Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The holiday break is over, and the Division III hoops scene is back in full swing — as is conference play, with the main stretch of the season certainly underway. Every league in the area is now in the middle of its slate, and we’re starting to get a feel for which programs are emerging as front-runners and which have some real work to do with about five weeks left in the season.
Alex Salata III (above) and Penn State-Abington soared up the rankings this week. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Here are our updated rankings after a month off; we’ll be back in two weeks with our next update:
(Ed. Note: A reminder that CoBL's Division III coverage area includes from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, up to State College and over to the Lehigh Valley).
Others to watch
Bryn Athyn (6-6, 1-1 CSAC), Cairn (7-6, 2-0 CSAC), Delaware Valley (7-7, 2-3 MAC Freedom), Gettysburg (6-6, 3-2 Centennial), Gwynedd Mercy (7-7, 1-0 Atlantic East), Lancaster Bible (5-6, 2-0 United East), Lycoming (8-6, 3-2 MAC Freedom), PSU-Harrisburg (5-7, 2-1 United East)
10. Eastern Eagles (LR: 4)
Record: 10-4 (3-2 MAC Commonwealth)
Last Two Weeks: @ Alvernia (L, 86-75), vs. Messiah (L, 80-76)
Maybe a three-and-a-half week long break was too long for the Eagles, who came back for the spring semester and lost their first two games, which was enough to cost them six slots thanks to a number of teams in the area that have really heated up. It won’t get much easier these next two weeks, with three of four on the road, so we’ll quickly find out if Eastern just hit a brief bump in a good season or if there’s some real issues to figure out. Leading scorer Jaron Fairweather (13.5 ppg) continues to play well, with at least 19 points in his last three games, but it’s been a little bit since freshman forward Zubair Lee (9.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg) has gone for double digits, as he’s struggled with some foul issues. Getting him back on track will be a good sign moving forward.
Next Up: Jan. 11 (@ Albright), vs. Stevenson (Jan. 14), @ Lebanon Valley (Jan. 18), @ York (Jan. 21)
9. Ursinus Bears (Last Ranking: 3)
Record: 8-4 (3-2 Centennial)
Last Two Weeks: @ DeSales (L, 83-69), neutral vs. Alvernia (L, 104-90), vs. Washington College (W, 92-79), vs. Gettysburg (L, 80-77 OT)
The Bears’ early-season momentum ran out over the last month, with losses in three of four, and things don’t get much easier in the upcoming two weeks: three of the next five are on the road, including a brutal back-to-back against Hopkins and Swarthmore; if they can go 4-1 in these five, that would be a nice bounce-back, but they otherwise risk falling deeper into the Centennial pack. Ryan Hughes (18.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) still hasn’t scored fewer than 11 points in any game, and they got Trevor Wall (14.9 ppg) back after he’d missed three games due to injury, and Cole Grubbs (8.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg) back after he missed a pair.
Next Up: @ Dickinson (Jan. 10), vs. Haverford (Jan. 12), @ Johns Hopkins (Jan. 14), @ Swarthmore (Jan. 18), vs. McDaniel (Jan. 21)
8. Muhlenberg Mules (LR: 2)
Record: 8-4 (3-2 Centennial)
Last Two Weeks:@ DeSales (L, 68-67), @ Whitman (W, 65-63), @ Whitworth (L, 73-51), vs. Franklin & Marshall (L, 77-73), vs. McDaniel (W. 80-55)
It was not a great month for the Mules, who’ve lost three of their last five, shooting an uncharacteristic 8-of-34 (23.5%) from 3-point range against Whitworth, one of two games played out on the West Coast just ahead of the new year. Against F&M, Muhlenberg battled back from a nine-point second-half deficit to lead for most of the second half, but a 13-1 run by the Diplomats in the game’s final four minutes slammed the door shut. A trip to Gettysburg is never easy, but the Mules then get the league’s bottom three squads in a row before hosting a top-15 squad in Johns Hopkins for the biggest test of the next couple weeks.
