Back in February I ranked my D-I Top 20 before the first weekly USILA Coaches’ Poll was released, when teams had played just 0 to 3 games, and then in the first week of March I ranked the Upstate NY D-III Top 20, as most of those teams were just getting started.
Well, by now most D-I programs have played 9-11 games and most of the remaining games are all-important conference match-ups. The D-III programs have caught up and have also played 8-12 games, and they too are gearing up for league games, jockeying and fighting for precious playoff berths.
On February 11, my Top 20 D-I teams were as follows:
4 Penn State
9 Notre Dame
11 North Carolina
13 High Point
14 Ohio State
20 Johns Hopkins
Also receiving votes: UMass, Army, Hobart, Lehigh, Georgetown, and Marquette
Well, I got most of the first ten right. After almost two months, my new rankings would look like this:
1 Penn State (8-1) Coach Jeff Tambroni’s Nittany Lions faced a big test last night against the Ohio State Buckeyes in a Big Ten showdown, but led from start to finish to win by five. They also have big wins against Maryland, Cornell, Villanova, and Penn. Their one loss is a one-goal heartbreaker against defending national champion Yale.
2 Maryland (9-2) The Terrapins remain in the national spotlight with impressive wins against Villanova, North Carolina, and Penn, while their only setbacks were to Notre Dame (in overtime) and Penn State.
3 Yale (7-2) Coach Andy Shay’s defending national championship Bulldogs have beaten Penn State, Cornell, and UMass, among others, and their two losses were at the hands of Villanova (in OT) and Penn (in three overtimes).
4 Loyola (8-2) Gotta admire the Greyhounds’ resume – wins vs. Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, and Lehigh, and losses to only Towson and Duke
5 Virginia (9-2) Coach Lars Tiffany’s Cavaliers are not only winning; they’re also winning ACC games. Wins against Syracuse, Notre Dame, Hopkins, and Lehigh, and losses to upstart High Point and Loyola. Highlights also include three consecutive one-goal wins…
6 Duke (8-3) The Blue Devils have wins versus Loyola, Towson, Denver, and Penn, and losses to High Point, Syracuse, and North Carolina. Known for their slow starts and strong finishes, Duke is currently 0-2 in the ACC…
7 Towson (7-3) Coach Shawn Nadelen’s Tigers has trophy Ws against Hopkins, Loyola, and Georgetown, and losses to Cornell, Duke, and Denver.
8 Cornell (7-3) Pete Milliman’s Big Red have beaten Lehigh and Towson, and losses to Penn State, Penn, and Yale. They’re 2-2 in the Ivy League with contests vs. Brown and Princeton remaining…
9 Notre Dame (5-4) Notre Dame’s W-L record may not catch your eye, but look at their opponents: wins against Maryland, Denver, and Syracuse, and losses to Virginia, Duke, and Ohio State.
10 Syracuse (6-3) Only time will tell about that season-opening head-scratching loss to Colgate, but since that inauspicious debut, the Orange have recorded good wins vs. Army, Hopkins, Rutgers, and Duke, and their other losses are to Virginia and Notre Dame. SU is currently 1-2 in the ACC with just one conference game – against North Carolina – remaining. And oh yeah – they host Cornell tomorrow night, and the winner gets an impressive win on their 2019 ledger. The loser is not guaranteed a Pool C bid and might have to get an AQ to get in to the NCAA tournament…
11 Denver (6-4) The Pios have beaten Towson, Georgetown, and North Carolina, but they’ve also lost to Duke, Notre Dame, Princeton, and Villanova – their first regular-season Big East loss in seven years. They just might have to win the Big East championship to make the NCAA playoffs…
12 Ohio State (7-1) The Buckeyes have a great W-L record, but their schedule appears to be significantly weaker than everyone else I’m talking about. Their one big win was an overtime victory over Notre Dame, and their one loss is to Big Ten rival Rutgers.
13 Penn (6-3) Don’t look now, but the Quakers are 4-0 in the Ivy League, including wins over Yale, Cornell, and Princeton. And those three losses? They were to Maryland, Duke, and Penn State. I had them as “Also receiving votes.” Sorry, UPenn!
