Welcome once again to my D3hoops.com men’s Top 25 ballot blog. This is just to try and provide insight on how one, single, voter of 25 tries to understand the landscape of Division III men’s basketball.
This time of year, it becomes understood that teams, many teams, are going to lose especially when conference tournaments are in full swing. It also seems like February brings with it a new “understanding” for teams. With Regional Rankings out, teams have a bigger target on their back. At the same time, others realize they are not in as good a position as they may have perceived previously. And conference races and tournaments change the mentality. Teams are fighting to get into tournaments or better seeding.
Now a game that even a month earlier might have had no motivation for the lesser team, suddenly has more incentive and new importance. The top-dog is a sitting duck.
Then there is the other factor for a lot of teams: wear and tear. Some teams may have peaked a little early or have been banged up and vulnerable as the regular season comes to a close. It almost feels like some of the top teams see the end of February coming and let off the gas ever so slightly. They’ve had a good season, so far, and don’t realize it can come unraveled quickly if they don’t stay focused – something that is hard to do when mentally, and physically, worn out from roughly 18 weeks of a 20 week season (it’s 19 weeks officially, but 20 weeks on the calendar to some degree).
It all adds up to a number of normally head-scratching losses and eye-opening results. Teams are also stumbling or faltering coming to the finish line. In the meantime, others seem to have found a second (or third) wind and are stretching winning streaks into conference changing results. Teams written off a few weeks or months ago are now back in the spotlight and teams thought to be the top of the heap are lost in it.
This week it resulted in a Top 25 ballot I don’t really like. I debated about starting over half a dozen times. I even slept on my initial feelings only to then redo it a number of times over the first cup of coffee of the day. What I submitted, I didn’t like. I wasn’t going to like anything I submitted.
The strangest thing about this ballot and the number of losses: I only removed one team from my previous ballot. For reasons I may be able to explain below, I didn’t remove any of the four teams that went 0-2 this week. They all came dangerously close to being punted individually or as a group in one version or another, but I wasn’t that positive of their replacements being any better.
Okay, enough of me rambling on. Let’s go to my Week 10 ballot. As always, here is a reminder of last week’s ballot. (Quick note: I was stunned to see my previous top eight and the Week 9 top eight were identical. I haven’t gone that deep in a very long time where my thinking and the consensus was identical. It went haywire after those eight. LOL This week, just my top five were identical, to no surprise.)
1 – Nebraska Wesleyan (NC)
2 – Whitman (NC)
3 – UW-Oshkosh (NC)
4 – Augustana (NC)
5 – Randolph-Macon (Up 2)
Wow. The Yellow Jackets are top five? Yeah. Considering they have only lost twice this season, haven’t lost since January 5, and have gone through some tough ODAC opponents recently, this is where RMC has risen to on my ballot. It seems high for where I thought they would end up, but I also thought they couldn’t get through ODAC play without more blemishes. This would very much be an “under the radar” team despite their ranking.
6 – Swarthmore (Up 3)
7 – St. Thomas (Down 2)
We should have probably seen a loss coming in MIAC play. There was no way any team in the conference was going to walk away with the season. I have also been waiting for the youth of this team to show their inexperience. I don’t think the loss to Augsburg during a three-game week was because of youth, but I am also not surprised the Tommies didn’t get through the week. I moved them down because it is their third defeat and I do worry it could be an opening others can take advantage of. I’ll wait and see.
8 – MIT (Down 2)
The Engineers are once again without the services of AJ Jurko who appears to be out with an injury (new or old, I am not sure). While MIT is still a very good team, Jurko seems to be what makes them click as the second leading scorer on the team. If Jurko (and everyone else) is healthy, MIT is going to be very difficult to stop in March. If not, this senior class is unfortunately going to have things end earlier than expected.
9 – Amherst (Up 11)
Yeah. The Mammoths are flying up my ballot (Jumbo reference maybe? Nope, Tufts isn’t in this conversation). I had been debating even having them on my ballot for the last four weeks, but when you reevaluate what they are doing coupled with beating both Middlebury and Williams on the road and Amherst takes on a completely different look. They are going through a very difficult finish to the season and they are the only ones not losing in the NESCAC. One game left, against Hamilton, which has a lot of ramifications – despite the fact that Mother Nature is trying to delay it for the second time. However, watch out for what Hixon has been able to get to work, because they could easily be a surprise team in Fort Wayne this year.
