« on: January 01, 2017, 10:21:56 am »
I have watched a lot of games across a lot of regions so far this season. The team I follow has played a number of strong teams (Ohio Wesleyan, North Central, North Park, Wash U, Chicago, Middlebury) and I've also been able to catch several other games of interest - like the Chicago/Babson game yesterday. My biggest takeaway on 2016-17 so far is that there is tremendous parity in Division III men's basketball. A few thoughts within that...
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. Early indications, to me, are that group includes Babson, Whitman, Amherst, and UW-Whitewater. It's possible there is another team or two that belongs in that group...it's also possible that not all of those teams I listed belong in that elite tier. Having watched Babson yesterday against Chicago, I like the Beavers as the best team I've seen. I like that they have a 1st Team All-American to give the ball to when times get tough, I like the other impressive talent around Flannery, and I like the way they go about their business on the floor.
Starting immediately after that "elite tier" I mentioned above, I see a huge pack of extremely even teams that spans from about 5 down to 25. For example, here are teams I have watched that I really can't find any significant separation between (going down the current Top 25) - #4-Marietta, #7-St. Norbert, #11-UW-Eau Claire, #12-Benedictine, #13-North Park, #15 Hope, #17 Wesleyan, #18 Illinois Wesleyan, #20 North Central, #25 Wash U, Middlebury (not ranked), Augustana (not ranked), UW-Stevens Point (not ranked). If any of these two teams played each other on a neutral court, I'd have to call it a "pick 'em." I'm guessing most of those other Top 25 teams and candiates I have not seen belong in this pack too.
And finally, while I do see separation between that small top tier and the big second tier, I don't think that separation is very big. For example, Greg mentioned #1-Babson vs #18-Illinois Wesleyan. I agree that Babson is better overall than Illinois Wesleyan and certainly should be ranked higher, but if those two teams played on a neutral court I believe that would be an incredibly close and competitive game that IWU could absolutely win. The combination of 6-8 Trevor Seibring and IWU's great outside attack would give Babson a lot of problems. (In the same way IWU played a barn-burner at North Central on 12/3 when North Central had Connor Raridon.) Or replace IWU in my point above with Middlebury or Wash U or North Park or Marietta, etc. There might be 3-4 points of difference, in terms of a point spread, between the top 4-5 teams and that second tier. Those games could end up going either way.
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. The tournament, by the way, should be awesome. It's probably a year where any of the 21 Pool C teams could legitimately make a Final Four run.