D3hoops Top 25, Week 5: Breakdown, Analysis, and Opinions

Akiva Poppers is the Executive Producer of MacsLive, and one of the 25 members of the D3hoops.com Men’s Basketball Top 25 voting panel.

 

On Monday, D3hoops.com released their 2021-22 Week 5 Top 25. Although there were several interesting results this past week, only one team featured in the January 3rd poll dropped out, and no team moved up more than three spots, or down more than seven spots.


Below, you will find my thoughts on the poll. Given the fact that I haven’t written this column in a few weeks, I’ll be including my thoughts from that time span, rather than just the past 7 days. I’ve included the team’s record in parentheses, the team’s change in placement in the rankings in square brackets, and where I ranked each team, which can be found in curly brackets. So for example, 1 Randolph-Macon (10-1) [↔] {3} means that Randolph-Macon is ranked #1 in the poll, having not moved since last week’s poll, and I ranked Randolph-Macon 3rd.


1 Randolph-Macon (10-1) [↔] {3}: Randolph-Macon continues to take care of business, especially on the defensive end. Several interesting ODAC matchups await the Yellow Jackets, including vs. Lynchburg on Saturday.


2 UW-Platteville (15-0) [↔] {1}: UW-Platteville can’t stop winning. They’ve had a few close games of late against strong competition, but have proven themselves night in and night out. As WIAC competition continues—5 of their next 6 games are @ UW-Whitewater (who I have as the first team out, at #26), vs. #6 UW-Oshkosh, @ UW-Stout (who Platteville just beat by 7 at home), vs. #11 UW-La Crosse, and @ Oshkosh—I am beginning to get concerned about the Pioneers’ depth. However, so long as UW-P keeps winning against top competition, I don’t see myself removing them from my #1 spot.

Pete Lambesis did a fantastic job of denying Ryan Turell the ball in IWU's win over Yeshiva on December 30th (Photo Credit: Yeshiva Athletics)

3 Illinois Wesleyan (9-2) [↔] {2}: In front of a raucous Max Stern Athletic Center crowd a week and a half ago, Illinois Wesleyan put on one of the best regular season Division III performances in recent memory. This team is not perfect—Wheaton and WashU can speak to that—but wow, are they composed, disciplined, physical, and talented. The Titans haven’t allowed more than 74 points in a game this season.


4 Washington U. (MO) (10-1) [↑ 3] {4}: WashU is legit; their first two games were clearly not a representation of how good they are, and it seems that the panel agrees. Their 10-point win over Illinois Wesleyan was not a fluke; the Titans played poorly, but the Bears looked like the better team. They did not play this past week, so it’s odd to see them jump from #7 to #4 in the poll. I’m not sure what the driving force behind this jump is, but I have WashU at 4 myself, so I can’t disagree. Huge conference matchups against Emory and Rochester are this upcoming weekend.


5 Yeshiva (14-1) [↔] {8}: Watching the last few Yeshiva games before the hyped up matchup against Illinois Wesleyan, it was evident that unless the Macs improved or played the sort of basketball which led them to a blowout win over Old Westbury, 12/30 was not going to be pretty. To say that the IWU game was not pretty for the Macs…would be an understatement. This team has the talent to win a national championship, but the execution is simply not present right now. YU has a few weeks off to clear their minds.


6 UW-Oshkosh (13-2) [↓ 2] {6}: The talent on this Oshkosh team is obvious, and has shown brightly in several blowout wins against strong competition. On some nights, however, when their guards aren’t playing well, the Titans struggle. This was a clear issue against UW-Whitewater last week, but some halftime adjustments allowed UWO to employ a comeback and take the game into overtime…where they proceeded to return to what they did in the first half. It’s hard for me to put this team into my top tier (currently occupied by UW-P, IWU, and RMC, with WashU knocking on the door) until they demonstrate an ability to consistently generate offense even on off shooting nights.


7 St. Joseph (CT) (9-0) [↓ 1] {5}: It is very frustrating that we were unable to see USJ play in the D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas; the Blue Jays were originally scheduled to play Marietta, but had to cancel the trip for COVID-related reasons. That means that the D3 world is stuck watching Saint Joe’s compete against inferior competition. It is quite possible that they enter the NCAA Tournament with an unblemished record.


8 Marietta (10-2) [↔] {11}: A month ago, I wrote the following, which still fully captures my thoughts on the Pios: “Marietta is beginning to look like the same team they were last year; they’re beating up on average and bad teams. Unfortunately, they haven’t shown an ability to get stops against good offenses, or to put up strong scoring efforts against elite defenses. Until that changes, I’ll keep voting Marietta somewhere around #10.” My drop of them from 9 to 11 was due to Christopher Newport and Johns Hopkins moving up, rather than Marietta moving down. Huge conference matchups against Mount Union and Heidelberg lie ahead this week.