14 Johns Hopkins (6-4) Hopkins needs some more wins, especially as they hit their Big Ten schedule. Yes, they’ve beaten North Carolina and Rutgers, and their losses are to Towson, Loyola, Syracuse, and Virginia, but they still play Ohio State, Penn State, and Maryland. Currently 2-0 in Big Ten play, the Blue Jays may not even make the Big Ten tournament.
15 Villanova (7-4) I also underestimated Villanova. The Wildcats move up from the “Also receiving votes” ranks, too, as they have some big wins (Denver and Yale), but they also have a clunker (loss to Drexel), which is too bad, because their other losses are to the likes of Penn State, Penn, and Maryland.
16 North Carolina (7-4) The Tarheels’ losses are understandable (Hopkins, Denver, Maryland, and Virginia), but their only “good” win is against Duke (apologies to Cleveland State, Mercer, Furman, Harvard, Marist, Bucknell).
17 High Point (9-2) The Panthers turned a lot of heads with early-season wins against Duke and Virginia, but losses to Jacksonville and St. John’s are going to hurt High Point if they don’t get the SoCon AQ.
18 Rutgers (6-5) Like Johns Hopkins and Ohio State, the Scarlet Knights are in a dog-fight for just a Big Ten playoff berth. The have a big win vs. Ohio State, but otherwise their resume lacks wins against ranked teams. They’ve had their chances, as losses include Army, Loyola, Lehigh, Syracuse, and Hopkins.
19 Lehigh(7-4) The Mountain Hawks have good wins vs. Army and Rutgers, but that early-season 4-3 loss at Hofstra is hard to figure out. They’re 5-1 in the competitive Patriot League, but they’ll have to win the tournament’s AQ to go dancing in May.
20 Georgetown (8-3) The Hoyas really don’t have any big, signature wins, but their losses are more supportive of a Top 20 ranking. Only Towson, Marquette, and Denver have bettered them.
Also receiving votes: UMass, Army
Closer to home, my Upstate NY D-III RTD Rankings looked like this back on March 4:
3 St. Lawrence
7 St. John Fisher
Also receiving votes: Morrisville, Utica, SUNY Poly, and Cazenovia
Well, five weeks later and the Top 10 are almost unchanged. The Liberty League looks like it might get two, three, or even four teams in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday (May 5). Now that everyone has played at least half – and probably closer to two-thirds or even three-fourths – of their schedule, the remaining games will settle who’s in and who’s not for conference post-season tournaments.
Here are my mid-term rankings:
1 RIT (11-1) Coach Jake Coon’s Tigers have just one loss, a one-goal setback to Amherst, and I don’t think anyone from Upstate NY has come close. Someone in the Liberty League usually makes them sweat, so they’re not quite ready to take their foot off the gas.
2 Union (9-1) Coach Paul Wehrum’s Dutchmen also fell to a formidable NESCAC opponent, in this case, Williams. Otherwise, they’ve got nice wins over Endicott, Middlebury, Ithaca, and Clarkson.
3 Ithaca (7-3) The Bombers can boast a double-overtime win against St. Lawrence and a non-league win over Nazareth. Their losses are to Cabrini, RPI, and Union. If they’re not going to win the LL championship, Coach Jeff Long’s squad will need a few more conference wins if they hope to earn a Pool C bid.
4 St. Lawrence (9-1) The Saints’ only loss is a two-overtime setback to Ithaca, but they still have the heart of the LL batting order to get through before they can think post-season. Coach Mike Mahoney’s boys have quality wins over Naz, Middlebury, Bowdoin, Plattsburgh, and Oswego…
5 RPI (9-2) The Engineers have already beaten Keene State, Coast Guard, Ohio Wesleyan, Plattsburgh, and Ithaca – and their only lossesa re to RIT and Williams. Hard to imagine one of these top five teams won’t be in the LL semi-finals!
6 Cortland (7-4) The Red Dragons got off to a slow start but seem to be hitting their groove just in time for SUNYAC play (2-0 so far). And those four losses for Coach Steve Beville’s players? Three of them are to Tufts, Wesleyan, and RIT…
7 Clarkson (7-4) The Golden Knights are 4-1 vs. SUNYAC opponents and 2-0 in the Liberty League. They’ll need to find some way to win against RPI and St. Lawrence if they hope to make it to the LL semi-finals.
