New Year, New Top 25! What a crazy month it has been since the last poll came out. Injuries do continue to plague several teams and whether or not you think that is or isn’t a thing that should matter, the truth is, it affects every team a bit differently. Key player, depth piece, sharp-shooter there are many key factors that affect one team over another when it comes to injuries. Outside of injuries, we also saw a ton of Top 10 teams go down. A few went down more than once. There are teams who we think are Top 5 or Top 10 teams, who just aren’t playing like it at the moment. There are also teams outside of the Top 25, who were VERY hard to leave out. That comes with the territory though and it is why the raters continue to have tough jobs. For us, we try to do a deeper dive then just what a team’s record says and here soon the NAIA Coaches will be releasing RPI and SOS rankings, that will help us dive even deeper. As we enter the 2nd week of January, two teams remain undefeated. Langston (OK), who most people know by now, and Tougaloo (MS), which many probably don’t know. Tougaloo, could wind up in the Coaches Top 25 this week, but for us, their two best wins are Stillman and LSU Alexandria. We have them at 28th currently, with a few teams, who we felt, have better resumes ahead of them. Speaking of the back part of the Top 25, that may be the toughest part to figure out. In the NAIA, there are currently 35 teams with 3 or fewer losses. When you add in those 4 and 5 loss teams, who have played super tough schedules, you are left with about 45-50 teams who are going to think they have arguments to be inside the Top 25. We say that, because we know our Top 25 isn’t perfect. There are teams we left out, who we won’t be shocked to see inside the Coache’s Poll this week. We watch a lot of basketball games. We know that losses happen and try not to punish someone for a bad outing. Nor for having players out. We simply take everyone’s full body of work, factor in our “eye test” and then compare each team to the same set of guidelines. This Top 25, will surely upset people, it tends to always do that. We never try to “disrespect” any team or league. We just call it as we see it and we know that we aren’t always right! This poll, while not official, is simply a guide to how we see the Top teams in the NAIA. The Top 25 polls usually play itself out and for the most part the cream will rise to the top. At end of the day, no matter the rankings, the goal, for most is to first qualify for their respective league tournaments. Then, figure out how to qualify for the National Tournament with either a Conference Auto-Bid or an at-large bid! Enough rambling for today though, here is our first Top 25 of 2023!
1. College of Idaho 14-1 Haven’t lost since the 1st game of the season, which was a road game to Arizona Christian. The Yotes have won 14-staight and have been rolling thru the Cascade Collegiate Conference posting the 3rd highest NET EFF rating in the NAIA. This is the 1st time this season they are in the No. 1 spot. It hasn’t been kind to others this season and they do have a tough matchup against Corban this week. However, the Yotes are playing as well as anyone in the NAIA right now.
2. Oklahoma Wesleyan 15-1 OKWU, behind the play of the foursome of Jaden Lietzke, Kaleb Stokes, Derick Talton Jr and Brandon Bird, have proven they can play with anyone. They have an early blemish to a Top 25 Evangel squad, but outside of that they have looked like a real force. They play some spectacular team defense that makes it hard to get to get to the rim and score on them. Talton runs the show from the PG spot, but the weapons around him are special as Lietzke and Stokes are both having All-American type seasons again.
3. Langston (OK) 15-0 The Lions are tough, on both ends of the floor. They have the 2nd best NET EFF rating in the NAIA. AJ Rainey and Tristan Harper have provided the scoring punch thus far. Unfortunately, due to a pipe burst, they are unable to play a true home game for the next couple of weeks. Head Coach, Chris Wright took Talladega to the National Title game last year and has his new squad looking like a serious contender this season!
4. Indiana Wesleyan 13-4 When we say we don’t care about records, this is one of the teams that fits the bill for us. It may be crazy to have a four-loss team inside of the Top 5, but Head Coach, Greg Tonagel, after a slow start to the season, has figured out what buttons to push with this Wildcat team. IWU is coming off of a big road win against Grace and is now currently has a two-game lead on the field in the ever-tough Crossroads League.
5. Grace (IN) 14-2 Grace is coming off of a tough home loss to Indiana Wesleyan, but the Lancers are as deep and as talented as anyone in the NAIA. IWU is a tough team, but this was the first time that we have seen Grace beat themselves with untimely turnovers, fouls and missed layups. The Lancers are better than they showed this past weekend and remain a Top 5 team in our rankings.
6. Thomas More 14-2 Thomas More started off the season firing on all cylinders. While they have some tough losses and some ugly wins since then, they still just have two losses on the season and have played more like a Top 3 team then they have played like a bottom half of the Top 10 team. They still sit 1-game out of 1st place in the Mid-South, but plenty of games left to try and catch Freed-Hardeman and get a MSC Crown.
7. Arizona Christian 14-3 The Firestorm have to get healthy first and foremost. ACU hasn’t played a single game this season with a full roster. They are just now getting Dennis Flowers III back, but have been without All-American and GSAC DPOY, AJ Johnson. Expect the Firestorm to work out their kinks and get back to winning ball games soon!
8. Southwestern (KS) 15-1 The Builders remain a serious contender. Deng Bol and Cevin Clark provide a really tough scoring duo and Andrew O’Brien and others are the perfect complimentary players around them. Their only loss on the season was @ OKWU. They head to Kansas Wesleyan on Wednesday in a Top 25 showdown.
