Let me start by wishing each of you who read this had a wonderful holidays. The holidays were very, very busy … not to mention filled with plenty of basketball! I watched my fair share of games from my iPad or computer from the warmth of a hotel room. I also watched my fair share of results in front of a lovely Christmas tree in my home. It certainly made the last few weeks entertaining. It, however, did not make voting in the men’s Top 25 any easier.
No surprise in this age of parity that there are plenty of losses to contemplate. Of course with losses come wins that need to be analyze as well. Nothing is simple. A win isn’t equal to another win. A loss doesn’t equal another loss. There is a lot to consider especially when there has been two weeks of basketball to consider.
— Hoopsville/McHugh (@d3hoopsville) January 2, 2017
When it comes to the topic of parity, I have talked a lot about it. However, I did like the take from Bob “Titan Q” Quillman on the Top 25 forum on D3boards recently. I won’t share the entire thing, but here is a snippet I thought summed things up well – probably better than I have been able to describe:
“I am confident there is a group of 4-5 teams that are the favorites to win the national championship, but it’s not really even obvious to me who those teams are yet.” Bob then continues, “starting immediately after that “elite tier,” I see a huge pack of extremely even teams that spans from about 5 down to 25. Trying to sort out the Top 25 is always fun but when there is this much parity, I doubt there will be many concrete answers until things get settled in the tournament.”
To read more of Bob’s thoughts, click here.
Parity in Division III – the struggle is real. https://t.co/TYDNNxWAy3
— Bob Quillman (@IWUhoopscom) January 3, 2017
To Bob’s point, there are a number of teams who can be considered for the Top 25 on any given week. I have had to stop allowing myself to keep expanding my list. Maybe that is stubborn and that effort to put some blinders on to keep from getting distracted may have me miss a team or two, but at the same time I don’t have enough time in a week to allow my list to expand to 50 or more squads. They all have an argument to be on the list. What makes it challenging is they all also have an argument for why they shouldn’t be in the Top 25. Furthermore, an argument that works for Team A doesn’t work for the rest. Just as an argument for Team B doesn’t work for the rest. It is very, very hard to stick to just one set of factors to make determinations.
For me this week, I spent a good amount of time nearly blowing up the ballot. Starting from nearly scratch. You will find that even if teams won in the last two weeks, I may have removed them. Sometimes I asked myself a basic question: would they beat this team or that? That basic question actually had me make some bold moves. I have previously unranked team in my Top 10. I have another just outside the Top 10.
Of course there were some significant losses that dictated a lot of moves I made, though the bottom half of my previous ballot didn’t lose as much as the top half which usually makes it harder to get new teams in. However, there are other factors, results, and details that caused me to make many of my moves.
I will say one of the biggest advantage any Top 25 voter has is seeing teams in person. It is impossible to see all of them across the country in gyms and arenas and luckily video streaming has become an invaluable tool. As the season progresses, web streams will become my most used tool. However, I do get the advantage of seeing some very good teams in person and this year at the D3hoops.com Classic was no exception. You will see how that impacted my ballot shortly. However, it goes to prove why events like Hoopsville and D3hoops.com Classics and others with top-tier teams are not only great events to attend for teams, but also invaluable for Top 25 voters who choose to show up to such events (more than you may realize). As I have in the past, I have restarted my efforts to mark who I have seen in person in the past year (including the second half of last season) with an “*” next to each one. Maybe at some point this year I will also indicate who I have seen on video, but for now I don’t think it needs to be represented.
With that, let’s get on with the ballot. As with most weeks, I won’t comment on all teams. I will say something for those I think need a snippet or I have a thought on that is relevant this week. Of course as we get started, click here for a reminder of last week’s ballot. Otherwise, here is this week’s:
1 – Babson (Unchanged)
2 – Whitman (Up 1)
I moved the Blues up a spot after they beat Marietta. In hindsight, maybe I should have just left them at #3, but I thought despite some tight results they have at least beat the competition in front of them and remained undefeated. That all said, I am nervous. Whitman has never been this high in the rankings. Are they really that good? Did getting past Whitworth last season in the NCAA tournament really make that big a difference? Or are they going to peak early and struggle in conference (though, saying that makes me shake my own head). Whitman didn’t blow me away with their win at home against Wooster. However, they got past an admittedly somewhat-struggling Marietta squad. We shall see how things progress. I hope I end up being very comfortable with this in a few weeks.