Next Up: @ Gettysburg (Jan. 10), vs. Dickinson (Jan. 12), @ Washington College (Jan. 14), @ Haverford (Jan. 18), vs. Johns Hopkins (Jan. 21)
7. Franklin & Marshall (LR: OTW)
Record: 8-4 (3-2 Centennial)
Last Two Weeks: neut. Vs. Dubuque (W, 66-64), neut. Vs. Wisconsin-Platteville (W, 81-65), @ Muhlenberg (W, 77-73), vs. Swarthmore (L, 94-93 2OT)
The Diplomats make their first appearance of the season in our rankings, having won five of their last seven, including taking No. 17 Swarthmore to the brink, falling just short in double OT. Haverford High alum John Seidman continues his standout collegiate play as a sophomore, averaging 16.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 4.1 apg, with four games of 20+ points; he had 24 points, five rebounds and six assists in the Swat game, playing 45 minutes. Two tough road games coming up in Gettysburg and Hopkins, but they’ll be heavily favored in all three home games as they’re bouncing back nicely from a 10-15 (7-11 Centennial) record of a year ago.
Next Up: vs. Washington College (Jan. 10), @ Gettysburg (Jan. 12), vs. McDaniel (Jan. 14), @ Johns Hopkins (Jan. 18), vs. Haverford (Jan. 21)
6. PSU-Abington Nittany Lions (LR: 9)
Record: 10-3 (4-0 United East)
Last Two Weeks: Cairn (W, 67-61), @ PSU-Berks (W, 77-66), @ PSU-Harrisburg (W, 61-52)
It’s been quite the debut season in Abington for Ryan Van Zelst, who has the Nittany Lions to have their best season in more than a decade; they haven’t won more than 14 games since before 2011-12. They’ve got a good chance to keep that momentum going with their next four at home, where they’re 4-1 so far this season, with an impressive 6-2 record in road/neutral contests. Darrion Harris is bouncing back from a November injury, scoring in double figures in his last two games, but he’s yet to return to early-season form, when he was averaging 24.4 ppg through five games pre-injury. Boyertown alum Alex Salata III (14.4 ppg) has stepped up lately, scoring 20+ in three straight, and Chester product Brian Randolph III (13.2 ppg) has hit double figures in six straight games.
Next Up: vs. Lancaster Bible (Jan. 11), vs. Wells College (Jan. 14), vs. Gallaudet (Jan. 17)
5. Widener Pride (LR: 8)
Record: 8-4 (3-2 MAC Commonwealth)
Last Two Weeks: vs. Centenary (N.J.) (W, 74-72), @ Hood (W, 94-81)
The Pride were supposed to play three games over the last four weeks, but a Dec. 15 contest at Marywood was canceled due to weather, and has not been rescheduled. Those two wins helped them bounce back from a couple early-December losses to Stevenson and Eastern, but now they’ve got a busy two weeks ahead with the non-league matchup at Salisbury (9-6) sandwiched in there between the four MAC Commonwealth contests. Dominic Dunn (18.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, .429 3PT%) continues to have an outstanding season in his final year of college hoops, and senior wing Steven Matlack (10.1 ppg) has scored in double figures in four straight, going for a season-high 17 points against Centenary. As a team, Widener is shooting 37.5% from 3-point range, 43rd in the country, behind only Ursinus (38.2%, 24th) and Muhlenberg (37.7%, 37th) in the area.
Next Up: vs. Lebanon Valley (Jan. 11), @ York (Jan. 14), @ Salisbury (Jan. 16), vs. Albright (Jan. 18), @ Messiah (Jan. 21)
4. Neumann Knights (LR: 7)
Record: 11-3 (1-0 Atlantic East)
Last Two Weeks: vs. Penn State-Lehigh Valley (W, 92-72), vs. Marywood (W, 101-83)
The top four of our rankings this week feature teams who are all on nice winning streaks — starting with Neumann, which has won its last six dating back to a Nov. 30 loss against Lancaster Bible; overall, the Knights have won 10 of their last 11 to bounce back from a rough start. Scoring 100 against Marywood saw three different Knights score 20-plus: Tony James (25), T.J. Lewis (22) and Kyle Thompson (21), with leading scorer Jalen Vaughns adding 17 and 10 rebounds. Thompson, who starred at St. Joe’s Prep but had been a walk-on at La Salle, is averaging 9.3 ppg in 11 games as a reserve in his first significant action since high school.