9. Georgetown (KY) 15-2 The Tigers are coming off a big win against a tough Freed-Hardeman team. The return of Jake Ohmer opens so much up for an already talented Georgetown team and we got to see it last game. This is a program that is used to winning and competing for National Titles. The Tigers are missing Kansas City after missing out the last two seasons.
10. William Penn (IA) 13-2 Sometimes we just flat out miss on a team preseason. We were wrong about WPU. While they graduated 9 very talented Seniors and it showed early on, Head Coach, John Henry, has his Statesmen looking tough led by the backcourt of Chanze Cruesoe and Malik Edwards. The Statesmen added two nice pieces at the break as well, which will help a ton with their depth, especially in the paint.
11. Jamestown (ND) 13-3 Never write off the Jimmies! A night after losing @ Northwestern (IA), the Jimmies responded with a huge road test @ Dordt. They may not be leading the GPAC, but they boast arguably the best player in the NAIA in Mason Walters. They are a team who has shown the past two season, that despite some regular season losses, they always play their best basketball in February and March.
12. Freed-Hardeman (TN) 14-3 If you were still wondering if FHU was the real deal or not, let us save you the trouble and let you know they are! Despite a loss @ Georgetown this past weekend, which snapped a 11-game winning streak. The Lions had chances in that one and went down fighting. This is a talented group, who still sit atop the MSC Standings!
13. Union (KY) 13-1 We all know Markelle Turner is the real deal, but this season, the Bulldogs have added Terin Hamilton and Markelo Sullivan to the mix to make a dynamic trio that alleviates some of the scoring pressure off of Turner. This is a talented Bulldog team that is already running away with another AAC Title.
14. Marian (IN) 14-3 The Knights aren’t playing their best basketball, but this is a talented squad that has shown signs of being a Top 5 team. The Crossroads League is always tough, so their schedule isn’t going to be easy, but the Knights are certainly a team to watch out for as we approach tournament time.
15. Loyola (LA) 13-2 “All we do is win, win, win no matter what”. Loyola is the defending National Champions and while they lost their head coach and their three best players, the Wolf Pack have won 24 straight Southern States Athletic Conference games including knocking off Faulkner last week. It’s time to give the defending national champs their respect!
16. Montana Tech 15-2 Montana Tech continues to roll as they took down Frontier Conference rival, Carroll this past weekend. They have now won 22-straight home games. Caleb Bellach continues to have another All-American type season and the Ore Diggers have won six straight overall.
17. Faulkner (AL) 13-3 Still one of the more dangerous teams in the NAIA. They have made back-to-back trips to Kansas City and the Eagles have the fire power to make a return trip. Look for CJ Hines and Trace Hill to continue to make big plays for the Eagles. They now sit 3-games behind Loyola for a SSAC Title, but are still a really good team.
18. Evangel (MO) 13-2 Evangel’s losses were big upsets. However, this is a really good team, led by Josh Pritchett. They handed Oklahoma Wesleyan their only loss of the season and have good wins over MidAmerica Nazarene and Baker. They travel to William Penn on Saturday for what should be a really big-time game!
19. Indiana Tech 15-2 Indiana Tech got another big win over Indiana Wesleyan over the break. The have now won 5-straight games. They have a tough week ahead with a trip to Lourdes and then hosting a very good Madonna team. Lots of season to go, but a 2-0 week would put them in a big position to win a WHAC Title.
20. Kansas Wesleyan 15-1 Again, we know we are lower on KWU then the Coaches Poll and this isn’t any hate driven behind it. The Coyotes have played their schedule and won the games they should have. With their only loss being a blowout to a very good Oklahoma Wesleyan team. They get another big test on Wednesday when Southwestern comes to town!
21. Florida College 13-3 This is a good Falcon team and we probably dropped them a bit too far here. They had a terrific first semester and unfortunately, for them, they lost back-to-back games in the SEC Classic right before the break. We still like the Falcons a lot and think they will rise as the season progresses, but some teams ahead of them have been playing really great basketball.
22. LSU Shreveport 11-3 The Pilots are super talented and are led by one of the best players in the NAIA in Jalen Brooks. They are a Top 15 type team, but haven’t always played like it. They have found ways to win in most cases though and that is what good teams do. We expect LSUS to be a Top 15 team before the National Tournament, but for now they stick at 22 for us.
23. Morningside (IA) 12-3 The Mustangs have quietly went about their business and while other teams in the GPAC continue to beat up on one another, the Mustangs have won six of their last seven games to move into 1st place. They do have the toughest part of their schedule upcoming, but for now, it’s hard to discredit what they have done to this point. They have wins over Indiana Wesleyan and previously ranked Carroll and Concorida (NE) teams.
24. Dordt (IA) 14-3 Dordt was primed to make a big jump in our rankings if they could have defeated Jamestown at home this weekend. This a Defender group who really played well late last season and has carried it into this year. This is a group that is used to playing together and can make some noise in the postseason.
25. MidAmerica Nazarene 12-3 We went back and forth with Menlo, Rio Grande, Iowa Wesleyan and others. However, MNU was ranked two polls ago, lost on the road to Evangel, and somehow got bumped out. Their only three losses on the season are to OKWU, William Penn and Evangel. They boast one of the best players in the NAIA in Anthony Brown and have a very good supporting cast around him.