8 St. John Fisher (10-1) The Cardinals are scoring goals this year. They’re 4-0 vs. the SUNYAC (although I’d like to see a Cortland/SJFC match-up in the future) and they’re 3-0 in the Empire Eight. Anything other than a Fisher/Stevens E-8 championship game will be a surprise, though my friends at Nazareth probably feel differently. Stay tuned.
9 Plattsburgh (4-6) Those other Cardinals have struggled for wins, but I like their scheduling. A one-goal win against Geneseo and a one-sided loss to Cortland land them in the #2 spot in the SUNYAC, but they still have four other conference games to contend with.
10 Oswego (6-2) The Lakers opened SUNYAC play with a win at Brockport, one of the teams they lost to last year, but again, that’s only one conference win; they still have five SUNYAC contests ahead of them. On the plus side, their only losses are to St. Lawrence and St. John Fisher…
11 Hartwick (7-1) The Hawks’ only loss was a one-goal nail-biter in their first game of the season; since then they’ve beaten Farmingdale (in three OTs!) and find themselves 3-0 in the Empire Eight. Can they challenge Fisher and Stevens? The next few weeks will tell.
12 Nazareth (4-8) Coach Rob Randall’s Golden Flyers play one heck of a schedule, but they’re not used to losing E-8 games. Losses to the likes of Cortland, St. Lawrence, and Ithaca are supposed to help them get ready for the likes of Fisher, Alfred, Stevens, Hartwick, et al, but right now the boys from Pittsford are 2-2 in E-8 play.
13 Geneseo (3-8) I love Coach Nick Fiorentino’s scheduling – Salisbury, Ithaca, Clarkson, St. John Fisher, St. Lawrence – oh my! – so don’t get thrown by the W-L record. All that matters is SUNYAC play, and right now the Knights are 1-1 with four league games to play. Again, stay tuned…
14 Skidmore (3-8) The Thoroughbreds are 0-5 in Liberty League play, and they haven’t played RIT yet. Such is the life of the bottom three teams in the LL. Still, they’ve beaten Keene State, Norwich, and Oneonta…
15 Oneonta (6-5) The “other” Red Dragons can teach us all a thing or two about geography. I can honestly say that I’m not sure where Wentworth and Anna Maria are, but like I said, all that really matters is SUNYAC positioning, and these guys are currently 1-1 with four games remaining.
16 Alfred (6-3) The Saxons are 3-1 in Empire Eight games, with Naz, St. John Fisher, and Hartwick remaining. Can they use wins against Thiel, Medaille, and Washington and Jefferson to prepare them for these conference showdowns? The next three weeks will tell.
17 Hamilton (3-6) The Continentals have wins against Colby, Utica-rival UC, and Nazareth, but they’re stuck in the powerhouse NESCAC, so more wins are going to be hard to come by. Still, if they played more SUNYAC and/or E-8 games, I think they’d fare pretty well.
18 Brockport (4-5) The Golden Eagles finished third in the SUNYAC last year, but they’ve put themselves in an 0-2 hole to kick league play of this month. They’ve lost to good teams, but they’ll need to beat some good ones to make it to the post-season.
19 Utica (5-7) The Pioneers are 1-3 in E-8 play, and they’ll have to turn it up a notch to make the four-team tournament at the end of April.
20 Potsdam (3-5) The Bears opened up SUNYAC play with Cortland, so despite starting off 0-1, they’re in the hunt as much as anyone else. The next five games are the season.
Also receiving votes: Morrisville, Keuka, SUNY Poly, and SUNY Delhi
So there you have it – the official RTD rankings for D-I Top 20 and Upstate NY D-III Top 20. You can pin this up on the locker room bulletin board and point proudly, you can get ticked off, feel slighted, and argue, or you can open another link and dismiss it all – that’s up to you.
In the meantime, pleased drive carefully!
- Dan Witmer
Dan Witmer is the author of two books. The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland. ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.