Kevin Bailey and Jon Shaw have already given their takes on where they think each team belongs in the rankings for the 2015-16 season. While I have some similar views as to where some teams belong, I have some bold thoughts for what will come up this season.
Along with my “way too early” preseason rankings I will also give a ranking of where I expect each club to end up at the end of the season. Now obviously that is much too early, and there are a lot of factors that go into it, but I think I have a good idea of how next season will play out. I apologize for any misspelled names along the way
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- Grand Valley State – You can’t knock a team off the top ranking until you see them lose to put it simply. The Lakers lost once all last season at Central Michigan to the host school Chippewas. Did that show that GVSU wasn’t perfect? Yes. But, they came back less than a month later and ran the table at Western Kentucky to take home the Cup yet again. Everyone knows that they’re losing two of what most consider their top three or four players in Trevor Nordberg and Dylan Fettig.Tt’s not like those two guys were the only reasons they had success though. In fact, I think the loss of Jalen Gardner will turn out to be the biggest loss overall for the team because of his effective play. The Lakers return some guys with star talent such as Austin Morely and Aaron Terenzi, and have been known to be a team that only reloads, never rebuilds. With Kevin Bailey at the helm yet again (next Spencer Jardine?), there won’t be a fall-off in leadership. It’ll be tough to see the Lakers losing in the fall semester assuming they can get another class of solid recruits.
- Central Michigan – The Chips made it back to the championship game last year after a small drought, though their season ended in disappointment with a 2-0 loss to GVSU. Compared to where they were a few years ago though this is a huge improvement. Everybody’s beat to death the fact that CMU struggled to put a roster together a few years ago; I am a little bit as well just by bringing it back up. No more. The Chips are past the point where other teams can use the “yeah but…” response as to why they might hold some trepidation in putting confidence in this squad. The leadership they’ve had since that year has obviously put in plenty of time, effort, sweat, probably some headshots, and their hearts into rebuilding the program. And they’ve done so successfully. Sure they’re losing Wes Peters to Michigan State, and that is a big loss because there’s not doubt that Wes could make any roster in this league; and they are losing big time star Brett Hadwin as well. But those are the “name” guys on the team. They’re the ones who were well known around the league because they’ve been the face of the program for so long. What most people are missing though is that you can’t make a run that deep without talent across the board. For all I know Wes and Brett may or may not have been their top players. They’re just the ones I know here in Maryland other than a few other guys. Assuming the new leadership for the team hits recruiting as hard as those guys did though, I figure the guys on the roster this season will be making big names for themselves in no time.
- Michigan State – I struggled on who to pick for the 3 spot this year. You’ve got two more prominent Michigan schools with MSU and SVSU as well as JMU. What made me choose the Spartans though came down to two names: Colin O’Brien and Noe Galaviz. In my opinion I think O’Brien is the best catcher the NCDA has right now. At one point last year I did an AJP podcast with Jon Shaw and I told the honest truth that I didn’t know much about MSU or Colin. Shortly after the podcast got posted Colin sent me a message giving me some background on his team and telling me that he was looking forward to making sure we knew who he was in the future. And I’ll be damned if he didn’t own up to every word of what he had to tell me. Every time I’ve watched him play, still a fairly limited sample size but large enough, I’ve seen him put on a catching clinic. He did it against Grand Valley when I visited in January, and I watched him do it against my own team at Nationals. He’s one of those guys that makes spectacular catches look mundane. Along with him, Noe Galaviz also showed me the ability to put his team on his back and carry them as far as he can take them. This kid has incredibly ability and lives up to all of the talk of being an excellent transition player. He’s a hard target to hit and has a wicked arm that you can’t sleep on or he’ll take your head off. The addition of Wes Peters will help, but I don’t know how available he is, knowing that grad school keeps people very busy. If the Spartans struggle with consistent rosters they may struggle in the standings again, but I think to start the season they deserve the third spot in the top 20.
- James Madison – I’m probably gonna get some headshots aimed at me this fall for putting the Dukes down here, and I probably deserve it. Last year was what I consider to have been JMU’s best shot at the title; I even predicted they would take it home with them. Unfortunately I was mistaken. Going into this year they lose a lot of talent too. Guys like Brent Gromer, Joey Cardella, Connor Ford, etc. Not only were those guys great players, but excellent leaders as well. Ben Sizemore does return which will help keep things together, and help them with things like recruitment and player development. I just think with all the losses they have going into the season that it’s not too bold of a prediction to expect a slight drop-off at the beginning of the year. What will bring JMU back is what has always been a big strength of theirs: depth. For all I know they will turn around and find another Doug Schilling or Tanner Weaver and they’ll just keep on rolling. I believe JMU is capable of making another deep run at Nationals this year, but I’ll have to see how they look at the start of the year with so many faces that I know missing to know what they’re really made of.