3 – Amherst* (Down 1)
4 – Christopher Newport* (Up 1)
5 – Whitworth (Up 1)
6 – Rochester* (Up 2)
7 – New Jersey City (Up 4)
What makes the Gothic Knights scary on paper is their defense. Have you seen how much they hold their opponents below their offensive average? In a lot of cases, 20 or more points. However, I feel I might be buying in too much with much of the NJAC schedule including two games against Ramapo ahead. The NJAC has struggled to live up to national expectations this century. In the last ten or so years, only one team has gotten out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. However, the top of the conference is shaping up to be pretty special … and there are voices telling me NJCU may be the best it has been in recent history. Some tough games coming up… I am holding by breathe.
8 – North Park (Up 5)
I don’t have a game to point to for this move. The
Cardinals Vikings (SMH, typo on my part) moved up because of a lot of other teams moving around. That said, they have two legitimate All-Americans and the supporting staff is playing extremely well. Many knew North Park would be good this season, but my feeling right now is they are far better than I expected. This team looks scary this season.
9 – Ramapo* (Unranked)
This is the biggest move I think I have made on my Top 25 ballot during a season (I moved UMHB up pretty darn high after they were unranked and finished runner-up to Amherst for the national championship in 2013). Ramapo really impressed me in Las Vegas this year. I think this is the best Roadrunners team I have seen at the D3hoops.com Classic and that includes teams who have been national ranked in the past. They play an aggressive and controlled defense, they have several weapons on offense which keeps teams from being able to double-team, and they have plenty of speed. Coach McBreen clearly thinks this team has more to prove, but he is also coaching a squad who is far more ready this time of year than in years past. This team is really scary and really deep. The only challenge is Ramapo has been blowing out a lot of teams this season. Focusing on beating good teams and playing an entire 40 minutes has been a challenge – they allowed Salisbury who was down 12 to get back in the game and nearly beat the Roadrunners. NJAC play could either get them focused on putting away teams or allow a few to get wins they shouldn’t have gotten and put Ramapo in trouble. I look forward to seeing how it plays out.
10 – Wesleyan (Up 7)
Everyone knew the Cardinals had a good test this holiday season after starting the season undefeated. They rose to the challenge including a dominating win over Marietta. Wesleyan’s inside presence is better than I had given them credit. The question remains: will they be exposed in NESCAC play? Right now, I think Joe Reilly’s team may be the biggest surprise. I already had been told the NESCAC could be 7-deep this year on top. I think people expected Wesleyan to be in that group of seven. I don’t think people thought they could end up being the best of the group.
11 – UW-Eau Claire* (Unranked)
Here is an example of a team that kept rising on this week’s ballot as I asked the question: “would they beat so-and-so?” This may have been one of the better disciplined offensive teams I have seen in a long time – especially this time of year. Their ball movement was tremendous. They broke the shooting record at the D3hoops.com Classic with a better-than-.630 performance in their first game against Gustavus Adolphus. They have size, outside shooting, and a really good defense. Many had thought UW River Falls would be the class of the WIAC. UW Whitewater is undefeated (though spoiler alert, I am not voting for them as of yet). However, I think the Blugolds may be the best WIAC team this year especially if the lights of conference play don’t distract them.
12 – Tufts (Down 2)
13 – Salisbury* (Down 4)
Two losses you would think result in a bigger fall than four… and even I took extra time to make sure this was the right move. I actually had them down to 19th at one point, but the same question I asked UWEC I asked Salisbury. I just couldn’t get them lower without putting them behind teams I thought they could beat. Yes, the D3hoops.com Classic was rough, but the Sea Gulls lost to a very good Ramapo squad and Hardin-Simmons (who proved some things to me). They simply ran into a couple of very good teams and tough match-ups while also having to deal with the fact they are adjusting to changes at point guard. Those losses should only make Salisbury a better team. If not, we will know very quickly and my decision to only lower them four spots will be adjusted just as quickly.
14 – St. Norbert (Down 7)
I am going through the usual Q&A with the Green Knights. Nothing on paper blows one away about SNC, however they always show they can keep winning. Sure, their conference isn’t the most difficult, but they control the conference so amazingly well. The loss to UW-Oshkosh isn’t shocking, but it does set-up for a tougher NCAA tournament bracket in March. I may have allowed St. Norbert to float a little too high on my ballot, so the loss and other results allowed me to possibly recheck my expectations a little.
