D3hoops Preseason Top 25: Breakdown, Analysis, and Opinions
This season, I will be publishing a column on the D3hoops Top 25 each week that the poll is released, including my analysis on placement of the ranked teams, as well as which teams I feel have been incorrectly excluded.
In mid-October, D3hoops.com released their preseason Top 25 poll. While this article is being published a few days after the season got underway, my thoughts as they stood before November 5th still hold true nearly across the board; additional comments have been made as appropriate.
Here's my thoughts on the voters' Top 25:
1 Randolph-Macon: Randolph-Macon has been a fixture at the top of the D3 basketball world for the last few years, and is a deserving holder of the preseason #1 spot. The Yellow Jackets finished last season 12-0, and defeated Trine in what was considered by some to be the "2021 D3 National Championship". Preseason 1st Team All-American Buzz Anthony and 2nd Team All-American Miles Mallory are the obvious stars of this team, but look out for Josh Talbert to potentially take a major leap in year three.
2 Yeshiva: Riding a 36-game win streak into the 2021-22 season, and with Ryan Turell and Gabriel Leifer leading the way, the Macs have established Division III dominance in the last two years. Oft-criticized for a low strength of schedule—although the Macs did defeat Rochester once and Saint Joseph (CT) twice last season—the Macs face a tough non-conference slate this year, headlined by #4 Illinois Wesleyan. Yeshiva will also take on #24 NJCU, as well as Williams and Lycoming (whom, editing this on 11/8, they defeated easily), both of which received a Top 25 vote.
3 Marietta: Marietta gelled incredibly well towards the end of last season, closing their 12-1 year with a 100-49 victory in the OAC Championship. The Pios return all players of major note, and seemed like a natural pick for the #3 slot. However, despite their dominance in the shortened season, I was a bit less impressed by Marietta than the average voter, and based on what I saw believe they should slot around 7 or so. With that said, their #3 placement makes sense, and Marietta has the talent to demonstrate that they deserve it.
4 Illinois Wesleyan: One of D3's most historic programs, the Titans have returned to National Championship-contender status. Although Doug Wallen graduated in the spring and Keondre Schumacher won’t be returning, IWU features an extraordinarily deep and talented roster, headlined by 6'7" forward Matthew Leritz. In the shortened 2021 season, the Titans finished 8-1, easily defeating Wheaton (ranked 6th in the 2021-22 preseason poll) for the CCIW Title. A recent scrimmage loss to Wabash may concern some fans, but once this team gets going, they will be difficult to defeat.
5 UW-Platteville: The preseason WIAC favorites return all of their starters from last season's conference championship-winning squad. The Pioneers stumbled twice in the regular season—they split 2 games against Oshkosh and La Crosse—but handily took down La Crosse in their final game of the year. From the shortened 2021 season, I wasn't personally convinced that Platteville is a Top 5 team just yet, but I would not be surprised whatsoever if the Pioneers demonstrate early on that they belong.
6 Wheaton (IL): I do not understand what the voters saw last season to warrant a #6 preseason ranking for Wheaton. Sure, Nyameye Adom is a stud, and the Thunder finished last season 12-1. But let's not kid ourselves—name one impressive win. In their regular season run through CCIW teams not named Illinois Wesleyan and a Jake Rhode-less Elmhurst, I saw a clear Top 20-worthy team, perhaps a borderline Top 10 squad, but nothing better. They could most certainly prove me wrong this year, but I believe this team will end up at right around 15; I have Wheaton at 17 to start the season.
7 Trine: Led by Nick Bowman, Trine came out of nowhere last year, thrusting themselves onto the Top 10 scene by rampaging through the MIAA. The Thunder were clearly outmatched in their final game of the season, against Randolph-Macon, but the players' grit stood out, as they refused to go away down the stretch. I do believe that this team is just as talented as Randolph-Macon, and they have the potential to be something special. It would not surprise me if they faced one or two setbacks mid-year and dropped to the bottom of the Top 25, but they are deserving of the #7 preseason spot.
8 Swarthmore: Swarthmore is the highest ranked team in the Top 25 which did not play last season. The Garnet entered 2020's Sweet 16 ranked #1 in the country and with a 28-1 record. Two star senior forwards—Zac O'Dell and Nate Shafer—graduated from that team; expect Swat to play guard-heavy in 2021-22. With no clear steady post presence, I do anticipate a less efficient offense this season, but the Garnet's talent should make them very competitive on the national stage. With that said, until they prove on the court that they can transition to a new offensive approach, I wouldn't feel comfortable placing them in the Top 10; I have them at 12 to start the year, due to the upside of being a potential Top 5 team.
