still good coming up and a tough finishing set of games remaining, F&M needs to put the blinders on and focus on the task at hand – securing home-court advantage for the Centennial playoffs or this season is going to end just as suddenly as last year’s.

Dropped Out:

Trine’s undoing started with a loss at Calvin. Courtesy: Trine Athletics

Trine (Previously 22)
I did to Trine what I nearly did to Mount Union. After starting the season 10-1, the Thunder have gone 3-3 in their last six and now sit 3-3 in the conference race in a three-way tie for third. Furthermore, they haven’t beaten the really good or ranked teams on their schedule. They have lost to Ohio Wesleyan, Calvin, Hope, and Alma. Three of those teams ranked and all three conference losses to teams ahead of tied with them in the standings. Trine needs to man-up and get a significant win. They have a home game against Calvin coming up this week which can help them greatly (since they are tied with the Knights in third place), but Hope and Alma won’t show up on the schedule for a few more weeks.

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season

Previous Ballots
Week 6
Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

So, only one team entered the ballot (with one team dropping out) and it’s the first team to re-enter my ballot this season. They also shouldn’t have been off my ballot in the first place!

There are still probably 20 or so teams I have “on my radar” that I spend the most time on each week trying to figure out if they deserve to be on my ballot or not. And if they do, who should be removed.

Sometimes I blow up my ballot because I have gotten into ruts and teams probably should be moved more drastically then I am allowing in its current structure. Other times I blow it up is when I feel like I have put myself in a corner and can’t find good enough reasons to move teams on or off accordingly. This week with the bottom third of the ballot feeling somewhat set, I feel a ballot blow up coming… just to shake up my thinking.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 6

Will Starks and John Carroll moved up on Dave's ballot thanks to a big win over Mount Union.

Will Starks and John Carroll moved up on Dave’s ballot thanks to a big win over Mount Union.

Another week, another challenging D3hoops.com Top 25 to consider. The top of the poll is somewhat solid. Not many changes, some shuffling, but the top fourteen spots didn’t take much time to decide on. It was the next eleven spots which are difficult, especially the massive vacuum that seems to reside in that area. Not the kind of vacuum that sucks everything up, but the kind of vacuum that is an empty, devoid space.

There have been a few vacuums this season on my ballot. At the beginning it resided between 5-10 on the poll. It has steadily moved down the poll as some of the good teams I had reservations about have proven themselves pretty strong. It has been starting around 12-15 for a few weeks now.

That’s the complication. There are a high number of teams who certainly can make arguments to be Top 25 teams – I’ve said probably up to 70 teams some weeks. But there is a place on the poll each week where it doesn’t feel like teams are good enough to be ranked there, but no one else should be there either. It’s a vacuum.

I have dealt with these vacuums in two ways this season: moved teams from below up into the ranks to fill the hole; inserted teams unranked before to fill the hole. The first option I used when the vacuum was further up in the Top 10. I didn’t have teams unranked the week prior who could just jump into a slot in the range of five to ten. However, as the vacuum has shifted further down, I have inserted unranked teams into as high as 15, I believe. Neither option feels comfortable because I am basically putting teams where I don’t think they fit. But again, there is a vacuum I need to fill and it may have backfired on me last week.

None the less, there is a vacuum for me starting right at number fifteen. I went with the “unranked last week” plan of attack yet again and took a risk.

With that all said… let’s get to the ballot! But first, a shout-out to my fellow voter Ira Thor who decided to reveal his Top 25 as well. I applaud him for deciding to be transparent. I know others who will tell you their ballot should you ask (being transparent) and I think it’s good to help people understand what voters are thinking.

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
No reason to change my mind here, though it has been an interesting to see how the first place votes have been breaking down and the reactions to those votes.

2 – Elmhurst (Unchanged)

3 – Whitworth* (Unchanged)

4 – St. Thomas* (Up 1)
Three-game week resulted in no losses and included a solid win over Augsburg and an import win over St. John’s.

Luke Johnson and Benedictine continue to avoid an in-conference hiccup.

5 – Benedictine (Up 1)
The Eagles continue to avoid what I worry about the most: a conference loss which could spiral into a couple of losses quickly. In games they should win, they dominated at least one of them this past week.