10 – Hamilton (Down 2)
11 – St. John’s (Up 1)
12 – Wooster (Down 2)
13 – Capital (Up 1)
14 – Whitworth (Down 4)
My concerns the Pirates are “leaking oil” continue. Watching their games against Linfield and George Fox did not help with that worry. Yes, they won, but they barely survived. Compare that to how Whitman played the same two teams and it is night and day. Maybe Whitworth already peaked at the D3hoops.com Classic and though the Whitman loss in early January. The other problem, they may be left out of the NCAA tournament if they don’t win the NWC tournament (beating Whitman most likely) because their best win right now is against Johns Hopkins.
15 – Nichols (Up 3)
16 – Pomona-Pitzer (Up 3)
There really isn’t anything I can say about the Sagehens. I don’t love having them up this high on my ballot. The SCIAC hasn’t really shown to be a beast of a conference and they have one game – one – of note: A win over Whitman back in late November. However, they have risen because while others are taking losses in conference, Pomona-Pitzer has escaped losing that kind of focus at least. I also didn’t feel the teams I slotted behind them have proven they can be as consistent.
17 – Arcadia (Up 5)
The Knights, Captains, and Colonels (what a great trio of mascots!) rise because of a vacuum created a bit last week moved a little down the ballot to this area this week. Those four teams which went 0-2 caused a number of teams to slide up.
18 – Christopher Newport (Up 6)
19 – Center (Up 6)
20 – Wittenberg (NR)
I have brought the Tigers back to my ballot thanks to the accurate point by Ryan on Sunday’s Hoopsville. Wittenberg stumbled and looked like they were going to limp to the end of the season, but they seemed to have fixed the flat tire and came storming back taking out Wooster to split the series this season. They seem to be back to playing good basketball, although I don’t think they are the Top 10 team I thought they were earlier in the season.
21 – Marietta (Down 8)
First team that went 0-2 last week. I saw the loss coming to Mount Union. I think the Raiders are sneaky good. However, that didn’t wake Marietta up and they proceeded to lose to a challenging Wilmington squad as well. This is now three losses (all on the road) in four which probably should have had me pull the rip cord and let the Pioneers go. These kinds of stretches can completely derail a season. Two home games remaining before the conference tournament where Marietta is going to have to win on the road at some point to prove themselves.
22 – North Central (Ill.) (Down 7)
I feared the Cardinals could have a rough stretch. Losses this week to Illinois Wesleyan and Wheaton after a big win over Augustana is one thing, but BOTH losses were at HOME! Here was another team I considered just pulling off my ballot altogether, but I wasn’t sure if there were any teams I would replace them with that were absolutely better. We shall see, for now.
23 – Williams (Down 7)
The Ephs have improved things down the stretch. Three losses in a row including home losses to Amherst and Hamilton. If anyone (me) thought the overtime loss, on the road, to Bowdoin would be the perfect wake up call, they were wrong. Williams was sitting off my ballot in at least half of my previous versions. I decided to hold off that idea to see what happens in the NESCAC tournament. Williams has a week to compose and find themselves because the very good Williams team of earlier in the season seems like a distant memory right now.
24 – Wabash (Down 7)
The Little Giants are now 3-2 in their last five games including a loss to DePauw this past week. Here is another example of after the fact I am second-guessing the reasons I left a team on my ballot this week. Ultimately, I didn’t think four losses on their resume were worse than other teams’ resumes. I really worry Wabash, as good a season as they have had, peaked early. They are at Wittenberg this week – probably another reason I should have pulled them out this week, right?
25 – Loras (Down 2)
The Duhawks didn’t move down my ballot because of anything negative. I just felt that those ahead of them, despite stumbling, were still better than Loras. Interestingly enough, I may have had Loras higher had I pulled the teams on my ballot out and replaced them with others.
Guilford (Previously 21)
I still think the Quakers are a good team and playing well, but they were on a short leash to begin with before losing to Roanoke this past week. With so many teams with four or more losses, there are a lot of teams to consider each week and I just felt as good as Guilford had been playing, a loss would indicate they weren’t necessarily better than anyone else.
Preseason (Top 10, 11-20, Final Five)
As you can see, I am torn with a number of teams. While I only dropped one squad this time around, I probably had a reasonable argument to drop four more. And it came down to this: either I was pulling all five or just pulling one. I couldn’t pull just one or some of the four teams left on my ballot (Marietta, NCC, Williams, and Wabash) without pulling them all because they all had the same reasons for either going or staying.
When I pulled those four teams, I was left trying to find four teams I thought were better. While there are teams with very good (or better) records, their resumes aren’t necessarily better. Or their results are not against the same quality opponent the quad-group faced in their losses. None of them lost to bad teams. Others’ wins over bad teams just don’t compare … for now.
With conference tournaments starting this week, a better grasp of who is playing their best is possible. That said, there will be more losses because remember: Parity.