9 Saint Joseph (CT): The Macs saw Saint Joseph twice last season, and the Blue Jays put up strong fights in both games—and that was despite Delshawn Jackson Jr. not being fully healthy. With USJ back to full strength this year, Coach Jim Calhoun has a National Championship-contender on his hands. Preseason All-American Jaecee Martin's ball-handling skills lead this extremely deep, veteran squad. Saint Joseph belongs at #9.
10 Elmhurst: Despite playing last season, it was difficult to get a proper read on how good the Blue Jays are, as now 6th-year player Jake Rhode was out with an injury. With Rhode back, will Elmhurst solidify themselves as a Top 10 team, as they were expected to be before Rhode's injury, or will they be a non-player, like they were in last year's 7-3 campaign? Only time will tell, and I feel that a #10 ranking is a bit too aggressive here—I have them at #21–but it is impossible to argue until we see how the team looks with Rhode back on the floor.
11 Tufts: One of the 16 teams remaining when the tournament was cancelled in 2020, Tufts is looking to capture a national championship after 20 game-less months. Preseason 1st Team All-American Luke Rogers leads a Jumbos squad whose only significant loss from the 2020 team is Eric Savage. Until we see them on the court, it is impossible to argue with their placement at #11, although I have Tufts at #6 based on my preseason expectations from them, had they played, in 2020-21.
12 Mary Hardin-Baylor: Led by Preseason 1st Team All-American Josiah Johnson, UMHB enters the 2021-22 season with high expectations. The Crusaders feature a strong supporting cast, and will be bolstered by the additions of numerous transfers. After finishing 16-4 last season, it will be intriguing to see how they fare on the national scene in a year which will hopefully be unaffected by COVID. #12 is a proper placement for UMHB.
13 Emory: Emory was a team which I had in my top 3 in last year's preseason, before learning that the Eagles would not be competing. What was supposed to be a senior-laden team, coming off of a 22-5 season with 3 of those losses by one possession, has now graduated a couple of key pieces—Lawrence Rowley and Matt Davet—but return Matthew Schner, Nick Stuck, and Romin Williams for a fifth year, thanks to the COVID waiver. It's tough to figure where Emory will slot this season until they hit the floor, but I would guess that they will settle in as a borderline top 10 squad.
14 Johns Hopkins: Having seen Hopkins on 11/7 against Christopher Newport, I believe I was dead wrong about the Blue Jays in the preseason—this is not a Top 10 team at present, but they are probably Top 25. In the preseason, my analysis was as follows: Although Johns Hopkins did not play regular season games in Spring 2021, I strongly disagree with the Blue Jay's placement at #14. This is a team which I believed to be borderline Top 10 in 2019-20, and graduated two players of note: Joey Kern and Harry O'Neil. While Kern is a big loss, I believe that Chid Nnake will step up bigtime and more than fill O'Neil's shoes. After competing for Hop's lacrosse team last year, All-American Connor Delaney is back on the hardwood. The Blue Jays also feature a ridiculous recruiting class (now sophomores) who will, at least, provide the Blue Jays with good depth.
15 UW-La Crosse: With Preseason All-American Wyatt Cook returning to last season's WIAC-runner-ups, La Crosse has both WIAC and National Championship aspirations. I'm not sure what warranted the Eagles' jumping of UW-Oshkosh in the polls (Oshkosh finished ahead of UW-L in last year's final poll) but the general placement as a team between 10 and 25 makes sense.
16 Dubuque: With all due respect to Dubuque, I believe the Spartans are highly overrated. Key player Patrick Mayfield transferred to D1 Akron, and I wasn't very impressed with the team last year, despite their 14-0 record. The team will rely heavily on Peter Ragen this season. I still view them as the favorites in the ARC and a borderline Top 25 squad, but nothing better. Perhaps they will prove me wrong.
17 UW-Oshkosh: Oshkosh returns everyone from last year's squad which went 5-2 in the shortened season, falling to both UW-Platteville and UW-La Crosse. Hunter Plamann, Eddie Muench, and Levi Borchert are the key pieces for the reigning national champions, which is much more guard-heavy than the squad which won it all in '18-'19. Assuming the cards fall in place, we will get a battle of the Titans on 11/13, with UW-O taking on IWU, at the Jack Sikma Tournament; that should be a fun contest to get a feel for where each team belongs in the national conversation.