9 Christopher Newport (14-2) [↑ 1] {9}: Since Christopher Newport lost @ Lynchburg on November 21, they’ve been fantastic, defeating Randolph-Macon, winning their rematch against Lynchburg, and taking down Hampden-Sydney on the road. This past week, they looked even better, and blew out a solid Marymount team in Arlington. The Captains have not only solidified themselves as a Top 15 team on my ballot; it’s time to up them to the Top 10.


10 Wheaton (IL) (12-2) [↓ 1] {12}: Wheaton has had a few impressive games of late—for example, their victory over Illinois Wesleyan where the Thunder generated a comeback on the back of consistent defensive stops, and their blowout wins over Carroll and North Park—and some less impressive games—like their loss against Berry and escape act against Carthage. This team remains for me a borderline Top 10 team which I feel comfortable with between 8 and 15.


11 UW-La Crosse (11-2) [↔] {7}: The Eagles have faced a brutal schedule to this point, and it doesn’t get any easier. Since suffering two consecutive close home losses to Top 10 conference opponents UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh, La Crosse has won four straight on the road against (mostly) tough competition. Their other four road games? Four more tough wins. That’s the result of sound basketball; UW-L is giving up under 63 points/game and turning the ball over just 10.6 times per contest.


12 Johns Hopkins (9-1) [↔] {10}: Johns Hopkins continues to impress. Ever since a season-opening loss @ Christopher Newport, the Blue Jays have won every game by at least 18 points. A massive game vs. Swarthmore, which will likely establish who the Centennial Conference front-runner is, awaits on Tuesday.


13 Elmhurst (11-2) [↑ 1] {NR}: Those of you who have read this column in the past will know that I am significantly lower on Elmhurst than the panel. This has not changed in the last few weeks, and a loss to North Park and close win over Carroll haven’t helped. I’ve got the Blue Jays a few spots outside of the Top 25.


14 Mount Union (10-1) [↑ 1] {17}: With every game that Mount Union plays, their blowout loss against Heidelberg seems like an aberration. The Purple Raiders have been killing teams and have been stout defensively. It’s on that side of the ball that UMU will be majorly tested on Wednesday in a huge conference matchup against Marietta which will have both OAC and potentially Pool C implications.


15 Roanoke (9-2) [↑ 1] {16}: The more I watch Roanoke, the more concerns I have—not because this isn’t an elite defensive team, but because I don’t think they have the offensive capability to overcome quick bursts from opponents. That means that against good and great teams, they need to stay focused for all 40 minutes. For the most part, they’ve done that this season, but short lapses against Randolph-Macon and Dubuque buried them. Some huge games are scheduled for the Maroons in the next couple weeks; most notably, they play @ Guilford, @ Lynchburg, and vs. Hampden-Sydney.

Vinny DeAngelo put up a career-high 33 points in a win a few weeks ago, but for his Swarthmore squad which has found its stride of late, to see such scoring numbers is quite unusual; the Garnet have 9 players who average at least 14 minutes/game (Photo Credit: Swarthmore Athletics)

16 Swarthmore (11-1) [↑ 2] {13}: On November 23, coming off a loss to Widener, Swarthmore edged conference foe Muhlenberg by four points. After that game, the Garnet flipped the switch. They’ve won all seven games since by at least 23 points and keep climbing in both my ballot and the poll. Up next is a huge contest against Johns Hopkins.


17 Mary Hardin-Baylor (12-1) [↑ 2] {18}: I’ve seen enough of Mary Hardin-Baylor to get a good feel for them. This is a very talented team—probably Top 10 in the country in that respect—which is prone to defensive lapses. I’m also not a fan of their offensive style, although it has led them to score nearly 90 points/game. Something to note is that the Crusaders have been missing several key players as of late—Ty Prince, Sam Reaves, and Kyle Wright—but all three are expected back this week.


18 Maryville (TN) (11-1) [↑ 2] {NR}: I’m just still not buying in on Maryville. They keep winning close games—two of their last three contests were a one-point win over Hampden-Sydney and a six-point win over a Pacific Lutheran squad which was missing star Seth Hall, and the rest of their body of work has been solid, not great. I’ve got the Scots at #27.


19 Heidelberg (9-2) [↑ 2] {19}: Heidelberg established themselves as a Top 25 team with beat downs of Baldwin Wallace and Mount Union, and they’ve now won six in a row. The Student Princes have six players who average at least 10 points/game and turn the ball over just 11.2 times per contest. They’ll have an opportunity to establish themselves as OAC front-runners @ Marietta on Saturday.


20 Whitworth (9-2) [↓ 7] {NR}: Well, I’ve been significantly lower than the panel on the Pirates throughout the season, but Whitworth snuck onto the back end of my ballot last week. They immediately proceeded to lose in Walla Walla against Whitman. Yes, I know it’s a rivalry game, and yes, it was only a two point loss, which coupled together is partially why Whitworth is only the fifth team out for me (#30). But Whitman is average at best. The Pirates have been inconsistent all year, and for the first time against a non-Top 25 team, it finally cost them.