6 – John Carroll (Up 4)
The Blue Streaks are proving they are for real this season. You will remember I have been nervous of what was really going on in University Heights, Ohio, but a high-scoring 116-93 win over ranked Mount Union was what I was looking for on my personal litmus test for the team. Granted, it was a litmus test across the board for John Carroll, but I was very interested not only if John Carroll could win the game, but would they do it on their own terms – high scoring game tells me it was on their own terms. Now the target is squarely on JCU. They have wins over Marietta and Mount Union, but they won those games at home. They have ten games remaining for the conference tournament and have to play Marietta and Mount Union on the road… in back-to-back games in February.

7 – Ohio Wesleyan (Unchanged)

8 – Hope (Down 4)
The Dutchmen’s fall of four spots to a pretty good Alma team is three-fold: they did lose a game granted on the road, they haven’t looked all that strong in the last few weeks, and the movement of other teams didn’t find a hole until number eight. I still think Hope is a dangerous team who has a chance at being very special this season, but since returning from the holiday break, they barely beat Albion at home (68-65), had a tougher-than-expected game at Olivet (79-64), and the loss on the road to Alma. They backed that up with an emphatic win over Trine (74-51) which probably should have kept them from falling four spots. However, I don’t think they are playing better than the teams ahead of them and when I moved John Carroll up four spots the only opening I had left was here at eight. I just want to see Hope start to play a little more consistently at a high-level that I have become accustom to this season.

9 – Amherst (Unchanged)

Tim Daly and Christopher Newport are quietly putting together one of their best seasons in program history. Courtesy: Christopher Newport Athletics/Keller Gabriel

10 – Christopher Newport (Up 1)
Quick comment on the Captains – they are playing some really good basketball. The CAC has been an interesting conference where almost anyone can rise to the occasion to beat someone on top, but Christopher Newport has been dominating everyone. They haven’t had a conference game in single-digits at the end all season. The closest anyone has come has been Salisbury (71-60) and Marymount (68-58) at the beginning of December. This might be a team who will quietly go far into the tournament this year before anyone realizes what is actually happening.

11 – Susquehanna* (Down 4)
This has been a magical season for the Crusaders and going undefeated in the conference was certainly on everyone’s mind no matter how unrealistic it may have been an expectation. But when they beat-up on Scranton on the road and having already beaten Catholic at home, that expectation began to take root. Was I surprised they lost? No. However, I didn’t think they would lose to a team in the bottom two-thirds, or so, of the conference. I figured Catholic or Scranton would eventually trip them up. Drew is a good team, but that was a road game Susquehanna should have won to remain a Top Ten squad.

12 – Marietta (Unchanged)

13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)

14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)

Quarry Greenaway and J&W are blowing out teams in conference by more than 36 points per game! Courtesy: Johnson and Wales Athletics

15 – Johnson and Wales (Unranked)
And here we enter the vacuum of my poll right now. I am going with a risk with Johnson and Wales here because… have you seen the Wildcats this season? We had Coach Jamie Benton on Hoopsville earlier this season when they got out to a good start. Should they keep this up, he will appear again to talk about dancing in the NCAA Tournament. They are not only 9-0 in the GNAC, a conference Albertus Magnus has dominated the last few season, but they dismantled a rebuilding, but still good (11-3), AMC squad 113-58 at home last week. They are beating conference teams by an average of 37.6 points per game! For comparison, Albertus Magnus beat their conference opponents by 18.8 ppg last season. J&W’s one loss this season? Linfield in the opening game of the season at Lewis and Clark. Considering the travel alone for that game, I am going to give the Wildcats a pass. I just don’t know if going from unranked to 15th is a smart move on my part.

16 – WPI (Down 1)
A loss to Babson isn’t a surprise expect that it was a home loss. The worry I have is the Engineers didn’t play well on the road against Emerson in the next game. I wasn’t buying into WPI early on. Now I have and it looks like they have hit a funk. We shall see.