18 WashU: Just like conference-fellow Emory, WashU did not compete last season. This team finds its way into the Preseason Top 25 on the back of Preseason 1st Team All-American Jack Nolan, who after entering the transfer portal and considering moving up to D1, has decided to remain with the Bears. I believe this team has the talent and coaching to make their way into the Top 10, but this is another situation where it is impossible to argue placement until they hit the floor.
19 Whitworth: One voter in the Top 25 poll put Whitworth #1 on his ballot. The Northwest Conference preseason poll didn't even place Whitworth at #1 in the conference (unranked Linfield, led by Preseason All-American Dempsey Roggenbuck, took that spot). Whitworth is a tough read for me given the variance of their results last season; their successes and failures clearly were matchup-based. I find them to be a borderline Top 25 team, but I need to see more of them to get a good feel for where they belong.
20 Roanoke: A solid 10-2 season and a close game against Randolph-Macon led to Roanoke being a borderline ranked team last year, and with all 5 starters returning, the Maroons find themselves ranked 20th. Watching them last season, this seemed to me like a borderline Top 25 team, one with a lower ceiling and higher floor than a typical team ranked near the bottom of the Top 25.
21 Mount Union: After finding themselves in the Top 5 early on last year, a loss to Heidelberg and back-to-back defeats at the hands of eventual OAC Champion Marietta sank Mount Union's season. With Collen Gurley taking the leap to D1, I don't understand what the voters saw to place the Purple Raiders in the Preseason Top 25, but I would expect them to finish as OAC runner-ups.
22 Wittenberg: A historic program, Wittenberg finished the 2021 campaign with a 1-7 record, after graduating everyone of major note from a 2019-20 squad which I did not feel deserved to be ranked in the Top 10. I do not understand why they are ranked in the preseason Top 25.
23 Maryville (TN): Coming off of a strong 10-2 season—having been bolstered by the additions of a couple of D1 transfers, although one, Chase Ridenour (formally of Tennessee Tech) missed essentially the entire year with an injury—Maryville has entered the national conversation. I didn't place the Scots in my Top 25 but had them around 35th; I'd like to see what impact Ridenour makes in the early going.
24 New Jersey City: A 7-1 record in last season's NJAC-only slate has led to NJCU being ranked. I didn't have them in consideration for my preseason rankings; I also didn't get a chance to watch them last year. Having lost to Alvernia though in their season opener, it seems unlikely that the Gothic Knights will be ranked when the week 1 Top 25 comes out.
25 Brandeis: Bolstered by Collin Sawyer's return for a 6th year and the addition of transfer Tommy Eastman, Brandeis is expected to compete for a UAA title. I have the Judges at 18, but it's impossible to know how good they will be until they hit the floor.
I ranked 5 teams which didn’t make the D3hoops Top 25:
15 Penn-State Harrisburg
The only egregious miss by the voters here is Penn-State Harrisburg. RPI, Rochester, and WPI essentially are ranked 29th, 30th, and 39th respectively; Utica received one vote.
I am at a loss for words at the fact that Penn State-Harrisburg received 0 preseason Top 25 votes. The Nittany Lions have Top 10 talent, headlined by Preseason 2nd Team All-American Donyae Baylor-Carroll, who scored 45 points two years ago to beat Johns Hopkins in the NCAA Tournament. PSU-H didn’t play last year due to COVID, and so what was an all freshmen and sophomore starting lineup is now all juniors and seniors. Dylan Daniels is one of the most talented bigs in America; he averaged over 4.5 blocks/game in 2019-20. Nate Curry showed signs of excellence as a freshman, and Brandon Coleman, who was described by Coach Don Friday as the team’s second-best player, missed nearly the entire year with an injury. This team is absolutely loaded and it would not surprise me if they entered the 2022 NCAA Tournament undefeated.
Rochester is an interesting situation. All-American Ryan Algier tore his ACL in the offseason and his timeline is still unclear. He hopes to be back by January; with him on the floor, the Yellowjackets are in my eyes a borderline Top 10 team. With Algier sidelined, I view Rochester as a borderline Top 25 team—transfer Dan Masino is a big add for them—and therefore, I placed them at 22 to start the season.
A common thread throughout this article is the fact that so many teams did not play last year, and as such it was more difficult than ever for the voters to evaluate teams when putting together ballots. Ultimately, the preseason poll is in existence to demonstrate expectations; I am looking forward to seeing all 418 teams in Division III hit the floor and show the country what they are made of.