Well the holidays are over and the second part of the basketball season is starting. All of that combined makes this Top 225 ballot and the next few the most interesting. First off, voters end up learning a bit more about the teams when we have a couple weeks of games to consider over the holiday break. Secondly, when conference schedules really ramp up those teams that looked good in the first two months plus will either continue to excel or show their true flaws. This can be very rewarding to Top 25 voters when teams they think are good prove they are or very demoralizing when a voter has to feel like they have to blow their ballot up and start over (which happens to me at least twice a year).
This week’s ballot was full of questions and second-guessing for me. The bounty of games since the last vote helped me understand some teams better while at the same time revealed a major “hole” in the middle of by ballot. I have teams sitting in the 10-15 slot that I just don’t feel should be there, but someone has to occupy those ballot positions. Furthermore, I always find it hard to move teams up when they have lost a game, but this is the type of week where a loss can be easily outweighed by three or four wins or by what other teams are doing around them on my ballot. At least three teams moved up despite losing a game while another didn’t move at all. At the same time, some teams who lost a game feel further down than others and one team that didn’t lose any games still slide down.
Before we get to this week’s ballot, here is a look at what my Top 25 looked like for Week 4 which was posted on December 16:
1 – UW-Stevens Point
2 – Illinois Wesleyan
3 – Williams
4 – Cabrini
5 – Wooster
6 – Amherst
7 – St. Thomas
8 – WPI
9 – Calvin
10 – UW-Whitewater
11 – St. Mary’s
12 – Middlebury
13 – Wittenberg
14 – Wheaton (Ill.)
15 – Augustana
16 – Guilford
17 – Wash U.
18 – Virginia Wesleyan
19 – Wesley
20 – St. Norbert
21 – Eastern Connecticut St.
22 – Whitworth
23 – Stevenson
24 – Christopher Newport
25 – UW-Stout
Now to this week’s ballot:
1 – UW-Stevens Point (Unchanged)
Having now seen the Pointers in person, I am more convinced they are the number one team in the country. They have had battles against UW-Whitewater, St. Thomas, Whitworth, Whitman, North Central and UW-La Crosse in six of the last seven games and found a way to win. Even when Tillema isn’t playing well, Haas is. They have incredible role players that can step out when needed and they don’t panic (heck, Coach Semling stands during most games with his hands in his pockets even if the team is trailing late). This team kind of reminds me of the back-to-back championship teams who were lead by Jason Kalsow and Nick Bennett and that should give everyone pause.
2 – Illinois Wesleyan (Unchanged)
The Titans continue to win. They have a lunch pail mentality and blew through some teams during the holidays. This Titan squad looks better than last year’s team that nearly went undefeated in the CCIW.
3 – Cabrini (Up 1)
The Cavaliers just keep winning and they have one of the best players in the country in Aaron Walton-Moss who is playing the entire season this year. The Mid-Atlantic is also talking about the fact Cabrini may have once again brought in a key player during the semester break which could make a difference in the last three months (remember Walton-Moss’ impact two years ago?). The Cavaliers now enter a part of the season where they may not lose another game before entering the NCAA tournament. They do have a game to make-up, we hope, with Wesley which could be the only real challenge they see along with two games against Keystone.
4 – Wooster (Up 1)
I am not sure why Wooster decided to go to Arizona and play two NAIA schools, but they did and came out of the trip 1-1. I struggle to gauge a team that loses to an NAIA team because no matter how much research I do (and maybe waste) on NAIA teams, I don’t really trust what I am reading or understanding. Did the loss by two to Arizona Christian who is 13-1 show Wooster is that good? Or is Arizona Christian overrated? Ask ten people you will probably get ten different points of view. I moved Wooster up one spot because Arizona Christian is 13-1 after all and the Scots where playing them on the second of back-to-back days. Wooster looks good this season, but with two games against Wittenberg looming and a conference that includes Ohio Wesleyan looking to knock the Scots off… their season is really only beginning.