17 – Tufts (Down 1)

Sam Hargraves and the Scots are in the D3hoops.com Top 25 for the first time in program history. Courtesy: Alma Athletics

18 – Alma (Unranked)
I had bracketed this past week for Alma several weeks ago. At home against Hope and then on the road against Calvin. This was a true test. Boy were the Scots ready! They beat Hope by 11 in a game they clearly were the better team and then beat-up on Calvin by 22. This squad is not a surprise in the conference. You might remember Hope’s Greg Mitchell talking about them earlier this season on Hoopsville, Kevin Vande Streek talked about them with me at the D3hoops.com Classic, and others have talked about how Alma (and Trine) were going to reshape the top of the MIAA. Alma is proving those thoughts accurate. But there is a lot of basketball to go including on the road against Trine this week and a road Hope, home Calvin set of games in early February.

19 – Texas Lutheran (Down 2)
The Bulldogs didn’t do anything to fall two spots, but they aren’t exactly a team I felt comfortable moving up into the 15th hole (per my previous handling of vacuum problems). But I am also getting nervous I am reading too much into the squad. When I talk to those who have seen them in action, they don’t speak as highly about them as I expect. One voter’s thoughts to me were, “they are good, just good.” I wanted badly to see them this past week when I was in San Antonio, but my schedule didn’t allow it. They do have a win over Alma and are now ranked in my poll behind them. That’s because I think Alma is playing better now than in late December and it was a one-point win in the first place.  The other problem: the losses to Pacific Lutheran, Illinois Wesleyan, and Texas-Tyler are not looking as good or strong as they have in the past. The shine just doesn’t seem to be there for me anymore

Herbie Brown and Lancaster Bible survived the toughest travel weekend of the season.

20 – Lancaster Bible (Unranked)
As with Alma, I had this past weekend bracketed for Lancaster Bible and they delivered. They had their toughest, conference road trip of the season ahead of them and they dominated with wins over Cazenovia (92-77) and Morrisville State (97-66). Morrisville State has been the class of the NEAC for several years, so to go into their place – even if they are having a down year – and beat them my 31 is more than impressive. That coupled with the fact they already have a dominating win over Franklin & Marshall and I am ready to buy in. The only trick is the Chargers are just hitting the midway point of the season. Unlike most teams, they have 13 games to fit into roughly a four-week period (January 22 to February 20). That schedule may take a toll, though eight of the final thirteen games are at home.

21 – Franklin & Marshall^ (Up 4)
The Diplomats have not let Glenn Robinson’s chase for 900 career wins or passing Bobby Knight on the all-time list distract them – nor would he let them for anyone who knows them. However, it can be a very distracting thing. Instead, F&M is in the midst of a six game winning streak. I would rank the squad higher, but they aren’t dominating teams, they are having games finish close that shouldn’t, and they aren’t exactly putting 40 minutes of complete basketball together every night – if they have done it at all this season. But they are good and seemingly deserve to be ranked.

22 – Trine (Down 1)
To be honest, I probably should have pulled Trine out of my ranking. I didn’t expect them to beat Hope especially after the Dutchmen got beat by Alma earlier in the week. But to lose by 23? Ouch. They have also now lost two in the last four games against two of the four teams battling for the top of the conference and with Alma looming on Wednesday, I am nervous that Trine is not going to pass its toughest test of the season (Calvin, Hope, and Alma in five games – 14 days). In hindsight, I might have had a better team to take their place or keep one of those I ejected this week in the poll.

Roanoke was unable to beat Hamden-Sydney, but still played their style of game. Courtesy: Roanoke College Athletics

23 – Roanoke (Down 3)
This is what happens it seems more than I can count. You finally buy into a team, rank them, and they go out and lay an egg. When I quickly chatted, via text, with Page Moir about the Maroons loss to Hampden-Sydney, he said it was a bad shooting night. I didn’t know the score at the time, just that they lost (I was with ODAC members at the NCAA Convention at the time). I looked later and saw the score: 100-92. Bad shooting night and still put 92 points on the board?! Let me tell you the number of coaches would love to have that problem! That is why I am not bailing on Roanoke. They are still playing their game and a bad shooting night is the reason they lost, not the reason they aren’t a Top 25 team. They are still the fourth-highest scoring team in the country (100.0 ppg) and one of those teams hasn’t really played a Division III schedule (Nebraska Wesleyan 100.3 ppg). The other two: Greenville (5-10; 111.7 ppg) and Grinnell (7-7; 106.4 ppg).

