Tuesday, January 23, 2018

D3hoops Top 25 Ballot - January 22, 2018

For those of you unaware, I am a voter in the D3hoops.com Top 25 poll for NCAA Division III men’s basketball.

I know Dave McHugh blogs his ballot every week and God bless him for it; this sure takes a lot of work. I’ve done it once before and while I’m not opposed to doing it more often, there are only so many hours in the day.

I chose this week mostly because it’s the first ballot I feel totally confident defending. While I know things will still change between now and March (some quite drastically), I think we’ve seen enough games to at least gauge where we are pretty well.

Without further ado:

1. Whitman – I don’t think Whitman is the best team in the country. Without Harrison and Wiggins they lack size and depth, along with some more intangible qualities that give me real pause when I think about how they’d match up with some of the teams from the Central region. However, they play well together and with great consistency; they’re experienced; and they’ve only lost one game in the last two season – and that just barely. Until someone else really proves themselves, the Blues get the benefit of the doubt and then some.

2. St. John’s – This team keep winning. They play a simple, but effective system, the kind that often has a third round ceiling in the NCAA Tournament. However, this is not a typical year and with every additional win, especially in a tough conference, the Johnnies make me more of a believer. They lost one game, by two points, on the come down from a huge early season win over St. Cloud State (in which they looked dominant). They’re running a tough MIAC like its nothing and they deserve this spot.

3. WashU – This is one of the more dominant teams we’ve seen in a while. However, when the Bears are off, they are really off. If you’re laying odds for a Salem run, the only thing that would give you pause about choosing WashU is the geography of the bracket. It’ll take a tough team to emerge from the Midwest come March, but I still think this team is probably most capable. I want to see how they weather the road trip to Atlanta and Rochester this weekend, but this team could be very special – especially if we don’t see any more of those head-scratching losses.

4. Wittenberg – In November there was no way this was even a ranked team. I made a note to vote for them in the 2019 pre-season poll, since they’re largely comprised of super talented underclassmen. The big guy in the middle has sure found his form, though, and the bearded guy on the sideline is coaching his tail off. Four feels high, but Wittenberg has yet to face a challenge they couldn’t meet, so who am I to judge?

5. York (Pa) – High ceiling, high margin for error. York doesn’t have much of a bench, but the starting line-up is solid and spectacular. On their best nights, this team’s mixture of discipline and aggression can give anyone a headache. It’s one of those teams you could see making a run or bowing out unexpectedly early. Not a squad anyone would want to face, though – and few, if any, teams anywhere in the nation have two skilled bigs like Reich and Myers.

6. Augustana – This is not the team I voted pre-season #2 and not the team we saw in Salem. I mean, they are the team, but they’ve yet to reach the level of play we expected. Maybe that’s ok, since they peaked late last year and there’s still plenty of time. January has been rough, but they’ve been pulling out wins when they need them and the first semester was very strong, even if they didn’t look quite right.

7. Illinois Wesleyan – I think this team is better than they’re given credit for and while I still have some questions about the defense, they’re winning games when they need to win them, especially in conference. I am concerned about the loss to WashU and the poor showing at Emory’s tournament, but they’re trending in the right direction and they’re loaded with talent.

8. Swarthmore – Really off their game the last week or so and playing without Nate Shafer – a true super sub and the most talented freshman big I saw last season. Swat has but three post players and keeping two of them on the floor is a high wire act. The guards are solid, but not spectacular. When they’re on, the Garnett play as a unit and minimize mistakes (not to mention outrebound everybody). I’m chalking their current level of play up to a January slump, but this is a team that could fall fast if they don’t get back on track.

9. Whitewater – Yes I voted for five WIAC school and yes they could appear in almost any order. Whitewater had some roster confusion to start the year, but they’ve really locked in after the holidays. Losses are a part of life in Wisconsin and despite theirs, this feels to me like the strongest, most consistent overall team – at least so far. Things change fast, though, and they’ve got a whole conference gunning for them.

10. Middlebury – Not sure exactly what to say. Early season wins looking a little less impressive as we move along, but none of the three losses is bad. They’ve also beaten a string of difficult, above-average opponents, even if none of them have individually been noteworthy. Consistency, coaching, and talent win out. I’ll admit, this one is probably skewed more to the eye test than any other, but Middlebury has proven itself in the recent past and I’m willing to ride with them for the time being.