5 – WPI (Up 3)
The Engineers continue to win despite not having their best player the entire season, but I am nervous with them this high in my poll. The win after the break against cross-town rival Becker was a good way to get back into things, but their next five games are against the top of the NEWMAC (Springfield, MIT, Babson, Emerson, and Clark. I think the Engineers are going to be just as good as last year, if not better, but they have to get through these next five as unscathed as possible. Win all of them and my concern with them being this high will ease.
6 – Williams (Down 3)
Not the start I was looking for from the Ephs coming out of their holiday break. They won all of the games during the break, but they didn’t show me they are in sync. Only beating Washington College (3-7) by eight, Washington & Lee (4-7) by two and Hampden-Sydney (7-4) by two is not what I expect from a Top 5 or a Top 10 team. However, they didn’t lose so I didn’t slide them down too far. However, I now wonder if the Ephs are bit overrated.
7 – St. Thomas (Unchanged)
The Tommies only played one game in the last few weeks and it was against UW-Stevens Point… a game they lost by 13. Considering how well UWSP is playing and that at the time it was the second closest game the Pointers had played actually tells me more about St. Thomas. This is a group that has been playing very well for a number of years including knocking on the door of a championship game last season. St. Thomas may have lost a number of key guys from that squad, but they continue to find talent and play good basketball night in and night out. St. Thomas may surprise some people come the end of the season.
8 – UW-Whitewater (Up 2)
The Warhawks are up two spots thanks to their loss to UW-Stevens Point not looking too shabby and the fact they went 5-0 during the break though none of the teams jumps out on paper – Warhawks did dominate most of the games. UW-Whitewater is going to be a handful this season and after watching three WIAC schools in Vegas I am now very comfortable considering them a Top 10 team.
9 – Amherst (Down 3)
How do you read into a loss to Nova Southeastern which is a Division II school especially when the score is 105-101. Knocking the Lord Jeffs down three spots is hard when they are playing a higher division opponent, but the move down isn’t really about the Lord Jeffs as it is about the teams ahead and around them. I moved Williams down who I think is even or slightly better than Amherst and the teams around them I think have proven they are playing better basketball. Also, where was the defense for Amherst against Nova Southeastern? I still think Amherst is a Top 10 team, but I expected a better result against a 3-9 opponent.
10 – St. Mary’s (Md.) (Up 1)
Talk about a rough first half of the season. The Seahawks played some very difficult opponents and loss more than I expected, but they also showed they are going to be a tough team to beat. I think so voters knocked them too hard for their loss to Mary Washington, though the loss to DeSales is inexcusable. They recovered with a win in conference against a tough Marymount squad. I moved them up, though, based more on those who fell around them.
11 – Wittenberg (Up 2)
The Tigers just can’t be beat right now. They are steal rolling through opponents which you would expect considering their opponents’ records are not that great. However, I have said before that these are the kind of results voters are looking for when you play sub-par teams. Wittenberg looks good so far this season and will give Wooster a run for their money, but first they will have to deal with a resurgent Ohio Wesleyan squad.
12 – Augustana (Up 3)
I am worried I am buying in a little too much with the Vikings. 11-1 is a terrific start to the year and their wins over two WIAC schools was very good. Then they beat Carthage who is always tough. I like how Augustana is playing and making sure to finish games, but I will really get better answers when they face Illinois Wesleyan this week.
13 – Wash U. (Up 4)
I haven’t been that convinced about Wash U. this season, but they continue to win except for Illinois Wesleyan and Carthage. During the break they even beat Wheaton (Ill.) showing me they came back ready for the rest of the season. Of course, the UAA schedule lays ahead with a test against Chicago this week. Are the Bears for real? I don’t feel comfortable with the Bears this far up my poll, but this is also right in the area where I have teams far higher than I would like… because someone has to fill in these spots.