24 – Northwestern (Down 5)
I don’t like the loss to St. Scholastica to be blunt. I realize the Saints are 10-6 on the season, but it isn’t a good loss in my mind for the Eagles. I seriously thought about ejecting them from the Top 25 and there could be a strong argument later to have done it. The Eagles have now lost twice in a conference they went undefeated in last season and lost two of their last five games. I might be giving them too much credit for being a tough squad.

25 – Brooklyn (Down 2)
The Bulldogs didn’t do anything necessarily to fall two spots – they beat Hunter in their only game of the week. They just shuffled down two spots due to movement of teams above and around them. I still don’t love their loss to Baruch despite how tough the CUNYAC really is and the fact everyone knows Baruch is one of the tougher match-ups, no matter the record. But they are still a team I think will surprise some people come March.

Dropped Out:

UW-Whitewater (Previously 17)
I can’t say I have ever put a team into my Top 25, especially that high on the ballot after being unranked, and then removed them the next week. Bad week for the Warhawks. Lost to River Falls and Oshkosh Guh. I don’t really have anything to say. I thought they were coming together as a team especially considering how many transfers had come onto the program, but I must have read more into it than there needed to be. I will say last year’s experience of not ranking UW-Stevens Point until even later than this point in the season was in the back of my head, but this was just buying in too soon. This is also an example of why sometimes I am gun-shy about teams that are playing well above my expectations and thus why I tend to be a little slower than some to buy in.

Bridgeport Tusler scored 18 against Augsburg, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the loss for Bethel. Courtesy: Bethel Athletics

Bethel (Previously 22)
I circled this decision for a very long time. I am still not so sure I got this right. I realize they lost to Augsburg, but let’s not pretend that isn’t a good Aggies squad there in Minneapolis. But when Augsburg got thumped in their next game to St. John’s it had a trickle down affect to Bethel. Despite going 2-1 on the week and being what I feel is the second best team in the MIAC, I decided to take them out of the poll and give someone else a chance for right now.

St. Norbert (Previously 24)
The Green Knights slipped past me. Plain and simple. I was moving so many parts around (see above) along with considering so many other teams outside my ballot, I simply lost track of St. Norbert. Their win over Beloit didn’t do anything for me (they should be Beloit by 26!), though their win over Knox certainly raised my eyebrow (only scoring 56 points – thirty less than against Beloit – only winning by 3 to a one-win squad). I had not planned to removed St. Norbert from my Top 25, but in my back and forth thinking about Northwestern and with other squads I thought deserved to be in there, SNC simply fell off my ballot and I didn’t really notice it until writing this blog. Probably a mistake I will have to fix next week.

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I have saw in person last season

Previous Ballots

Week 5
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

So there you have it. I am still keeping up with my removal of at least three teams from my Top 25, and shuffling teams around quite a bit. However, this week felt a little less stressful. That or I have gotten so used to the hours of work and hair pulling that it didn’t bother me as much this week. I am leaning towards that second thought.

I have also been knocking on the door of a full ballot blow-up and am kind of shocked I didn’t force it in the last few weeks. This week will be revealing if that kind of shake-up is needed in the near future.

Dave’s Top 25 Ballot: Week 5

Augustana remains the top team on my ballot despite a loss.

I’d be lying if I told you I don’t think about my Top 25 ballot throughout the week. I think about the next ballot from about the moment I submit the current week’s ballot until I vote the following week. However, I don’t think I have focused on my ballot more during any week than I did this week. For obvious reasons.

On Wednesday night, I watched one of the more exciting and well played in-season basketball games in a long time. That or the fact I got to see two top five programs dual it out into overtime two days after a classic of a game between #1 and #2 in Division I swayed me. Either way, Augustana and Elmhurst played a whale of a game that needed five more minutes and smart officiating to be decided.

I knew from the moment the game ended and Elmhurst won that there was a lot to think about. And it would have ramifications all the way down the ballot. I hinted at my thinking then on Thursday night’s Hoopsville and talked about the debate I had going on in my head not only about who do I consider voting for number one, but how other teams who didn’t even play in the game factor in.