21 Wesleyan (CT) (13-1) [↑ 2] {14}: As I wrote a few weeks ago, Wesleyan is talented, good on both ends of the floor; and raw. They’ve played a few games closer than I would have liked in the last month, but keep winning. After going off for 37 points on 14/25 shooting to beat Amherst in triple OT, star Sam Peek missed Sunday’s matchup against Bates. I’m not sure why; that’s something to keep an eye on. The Cardinals need him for NESCAC competition.


22 Williams (10-1) [↓ 5] {22}: Williams had not allowed more than 69 points in a game this season—until they gave up 73 to Amherst in an 8-point loss. The Ephs are an immense (in size) defensive juggernaut and a team built to compete in March. With that said, they simply are not designed to score 75+ points against quality competition. That will lead to some losses like the one to the Mammoths. They’re still Top 25-worthy in my opinion, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Williams remain ranked despite their recent defeat.


23 WPI (10-1) [↑ 1] {15}: WPI is really coming together well; their recent entrance into the Top 25 is well-deserved. With the exception of their loss to Wesleyan (CT), they haven’t allowed more than 71 points in any game. In their last two contests, the Engineers have allowed 52 and 49 points, respectively. For me, their ceiling is dictated by their development; this doesn’t strike me as a Top 10 team, but they clearly belong in the poll. Big NEWMAC games against Babson and Emerson await this week.


24 RPI (9-1) [↑ 1] {21}: RPI suffered their first loss against Oswego State (who sit three spots out of my Top 25) a couple of weeks ago. As expected, it was a defensive slugfest—neither team cracked 60 points—and both squads were missing key pieces. I don’t say that to dismiss the loss; rather, as a caution that RPI’s 46 point output should be taken slightly more lightly than it may appear on the surface. The Engineers are holding opponents to just over 56 points/game, have a +11.4 rebounding margin, and are nearly doubling their competition in assists.


25 Emory (8-3) [NR] {20}: Emory played awfully against Covenant in their final game before the break. Matthew Schner couldn’t buy a bucket and the Eagles suffered an overtime loss. At 4-3, they disappeared from ballots everywhere. Then the spring semester started, and this team has looked unbelievable. Blowout wins over UW-Whitewater, Birmingham Southern, and Oglethorpe convinced me to put them back into my Top 25; a grind-it-out victory @ Rochester led the panel to do so, too. A massive UAA matchup vs. WashU awaits on Friday.


Teams I ranked which did not make the poll:


Lynchburg (8-3) [received 3 votes; ranked T-39] {23}: It’s easy to see that Lynchburg has three losses and dismiss them as a Top 25 team…until you watch them play, and also realize that they’ve faced one of the toughest schedules in the country. They’ve lost to top 50 squad Mary Washington by 3, #9 Christopher Newport by 5 (after beating the Captains by 17 a few weeks earlier), and a solid Wooster team in overtime. All of these games have been on the road. I’m the only one left voting for the Hornets; they were at #26 (first off) for me last week, and jumped a few teams who lost. They’ll have an opportunity to prove me right or wrong in the next two weeks, as they’ll head to Randolph-Macon on Saturday and play Roanoke next Wednesday.


UMass-Dartmouth (8-2) [received 2 votes; ranked T-41] {24}: Every voter other than myself has seen enough of UMass-Dartmouth, it seems. I’m the only one ranking the Corsairs. Their two losses were both on the road, by 2 and 8 points, respectively against a solid ECSU team which has won 7 of 8 and a strong Brandeis squad which has won 6 of 7. Are we just going to forget the start to the season that UMass-Dartmouth had? Is this not clearly a good team? I’m not surprised that they aren’t close to being ranked, but I am surprised that they seem to be completely off the panel’s radar. They snuck onto my ballot this week by virtue of Whitworth and Hardin-Simmons’ losses.


Amherst (9-3) [received 12 votes; ranked 32] {25}: Amherst started 8-0 against weak competition, but in their first game against a quality opponent, and without stud Grant Robinson, the Mammoths fell to Babson by 11. Robinson was still missing for a Little 3 matchup vs. Wesleyan, and despite their triple overtime loss, I was impressed by Amherst’s performance in that game. Four days later, with Robinson back, the Mammoths played awfully against Middlebury and lost their third in a row. But then, with their potential Pool C hopes in dire spirits, they went out and knocked off Williams on the road. Having suffered three losses, most voters bid goodbye to Amherst on their ballots, but I’m giving them one more shot. The Williams game was no anomaly; the Wesleyan loss is better than it looks. I don’t think it’s fair to forget about the beatdowns they delivered to start the year. They’ll play Tufts, Williams, and Wesleyan in consecutive weeks, so we will quickly get a chance to see how wrong I am.


Team Which Fell Out of the Poll (former ranking listed):


22 Hardin-Simmons (10-2): Hardin-Simmons played themselves into the Top 25 with a win over UMHB and played themselves out with a loss to LeTourneau. In the latter contest, the Cowboys never looked quite settled in, and a 21-5 run to start the second half put them in too big of a hole to recover from. They’ll be right in the ASC race this season.


Looking forward to another great week of D3 hoops!


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