14 – Calvin (Down 5)
What is going on in Grand Rapids, Michigan? I know it has been brutally cold and very snowy, but to lose to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and by 16 just doesn’t add. I am not saying CMS isn’t a good team and yes the Knights were on the road, but if you are a Top 10 team… or even a Top 25 team… that is a game you must win. It was even a tight game against Redlands two days beforehand. Let’s see how the team responds against Alma as they enter conference action.
15 – St. Norbert (Up 5)
Honestly, St. Norbert is too high in my poll right now… but again, someone has to fill this spot on the ballot. The team hasn’t really played and beaten anyone of note except they played Whitewater and lost. Their conference isn’t going to really challenge them (except a team I am not going to mention), so I am going to have to be careful not to move St. Norbert up the poll in the coming weeks just because they are winning.
16 – Wesley (Up 3)
I would have moved the Wolverines further up the poll if they had a) played and beaten Cabrini (game was postponed) and b) I felt comfortable doing so. Wesley is having a surprisingly good season after losing one of the best players in program history… but that may be the reason they are playing so well. However, with a couple of games postponed and entering a tough CAC schedule… I want to see more from Wesley before I even feel comfortable saying they are a Top 16 team.
17 – Christopher Newport (Up 7)
The Captains make a major move up the polls thanks in part to who else entered my poll and how Christopher Newport’s opponents have panned out. The Captains have one loss to Emory and while John Krikorian says they need to still work on a number of things, they have beaten Randolph-Macon and Virginia Wesleyan while playing very well in their first ever games in the CAC. They do have Wesley looming thisd week, but at least their first battle with the Wolvernies this season will be in Newport News.
18 – Oglethorpe (Unranked)
I can’t keep ignoring the Stormy Petrels. While they haven’t beaten any big names most of the season, a hard fought victory over an underrated Stevenson squad certainly eliminated any excuses I had to keep them out of my poll. Now they enter conference play with the travel and two-games-a-weekend schedule. What I can say with certainty is that Oglethorpe has changed the complexion of the SAA. Most eyes have been on last year’s champion Centre and a resurgent Birmingham-Southern. Should those two teams continue to play well along with Oglethorpe… the SAA could have three teams in the NCAA tournament since all will be picked as Pool B selections.
19 – Whitworth (Up 3)
Here is another team that lost, but moved up. Of course the loss for Whitworth came against the number one team in the country in a game that was nip and tuck for the first 34 minutes. If the Pirates had been better managing fouls and their key players understood the officiating better, Whitworth would have been the first to push Stevens Point the full 40 and not their NWC brethren Whitman. Whitworth does suffer from a short bench especially in the paint, but I like what Coach Logie has going there and their game against UW-Platteville was masterful. The NWC is going to change the complexion of the West Region this year and in years to come just as the women have already done.
20 – Mary Washington (Unranked)
Admittedly, I have been very leery of any good start from the Eagles this century. They just never live up to the hype, expectations and start. However, Mary Washington doesn’t look like they are going away. Certainly I would love to have held out another week to see how they do this week in the CAC (Salisbury and Wesley followed by Christopher Newport), but when you beat two teams ranked at the time in the Top 10 (overall poll) you can’t keep ignoring one of the best starts in program history. Again, the CAC has turned into a surprising battle this year thanks to the play of Mary Washington and others. I look forward to see how this all plays out in the coming weeks.
21 – Stevenson (Up 2)
Another team with a loss who moves up… but they lost to Oglethorpe who I know have ranked ahead of them. I quietly inserted the Mustangs into my poll after they beat Alvernia to start MAC Commonwealth play. I see a lot of the Mustangs and think they are far better than advertised. However, I am not the only one starting to notice their play. They did blow a 20-point lead to Widener the other night before eventually winning the game 105-100… but it was the fact they scored 100+ plus in two of the last three games that made me take note. If Stevenson can win away from their own gym, the MAC Commonwealth and Mid-Atlantic Region are in for a major change.