It was also another crazy week in terms of losses. The top two-thirds of my ballot was relatively quiet (thank you gentlemen!), but the last eleven teams accounted for nine losses. Nine of the entire ten in my ballot (the tenth being Augustana). That caused me to go out on some limbs, get aggressive with some cuts, and debate about blowing the entire thing up. However, considering the top 14 teams did not lose (outside of Augustana), blowing up the entire ballot didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

So there were two major shuffles: at the top where deciding on the number one team had ramifications all the way down to the ninth spot on the ballot; at the bottom where the final eleven spots saw four new teams and a bit of back-and-forth as to where to slot people.

With that in mind… let’s get to the ballot!

1 – Augustana^ (Unchanged)
My thoughts on Thursday’s Hoopsville (further explained on Sunday’s show) ended up holding true. I thought about this several times a day since they lost on Wednesday. As I stated in last week’s blog, I knew Augustana was not going to get through the CCIW schedule undefeated (there is a reason no one has since 1973).

“Will Augustana go unfazed through conference action – NO! I expect Augustana to take a loss or two before we get to the NCAA tournament, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t think they are the best team in the country.”

If I knew that, then I am expecting my number one team to lose. Considering they lost to the second best team in the conference, on the road, by two points, in overtime said a lot to me. The Vikings had lost a game that no one should be surprised they lost. This isn’t a loss at home to Millikin or Carthage. It’s to a team I had second in my pre-season ballot and furthermore it was on the road for Augustana. And I’ve said this before, I don’t believe that just because a team wins a single game head-to-head that they automatically should be considered the better team. I still think Augustana is the best team in the country.

Elmhurst didn’t get my first place vote, but they moved up significantly after beating Augustana in overtime.

2 – Elmhurst (Up 5)
Beat the number one team in the country, on your floor, and in overtime… well done. THIS is the Blue Jays squad I expected in the pre-season. Not the team that lost to Benedictine by 20 (more on that shortly). Elmhurst played extremely well and deserve the victory. They came from behind in the second half and overtime while also giving up leads throughout the game. What do you expect from two very, very good basketball teams? I debated about making Elmhurst number one, but I don’t feel they can repeat this feat at Augustana nor do I feel if this game had been at Augustana the outcome, a win, would have been repeated. If played ten times, I think Augustana wins a majority of the games so thus, Elmhurst is number two.

3 – Whitworth* (Down 1)
It’s not what the Pirates did or didn’t do, it’s what Elmhurst did that precipitated this move. I did consider Whitworth for the top slot. However, I have seen the Pirates in person this year and Augustana both on video this year and in person at the Championship Weekend last year. I just don’t think Whitworth would be able to beat Augustana right now. They may have to do it in the NCAA tournament (because the Pirates always ended up in the toughest bracket), but right now they move down a spot just so I can put Elmhurst number two.

4 – Hope (Down 1)
Same as Whitworth; needed to find room for Elmhurst. Another team I certainly considered, but if I had them behind Whitworth and said not to the Pirates, I don’t feel Hope has done anything as of late to change my mind.

5 – St. Thomas* (Down 1)
I feel like copying and pasting what I said for Whitworth and Hope and pasting it in here. Same reason(s). A win over Bethel is a nice feather, but expected. Not enough to warrant leap-frogging those ahead of them last week.

6 – Benedictine (Up 3)
Here is the most challenging team on my ballot. The Eagles are undefeated and they beat Elmhurst by 20. At least one voter decided they were worthy enough to get a number one vote. I can only assume that is based on the Benedictine beat Carthage, Carthage beat Augustana, thus Benedictine would also beat Augustana theory. It is a theory I just can’t buy into. I realize there are a ton of factors at play with every single game making no game equal. So, I am not one to buy into head-to-head should trump all or that you can play the Team A beat Team B, Team B beat Team C, thus Team A is better than Team C game. Benedictine is clearly a good team, but in a sub-par conference. They clearly have gotten it done out of conference (five games, five opponents from the CCIW). My concern is someone in their conference is going to beat them and that will raise more questions than it answers. I also don’t think Benedictine would be able to beat Augustana. So I moved the Eagles up, but I’m not sure I can move them much higher.

7 – Ohio Wesleyan (Down 2)
More moving of teams to find slots. I needed to get Elmhurst and Benedictine higher, so Ohio Wesleyan moved down. It has nothing to do with the Battling Bishops except I think those other two squads are better right now.

8 – Susquehanna^ (Unchanged)

Amherst got back to their winning ways after the Rhodes loss last week.