15 – Marietta* (Down 12)
Ouch. Tough few weeks of December for the Pioneers. Lost three out of four and 0-2 in the period of this vote. Yes, they lost to really good teams, so I tried to not to ding them too much for that. However, what got them so high on my ballot is that they had beaten similiar teams so I expected that trend to continue. One thing seems to be coming true, they struggle with any squad that has good size inside who does more than just stand around. Marietta may be learning the hard way that relying on Edwards inside isn’t going to get them far. As good a player as he is, he needs others to step up and be just as dangerous. I sense that when the team loses Edwards as a threat, they lose their offense. I could be wrong, but I plan to watch them very closely the next few weeks to see what adjustments they make to compensate for what John Carroll, Wesleyan, and Whitman exposed.
16 – Benedictine* (Down 2)
17 – Endicott (Up 1)
18 – Denison (Up 2)
19 – Hope (Down 7)
Another holiday period for another team. The Dutchmen probably don’t want to see Williams or Wilkes again, though one of them is likely to be repeated in the future. If Hope had only lost to Williams, so be it. However, the Wilkes loss shocked me the most. Wilkes isn’t bad, but they aren’t necessarily a threat to Top 25 squads unless something is wrong. I probably should have dinged Hope a bit more and moved them further down, but I have too many questions for those below. We shall see how Hope responds from at least one ugly loss. They aren’t going to get necessarily the same challenge from the conference as we have come to expect, so it will be the small things that will be the most important to watch.
20 – Hardin-Simmons* (Unranked)
I voted for the Cowboys in the preseason and had been scratching my head since. I knew they had lost players, but I didn’t quite grasp what was going on. Turns out they had suffered their fair share of injuries and I was lucky enough to see them back at 100% (virtually) for the first time all season. HSU has a ton of weapons starting with Nathaniel Jack. He not only knows were he needs to be, but he has such amazing court and game awareness that he adds a completely different dimension besides good ball handling and speed to his list of weapons. Mix in Justin Jones inside (6-8 force) along with shooting weapons like Hopper, Dixon, O’Neil, and others and this team could be a surprise come March. They have to stay focused in a conference that might not test them as much as other voters want, but Craig Carse has a scary squad featuring seven seniors who realize it is now or never.
21 – UW-Rivers Falls (Up 3)
22 – Brockport (Unchanged)
23 – Wartburg (Down 4)
24 – Williams (Unranked)
I wasn’t sold on Williams (or much of the rest of the NESCAC like Middlebury), but then they beat Hope. It ended up being a coin-toss between the Ephs and Middlebury and I went with the more southern team (not a decision factor). Williams also leads to a fourth NESCAC team on my ballot which seems pretty incredible, but when those in the conference tell me they think it is a seven-deep conference then maybe this feels right. We shall find out soon enough as conference play begins. Did I pick the right squad to ride?
25 – Neumann (Unchanged)
I will preface this segment by saying I had to find teams to remove to get other teams onto the ballot. I wish I had found a few more because I felt there were other deserving teams to vote for as well. While none of the teams below did anything major to drop out, there was enough of an excuse or just an uneasy feeling that had me make the move. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination especially when the lower-half of my Top 25 didn’t take as many losses that make it easy to make these decisions.
North Central (Ill.) (Previously 15)
There wasn’t a lot the Cardinals did or did not do to drop from 15th to off my ballot, but the fact one of their top weapons, Connor Rairdon, is out with a broken hand concerns me. I think they are a bit more exposed and their offense is going to be easier to defend. I realize they only lost one game since the last poll (to a good UWSP team) and they beat Wartburg (who I still have ranked), but I am not as confident about them as I was prior.
Illinois Wesleyan (Previously 16)
Another example of a team who did a lot to deserve to be dropped out, but something about their result doesn’t blow me away. They beat Chicago, lost to Middlebury. Neither of those teams are currently on my poll. While the Titans appear to be a good team, I am just not blown away. Yes, I could argue that about others as well. For now, IWU is out. Conference play could easily change my mind.
Emory (Previously 21)
Emory actually did NOT lose during the holidays between Top 25 polls, but when I went back and looked through who they have played and what they have done, I just wasn’t impressed. Wins over William Peace, Guilford, and Maryville don’t spur me. Losses to Covenant and LaGrange are not ignorable. On a week I am looking for excuses to drop a team from my ballot, Emory gave me reasons to move them out and nothing to keep them in.
Swarthmore (Previously 23)
Another team that didn’t lose any games and won a tough game in overtime to a squad who may be far better than advertised (Hood), but Swathmore isn’t blowing me away, either. In many ways, it came down to whether I thought Ramapo, UW-Eau Claire, Hardin-Simmons, or Williams would beat Swarthmore (or others on the “Dropped Out” list) and the answer was: yes. I do think Swarthmore would struggle with those squads. For now, they out. We shall see if Centennial play possibly helps them this year.