- Saginaw Valley – Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice… not gonna happen. I made the mistake of expecting a drop-off from the Cardinals once before and they proved me incredibly wrong. Once again they seem to be losing a lot of big name players going into this next season; that’s never seemed to stop them before. Saginaw has been known to recruit well enough to keep them as a perennial top 5 team and I don’t know if that will change next year. They’ll certainly miss the guys that they’re losing, but how they will perform as the year progresses will show how much those losses really matter. Saginaw ended up back in the final four this year, taking out Michigan State along the way, and lost to eventual champion Grand Valley. I doubt the Cardinals consider they’re season a success but they put together a very solid run in order to get there. I probably won’t get the chance to but I’d really like to see how the Cardinals perform in person to get a sense of where they can really be this year.
- Towson – This is another spot that I struggled with. In my mind the choice was between Towson and Ohio State who you’ll see I slotted at #7. Last year Towson posted a less-than-stellar regular season record, getting swept by JMU and in-state rivals UMD. But, a different, better team showed up at Western Kentucky. With such a young roster that featured only six players with previous Nationals experience, expectations were reasonably low for the Tigers. What happened that weekend though was a great sign for those who enjoy increased parity in the league. Outside of a Colin O’Brien catching extravaganza and a Noe Galaviz strong performance, Towson largely outplayed a top team in Michigan State, despite losing. Towson also took home two wins against the Ohio region, defeating Bowling Green and Ohio State. I could go on for a long time about my team, but that’s mostly because they’re the team I am going to have the most knowledge on. What’s important to note is we’re only graduating two players in our top 15 (Joe Tobin and Dan Bassindale). While a player like Tobin is next to impossible to replace, Towson has the tools to do so. The majority of our roster will be playing in their second year, which means the team will likely make a lot of improvements from last season to this one. This also means any players we get in recruitment will have a large group of experienced teammates to learn from, which will help bring them along quickly. I want to keep him a secret but he won’t stay this way long so I’ll say this now: watch out for Scott Delawder, I thoroughly believe he will enter the conversation for who the top 5 catchers in the league are if he progresses the way I expect him to . Towson is another solid recruiting class away from a final four run being more than just a pipe dream.
- Ohio State – The Buckeyes had a tough end to their season, going out in an epic match against Towson. I don’t know much about OSU going into this year other than I’ve heard they’re not losing many people. Assuming that holds true that could spell trouble for the rest of the league. Having a solid core like they do, they seem to fall back into the “dark horse” category this season. They do get more opportunities to play against top teams like GVSU and CMU in comparison to teams in the East Coast region which will help immensely; even if they lose some of those matches like most would expect. Much like Towson though, the Buckeyes seem to be another good recruiting class away from being able to make a surprise run late in the season. Playing so close to home will also be a big help to them.
- Kent State – Another team who’s season didn’t go the way they had planned. Kent State has a lot of work to do next season after losing to UWP in the first round at Nationals. The Flashes lose some big time contributors like a Steven Cassittee, but return prominent leaders like Albert DePerro. Last year seemed to be a bit of a rebuilding year after graduating so many players that were a huge part of their core. Kent has never been a team to be intimidated by others though, always ready to pull off a huge upset if given the opportunity. Right now I’m not expecting a deep run out of Kent, but then again I could be totally wrong depending on what they bring to the table. Knowing how tough minded this team is though makes me excited to see what the squad from northeast Ohio will bring to the table next year.
- Kentucky – Part of me really wants to rank Kentucky higher than 9th. The Wildcats are a young team who showed a lot of promise this year at Nationals. The reason I have Kentucky at nine though is I just want to see a little more evidence to validate a higher ranking. Could I have put them at 8? Yes. But right now I think Kent is a more deserving team. With another year of Zac Brown leadership, and a core that’s likely to do nothing but improve, UK is one team I’m incredibly curious about going into this season. I want to see them get out and play a lot of higher ranked teams and pull off a few upsets. I really want to see how this team and Towson match-up and see if my prediction right now is accurate or if they will prove me wrong. With the catching ability I’ve heard so much about with this team I expect a lot of great things from them, I just need to see it come to fruition.
- Maryland – I know a few guys in College Park who aren’t going to be happy with this one. While UMD is already frustrated, as well as most every other East Coast team, that they lost the bid for Nationals this year, and I’m probably making a mistake by adding fuel to the fire. But it’s a decision based on merit. The Terps did not have a good showing at all at WKU, losing all of their matches. Not only that but they’re losing some key contributors such as Dylan Allred and Steve Via. Top arm Rohan Mittal does return with some other important players such as Curtis Reybold and Mike Cariello. Consistent attendance will be what hurts Maryland the most this year. Being a great engineering school their team has a lot of players that are loaded with tons of work to do for their classes. This always seems to bite them a little bit come time for Nationals, which is why losing the host bid really hurts them in my eyes. If UMD were hosting this year I would have them higher in my rankings without a second thought, but we’re heading to BGSU this year, not PG County. The good news for UMD though is with such a huge student body they have a good chance to pick up a solid year of recruits that could completely turn the tables on my not-so-expert opinion. For now though, I leave them as the #3 team in the East.