9 – Amherst (Down 2)
Again, moving down to create room. I am not blown away by the Lord Jeffs this season, but it isn’t like Dave Hixon doesn’t put together a solid program. Top 10 feels safe.

10 – John Carroll (Unchanged)

11 – Christopher Newport (Unchanged)

12 – Marietta (Unchanged)

13 – Chicago^ (Unchanged)

14 –Mount Union (Unchanged)

15 – WPI (Up 3)
At this point in my ballot last week is where teams started to lose thus creating a vacuum. WPI is having a good season, better than I expected which makes me leery. I know others are buying in. I am being cautious with the Engineers for right now. Granted, a win over an also-better-than-expected MIT squad was a good sign this week.

16 – Tufts (Unranked)
I have had my eye on Tufts for a while, but was sure if they were as good as advertised. The season started “eh” with losses to MIT and WPI and close games against opponents I figured they would dominate… so I waited. Then they beat Babson^, but I waited some more. Then they beat Whitman in a very high-scoring affair and I got intrigued, but wasn’t buying in. This week they rolled over Bowdoin and creamed Colby, two teams who have been getting Top 25 attention and are having very good seasons, especially Colby, and I decided to buy in. Now jumping to the 16th spot is a big jump for a team I was waiting on, but that vacuum created in this area of the poll needed to be filled. Their two wins I thought were better than what those lower on this ballot had put together for resume points, so here the Jumbos sit. Middlebury, Hamilton, and Wesleyan ahead.

17 – UW-Whitewater (Unranked)
Getting a bunch of transfers in to replace a ton of talent may be the new way to go in the WIAC! It clearly seems things are coming together nicely now for the Warhawks as they steamrolled through UW-Stout and then handed UW-Stevens Point their second loss in a row. My thinking has been the top of the WIAC has come down a bit this season, but the Warhawks are proving there may be a national contender in the making after all from the state of Wisconsin.

18 – Texas Lutheran (Up 2)
Winning the games in conference they are supposed to win. I am hoping to see them this coming weekend in person, but it is looking doubtful due to schedule conflicts.

19 – Northwestern (Up 2)
Also continue to win the games they are supposed to win. I appreciate that when it happens as it is easy to get complacent and trip up.

20 – Roanoke (Unranked)
I’ve been watching what the Maroons have been up to since the beginning of the season, but didn’t want to buy in ahead of a major victory. They got that last week. Page Moir’s squad is clicking on all cylinders. They even beat a Division I opponent which counts as a loss for North Carolina A&T, but not for the Maroons (exhibition). In almost all of those games, Roanoke has put up 100+ points (eight of their 13 games). And then they went and beat Virginia Wesleyan AT the Fish Tank! Roanoke is on top of the ODAC and playing some of the best basketball I have seen from this program in a very long time. I am actually excited just writing this because Page Moir is one of the best guys in Division III and I couldn’t have been happier to write down “Roanoke” on my ballot. Now the tough part: The target is on their back with Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon coming up this week.

Trine has emerged as a dangerous team in the MIAA.

21 – Trine (Down 2)
Trine didn’t win both of their games this past week, but considering their loss was to a better-than-their-record Calvin squad, I am not surprised. What stood out to me was a comment by a MIAA follower on D3boards.com that stated Trine was “everything they said they are” which I took as a compliment. The MIAA race is deeper at the top than I expected, though I can’t see Hope not winning it, and it’s because teams like Trine have developed incredibly well while everyone has been watching Hope and Calvin.

22 – Bethel (Unchanged)
According to the polls (mine and the D3hoops.com poll from last week) the loss to St. Thomas was expected. Thus, no changes here.

23 – Brooklyn (Down 8)
For as great a start to the season it was for the Bulldogs, they aren’t stay very consistent right now. The eight spots is a bit harsh, but the vacuum created by them and others further up caused a bit of a fall after their loss to Baruch. I am just not seeing the same dominance they showed at the beginning of the season. Granted, the CUNYAC is far more difficult that people are giving it credit for this season. However, Brooklyn needs to focus on winning the games they should if they want to secure an at-large bid should Lehman or others win the conference AQ.