11. Stevens Point – No, I don’t feel good about this. Five losses are five losses, even if none of them are embarrassing. I wouldn’t have them so high if UWSP hadn’t proven time and again that their system is world class, regardless of who’s in it. I can’t believe they’re succeeding without their best player or a whole lot of size – a win over Oshkosh this week would really help my confidence in them.

12. Oshkosh – A very solid first semester and a head-scratching roller coaster post-holiday. Last week was terrible, but they’ve got three solid chances to prove themselves upcoming. Some years the WIAC eats itself alive because no one’s good; some years it happens because everyone’s good. For some reason, it feels like the latter this time around.

13. Wheaton (Il) – I really don’t feel good about this. But I have to remind myself the team I watched early on is not the same one that’s been winning of late. The talent was always there and the results say they’re figuring out how to put it all together. The rematch with Augie this week will be very telling.

14. River Falls – Every time I doubt Alex Herink and company, they turn around and prove themselves again. A tough early schedule with lots of wins has turned into a barely keeping their head above water conference slate. This is another benefit of the doubt squad that will have to prove something moving forward.

15. Wesleyan – They already lost since the ballot came out, so they’ll be dropping next week. They’ve got a strong ensemble, but the cracks are being exposed in the second semester. They have just one really good win and all three (now four) losses are to teams worse than them.

16. Whitworth – Missing their best player and clearly outmatched by Whitman, in some sense this season feel futile for Whitworth. Geography puts their chances of surviving round two very low. Still they have good individual players and a decent bench. Their only two losses are to better teams (although Wheaton probably wasn’t better at the time). They’re ranked too high, but so is just about everyone else.

17. Platteville – Lots of wins to start the year with little of value to show for it. Conference play has given us a little more to work with, but they’re really going to need a win over Whitewater this week to keep position.

18. Baldwin Wallace – Here’s one where I’m going against the eye test. I’ve seen two or three of their games and been unimpressed, still there’s clearly talent there and the schedule has been tough. I don’t like the loss to Muskingum, but otherwise they’re taking care of business about how you’d expect the #18 team to do it.

19. Emory – Some injury issues early and, I suspect, some difficulty working out roles, Emory has come on well. The visible improvement from November to January is important, plus they’re beating strong teams solidly and lesser opponents handily. This team may well be under-ranked here, but I want to see what they do with WashU before making a drastic move.

20. Eastern Connecticut – Tarchee Brown is fantastic. He looks like a linebacker playing basketball and he’s incredibly skilled. What the stat sheets don’t always communicate is how well the supporting cast complements him and the ability of other guys to step up when needed. Size is a bit of an issue, but they’re experienced and confident and the kind of team it’s both easy and dangerous to overlook. They won’t match up well with everyone, but they can play with anyone.

21. Emory & Henry – Skeptical and dubious, but it’s hard to ignore 16-1 forever. The ODAC is definitely down, but not so much that a run through it can be overlooked. I want to see consistent wins through the rest of the season and any losses will be harshly judged, but they earned this spot for the time being.

22. MIT – They’ve had some injuries, although not all at the same time. When this team is on – meaning they execute the offense efficiently – they just don’t make mistakes and can come close to beating Harvard, as they did in November. We’ve only seen glimpses of that team since then and we’re going to need to see more. Still, you sort of trust these guys to do what needs to be done – their two losses are by a combined seven points, and they’re the smartest guys in the room.

23. Hamilton – Here’s the first of three teams I don’t think deserve to be ranked, but I also couldn’t justify putting anyone else here (and Gordon won’t let us turn in blank spots). I believe the Amherst loss is more indicative of what the weak schedule produced than the win over Wesleyan. They get the final weekend at home, so maybe there’s an advantage to be played there, but I’m not buying in.

24. Lycoming – At 100%, this team is scary. They do have a tendency to play down to opponents and they’re not playing a schedule that’s even remotely challenging. At 90%, this team is eminently beatable; I’m losing confidence they’ve had enough serious reps to play at 100% consistently.

25. Sul Ross State – This team is probably more like 27th or 28th in my mind, but it’s close enough that I wanted to give them some national recognition. Two of their four losses are to non-d3 opponents and the other two were a difficult November road trip. We never quite know how good the ASC is because they play so many conference games, but Sul Ross has beaten good teams with great consistency. Their games have not really been close, either, especially of late. I think they’ve got something – the question is if they can sustain it through March, something the Texas schools have had difficulty doing in most years.

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