- Penn State – This ranking is solely based on PSU being able to make a more consistent showing to tournaments this year. As a school with a giant football fanbase it has been tough to get the Nittany Lions to show up to a lot of tournaments. In fact, they’ve been to as many regular season tournaments in their team history as they have been to Nationals (2). That point aside, PSU was one of the more, if not the most, impressive teams that came to WKU. They took points from both GVSU and SVSU. While those teams were likely resting a lot of their starters, Penn State managed to take points from the last two teams to win the National Championship before Towson or Maryland. If, and that’s a big if, this team can get to more tournaments I think they have the potential to be much more than the #11 team in the nation. Until they show the ability to do so though I can’t rank them any higher than this.
- Bowling Green State – BGSU has a lot of promise for this upcoming season. Hosting Nationals will add to the stress of their regular season with all of the planning, but give them an advantage come April. It may or may not show, but in my mind there’s something to be said for being able to wake up in your own beds and know where everything is around your campus. BG returns a good core of players that seem to be truly organized for the first time in a long time last year. Being in a tough location though, the Eagles won’t have many opportunities to pad their resume unless they become capable of making some major upsets this year. Who they bring in will greatly influence how they perform, and they have the potential to do well, but I think their ceiling is just slightly lower than Penn State’s.
- DePaul – The only reason I have DePaul down here is their well-known nature as the “fun” team in the league. The guys who aren’t as worried about the competition as they are the enjoyment of the game. Admittedly, that’s why I love DePaul. Instead of getting caught up in the rush of things they compete, but they don’t worry. Maybe with Niko Nodal taking over this year things might change some, and if they do then they deserve a higher ranking. Much like Penn State’s attendance issues though, until I see evidence of it, I have to put them in this spot.
- UWP – I don’t know much about UWP. All I really know is that Alex Higbee was their best player and I believe he graduated this year. With that, and the team’s distance from other schools, I find it hard to see them making a lot of tournaments this year and making a many improvements. I know they made the Elite 8 this year but I am predicting a first round exit from next year’s tournament at BGSU. It’s thoroughly possible that they can pick up some more talent, but until I see it, I don’t put the ceiling very high for this squad.
- Western Kentucky – First and foremost the Hilltoppers did an excellent job this past April. That being said their play was unable to live up to their great hosting abilities. They do have some solid pieces to their roster, but unless they can get a large class of solid talent I don’t see WKU making much noise this season. It will be tough when they will likely play UK the most this season, a team I have some pretty decent expectations for. Will they be able to get some good talent? Will they put it together for a good stretch this year? Who knows? Unless they can make a lot of changes this year though I don’t see much coming out of Western Kentucky.
- VCU – The Rams finally made their first Nationals! This is a big step in the right direction for this team. I don’t know who VCU loses and who they return next year but I think with the positive steps the East Coast region is making they’re in a tough place. The top 4 teams in JMU, TU, UMD and PSU all improved last season, making it even harder for VCU to pick up some much needed wins next year. Hopefully their attendance will continue to improve and the team will also make positives strides. It’s a tough place to be though right now so I’m not sure how much I’m putting into them right now.
- Akron – I know nothing about this team but I’m assuming in a region full of teams within reasonable drives that they’ll get very valuable experience.
- Baldwin Wallace – Same point for Akron applies to BW
- Stevenson – Court space is the Mustangs biggest issue. Will they be able to learn NCDA style and get consistent access to a basketball court or will they be back on their racquetball court with foam balls? Regardless of what happens their captain Kris DeJesus is the type of guy who will put everything he has into furthering the success of his club.
- UNT – I know nothing about this team, but hopefully they can make more events next year.
Definitely too early end of season top 15 rankings prediction:
- CMU (National Champs)
Way too early bold predictions
- Central Michigan upset GVSU in a title game rematch – Don’t ask me why, I just think it’s possible this year.
- Towson beats JMU for the first time in team history – With how many people Towson returns and the losses JMU is taking, the deck seems to be stacked for the Tigers to finally upset the Dukes at least once this year
- Pitt attends a tournament – for those who don’t know Pitt U. is starting up a dodgeball club this year. They have a lot of work to get done before they can consider entering a tournament, but I think it’s really possible. Katie Milliken, the clubs founder, is hitting the ground running and has a great enthusiasm about making this happen, which would be a great step for the league to help secure the state of PA.
- More upsets this year – while we are playing more games as a league, things still seem to hold to expectations. I feel like this season brings a lot of chances for more teams to surprise other teams and steal some more wins here and there.
- DePaul remains undefeated – this isn’t bold, I just couldn’t think of a 5th.