22 – Virginia Wesleyan (Down 4)
Yeah, I know I am being harsh with the Marlins by moving them down four spots with a 2-1 record during the break. I am also very aware I moved other teams like Stevenson up despite losses. In fact, I am so aware of these facts that I nearly wore through an entire eraser because I was constantly moving Virginia Wesleyan and others around. The short answer is this: the Marlins are victims of other teams entering the poll and other teams shifting. Mary Washington beat VWC and moved into my poll this week – I can’t keep VWC head of UMW. Christpher Newport beat VWC and moved up, but I couldn’t find a spot higher up for Mary Washington. The Marlins are a good team, maybe surprisingly good considering how much they lost from last year. Are they better than 22nd in the country? Maybe… I would be hard pressed to argue against that line of thinking. However, there are a lot of teams in this area of my poll that can move around and I would have different answers depending on what decisions I make. For now… the Marlins are down to 22nd.
23 – Messiah (Unranked)
I told a Messiah supporter the other day I probably wasn’t going to put the Falcons on my ballot until they got through at least part of the next five games… and then they beat Guilford by ten (it wasn’t that close) on the road in North Carolina. This is the best start in program history and they have won some good games so far. The real test and the reason I wanted to wait is because they play Lycoming (home), Alvernia (home), Stevenson (away) and Widener (away) in four of the next five games. That is going to be a tough stretch, so I would lying if I told you I am nervous to put Messiah in my poll this week – but they are undefeated with a team that a few years ago everyone knew was too young.
24 – Middlebury (Down 12)
Even as I write this I worry I have treated the Panthers too harshly. Like many teams they only lost one game during the break. However, they go a month between games in which they barely beat Skidmore and then lose by 7 to Salve Regina (not a bad team, mind you) and I stated last month I was already fearful Middlebury was a bit too much smoke and mirrors. The loss to Salve Regina gives me more pause that I have been overrating this team despite watching them in two games at the beginning of the season. I still think they battle for the NESCAC, but I don’t think they have the pieces to win the conference.
25 – Wheaton (Ill.) (Down 11)
Another team where the reaction is I treated them too harshly. But, let’s be real… Wheaton has lost four games this season and while they are almost all against Top 25 teams… they are starting to prove they can’t win the big games. Of their wins, none are to Top 25 teams and their losses, albeit close, indicate they can’t close games out. Sure, there is something to be said that they are playing tough opponents, but to be honest they are losing to their tough opponents and beating the easy ones. That alone doesn’t qualify as a Top 25 team in many books. For now, Wheaton stays in my Top 25… but there are a number of teams on my pad for consideration that I will drop Wheaton for in a second.
Guilford (Ranked 16)
I know it is their first losses of the season, but you can’t lose three in a row and expect to stay ranked. Virginia Wesleyan went through nearly this exact same scenario last season at this time. Guilford may right the ship and head into ODAC play as one of the better teams in the conference, but when you lose at on a neutral court twice and at home… I just can’t keep the Quakers in my Top 25.
Eastern Connecticut State (Ranked 21)
The Warriors traveled to Orlando and lost to both CCIW teams they faced: North Central and Carthage. Certainly, those are tough opponents and Eastern Connecticut lost by a total of four points, but with so many teams deserving a place on my ballot I have to make decisions some place. There isn’t much room to fall when you started 21st on my ballot. I will keep my eye on the Warriors especially in conference play.
UW-Stout (Ranked 25)
Another team that makes the trip to Florida and comes away with two losses. However, this squad losses by 12 to a Milikin team and by 22 to Plattsburgh State! Despite responding with a win against UW-Eau Claire, those losses are not what a Top 25 caliber team should be doing.
Teams I am consider:
I can’t get every team I want into my Top 25 and I won’t tell you this list every week, but with a break for the holidays and starting into conference play, here are the teams I have my eye on and thought about adding to my ballot:
– Brockport State
– Ohio Wesleyan
– Richard Stockton
– St. Vincent
– SUNY Purchase
– William Paterson