Next Up: @ Marymount (Jan. 11), @ Immaculata (Jan. 14), vs. Gwynedd Mercy (Jan. 18), vs. Centenary (Jan. 21)
3. Alvernia Golden Wolves (LR: 6)
Record: 11-3 (5-1 MAC Commonwealth)
Last Two Weeks: @ York (W, 63-58), vs. Albright (W, 79-70), vs. Marywood (W, 96-68), neutral vs. Montclair State (L, 61-54), @ neutral vs. Ursinus (W, 104-90), vs. Eastern (W, 86-75), @ Lebanon Valley (W, 92-87 2OT)
Alvernia had the busiest holiday “break” of anyone around, playing seven games in the last four weeks, going 6-1 in that span to move up to the third spot. It wasn’t just quantity, it was quality, with the only loss to a very good Montclair State squad and wins two teams in our top 10 and two other good programs on the road in York and LVC. The 104-point effort against Ursinus saw five in double figures, with Malik Green and Jakob Kelly scoring 24 and 20, respectively. As a team, they’re shooting 35.7% from beyond the arc and holding opponents to 29.1%, and have more rebounds and fewer turnovers than their opponents on the season as well.
Next Up: @ Messiah (Jan. 11) vs. Hood (Jan. 14), @ Arcadia (Jan. 18), vs. Stevenson (Jan. 21)
2. DeSales Bulldogs (LR: 5)
Record: 11-2 (5-0 MAC Freedom)
Last Two Weeks: vs. Muhlenberg (W, 68-67), vs. Ursinus (W, 83-69), vs. Montclair State (W, 96-94 3OT), @ Lycoming (W, 66-63)
DeSales continues to rocket up the rankings as the Bulldogs stretched their win streak to nine, their only two losses coming to Stockton and Swarthmore, both of whom have been in the top 15 of the D3Hoops rankings this season. Keeping their streak alive has involved several close calls lately, including against the NJAC frontrunners in Montclair State, which hit a buzzer-beating jumper at the end of double overtime but couldn’t come up with the stops to beat DeSales. Pennridge grad Christian Guldin is playing his best ball of the season lately, with a 19-point, four-rebound effort against Montclair state.
Next Up: @ Shenandoah (Jan. 9), @ Delaware Valley (Jan. 11), vs. Arcadia (Jan. 14), @ Stevens (Jan. 18), vs. FDU-Florham (Jan. 21)
1. Swarthmore Garnet (LR: 1)
Record: 11-1 (5-0 Centennial)
Last Two Weeks: vs. Immaculata (W, 87-57), @ McDaniel (W, 84-58), @ Franklin & Marshall (W, 94-93 2OT)
The national No. 17 Garnet survived a road win at F&M, as the Diplomats missed a potential game-tying foul shot with one second left in double overtime; Vinny DeAngelo went off for 33 points and 11 rebounds, with George Visconti adding 19 and seven assists. That makes it eight straight wins for Swarthmore, who plays four of its next five at home — but that starts with the first of two regular-season matchups against No. 15 Johns Hopkins, led by Father Judge grad Tom Quarry, who just scored his 1,000th career point. Those two meet again Jan. 28 in Baltimore, with a good chance of a third meeting in the Centennial championship.
Next Up: vs. Johns Hopkins (Jan. 10), @ Washington College (Jan. 12), vs. Gettysburg (Jan. 14), vs. Ursinus (Jan. 18), vs. Dickinson (Jan. 21)