24 – St. Norbert (Unchanged)

Courtesy: Franklin and Marshall Athletics

Franklin & Marshall’s Glenn Robinson thanking the crowd celebrating his 900th career win.

25 – Franklin & Marshall^ (Unranked)
I am slipping the Diplomats onto my poll, though nervously. I have not bought in as many other voters have with this squad. I still see a number of weaknesses and I am not sure they can dominate a sub-par, compared to seasons past, Centennial Conference as they seem to be doing right now. However, I watched most of their game against up-and-coming Swarthmore and was impressed with how composed they were and how much they willed themselves to victory over a team that wouldn’t quit. Now, they were also playing to get Glenn Robinson his 900th victory (congratulations once again), so that may have been the driving force. And that is what worries me. They have hit the milestone mark that was on this season’s schedule. Can they continue to win now that the emotional mark has been passed?

Dropped Out:

Stockton^ (Previously 16)
Losing three in a row, no longer the leader of a crazy NJAC, and certainly not looking like their dominating selves, it was time to punt on the Ospreys. There just isn’t anyone in the NJAC worth noting in the Top 25 right now because they are beating themselves up. Even conference leader New Jersey City (6-1) has an “eh” overall record of 8-5. Stockton could have taken advantage of William Paterson’s major stumble at the beginning of the season, but in turn has stumbled themselves. Conference coaches may be right that the NJAC is the most difficult conference top to bottom, one through ten, but they are not the best conference nationally if the top of the conference can’t at least be a dominating team(s).

Oswego State (Previously 17)
I debated about this. The Lakers lost only the second game going into this poll, but they lost by 38 to Oneonta State. Ugly isn’t the right word. I have been high on Oswego for most of the season, but they are in the middle of what is now a crowded race in the SUNYAC which sees two-thirds of the conference fighting it out at the top. If I am voting for Oswego, then I have to find room for Cortland, Plattsburgh, Buffalo State, Oneonta, etc. They all have nine-wins (Oswego with eight) and no more than three losses. But there isn’t enough room for those four squads, so Oswego comes out and I watch the SUNYAC race ever closer to try and figure out who is playing the best basketball amongst a lot of very good teams.

Scranton* (Previously 23)
Three games in the Landmark Conference this past week was a true test. It wrapped up six games in twelve days for the Royals who came out of it 5-1. So why drop the Royals from my ballot? It was a hard debate, but at least I got to see Scranton in person before making my decision. It came down to the fact they lost to Susquehanna on their home court by 15. The result was expected per the poll, but you can’t lose that game by 15 in your own gum. Then the Royals played one of the more incredible games shooting wise against Goucher on the road and had to come from 13 down in the second half along with getting bailed out thanks to a dumb foul by a Goucher played in the final five seconds to pull off a one-point victory. I am not faulting them for the game at Goucher as both teams shot over 57% for the game, but I saw some inconsistencies that worried me – mainly, the ability to get into an offense that is dominating and then as quickly as they got into it go away from it for no reason taking their foot off an opponent’s throat. I also saw Catholic this past week and think in many ways, but for different reasons, the two squads are evenly matched (yet again) and don’t feel comfortable voting for both. Scranton is out for now, but with Catholic on the horizon, they could easily be back in the poll soon.

Pacific Lutheran* (Previously 25)
Well that didn’t last long. I thought the Lutes looked really good at the D3hoops.com Classic. They then laid an egg twice against Linfield and George Fox both on the road. Not pretty. Those two losses are going to stick with me for a while should I ever consider Pacific Lutheran again.

* – teams I have seen in person this season
^ – teams I saw in person last season

Previous Ballots:
Week 4
Week 2
Week 1
Preseason

Another crazy week in the Top 25. The middle of my ballot seems pretty solid, right now, which is saying a lot considering how wide open it had been from about number six down. Of course, that could change next week completely. Moving forward I have probably 70 teams I am watching to some degree and constantly realize I need to add another team to the list. There is only so much time I can give to these votes, so having a team slip through isn’t unheard of nor unexpected. At the same time, this is the time of year when usually I can start narrowing the list dramatically since the grind of conference season will weed out the pretenders. That being said, this year has proven to not fit any of the usual voting rhythms, so I am sure I will be on a plane headed back from Texas next Sunday wondering how much of Monday will be spent tearing my ballot a part.